Decline of Chivalry, As Shown in the French Literature of the Late Middle Ages 0844612626, 9780844612621

458 72 10MB

English Pages [455] Year 1966

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

Decline of Chivalry, As Shown in the French Literature of the Late Middle Ages
 0844612626, 9780844612621

Table of contents :
Introduction: The Origin and Ideals of Chivalry
I. A Historical View of the Decline of Chivalry
II. Froissart — Chronicler of Chivalric Revival and Decadence
III. Eustache Deschamps
IV. The Status of Courtly Love
1. Chevalier de la Tour-Landry
2. Les Cent Ballades
3. Christine de Pisan
4. Les Quinze joy es de mariage
V. Three Religious Critics of Chivalry
1. Philippe de Mézières
2. Honoré Bonet
3. Jean Gerson
VI. Alain Chartier — The Patriot
VII. The Burgundian Tradition
1. The Spirit of Burgundian Chivalry
2. Philippe le Hardi and Jean sans Peur
3. Philippe le Bon
4. Charles le Téméraire
VIII. Two Manuals of Knighthood
1. Le Petit Jehan de Saintrê
2. Le Jouvencel
IX. Varied Aspects of French Chivalry after 1430
1. The Failure of Chivalry
2. The Triumph of Bourgeois Literature
3. Dramatic Satire of Chivalry
X. Representative Chroniclers of the Fifteenth Century
XI. Philippe de Commines
XII. Conclusion

Citation preview







Cambridge, Massachusetts HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS !937






many scholarly works have dealt with the general theme of chivalry, none, to my knowledge, have given more than a few perfunctory pages to the question of chivalric decadence. Undoubtedly it is more gratifying to study the age of knightly splendor than to record the disappearance of a noble ideal. Nevertheless, there is a definite savor to an age of decadence which appeals more readily, perhaps, to the modern temperament than the soulful enthusiasm of the age of idealism. While the period from 1350 to 1500 can scarcely be described as gleaming with the "phosphorescence of decay," 1 it does inaugurate a current of realism and self-consciousness quite similar to that of today. The present work makes no attempt, except in the most summary fashion, to deal with the complex historical problems underlying the decline of chivalry. It is confined to the more specific question of tracing the decline of chivalry as manifested in the French literature of the dying Middle Ages. It is to be hoped that this study may prove of some slight assistance to historians of the period. ALTHOUGH

The reader will note the omission of two prominent figures, Charles d'Orléans and François Villon. The former's indifference to the world about him and the latter's absorption in his private woes are sufficient reasons for their failure to concern themselves with chivalry. It may also appear that the many chroniclers of the period, with the exception of Froissart and Commines, are somewhat slighted. The reason for this neg1

Used by Baudelaire to describe the works of Poe.



lect, inconsistently enough, is that they offer too abundant material concerning the decadence of knighthood for a work of this scope. This study was begun as a doctoral dissertation at Harvard, under the direction of Professor Richmond L. Hawkins. Professor J D. M. Ford encouraged me to revise it for publication, and I wish to express to him my gratitude for his generous assistance, without which this work could never have been undertaken. I wish to give particular thanks to Professor Hawkins, whose willingness to give most liberally of his time and advice for the aid of his friends and students has endeared him to all who have worked with him. His wise and helpful criticism has been invaluable in the preparation of this volume. Doctor M. E. Borish also gave me valuable criticism during the final preparation of the manuscript. Finally, I wish to express my gratitude for the untiring assistance given me by my wife, Sarah Vance Kilgour, in the laborious drafting and completion of the manuscript. I am indebted to PMLA for permission to reprint part of an article on Honoré Bonet. R. L. K. LEXINGTON, MASSACHUSETTS

November, 1935

CONTENTS Introduction: The Origin and Ideals of Chivalry . . . .


I. A Historical View of the Decline of Chivalry . . .


II. Froissart — Chronicler of Chivalric Revival and Decadence


III. Eustache Deschamps IV. The Status of Courtly Love

84 108

ι . Chevalier de la Tour-Landry


2. Les Cent Ballades


3. Christine de Pisan


4. Les Quinze joyes de mariage


V. Three Religious Critics of Chivalry


ι. Philippe de Mézières


2. Honoré Bonet


3. Jean Gerson


VI. Alain Chartier — The Patriot VII. The Burgundian Tradition

195 226

χ. The Spirit of Burgundian Chivalry


2. Philippe le Hardi and Jean sans Peur . . . .


3. Philippe le Bon


4. Charles le Téméraire


VIII. Two Manuals of Knighthood


1. Le Petit Jehan de Saintré


2. Le Jouvencel




IX. Varied Aspects of French Chivalry after 1430

. .

ι. The Failure of Chivalry 2. The Triumph of Bourgeois Literature

. . .

3. Dramatic Satire of Chivalry X . Representative Chroniclers of the Fifteenth Century XI. Philippe de Commines XII. Conclusion Index

333 333 353 360 373 394 418 425

I N T R O D U C T I O N T H E ORIGINS AND IDEALS OF CHIVALRY CHIVALRY was both an ideal and an institution, a historical movement and a poetic fiction. As an institution it contained within itself the germs of decadence to such an extent that historians cannot agree on the period of its Golden Age, but are ever setting it farther back in time. As an ideal its fate was somewhat different, and though it suffered from the contrast between the purity of the concept and the grossness of reality, it grew in breadth and nobility to become the code of the gentleman. The chivalric ideal was always noble, whatever the flaws in the order itself. To quote the eloquent words of John Addington Symonds : 1

Chivalry, though rarely realized in its pure beauty, though scarcely to be seized outside the songs of poets and the fictions of romancers, was the spiritual force which gave its value to the institutions and the deeds of feudalism. Whatever was most noble in the self-devotion of Crusaders; most beneficial to the world in the foundation of the knightly orders; most brilliant in the lives of Richard, the Edwards, Tancred, Godfrey of Bouillon; most enthusiastic in the lives of Rudel, Dante, Petrarch; most humane in the courtesy of the Black Prince; most splendid in the courage of Bayard; in the gallantry of Gaston de Foix; in the constancy of Sir Walter Manny; in the loyalty of Blondel; in the piety of St. Louis — may be claimed by the evanescent and impalpable yet potent spirit which we call chivalry.

Since the chief purpose of this work is to trace the decline of chivalry, it may be helpful to sketch, as 1

J. A. Symonds, An Introduction to the Study of Dante (London, 1899),

ch. viii.



briefly as possible, the period of chivalric growth and ascendancy, and to enumerate the ideals which actuated the model knight. Although the origins of the order are still obscure, most authorities are agreed that French chivalry arose from the feudal system; hence we may begin by taking a glance at the growth of feudalism.1 When the Germanic tribes moved across the Rhine upon Roman soil they were a nation of hunters and fighters, with little interest in agriculture. In the conquered territories they found a race of landowners living on the products of the land, and in course of time they themselves changed their ways of life, especially as the population increased, substituting private ownership of land for their former nomadic existence. They adopted the Gallo-Roman system of land tenure known as the precarium, whereby powerful nobles gave protection to small landowners in return for the title to the lands so protected. Another institution, the patrocinium, existed for the benefit of those who owned no land but were taken into the personal service of the magnate. The Franks found this latter institution very similar to their own comitatus, as described by Tacitus in the Germania. Since this Germanic institution is usually regarded as the probable basis of both chivalry and feudalism, it is worthy of more detailed consideration. According to Tacitus, the Germans were in the custom of wearing arms on all occasions, public or private, but no one could assume the right unless duly qualified by the tribe. When the young Germans arrived at the age of men, they solemnly received, in the assembly of the tribe, the rank and the arms of warriors. Tacitus 1 Cf. the chapter on feudalism in G. B. Adams's Civilization during the Middle Ages (New York, 1903).



next describes the comitatus, the following of those men who have "signalized themselves by a spirit of enterprise": Where merit is conspicuous, no man blushes to be seen in the list of followers or companions. A clanship is formed in this manner, with degrees of rank and subordination. The chief judges the pretensions of all, and assigns to each man his proper station. A spirit of emulation prevails among his whole train, all struggling to be first in favour, while the chief places all his glory in the number and intrepidity of his companions. . . . All are bound to defend their leader, to succour him in the heat of action, and to make even their own actions subservient to his renown. This is the bond of union, the most sacred obligation. The chief fights for victory; the followers for their chief. . . . The chief must show liberality, and the follower expects it. He demands at one time this warlike horse, at another this victorious lance stained with the blood of the enemy.1

The young Germans were initiated into the comitatus by a ceremonial adoptio per arma, an investiture with weapons, by means of which the participants in the rite acquired the artificial characters of father and son, not for any purpose of inheritance but in a purely honorary capacity. The resemblance of these primitive ceremonies to those of later day chivalry is unmistakable. The Roman patrocinium and the Frankish comitatus were soon merged into one institution. While the patrocinium-comitatus implied military service as part of its obligations, the precarium, or land-tenure, had no military obligations. To become the feudal system these two institutions had to be combined. It was Charles Martel who fused the two into one system, chiefly as a result of the Arabian attack on Gaul. 1 Tacitus, Germania, chs. xiii and xiv.

translated by Arthur Murphy (Philadelphia, 1846),



The Franks, like the other Germans, fought on foot, for cavalry had played only a small part in the military tactics of western Europe, even though the Eastern Roman emperors had utilized it with great success in their armies. The battle of Châlons was won by infantry against the mounted hordes of Attila, and at Tours the Moslem riders of Abderrahman hurled themselves vainly against the Frankish infantry, "standing firm as a wall and impenetrable as a zone of ice." 1 Charles Martel was impressed, however, with the speed and flexibility of the Arab cavalry, and decided that the only way by which to repel their frequent raids into Aquitaine was to form his own body of horsemen. Horses were expensive for the citizen soldier, who armed and supported himself with great difficulty as it was. There was but one remedy — the state must aid the soldiers and the only way to do it was by grants of land. Unfortunately, land for this purpose was extremely scarce, so that Charles Martel chose the easiest way out — he confiscated church lands and gave them to his followers, his vassals. This was the beginning of the feudal system. The monarch made grants of land to vassals, who were bound to him by a bond of personal fidelity, in order that they might have enough wealth to furnish mounted troops. These vassals subdivided their lands among their own vassals, under the same terms of service. As time went on, and the system of vassalage came to be considered identical with the ownership of land, the service to the overlord began to be regulated by the ownership of land, with a gradual weakening of the primitive bond of personal fidelity. The land granted, 1

E. S. Creasy, Decisive Battles of the World (New York, 1904), p. 173.



with its accompanying obligations of military service, was known as a beneficium or fief. These horsemen, the caballarii, as they are termed in Charlemagne's Capitularies, were the feudal knights. They were still part of a comitatus, whether their overlord was the king or one of his nobles, and were bound by an oath of personal allegiance which created a fraternity of service much like that of the Scottish clan. In this household, as it was called, composed of the bloodrelatives of the lord, relatives by marriage, and a group of vassals, some served as cavalry (caballarii), others as foot-soldiers (pedites). Sheathed in coats of mail, astride their enormous war-horses, these heavy-armed warriors became the shock troops of the fighting force, as infantry gradually lost its importance. To belong to this favored group one had to be strong, athletic, able to carry the weight of the armor, expert in horsemanship, and skilled in the use of weapons, especially the lance and the sword. Besides these physical qualifications one had to possess enough wealth to maintain a horse and arms in the field at one's own expense, unless one were fortunate enough to win a horse and arms on the field of battle or become the retainer of a rich and generous lord. These warriors, realizing their position as the military élite, soon assumed a social superiority in accordance with it. 1 Just as the Germanic chieftain assigned degrees of subordination in his following, so do we find them in later feudal service. The best warrior was the best vassal, linked to his lord by the closest relationship. Chivalry first appeared as a symbol of perfection in the military duties of feudalism; but at the same time it 1

J. Flach, Les Origines de l'ancienne France (Paris, 1893), II, 561 ff.



denoted complete loyalty and devotion to the lord who had given the aspirant his arms and ushered him into the group of chosen vassals. This was brought out in the twofold nature of the ceremony itself. As an incitement to military prowess the candidate received a complete set of arms or was girded with a sword, as when Charlemagne solemnly fastened a sword about his son Louis le Débonnaire. By this gift and this ceremony the recipient became a son, as it were, of the donor. The accolade, that vigorous blow on the nape of the neck, was purposely energetic, for it was intended to fix in the memory of the young knight both the ceremony and the lord who administered the blow. As a climax the young initiate had to show his strength and skill in public, had to curvet his horse and strike the quintain a full, resounding blow. Early chivalry was not a distinct, national institution, it had none of the idealism so characteristic of the later period. The knight's duties were those of a loyal soldier, who, as a result of his military skill, had risen to a higher social standing. Nor was chivalry, by the tenth and eleventh centuries, an order in the true sense of the word; the warrior was not a knight in any international, or even national, sense. He was the knight of someone, serving the lord who had taken him into his circle of vassals.1 By the year iooo feudalism had done its work, for it had come into existence as a military system, the only possible means of defence against the invading hosts of Saracens, Slavs, Magyars, and Danes which threatened the life of Christendom, and had succeeded in driving back or subjugating each of these enemies. 1

Ibid., pp. 570-S71·



With the danger of foreign invasion past, the feudal castle could become something more than a fort. It began to be a center of home life, a little court grew up, and the social graces were cultivated. Feminine influence made itself felt, softening the brutality of the warrior, who was still more or less of a barbarian. Small comforts and luxuries appeared, as the great barn-like halls began to be ornamented, even though crudely. The sons and daughters of vassals were sent to be educated and trained in the arts of politeness in the castles of their suzerains. Quietly yet surely culture began to find its way through the grim portals of the baronial fortress. As the external conditions changed, so were the ideas of men transformed. Bravery was the knight's highest ideal, and this quality he began to value in others. His adversary deserved to be treated with the generosity and loyalty he wished for himself. If he was a suzerain, he had inviolable duties toward his vassals: it was a point of honor for him to defend them. In his pride he often extended, in magnanimous bravado, his protection to the weak and humble, to show that he feared no rival whatever. Thus magnanimity could come from an excess of pride and strength.1 A t the same time the Church began to lift a protesting voice against the evils of the age. It proposed the complete abolition of all war among Christians, but even threats of hell fire could not prevent feudal wars. As a last resort the Church proclaimed the Truce of God, the first mention of which is to be found in the year 1041. Though it was not carefully observed, it marked a definite trend toward a Christianization of feudal life. 1

Ibid., p. 572.



The Church even began to put its seal on the ordination of the knights. As early as the ninth century a benediction was given to the newly-made knight, and we find in a Service Book of the tenth century a definite religious ceremony, which was rapidly amplified.1 In this way the Church started its campaign against feudal brutality, seeking to capture this mighty force for the service of religion. With the emergence of these new ideals of life, tending towards personal freedom and individual betterment, the feudal vassal began to chafe under the many feudal restrictions. He was always under the direct control of his lord, and only with the opportunities of military service as required by his lord could he hope to attain any ascendancy in arms. The numerous petty rights preëmpted by the overlord, the heavy sums necessary for the feudal aids — that is, the overlord's ransom, if captured, a dowry for his daughter, money when the lord's eldest son became a knight — all these burdens must have engendered a certain restlessness and desire for something better and less galling. The feudal warrior sought military glory above all things and thus it is not at all strange that he should long to gain this glory whenever and wherever he himself willed, and not at the behest of his overlord. One of the great periods of expansion came to his rescue. The arrogance and cruelty of the Turks, who had just wrested the Holy Land from the weakening grasp of the Saracens, offered the spark for the conflagration. Under the impulsion of the emotional oratory of Peter the Hermit and thousands of his fellow clergy, enheartened by the sanction of Pope Urban II, 2

L. Gautier, La Chevalerie (Paris, 1890), pp. 297-299.



a great tide of religious fervor swept over western Europe. As Cornish says: All the devotion, all the enterprise, ambition, and restlessness of nations beginning to groan under the tightening of domestic tyranny, the aspiration and the discontent of all Europe swelled the cry of "Dieu le v e u t ! " 1

Throngs of fervid enthusiasts started to wend their way to the appointed gathering places, and the great adventure was on. Just as the Crusades marked the triumph of the Church in its long campaign to win feudalism to the service of religion, they also marked the end of strictly feudal chivalry. The Church made a direct call to all men, lords and vassals alike. While the lord could not compel his vassal to go on a crusade, the vassal could go even without his lord's consent, for the enterprise was in the service of God. This freedom of action resulted in a distinct weakening of feudal restraint in favor of the vassal, to form a freer conception of knighthood. Since the Church had called these warriors to her aid and had made them agents of God on earth, it was only natural that she should wish to consecrate these defenders of the Cross with new religious ceremonies. A more complicated ceremonial of ordination was developed accordingly. For the knight's emulation were held up the primordial feats of arms of the archangel Michael, the first knight; at one point of the ceremony he was given a blow on the cheek, in memory of the blows received by Jesus, blows which it was his duty to avenge on the persons of all enemies of Christianity. The ordination was no longer the mere adoption into a 1

F. Warre Cornish, Chivalry

(London, 1901), p. 23.



clan, with all the primitive obligations; it had become the combination of a vow of personal loyalty and an initiation into a great Christian society of national and international scope. At the same Council of Clermont in which the First Crusade was proclaimed, the Pope issued the general injunction that every person of noble birth, upon reaching the age of twelve years, should take a solemn oath that he would defend to the uttermost the oppressed, the widow, and the orphan; and that women of noble birth should enjoy his special care. It was the Church, therefore, that formulated first of all the duty of all aspirants to chivalry to protect the weak and humble, not through pride but through love and mercy. It is this principle of chivalry which has made it famous throughout history. The formation of the religious orders, such as the Knights of St. John and the Templars, helped to free chivalry from feudalism. Knighthood could not be refused these warriors of the Lord because they had no fiefs or had used up all their possessions to equip themselves for the Holy War. Their bravery in battle, which soon became famous, strengthened their claim to knighthood for other than religious reasons. Another factor which became important at this period, namely, the multiplication of fiefs by subdivision, helped to create a freer knighthood. Many fiefs were so small that the younger brother had, perforce, to seek service under some wealthy lord, and thence attain to a knighthood that was not dependant on a hereditary fief. Such knighthood could be bestowed only as a reward for great bravery and notable worth : if the young aspirant obtained the honor, he was at once equal and superior to the strictly feudal knights, for his knight-



hood was due to exceptional qualities of skill and valor. Consequently, many of the territorial knights became ashamed of assuming the title of knight until they could honestly claim it by right of personal merit. Chivalry, therefore, began to emerge as an institution distinct from feudalism, based upon an ideal rather than a legal relationship. Of course, feudalism still remained the source of wealth, and military service was still regulated by feudal obligations. But while the fief itself, unless forfeited, was hereditary, chivalry was never so, remaining a personal distinction that was untransferable from father to son. Chivalry could not be entirely separated from feudalism, however, for the convention became established that only those who traced their descent from the feudal nobility might attain the dignity of knighthood, with the result that French chivalry took on a distinctly aristocratic tone. Hence every noble was not a knight, but every knight was of necessity a noble. What is most important, however, is the fact that chivalry, though still linked in this way with feudalism, began to turn from the obligatory knight-service of former days to a nobler chivalry, filled with ideals of unselfish duty and religious fervor. " T h i s chivalry invaded the very strongholds of rank and clung like ivy round the grey battlements of feudalism, at once beautifying and destroying it." 1 War and Religion, two of the chief elements of chivalry, were combined in the Crusades. But there was another element essential to chivalry not to be found in that violent age: this element was Gallantry. The knights of the early Crusades and of the first chansons de geste were not submissive to feminine charms. Their 1

C. H. Pearson, The History of England

(London, 1861), p. 435.



virtues were reckless valor, unswerving fidelity to the Church, and whole-hearted seeking of military glory, while their vices were correspondingly vigorous, " t h e virtues and vices of Homeric heroes, not of Christian paladins as imagined in the ideal pictures of Tasso and Spenser." 1 It was the troubadours of Provence, in the twelfth century, who disseminated throughout western Europe their doctrines of courtly love, which elevated woman to the rank of goddess. In musical verses they sang of the delights of love, they extolled courtesy and gallantry even above other qualities, with the result that courtesy became inseparable from the conception of chivalry, as our own modern use of the term plainly indicates. Moreover, the love of God and the love of ladies were enjoined as a single duty. The knight who was faithful to his mistress was deemed sure of salvation in the theology of castles though not of cloisters. When Louis II, Duke of Bourbon, founded the order of the Écu d'or, he besought his knights to honor above all else the ladies and to preserve them from slander, because from them, after God, came all the honor that men can acquire. 2 Along with the exaltation of gallantry the troubadours elaborated a poetic ideal of chivalry, which rejected self-interest, pillage, and the indulgence of bloody and sensual passions as ignoble, setting up in their stead the cult of honor, fidelity to family and comrade, to suzerain and king, to one's nation and one's God. The true knight gave up all thought of himself. He swore to renounce the pursuit of wealth, to act nobly for the love of nobleness, to be generous, to be courteous, to redress wrongs, to engage in no quarrel but a just one, to be true 1 2

Cornish, op. cit., ch. vili. H. Hallam, History of the Middle Ages (New York, 1900), bk. IX.



to his word, and above all else, to protect the helpless and to serve women.1 There is little doubt that chivalric ideas had much influence on the course of history during the Middle Ages, notwithstanding the economic historians who would explain everything by trade routes and commercial expansion. Illusions and golden dreams have always played a tremendous rôle in human events, and it is absurd to represent the past as a rational whole, constantly ruled by clearly defined interests. Perhaps the greatest praise that can be given chivalry is this, that while its rules were not always obeyed by those who acknowledged their authority, there was held up, nevertheless, before the eyes of all, a standard higher than any which had been known before. The very existence of this standard was a tremendous factor in the slow development of society out of barbarism into a relative civilization during the age of chivalry. As one indication of this improvement, we may take the benefits springing from the knightly rule of honor. Undoubtedly it had its bad points as well, since the point of honor became a most pernicious principle; yet it served as a check on many unbridled passions. William Rufus of England, one of the worst scoundrels of his time, could never be induced to break his plighted word, and was sometimes restrained from crimes by knightly scruples. As Freeman has said of him and of Richard the Lionhearted, their bad qualities were their own, their good qualities were due to chivalry.2 The heroes of the Hundred Years' War, Chandos, Sir Walter Manny, Du Guesclin, all were men of sterling honor and integrity. J. A. Symonds, op. cit., ch. viii. E. A. Freeman, The History of the Norman New York, 1876), V, 47-49. 1


Conquest of England




Such men offer some compensation for the horrible cruelties of that long contest, and we must remember that they are only the most famous names. The spirit of gallantry refined, even if it did not purify, the relations between men and women. Coupled with it went courtesy, not a mere debt of honor, but a true virtue filled with gentleness, humility, and graciousness. The high position now accorded to women derives in an unbroken line from chivalry: the goddess idolized by the Provençal poets is the ancestress of the modern woman, and the respect with which she is treated is due in no small measure to chivalric influence. It is easy enough to dwell on the abuses and absurdities of the cult, but it is unjust to neglect this important bequest of the chivalric age. M a n y alleviations of the cruelty of war came from chivalry. The customs of war in ancient times did not require that mercy be shown the inhabitants of a conquered city. Slave dealers followed every Roman army, and while the women and children of the conquered place were delivered over to them, the men were slaughtered in an orgy of bloodshed. T o kill the poor and save the rich may seem a biased clemency, and not a tremendous improvement; yet such were the beginnings of greater mercy in warfare, to be extended more and more as the spirit of chivalry made itself felt. " A thousand years of Christianity passed without any softening of the severity of war, till chivalry brought in the idea of an universal bond of knightly brotherhood, and taught the lesson of respect for an enemy." 1 Chivalry also had a beneficial influence on the growth of the laws of war. In the Arbre des Batailles of Honoré Bonet 1

Cornish, op. cit., p. 355.



we find one of the first treatises on international law, the application of knightly precepts to the stern realities of war. The virtues of truthfulness, loyalty, and the consequent hatred of treason and falsehood in any form received a mighty exaltation in the doctrines of chivalry. Liberality and hospitality grew up as fundamental duties of society and have remained the ideal of true courtesy for the modern man. It is honor, however, that supplies the distinctive motivation in chivalry. Huizinga offers this tribute to chivalric honor: Military duty was conceived in the first place as the honor of a knight. Taine says: " I n the middle and lower classes the chief motive of conduct is self-interest. With an aristocracy the mainspring is pride. Now among the profound sentiments of man there is none more apt to be transformed into probity, patriotism, and conscience, for a proud man feels the need of self-respect, and, to obtain it, he is led to deserve it." Is not this the point of view whence we must consider the importance of chivalry in the history of civilization? Pride assuming the features of a high ethical value, knightly self-respect preparing the way for clemency and right. These transitions in the domain of thought are real. All the best elements of patriotism — the spirit of sacrifice, the desire for justice and protection for the oppressed — sprouted in the soil of chivalry. It is in the classic country of chivalry, in France, that are heard for the first time the touching accents of love of the fatherland, irradiated by the sentiments of justice. 1

Chivalry's value to the mediaeval world lay in the very soaring of its ideal far above the plane of reality. What matter if the institution itself failed? The knightly ideal continued on to formulate a still nobler code, that of the gentleman. 1

J. Huizinga, The Waning

of the Middle

Ages (London, 1924), eh. vii.


Chapter I A HISTORICAL VIEW OF THE DECLINE OF CHIVALRY I CHIVALRY, like all aristocracies, passed through three stages of development: the age of superiority, the age of privilege, and the age of vanity. Its first and heroic age achieved the amazing fusion of military glory with religious fervor. With the gradual weakening of these great motive forces chivalry was content to rest upon its laurels, elaborating its standards of courtesy and gallantry. The final period shows us a chivalry bent on mad, exaggerated display, as if to hide its impotence and its sordid vices under gilded armor and flowered silk. The ideal of chivalry was an almost impossible one ; almost, one must say, because there were heroic men in every age of chivalry who approached as near as was humanly possible to its lofty standard. But for the great majority no religious ceremony could consecrate mediaeval warfare or sanctify mediaeval love. Consequently, in the very first years of chivalry appear those weaknesses which, in the fifteenth century, swelled to a flood that swept away the whole order. An attempt will be made in this chapter to trace the decadence of chivalry both as ideal and as institution, the discussion, however, to be limited to French chivalry. Since it is generally conceded that chivalry reached its highest point in France, the history of its downfall in France should be all the more revealing.



The chivalric ideal was the first to weaken, naturally enough, leaving the magnificent but hollow shell of the institution to continue on for almost two centuries. Ideal chivalry had been born in the fervor of the Crusades, when military supremacy was one with the service of God. For a century and a half this passionate fusion of religion and war ruled men's souls, swelling periodically into the mass fervor of a crusade. Yet, after only one century, the religious zeal was flagging, dimmed by the lust for gold and for power, and the Fourth Crusade ended in a plundering expedition. The element of gallantry, which came to complete this trinity of mediaeval society, helped to destroy the purity and power of the other two. With its basic inspiration lost, chivalry could continue only as a splendid pageant, an elaborate and exclusive game to mask the coarser aspects of existence. The order of knighthood had lost its deeper value for society by the end of the thirteenth century with the advent of such a figure as Philippe le Bel, a living symbol of the coldly practical spirit that succeeds each burst of human enthusiasm. According to the views of some early writers, chivalry was in a state of decline in the twelfth century, the age of its greatest glory. Archdeacon Peter of Blois, a caustic critic of chivalry, wrote to a friend concerning some knights: They do not know what knights and chivalry mean; otherwise they would kiss the earth before the clergy, they would apply to their impertinent language the restraint that is proper for their age. The knighthood of to-day! Why, it consists of disorderly living! . . . Since your nephews have adopted the profession of their companions in arms, they have also adopted their detestable habits. . . . What has become of the military art, so well taught by Vegetius and so many others? It no longer exists: it is



the art of giving oneself up to all sorts of excesses and of leading a sottish life.

Formerly, he continues, soldiers swore to defend the state with their lives; to-day, the knights receive their swords from the priests and swear to defend the Church, as well as to protect the poor. No sooner have they donned their armor than they do the contrary, despoiling and desecrating the Church. The Roman soldier had sobriety, fortitude, and courage as his virtues: To-day our warriors are reared in luxury. See them leave for the campaign; are their packs filled with iron, with swords and lances? No! but with leathern bottles of wine, with cheeses and spits for roasting. One would suppose that they were going to picnic and not to fight. They carry splendid plated shields which they greatly hope to bring back unused. On their armor and on their saddles are pictured scenes of battle; these are sufficient for them: they have no desire to see more.1

Although we know that chivalry was at its height in this century, the witty observations of the churchman emphasize the faults latent in the order. The Provençal troubadours, the first to elaborate the courtly code of knighthood in their verses, also gave the reverse of the medal. Giraut de Bornelh, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, bewailed the passing of the old order: the great lords had turned away from poetry and joy; yielding to their brutal instincts, they had made of war and pillage their favorite pastimes.2 True gallantry had disappeared: I used to see the barons in beautiful armor following tournaments, and I heard those who had had given the best blow spoken 1 A. Luchaire, Social France ai the Time of Philip Augustus, E. B. Krehbiel (New York, 1912), pp. 273-274. * J. Anglade, Les Troubadours (Paris, 1922), p. 134.

translated by



of for many a day. Now honor lies in stealing cattle, sheep, and oxen, or pillaging churches and travelers. Oh, fie upon the knight who drives off sheep, who pillages churches and travelers, and then appears before a l a d y ! 1

The knights who joined the monastic orders were no better, according to another troubadour: the Knight Templars added simony to all the usual faults; in their houses, where chastity and poverty were supposed to hold sway, were found only opulence and pride, combined with hypocritical faith : Enians e tracios Es lor confessios.2

One of the last of the troubadours decried the faint religious zeal of his contemporaries when the Eighth Crusade was proclaimed : Mas trop d'omes son qu'eras fan semblansa que passaran, e ges no'n an dezire; don se sabran del passar escondire ganren d'aquelhs, e dirán ses duptansa: "ieu passera si'l sout del rey agues"; l'autre dirán: " i e u no suy benanans"; l'autre dirán: "s'ieu non agues efans, tost passera, que say no'm tengra res." 3

Peire Vidal had proclaimed years before that the knights of noble birth had become so despicable that a new body of knights, drawn from the people, would have to supplantthem. Just as the Mamelukes, tired of being slaves, had driven out the Egyptian nobility, so chivalry, which 1 Quoted by W. C. Meiler, A Knight's Life in the Days of Chivalry (London, 1924), p. 61. 2 Lacume de Sainte-Palaye, Mémoires sur l'ancienne chevalerie (Paris, 1826), I, 373. • Raimon Gaucelm de Beziers, in Appel's Provenzalische Chrestomathie (Leipzig, 1920), p. i n .



had lost its former worth, its magnificence, and its other virtues, was threatened with a similar downfall. 1 Nor were the French poets slow in perceiving the faults of chivalry. Matheolus, who wrote towards the end of the thirteenth century, told how Satan married off his seven daughters : Rapine, qui est Pillerie, Prist a mari Chevallerie. . . . 2

The authors of certain fabliaux and of the diverse branches of the Roman de Renart, realistic poets like Jean de Meung and Ruteboeuf, all attacked chivalry and asserted that it was in decadence. With the order started on its downward path so early, the literature of the following centuries was sure to abound in evidences of decline. Nevertheless, all the famous chroniclers, with the exception of Commines and Thomas Basin, offer literary allegiance to chivalry. The society they knew was based on chivalry; its ideals gave them a key to the interpretation of history. Few men stopped to question deeply whether chivalry was living and vital to the state. The splendor of its forms, the entirely static conception of society that prevailed, seemed to preclude any doubt. Hence Froissart, Monstrelet, Chastellain, La Marche, Molinet, all open their chronicles with sonorous eulogies of knighthood, declaring their intention to glorify knightly deeds and virtues. It is to be feared that they forgot their ideal somewhat as they wrote, for the chronicles tell more of cruelty, covetousness, cold scheming, and diplomatic guile than of chivalry. In fact, the chroniclers do not seem to be aware of the con1 2

Sainte-Palaye, I, 375. Matheolus, Lamenlationes, verses 2453 S.



tradiction between the actual narrative and their lofty pretensions. To understand their point of view, we should bear in mind that the chivalry of their day was little more than an elaborate code of etiquette for the noble class. As the Dutch scholar Huizinga indicates, there was a passionate regard for formalities in the late Middle Ages. People would engage in ridiculous contests to see who could be the most polite; or again these same formalities would be the source of bitter envy and bloodshed. The aesthetic value of formalities was strongly felt, even if their ethical value had disappeared.1 Chivalry had thus become a sort of game, whose participants, in order to forget reality, turned to the illusion of a brilliant, heroic existence. From their earliest youth the aspirants were trained in the rules of this elaborate social convention, which for them was more absorbing than the athletic contests of modern youth, because of its more conscious emphasis on glory. It became more and more a code of public display, divorced from the duties of everyday life, in which less elevated conceptions would be far more convenient. The young men listened with avidity to the romances of chivalry, the prose versions of the chansons de geste, and especially to those more recent chivalric textbooks, the long romances of Meliador and Perceforest, so precise in their details of ceremonial and behavior. There were also the biographies of perfect knights, such as Boucicaut, Du Guesclin, or Jean de Saintré. In these pious accounts of impeccable heroes mediaeval youths found objects for their intense hero-worship, quite undisturbed at the disparity between the literary figure and the real 1

Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages, ch. v.



man. The Burgundian dukes, to be original, went back to antiquity for their models: Charles le Téméraire claimed to admire Caesar, Hannibal, and Alexander, great conquerors like himself. His jester was bold, indeed, to cry out after the defeat of Granson: "We are well Hannibaled this time, my lord!" Such an artificial scheme of life could not maintain its air of seriousness permanently; it could be borne only by being treated with a certain amount of raillery. "The whole chivalric culture of the last centuries of the Middle Ages is marked by an unstable equilibrium between sentimentality and mockery. Honor, fidelity, and love are treated with unimpeachable seriousness; only from time to time the solemn rigidity relaxes into a smile." 1 All this strained concern for formalities and empty romancing would have broken down if it had not been for the continuing power of love to animate these pompous shams. As a splendid example of empty form devoid of true inspiration we may choose the famous Voeu du Faisan, which illustrates all too plainly the Burgundian brand of chivalry. Philippe le Bon, alarmed by the advances of the Turks, planned a mighty crusade of the West against the infidels. Like everything at the court of Burgundy, this enterprise had to be inaugurated with the proper ceremonial. After the knights had assembled at a magnificent banquet, a long pageant depicted the woes of Christianity caused by the Turks. Finally the pheasant was brought in and placed before each guest in turn, that he might make his vow to rescue distressed Christendom. The Duke vowed to fight the "GrandTurc" hand to hand; Philippe Pot would fight with his 1

Ibid., ch. v.



right arm uncovered; Jennet de Rebreviettes swore that unless he won the favor of his lady before the departure of the expedition, he would marry on his return the first lady possessing twenty thousand gold pieces, if she were willing. Most of the guests made their fantastic vows with the utmost gravity, carrying through to the finish the ancient game; some few, however, could not resist poking fun at the pompous farce. And farce indeed it was, for the Duke never stirred out of his dominions, occupied as he was with other affairs. What a contrast to the passionate vow the first Crusaders swore upon the cross! Another remnant of the chivalric past was the challenge to single combat offered by one sovereign lord to another. No one really expected them to fight, but it was a grand chivalric gesture. Edward III, when he was closely pressed by Philippe de Valois, challenged him to single combat for the French crown; Philippe refused, but later challenged Edward, who refused in his turn. These challenges became even more ludicrous in the fifteenth century, carried out as they were with great ceremony. In 1402 Louis d'Orléans, the brother of Charles VI, defied Henry IV of England to meet him in combat in the marches of Guyenne, declaring that he wished to revive chivalric glory by such an encounter. Henry wisely replied that his ancestors were not accustomed to receive challenges from inferiors, that the place of a king was in ruling his kingdom for the profit of all his people, not in submitting his life and honor to the jeopardy of such vainglorious combats. Philippe le Bon displayed an almost frenzied passion for such contests, and was constantly flinging about challenges. In 1425 he challenged Humphrey of Gloucester to settle a dis-



pute over Holland by single combat. All was prepared for the combat: a special suit of armor, prettily inlaid with gold, and magnificent new weapons were made for the Duke of Burgundy. He even went in for a course of training, exercising each day with a master of arms. Yet the combat never took place ! Such vain challenges, such empty vows illustrate the decay of the true chivalric ideal. Most knights went solemnly through the forms in public, though they were quite ready to break every knightly precept in private life. A few were bold enough to laugh at such solemnity, making no pretenses of chivalric virtues; the rest talked loudly of chivalric duties and lived abominably, thus mocking the ideal of knighthood as effectually as the others did with their laughter. We are reminded of another aristocracy which thronged the hall for the first representation of Le Mariage de Figaro and gaily applauded the bitter quips of Figaro against their own order. "Ils révélaient leur impuissance: une société est perdue quand elle n'a plus foi en son droit, et se moque des principes qui la soutiennent." 1 Like the French nobility of the eighteenth century, chivalry of the late Middle Ages had lost the inspiration of religion. Nor was chivalry entirely to blame for this loss: indissolubly linked with religion, which for the Middle Ages meant the Catholic Church, chivalry was dragged down in the decline of religion. The period of Froissart coincides with the "Babylonian captivity" of the popes, and the worldly tone of the Canon of Chimay reflects the viewpoint of most of the clerics. Langland and Chaucer tell of the corruption of the Church in England, while Gerson stigmatizes the French 1

G. Lanson, Histoire de la littérature française, bk. iv, ch. vi.



clergy for its vices. The worldly character oí chivalry in that age reflected the worldly ambition, pride, greed, ignorance, and evil life of a great part of the clergy. There were some noble spirits, it is true; but to the outer world the clergy seemed no more religious than the laity, and this view had a considerable effect upon a society tending readily to luxury and display. We have already seen how the luxury and vices of the Templars had brought shame on the whole chivalric order, how the troubadours held up to scorn those knights who found ready excuses for not going on a crusade. Joinville himself, loyal as he was to his saintly monarch, refused to accompany him on his last crusade. Philippe le Bel regarded his crusading vow no more than the vows which knights made to ladies. One may contrast the religious sincerity of the earlier period with the attitude of those knights who deemed the character of Sir Tristram much superior to that of Sir Lancelot, because the former was depicted as relying on his arm alone; whereas Lancelot, before fighting, never failed to commend himself to God and the saints, thus arguing a want of confidence in his own strength. Although the knights took their vows to defend and uphold the Church, although they received religious sanction when they were knighted, they soon proved that they preferred to be oppressors rather than defenders of the clergy. Luchaire tells of traditional feuds between certain noble families and the neighboring monastery or cathedral, stories of endless bickering, violence, and mutual contempt. 1 It is easy to understand how the knightly religion, with such a background, became more formal and superstitious than before. The knights, be1

Luchaire, op. cit., passim.



lieving that by ceremonials and by gifts they had acquired the right to break all laws of justice and decency, followed a code of conduct recommended by priests often as ignorant as those whose consciences they governed. A pilgrimage or an expedition against the infidels or heretics could wipe out all trace of guilt. A life of murder and debauchery could be expiated in a monastery, or, if this entailed too much discomfort, the knight's body might be wrapped in a monk's habit after death. An anecdote told of the celebrated French knight Lahire offers a rather amusing sidelight on fifteenthcentury religion as conceived by the ordinary nobles. When Lahire was bringing relief to the garrison of a city besieged by the English, he chanced to meet a priest whom he ordered to give him absolution. The priest told him to confess his sins, but Lahire replied that there was no time, that he must proceed to the attack immediately, and that he had done what warriors were in the habit of doing. Thereupon the priest gave him absolution, and Lahire made his prayer: "Dieu, je te prie que tu fasses aujourd'hui pour Lahire autant que tu voudrois que Lahire fist pour toi, s'il estoit Dieu et tu fusses Lahire." And, adds the chronicler, he believed that he prayed very well. Bored by the courtly game they were playing and finding no stay in religious inspiration, many knights turned to another ideal, filled, seemingly, with more simplicity and peace. They were entranced by the dream of quiet happiness to be found in rural life. Here again we are struck by the resemblance to the pastoral craze that invaded the last years of the eighteenth century, when Marie Antoinette played milkmaid with the



ladies of the court. This bucolic ideal, a bequest from antiquity, was also a reaction against too highly formalized love; the simple love of country folk was deemed to be the only true love. The desire of chivalry to gain the repose of rustic life and untrammeled affection explains the great popularity of Philippe de Vitry's Dit de Franc Gontier, in praise of the simple and joyful existence of a wood-cutter and his wife. In the fifteenth century the pastoral vein was used as a vehicle even for political themes. The bucolic ideal, supplementing chivalry, became a travesty in its turn; it was even merged with chivalry, so that jousts were held in the guise of an eclogue, as in King René's Pas d'armes de la bergère} Most knights, however, on whom the chivalric requirements of moral and aesthetic perfection weighed too heavily, sought the easiest way of escape, that is, a total neglect of all knightly precepts. During the late Middle Ages all the vices which had been latent in chivalry appeared in the open; its noblest laws were shamelessly flouted, its chief adherents were among the first to set a pernicious example. One of the notable characteristics of the period is the impunity of evil doing; crimes which a century before would have aroused the indignation of the whole knightly order, were received with complete indifference. One of the besetting sins of the chivalric order was pride. In the violent emotional life of the Middle Ages, pride meant no ordinary self-respect but a vigorous and arrogant conceit, ready to be translated into violence with little provocation. There was a distinction drawn between "parage," the high and noble pride of a gentleman, the foundation of honor, courtesy, and liberality, 1

Huizinga, op. cit., ch. χ.



and " orgueil," the mortal sin denounced by the Church; but it was a distinction made by clerks and not by nobles. The whole history of the house of Burgundy is an epic of exaggerated and pompous pride. With Philippe le Hardi pride takes the form of bravado and ambition; with Jean sans Peur of hatred and envy; with Philippe le Bon of lust for vengeance and the desire for display; with Charles le Téméraire of foolhardy impetuosity and obstinacy. The curse of pride runs through the whole mediaeval period. The brutal pride of William Rufus, the unchristian pride of Gregory VII, Alexander III, and Innocent III, the tyrannous pride of the haughty barons who sallied forth from their castles on the Rhine or the Loire, all these forms of pride were fostered by the usages of chivalry, and all were instrumental in its downfall. "Though I were as wise as Solomon, as brave as Alexander, as eloquent as Nestor, and were proud, I were as nothing," is the statement of a knight in one of the romances.1 Unfortunately, such statements appeared to be true only of knights in romances. With mediaeval society based on the conception that the noble was a man and the peasant a beast, it was natural that this pride should inculcate a particular contempt for the common people. The criticism of Freeman is only too true: The chivalrous spirit is above all things a class spirit. The good knight is bound to endless fantastic courtesies towards men and still more towards women of a certain rank; he may treat all below that rank with any degree of scorn and cruelty. . . . Chivalry in short is in morals very much what feudalism is in law: each substitutes purely personal obligations devised in the in1

F. Warre Cornish, Chivalry, p. 366 ff.



terests of an exclusive class for the more homely duties of an honest man and a good citizen. 1

The interests of the Church were too much allied with those of the nobles for the clergy to make any more than half-hearted protests. Whenever plebeians were adversaries, the old deep-rooted scorn for the low-born peasant blazed forth, showing how little chivalry had done in mitigating feudal barbarism. After the battle of Rosbecque, Charles V I desired to see the body of Philip van Artevelde. Being led to the spot where the mutilated corpse of the Flemish hero lay, he looked at it for a time, then kicked the body and ordered it to be removed and hung on a tree. This is but one instance among thousands. From this same pride arose another pernicious principle, the point of honor. When chivalry was still a warlike institution, playing a vital part in military affairs, the brave knight could distinguish himself in battle and win personal renown. With the growth of modern war, however, in which individual feats of bravery were replaced by the collective bravery of the group, the knight had to prove his superiority to his fellows in some other fashion. Hence the spread of dueling, which restored the element of personal superiority, but at the expense of the old chivalric spirit. The point of honor rapidly became associated with a bullying and arrogant spirit, in many cases degenerating into a gentlemanly assassination. The single combats of chivalry were ruled, at least, by strict etiquette, with every endeavor being made to secure equality of weapons and fair play in general. The duel, an offspring of chivalric decadence, cast aside such scruples. Duels 1

E. A. Freeman, The Norman Conquest, V, 482.



were fought in secret, in lonely places, with no judges to rebuke unfairness; inequality of arms or unequal skill in the same weapon was not considered a breach of the point of honor. "Thou hast both a sword and dagger," said Quelus to Antraguet, as they were about to fight, "and I have only a sword." — "The more thy folly," was the answer, " t o leave thy dagger at home. We came to fight, not to adjust weapons." The duel accordingly went forward, and Quelus was slain, his left hand, in which he should have had his dagger, being fearfully cut in attempting to parry his antagonist's blows.1 Brantôme records many cases in which one opponent devised such weapons for the contest that the other person was at a great disadvantage, and displays his admiration for such clever devices. A semblance of fair play was prescribed for dueling in later centuries, but the origin of the practice was tainted with the lack of fairness natural to an age of knightly decadence. The early knights were true soldiers, characterized by that mijitary asceticism which seems to accompany the warrior who lives for war. During the Crusades, however, they were brought in contact with Oriental luxuries, at the same time that the troubadours, at home, were glorifying the knightly virtue of largesse and the honor to be had from munificent hospitality. The knights grew to love this luxury, which was held up to them as desirable, with the result that they became more interested in the pleasures of castle and court life than in military duties. Their indulgence in these pleasures, however, unfitted them for the obligatory task of defending the nation. Many knights attempted to soften the asperities of military life by surrounding themselves 1

Walter Scott, Essay on Chivalry.



with every comfort possible, gorgeous silken tents, skilled cooks, expensive arms, and large retinues of servants. Splendid banquets, often accompanied by exhibitions of gluttony which would have amazed their more soldierly ancestors, helped them to forget the disagreeable duties of war. Joinville tells of his astonishment at learning the great sums that the son of Saint Louis spent on his embroidered surtouts, adding that he told the young prince that he would have employed the money better if he had given it to God, and had his surtout made of satin, as his father had done.1 With the weakening of the moral fibre caused by soft living, it was to be expected that the knights would abandon the pretenses of Platonic affection that they had long professed. Courtly love, as taught by the troubadours, had never been notable for its purity; yet literature always upheld a lofty standard for the knight, whatever reality might be. Consequently, even though there is much coarseness and license all through mediaeval literature, there is never any hesitation about the ideal of knightly service or feminine virtue. But the ideal itself became negligible by dint of being constantly flouted. License and debauchery made their appearance even during the Crusades. Saint Louis wept with shame when he discovered the infamous things going on in a neighboring tent; Joinville tells of punishing a knight of his household for his lewd behavior. The festivities of the court and the masquerades held in the provinces were often scenes of great licentiousness. It was frequently the custom at balls, during the summer season, suddenly to extinguish the torches which lighted the hall; whereupon hoots and cries would resound through 1

Joinville, Bisloire de Saint Louis, ch. iv.



the confused mêlée, and the ball would be transformed into an orgy. The magnificent banquets given by Charles VI, in 1389, when his two cousins attained the rank of knighthood, were followed by dances which degenerated into shameful debauches. On the last night of the celebration several knights were so drunk and stupefied that "sans respect pour la présence du roi plusieurs entre eux s'abandonnèrent au libertinage et à l'adultère." 1 These orgies were held in the monastery of Saint-Denis itself! After the growth of court life in the late Middle Ages, gallantry lost what little purity it might have had in literature. The courtly knights prided themselves on the number of conquests they could make, not upon their adoration of fair ladies; true respect was more likely to be found outside the nobility, among the lesser gentry and even the bourgeois. To measure the extent of the change which had taken place by the sixteenth century, one need only compare the works of Brantôme with some early romance. Sir Walter Scott gives a good summary of the whole matter: The devotion with which the ancient knights worshipped the fair sex was held as old-fashioned and absurd as that which they paid to Heaven. The honor paid to chastity and purity in the German forests, and transferred as a sacred point of duty to the sons of chivalry, was as little to be found in the court of France, according to Brantôme, as the chastity and purity to which it was due. The gross and coarse sensuality which we have seen engrafted on professions of Platonic sentiment became finally so predominant as altogether to discard all marks of sentimental attachment; and from the time of Catherine de Medici, who trained her maids of honor as courtezans, the manners of the 1

Chronique des religieux de Sainl-Denis

(Paris, 1839-52), I, 599.



court of France seem to have been inferior in decency to those of a well-regulated bagnio.1

Sir Walter continues with the accoun t of a little bravade engaged in by Lord Herbert of Cherbury and a French courtier named Balagny: Lord Herbert then invited him to an encounter upon the old chivalrous point, which had the fairer and more virtuous mistress; to which proposition Balagny replied by a jest so coarse as made the Englishman retort, that he spoke like a mean debauchee, not like a cavalier and man of honor. As Balagny was one of the most fashionable gallants of his time, and, as the story shows, ready for the most harebrained achievements, his declining combat upon the ground of quarrel chosen by Lord Herbert is a proof how little the former love of chivalry accorded with the gallants of these later days.

Nor were the men alone responsible for this neglect of the chivalric rules of chastity. Beginning with the fifteenth century there is a movement in literature to topple women from the lofty pedestal they had occupied during the days of knightly fervor; Martin le Franc even feels it incumbent upon him to undertake a lengthy defense of women in his Champion des Dames. Evidently there was a feeling that women were no longer worthy of the exaggerated worship that was formerly held to be their due ; assuming at first a tone of raillery, the attitude towards women became quite severe and scornful as time went on. The bourgeois writers had their share in introducing a note of coarseness and brutality that was taken up with glee by the decadent knighthood. As the historian Pearson has remarked, the Morte d'Arthur depicts men who are either virtuous or who have an ideal of virtue, but the women are gen1

Essay on




erally unchaste. 1 As Malory did not hesitate to portray the vices of his own times, we can feel assured that the position of women had been debased from its earlier level. Chivalry had set itself the task of softening feudal cruelty, but as the knightly ideal became weaker, cruelty also became more open and unblushing. During the era of chivalric ascendancy cruelty had been greatly tempered with mercy, and the first decades of the Hundred Years' War show a greater respect for human life than ever before. A change began to be felt even in the days of Du Guesclin, and in the next century there was much less concern for courtesy and humanity. War was no longer a game for gentlemen but a terrible and bloody business, in which there was no place for clemency. The cruelties perpetrated by the marauding bands of the fifteenth century, led by and composed of knights and squires, showed all too plainly the new temper of the age. The sanguinary Wars of the Roses, between the factions of Lancaster and York, were bitterly fought in neglect of all chivalric rules; treacherous ambush, broken safe-conducts, assassination of prisoners marked their course. After the battle of Tewkesbury, in which the utmost cruelty and ferocity had been displayed, the young Prince of Wales was murdered in cold blood by his uncle, the Duke of York, later Edward IV. The Burgundians, who kept up to the last the pretense of chivalric ideals, acquired an unsavory reputation for cruelty. At the capture of Nesles, whose inhabitants had killed a herald in a momentary fit of 1

C. H. Pearson, The Early and Middle Ages of England (London, i86i), P· 434·



anger, all those who were taken alive were hanged, while the non-combatants had their hands cut off, women and children alike. When Dinant was captured, the prisoners, to the number of eight hundred, were drowned in the Meuse; even the terrible Carrier, he of the noyades of Nantes, must have expressed his admiration if he had known of such despatch in the execution of prisoners. Charles le Téméraire, at the defeat of Muret, plunged his horse into a lake to escape from his foes, not noticing that his page had leaped on the crupper of the horse behind him. The horse bravely carried his double burden to the other side, but Charles, angered because the page had jeopardized the safety of his august person, stabbed the poor lad on the shore. "Poor Prince! thou mightest have given another offering of thanksgiving to God for thy escape than this!" 1 But, after all, the most unnatural cruelty was that exercised on women. These knights, who publicly paraded their devotion to the fair sex, who declared that whatever virtues they possessed were derived from the love of their ladies, could still treat women with barbarous cruelty and find it quite compatible with their knightly pretensions. There are instances enough in the chansons de geste, but these precede the era of gallantry. A tale is told in the book of the Chevalier de la TourLandry about a wife who ventured to scold her husband, who immediately struck her to the floor with his fist, and then kicked her in the face, breaking her nose. The right of wife-beating was formally recognized by several legal codes, and it was a forward step when, in the thirteenth century, the customary law of Beauvoisis provided that the husband should only beat his wife 1

John Doran, Knights and Their Days (New York, 1856), p. 35.



reasonably. Guillaume Flavy was killed by a servant in the presence of his wife, who was accused by Flavy's brothers of complicity in the deed. During the lawsuit before the Parlement of Paris, the following revelations were made. The husband had seized and thrown into prison his wife's father and mother, letting them die there while he tried to extort their property from them; as for his wife, he had continually done her "plusieurs rudesses et mauvais traitemens; et avec ce la menaçoit de l'enmurer et tenir en prison toute sa vie." 1 The unfortunate woman obtained pardon from the King, but only after great trouble and expense. Another woman, the Countess of Comminges, was so abused by her husband, who was also seeking to get her property, that she was driven in desperation to cede all her possessions to the Crown. The King learned of her misfortune, and forced her husband and the Count of Armagnac, who had been an accomplice in the deed, to cease their persecution and bring her to Toulouse, where the poor woman died soon after as a result of her brutal treatment. Yet the Count of Armagnac was deemed one of the foremost knights in France. The spirit of commercialism and greed did much to destroy knightly idealism. The attainment of chivalry had always been an expensive honor, and its incidental expenses were heavy. Some poor knights won their living by attending tournaments, like the followers of the modern rodeo; many whose estates were not large were in financial straits when there was no war: Listen, gentles, while I tell How this knight in fortune fell; Lands nor vineyards had he none, Jousts and war his living won; 1

Mathieu d'Escouchi, Chronique (Paris, 1838), p. 537.



Well on horseback could he prance, Boldly could he break a lance; Well he knew each warlike use, But there came a time of truce, Peaceful was the land around, Nowhere heard a trumpet sound; Rust the shield and falchion hid, Joust and tourney were forbid; All his means of living gone, Ermine mantle had he none, And in pawn had long been laid Cap and mantle of brocade, Harness rich and charger stout, All were ate and drunken out. 1

The growing wealth of the bourgeois irked the knights, who, because of the heavy drain upon their resources entailed by war and tournaments, were unable to keep pace with the commoners. The wealth of the great Flemish towns in the fifteenth century, which was responsible for the magnificence of the Burgundian court, was a source of envy to the nobles, who could not afford the fine clothes and the rich table of many a burgher. The ransoming of prisoners was one of the surest ways of filling the knightly strongbox. This custom prevailed from the earliest times, but grew to be more and more of a business. The exchange value of prisoners even influenced the conduct of battles, introducing a gambling spirit far removed from either chivalry or love of country. Froissart tells how, after the battle of Crécy, certain men went about with knives slaying earls, barons, knights, and squires, a slaughter which greatly displeased Edward III, as he would have preferred that 1 Translated by Meiler from Barbazon and Méon's Recueil de fabliaux contes des poètes françois (Paris, 1808), III, 409-410.




they had been taken prisoners.1 How far the King was disinterested in his attitude may be judged from the account that Froissart gives of the battle of Aljubarrota, where the comparatively few victors slew most of the prisoners in a panic, much as at Azincourt. Or regardés la grant mésadventure, car ils occirent bien ce samedi au soir des bons prisonniers, dont ils eussent eu quatre cens mille frans, l'un parmy l'autre, de quoy ils furent depuis moult dolans. 2

Nobles sometimes bought prisoners as a business venture, as did Lord Thomas of Berkeley, who, in 1402, bought twenty-four Scottish prisoners for speculation.3 The foulest blot on chivalry was the ruthless, sordid pillaging that seemed the commonest source of knightly income. The first fifty years of the fifteenth century must have been a period of dread affliction to the miserable peasants of France. After the battle of Azincourt the provinces which were not in the possession of the English were ravaged by the Armagnacs and Burgundians. The countryside became mournful and desolate, the peasants living in constant terror of their lives in huts and caves; the wolves grew bold enough to attack people on the roads. Peace brought no relief, for the bands of pillagers could then devote their whole attention to their evil practices. The greatest lords of France, the most famous knights of the day, were the leaders of these bands, torturing and robbing their own countrymen in their brutal thirst for wealth. For vivid expression of the pillagers' sentiments nothing could equal the 1

Froissart, Chroniques, edited by Kervyn de Lettenhove, V, 65-66. Ibid., XI, 180. G. C. Coulton, Knighthood, in Encyclopaedia Britannica (eleventh edition). 2




epigram attributed to the English knight, Talbot: " S i Dieu estoit gendarme il seroit pillard." Even so famous a knight as Bertrand du Guesclin was tainted with this love of pillage. He gave his fierce Bretons free rein to sack and ravage the country, especially when he was associated with the Free Companies, those formidable bands of mercenaries. In this connection we might recall the celebrated feat of bargaining carried on by D u Guesclin when he brought the companies to Avignon, then the home of the popes. The Companies being in sore need of cash, D u Guesclin demanded a large sum from the Pope to save the town from pillage. The Pope tried to levy a tax on the townspeople, but D u Guesclin angrily refused, and forced the Pope to take the money from the papal coffers. The terrible Breton was so persuasive that he obtained absolution for the Companies and himself into the bargain. Such an incident shows how far apart religion and chivalry had drifted. Just as in public life some knights felt no shame in selling to the enemy towns they were charged to defend, in private life they gave evidence of the most heartless greed. While in theory the knight was a defender of widows and orphans, he too often made a vile traffic out of guardianships ; wardships and marriages seem to have been bought and sold as a matter of everyday routine, much like the transactions of the stock market. Lands and women were handed over together as a business bargain; Lord Thomas of Berkeley counted on this practice as a regular source of income. Late in the fifteenth century we find a letter written by Stephen Scrope, which James Gairdner has reproduced in the Pasión Letters1 : 1

Quoted by Coulton, op. cit.



" . . . for very need (of poverty) I was fain to sell a little daughter I have for much less than I should have done by possibility," that is, than the fair market price. This letter offers quite a revelation on the extent of Scrope's parental affection. What is more, it is characteristic of the coldly practical spirit that was everywhere invading the life of the fifteenth century. Lacking any true inspiration to infuse vigor into religious and chivalric ideals, the age had been conquered by greed and brutality. It was a world of cruel warfare, Unspeakable distress, heartless avarice, of ostentation and license, of guile and treachery. Fortunately the Renaissance was coming to quicken into life and creative power this degraded society, while at the same time the Reformation turned men's minds to the subject of religion, causing them to forget the empty discussions of courtly love and the complicated rules of chivalry. The sixteenth century has little to say in favor of the chivalric order. Sully and La Noue censure it with great severity because of its vices, their attitude contrasting sharply with the flippancy of Brantôme, who condemns chivalry for the virtues it inculcates. Taken all in all, sixteenth-century chivalry was a sorry affair, with a "chivalric" king like François I breaking his sworn word to Charles V. Even though the appearance of a Bayard seems to belie it, chivalry had faded out in the niggardly and unscrupulous reign of Louis XI. II At the same time that the chivalric ideal was breaking down, draining the very life-blood of chivalry, there were flaws in the organization itself which were instrumental in its decline. The chivalric system was a most



complicated one, full of innumerable petty distinctions and small ceremonies deemed quite essential to its existence. Chivalry, like the Church, was thought of as a static body, undergoing no transformation during the changing generations. A standard of perfection had been reached once and for all, and every deviation from the forms that accompanied such an ideal was dangerous, since one change, it was felt, would cast doubt on the necessity of the whole system. When certain chroniclers remarked mournfully that their contemporaries seemed to have forgotten the established ceremonies of chivalry, it was as if they were rebuking men for forgetting the precepts of the Gospel. This belief in formal perfection accounts for the strenuous efforts that were made to keep the chivalric order and ceremonies intact, even when it had become evident that chivalry was no longer the dominant power in the state. In spite of such efforts, the system had to change, with the result that many knights, convinced by these changes of the impending dissolution of chivalry, hastened the dissolution by casting aside all regard for chivalric rules and ideals. The easiest way to degrade the honor of knighthood was to destroy its exclusive character. According to the older tradition, only men of noble birth who had passed through the successive stages of page and squire and who, besides, were fully qualified morally and physically to bear arms, could be admitted to knighthood. This exclusive character was maintained fairly well until about the middle of the fourteenth century; from that time on, however, the continued warfare and the growing weakness of chivalry prompted changes in the chivalric organization which weakened it still more. The



clergy, in earlier times, had set a precedent by knighting men who were not noble or who had not passed through the stages of preparation for knighthood ; bishops and abbots often rewarded their loyal soldiers in this way, somewhat to the detriment of the chivalric order. It remained for the members of the order itself to inaugurate the greatest abuses. As early as 13.32 we find Philippe V I knighting his son Jean, who in turn knighted four hundred and more young noblemen. It might be asserted that this was an ordinary number for a celebration of this sort, and we should remember that with a war looming near, the qualifications of the warriors were not so strictly regarded. Later events provoked still greater disregard for qualifications, since knights were turned out rapidly after the great disasters of Crécy and Poitiers. But in the fifteenth century, at times of need, almost anyone who could bear arms could become a knight if he wished. A t the siege of Bourges, in 1410, five hundred knights were created, when the great struggle with the English was still to come. During the later years of the war, the honor of knighthood was little more than the recognition of a man's soldierly qualities. The extension of the title of knight-banneret is another indication of the same change. A banneret was required to bring into the field at least thirty men-atarms. This made it necessary for him to supplement his own followers with all the knights he could find who were unattached, for thirty men-at-arms meant a total following of three hundred men. The fact that the title of banneret became so common in the fifteenth century proves that there were more and more free-lance knights, knights who had no fief of their own but who



had been honored with chivalry because of their warlike skill, regardless of their other qualifications. The banneret, with greater financial resources, could afford to array these knights under his banner, and thus bring a substantial force into the field. The old feudal ban and arrière-ban having lost their efficacy, the banneret became a sort of ennobled recruiting officer, whose duty it was to round up these warriors without feudal ties. The disregard of the qualifications of chivalry reached its height during the troubled reign of Charles VI, when children of twelve and thirteen years of age were honored with the title of knight, a title which the aspirants to chivalry in former days dared to seek only after long, earnest preparation, and even then timidly and reverently. In fact, certain squires refused to become knights, declaring that they were not fit for so exalted an honor. Of course, from the early days of chivalry exceptions were made for the sons of kings, and princes were either knighted in youth or considered knights from the time of their christening. In the fourteenth century, however, royalty no longer had the monopoly in such matters, and many nobles had their children knighted. In England, in the year 1338, Maurice, Lord Berkeley, was knighted at the age of seven, to escape the possible evils of wardship, and a descendant, Thomas, was knighted at the tender age of five, for the same reason. Eustache Deschamps cites instances of the same abuse in the France of his day. Just to show how degraded the once glorious title of knight had become at the end of the fifteenth century, we should note an incident of Charles VIII's entry into Naples. The ladies of Naples thronged the streets to catch a glimpse of the young monarch as he rode along :



lesquelles en passant présentaient au roi leurs jeunes enfants et prioient de leur donner l'ordre de la Chevalerie de sa propre main, réputant à grand honneur et bonne fortune; ce qu'il ne refusoit point. 1

Chivalry had become little better than a trinket given to children to please their proud parents. Y e t the surest way of all to discredit chivalry was to bestow it upon the bourgeois class. T h e indiscriminate knighting of soldiers during the later periods of the Hundred Years' War was bad enough; the bestowal of the dignity upon lawyers, merchants, and bankers made the title of knight no more than a decoration. T h e noblesse de robe was a formidable rival, in numbers at least, of the noblesse d'épée, and the disgust which the warriors felt at seeing these unwarlike knights wearing the privileged trappings of chivalry impelled them to sneer at the title itself. Philippe I V favored the bourgeoisie in order to discredit the nobility, and Charles V seemed to have the same goal in view; the latter ennobled the mayor and aldermen of Poitiers and L a Rochelle, with the result that their sons could be knighted. A still more flagrant insult was offered chivalry b y this same Charles, who in 1371 accorded the honors of chivalry to all Parisians. He allowed them to use the gilded bridle and spurs considered exclusive appurtenances of chivalry, giving them, at the same time, the right to acquire nobility b y purchase. 2 As might be expected, many a rich burgher availed himself of the opportunity, and knights who knew nothing of battle roamed the city streets. The chief complaint in the fifteenth century seemed to be that the state was too 1 1

Lacurne de Sainte-Palaye, Mémoires, I, 126. Ibid., I, 425.



lax in punishing the assumption by the bourgeois class of knightly dress and ornaments, indicating that chivalry had lost most of its former prestige and was trying to maintain its position by certain peculiarities of garb. In the days when the standard of knighthood was somewhat more elevated, the expenses incident to the rank offered an obstacle to the less wealthy aspirant. The expenses of the ordination were considerable, not to mention the largesse the new knight was expected to scatter to the spectators. The armor was costly, as were the privileged ornaments of the knight. The expenses of his horses and servants, the income necessary to provide for his squire, the brilliant entourage he was expected to bring to a tournament, the bounteous hospitality he was forced to maintain, all these requirements made the financial burden a heavy one. As a result, many squires never went on to obtain knighthood. Now and then we get pictures of these elderly squires, grizzled and rough, who evidently intended to remain in this subordinate rank. When chivalry became increasingly magnificent and decorative, many squires lost their yearning for chivalric honors. I t was not long, however, before the grades of knight and squire were confused. The title of banneret was sometimes given to simple squires, either through special favor or skillful trafficking, with the result that knights found themselves subordinated to those who, by rights, could not claim chivalric privileges. This favoritism rendered many knights sceptical of the value of knighthood. Beginning with the fourteenth century, the squires also swept aside the convention that only knights should engage with knights in tournaments and jousts. Emboldened by certain favors which had been



granted them, enabling them to have a small share in tournaments, they pushed into the lists themselves, assuming armorial bearings formerly limited to the knights alone. The gradual confusion that ensued helped to lessen chivalric prestige, for the squire's rank was much easier to maintain, and began to acquire privileges similar to the knightly prerogatives. In the fifteenth century the French kings were sometimes obliged to insist that squires become knights in order to prevent the further abasement of chivalry. Some knights were willing to enter the order of chivalry but showed little taste for fighting. From this situation a certain abuse appeared which seems rather amusing, even though it offers sad proof of the temper of the age. It was the custom to knight several squires before and after an important battle, but in the fifteenth century there was found to be a distinct disadvantage in making knights before a battle, for many of the aspirants, after receiving the accolade, quietly slipped away and escaped the battle, thus preserving intact their newly won honors. Because of such cowardly tricks the practice was largely discontinued. As might be expected, many attempts were made to reform and rejuvenate chivalry, weakened by such abuses. One of the most important was the foundation of chivalric orders like the Garter and the Golden Fleece. Curiously enough, whereas the institution of the monastic orders had marked the rise of chivalry, the creation of these later orders, which were little more than idle decorations, exhibited its decline. They were usually instituted for the purpose of reviving chivalric glory, which must have been in sore need of revival judging from the number of orders established. In 1352



Jean le Bon of France created the order of the Étoile, in imitation of the order of the Garter. In the royal decree establishing the order he began by recalling the exploits of chivalry, which had so long illumined the world with the refulgence of its valor and its virtue. It was chivalry, after God, which had enabled his predecessors to triumph over their enemies, and which, as if by miracle, had brought an enormous number of infidels into the pure faith of Christianity. It was chivalry, again, which had caused the troubles of war to give place to the peace and tranquillity that the state had long enjoyed. (Evidently the few years which had elapsed since Crécy and Calais were a long time to Jean !) The lack of activity in these peaceful times, the infrequent practice of arms, and the interruptions of military exercises had wreaked havoc among the knights. They had given themselves over to luxury and soft-living, honoris et famae proh dolor·, forgetting the care of their honor, they were concerned only with their own selfish interests. Wherefore the king had instituted this order to reanimate chivalric worth and glory, with the hope that it would bring about a new era of chivalric splendor.1 Whether the disaster of Poitiers satisfied Jean's thirst for glory it is hard to say. From 1340, when the order of the Garter was founded, until 1469, the date of the foundation of the order of Saint-Michel, there were instituted at least fifteen of these honorary societies. The celebrated order of the Golden Fleece, founded by Philippe le Bon of Burgundy, was perhaps the most brilliant of all in its day. Louis X I created his order of Saint-Michel to compete with it, but with little success. In all these orders the 1

Lacurne de Sainte-Palaye, op. cit., I, 121.



members were subordinated to the founder, since membership was less a recompense of merit, as knighthood was supposed to be, than a mark of the prince's favor. The title of grand master of the order was reserved for the prince, who had absolute control over the appointment of members. These institutions were popular among the aristocracy, but their creation in no way aided chivalry; instead, they helped its downfall by erecting, beside the older chivalric order, a parallel body in which not only knights were admitted but also important bourgeois whom monarchs wished to honor. The result was that these orders grew to be mere decorations, but decorations more sought after than the honor of knighthood itself, since they were a mark of the royal favor at a time when kings were becoming more powerful. Another chivalric custom which began to show signs of decadence was the fraternity of arms. It was a voluntary agreement entered into by two or even more knights, to be of assistance to one another in all things. Such comrades would not fight against one another except in the case of war between their countries, if they were of different nationalities. A typical example of the fraternity of arms is the association of Bertrand du Guesclin and Olivier de Clisson, which was governed by a definite contract, drawn up in legal form. The document regulated the sharing of proceeds from prisoners' ransoms and like sources of knightly income. Such arrangements give proof of the commercialism which had invaded chivalry. All fraternities were not so thoroughly businesslike, however, and usually required from their members a general willingness to help one another, and a refusal to fight one another, even in



tournaments; at the same time, such an association was considered a most sacred tie, sanctified by solemn oaths, the obligations of which were binding for life. Accordingly, Henry IV of England was amazed that Louis d'Orléans should send him a challenge in 1402, since they had become brothers in arms only three years before; he was so enraged over the affair that he repudiated his share in the fraternity, asserting that Louis had already cancelled his. If Louis was at fault in this instance he received a fearful punishment several years later, when he was assassinated by the order of the Duke of Burgundy, his second brother in arms. Their fraternity had been sanctified by a religious ceremony, during which both partook of communion, and was no mere commercial agreement. After this revolting act of treachery, an apologist for Burgundy, Jean Petit, tried to argue that if such an association turned to the prejudice of one of the parties to the contract, the person thus injured was not obliged to keep faith. Let it be said for the honor of chivalry that this proposition met with unanimous contempt. Y e t this act was the work of the haughty Duke of Burgundy, whose biographers praised him as the model of chivalric virtues, and who believed himself to be such. The judicial duel, a survival of an old Germanic custom, in which God was supposed to intervene to show forth the right in a quarrel, had long been a standard chivalric institution but by the end of the fourteenth century it had fallen into disrepute, because of a growing scepticism concerning its value. Louis I X had attempted to abolish the judicial duel in his reign, but the time was not ripe for such an enlightened act. While the disfavor the custom met in the fourteenth century is all



to the credit of the age, it is also a proof of the weakening of chivalric institutions. All readers of Froissart will recall the combat d'outrance between Jean de Carouge and Jacques Legris, who was accused of having outraged the other's wife. After an appeal to the Parlement of Paris, a duel to the death was arranged and was attended by the king and many of his court. A t the beginning of the contest, Jean de Carouge went to his wife and said to her: " D a m e , sur vostre information je voy aventurer ma vye et combatre Jacquet le Gris. Vous savés se ma cause est juste et loyalle." — "'Monseigneur," respondí la dame, " i l est ainsi, et vous combatés seurement, car la cause est bonne."

In the contest the husband, though severely wounded in the thigh, managed to kill his adversary, whose body was dragged to Montfaucon and there hanged by the executioner. Some time after, a miserable wretch on point of death confessed that it was he, and not Jacques Legris, who had committed the outrage, and that the mistake had arisen from a similarity of dress and countenance. After this manifest miscarriage of justice the judicial duel was abolished, much to the relief of all sensible men. It should be added, however, that the custom disappeared only in France, but prevailed till much later in other nations. One of the greatest of chivalric institutions, the tournament, gave evidence of decay during the late Middle Ages. In the early days of chivalry the tournament was the exercise-ground for all warriors. Each castle had its little tilting-yard, where pages and squires were trained in the use of their weapons b y the knight, so that they might shine in the tournament as well as in war. T h e chief function, then, of the tournament was the training



it afforded, in times of peace, those warriors who were always longing for battle. Opposing bands of twenty or thirty knights, armed with blunted weapons, would engage in a regular battle to achieve renown. The presence of ladies spurred the contestants on to greater efforts, and was undoubtedly one of the important factors in the success of such affairs. Church councils and the popes were persistent in their efforts to discourage tournaments, even threatening to refuse burial in holy ground to those killed in such contests. This disapproval had little or no effect, however, and tournaments were popular even into the sixteenth century. But beginning with the fourteenth century a change had taken place. The older conception of the tournament as a training for war gave way to the thirst for individual glory and display; tournaments became a series of jousts, in order that individuals might reap a more conspicuous triumph before the ladies. The tournaments were transformed into magnificent spectacles, where each combatant vied with the others in the luxury of his pavilion and the richness of his clothes and armor. Knightly extravagance grew so excessive that Charles VII and Louis XI prohibited many tournaments because of the great expense involved. The money spent on a single festival sometimes so impoverished a knight that he could no longer bear the expenses of war. Yet both these kings, with malicious inconsistency, encouraged certain tournaments for this very reason, hoping that some of their rivals among the great feudal lords would strain their resources in the effort to surpass all others in lavish display and entertainments. In fact, the ducal house of Burgundy would soon have been bankrupt if it had not been for the immense wealth' of



the Flemish cities, which for a time seemed inexhaustible. One of the principal reasons for the decline of tournaments and jousts was the danger involved, especially as progressive lack of skill became apparent. The changes in military customs and the infrequency of tournaments contributed to cause the clumsiness, while the danger to life and limb began to loom large to some unwarlike knights. In 1455 the author of the Journal de Paris complained that the knights no longer engaged in jousts or tourneys for fear of wounds : bref tous les seigneurs de France estoient tous devenus comme femmes, car ils n'estoient hardis que sur les pouvres laboureurs et sur pouvres marchands qui estoient sans nulles armes.1

Nevertheless, the perils of the tournament were recognized as so great that when Henry V married the daughter of Charles VI, of France, he refused to hold a tournament, as was suggested, but ordered the knights to accompany him to the siege of Sens, to use their arms to more advantage against the enemies of their king. It was in the sixteenth century that the lack of skill became most marked. The majority of tournaments were social gatherings, characterized by a few jousts to maintain the old traditions. The fatal accident suffered by Henri II while jousting with the Count of Montgomery, the captain of the Scotch guard, put an end to these contests, since it proved quite conclusively that such games were too perilous for unskilled players. The date of the accident, 1559, marks the end of all tournaments and jousts. A few desultory contests held subsequently were unworthy of the name. 1

Quoted by Lacume de Sainte-Palaye, op. cit., I, 426.


Sixteenth century chivalry was, generally speaking, a luxurious game to charm the leisure of a courtly society, no longer troubled by the older military obligations of the order. The tremendous vogue of the Italian and Spanish romances of chivalry, especially the Amadis of Gaul, which was so bitterly censured by La Noue, kept a certain sentimental affectation of knighthood still in bloom. Many warriors who, in former times, would have done honor to chivalry considered it a decoration of no great value, or else assumed it without bothering with any preparations or ceremonies. Brantôme says of this new society: Les moindres se créent d'eux-mêmes sans aller au roi, de sorte qu'on peut dire qu'il y a aujourd'hui plus de chevaliers telß, et de dames leurs femmes, que jadis n'y avoit d'écuyers et de damoiselles; tant est grant l'abus parmi la Chevalerie. 1

The outward ceremonies still remained. The investiture of a knight of the Bath was a great spectacle under Henry VIII; the Field of the Cloth of Gold was still greater, the very acme of chivalry to the unthinking, with its brilliant jousts, its banquets, its thronged heraldic devices. Knights were still dubbed on the field of battle by Queen Elizabeth's generals; a few, like Sir Philip Sidney, did honor to the spirit of chivalry. It was one of the complaints against Essex that he made too many knights in Ireland, for this privilege, once common to all knights, was rapidly becoming a royal prerogative. Many were the carpet-knights created, men of the law and merchants, as well as other civilians. Chivalry had attained, in the sixteenth century, the same importance as in the England of to-day. Another potent factor in the decadence of chivalry 1

Brantôme, Les Grands Capitaines français

(Paris, 1858-95), II, 313.



was the strengthening of the royal power at the expense of feudalism. Although chivalry had early separated itself from feudal strictness, infusing its idealism into legalistic obligations, it was still indissolubly joined with the feudal system; it derived from feudalism its letters of nobility, its wealth, and its spirit of independence. The rights of petty sovereignty, of holding a castle, of carrying on a private war, were essential to feudalism, and were carried over into the life of chivalry, although not closely related to its ideals. In fact, it may be said that chivalry had no real existence except as a projection of feudal power, for the ideal could never have survived without the material backing of feudalism. It was to be expected, then, that the weakening of feudalism would also sap the strength of chivalry, which was gradually abandoned to the heralds and masters of ceremonies. In order to weaken the feudal power in the state, the French kings had to abolish the nobles' right to wage private wars. Louis IX and Philippe IV attempted to limit such contests, but it was not until the time of Charles VII that any great advance was made. By suppressing all companies of soldiers and by decreeing that the king alone could raise troops, Charles automatically put an end to private wars. At the same time he formed the new standing army, ostensibly for the better protection of the realm, but in reality to enforce his own commands. After this reform only the dukes of Brittany and of Burgundy had independent troops at their command. Charles VII went still further. He arrogated to himself control of all castles and fortresses in the kingdom; the owners had to obtain his authorization to make re-



pairs to existing castles or to build new ones. He decreed that feudal aids must be levied according to a fixed standard, and that those who went beyond these limits would suffer confiscation of property. Because some nobles, like the Count of Flanders, had presumed to grant letters of nobility, specific laws were framed declaring that the king alone had the power to confer nobility. Parallel with the suppression of feudal rights went the increased authority of the monarchy. Beginning with Philippe Auguste the kings allied themselves with the principles of Roman law. It was quite natural that the monarchy, galled as it was by feudal privileges and feudal arrogance, should turn to that great system of law erected on absolutism. Philippe Auguste surrounded himself with jurists trained in Italian schools of law. Philippe le Bel, however, was the first king who was able to make definite steps toward absolutism. Aided by such men as Nogaret, Plassian, and Enguerrand de Marigny, he strove to render the royal power independent in the legislative, financial, and military spheres; but the time had not yet come for such sweeping changes, and consequently a strong feudal reaction set in after his reign. With such precedents before them, however, Charles V, Charles VII, and Louis X I worked to make royalty independent in fact as well as in theory. The development of the royal courts was the first step. From an early period the kings had reserved certain cases for royal jurisdiction, such as crimes of lèsemajesté, but with the establishment of the Parlement at Paris, anyone aggrieved by the decision of a local feudal court could appeal to the royal court, whose judgment was declared binding on every other tribunal. The king



could pardon a criminal anywhere in the kingdom, even before a condemnation. This right enabled him to interfere in any case of feudal justice, and placed the accused under the protection of the king. Encouraged b y the prestige of the royal courts, the monarchy began to intervene more frequently within the fiefs themselves b y giving protection to certain religious establishments and communes, freeing them from the control of the feudal lord. This protection, known as safe-guard, was extended by Louis X I to several cities in the duchy of Burgundy, in an attempt to win supporters for the French. Although the nobles put up a stubborn resistance to these encroachments of the royal power, they were eventually obliged to submit. If this discussion of the growth of royal power at the expense of feudalism seems remote from the theme of chivalry, it is well to remember that Burgundy, which remained the symbol of feudal vigor during most of the fifteenth century, was also the last refuge of chivalry. T h e atmosphere of the Burgundian court harmonized with decadent chivalry, giving it the magnificence, the pompous formalism, and the tone of feudal independence which it craved. Chivalry and private war were for a long period synonymous terms, and the suppression of such wars affected knightly customs. The continual interference of the kings within the hitherto independent fiefs chastened the self-esteem of the knights, since it made them recognize the monarchy as the dominating force in the state. Consequently, royal favor meant more than the dignity of knighthood in an era when kings were powerful. As a final blow at feudalism Charles V , Charles V I I , and Louis X I showered letters of nobility on the bour-



geois, who, after such encouragement, were not slow in recognizing their own importance and in arrogating to themselves rights formerly reserved for the nobles of feudal lineage. For instance, it had always been a privilege of the nobles to wear furs of certain rare animals, such as the ermine, as well as to wear gold ornaments and silk; yet these marks of distinction were gradually usurped by the wealthy bourgeois, to such an extent that an ordinance had to be made, in i486, prohibiting the bourgeois from wearing these articles. The law was not strictly enforced, and soon bourgeois and nobility vied with each other in richness of attire, a contest in which the bourgeois were frequently victorious. As a result of these unceasing attacks on feudal independence the French kings made themselves the paramount force in the state. It was not long before they gathered into their hands the right to tax and made it a special royal prerogative. When Charles V I I created a standing army, the process of centralization was practically complete, and the king was the state as truly as in the case of Louis X I V . Ill Chivalry had come into being as a select corps of cavalry, and cavalry it remained during the five centuries and more of its existence. A t the time of its formation there was a special need for mounted warriors, to repel the invading bands of Arabs or Magyars, and chivalry was for several centuries a vital factor in the defense of the state. Infantry, which had formed the chief strength of the Romans and the Germans, lost its importance with the advent of chivalry, for no body of



foot-soldiers, armed with sword and lance, could withstand the charge of these iron-clad horsemen. Nevertheless, military experience both before and after the age of chivalry proved that the most consistent victories were won by infantry and not by cavalry. The decline of chivalry as a military power offers, therefore, an interesting corroboration of this point. It was not so much a renewed faith in the value of infantry as a growing realization of the faults of cavalry that worked the change. Again, a well-trained and disciplined body of cavalry was not in question but instead the reckless and insubordinate feudal army, each of whose members was more concerned with personal renown than with the fate of his nation. It seemed to be the lot of French chivalry, the most highly developed branch of the institution in Europe, to undergo the tragic experiences which were instrumental in bringing about the establishment of a standing army and the revival of infantry. Unfortunately for the French, they had to go through the whole of the Hundred Years' War before they learned the military lessons which their foes had learned at the outset of the struggle. As soon as French chivalry had established itself, during the ninth and tenth centuries, as the main strength of the army, infantry soon dwindled in importance and was given over to the peasants and the bourgeois. At the time of the Crusades, these footsoldiers showed moments of bravery, but more frequently they left the battle in order to plunder, and thus rendered themselves as much a hindrance as a help. The mailed knights, on the other hand, won great victories in Palestine, which gave them the notion that they were irresistible against foot-soldiers. This belief



in their superiority increased their scorn for the peasant or the tradesman. They believed that with their mighty cavalry they could ride down the rabble that fought on foot. Some of the kings, nevertheless, tried to develop a body of militia, drawn from the communes. Philippe Auguste encouraged the bourgeois to practice with the cross-bow, with the result that his 28,000 communal troops were of considerable assistance in the battle of Bouvines. He also tried the experiment of paid bands of adventurers, the ribauds, as they were soon named, but they were more harmful to their own side than to the enemy, for they pillaged and robbed shamelessly. The Brabançons, so called from their place of origin, were no better. Still, the King recognized their value for they were always ready at his command, in contrast with the feudal levies, which were extremely slow in assembling. Again, these mercenary troops were good instruments to employ against the feudal lords. It was not until the time of Philippe le Bel that any distinct change was effected in the military system. This clever monarch substituted for personal service without remuneration a fixed and obligatory service with pay. Before this change the feudal levies had the right to leave the army at the end of forty days or, at best, three months; the new regulations set a term of four months and longer, if the king so desired. Unfortunately, the king was unable to secure the consent of all his vassals to this new system, so that many left at the end of forty days as usual. The majority of the vassals accepted the change, however, and from this time on the army was paid by the royal treasury from the proceeds of a tax on all classes. B y this method the king



had greater control over his army, and could keep it in the field for a longer period. During the reign of this Philippe le Bel chivalry suffered one of its first great disasters. The battle of Mansourah (1250), so confusedly described by Joinville, had already given proof of the rashness and the military incompetence of the knights. An excuse was found for the defeat of the knights in the overwhelming number of the enemy. The remoteness of the scene of battle made the excuse palatable. For the battle of Courtrai, in 1302, there were no extenuating circumstances; the flower of French knighthood went down in ignominious defeat before Flemish burghers. The defeat was due to the knights' impatience and to their scorn of the shopkeepers who dared oppose them. The battle began with the French communal militia engaging the Flemish so vigorously that the latter seemed about to retreat. This success aroused the jealousy of the knights: Seignors, regardez a vos elζ Comment nos gens de pié le font: Flamens près de desconfis sont. Avant, seignors, grans et menors, Gardez que nos aions l'ennor E t le pris de ceste bataille. Faisons retraire la pietaille. . .

The Count of Artois and other nobles ordered the footsoldiers to withdraw. The militia was so astonished by this command that it broke ranks and retired in confusion. The knights, impatient at the delay, rode down their own men in a wild charge, shouting their war cries and evidently expecting the foe to run at the sight of French noblemen. The first line of horsemen plunged 1

Chronique rimée de GeoJfroi de Paris (Paris, 1827), p. 46.



into a deep moat, the first defense of the Flemish, and the knights who followed, unable to stop, fell on top of them. The Flemish had only to thrust their lances into this confused mass to kill without any danger to themselves, despatching two hundred noblemen and six thousand knights. Chivalric prestige was considerably lowered, but the knights had learned nothing from this defeat. A feeble attempt was made, indeed, to improve the communal forces, but chivalry could not bear the thought of a rival, with the result that infantry was neglected once more. Next came the Hundred Years' War, the period of chivalry's greatest brilliance of outward form as also the period of its deepest humiliations. I t might seem as if English chivalry had triumphed over French chivalry, and that chivalry was still supreme as a military principle. A closer examination of the facts shows, however, that it was a triumph of modernized tactics over typical chivalric procedure. A comparison of the military forces of the two rivals at the beginning of the conflict helps one to understand the reasons for the disasters of the French. In France there was no first-class infantry, for the communes had not been allowed to train their men. Consequently, when war broke out, their troops were untrained and timid, usually preferring plunder to prestige. The kings and nobles distrusted them, fearing to give them arms lest they revolt. Chivalry was jealous of them, for the knights did not wish to owe any of their victories to the ribaudwille. As a result, French armies were dependant entirely upon the forces of feudal chivalry. The English situation was quite different. The bour-



geois and the peasants had frequently leagued with the feudal nobility against the king, so that there existed no such mutual distrust as in France. The English longbowmen were the best archers in the world, carefully trained and encouraged by kings and nobles alike. The English knights were not ashamed to fight on foot beside their archers, who amply repaid their confidence. It was this union of infantry and cavalry which sent the impetuous French down to defeat in several great encounters. The first important battle between the rivals, at Crécy, in 1346, was an overwhelming victory for the English. Froissart's brilliant account of the battle is too well known to make a long summary necessary. The English knights dismounted to fight beside the archers, who, formed in close array, had kept their bow strings dry during a heavy shower. The Genoese mercenaries of Philippe de Valois had been rushed into position after a long march. Besides being tired and frightened, they had not been able to keep their cross-bows dry, and their first flight of bolts had little effect. Then the English archers literally darkened the sky with their long shafts, and the Genoese broke in terror. Philippe, seeing their disorder, gave the command to his knights: "Or tos, or tos, tués toute ceste ribaudaille: il nous ensonnient et tiennent la voie sans raison!" 1 The French charged again and again the compact mass of the English. There was a terrible slaughter of French chivalry, with an amazingly small loss of the English. It was essentially a triumph of infantry over cavalry. As for the French communal militia, it had not taken part in the battle; in fact, the chivalric Philippe de 1

Froissart, Chroniques, V, 49.


Valois had refused its aid. When Jean le Bon sent out a general call for troops in 1355, the communes sent only a small force, because they felt that it was useless for them to contend with the English, who had routed with ease the forces of chivalry itself. Henceforth the only French infantry to appear in battle was composed of bands of mercenaries, who later achieved notoriety as the Grandes Compagnies. The condition of France during the years after Crécy was indeed deplorable, but the country might have recovered everything it had lost if another disaster had not followed so soon. When, in 1355, the struggle was renewed, the French were able to muster a large army; in fact, they were superior to the English in numbers, in wealth, in the advantages of strategic position, in everything but military skill. The battle of Poitiers, in 1356, erased at one stroke all these advantages. The Black Prince, who was ravaging the land, had fallen into a difficult position and was surrounded by the French host. The English had two thousand knights and six thousand archers, while the French army was composed of fifty thousand men, the greater part of them knights, commanded by the King, Jean le Bon. Jean determined to attack the English force, in order to wipe out the disgrace of Crécy; instead, he doubled it. The English archers mowed down the French knights who first attacked by a narrow path up the hillside. The survivors fled, throwing into confusion the troops behind, and the entire right and left wings of the army, seized with a panic, fled without having struck a blow. Even then the center, which remained firm under the King's leadership, was twice the size of the whole English force. Jean, remembering the disaster of Crécy, ordered his



knights to dismount and fight on foot. This was just the wrong time for such a manoeuver, for the English knights, having been ordered to mount by the Black Prince, thundered down the hill in an irresistible charge. Jean fought valiantly, but was soon overpowered and taken prisoner. French chivalry had failed a second, time in the defense of the nation, chiefly because of its lack of patience, for if the French had been content to wait, they could have starved the English into submission. After this disaster wretched France was left a prey to the mercenary bands dismissed by both armies, and these ruffians, frequently captained by knights, ravaged the country from end to end. Fortunately, France had a new king, Charles V, whose skill and perseverance saved the nation. He conceived the plan of having Du Guesclin take the mercenaries out of France, to check the pillaging, and then, after their return, he utilized them against the English in a new type of warfare. For the first time the French had a real plan of campaign: the countryside was abandoned to the enemy, while the French knights, under the command of a group of warrior-captains, like Du Guesclin and Olivier de Clisson, shut themselves up in strongly fortified towns and castles. No battles were to be waged for chivalric honor; the French fought only when they were superior in numbers and position; they made use of stratagems, sometimes of downright fraud. They studied the enemy's tactics, evolved methods of attack and defense against them; in short, they began to discover the art of war. In this rough-and-ready school of war chivalric ideals had to suffer; yet the result was victory and the regaining of French soil. As Edward III said of



his unchivalric opponent, Charles V : " I l n'y ot oncques roi de France qui moins s'armast et si n'y ot oncques roi qui tant me donnast à faire." 1 Charles V tried in his turn to improve French infantry and during his reign a fine body of archers was established, equal if not superior to the English. His death, in 1380, put an untimely end to all these reforms, for a strong chivalric reaction set in under the youthful Charles VI. The knights objected to the archers, who might have become their rivals, and the weak King, dazzled by the knights' victory at Rosbecque, limited the number of the archers. Thirty years of peace were followed by a great chivalric disaster and by one of the most shameful periods in French history. The battle of Nicopolis, in 1396, did not affect France directly; but it proved once again the military incapacity of the knights, who had returned to the old chivalric methods, forgetting the lessons of Charles V and of Du Guesclin. The battle of Azincourt, in 1 4 1 5 , which was preceded by fearful civil wars, practically destroyed French chivalry, and laid France open to the enemy. As at Poitiers, the English had a small force, while the French were in overwhelming numbers, and determined to have a pitched battle. French chivalry refused the services of 6000 archers sent by the city of Paris, saying: "Quel besoin avons-nous de ces boutiquiers?" The only way to reach the English was over a narrow field which had been freshly plowed and later soaked by rain. The French knights again dismounted when they should have stayed on their horses, and advanced slipping and stumbling over the treacherous ground. The English archers mowed them down and 1

Froissart, VIII, 209.



the English knights finished the conflict by slaughtering the survivors, who were pressed forward by the knights behind. Chivalric rashness and stupidity were the causes of this disaster, which was all the more inexcusable as Charles V had already shown the way to victory years before. After Azincourt black despair fell on France. For twenty-five years the nation was torn by incessant war, no longer a chivalric contest but grim and merciless fighting. Mercenary troops did most of the work, and they scorned no means to obtain an advantage over their equally unscrupulous foes. There were still pretenses of chivalry, but the most famous knights of France were the cruel captains La Hire, Dunois, and Xaintrailles, who led their bands of écorcheurs over the desolate countryside, pillaging friend and foe. Only the personal hatred these men felt for the English kept them faithful to France. Charles V I I did his best to hold them in check, but he needed their assistance too badly to chance antagonizing them. Consequently, by the year 1440, the French army was composed of large bands of ruthless and efficient soldiers, knights in name only, who were little by little driving the English out of France. Each interval of peace was as dangerous to the country as war, for the écorcheurs merely roamed about as they pleased, unhindered by the enemy. It was during one of these lulls that Charles V I I took the first steps toward the formation of a permanent royal army. In November, 1439, encouraged by the Estates General assembled at Orléans, the King promulgated an edict intended to put an end to the greed and high-handed methods of the army. The edict provided severe penal-


THE d e c l i n e o f c h i v a l r y

ties for all those guilty of robbing and plundering, and further decreed that the King alone had the power to raise companies of troops, and that whoever attempted to do it without his consent was guilty of lèse-majesté. T o show that he meant it, he hanged several brigand chiefs, like the Bastard of Bourbon, and imprisoned others who had been notorious plunderers. The écorcheurs considered this the last straw, and broke into open revolt against the King. The great feudal lords, seeming to sense impending danger, joined with them, setting up the cry of tyranny and ingratitude, and accused the King of seeking the humiliation of the knights, a charge which was perfectly true. Almost all the leaders of the écorcheurs, the dukes of Bourbon and Vendôme, Dunois, Chabannes, La Trémouille, entered the revolt and hastened to Poitou, where the uprising centered. Charles V I I showed unwonted activity and coolness in this crisis. With the aid of Richemont and Xaintrailles, who had remained faithful, he suppressed the uprising with the aid of the people, who seemed to realize that the King was working for them in seeking to quell this outbreak of feudal independence. Triumphant over the feudal lords, Charles was at last free to complete the work he had started. Having decimated the remaining companies by long expeditions to Metz and Basel, Charles first communicated his proposed reforms to Dunois and Richemont, who in turn sounded the other leaders, promising substantial rewards if they fell in with the King's wishes. As soon as their consent had been obtained, the King promulgated, in 1445, his edict creating a standing army. This edict reduced the army to fifteen companies of one hundred lances each; each lance comprised six




men, namely, the armored knight or man-at-arms, a coutillier or cutlass-bearer, a page, three archers, and six horses. The companies were commanded by fifteen skilled leaders who possessed a certain fortune and who were made directly responsible to the King for the acts of their men. If they were guilty of disobedience, the King could confiscate their wealth, as well as inflict other punishment; for they were obliged to take an oath to the King to obey the new ordonnance which created the standing army. Each captain picked out his own knights, and the knights chose their five followers. Every new recruit had to work up from the bottom, beginning as an archer. The coutillier and the page were not combatants but rather servants of the knight, taking care of his equipment and the horses. These men were chosen from the old companies, and formed the new compagnies d'ordonnance. Those who remained, after this selection was made, were taken to their homes under special escort, in order to prevent plundering. The new companies were quartered in the cities, but with no more than thirty lances in each city, so that the bourgeois would be stronger than the soldiers. Once the companies were formed, they became unexpectedly popular. Many of the former écorcheurs followed them about in order to be on hand when the first vacancy occurred. The nobles flocked to the companies, even though they had to enter as archers and pass through a strict training before they could reach the grade of man-at-arms. The suits of armor worn by the members of the new standing army were all alike, thus giving it a distinctive appearance. A t the same time each captain communicated his personal colors and arms to his troop, so that each company became a



sort of regiment with separate insignia, which were often a source of pride to the group wearing them. While the feudal levies were not done away with, they ceased to have any importance now that the King had a permanent army at his command for every occasion. With the aid of these finely disciplined troops of cavalry, Charles VII had little difficulty in driving the English completely out of France, excepting for Calais. In accordance with his reform of the army, Charles determined to create a body of infantry, hoping to realize some of the results which England had obtained from her foot-soldiers. Consequently, in 1448, he formed the francs archers, to be drawn from the entire kingdom. The franc in their title meant that they were free of all taxes, an exemption which helped in getting recruits. Unfortunately, the organization was faulty, in that the drilling and practicing of the archers were left to their own initiative, with the result that they spent more time in the inns than on the practicegrounds. Although the archers served Charles VII fairly well, they failed dismally under Louis X I , who finally used them for garrison duty only. But their place was taken by another body, six thousand Swiss mercenaries hired by Louis, who admired their bravery and warlike skill, but above all their defeat of Charles le Téméraire at Nancy. Louis also raised by voluntary enlistment a body of twenty thousand foot-soldiers, who were sent to a camp near the Flemish border and trained by Swiss officers. Once trained they were sent into garrison in Picardy. Such was the origin of the famous bandes picardes, which served in the Italian wars with great credit.



Even though the infantry planned by Charles VII did not come up to expectations, infantry had been given a definite right to exist, protected by royal decree. The method of recruiting established a direct connection between the monarchy and the people, while the feudal lords were powerless to interfere. Every free man in the kingdom had the right to be a soldier, to serve beside the nobility in the defense of the nation. Although the footsoldiers were still considered inferior to the cavalry, partly through their own fault and partly through prejudice, it was not long before they were deemed the backbone of the fighting force. By the institution of the compagnies