Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Two books on Charny!

Wilson, Ian; Nigel Bryant, ed. and trans. The Book of Geoffroi de Charny with the Livre Charny. (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2021). Reviewed by Steven Muhlberger Nipissing University (retired) Steve.muhlberger@gmail.com

Over the last two generations there has been a boom in the publication of medieval biographies and memoirs of knights and treatises on chivalry written by knights. These works, which have lurked for centuries in their original languages in archives and exclusive libraries, are increasingly being made available in translation. Chivalry, a classic topic in the study of the Middle Age is (again) a hot topic for scholars, and scholars of chivalry are glad to have more accessible versions of these difficult texts. They preserve memoirs (some mildly or extensively fictionalized) or didactic treatises which provide rare insights into the values of active knights.

Foremost among these author-knights is the now- famous Geoffroi de Charny, a prominent French knight of the mid-14th century who died at the battle of Poitiers (1356), while defending the Oriflamme and King Jean II. Geoffroi de Charny has long been credited with the authorship of three works on chivalry. The verse Livre Charny (which I call “Charny’s Book”) is an account of the difficulties of adopting and following the ‘Profession of Arms.’ The well-known translator Nigel Bryant has provided both an edition and an English translation of Livre Charny (pp.-53-128). The Demandes -- Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments and War -- are a collection of mostly legal case studies which were meant to illustrate problems of the law of arms. A third book is The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny a prose treatment which overlaps material in Charny’s Book.

Between the three books we are given some of the most serious thoughts of one of France’s foremost knights of the 14th century.

Charny was a member of the lesser gentry (and a third son at that); nevertheless he rose through the ranks. Early in his career he depended on patrons to provide him with the large sums of money necessary to replace lost equipment and, twice, to pay very large ransoms. But some people seem to have thought him worth it. His appointments to military office speak to how he was rated as a practical man-at-arms. Charny’s rank and his personal influence did not entitle him to any largely patronage-motivated appointments. We can imagine that he had a big and fierce personality much appreciated by his military colleagues. Further, Charny’s success as a diplomat and a royal counselor shows that he had flexibility and charm as well.

In the last years of his life Charny was close to King Jean; both men were concerned with the apparent decline of chivalry in France and they worked together toward fixing it. The king founded a chivalric order, the Order of the Star; Charny was commissioned (6 Jan 1351) to compile the Demandes so that the Order could answer the questions and agree on the standards that should establish chivalry. Charny’s Book must have been finished at least by 14 Aug 1352, when French warriors, many members of the Order of the Star among them, were defeated by the English at Mauron. These men of high rank were slaughtered because they held to the “no retreat” doctrine of King Jean and Charny. The loss of so many knights of the Star took the air out of the king’s project but did not divide the two men; Charny remained the bearer of the Oriflamme until he was killed at Poitiers in 1356.

Perhaps Wilson’s most important goal is offering a “revised understanding” of Charny based on a wider collection of manuscripts which preserve information about Charny’s military career and the chronology of his writings. The relevant manuscripts, regarded by Wilson as “ understudied” are the “Oxford” manuscript (Holkham ms. 43, at the Bodleian) and the “Madrid” manuscript (Biblioteca Nacional de España ms. 9270) . Using these and better-known Brussels, Paris and Swiss manuscripts, Wilson builds an “alternative understanding” of Charny’s career and writing. It is interesting to see how illustrations made The Book of Geoffroi de Charny a heftier text, one of which probably involved Charny working with a prestigious illustrator, Jean le Noir. Wilson shows that the works of Charny constituted a substantial codicological project that caught a moment at the French royal court.

Wilson’s revised understanding includes a rejection of the

existing scholarly consensus that the prose Book of Chivalry of was written by the knight we have been discussing, the same author of Charny’s Book and the Demandes, who died at Poitiers. Rather, Wilson contends that the Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny was written at a later date by another man of the same name, the first Charny’s nephew, who had reason to revive his uncle’s tradition as a pious and determined knight. The Book of Chivalry was an elaborated presentation of ideas first presented in Charny’s Book. Whether Wilson’s reconstruction of the relationship between the two “books” is ultimately accepted will depend on hard work and luck. The evidence is difficult and limited in scope. I found the detailed and careful work done by Wilson impressive but not conclusive.

But this book has more to offer than the complex puzzle surrounding the three works attributed to Charny. What can be said about the excellent translation except that it is excellent? Bryant’s contribution may well attract readers with diverse interests, and give them a lively text with which to examine the concept and practice of chivalry.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Dred Scott

Curiously, I have not seen these two words used in the reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's overthrow of Roe v Wade. If you don't know what Dred Scott was, you should, because it has long been recognized as an important prelude to the Civil War.

A detailed and unusual analysis of the prospects of Putin's regime

Vladislav Zubok, a scholar of the Collapse of the Soviet Unionn, argues that looking at that collapse is not the best way to understand the prospects and weaknesses of Putin's regime. Particularly interesting is his discussion of the "four Russias"
Like many other authoritarians, the Russian president has also learned to exploit economic inequality to establish a firm base of support, leaning into the differences between what the Russian scholar Natalya Zubarevich calls “the four Russias.”

The first Russia consists of urbanites in large cities, many of whom work in the postindustrial economy and are culturally connected to the West. They are the source of most opposition to Putin, and they have staged protests against the president before. But they constitute just one-fifth of the population, by Zubarevich’s estimate. The other three Russias are the residents of poorer industrial cities, who are nostalgic for the Soviet past; people who live in declining rural towns; and multiethnic non-Russians in the North Caucasus (including Chechnya) and southern Siberia. The inhabitants of those three Russias overwhelmingly support Putin because they depend on subsidies from the state and because they adhere to traditional values when it comes to hierarchy, religion, and worldview—the kinds of cultural positions that Putin has championed in the Kremlin’s imperialist and nationalist propaganda, which has gone into overdrive since the invasion of Ukraine began.

Putin, then, doesn’t need to engage in mass repression to keep himself in command. Indeed, recognizing the seeming futility of opposing the state, many members of the first Russia who are truly fed up with Putin are simply fleeing the country—a development that Putin openly supports. He has declared their departure to be “a natural and necessary self-purification of [Russian] society” from a pro-Western “fifth column.” And so far, the invasion has done little to erode his support among the other three Russias. Most members of those groups do not feel connected to the global economy, and they are therefore relatively unbothered by Russia’s excommunication by the West via sanctions and bans. To maintain these groups’ support, Putin can continue to subsidize some regions and pour billions into infrastructure and construction projects in others. He can also appeal to their conservative and nostalgic sentiments—something Gorbachev could never do. Russia’s turbulent history has led most of its people to want a strong leader and consolidation of the country—not democracy, civil rights, and national self-determination.
There is much more good stuff here.

Friday, June 03, 2022

A toast to The Road to Rouen

The Road to Rouen is a recreation of a 14th-century which is taking place AT THIS VERY MOMENT. Oh how I wish I could be there! Let me contribute to the theme of "Deeds of Arms" by quoting a passage from Geoffroi de Charny's Book of Chivalry, in which he discussed the problems of the life of arms. Charny wrote a book called Charny's Questions, but it has no answers. But consider this from Charny's Book of Chivalry, which I sometimes call "Charny's Answer":

: [T]hose who have the will to achieve great worth [who] because of their great desire to reach and attain that high honor … do not care what suffering they have to endure, but turn everything into great enjoyment. Indeed, it is a fine thing to perform great deeds, for those who rise to great achievement cannot rightly grow tired or sated with it; so the more they achieve, the less they feel they have achieved; this stems from the delight they take in striving constantly to reach greater heights. And great good comes from performing these deeds, for the more one does, the less one is proud of oneself, and it always seems that there is so much left to do.

Friday, April 22, 2022

The Russian dilemma

In Foreign Affairs ANDREI KOLESNIKOV explains the damage Putin's war has done to Russia's image of itself:
To Russians, the term “fascism” has long served as a convenient label for almost anything bad. During Soviet times it was common to say that “fascists” and “revanchists” have “raised their heads” in various parts of the world, from the United States to Germany. At times, an even harsher term, “Nazis,” was used. With characteristic lack of irony, Soviet propaganda first used the term in reference to Israel: after the Six-Day War in 1967, when the USSR broke off diplomatic relations with Israel, the Israelis were written off as Nazis. For Putin, the specter of Nazis has provided a way to indoctrinate the nation, to insist that Ukraine has no right to exist. Putin needs the history of World War II to legitimize his regime, but Russians have yet to realize that in doing so he has also destroyed the foundations of the post-Soviet state. Everything was built on the defeat of fascism in the Great Patriotic War, as Russians call World War II. Yet in the eyes of Ukrainians—and much of the rest of the world—Russians themselves are now behaving like fascists. Russians can hardly draw on their country’s experience fighting Hitler to justify their own brutal militarism. On the contrary, they are making themselves in the very image of the Germans in the wake of World War II. This is what Putin has done: Russia is no longer on the winning side of the Great Patriotic War; it is no longer on the right side of history.

Deep down, Russians are beginning to understand that escape may be impossible

The bulk of the Russian population doesn’t realize this. And of course, this year, during Victory Day celebrations on May 9—one of Russia’s most important state holidays, commemorating the end of World War II—Putin will no doubt equate the Soviet victory in 1945 with his own triumph over the powers of reason. By May 9, Putin will have to find the words to describe the specific parameters of the new victory in Ukraine. And they must be convincing enough to make the triumph resemble 1945. But many Russians already seem to view what Russia is doing now as equivalent to the defeat of Hitler: the letter Z, the symbol of the special operation, is often portrayed as a curved St. George’s ribbon, the symbol of victory over fascism.

In reality, however, most people feel trapped: the West is more hostile toward them than ever, but there is nothing left for them in Russia. They support Putin as the supreme commander of their fabled army, but deep down they are beginning to understand that the president has led them to a place from which escape may be impossible. For Russians, it is an age-old feeling. As far back as 1863, the brilliant revolutionary thinker Alexander Herzen identified the tension: “The Russian’s position is becoming interminably difficult,” he wrote from Italy. “He feels more and more foreign in the West, while his hatred for what is being done at home grows deeper and deeper.” Then, as now, the hatred is secret rather than overt. And Russians cannot admit it to themselves.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The good news

For the last 4 years, more or less, I have been attending a Church of England congregation in Windsor.

It's not because I've had an upsurge in religious faith, or that I feel more like a "spiritual" person as so many seem to do these days. But there are some identifiable factors which make going to the Sunday euchrist satisfying.

The hymns, sung in a church old enough to have good acoustics

The liturgy, which is very reministic of the Catholic liturgy I grew up with. I know almost all of it by heart.

The sermons. Our minister is brilliant, tying current concerns with the biblical readings for the day in a remarkable way. He used to be a truck driver, and worked as a crew member on a bunji jumping device before getting a theological education. Somewhere he learned some important stuff.

He doesn't seem to ever have been a fisherman.

More later.

Saturday, April 02, 2022

Unambiguous?

Various indigenous leaders have reacted to the pope's statement, and a fair number of them think it is "too little too late." I can see their point -- they want meaningful action to correct the harm done to them by the Catholic church over the last 600 years. They certainly deserve recompense, but it was never going to be included in the apology that other indigenous leaders have been asking for a long time.

No action taken by the Catholic church will satisfy all the descendents of those harmed, or the living victims of the residential schools. They are individuals with different experiences and different values.

A more serious complaint is that even though the pope said he was sorry and asked for forgiveness -- good things to do -- he blamed the abuses on people within the Church, ignoring the role of the institution in creating the residential school system.

Friday, April 01, 2022

At last

"I also feel shame ... sorrow and shame for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, and the abuses you suffered and the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values," he said. "For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God's forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon."
Unambiguous. See the CBC account.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

This touched me

Kremlin lashes out at Poland for siding with Ukraine

“I never thought we had this in us,” a Polish student told the New York Times of these developments. “Nobody knew we could be mobilized like this.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

This guy is on to something

I am impressed by this Japanese man who seems to have a profound understanding of one aspect of social life. But I don't agree that he is being paid for "doing nothing."

From the Independent (and the Washington Post):

Before moving out of Tokyo for her new job, Akari Shirai wanted to eat at the favourite restaurant she used to visit with her former husband. There was one issue: she didn’t want to be flooded with thoughts about her divorce by going alone. But she didn’t feel like inviting a friend and explaining the situation, either.

So she rented Japan’s “do-nothing guy”.

Their near-silent lunch lasted about 45 minutes. Shirai ordered her favourite dish and intermittently asked questions. She shared memories of her marriage with the man, and showed him a photo from her wedding. He nodded and gave curt answers, sometimes a dry laugh. He never initiated conversation.

It was exactly what Shirai wanted.

Monday, March 21, 2022

This blog

Dear readers, if you've been reading this blog for a long time you will have noticed that I have been writing a lot less than I used to. Despite the huge amount of potential material. In the olden days I might have made my thoughts on say, Trump, or bombing, or Canadian "truckers" the subject of a meaty discussion.

Why the change?

In the olden days the blog was aimed at my students. The blog was a handy place I could say a bit more on subjects that I had talked about in class. Students could ask questions or make comments, and some of them did. Material like this often seemed worth passing to friends who shared some interest of mine. I ran across quite a few things that didn't make the news in any news sources ("mainstream" or otherwise). In many cases I felt that the range of opinion was extremely narrow and I could contribute some small bit that might help somebody.

Things have indeed changed! First, I have been retired a good long time. No students. Second, if anything, there is a plethora of news. I don't feel that I have sources of information that can't be found through Google (etc.) if someone is interested. Third, the range of debate seems to be much wider (even though much of it is crap). The world does not need me to point out that the USA is toppling into fascism (through the undermining of the electoral system). Plenty of people have done so, and continue to do so.

But I will continue to post when the subject seems to call for it. Here are two subjects in the recent news worth thinking about:

JOYOUS, HAPPY, EXTRAORDINARY NEWS “Better than our most optimistic prediction” – first images from James Webb exceed all expectations +ret_img+to_webp/>

"James Webb" is the new research telescope in orbit around the sun. The picture is an engineering test to see if the research telescope has unfolded itself and is going to work. The title (from an article in Cosmos magazine) says not "it all" but so much more.

THE BOLD WAR CRIMINALS What do you call the deliberate targeting of shelters full of non-combatants except "war crimes?" Shall we stick with"murder?"

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Britain, Arthur and historiography

I know that many of my non-academic friends are probably attached to the notion of the invasion of Britain and the planting of the Anglo-Saxons in regions formerly "Roman." Guy Halsall is one of the more recent historians to offer an alternative.
For many years, nonetheless, it was believed that the archaeological data could tell us about the ways by which the Roman provinces of Britain became the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England. One thing that is certain is that between the visit of Germanus and the arrival of Augustine the usual or default ethnic identity in the lowlands of Britain changed from being Roman or British to being Angle or Saxon. How did this happen? This has been one of the major debates in the academic study of this period. Some have proposed a mass migration from the northern regions of Germany while others (albeit not many) have gone as far as to suggest that there was no Anglo-Saxon migration at all. A variety of positions in between those two extremes have also been taken. Of the latter, perhaps the best known is that of ‘élite replacement’ or ‘élite take-over’, by which is understood the replacement of the Romano-British aristocracy by one of north German origin. In some ways this is analogous to the ‘ethnogenesis’ interpretation put forward by scholars such as Herwig Wolfram: a militarised elite becomes the focus for a social aggregation, with those who join the group adopting the leaders’ culture, origin story and so on. In this case the cultural ‘package’ to which people subscribed would include the English language as well as a range of cultural practices.

The extreme arguments are difficult to sustain, especially the proposal, recently elaborated in a short book, that there was no migration. The notion of a mass population movement, leaving parts of the north of Germany deserted, and large-scale population-replacement is also much too crude. That being said, it seems to me to be very difficult to understand some aspects of the culture of early medieval lowland Britain without envisaging a significant movement of people from the northern, coastal regions of what the Romans called Germania Magna. The linguistic change is one such aspect; another is the appearance in Britain of a cremation rite very similar to that in the Saxon territories in Germania.

There is, however, a subtle but vitally important distinction to be made in how we understand such changes. The change of language, or the introduction of cremation, or the popularity of artefacts of styles that originate on the eastern shore of the North Sea may be difficult to understand without population movement; that does not however, mean that such movement explains such changes. Mass migration might occur and yet leave almost no archaeological trace. Take, for instance, the movement of Germani into the Roman Empire between c.AD 1 and c.AD 400. During that period, many thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of people left barbaricum and entered the Empire of their own volition, to serve in the army, or to seek work or lands to farm. There is almost no archaeological evidence of their presence. That which exists, ironically, is usually Roman in form: the name of, for example, a certain Hnothfrith who commanded an auxiliary unit on the Hadrian’s Wall frontier, is recorded in the inscription on an altar he set up, in good Roman fashion, in the fort at Housesteads. Immigrants keen to assimilate into a host population, especially one in which attitudes towards outsiders could be violently hostile, will frequently adopt that population’s material culture at the expense of their own cultural practices. In other cases, we know of the presence of fourth-century Germani in the Empire not because of any barbarian traces they left there but because they went home again and were eventually buried with elements of their Roman uniform.

Hnothfrith is only known to history because he erected an altar to three of his gods and, sensibly, the numen augusti. Perhaps, like the fourth-century men whose ashes were buried with their old army belts in northern German cremation cemeteries, he went home to Germania at the end of his service and, until the end of his days, used his Roman material to show off the impressive fact that he had served the mighty Emperor. Or perhaps he settled down on a farm in the Roman provinces and lived out his life as a respectable veteran, his barbarian origins entirely invisible. And yet, any distant descendants or relatives of his who arrived in Britain in the earlier fifth century actively proclaimed their non-Roman origins. This was a very different situation. The shifts we can detect on fifth-century lowland Britain manifest different cultural relationships, not necessarily a change in the patterns of human mobility.

Romano-British society and economy collapsed in the fifth century; the decline had already set in by around 400, possibly in connection with the retreat of the centre of western imperial government from Trier to Milan in the early 380s. It may have contributed to Constantine III’s rebellion. There can be no doubt about that collapse, though nuance can be added to the statement. The melt-down might not have been as absolute as was once believed; some areas – especially those further west – might have survived better and for longer. Nevertheless it is indisputable that the lowlands of Britain in c.475 were unrecognisable from those of a century earlier. In a world where traditional Roman cultural forms, such as villas and towns, had disappeared, new forms of identity and new bases of power had to be established. This did not necessarily mean abandoning Roman-ness; the fourth-century army had adopted all sorts of ‘barbarian’ or ‘barbarised’ identities without thereby ceasing to be Roman. The multiple layers of late Roman identity probably allowed people to navigate these changes, make common cause with soldiers from barbaricum (as throughout the fifth-century West) and even perhaps accept their leadership.

In my own book on this period I suggested a ‘two-pronged’ model for political change in lowland Britain, on analogy with a reading of how northern Gaul became Francia. Gildas’ story of how Saxon troops were hired and posted to the British frontier might in reality have meant that they were stationed on the edges of the lowland zone, to which some archaeological evidence might suggest the frontier had been withdrawn in the late fourth century. This border region between highlands and lowlands was the wealthiest part of late Roman Britain and was also the area where the most powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdoms emerged. Whoever controlled the forces in this band of territory would have an enormous advantage. It is also possible that the language of the Saxon leaders could act as a lingua franca in areas like these, where there were Latin- and British-speakers. The other ‘prong’ would be the people migrating from northern Germania and arriving in the eastern coastal regions. The social and economic crisis around 400 had affected the coastal regions of northern Germany too, causing political upheavals and, as was often the case in such circumstances, migration from barbaricum into Roman territory, in this case Britannia, as well as the coast of Gaul.

This political struggle for mastery of the lowlands is usually the backdrop for the legends of ‘King Arthur’, a doomed ‘last of the Romans’ attempting to defend civilisation against an onslaught of barbarians. Sadly, we can never know whether Arthur existed. There is no reliable evidence that he was a real historical personage, but equally there is no way of being sure that a genuine figure did not lie behind the later legend. In the fifth century, real figures could easily disappear from history. The Roman general Syagrius (possibly an analogue for Arthur) would have been forgotten, had not Gregory of Tours read a lost source (probably a Life of Remigius of Rheims) that mentioned him in connection with the tale of the Vase of Soissons. But, as is shown by the story of Syagrius and his father Aegidius and their rivalry with Childeric and his son Clovis for control of the Frankish army on the Loire, fifth-century politics very rarely settled down into a neat binary opposition between barbarian invaders on one side and Roman defenders on the other. Gildas talks of ‘civil war’ in Britain as dominating the former provinces’ recent history, rather than barbarian invasions. If the rest of the western Empire provides any sort of guide to the sorts of process that went on in lowland Britain between 400 and 500 we ought to envisage warfare between different factions, each one made up of alliances of Romans and Barbarians. ‘Roman’ generals could command ‘barbarian’ armies, or ‘barbarian’ generals might lead the armies of a ‘Roman’ polity. When, in the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries, writers came to compose their histories of fifth- and sixth-century Britain, what they wanted (as their contemporaries in mainland Europe also wanted) was a story of how one people – that which by their day dominated the area in which they lived – had come to oust those who had occupied these lands before. Conquest and expulsion was the only model they had for explaining how one ethnic identity had replaced another. How had the barbarian Franks or Saxons ousted the Romans? Roman commanders of Saxon troops in a Romano-Barbarian faction had no place in that kind of narrative. In that scenario any Arthur figure who might once have existed had only one place left open for him, and that was legend.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Mark Twain

I am reading Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Though I've read it before and some of his work in the last 5 years I was shocked by some of his language and prejudices:
'The thought was forced upon me: “The rascals (= prisoners of war) they have served other people so in their day; it being their own turn, now, they were not expecting any better treatment than this; so their philosophical bearing is not an outcome of mental training, intellectual fortitude, reasoning; it is mere animal training; they are white Indians.”
Look at Internet Archive and you will find lots of books on "White Indians."

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Netflix report

I'm currently watching a South Korean series, Chief of Staff, on Netflix. A bit of a slow starter but it's better as it goes along. Vaguely reminiscent of the West Wing, an American series about what it might be like to work for the president. South Korea's president is so remote from the National Assembly that he's barely mentioned, even though in real life he's quite powerful. Recommended.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Ken Mondschein on the state of scholarship on deeds of arms

In this review from the excellent Medieval Review, Ken talks about who has done what in regards to deeds of arms as spectacles. (In contrast see the very next MR review Chief of Staff: Claussen, Samuel A. Chivalry and Violence in Late Medieval Castile. Boydell Press, 2020.
The Medieval Review Fri, Jan 28, 8:08 AM (1 day ago) to tmr-l@list.indiana.edu

Murray, Alan V., and Karen Watts, eds. The Medieval Tournament as Spectacle: Tourneys, Jousts and Pas d’Armes, 1100–1600. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2020. Pp. 248. $99.00. ISBN: 978-1-783-27542-7. Reviewed by Ken Mondschein Massachusetts Historical Swordsmanship et al. ken -at- kenmondschein dot com Joining a number of recent and somewhat-recent books that take the subfield of arms, armor, tournaments, and chivalric conduct as a serious subject for historical consideration--Steven Muhlberger and Noel Fallows on the tournament, plus Richard Kaeuper and David Crouch on chivalry, Tobias Capwell on arms and armor, and Jeffrey Forgeng’s worthy translations of primary sources--is this edited volume of ten essays. While the works proffered here are not perfect, they are a worthy first volume in the Royal Armouries Research Series and do much to further the argument that the medieval, and especially the late medieval or early modern tournament, was part of a dynamic conversation about status, power, social class, habitus, sovereignty, and rulership. This is, of course, not an original argument, but a thread that runs through the scholarly literature and which deserves to be woven into the wider conversation. As I will discuss below, it is particularly salient to the British historiography--fittingly, since eight of the contributors are based in the UK, and the kernel of this volume came from the International Congress of Medieval Studies at Leeds. (Six of the contributors have a connection to the city.)

The book is organized in a chronological fashion that takes us from the tournament’s hurly-burly origins in the original melee-based affray to the staged authenticity of brotherhood in both kingship and arms that was the Field of Cloth of Gold. (As an enthusiast of the sixteenth century, I was pleased to have the definition of “medieval” abused to include the cinquecento.) The first chapter, editor Alan Murray’s essay on the “Tactics and Ethos of the Tourney in Early German Sources,” addresses a huge lacuna in the predominantly Franco- and Anglosphere history of the tournament. This is an important contribution, but one might quibble with his approach: lacking what we might call “historical” sources (i.e., chronicles), he relies preeminently on literary works. This is a valid approach, but one to which we must bring a healthy dose of skepticism; Murray notes the dangers, but still accepts Ulrich von Lichtenstein’s figures as an accurate count of the number of tourneyers at Friesach (pp. 32-33; 37). He also holds with Lynn White, Jr.,’s “stirrup” thesis, that the transformation in warfare and therefore the birth of the tournament took place in the late eleventh century, when in fact there are (to my mind, at least) clear antecedents in Carolingian military practice (see Bachrach on Nithard’s observations at https://deremilitari.org/2013/11/caballus-et-caballarius-in-medieval-warfare/). Medieval warhorses, meanwhile, were more than likely trained to work from the leg, seat, and spur, making the reins more a tool for collection, and making it easier to wield a sword or lance with a shield while riding (not to mention the mechanical aid of the guige strap).

James Titterton’s “Por pris et por enor: Ideas of Honour as Reflected in the Medieval Tournament” most shows the volume’s origins as conference papers, as it proceeds from the rather over-general (Pitt-Rivers on hono[u]r--what about Smail on fama?) to a rather good linguistic analysis of honor in medieval tournaments (the movie Highlander apparently got its terminology for “the prize” correct). This “honor” became heritable and helped to distinguish the noble from the non-noble (as writers such as Llull would later make clear), and also become generalized to groups of people. Titterton does skip around in time (on p. 57, Roger of Wendover in the early thirteenth century to Smithfield in the late fourteenth to René d’Anjou in the mid-fifteenth), but he does give a good overview. I would really like to see this piece expanded into a longer article or monograph that wrestles with a greater variety of sources and dives more deeply into the larger historiography, particularly the role of women in the economy of honor (explored previously by authors such as Ruth Mazo-Karras, to name but one notable authority).

The title of James Beswick’s “Richard I of England and the Smithfield Tournament of October 1390: An Instrument to Establish Royal Authority” says it all. Beswick is not saying anything that has not been said before (i.e., Muhlberger), but he establishes his case with a granular detail and immediacy that we rarely see in such accounts. Royal control over tournaments, Beswick argues, was established by Edward I and Edward III. The Smithfield tournament of 1390 was key to the means by which Edward’s grandson, Richard II, took back control of government and public opinion from Parliament and the Lords Appellant after he declared himself of age in 1389. The Smithfield Tournament, as state theater, as an assertion of unity, and as a display of Richard’s virility, was a success and set the stage for the relative peace and strong rule he would enjoy until he was overthrown by his cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV.

I will consider Ralph Moffat on documentary sources for specialized jousting armor and Maria Viallon on the tournament saddle together, as they deal with the material equipment needed for the tournament. Again, these are two good, informative pieces, and have unfortunately filled me with the fiscally unwise desire to commission a new saddle for my horse and some exchange pieces for my jousting harness. As far back as the thirteenth century, Jean de Joinville mentions a specialized jousting hauberk, and Moffat’s accounts of mains de fer, polder-mittons, and other pieces for the joust show the parallel evolution of sportive forms and material culture. Viallon, meanwhile, makes use of sources such as Pietro Monte and Dom Duarte, who discusses the use of various saddles in various “tournament” games, and also how Italian and Spanish saddles were different from those of northern Europe. (Note that she does not mention Fiore dei Liberi, but specialized saddles are also well-illustrated in his various manuscripts, and also the Forgeng translation of Duarte by Boydell and Brewer is probably the better edition.) Viallon’s article is also, needless to say, a really good source for anyone interested in medieval tack and equitation. To modern eyes and seats, saddles that completely enclose the rider seem rather bizarre, and I would like to learn more about how they affect one’s horse and riding. Numerous experimental archaeologists such as Arne Koets, Robert Macpherson, and Tobias Capwell have done significant work in reconstructing medieval saddlery from a practical horseman’s point of view, and I would like to see their take on reconstructions of such saddles.

I do need, however, to address some of Catherine Blunk’s assertions in “Between Sport and Theatre: How Performative was the Pas d’armes?” She asserts that, contra this, a pas need not have a theatrical aspect, using a line from my 2015 article in the Handbook of Medieval Culture as a bit of a straw man. However, my point was that the pas was a challenge format--and in any case, seeking a field from an authority, putting on armor, and engaging in public, premeditated violence was always inherently performative. Perhaps the theatricality has been over-emphasized in the historiography, but, though such productions are of inherent interest to historians, what makes a pas a pas was not elements of staging, but the aspect of ritualized challenge; the ruler granting the field “civilized” the violence to enhance the prestige of nascent states. As I concluded in my article (taking my cue from Noel Fallows’ excellent analysis), “By the fifteenth century, the tournament may thus be called a ‘martial performance’: a means of demonstrating, through learned gesture, acquired taste, and carefully practiced skill, one’s class and status.” This is not very different from Blunk’s conclusion that a pas was an “amicable physical competition between noblemen from a variety of European courts.” We should, rather (as Muhlberger suggests) see these under the umbrella of “deeds of arms,” which also suggests that we could bring in the link between nascent state sovereignty, the assertion of a right to personal violence, and even dueling.

The gauntlet of the theatrical pas is taken up in Rosalind Brown-Grant’s “Representations of the Pas d’armes in Burgundian Prose Romance: The case of Jehan d’Avennes.” She deals more with the historiography of the pas, and how the chivalric ideal embodied in literature mirrors the “history” of the chroniclers’ accounts. In contrast to Blunk’s assertions, Brown-Grant seems to take pageantry as normative, but more importantly, she rightfully points out the preeminence of carefully-written chapters of arms and the terms of combat in real-life examples as opposed to literary idealizations, which, again, define the form of the pas. One might say that the chapters of arms themselves, being quasi-legal formulae, are themselves a form of literary production, albeit one that involves anticipation, not memory.

Iason-Eleftherios Tzouriadis’ “The Foot Combat as Tournament Event: Equipment, Space, and Forms,” on late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century foot combat, combines Moffat and Viallon’s interest in equipment with the other authors’ interests in the forms of the tournament. I found in this essay the eternal reviewer’s conundrum of reading a work in one’s field of specialization where the author has not expressed things exactly as one would have put them. Please take the following comments in that vein. First, though Tzouriadis concentrates on the practice of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, dismounted fights for pleasure or honor occurred throughout the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries; these antecedents ought to have been mentioned, as should have the later combats at the barriers mentioned by Sydney Anglo in his 2007 article “The Barriers: From Combat to Dance (Almost).” Likewise, the great bascinet was hardly something that only popped up in the late fifteenth century, though as Tzouriadis points out, it and other specialized foot-combat equipment were carried to extremes of specialization in his focus period. On pp. 156-57, Tzouriadis says that tournament combat moves “away from the ideas of duelling or sparring,” which, even if “sparring” was anything approaching a correct term, as Muhlberger points out, sport, duel, war, and politics all shaded together rather messily, and of course noble tournaments were very different from the working-class entertainment that was the Fechtschule. On p. 172, Tzouriadis digresses upon “sideswords” and “rapiers,” which are modern terms for things that contemporaries would have merely referred to as “swords” of various makes and qualities. The Gladiatoria manuscript mentioned on p. 175 may follow the order (longest to shortest) of foot combat, albeit in a dueling context, but then, too, so do two out of three of Fiore dei Liberi’s original manuscripts from the first decade of the fifteenth century. Finally, the presence of extra weapons at a tournament (p. 179) indicates perhaps not poor quality of materials, but that the objective was to break the weapons, just as the objective of jousting was often to snap lances.

While I would have greatly appreciated a wider perspective and contextualization for this article (an editorial decision?), I do want to commend Tzouriadis’ move away from sword-fetishization and towards pole weapons. At the same time, I need to wonder why all of us, curators and historians alike, use the German ahlspeiss instead of the (Victorian) English “awl-pike.” A bec de corbin is a bec de corbin, but there’s a perfectly good English term for a spear-thing with a long pointy head and a rondel at the base.

Natalie Anderson’s “Power and Pagentry: The Tournament at the Court of Maximilian I” details how chivalric performance was a critical part of the Holy Roman Emperor’s official propaganda. It is an excellent coda to, and brings up fond recollections of, the 2019 Last Knight exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Anderson does a wonderful job of illustrating the variety of martial entertainments, how they functioned as statecraft and a declaration of Maximillian’s worth as a ruler and a nobleman, as well as concluding that the cash-strapped emperor’s reach may have often exceeded his grasp.

The thread of early modern rulership is concluded with Karen Watts’ “The Field of Cloth of Gold: Arms, Armour and the Sporting Prowess of King Henry VIII and King Francis I.” Watts wonderfully details not just the diplomatic, but the personal meaning of this encounter. She details the preparation, the physicality of the two kings, the undertakings, the planning and organization, and the symbolism of both the goings-on and the equipment. Watts’ great triumph is that she brings out that this was not just a diplomatic affair--she looks inside both the words of the chroniclers and the now empty shells of Henry’s armor to bring out that this was an encounter between two living, breathing, sweating men, men of embodied experience and who loved martial sport, and who, because of accidents of birth, saw the other as perhaps the only person they would ever meet with whom they could compete as a true equal.

Overall, this is a good volume that furthers the conversation about chivalry, deeds of arms, and statecraft, as well as gives good details on the actual artifacts. It adds to the fundamental studies by Anglo and Barber and Barker, as well as those of Muhlberger and Fallows. Alas, we will likely not see this conversation carried on much outside of sessions organized at rather open and welcoming conferences such as Leeds and Kalamazoo and the papers that emerge therefrom. It is worth noting that, according to their biographies, four of the contributors--Anderson, Beswick, Titterton, and Viallon--are not in, or are retired from, full-time academic or para-academic fields. This reflects the general interests of the field of medieval and early modern studies in the early twenty-first century, as well as of this particular interest. Arms, armor, and chivalry do not get one a job these days.

Finally, in keeping with the above theme of the sad state of the scholarly world, I need to address the print quality of the book; the pages wrinkled after just a few weeks being kept safe and dry in my computer bag. I know budgets are tight, but surely Boydell and Brewer could have afforded better paper?