Saturday, June 30, 2012
Royal Jousts at the End of the 14th Century
Steven Muhlberger's latest book on royal jousts is the first in a new series from the Freelance Academy Press.
Let me note that I'm a friend of the author, I provided two of the translations included in the book, and I expect to write at least two books for the series. Full disclosure satisfied, I will continue.
The series is quite similar in physical format to the Osprey Military series of paperbacks: Royal Jousts is an 96 page 7" by !0" paperback.
The biggest difference between Freelance Academy and Osprey is this: Freelance's authors are much more diligent in consulting primary sources, and on presenting them in translation.
As a point of comparison, I offer the Osprey Knights at Tournament. it includes not a bibliography, but a list of "Further Reading". 22 works are cited, but all but two are secondary sources.
In contrast, Muhlberger provides translations of five different contemporary accounts of the jousts at St. Inglevert, and contemporary accounts and announcements for three other royal jousts. Almost 9/10 of the text consists of contemporary, or nearly contemporary, accounts. There are ten pages of color pictures in addition to the text.
Some of the material has been previously presented on his Deeds of Arms site, but much is new.
His translations of Froissart present passages that have previously only been available in Thomas Johnes' stilted and inaccurate 1810 translation. He does abridge some of Froissart's repetitive blow-by-blow reporting of the jousts at St. Inglevert. Walter Meller's translation of Eustache Deschamps' 1389 joust announcement is only findable on Google Books if you already know it and where to look for it. Muhlberger's translation of an anonymous pastoral poem celebrating St. Inglevert is also new.
This poem is interesting evidence of the broad popular impact of these jousts. In a field near Ardres the narrator encounters frolicsome shepherds and shepherdesses, who describe the recent jousts in great detail. Pastoral poetry was a conventionalized and idealized genre: its shepherds and shepherdesses the singing cowboys of the Middle Ages. Still, the author implies that the jousts were so newsworthy that it was not implausible that shepherds in the fields 11 miles away were talking about them afterwards. Jousting was an aristocratic sport, but it entertained large crowds of commoners.
The splendor of the jousts and the literary craft of their widely distributed announcements would insure that their fame would spread far beyond their immediate audience.
The poetry of the French announcements displays the frisky and joyful side of 14th c. chivalric culture, as does the English announcement's reference to the "New Troy" of Britain's legendary past and prize for "the lady or damsel who dances best or leads the most joyful life those three days."
Muhlberger presents a convenient summary of the outcomes in Froissart's account of St. Inglevert. He also discusses the political context and goals of the jousts, the influence of St. Inglevert on later pas d'armes, and the conflicts between the different accounts with particular emphasis on Froissart's unreliability as a narrator. I have long believed that what he wrote was closer to docudrama than history.