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Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe$

Richard Kaeuper

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780199244584

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199244584.001.0001

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Chevalerie and Royauté

Chevalerie and Royauté

(p.93) 5 Chevalerie and Royauté
Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe

Richard W. Kaeuper

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on French chivalric literature. It describes the differences between Capetian and Plantagenet political culture. Chevalerie and royauté agreed on the inevitability, desirability, and importance of war. However, the relationship between the two was not the same everywhere. Monarchy in England and France followed different timetables. These differences shaped the interaction between kingship and chivalry in each realm.

Keywords:   chevalerie, royauté, war, Capetian political culture, Plantagenet political culture, kingship

Royal Stance on War and Violence

Powerful images of the fellowship of Arthur and his companions gathered at the Round Table point us towards the genuine shared interests of kings and knights. Yet this Arthurian literature, with its dénouement of destructive conflict, likewise suggests tensions and contradictions between royalty and chivalry. This chapter examines both lines of force.

By right and duty kings were assumed to work to secure basic order in society. Even though they might prove ineffectual or even troublesome in that role, they settled disputes, were supposed to protect property, and promoted honour; they operated a legal system of courts and officials that knights clearly found useful.

Chivalric literature openly endorses this royal role in law and justice.1 A wise man-at-arms in the Lancelot do Lac provides a classic statement of the right and responsibility of royalty: ‘[E]veryone would be disinherited and ruined if King Arthur were overthrown,’ he says, ‘because the stability of all of us is his concern.’2 The Story of Merlin, takes the same line, asserting that able kings secure order. The text relates that rebellions against Arthur's father, Uther Pendragon, had increased with the king's age and weakness.3 The Lancelot makes a similar point: the land was sorely troubled by disorders, while Arthur was imprisoned by the False Guinevere: ‘Now seeing their land without a master, the barons began to war with one another, though this was unbearable to the worthy and noble among them who sought only the general good.’4 On his quest in The Marvels of Rigomer, Lancelot enters a land he learns is rife with (p.94) terror and conflict because of weak governance. The message is doubled when he is told that he should travel in a neighbouring land ruled well by a powerful king who is also a brave and noble knight who hangs robbers enthusiastically.5

The king as ideal fount of justice can blend with the king as ideal patron of chivalry. The Romance of Silence imagines this ideal partnership as its story opens:

  • Once upon a time Evan was king of England.
  • He maintained peace in his land;
  • with the sole exception of King Arthur,
  • there never was his equal
  • in the land of the English.
  • His rules were not just idle talk….
  • He upheld justice in his realm;
  • his people were no criminals.
  • He maintained chivalry
  • and sustained young warriors
  • by gifts, not empty promises.6
If they shared some ideals about peace and justice, kings and knights also shared war. Persistently, on both sides of the Channel, rulers and those who clustered around them acted on bellicose impulses, to which the political and military history of the period stands as plain witness. War involved the king as knight, with his knights. Of course it was never as simple as this. War also involved money, ships, mercenaries, and specialist engineers for the inevitable, grinding sieges; moreover, it did not closely involve all of the king's knights. At the level of basic patterns of thought, however, royauté and chevalerie agreed on the inevitability and importance, even the desirability, of war. If kings thought more of politics where some knights were more concerned with prowess, both considered the profits—a completely honorable motive—and both thought war a characteristic and defining activity of their respective spheres, here joined in basic cooperation.

What becomes more interesting, then, is to ask about royal and chivalric attitudes towards war within the realm. What rules, if any, governed the possession of fortifications, the open display of arms and the assertion of the right (p.95) to use them in ‘private’ war? And what of tournament, which basically amounted to a form of war as chivalric sport?

Such topics involve fundamental issues of sovereignty, for kings increasingly claimed that warlike violence undoubtedly ranked among the significant areas over which they wanted some control.7

On both sides of the Channel successive kings worked sporadically, but with something like a sense of mission, to enforce a conception of peace that stemmed from a developing royal prerogative as well as a sense of duty rooted, finally, in the will of God.

Some scholars find no tension at all, denying that kings could have much effect on issues of public order, or even took them seriously. Of course, no medieval government could truly supervise justice and guarantee public order throughout the realm, nor, for that matter, could any other government for a long time thereafter. Fears about governmental inability on this score have even surfaced in the contemporary world. Yet an essential dimension of the problem of public order drops from sight if we neglect the obvious royal impulse on both sides of the Channel to read sovereignty in no small measure in terms of the control of warlike violence, or at least to insist on a royal role in its direction and channelling. Whatever their success rate, whatever the complications of their own complicity, kings surely tried to effect a royal monopoly over licit violence, and the attempt is an undeniably important fact in early European history. Their work as sovereigns was complicated by two significant facts: kings, too, were knights and generally believed in a code that enshrined violence; and they needed the knights as part of their administrations and as a key element in their military force.

Yet the sense of responsibility for public order and the drive for sovereignty were real enough and brought royal encroachment on the independence of knights, especially those inclined to engage in heroic violence.8 In the biography of William Marshal the author moans that, in his day, chivalry has been imprisoned; the life of the knight errant, he charges, has been reduced to that of the litigant in courts.9

Even when desired and accepted, royal justice could be partial and imperfect. Caution is especially strong in earlier French works, as effective kingship is just emerging. The king, who in many a chanson reigns even when he does not effectively rule, creates endless problems by unwise and immoral (p.96) distribution of fiefs; his foolishness sets up the seemingly endless cycles of violence in Raoul de Cambrai, for example.10 Arthur himself sometimes needs reminding of his royal role in the maintenance of justice. In the crisis of his quarrel with Galehaut, the Wise Man tells Arthur he must truly give the justice God entrusted to him with the dominion he holds. Later in this same romance we find a chastened Arthur dutifully holding admirable courts of law: ‘as soon as the case was heard, the right had to be upheld’.11

Even when impartial, royal justice could intrude on knightly honour defended by prowess. More than one knight finds himself charged with murder in a case of killing he considers fully justified and honourable. Even the poor but honourable knight whom Robin Hood helps in the Geste of Robyn Hood was impoverished as a result of defending his son in court after the young man had killed another knight and a squire in a tournament.12

An even more revealing case appears when Guinevere's father, King Leodagan, ‘who was a good ruler and lawgiver’, condemns the knight Bertelay. Though Bertelay had slain another knight, it was only after following the proper forms—breaking faith with the man and openly threatening him with death.13 Asked about the killing,

[Bertelay] answered that he would indeed defend himself against anyone who called him a criminal: ‘I do not say I did not kill him, but I did break faith with him first…. So, as I see it, a man should harm his deadly enemy in all the ways he can—after he has broken faith with him.’

The defence is, of course, that of Ganelon in the Chanson de Roland of perhaps a century earlier: taking revenge against an enemy openly is no crime against a king. What have kings to do with this anyway? Charlemagne's answer in the great epic, validated by a trial by combat which reveals the will of God, emphasizes public good over private revenge and leads to Ganelon's terrible death as a traitor.14 King Leodagan's position, though milder, would have pleased Charlemagne; the king told Bertelay ‘that he was mistaken, “but if you had come to me and brought suit against him, I would not have ruled against you; then you could have taken vengeance. But you did not find me worthy enough to seek justice from me.” ’ Bertelay's reply assures personal loyalty but asserts private right: ‘“Sir,” he said, “say what you will, but I have never done you any (p.97) wrong, nor will I ever, God willing.” ’ But King Leodagan's court, made up for this case of King Arthur, King Ban, King Bors, and seven distinguished knights, orders Bertelay to be disinherited and exiled. King Ban, speaking for the court, states the key to their decision: ‘The reason is that he took it upon himself to judge the knight he killed, and at night, but justice was not his to mete out.’ Bertelay goes off into exile, accompanied by ‘a most handsome following of knights to whom he had many times given fine gifts, for he had been a good and strong knight’.15

Other leading characters are occasionally drafted to speak out on behalf of a recourse to the courts. Though the false Guinevere episode puts her in peril, the true queen upholds the ideal monarchical role regarding justice, even against her own immediate interests. When Galehaut offers to solve all her problems by taking the false queen by force, Guinevere stoutly speaks up for a system of justice administered in the courts and against violent self-help: ‘I will not, please God, allow that. I don't seek to be defended against her accusation by anything but the law, and I won't ever, please God, be tempted by sinful means but will wholly accept the king's judgement.’16

Even Lancelot informs a knight whom he encounters that it is not right for one knight to pass judgement on another single-handedly; he should prove his case in a court.17 The principle is interesting, and runs directly counter to Ramon Llull's assertion that good knights should simply eliminate the bad.18 Of course Lancelot gives advice he does not follow himself, for he marks the trail of his adventures with the broken bodies of evildoers.

Early in the Merlin Continuation (much concerned with ‘firsts’, with the origins of chivalric customs) a squire asks Arthur to take vengeance for his lord, killed in what the king calls the first of ‘these trials of one knight against another’. The squire tells Arthur that as king, by God's grace, he has sworn to right ‘the misdeeds that anyone—a knight or any other person—did in the land’. Arthur goes in person to confront the killer, who turns out to be Pellinor. Before the inevitable joust, Arthur and Pellinor assert contradictory views about individual right and royal responsibility: ‘Sir knight, who told you to keep the passage of this forest in such a way that no knight, native or (p.98) foreign, may take the way through the forest but he must joust with you?’ If Arthur has raised the fundamental question of licit violence, Pellinor, addressing Arthur as a knight, asserts a knight's right: ‘Sir knight…I gave myself leave to do this, without authority or grace from anyone else.’ Arthur will not accept such a sense of private right: ‘You have done a great wrong…in that you didn't obtain leave at least from the lord of the land. I command you on his behalf to remove your tent from here and never again be so bold as to undertake such a thing.’19

The tension emerges openly again when Lancelot proposes to make kings of Hector, Bors, and Lionel in the victorious aftermath of the war against the usurper Claudas. Bors will have none of it, and explains why:

What is this, my lord, that you wish to do? Truly if I wanted to receive the honor of kingship, you should not permit it, for as soon as I have a kingdom, I'll be obligated to give up all knighthood, whether I wish to or not, and I'd have more honor as a landless man but a good knight than as a rich king who had given up knighthood. And what I say concerning myself, I say about your brother Hector, for it will be a mortal sin if, from the ranks of prowess and great knighthood where he now is, you remove him so that he may become king.20

The worlds of kingship and of pure knightly prowess obviously seem incompatible here.

More than a century later, these issues likewise bothered Honoré Bonet. In his Tree of Battles, sent to Charles VI in 1387, he takes the royalist line:

a person other than a prince cannot order general war. The reason for this is that no man should, or may, bear arms without the license of the prince. And another reason is that a man cannot take upon himself to do justice on another who has wronged him, but the prince must do justice between these men. But nowadays every man wishes to have the right of making war, even simple knights, and by the law this cannot be.21

Capetian Kingship and Chivalry

If the relationship of royauté and chevalerie was everywhere complex and ambivalent, it was not everywhere the same. Monarchy, in England and France in particular, followed different timetables, and these differences shaped the interaction between kingship and chivalry in each realm. Baldly stated, precocious growth characterized the English State; the French state (the model for most other realms) developed more slowly.22 It is worth making (p.99) two separate examinations: we will look just at the Capetians here, then, in Chapter 6, at the Plantagenets.

At one level, it is true, the ideology of kingship as formally expressed in treatises and colourful ceremony would show broad similarities over much of high medieval Europe. On questions of controlling and channelling warlike violence, kings of France and their cousins in England shared a substratum of ideas from earlier medieval centuries; they formally linked regality with a justice impartially dispensed at all levels, and with the assurance of the sort of order within the realm that would allow the peaceful practice of Christianity. They came to view some violence as an affront to their sovereignty.

The similarities in oaths and responses spoken by the kings of England and France in their coronation ceremonies, for example, or the general agreement of ideas about the royal role expressed by ecclesiastical writers, easily demonstrate this fact.23 Generic forms of coronation oath even appear in chivalric literature. In The Story of Merlin, for example, Arthur, recognized as king after he has repeatedly drawn the sword from the stone, is told by the archbishop:

if you are willing to swear and promise all the saints that you will safeguard the rights of Holy Church, keep lawful order and peace in the land, give help to the defenseless as best you can, and uphold all rights, feudal obligations, and lawful rule, then step forward and take the sword with which Our Lord has shown that you are His elect.

Weeping with joy, Arthur asks for God's help in providing ‘the strength and the might to do what is right and to uphold all the things that you have told me and I have heard’.24

Promises which eventually hardened into formal coronation oaths show these basic ideas in Capetian France. Three traditional precepts bound the new king: to ‘preserve through all time true peace for the church of God and all Christian people, to forbid rapine and iniquities of all sorts, and to enforce equity and mercy in all judgements’.25

Ideas even more closely focused on public order came from the gradual royal cooption of the peace movement. Although the pax dei, the Peace of God, originally looked to the greater lords to secure a measure of peace which weak kings were unable to manage, as effective Capetian power grew in the twelfth century the movement became the king's peace, pax regis.26 Within this overall peace movement the effort to establish specific times of truce, a treuga (p.100) dei when all fighting was prohibited, may have been particularly significant. As Head and Landes suggest,

over the course of the twelfth century, the Truce of God was inexorably co-opted by secular authorities and became part of the emerging constitutional order of governance and peacekeeping. By the mid-twelfth century in France the Peace of God had become the King's Peace.27

That the kings of England, by contrast, did not need the buttress of the peace movement reinforces the importance of cross-Channel differences. The work of kings of France had to be different, constrained as it was by different circumstances, especially the size and growth of the realm, the slow emergence of a hierarchy of courts and appeals, and the crucial factor of timing.

Ideology, in short, does not simply equate with actual capacity; beyond royal ideology, abstractly expressed, lies another important layer of operative ideas: justifications that royal officials gave for measures actually taken, day-to-day assertions found not only in coronation oaths or treatises but in the working documents of busy administrations. At this level the differences between English and French kingship retain significance and demand attention.

The ordinance or testament of 1190, which Philip II had drawn up before departure on crusade, speaks in its preface in bold terms of public utility, and states that the kingly office consists in securing his subjects' well-being. The document that follows this preamble outlines active measures: the baillis (regional officials) are to set aside one day a month to hold assizes at which they would receive appeals, and give prompt justice. Yet one clause establishes a formal procedure in case anyone made war against Philip's son, the young king, while the crusade lasted.28 Clearly, this significant document embodies a sense of justice as a key function of regality; just as clearly, the reality and legitimacy of noble war within the realm, and even war against royalty itself, had to be recognized.

Louis IX (St Louis), half a century later, greatly strengthened the royal stance against violence within the realm. Perhaps he affected opinion most by his general unhappiness with ‘private’ war and duel and by his preference for peace, at least for peace among Christians. For each of his specific measures the exact timing, mechanisms, and generality within the realm remains uncertain; but at least within the royal domain the evidence suggests a serious programme: (p.101) Louis prohibited trial by battle in both ‘civil’ and ‘criminal’ cases; he instituted the ‘quarantaine le roi’ (a forty-day truce in private wars during which relatives of the combatants could have a chance to choose not to involve themselves); he restricted tournaments, and even prohibited private war itself and the carrying of offensive weapons. On the other hand, that he sometimes demolished castles belonging to lords under sentence of his court is a matter of record.29

The great reform ordinance of 1256 announced that his officials were to do justice to rich and poor alike and declared that they must preserve good laws. Louis probably believed in these principles, which could all too easily be dismissed. Joinville's story of the good king sitting beneath an oak at Vincennes, dispensing justice, is famous; but he also twice tells the story of the king listening intently to a friar's sermon and never forgetting its message: the only kingdoms lost to their kings were those in which justice was ignored. In a letter to his son, the future Philip III, these same themes reappear.30

Though he was a strenuous knight himself, so that Joinville could open his biography by saying he will tell of Louis's ‘great deeds of chivalry (de ses granz chevaleries)’, the king also revealed significant reservations about the devoted elevation of prowess, a key element of knighthood. Joinville once heard him state that a great distance stands between the man of prowess and the worthy man: ‘il a grant difference entre preu home et preudome’.31 Behind the king's play on words lies the serious point that prowess cannot reign untempered and alone, the very point so often made in works of literature.

The last Capetians, Philip IV and his sons, advanced the programme of St Louis in a series of well-documented court decisions and ordonnonces, which announced that the king's war must take precedence over all other warlike violence; while he fought his enemies, no private wars, judicial duels, or tournaments were to be tolerated.32 The special relationship of royalty to warlike violence could scarcely be more clearly drawn: the king would lead war abroad and regulate it—in all its manifestations—within the realm. In fact, these late Capetian kings claimed rights to regulate warlike violence even in peacetime. As Philip IV announced in a 1292 ordinance: ‘[T]hroughout the entire realm of France, [cases involving] breaking the peace, carrying arms…generally (p.102) belong wholly to the lord king, by reason of his superiority, even in places where other lords hold high justice.’33

Whenever needed, French kings could draw upon an arsenal of legal measures: they could provide royal safeguards (sauveguardes) to particular religious houses or individuals, they could impose assured truces (asseurements) on quarreling parties, grant the royal panonceaux (signs of the king's protection) to be affixed almost anywhere, on houses, ships, even gallows.34 In their day-by-day work the royal courts continued, in theory, to provide swift and impartial justice to great and small, the most basic royal service in the interests of peace within the realm.35

Did the French crown really act on the ideas expressed so often in its legal and administrative documents? Ordonnances announced in the most uncompromising language may not, to be sure, have covered the entire realm, and were often violated where they did in theory apply; but the direction of the working royal ideology and royal efforts at actual enforcement can scarcely be denied. No reader of the records of the highest French court, the Parlement of Paris, can doubt that the crown prosecuted knights for assault and murder, theft and pillage, breaking of truces, and private war.36 No reader of French chivalric literature can doubt the knights' sensitivity to the intrusion.

The Balance Sheet

For all the tensions, chivalric literature in France never seriously challenged the existence of kingship. Some epics in their frustration, it is true, may edge close to the idea of doing without the troublesome fact of kings. The Charroi de Nîmes (in the cycle of twelfth-century chansons about William of Orange) at one point imagines that this great knight angrily tells King Louis that he could kill all of Louis' men and even kill Louis himself. A little later in this same chanson William pointedly reminds the king that he had himself placed the crown on Louis' head and warns that he now feels like knocking it off.37 In Aliscans, another of his chansons, an irate William again threatens to kill King Louis, who has here scorned William in his great need.38 Would William have replaced him as king, rather than leaving the kingdom without its titular head? (p.103) In Raoul de Cambrai the erring King Louis is cursed as the cause of trouble and told by a baron he is ‘not worth a button’.39

Yet such statements represent the growlings of particular dissatisfaction more than any sober attempts at a theory of governance. In fact, learned studies have argued that many of the chansons de geste must be linked to the waxing of royal power which these texts support.40 Some romances show the same ideological inclination, a good example being Chrétien's Erec, with its self-conscious associations with Angevin kingship in its famous coronation scene.41 Kings are accepted; these works simply projected characteristics essential to an ideal and emphasized them by vividly illustrating the problems caused by their absence. The problem of governance, in short, was not located in the very fact of kingship, but was blamed, instead. on bad or inept men trying to fill the role.42

Of course, a true king was in no small degree welcomed in this literature because he possessed one of the chief chivalric qualities: prowess. A good king was a good knight and could cleave helmets and thrust lances with the best. The Perlesvaus presents a classic scene of Arthur and Gawain riding side by side into the action of a great tournament:

Their horses were now decked in their trappings, and the king and Sir Gawain mounted, fully armed, and charged into the tournament with such fury that they smashed right through the biggest companies, felling horses and knights and whatever they met. Then the king caught sight of Nabigan who was riding forward in all of his finery; the king struck him such a furious blow that he sent him crashing from his horse and broke his collar-bone.43

Riding side by side into actual war is, of course, better still. In the Mort Artu, as Arthur and his knights fight their tragic battle against the forces of Lancelot, Arthur proves his worth as a knight in the best manner:

That day King Arthur bore arms, and did it so well that there was no man of his age in the world who could have equalled him; indeed the story affirms that on his side there was no knight, old or young, who bore arms as well as he did. Through the example of (p.104) his fine chivalry all his men fought so well that the men from the castle would have been conquered if it had not been for Lancelot.44

Another royal trait idealized in chivalric writing may seem merely unremarkable piety. Who could be surprised to read time and again that a king must be a good Christian? The Duke of Burgundy, in the Song of Aspremont, begins his speech on ideal kingship along just these lines: ‘The type of man who seeks a crown on earth, / Should look to God and in his faith be firm; / He should both honor and serve the Holy Church.’45 Is this insistence, encountered so often, simply the reflex response of the cleric or quasi-cleric who penned the text?

This trait is unlikely to be rooted in clericalism alone. More likely, it also reflects age-old beliefs that the religious standing of the king significantly determines the fate of the group or, in time, of the kingdom.46 Such beliefs were much older than the Gregorian Reform that sought to diminish their force; they also proved to be more durable than clerical critics expected. In chivalric literature, kings, in company with other great laymen, often dominate churchmen and church property in just the ways the Gregorians had vigorously denounced for a century or more. We need only recall how dominant and even sacerdotal a role Charlemagne plays in The Song of Roland—blessing in Jesus's name and in his own, conversing with his companion angels, convincing God to extend the daylight (in order to effect his revenge).47 As Marc Bloch pointedly observed, ‘Clearly the Gregorian reform had not yet passed that way.’48

Royal piety is, moreover, often linked with the basic obligation of the king to right fundamental wrongs in human society, especially to succour widows and orphans. Significantly, such duties were also a staple of the chivalric ethos. In the Lancelot do Lac the Worthy Man's blistering critique of Arthur's kingship includes the charge that ‘[t]he right of widows and orphans has perished under your dominions’. He threatens Arthur with the warning: ‘God will call you most cruelly to account for this, for He Himself said through the mouth of His prophet David that He is the guardian of the poor and sustains the orphans and will destroy the ways of the sinners.’49

(p.105) The idea that the king must do his utmost to give impartial justice to all, regardless of rank, is tirelessly emphasized in chansons and romances. Arthur states the position plainly in Chrétien's Erec:

  • I am the king…
  • I should not wish in any way
  • to commit disloyalty or wrong,
  • no more to the weak than the strong;
  • it is not right that any should complain of me…50
In fact, chivalric authors' interest in the full social range of impartial royal justice often quickly narrowed to the ranks of privileged society and to the specifics of feudal relationships.51 More than one poem in the Cycle of William of Orange turns on that point, and it is a similar failure of the king to provide feudal justice that animates the savage cycles of knightly feuding in Raoul de Cambrai.52

One key policy is for the king to free himself of low-born advisers and rely solely on the only people who count, that is, on men of ‘the right blood’, whether they are clerics or laymen. In the Crowning of Louis, Charlemagne advises his son Louis ‘not to take a lowborn man as your counsellor, the son of a lord's agent or of a bailiff. These would betray their trust in a minute for money.’53 The Duke of Burgundy in the Song of Aspremont speaks to the choice of both clerical and lay officials and counsellors; combining self-conscious anti-Gregorianism with chivalric rectitude, he insists that all come from ‘good family’:

  • You should keep by your side men of good birth;
  • From their good counsel you may find out and learn
  • The way to govern your own soul and self first:…
  • Make not a bishop of the son of your shepherd;
  • Take a king's son, or duke's or count's, I tell you.
  • Or vavassor's, though his family be penniless…
  • Archbishops seven bear office in my shires
  • And there's not one, so strict I've scrutinized,
  • Whom either king or high duke has not sired…54
This ideal must have produced sage nods of agreement from those assembled in a royal or baronial hall—some low-born officials perhaps prudently paying more attention to their wine goblets for a moment.

(p.106) Yet if this ideal court is a centre of fine chivalry and a useful forum, in all instances disputes are brought to the king by a suitor's choice, not by royal claims to jurisdiction. Supervised arbitration is the process, not clearly sovereign adjudication, a picture that largely matches twelfth-century political and legal reality. As John Baldwin has shown, slightly more than a third of the cases coming into the royal court under Philip II between 1179 and 1223 received imposed royal judgements; somewhat more than half were settled by simple agreements between the parties.55 Like Charlemagne or Arthur, Philip Augustus offered a service to those who chose to take advantage of it. Yet Philip's reign was, as Baldwin also argues, a turning-point in French history: ‘The French king was no longer merely reacting to his great vassals…He was now able to seize the initiative to win supremacy…. Benefiting from the resources of a rich kingdom, Philip laid the foundations of French royal power in the Middle Ages.’56

Chivalric literature was highly reluctant to recognize such direct royal jurisdiction over major issues of justice and even more reluctant to recognize a working royal monopoly over licit violence.57 The pages of chanson and romance generally refuse even to register the existence of a centralizing, bureaucratic administration with a system of courts energized by insistent and expanding jurisdiction, with proceeds of taxation collected through administrative mechanisms looming ever larger over the local horizon. Historical records occasionally preserve the puzzled and offended surprise which greets royal constraint. On the way to the gallows in 1323, at the end of a remarkable career of defiant private warfare, Jourdain de l'Isle Jourdain confessed that his actions on several counts merited the death penalty; yet, the record reveals, he added a significant coda of failed self-justification in each case: ‘but he said that it was in war’.58


(1) In addition to the texts cited below, see two fascinating discussions: Elspeth Kennedy on issues of royalty, chivalry, lineage, and prowess in the Lancelot do Lac in ‘Quest for Identity’, and Roussineau on the Perceforest, chivalry, and the founding of the order of the Garter by Edward III in ‘Ethique chevaleresque’.

(2) Elspeth Kennedy, ed., Lancelot do Lac, I, 35. The same sentiment is repeated in the cyclic version of the Lancelot story: Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part I, 17; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, II, 31.

(3) Sommer, Vulgate Version, II, 77.

(4) Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part III, 265: Sommer, Vulgate Version, IV, 51.

(5) Vesce, tr., Marvels of Rigomer, 53; Wendelin Foerster, ed., Mervelles de Rigomer, ll. 2365–84. Later in this romance a body of British knights overwhelms both sides in a private war and imposes peace: Vesce, ibid., 163; Foerster, ibid., ll. 7484–604. Giants who issue forth from their castle to ravage the countryside could easily be a symbol of lordly ravaging: Vesce, ibid., 192–3; Foerster, ibid., ll. 8869–9102.

(6) Roche-Mahdi, ed., tr., Silence, 6–7.

(7) See Strayer, Medieval Origins and Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order.

(8) The anthropologist Julian Pitt-Rivers catches the ambiguity nicely by noting that ‘while the sovereign is the “fount of honour” in one sense, he is also the enemy of honour in another, since he claims to arbitrate in regard to it’: ‘Honour and Social Status’, 30.

(9) Meyer, ed., Histoire, ll. 2686–92.

(10) Kay, ed., tr., Raoul de Cambrai. Any of the chansons in the Cycle of Rebel Barons could make the point, as could many from the Cycle of William of Orange.

(11) See Carroll tr., Lancelot Part II, 120–1, 150–1; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, III, 217–20, 271.

(12) See the Geste of Robyn Hood, Fytte One, stanzas 52–3 in Knight and Ohlgren, eds, Robin Hood.

(13) The following is drawn from Pickens, tr., Story of Merlin, 339–41; Sommer, Vulgate Version, II, 310–13.

(14) Brault, ed., tr., Chanson de Roland, laisses 270–91.

(15) Cf. Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part III, 263 and Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, ed., IV, 46, where Bertelay's hatred is connected with his role in the False Guenevere episode. In Lancelot Part I King Bors of Gaunes, who disinherited Pharian because of such a death, is called ‘of all men one of the most bent on justice’: Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part I, 10; Sommer, Vulgate Version, III, 17.

(16) Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part III, 264; Sommer, Vulgate Version, IV, 48.

(17) Rosenberg, Lancelot Part I, 91; Sommer, Vulgate Version, III, 172; Elspeth Kennedy, ed., Lancelot do Lac, I, 222.

(18) Byles, ed., Book of the Ordre of Chyvalry, 27–30, 49. Llull thought of knights as governors themselves, and gave little attention to any mechanisms by which their own excesses or crimes might be checked.

(19) Asher, tr., Merlin Continuation, 175, 179; Roussineau, ed., Merlin, I, 28, 41–2.

(20) Carroll, tr., Lancelot Part VI, 319; Micha, ed., Lancelot, VI, 169–70.

(21) Coupland, ed., tr., Tree of Battles, 129.

(22) This theme is developed in Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order.

(23) These themes can be followed with much profit in Flori, L'Idéologie du glaive, especially 65–103.

(24) Pickens, tr., Story of Merlin, 216; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, II, 88.

(25) Quoting from Baldwin, Philip Augustus, pp. 375; see his discussion of the coronation promises and oaths, 374–5, and the many sources cited there.

(26) Grabois, ‘Trêve de Dieu’.

(27) Head and Landes, eds, Peace of God, 8.

(28) Ordonnances, I, 18. See the discussion in Baldwin, Philip Augustus, 137–44. The difference between the statement about war against the young king in France and the closing of the Magna Carta (which licenses war against King John in case of non-compliance with the Charter) is that in England such war was formally illicit and was royally licensed by the Charter in this exceptional case; in France such war was not formally illicit and was simply expected.

(29) Ordonnances, I, 56–8, 84, 86. See discussion and sources cited in Jordan, Louis IX, 140, 203–4; Ducoudray, Origines du Parlement, 329–32; Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order, 214–15, 231–5. Cf. Wailly, ed., Historie de Saint Louis, 55, where a castle of a robber baron is pulled down by Louis on his way to take ship for the crusade.

(30) Wailly, Histoire de Saint Louis, 24, 25, 288–9, 308–9. In Louis IX, passim, Jordan has argued that in his great reform initiatives Louis was eliminating wrongs in his governance that had turned divine blessing away from his central crusading mission.

(31) Wailly, Histoire de Saint Louis, 235.

(32) E.g. Ordonnances I, 328–9, 342–5, 390, 421–2, 492–3, 538–9, 562, 643, 655–6, 701–2.

(33) Ordonnances, VII, 611, quoted in Strayer, Philip the Fair, 195: ‘pacis fractio, portacio armorum…generaliter pertinent domino rege in solidum per totum regnum Francie racione sue superioritatis, eciam in locis ubi alii domini habent merum imperium.’

(34) Discussed, with sources cited, in Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order, 231–60.

(35) As in Philip IV's great reform ordinance, 1302: Ordonnances, I, 354–6.

(36) Evidence provided in Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order, 184–268.

(37) Price, tr., Wagon-Train, laisses 11, 17; McMillan, ed., Charroi de Nîmes.

(38) Ferrante, ed., tr., Guillaume d'Orange, laisse lxv; Wienbeck et al., eds, Aliscans.

(39) Kay, ed., tr. Raoul de Cambrai, laisses CCXXV, CCXXIV.

(40) General discussions in Boutet and Strubel, Littérature, politique et société, 39–67; Boutet, ‘La politique et l'histoire’; and ‘Chansons de geste’. The theme in particular works: Hunt, ‘L'inspiration idéologique’; Combarieu, ‘La violence’; Flori, ‘Sémantique et idéologie’.

(41) Topsfield, Chrétien de Troyes, 52; Schmolke-Hasselmann, ‘Henry II Plantagenêt’. Cf. Holzermayr, ‘Le “mythe” d'Arthur’; Boutet, ‘Carrefours idéologique’.

(42) Peters discusses the complexities and tensions associated with the rex inutilis theme in The Shadow King; for tensions in the portrayal of King Arthur (and Charlemagne), see Elspeth Kennedy, ‘King Arthur’.

(43) Bryant, tr., Perlesvaus, 189; Nitze and Jenkins, eds, Perlesvaus, II, 294.

(44) Cable, tr., Death of King Arthur, 144; Frappier, ed., La Mort, 115.

(45) See ll. 7160–62 in Newth, ed., tr., Song of Aspremont, and Brandin, ed., Chanson d'Aspremont.

(46) Bloch, Société Féodale, tr. Manyon, II, 379–83; Chaney provides an interesting case study in Cult of Kingship.

(47) Laisses 26, 179 in Brault, ed., tr., Chanson de Roland, For the anti-Gregorianism in the Chanson d'Aspremont, see the opening section of Chapter 11 below.

(48) Société Féodale, I, 96 n.

(49) Corley, tr., Lancelot of the Lake, 238; Elspeth Kennedy, ed., Lancelot do Lac, I, 283.

(50) Carroll, ed., tr., Erec, ll. 1757, 1764–7.

(51) Larmat, L'orphelin.

(52) Larmat recognizes the social constrictions on the royal concern for orphans and widows: see ibid. Raoul de Cambrai will be discussed below, Chapter 11.

(53) Hoggan, tr., ‘Crowning of Louis’ 5; Langlois, ed., Couronnement de Louis, 7.

(54) See ll. 11236–8, 11214–16, 11310–12, in Newth, ed., tr., Song of Aspremont, and Brandin, ed., Chanson d'Aspremont. Dignités is the word translated as ‘shires’.

(55) Baldwin, Philip Augustus, 37–44. ‘We can only conclude that the technique of allowing contending parties to arrive at their own decisions, then to be confirmed by royal authority, was the preferred method for resolving disputes in the royal courts’ (p. 43).

(56) Ibid., 423.

(57) Coming to terms with royalty was a particular theme in the chansons de geste. Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order, 315–25.

(58) Statement in Langlois and Lanhers eds, Confessions et jugements, 37–9. Discussion of the case and career in Cutler, Law of Treason, 46, 144–5; Kicklighter, ‘Nobility of English Gascony’.