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Renaissance Military Memoirs

Renaissance Military Memoirs: War, History and Identity, 1450-1600

Yuval Noah Harari
Volume: 18
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Renaissance Military Memoirs
    Book Description:

    This is a study of autobiographical writings of Renaissance soldiers. It outlines the ways in which they reflect Renaissance cultural, political and historical consciousness, with a particular focus on conceptions of war, history, selfhood and identity. A vivid picture of Renaissance military life and military mentality emerges, which sheds light on the attitude of Renaissance soldiers both towards contemporary historical developments such as the rise of the modern state, and towards such issues as comradeship, women, honor, violence, and death. Comparison with similar medieval and twentieth-century material highlights the differences in the Renaissance soldier's understanding of war and of human experience.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-238-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. A Note on Spelling, Quotations and Translations
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Thus opens a curious text, written by Fery de Guyon himself many years later. The text opens in a decisive moment in Guyon’s life. He and l’Estoille left Burgundy to join the refugee duke of Bourbon, who had just deserted France and joined Emperor Charles V. Guyon was thus leaving his country, his relatives and friends, and his home, which he was not destined to see again for twenty years. He was embarking on a long military career in Habsburg service, during which he rose from being a simple page to being a commander of medium rank, gaining on the...

  7. Part I: Memoirists as Eyewitnesses and Individuals

    • 1 Preliminary Enquiry: The Appearance of Authors as Protagonists
      (pp. 25-26)

      In order to establish the relations between history and lifestory in memoirs, it is often crucial to establish as which type of protagonist the memoirist appears in his text. A memoirist may appear in his text as any one of four types of protagonists:

      1 Eyewitness protagonist. Such a protagonist appears only in order to clarify how the text was written and on the basis of what evidence. Most often the reason for mentioning the author as an eyewitness protagonist is to help establish the text’s truthfulness.

      2 Exemplary protagonist. Such a protagonist appears in order to exemplify more general...

    • 2 Truth and Eyewitnessing
      (pp. 27-42)

      There are some pieces of evidence supporting the idea that Renaissance military memoirs are interested above all in truth-production; that they are founded on the figure of the memoirist as eyewitness and truth-guarantor; and that they are accordingly a natural evolution out of eyewitness-histories. First, the trend of memoirs-writing in the Burgundian court was heavily influenced by the line of eyewitness-historians beginning with Jean le Bel and Froissart. And in Froissart’s case in particular we can clearly see how a general chronicle evolved first into an eyewitness-history, and eventually almost into memoirs. Froissart the protagonist gains more and more importance...

    • 3 Individualism
      (pp. 43-64)

      The individualistic theory argues that memoirs are a means through which an individual seeks to define and assert himself and his lifestory as against history. When we come to examine this theory, we should first ask how a text can assert individualism. Any text whatsoever, be it an autobiography, a poem, or a shopping list, can express the individuality of its author as author. However, when scholars connect autobiographical texts and individuality, they do not usually have in mind the individuality of the author-as-author. For in this respect, Renaissance poetry may be a more promising field of research than Renaissance...

  8. Part II: The Reality of Renaissance Military Memoirs

    • 4 The Experience of War
      (pp. 67-89)

      The most outstanding feature of the reality of Renaissance military memoirs is that it is made of facts rather than of experiences. Many episodes that memoirs record consist of a single fact, and even when an episode contains many facts, they seldom add up to form an experience. In the rare cases when we do get an experiential description, it is usually the accidental result of the accumulation of many facts.

      What this means is best understood by comparing Renaissance and twentieth-century memoirs, which privilege experiences over facts. For twentieth-century memoirists, particularly of junior rank, the truth about war is...

    • 5 War as a Phenomenon and an Image
      (pp. 90-104)

      The typical junior-ranks twentieth-century memoirs are about war. Not about World War I or about the Vietnam War, but about ‘war’ as a human phenomenon. They normally care very little about the facts of their particular war, so much so that some memoirists intentionally change some facts or write completely fictional accounts modeled on their experiences, which nevertheless claim to give the reader a ‘true’ image of war. In contrast, the entity ‘war’ completely dominates their memoirs, to the degree that it sometimes replaces the memoirist as the chief protagonist. Many memoirists say that their story is ‘about war’, or...

    • 6 Tangibility and Abstraction
      (pp. 105-108)

      Historical reality in Renaissance military memoirs is almost always tangible. Whereas the cornerstone of late-modern historiography is abstractions such as ‘Protestant ethics gave rise to Capitalism’, the facts, actors and forces that make up the reality of Renaissance military memoirs are almost always things one could see and touch. This reflects the general tendencies of Renaissance historiography, which saw history largely in tangible terms, and had only limited awareness of the abstract side of history. It also reflects the noble worldview in general, which tended to privelege tangible actions and persons over abstractions.

      An excellent analysis of how Renaissance noblemen...

  9. Part III: Things Worthy of Remembrance

    • 7 Commemoration
      (pp. 111-120)

      So far we have seen that the reality of Renaissance military memoirs is made of tangible facts. Yet Renaissance military memoirs do not record just any tangible facts. The facts they record belong to a very special category. When defining what they are writing, memoirists repeatedly explain that they record ‘things worthy of remembrance’ (‘choses digne de memoire’, ‘cosas que merecen hacer memoria della’).¹

      For instance, Martin du Bellay argues that the main aim of writing history is ‘to consecrate into immortality the things worthy of remembrance’;² la Marche intends to write ‘all the things worthy of remembrance, prosperous and...

    • 8 Causality
      (pp. 121-151)

      In late-modern histories and lifestories alike, the glue that holds facts together and gives them their meaning is causality. In histories causality is ultimately an abstract matter, reflecting various impersonal and abstract processes and developments (e.g. ‘Protestant ethics gave rise to Capitalism’). In lifestories causality is more often a psychic matter, reflecting various mental and emotional processes and developments. In both cases, particular facts are meaningful and worthy of remembrance only in the context of the larger causal process.

      Renaissance military memoirs connect their facts in a very different way. Instead of forging causal links between facts, they merely list...

    • 9 Effacing the Difference between History and Lifestory
      (pp. 152-156)

      The worldview of Renaissance military memoirists privileged tangible facts over both abstractions and experiences; privileged commemoration over understanding; and privileged the intrinsic merit of deeds and events over their causal impact. Consequently Renaissance military memoirs rejected the idea that either history or lifestory are organic and causal processes, in which facts are allocated a place according to either their impact or their representative value. Instead, for the majority of Renaissance military memoirists, both lifestory and history are exactly the same thing: an open and episodic collection of memorable tangible facts and episodes, which are normally honorable deeds, and which are...

  10. Part IV: The Politics of Renaissance Military Memoirs

    • 10 Noble Independence and the Politics of Causality
      (pp. 159-174)

      By identifying their lifestories and history, Renaissance military memoirs were making a radical political claim. First, they claimed that history and politics revolved, and should revolve, around themselves and their deeds. Secondly, they claimed that they were historical-political forces in their own right – or in the right of their own deeds and honor – independent of any other factor, including the royal state. Both claims alike rested on forging a close tie between history, honor, violence and political independence.

      The ties between history and violence go back to the very beginning of historiography, and it may well be argued that, at...

    • 11 The Politics of Exclusion
      (pp. 175-181)

      The previous pages may have created the illusion that Renaissance military memoirs were ‘democratic’ texts, claiming a more equal distribution of historical importance and political power than the royal-national Great Story allowed. This was true to a very limited extent only. Renaissance military memoirs claimed that any lifestory is history, and anyone with a lifestory has a right to a place in history and to autonomous political power. Yet, in their view, only a very few people had a lifestory. Thus while squeezing themselves and their colleagues into history, memoirists take great care to shut the door behind them.


    • Conclusions
      (pp. 182-186)

      Renaissance military memoirs break many of the expectations present-day readers are likely to have of them. Instead of being stories, they are lists; instead of aiming to make us understand, they aim to make us remember; and instead of clearly distinguishing historical from autobiographical reality and history from lifestory, they efface these dichotomies, replacing them with the dichotomy memorable/unmemorable.

      Consequently, what the individualistic Burckhardtian theory says of medieval people and texts may be applied with some alterations to Renaissance military memoirists and to their texts. Renaissance military memoirs are dominated by the collective identity of warrior noblemen, rather than by...

  11. Appendix A Were Renaissance Military Memoirs a Novel Phenomenon?
    (pp. 187-195)
  12. Appendix B The Memoirists
    (pp. 196-204)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 205-218)
  14. Index
    (pp. 219-225)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 226-230)