Charny's Questions
August 1, 2015 5:01 PM   Subscribe

Geoffroi de Charny (c. 1300 – 19 September 1356) was a French knight and author of at least three works on chivalry. One of his works, Questions for the Joust, Tournaments and War consists of a series of open-ended questions regarding the law of tournaments and the proper conduct of war. The complete set of questions has been translated into English and made available online.

Of the three sets of questions, the questions concerning war tend to be more philosophical and give a fascinating insight into the moral and strategic issues that were important to medieval knights. For example:

W 6: A captain and lord of a country meets another one of the same sort in war; and they come to the point of combat. Which will be better: that the captain goes before his banner and his banner after him, or that the banner should be in front and the captain behind?

W 7: Two captains as described above fight each other. One is defeated but remains on the field so long that he sees and understands that he is unable to recover his fortunes or the day; and the battle has been very well fought. Which is the better thing for him to do: remain and take his chances, or leave so that he can recoup? And if he leaves, should he thereby lose his honor?

W 25: In so far as there are two types of war, and the one kind should be fought differently than the other, as some say. One kind is guerre guerriable, which takes place as a dispute from one frontier to another in disdain of one lord for another, and which often is able to move from one frontier to another in a variety of ways. The other kind of war is the desire to conquer a country, which one claims as lord but another lord holds. And this kind of war of conquest ought not to be waged. Some say war is more suitable in the manner of guerre guerriable. And so I ask how a war of conquest ought to be conducted.

W 30: There is a battle as above in which many men at arms of the defeated party depart and go away. Some consider that these have gone on their honor without being defeated; and many others consider that those who have gone are defeated. How can this be?

W 31: A captain of men at arms rides out in the field and orders some of his scouts to see the situation of his enemies who are in the field; and these scouts are among the more capable of his people. And at the approach of their enemies one party of their enemies pursues them as fast as they can go; and the scouts retreat from their enemies and are able to retreat without loss. So there are some of the scouts who turn back and meet their enemies, and perform arms like good people should; and others retreat to their captain and make their report. Which of these are to be more valued and praised: those who went back to their lord or those who are praised?
posted by jedicus (13 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Fascinating stuff; thanks for posting it.
posted by languagehat at 5:39 PM on August 1, 2015

Charny really really wants to know if he gets to keep the other guy's horse or not!
posted by Philby at 6:43 PM on August 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

To what extent did these questions reflect reality? I.e., would people say "Gosh, stranger, you knocked me off my horse - so you get to keep it!" or "Milord Bois Sauvage lost his honour last Wednesday, despite winning a small province. He plans to regain his honour by [some tactic I can't be bothered imagining]."
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:50 PM on August 1, 2015

Charny really really wants to know if he gets to keep the other guy's horse or not!

A horse was of significant economic and symbolic value. A knight was not a knight without a horse. Indeed, all but one of the 41 questions regarding jousts and tournaments boil down to who gets to keep the horse. That's why I drew my examples from the questions on war, which are perhaps a little more interesting from the modern perspective.
posted by jedicus at 7:18 PM on August 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

From what I've read, the questions did reflect reality to a point; the system was a way to allow knights to do glorious deeds while avoiding too much killing. Of course, how it was supposed to work and how it worked in practice could be very different. A smart knight could get the nudge nudge, wink wink and do the generous thing to allow another knight to save face. Also, while ransoms kept being widely used during the 100 years war, a lot of that chivalrous stuff fell by the wayside, partly because, even in the 1200s, French knights just weren't as powerful as they once had been (relative to the king and the more powerful princes).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:42 PM on August 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Barding a horse was expensive.
posted by clavdivs at 7:46 PM on August 1, 2015

This is really fascinating stuff! Thanks for sharing, Jedicus!
posted by Philby at 8:14 PM on August 1, 2015

Lots of questions there ... Where do we go to find answers that contemporaries would have provided?
posted by tdismukes at 9:23 PM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think the closest you'd get to answers from contemporaries are Honoré Bouvet's Tree of Battles (excerpted here) and also Christine de Pizan's Book of Arms and of Chivalry, though I can't find any excerpts online, but here's a short article about it.
posted by Kattullus at 3:14 AM on August 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Wouldn't most of the people be dead who can answer these questions though?
posted by PHINC at 7:58 AM on August 2, 2015

Most of them probably without a horse as well.
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:23 AM on August 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Will my answers determine which class I start as in Ultima IV?
posted by Legomancer at 9:56 AM on August 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Fascinating stuff. Would a knight defeated in a joust lose just the horse, or also its tack and bard?
posted by bouvin at 1:40 PM on August 2, 2015

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