Monday, May 23, 2016

Reviews of Royal Jousts and the Combat of the Thirty (De Re Militari)

Muhlberger, Royal Jousts at the End of the Fourteenth Century & The Combat of the Thirty (Sposato) De Re Militari
MAY 23, 2016
Royal Jousts at the End of the Fourteenth Century, Deeds of Arms series 1
The Combat of the Thirty, Deeds of Arms series 2
ed. and trans. by Steven Muhlberger
(Freelance Academy Press, 2012) i- viii, 88 pp., $24.95; ii- viii, 83 pp., $24.95
Over the past fifteen years Steven Muhlberger has established himself as one of the leading authorities on medieval chivalry. His scholarly oeuvre has not only made an important contribution to the larger field, but in many ways has blazed a new trail through his focus on case-studies of particular events, individuals, and texts. [1] The two works reviewed herein, Royal Jousts at the End of the Fourteenth Century and The Combat of the Thirty, fit this mold and are part of a series on formal deeds of arms (faits d’armes) published by Freelance Academy Press, one that has already received the approbation of scholars. [2] These two volumes, and the series as a whole, will be especially attractive to scholar-teachers who can use them to great effect in the classroom, while also offering a useful introduction for graduate students and researchers who wish to study for the first time formal deeds of arms and their important role in the chivalric culture of late medieval Europe.
In the first volume in the series, Royal Jousts, Muhlberger examines four historical jousts held in 1389-1390. Three of the jousts were organized by the French and one by the English: the Joust at St. Denis (May 1389), the Joust accompanying Queen Isabella of Bavaria’s entry into Paris (August 1389), the Joust at St. Inglevert (March-April 1390), and the Joust at Smithfield near London (October 1390). These jousts were meant to celebrate both armes (arms, i.e., prowess, bravery, valor, etc.) and amour (love). In addition, they served the propagandistic purposes of two young kings, Charles VI of France and Richard II of England, who sought to both secure a lasting peace between their kingdoms after decades of war and to encourage and reward the chivalric energy and violence of their knights and men-at-arms. These two seemingly contradictory impulses could be reconciled in such formal combats.
The first part of Royal Jousts consists of an introduction and succinct historical study of the jousts. Muhlberger aptly sets the stage for each and duly notes their larger implications. Indeed, Muhlberger usefully points out that formal deeds of arms, including jousts, “were taken extremely seriously [by contemporaries:] they were war, diplomacy, or domestic politics in a different form”, suggesting that they were far more than simply a means to satisfy the romantic fancy of a small segment of late medieval society. (12) Muhlberger also includes a critical, albeit concise, discussion of the relatively limited available sources, emphasizing caution in their use: “we should not[…] mistake interest and enthusiasm for diligent, accurate reportage”. (3) The limitations of these sources are all the more important because the accounts of these jousts, especially the joust at St. Inglevert, have generally been utilized by scholars to “stand[…] in for every unrecorded jousting match of the later Middle Ages”. (6) Muhlberger’s English translations of the various texts that discuss each of the four jousts and an appendix, which attempts to score the 137 courses run by the French champions at St. Inglevert, complete the volume.
In the second volume, The Combat of the Thirty, Muhlberger examines a different kind of formal deeds of arms, a pre-arranged battle between two groups of strenuous warriors. In this particular battle, generally known as the Combat of the Thirty, two groups of thirty men fought in an open field in Brittany on March 27, 1351. Each group represented one of the garrisons of two nearby castles (Josselin and Ploermel) and the battle was apparently occasioned by the promise of the captain of one of the sides that “we will go to an open field and there we will fight as long as we can endure it”. (1) The Combat of the Thirty was in many ways a decidedly local (i.e., Breton) affair, while at the same time serving as a microcosm of the larger conflict between the French and English during the Hundred Years War, although it was not officially sanctioned by the leadership on either side. Indeed, the Combat of the Thirty divided opinion among contemporaries, while at the same time acquiring a lasting (and contested) legacy that has continued to the present.
The Combat of the Thirty is organized in a fashion similar to Royal Jousts. The first part consists of a brief, but illuminating historical introduction to the Combat of the Thirty and its place in both the history of the Hundred Years War and of Brittany as a region. Muhlberger also attempts to answer several sensible questions: “Why did sixty men risk themselves in a fight to the finish on that spring day in Brittany six and a half centuries ago? Why did it attract attention and praise in its time? Why does it interest us still?”. (2) His answers shed light on some of the nuances of chivalric culture in the mid-fourteenth century and the important role formal deeds of arms played in it. The introduction also includes a useful discussion of the extant and often conflicting sources that treat the Combat of the Thirty. The second part of the volume contains Muhlberger’s translations of these texts. Finally, the volume also contains two appendices. In the first, Muhlberger reconstructs, as much as is possible, a list of the combatants on both sides, as well as their heraldic devices. Historians of the Hundred Years War will no doubt recognize several of the participants, especially Robert Knolles, Hugh Calveley (Calverley), Jean de Beaumanoir, and Yves (Yvain) Charruel. The second appendix, composed by Douglas Strong, offers a short analysis of the armor of the English and Breton combatants.
In summary, Royal Jousts and The Combat of the Thirty will offer researchers, scholar-teachers, and students alike a stimulating and enlightening introduction to two different kinds of formal deeds of arms: jousts and a pre-arranged battle between two groups of chosen combatants. Muhlberger’s historical introductions and analysis in both volumes are succinct and informative. Likewise, the translations in both works are approachable and accurate. These translations will prove especially useful in the classroom, not least because they will allow students to compare different accounts of the same events. They will also serve as an entry point for those interested in investigating these formal deeds of arms in greater detail, even if specialists and non-specialists alike will lament the lack of footnotes and more expansive analysis. These very minor points, however, take nothing away from the overall quality of the volumes. Finally, this reviewer would be remiss to not give credit to both the author and the publisher for producing two books that are beautifully illustrated and, more importantly, eminently affordable.
Peter W. Sposato
Indiana University Kokomo
[1] Prominent among Muhlberger’s other publications on chivalry are: Jousts and Tournaments: Charny and the Rules for Chivalric Sport in Fourteenth-Century France (Chivalry Bookshelf, 2002); Deeds of Arms: Formal Combats in the Late Fourteenth Century (Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005); and Charny’s Men-at-Arms: Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments, and War (Freelance Academy Press, 2014).
[2] The series includes: Noel Fallows, The Twelve of England, Deeds of Arms 3 (Freelance Academy Press, 2013) and Steven Muhlberger, Will a Frenchman Fight, Deeds of Arms 4 (Freelance Academy Press, 2015). For the positive reception of The Twelve of England, see the review by Dr. Samuel Claussen on the De Re Militari website-

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