Jousts and Tournaments. Charny and the Rules for Chivalric Sport in Fourteenth-Century France
In about 1350, Geoffroi de Charny, that paragon of French chivalry, produced a treatise, Les demandes pour la joute, les tournois et la guerre (Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments and War). It took the form of a series of questions, twenty relating to various types of jousting, twenty-one to large-scale tournaments, and ninety-three to war. In the second part of his book, Steven Muhlberger prints and translates all of the questions from the first two sections, plus five of the ‘war’ questions which also relate to jousting and the tournament. The first part, some 90-odd pages, comprises an essay entitled ‘Exploring Chivalric Sport’, in which Muhlberger uses these questions, and other sources such as fifteenth-century jousting manuals, and Froissart, to attempt to elucidate the practical workings of jousts and tournies in the fourteenth century, and the rules under which they were run.
Charny’s Demandes come without any answers, and Muhlberger sensibly argues that there were never intended to be any answers; rather, Charny hoped that his questions would stimulate his readers to contemplate the issues he raises and to debate them. Muhlberger suggests that the rules of the tournament were a matter of custom, and that disputes were settled by discussion; by raising possible areas of contention, Charny’s Demandes were perhaps intended to encourage his readers to consider the sorts of disputes they might be called upon to settle. Horses figure prominently in Charny’s questions, and it is suggested that the capture of horses by the forcible dismounting of their riders was central to both jousting and the tournament, as practiced in the fourteenth century; and that given the expense of warhorses, disputes over the validity – or otherwise – of such captures could potentially become very heated. Hence the need for arbitration of the sort for which Charny’s Demandes were perhaps meant to be a preparation.
Muhlberger draws parallels with modern equestrian sports; whether these are valid is perhaps a moot point, as modern sports are considerably less socially exclusive, and totally lack the chivalric and decidedly martial aspects of the tournament. Nor are the opinions of modern jousters a safe guide to the practices of the fourteenth century. Nevertheless, Muhlberger is generally sensitive to the limitations of his evidence, and his speculations – clearly signposted as such – are generally well founded. In particular, his suggestion that tournaments and jousts would have provided a welcome opportunity for the trading of warhorses is intriguing, and well worth further investigation.
The text of Charny’s Demandes is taken from a 1977 North Carolina PhD thesis by Michael Anthony Taylor; Muhlberger’s translation is clear and accurate. It is a pity, however, that no information whatsoever was provided about the manuscripts, or about their dissemination. The production values of the book itself are not entirely satisfactory. The font size is unnecessarily large; there are some minor – but nonetheless irritating – printing errors; and the six colour plates are rather poor digital reproductions, while four of them are of questionable relevance, deriving as they do from the German thirteenth-century Manesse Codex. Overall, however, this provides an interesting examination of one aspect of chivalric culture in the fourteenth century.