Steven Muhlberger, Charny’s Men-at-Arms: Questions Concerning The Joust, Tournaments and War (Hass)

Steven Muhlberger

Charny’s Men-at-Arms: Questions Concerning The Joust, Tournaments and War

(Freelance, 2014) 111 pp. $25.00


Written around 1350, Geoffrey de Charny’s Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments and War (Les demandes pour la joute, les tournois et la guerre) consists of a series of questions – twenty relating to jousting, twenty-one to the tournament, and ninety to war – presented by the great French knight to King Jean II for the purpose of discussion among the members of the king’s new Order of the Star. As the questions found in the work remain unanswered, however, the document is often overlooked by scholars in favor of Charny’s more thorough and insightful composition; the Book of Chivalry (Livre de chevalerie). [1] Steven Muhlberger first took up the challenges presented by the Questions in 2003 with the publication of his Jousts and Tournaments: Charny and the Rules for Chivalric Sport in Fourteenth-Century France. [2] As the title suggests, the work examines only the first two sections of the text, and – but for five questions relating to jousting and the tournament – leaves the larger section on war for future comment. In this current volume Muhlberger brings his discussion of the Questions to its conclusion; but this is not merely a supplement to his earlier work. Employing his deep knowledge of medieval chivalry, the author has combined new material with a re-assessment of his previous scholarship, and the result is an enjoyable work that provides an enticing glimpse into the world of 14th Century knighthood.

Charny’s Men-at-Arms begins with Muhlberger establishing the historical context of the Questions by briefly introducing the reader to the life and career of Charny himself and the reform initiative that was the Order of the Star. He continues with the contextual discussion by showing the Questions to be part of a broader genre of writing about war; such as: Laws of Arms, Laws of War, disciplinary and administrative ordinances, etc. This latter discussion is important in helping to identify Muhlberger’s revised purpose of the Questions as being a prelude to legislation regarding the law of arms that was never enacted. (22) Chapter Three discusses the first two sections of the text – jousts and tournaments, and, as these were the core subjects of his 2003 volume, it is here that some overlap would be expected. However, Muhlberger’s re-assessment of his old discussion in light of more recent scholarship in the field – he specifically credits the works of David Crouch and Noel Fallows [3] – results in a discussion that is largely new. Older points of discussion – such as the importance of the horse – if they remain, have been edited and rearranged to fit the new narrative, with the new (questions about rank on the tourney field in light of new role of squires) and old information fitting together seamlessly.

Muhlberger’s new discussion about the questions concerning war is contained in Chapters Four through Seven. He begins with an examination of terms as a means of determining whom Charny was targeting as Men-at-Arms. Chapters Five to Seven examine the Questions themselves, and, given no answers to the queries, he uses frequency to identify what topics the Men-at-Arms thought were important. What emerges is the predominance of practical considerations; such as those involving plunder/booty or capture. Not strictly relying on frequency, however, Muhlberger also manages to identify a pattern between those above (questions which seek concrete gains or rights of warfare) and questions in which his intended audience was asked to define honorable behavior and chivalric terminology. The author’s final discussion concerns those topics (clerical sense, duels, heraldry, siege warfare) that receive little or no mention in the text. For a work like the Questions this is an important discussion as it shows its limitations, and thereby better frames the discussion and what information may be gleaned from the text itself and what may not. The volume is completed by Muhlberger’s translation of Charny. The translation is again based on the edition of Anthony Michael Taylor, but, unlike his effort from 2003, he has omitted the corresponding French text. For reasons of comparison (given the author’s new conclusion regarding the purpose of the Questions), an edition of an Ordinance of Richard II from 1385 has been included.

Overall, there is much to like about Charny’s Men-at-Arms. It is a handsomely produced and easily readable volume. The author’s translation of the original text is faultless; although there is still no information regarding the original Charny manuscripts and their dissemination. [4] Yet, it is Muhlberger’s introductory discussion that particularly stands out. Erudite, insightful, and often entertaining, he is also necessarily cautious with a text that requires deft handling. Indeed, one of his particular strengths is his recognition of the limitations of the text, and working within them to extrapolate out the considerable amount of information that he does without falling into the trap of over-speculation. In so doing he makes accessible a composition that had been overlooked and shows its merit. Moreover, this skill makes this work of particular appeal to teachers introducing students to primary texts, while at the same time contributing valuably to the scholarship of chivalry and the era of the Hundred Years War.

Jeff Hass
Franciscan University

[1] Richard W. Kaeuper and Elspeth Kennedy, The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de
Charny: Text, Context, and Translation. Philadelphia, 1996.

[2] Reviewed for this site by Andy King.

[3] David Crouch, Tournament. Hambledon and London, 2005.
Noel Fallows, Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia. Woodbridge, 2010

[4] Both the production values and lack of manuscript information had received mention
in King’s review.

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