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on the inevitability and importance, even the desirability, of war. If kings
thought more of politics where some knights were more concerned with
prowess, both considered the pro¬ts”a completely honorable motive”and
both thought war a characteristic and de¬ning activity of their respective
spheres, here joined in basic cooperation.
What becomes more interesting, then, is to ask about royal and chivalric
attitudes towards war within the realm. What rules, if any, governed the pos-
session of forti¬cations, the open display of arms and the assertion of the right


Vesce, tr., Marvels of Rigomer, 53; Wendelin Foerster, ed., Mervelles de Rigomer, ll. 2365“84.
5

Later in this romance a body of British knights overwhelms both sides in a private war and
imposes peace: Vesce, ibid., 163; Foerster, ibid., ll. 7484“604. Giants who issue forth from their
castle to ravage the countryside could easily be a symbol of lordly ravaging: Vesce, ibid., 192“3;
Foerster, ibid., ll. 8869“9102.
Roche-Mahdi, ed., tr., Silence, 6“7.
6
Chevalerie and Royaut© 95
to use them in ˜private™ war? And what of tournament, which basically
amounted to a form of war as chivalric sport?
Such topics involve fundamental issues of sovereignty, for kings increas-
ingly claimed that warlike violence undoubtedly ranked among the signi¬cant
areas over which they wanted some control.7
On both sides of the Channel successive kings worked sporadically, but with
something like a sense of mission, to enforce a conception of peace that
stemmed from a developing royal prerogative as well as a sense of duty rooted,
¬nally, in the will of God.
Some scholars ¬nd no tension at all, denying that kings could have much
effect on issues of public order, or even took them seriously. Of course, no
medieval government could truly supervise justice and guarantee public order
throughout the realm, nor, for that matter, could any other government for a
long time thereafter. Fears about governmental inability on this score have
even surfaced in the contemporary world. Yet an essential dimension of the
problem of public order drops from sight if we neglect the obvious royal
impulse on both sides of the Channel to read sovereignty in no small measure
in terms of the control of warlike violence, or at least to insist on a royal role
in its direction and channelling. Whatever their success rate, whatever the
complications of their own complicity, kings surely tried to effect a royal
monopoly over licit violence, and the attempt is an undeniably important fact
in early European history. Their work as sovereigns was complicated by two
signi¬cant facts: kings, too, were knights and generally believed in a code that
enshrined violence; and they needed the knights as part of their administra-
tions and as a key element in their military force.
Yet the sense of responsibility for public order and the drive for sovereignty
were real enough and brought royal encroachment on the independence of
knights, especially those inclined to engage in heroic violence.8 In the biogra-
phy of William Marshal the author moans that, in his day, chivalry has been
imprisoned; the life of the knight errant, he charges, has been reduced to that
of the litigant in courts.9
Even when desired and accepted, royal justice could be partial and
imperfect. Caution is especially strong in earlier French works, as effective
kingship is just emerging. The king, who in many a chanson reigns even when
he does not effectively rule, creates endless problems by unwise and immoral

See Strayer, Medieval Origins and Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order.
7

The anthropologist Julian Pitt-Rivers catches the ambiguity nicely by noting that ˜while the
8

sovereign is the “fount of honour” in one sense, he is also the enemy of honour in another, since
he claims to arbitrate in regard to it™: ˜Honour and Social Status™, 30.
Meyer, ed., Histoire, ll. 2686“92.
9
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96
distribution of ¬efs; his foolishness sets up the seemingly endless cycles of vio-
lence in Raoul de Cambrai, for example.10 Arthur himself sometimes needs
reminding of his royal role in the maintenance of justice. In the crisis of his
quarrel with Galehaut, the Wise Man tells Arthur he must truly give the just-
ice God entrusted to him with the dominion he holds. Later in this same
romance we ¬nd a chastened Arthur dutifully holding admirable courts of law:
˜as soon as the case was heard, the right had to be upheld™.11
Even when impartial, royal justice could intrude on knightly honour
defended by prowess. More than one knight ¬nds himself charged with mur-
der in a case of killing he considers fully justi¬ed and honourable. Even the
poor but honourable knight whom Robin Hood helps in the Geste of Robyn
Hood was impoverished as a result of defending his son in court after the young
man had killed another knight and a squire in a tournament.12
An even more revealing case appears when Guinevere™s father, King
Leodagan, ˜who was a good ruler and lawgiver™, condemns the knight
Bertelay. Though Bertelay had slain another knight, it was only after follow-
ing the proper forms”breaking faith with the man and openly threatening
him with death.13 Asked about the killing,
[Bertelay] answered that he would indeed defend himself against anyone who called
him a criminal: ˜I do not say I did not kill him, but I did break faith with him ¬rst. . . .
So, as I see it, a man should harm his deadly enemy in all the ways he can”after he has
broken faith with him.™

The defence is, of course, that of Ganelon in the Chanson de Roland of perhaps
a century earlier: taking revenge against an enemy openly is no crime against a
king. What have kings to do with this anyway? Charlemagne™s answer in the
great epic, validated by a trial by combat which reveals the will of God, empha-
sizes public good over private revenge and leads to Ganelon™s terrible death as
a traitor.14 King Leodagan™s position, though milder, would have pleased
Charlemagne; the king told Bertelay ˜that he was mistaken, “but if you had
come to me and brought suit against him, I would not have ruled against you;
then you could have taken vengeance. But you did not ¬nd me worthy enough
to seek justice from me.” ™ Bertelay™s reply assures personal loyalty but asserts
private right: ˜ “Sir,” he said, “say what you will, but I have never done you any

Kay, ed., tr., Raoul de Cambrai. Any of the chansons in the Cycle of Rebel Barons could make
10

the point, as could many from the Cycle of William of Orange.
See Carroll tr., Lancelot Part II, 120“1, 150“1; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, III, 217“20, 271.
11

See the Geste of Robyn Hood, Fytte One, stanzas 52“3 in Knight and Ohlgren, eds, Robin Hood.
12

The following is drawn from Pickens, tr., Story of Merlin, 339“41; Sommer, Vulgate Version,
13

II, 310“13.
Brault, ed., tr., Chanson de Roland, laisses 270“91.
14
Chevalerie and Royaut© 97
wrong, nor will I ever, God willing.” ™ But King Leodagan™s court, made up
for this case of King Arthur, King Ban, King Bors, and seven distinguished
knights, orders Bertelay to be disinherited and exiled. King Ban, speaking for
the court, states the key to their decision: ˜The reason is that he took it upon
himself to judge the knight he killed, and at night, but justice was not his to
mete out.™ Bertelay goes off into exile, accompanied by ˜a most handsome fol-
lowing of knights to whom he had many times given ¬ne gifts, for he had been
a good and strong knight™.15
Other leading characters are occasionally drafted to speak out on behalf of a
recourse to the courts. Though the false Guinevere episode puts her in peril,
the true queen upholds the ideal monarchical role regarding justice, even
against her own immediate interests. When Galehaut offers to solve all her
problems by taking the false queen by force, Guinevere stoutly speaks up for a
system of justice administered in the courts and against violent self-help: ˜I will
not, please God, allow that. I don™t seek to be defended against her accusation
by anything but the law, and I won™t ever, please God, be tempted by sinful
means but will wholly accept the king™s judgement.™16
Even Lancelot informs a knight whom he encounters that it is not right for
one knight to pass judgement on another single-handedly; he should prove his
case in a court.17 The principle is interesting, and runs directly counter to
Ramon Llull™s assertion that good knights should simply eliminate the bad.18
Of course Lancelot gives advice he does not follow himself, for he marks the
trail of his adventures with the broken bodies of evildoers.
Early in the Merlin Continuation (much concerned with ˜¬rsts™, with the ori-
gins of chivalric customs) a squire asks Arthur to take vengeance for his lord,
killed in what the king calls the ¬rst of ˜these trials of one knight against
another™. The squire tells Arthur that as king, by God™s grace, he has sworn to
right ˜the misdeeds that anyone”a knight or any other person”did in the
land™. Arthur goes in person to confront the killer, who turns out to be
Pellinor. Before the inevitable joust, Arthur and Pellinor assert contradictory
views about individual right and royal responsibility: ˜Sir knight, who told
you to keep the passage of this forest in such a way that no knight, native or

Cf. Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part III, 263 and Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, ed., IV, 46,
15

where Bertelay™s hatred is connected with his role in the False Guenevere episode. In Lancelot Part
I King Bors of Gaunes, who disinherited Pharian because of such a death, is called ˜of all men one
of the most bent on justice™: Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part I, 10; Sommer, Vulgate Version, III, 17.
Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part III, 264; Sommer, Vulgate Version, IV, 48.
16

Rosenberg, Lancelot Part I, 91; Sommer, Vulgate Version, III, 172; Elspeth Kennedy, ed.,
17

Lancelot do Lac, I, 222.
Byles, ed., Book of the Ordre of Chyvalry, 27“30, 49. Llull thought of knights as governors
18

themselves, and gave little attention to any mechanisms by which their own excesses or crimes
might be checked.
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98
foreign, may take the way through the forest but he must joust with you?™ If
Arthur has raised the fundamental question of licit violence, Pellinor, address-
ing Arthur as a knight, asserts a knight™s right: ˜Sir knight . . . I gave myself
leave to do this, without authority or grace from anyone else.™ Arthur will not
accept such a sense of private right: ˜You have done a great wrong . . . in that
you didn™t obtain leave at least from the lord of the land. I command you on
his behalf to remove your tent from here and never again be so bold as to
undertake such a thing.™19
The tension emerges openly again when Lancelot proposes to make kings of
Hector, Bors, and Lionel in the victorious aftermath of the war against the
usurper Claudas. Bors will have none of it, and explains why:
What is this, my lord, that you wish to do? Truly if I wanted to receive the honor of
kingship, you should not permit it, for as soon as I have a kingdom, I™ll be obligated to
give up all knighthood, whether I wish to or not, and I™d have more honor as a land-
less man but a good knight than as a rich king who had given up knighthood. And what
I say concerning myself, I say about your brother Hector, for it will be a mortal sin if,
from the ranks of prowess and great knighthood where he now is, you remove him so
that he may become king.20

The worlds of kingship and of pure knightly prowess obviously seem incom-
patible here.
More than a century later, these issues likewise bothered Honor© Bonet. In
his Tree of Battles, sent to Charles VI in 1387, he takes the royalist line:
a person other than a prince cannot order general war. The reason for this is that no
man should, or may, bear arms without the license of the prince. And another reason
is that a man cannot take upon himself to do justice on another who has wronged him,
but the prince must do justice between these men. But nowadays every man wishes to
have the right of making war, even simple knights, and by the law this cannot be.21


Capetian Kingship and Chivalry
If the relationship of royaut© and chevalerie was everywhere complex and
ambivalent, it was not everywhere the same. Monarchy, in England and
France in particular, followed different timetables, and these differences
shaped the interaction between kingship and chivalry in each realm. Baldly
stated, precocious growth characterized the English State; the French state
(the model for most other realms) developed more slowly.22 It is worth mak-
Asher, tr., Merlin Continuation, 175, 179; Roussineau, ed., Merlin, I, 28, 41“2.
19

Carroll, tr., Lancelot Part VI, 319; Micha, ed., Lancelot, VI, 169“70.
20

Coupland, ed., tr., Tree of Battles, 129.
21

This theme is developed in Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order.
22
Chevalerie and Royaut© 99
ing two separate examinations: we will look just at the Capetians here, then,
in Chapter 6, at the Plantagenets.
At one level, it is true, the ideology of kingship as formally expressed in trea-
tises and colourful ceremony would show broad similarities over much of high
medieval Europe. On questions of controlling and channelling warlike vio-
lence, kings of France and their cousins in England shared a substratum of
ideas from earlier medieval centuries; they formally linked regality with a just-
ice impartially dispensed at all levels, and with the assurance of the sort of
order within the realm that would allow the peaceful practice of Christianity.
They came to view some violence as an affront to their sovereignty.
The similarities in oaths and responses spoken by the kings of England and
France in their coronation ceremonies, for example, or the general agreement
of ideas about the royal role expressed by ecclesiastical writers, easily demon-
strate this fact.23 Generic forms of coronation oath even appear in chivalric lit-
erature. In The Story of Merlin, for example, Arthur, recognized as king after he
has repeatedly drawn the sword from the stone, is told by the archbishop:
if you are willing to swear and promise all the saints that you will safeguard the rights
of Holy Church, keep lawful order and peace in the land, give help to the defenseless
as best you can, and uphold all rights, feudal obligations, and lawful rule, then step for-
ward and take the sword with which Our Lord has shown that you are His elect.

Weeping with joy, Arthur asks for God™s help in providing ˜the strength and
the might to do what is right and to uphold all the things that you have told
me and I have heard™.24
Promises which eventually hardened into formal coronation oaths show
these basic ideas in Capetian France. Three traditional precepts bound the new
king: to ˜preserve through all time true peace for the church of God and all
Christian people, to forbid rapine and iniquities of all sorts, and to enforce
equity and mercy in all judgements™.25
Ideas even more closely focused on public order came from the gradual
royal cooption of the peace movement. Although the pax dei, the Peace of
God, originally looked to the greater lords to secure a measure of peace which
weak kings were unable to manage, as effective Capetian power grew in the
twelfth century the movement became the king™s peace, pax regis.26 Within this
overall peace movement the effort to establish speci¬c times of truce, a treuga

These themes can be followed with much pro¬t in Flori, L™Id©ologie du glaive, especially
23

65“103.
Pickens, tr., Story of Merlin, 216; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, II, 88.
24

Quoting from Baldwin, Philip Augustus, pp. 375; see his discussion of the coronation
25

promises and oaths, 374“5, and the many sources cited there.
Grabois, ˜Trêve de Dieu™.
26
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100
dei when all ¬ghting was prohibited, may have been particularly signi¬cant. As
Head and Landes suggest,
over the course of the twelfth century, the Truce of God was inexorably co-opted by
secular authorities and became part of the emerging constitutional order of governance
and peacekeeping. By the mid-twelfth century in France the Peace of God had become
the King™s Peace.27

That the kings of England, by contrast, did not need the buttress of the peace
movement reinforces the importance of cross-Channel differences. The work
of kings of France had to be different, constrained as it was by different cir-
cumstances, especially the size and growth of the realm, the slow emergence of
a hierarchy of courts and appeals, and the crucial factor of timing.
Ideology, in short, does not simply equate with actual capacity; beyond
royal ideology, abstractly expressed, lies another important layer of operative
ideas: justi¬cations that royal of¬cials gave for measures actually taken, day-to-
day assertions found not only in coronation oaths or treatises but in the work-
ing documents of busy administrations. At this level the differences between
English and French kingship retain signi¬cance and demand attention.
The ordinance or testament of 1190, which Philip II had drawn up before
departure on crusade, speaks in its preface in bold terms of public utility, and
states that the kingly of¬ce consists in securing his subjects™ well-being. The
document that follows this preamble outlines active measures: the baillis
(regional of¬cials) are to set aside one day a month to hold assizes at which
they would receive appeals, and give prompt justice. Yet one clause establishes
a formal procedure in case anyone made war against Philip™s son, the young
king, while the crusade lasted.28 Clearly, this signi¬cant document embodies a
sense of justice as a key function of regality; just as clearly, the reality and legit-
imacy of noble war within the realm, and even war against royalty itself, had
to be recognized.
Louis IX (St Louis), half a century later, greatly strengthened the royal
stance against violence within the realm. Perhaps he affected opinion most by
his general unhappiness with ˜private™ war and duel and by his preference for
peace, at least for peace among Christians. For each of his speci¬c measures the
exact timing, mechanisms, and generality within the realm remains uncertain;
but at least within the royal domain the evidence suggests a serious pro-

Head and Landes, eds, Peace of God, 8.
27

Ordonnances, I, 18. See the discussion in Baldwin, Philip Augustus, 137“44. The difference
28

between the statement about war against the young king in France and the closing of the Magna
Carta (which licenses war against King John in case of non-compliance with the Charter) is that
in England such war was formally illicit and was royally licensed by the Charter in this exceptional
case; in France such war was not formally illicit and was simply expected.
Chevalerie and Royaut© 101
gramme: Louis prohibited trial by battle in both ˜civil™ and ˜criminal™ cases; he
instituted the ˜quarantaine le roi™ (a forty-day truce in private wars during
which relatives of the combatants could have a chance to choose not to involve
themselves); he restricted tournaments, and even prohibited private war itself
and the carrying of offensive weapons. On the other hand, that he sometimes
demolished castles belonging to lords under sentence of his court is a matter
of record.29
The great reform ordinance of 1256 announced that his of¬cials were to do
justice to rich and poor alike and declared that they must preserve good laws.
Louis probably believed in these principles, which could all too easily be dis-
missed. Joinville™s story of the good king sitting beneath an oak at Vincennes,
dispensing justice, is famous; but he also twice tells the story of the king
listening intently to a friar™s sermon and never forgetting its message: the only
kingdoms lost to their kings were those in which justice was ignored. In a let-
ter to his son, the future Philip III, these same themes reappear.30
Though he was a strenuous knight himself, so that Joinville could open his
biography by saying he will tell of Louis™s ˜great deeds of chivalry (de ses granz
chevaleries)™, the king also revealed signi¬cant reservations about the devoted
elevation of prowess, a key element of knighthood. Joinville once heard him
state that a great distance stands between the man of prowess and the worthy
man: ˜il a grant difference entre preu home et preudome™.31 Behind the king™s play
on words lies the serious point that prowess cannot reign untempered and
alone, the very point so often made in works of literature.
The last Capetians, Philip IV and his sons, advanced the programme of St
Louis in a series of well-documented court decisions and ordonnonces, which
announced that the king™s war must take precedence over all other warlike vio-
lence; while he fought his enemies, no private wars, judicial duels, or tourna-
ments were to be tolerated.32 The special relationship of royalty to warlike
violence could scarcely be more clearly drawn: the king would lead war abroad
and regulate it”in all its manifestations”within the realm. In fact, these late
Capetian kings claimed rights to regulate warlike violence even in peacetime.
As Philip IV announced in a 1292 ordinance: ˜[T]hroughout the entire realm
of France, [cases involving] breaking the peace, carrying arms . . . generally
Ordonnances, I, 56“8, 84, 86. See discussion and sources cited in Jordan, Louis IX, 140, 203“4;
29

Ducoudray, Origines du Parlement, 329“32; Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order, 214“15, 231“5.
Cf. Wailly, ed., Historie de Saint Louis, 55, where a castle of a robber baron is pulled down by Louis
on his way to take ship for the crusade.
Wailly, Histoire de Saint Louis, 24, 25, 288“9, 308“9. In Louis IX, passim, Jordan has argued
30

that in his great reform initiatives Louis was eliminating wrongs in his governance that had turned
divine blessing away from his central crusading mission.
Wailly, Histoire de Saint Louis, 235.
31

E.g. Ordonnances I, 328“9, 342“5, 390, 421“2, 492“3, 538“9, 562, 643, 655“6, 701“2.
32
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belong wholly to the lord king, by reason of his superiority, even in places
where other lords hold high justice.™33
Whenever needed, French kings could draw upon an arsenal of legal mea-
sures: they could provide royal safeguards (sauveguardes) to particular reli-
gious houses or individuals, they could impose assured truces (asseurements)
on quarreling parties, grant the royal panonceaux (signs of the king™s protec-
tion) to be af¬xed almost anywhere, on houses, ships, even gallows.34 In their
day-by-day work the royal courts continued, in theory, to provide swift and
impartial justice to great and small, the most basic royal service in the interests
of peace within the realm.35
Did the French crown really act on the ideas expressed so often in its legal
and administrative documents? Ordonnances announced in the most uncom-
promising language may not, to be sure, have covered the entire realm, and
were often violated where they did in theory apply; but the direction of the
working royal ideology and royal efforts at actual enforcement can scarcely be
denied. No reader of the records of the highest French court, the Parlement of
Paris, can doubt that the crown prosecuted knights for assault and murder,
theft and pillage, breaking of truces, and private war.36 No reader of French
chivalric literature can doubt the knights™ sensitivity to the intrusion.


The Balance Sheet
For all the tensions, chivalric literature in France never seriously challenged the
existence of kingship. Some epics in their frustration, it is true, may edge close
to the idea of doing without the troublesome fact of kings. The Charroi de
N®mes (in the cycle of twelfth-century chansons about William of Orange) at
one point imagines that this great knight angrily tells King Louis that he could
kill all of Louis™ men and even kill Louis himself. A little later in this same chan-
son William pointedly reminds the king that he had himself placed the crown
on Louis™ head and warns that he now feels like knocking it off.37 In Aliscans,
another of his chansons, an irate William again threatens to kill King Louis,
who has here scorned William in his great need.38 Would William have
replaced him as king, rather than leaving the kingdom without its titular head?

Ordonnances, VII, 611, quoted in Strayer, Philip the Fair, 195: ˜pacis fractio, portacio armo-
33

rum . . . generaliter pertinent domino rege in solidum per totum regnum Francie racione sue supe-
rioritatis, eciam in locis ubi alii domini habent merum imperium.™

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