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Writing War: Medieval Literary Responses to Warfare

Writing War: Medieval Literary Responses to Warfare

Corinne Saunders
Françoise Le Saux
Neil Thomas
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 246
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  • Book Info
    Writing War: Medieval Literary Responses to Warfare
    Book Description:

    War is a powerful and enduring literary topos, a repeated theme in both secular and religious literary genres of the middle ages. The idea and practice of war is central to some of the most dominant subject matters in the medieval period - as well as to chivalry, to religion, to ideas of nationhood, to concepts of gender, the body and the psyche. This book considers the variety of responses to warfare and combat in medieval literature, beginning with a consideration of ideal military practice and the reception of Vegetius, contrasted with Christine de Pisan's treatise on warfare. The collection then turns to chronicling war, particularly in France, Germany and Scotland, and also covers the fictions of war, as presented in English Arthurian narratives, Chaucer, Malory, and pastoral poetry. It concludes with an examination of attitudes to women in warfare. Contributors: MARIANNE AILES, CHRISTOPHER ALLMAND, GEORGES LE BRUSQUE, HELEN COOPER, HARRY JACKSON, ANDREW LYNCH, SIMON MEECHAM-JONES, CORINNE SAUNDERS, FRANCOISE LE SAUX, THEA SUMMERFIELD, NEIL E. THOMAS, KEVIN S. WHETTER. CORINNE SAUNDERS and NEIL THOMAS are in the department of English Studies, University of Durham; FRANCOISE LE SAUX is in the department of French at the University of Reading.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-219-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: Writing War: Medieval Literary Responses
    (pp. 1-14)

    Malory wrote his Morte Darthur in prison, while the dynastic civil wars of York and Lancaster, the so-called ‘Wars of the Roses’, surged around him; his charge and imprisonment may have been the direct result of that political turbulence, and his involvement with Yorkist politics. Small wonder that in Malory’s great Arthurian history he could so evocatively and so realistically depict the last battle of Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. His Morte Darthur engages directly with the problems of his own society, of an unstable kingdom, of feuds between knights, resulting in dissent among the people and...

  6. The De re militari of Vegetius in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
    (pp. 15-28)

    On the last folio of an otherwise rather ordinary fifteenth-century paper manuscript of a French translation of Vegetius’s De re militari, to be seen today at the Archivio di Stato, Turin, the scribe or a contemporary drew what looks like a rolled-up scroll on which he wrote, in gold letters, the three words ‘ung pot d’or’, ‘a pot of gold’.² By the time these words were written, Vegetius’s work had celebrated its thousandth birthday and had marked itself out as the text to which men naturally turned when in need of an authority to cite when matters military were under...

  7. Heroes of War: Ambroise’s Heroes of the Third Crusade
    (pp. 29-48)

    Any war produces its heroes. The Third Crusade has left us a long-standing legacy of heroes on both sides. Though now no longer politically correct, the stirring tales of Richard the Lion-Heart and his noble opponent Saladin have provided many a comic book with material. If we go back to the contemporary accounts we find that shortly after the Third Crusade even reliable, factual accounts, such as the eye-witness account of the Norman chronicler Ambroise, depict these knights as worthy of heroic status.¹

    Ambroise’s chronicle was written shortly after the end of the crusade by a clerk, apparently at the...

  8. Warfare in the Works of Rudolf von Ems
    (pp. 49-76)

    Rudolf von ems was one of the leading German vernacular authors of the thirteenth century, active from about 1220 to the mid-1250s. By this time military affairs had formed an important theme in German literature for several centuries, at first in heroic poetry that was transmitted largely in oral form, then from the twelfth century onwards in increasingly complex strands of written literature that combined German traditions with new concerns drawn to a large extent from French and (directly or indirectly) Latin literature. In the medieval literary processing of warfare Rudolf’s works have a strong claim to interest in that...

  9. Chronicling the Hundred Years War in Burgundy and France in the Fifteenth Century
    (pp. 77-92)

    The paladin, the thug, and the soldier: with a touch of hyperbole, one could describe as such the three images which the French and Burgundian chroniclers of the later part of the Hundred Years War offer of the knight, the major actor of the Anglo-French wars. Beyond this, it was the chroniclers’ whole outlook on warfare which varied extensively, from the heroic vision of the Burgundian Georges Chastelain to the denunciation of the horrors of war by the Bourgeois de Paris, or the pragmatic perspective of the Berry Herald, alias Gilles Le Bouvier.¹ These authors are exponents of three genres...

  10. War and Knighthood in Christine de Pizan’s Livre des faits d’armes et de chevallerie
    (pp. 93-106)

    Christine de Pizan’s attitude towards war and warfare has attracted a good deal of scholarly attention over the past ten years or so. In particular, her socio-political reflection on the possible justifications of warfare has been studied by peace-theory scholars, who consider Christine’s stance as proto-pacifist in nature, and indeed in some respects as ahead of her times.¹

    In view of Christine’s well-documented opinion that war is an evil to be engaged in only when all other avenues have been explored, and then only in order to redress a gross injustice such as a hostile invasion, the presence on her...

  11. Barbour’s Bruce: Compilation in Retrospect
    (pp. 107-126)

    In an article published in 1991, Peter Burke posed the question of what a historical narrative would be like that dealt ‘not only with the sequence of events and the conscious intentions of the actors in these events, but also with structures – institutions, modes of thought, and so on – whether these structures act as a brake on events or as an accelerator’.¹ In Barbour’s Bruce we have such a story.²

    John Barbour’s task, whether commissioned or self-appointed and later rewarded,³ was not an easy one. Writing c. 1375 for Robert II, king since 1371, and his court, Barbour might have...

  12. ‘Peace is good after war’: The Narrative Seasons of English Arthurian Tradition
    (pp. 127-146)

    Medieval English Arthurian narratives do not in themselves make up a solid tradition, more a series of differently situated and shaped responses to disparate source materials. Their supposed common identity often cannot disguise wide differences. Sir Launfal and the Wife of Bath’s Tale, for instance, contemporary romances of love and magic set in Arthur’s reign, are worlds apart in ethos and literary conduct. But if we look beyond self-contained bachelor-knight romances to English narratives attempting a broader chronological treatment of Arthur’s career, what might be called Arthurian biography, a much stronger sense of tradition and intertextuality emerges, from Geoffrey of...

  13. The Invisible Siege – The Depiction of Warfare in the Poetry of Chaucer
    (pp. 147-168)

    Only a fortunate few in medieval Europe can have escaped experiencing the physical facts of war, its dangers and privations, and the psychological corollary – the fear and anticipation of war, the pains of grief, and the social dislocation which resulted from war. Armed conflict in its diverse manifestations was an anticipated trial of medieval life, and one could expect that medieval literature would be replete with images of warfare. It is the more striking, then, that the extensive poetic oeuvre of Geoffrey Chaucer’s work¹ is notable for the infrequency of the appearance of feats of arms and scenes of chivalric...

  14. Warfare and Combat in Le Morte Darthur
    (pp. 169-186)

    Sir thomas Malory’s fifteenth-century Morte Darthur begins and ends in warfare.¹ When warfare proper is not the principal subject, the narrative is dominated by tournaments or individual jousts and combats, friendly and unfriendly, in which knights clash together and one of them, to borrow an Homeric phrase, falls upon the earth to have his armour rattle upon him. Unfriendly jousts are obviously a form of combat, but even more amicable encounters and martial games can be considered as an ‘imitation of combat’,² utilising and honing the skills used in war. This is as true of medieval historical and literary tournaments,...

  15. Women and Warfare in Medieval English Writing
    (pp. 187-212)

    Even in the twenty-first century, war is a gendered concept. Many millions of both sexes have been the victims of war in just the last hundred years, yet the image that perhaps most powerfully haunts the collective imagination is that of the millions of young men who fought and died in the battlefields of France and Belgium. That haunting is reflected in the extraordinary success of novels such as Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy or Sebastian Faulkes’ Birdsong. Those most vividly remembered are the men distinguished by having made the choice to fight, and hence to enter the sphere of heroism....

  16. Speaking for the Victim
    (pp. 213-232)

    In the sweet springtime, when the grass is fresh and the days clear and bright, I came across a shepherdess wearing a garland of leaves and a belt of roses; she was fluting, ‘Tirra lirra!’, and Perrin was accompanying her on a pipe.

    I dismounted onto the grass and said, ‘Damoiselle, love me, and I will give you fine jewels, and a better knife than a shepherd’s.’ Then Peronelle replied, ‘I have heard that a troop of treacherous Flemings are making great trouble. Tirra lirra! Whoever asks me for love doesn’t know how fearful I am.’

    The shepherdess had a...

  17. Index
    (pp. 233-235)