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N E A R the end of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur™s Court, Twain™s
time traveller, backed by a force of only ¬fty-two boys in a cave strong-
hold, confronts the host of twenty-¬ve thousand knights that has come to
wipe out the source of trouble in Camelot. Ef¬cient military technology
destroys the knights en masse. Attacking in the darkness, they die in droves on
concentric rings of electri¬ed fences; others are shot down from platforms
mounting electric lights and rapid-¬ring Gatling guns; ¬nally, all that remain
drown when a mountain stream is directed into the great ditch ¬lled with the
¬‚eeing chivalry.
Whatever the complexities of Twain™s views regarding knighthood and
˜modern™ technology by this stage in his own life,1 this horri¬c and unforget-
table tableau captures the popular, simplistic explanation of the end of
chivalry: knighthood died with its shining armour blackened by gunpowder.
The technology of the unheroic killed off the heroes from a prudent distance.2
Of course a contrary popular view, though probably a minority opinion,
suspects that despite improved military technology, chivalry was never quite
done in, or at least was never so safely interred as to be immune from one
revival or another. ˜Chivalry is not dead™: the old tag is usually said in a voice
caught between the mockery and nostalgia we feel for ideas and behaviour that
seem so immovably a part of our past. In this view chivalry took a leisurely
route to its own quasi-demise in the post-medieval European world, expiring
slowly and in such good form that the process recalls the slow and stately end
of its great twelfth-century exemplar William Marshal, as told unforgettably
by Georges Duby.3 Even an image of death almost operatic in its pace and

See Kaplan, Mr. Clemens, which elaborates the linkage between Twain™s view of technology

in this novel and the failure of the typesetter in which he had invested heavily.
2 At the scholarly level, however, debate over the role of technology in late medieval and early

modern warfare is anything but simplistic, though the debate is beyond the scope of this book.
For an overview, with many citations, see Rogers, ed., The Military Revolution Debate. Evaluation
of the debate from a late medieval perspective, is provided by Rogers™s essay in this volume, ˜The
Military Revolutions of the Hundred Years War™, by the introduction of Ayton and Price, eds.,
The Medieval Military Revolution, and by Prestwich, Armies and Warfare. Cf. claims for an even
earlier period in Bartlett, ˜Technique militaire™.
3 Duby, Guillaume le Mar©chal, 1“23.
Epilogue 299
formality may be too abrupt, for who would not be reluctant to sign a speci¬c,
dated death warrant to mark the end of so persistent and so complex a phe-
Explaining this process of transformation need not be attempted here. But
brie¬‚y following our lines of investigation to their conclusion in the post-
medieval period will help us to see the issues more fully, by seeing their entire
lifespan. What happened to the complex and powerful mixture of knighthood,
public order, licit violence, lay piety, ecclesiastical authority, and royal sover-
eignty? Two incidents transpiring within a generation of each other early in
the seventeenth century will help to direct our enquiry.

The Essex Rebellion and the Bouteville Affair
The famous revolt of Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex, in 1601, has been
termed ˜the last honour revolt™ and interpreted as the swansong of chivalric
culture by Mervyn James.4 Essex himself was a famous soldier and a magnet
for the iron of chivalry in others. Even among the London crowd he was pop-
ular as a paragon of chivalry, a reputation that was enhanced by cheap chival-
ric romance in circulation. Some romantics expected him to lead a great
crusade. Chapman™s ¬rst instalment of Homer, that bible of honourable vio-
lence, was dedicated to him. His body of supporters included many duellists
and showed in general a ˜strongly military orientation™, including as it did a
˜considerable representation of swordsmen with a taste for violence™. Through
Essex these men ˜made contact with the glamorous overtones of Tudor
monarchical chivalry in which the earl played a prominent part™.5
There were three great professions, Essex wrote: arms, law, and religion.
That he belonged proudly to the ¬rst in this list with all its ˜pains, dangers, and
dif¬culties™,6 makes him the ghostly heir of the mid-fourteenth-century writer
Geoffroi de Charny, as he was more obviously the ideological companion of
the contemporary poet and soldier Sir Philip Sidney.
The solidarity of the Essex group, James argues, was based on honour, even
on honour as it had operated in the Middle Ages, with all the competition and
latent violence, thinly cloaked in elaborate courtesy, that such a code entails.
Since this culture of honour likewise ˜points to the importance of will and the
emphasis on moral autonomy™, it leads to ˜the uneasiness of the man of hon-
our in relation to authority, seen as liable to cabin, crib and con¬ne this same

James, ˜At a Crossroads™. Cf. idem, ˜English Politics™, and McCoy, ˜ “A Dangerous Image” ™.

James, ˜At a Crossroads™, 428“9.

Ibid., 429. James, ˜English Politics™, 314.
6 7
When his revolt failed miserably, Essex at ¬rst spoke the proud and de¬ant
language of this culture of honour. It was, as we have already seen, the lan-
guage of Ganelon in the Song of Roland, going back to the late eleventh or
twelfth century, the language of the knight Bertelay in The Story of Merlin,
from the thirteenth century.8 Essex justi¬ed his degree of autonomous action
in the honourable pursuit of a private feud; he noted that even natural law
allowed force to repel force, after all. He had done nothing against the queen
herself, or against God. He was merely ˜the law™s traitor, and would die for it™.9
Yet almost as soon as he was condemned, Essex abandoned the language
and culture of honour utterly, and all the way to the scaffold embraced a view
which Lacy Baldwin Smith found common to those defeated in attempts to
overthrow or severely constrain the Tudor monarchy: he adopted whole-
hearted submission with a sense that his revolt had been judged and defeated
by the will of the Almighty.10 He thus became a late convert to what James
calls providentialist religion, a believer in the divine purpose that could be
effected as England achieved wholeness under its queen. Honour was hers to
distribute, not his to win in showy independence; even those as chivalrous and
great-hearted as he could not act as autonomous agents. His only success was
posthumous. Later writers portrayed Essex as almost saintly, a victim of the
pedantic snares of the law and of jealous enemies, a true chivalric and
Protestant hero in the service of his country.
James™s argument is powerful and fascinating. Even without entering into
all its implications, students of medieval chivalry may take the Essex revolt of
1601 as a signi¬cant signpost. It points away from ideas whose societal effects
we have studied; it points toward basic transformations of those ideas by the
early seventeenth century.
Our French incident, taking place a quarter of a century later, shows fascinat-
ing similarities. The Bouteville affair of 1627 began with a duel and ended with
two French noblemen going to the scaffold.11 Not only did the Comte de
Bouteville and his cousin the Comte des Chapelles ¬ght in violation of the royal
prohibition against duelling (a law on the books since 1602), they chose to
thumb their nose at such regulation by conducting their ¬ght in the Place
Royale, the largest square in the capital and one with clear royalist associations.
This was the twenty-second duel the twenty-eight-year-old Bouteville had
fought in defence of his honour, but ¬ghting in the Place Royale (rather than in
some remote alley or rural lane) showed a deliberate de¬ance of the laws.

Brault, ed., tr., Chanson de Roland, laisse 273; Pickens, tr., Story of Merlin, 339“41; Sommer,

ed., Vulgate Version, II, 310“13.
James, ˜At a Crossroads™, 455. Smith, Treason.
9 10

Billacois, Le Duel, 247“75.
Epilogue 301
In the ¬‚ood of argument and petition that reached Louis XIII and Cardinal
Richelieu on behalf of the young noblemen before their execution, the line of
defence taken by their fellow nobles is highly revealing. The two had done
nothing against the king or the state, these appeals stated. There had been no
fracture of the essential and honourable man-to-man bond uniting king and
nobleman. The two duellists had simply violated an edict (a distinction recall-
ing Essex™s claim that he was merely ˜the law™s traitor™, not a traitor to his sov-
ereign). Surely, their essential noble service as warriors ready for the king™s
service ought to count for more than breaking of such regulations. The effort
was unsuccessful. This time the pardon so frequently sought and so regularly
obtained was not forthcoming.
After their deaths the two men were highly praised by all (including the
royal administration, with one eye on their in¬‚uential families and friends);
some even managed to portray them as ideal Christians undergoing a species
of martyrdom. During his trial des Chapelles had told his judges that he was
willing to shed his blood, if that sacri¬ce was necessary for the king to estab-
lish his kingdom. Yet he added that he did know that ˜in antiquity [he means
the Middle Ages] men had fought and that kings of France had tolerated it up
to the present™.12
This trial and the somewhat mysti¬ed statement of the condemned des
Chapelles will remind us of a trial that took place in Paris three hundred years
earlier. In 1323 Jourdain de l™Isle Jourdain, lord of Casaubon, a notorious vio-
lator of the peace, was ¬nally brought to justice after he had killed two men
under royal safeguard and then murdered the unfortunate royal serjeant sent
to arrest him. On his way to the gallows (denied the nobler death by behead-
ing allowed the men of 1627), Jourdain confessed repeatedly that he deserved
death for his many misdeeds; but in each case he added, with a puzzlement like
that of des Chapelles, his quasi-defence based on old custom: ˜but it was in
war™. Though there was no movement to consider Jourdain anything like a
martyr, he carried cherished relics on his body as he went to his death, includ-
ing what he believed to be a piece of the true cross.13

˜Ledit sieur dit que . . . si™l faut que le Roy establisse son royaume par le sang, il se sacri¬e.

Mais qu™il est vrai que . . . dans l™antiquit© on se battoit, et que cela a dur© jusques à maintenant et
les Roys de France l™ont toler©™: ibid., 274“5.
Langlois and Lanhers, Confessions et jugements, 37“9, print the confession; cf. Cutler, Law of

Treason, 46, 144“5, and Kicklighter, ˜Nobility of English Gascony™. Kicklighter notes that his exe-
cutioners clad Jordain in a robe bearing the papal arms to mock the papal efforts for a pardon.

Dissolving the Fusion of Chivalric Elements
Chivalry came into being as a powerful, mutually reinforcing fusion of several
major functions, roles, and rights. Above all, the chivalrous defended honour
through the violence of personal prowess; to this fusion they added a formal
and rather independent piety, asserting God™s blessing on their demanding
and violent lives; they claimed an elite, usually noble, status and established
their nobility by the practice of a chivalric way of life; they sought to regulate
relationships between males and females on their own terms, exclusively link-
ing love, too, with prowess and honour.
As in Gothic of another sort, many buttresses supported these chivalric struc-
tures. The chivalrous claimed they were set apart from others by the loyalty
which guided their prowess, by the largesse which prowess supplied: they pos-
sessed castles, or at least forti¬ed dwellings of some sort; they pictured them-
selves ¬ghting from the backs of noble warhorses; they enthusiastically
participated in the de¬ning sport of tournament; they displayed appropriately
re¬ned manners in a court, or in a bedroom; they provided patronage and audi-
ence for literature of a speci¬c, and ideally exclusive sort. Equally important, all
these traits showed and helped form a generous measure of lay independence,
even a powerful degree of autonomy in the face of developing institutions of
governance. We saw this autonomy in the belief that knights could join the
emerging state on their own terms, that they could practise a piety only par-
tially controlled by the clerical caste, and that the cultural space in their lives
could in no small measure be furnished with ideas of their own choosing.
Between the ¬fteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, this durable syn-
thesis of power, status, piety, and cultural ideas came apart. Some elements
largely disappeared, others underwent considerable transformation, but above
all the interlocking, mutually strengthening fusion of elements dissolved. It is
this dissolution rather than the disappearance of any one characteristic that marks
the demise of chivalry. The revivals could only breathe life into selected aspects
of chivalry; they could not revitalize the complex and powerful organic whole.
The long survivals claim our attention ¬rst. Since chivalry had long func-
tioned as the distinguishing badge of the elite, it is not surprising that some of
its more showy secondary characteristics continued into the period well
beyond the traditional Middle Ages. Chivalric literary forms provide a clear
case in point. Many old chivalric texts were reworked and issued in print for
even wider audiences; new chivalric works were written to meet the demand
from obviously avid readers.14 Notions of ˜courtly love™ seem to have lasted so
Cooper concluded that ˜far from waning, interest in things chivalric increased manifold dur-

ing the sixteenth century in France™. He supports this assertion with an outline bibliography of
Epilogue 303
long and carried enough chivalric glamour that some modern literary treat-
ments of the culture of post-medieval Europe seem almost to assume that this
is what chivalry was.
Jousting and the tournament, likewise, though in increasingly stylized
form, survived well beyond the ¬fteenth century. The monarchs who had once
prohibited tournaments or regulated them closely, fearing their show of
armed independence and nervous about their potentialities for disorder,
became in the end their proud sponsors, having converted tournaments into
celebratory ceremonies of regality. ˜The tournament survived into the second
decade of the seventeenth century in a form which the knights of three cen-
turies earlier might still have recognized as their favourite sport™, Richard
Barber and Juliet Barker note, but they add that on the continent the Thirty
Years War (1618“48) and the changing attitudes of princes brought an end to
the tradition.15
Towards the close of its life, tournament was undoubtedly being trans-
formed not only in degree but in kind; parade and spectacle outweighed com-
bat, which itself gradually became only the mock combat of the ˜carrousel™ or
the ˜horse ballet™. One so-called tournament held at night in the courtyard of
the Louvre in 1606 involved ˜pure spectacle, symbolism and just a little real
In England, Henry VII and Henry VIII likewise sponsored numerous tour-
naments, and Queen Elizabeth was honoured by Accession Day Jousts. The
association of English kings with tournament lingered on a while longer, in
fact, before dying out only in the early years of Charles I.17
Ideas and forms unmistakably recognizable as chivalric thus survived as
late as the seventeenth century. But the changes are more important for basic
issues of public order. How had essential elements in the formative chivalric
fusion”responsible for its seemingly endless strength”weakened and sepa-
rated? Meltdown in the chivalric alloy was not sudden; the furnaces had actu-
ally been fuelled by the very medieval efforts to constrain and reform chivalry
which we have followed throughout this book. The trial of Jourdain de l™Isle
Jourdain noted above, reinforces that point. But as trends already clear in the
Middle Ages (such as the growth of state power) continued in the new
conditions of early modern Europe (especially the changes in its social
hierarchy), chivalry itself was utterly transformed. We can observe this

works on chivalry printed in France before 1600; the list runs to forty-six pages: ˜Nostre histoire
renouvel©e™, quotation at 175.
Barber and Barker, Tournaments, 209.

Ibid, 210.

Gunn, ˜Chivalry™; McCoy, Rites of Knighthood; Ferguson, Chivalric Tradition.
transformation in three of the constitutive elements, or fusions of elements,
that had created chivalry.18

Prowess and Honour
In the ¬rst place, the essential linkage of violence with honour slipped. The
value of honour, of course, did not diminish. Who could doubt that belief in
honour continued in early modern European society, or that it drew strength
from its medieval predecessor? ˜The Renaissance cult of honour and fame™,
Malcolm Vale observes, ˜owed more than it was prepared to acknowledge to
the medieval cult of chivalry.™19 The argument here is, rather, that prowess was
no longer so regularly fused to this concept of honour, no longer the univer-
sally praised personal means of attaining honour, edged weapons in hand.
State-formation played a key role in this change, probably aided by changes
in military technology. Stated in the baldest terms, the state ¬nally achieved
the working monopoly of licit violence within the realm that had been its dis-
tant goal for centuries”or at least it came to a new and undoubtedly
signi¬cant step on its movement towards that victory.20 Much larger armies,
equipped with siege trains of much larger cannon, ¬gure prominently in most
analyses.21 Historian are, of course, wisely cautious about hurrying noblemen
off the stage too precipitously. As Malcolm Vale has noted, ˜the nobility in
England and on the Continent adapted themselves to changes dictated by new

The fourth key to chivalric strength (suggested in Chapter 10) was the role of chivalry in

establishing relationships between the genders. This Epilogue suggests basic changes in the view
taken of prowess and in its links with honour, piety, and status. The link between love and
prowess, too, must have altered in the post-medieval era; but it would be prudent to leave treat-
ment of such a topic for specialists in the history of gender relationships in early modern Europe.
19 Vale, War and Chivalry, 174.
20 The classic argument appears in Stone, Crisis of the Aristocracy, 199“270. Even if current schol-

arship opposes the general thesis of a crisis, and of royalist triumph, the evidence Stone mustered
in support of growing royal control of the means of violence seems signi¬cant. Bonney, Political
Change, 441, suggests that ˜[t]he nobles were defeated as a political force acting independently of
the crown and resorting to the sanction of armed rebellion™. In Rebels and Rulers, II, 221, Zagorin,
speaking of the princes and grands, argues that ˜if they still possessed substantial social and politi-
cal power over their inferiors, they had largely lost their ability and will to maintain armed resis-
tance against royal sovereignty™. Hale writes of the ˜civilizing™ and ˜demilitarizing™ of the ˜armoured
castes of western Europe: War and Society; Schalk suggests (to a medievalist, perhaps too starkly)
a move from a medieval view of nobility linked with the function of ¬ghting to a view, by the late
sixteenth century, of nobility as pedigree: From Valor to Pedigree. James argues that the Tudor state
monopolized chivalric violence: ˜English Politics™.
21 For the military revolution and state formation in various countries, see Downing, The

Military Revolution. Black argues for the importance of the period after 1660 (i.e. beyond the usual
terminal date for the military revolution) and for the absolutist state as a cause of military change
rather than a consequence: A Military Revolution? On the role of military innovation, see Rogers,
˜Military Revolution™; Parker, The Military Revolution; Eltis, The Military Revolution.
Epilogue 305
techniques of war and military organization™.22 Even when belief in the key
role of heavy cavalry in warfare had succumbed to battle¬eld facts, the chival-
rous could still happily command units (even infantry units, supplied with
¬rearms) in the ever-larger national armies raised to ¬ght the king™s wars. If
standing armies were coming into being on the continent from the mid-
¬fteenth century, the crown continued to rely on militant nobles to raise sol-
diers, put down internal rebellion, and act as military governors.23
Historians likewise recognize that the generous measure of state triumph in
warlike violence involves the way people thought as well as the way they
waged war. Beyond recruitment and supply, taxes, tactics, and technology, we
need to consider the altered self-de¬nition of the nobles, their increasing
acceptance of a cluster of ideas about violence and honour.24 The Duc de
Tr©moille in mid-seventeenth-century France copied into his letterbook a
description of the Duke of Parma, a famous captain of the previous genera-
tion; he notes that the duke was engaged in ˜making war rather with his wits
and speeches than with the force of his arms™.25 The nobles were even coming
to see chivalry (whether vocation or status) as closely linked to the crown; it
meant service in what might almost be termed a ˜national chivalry™.26 This was
the lesson learned by the Earl of Essex, the Comtes de Bouteville and des
Chapelles, as we have seen, only at the very end of their lives. Honour need not
be acquired and defended by personal acts of violence; it comes from the sov-
ereign rather than from autonomous displays of prowess.
The very assumptions and actions of men like Bouteville and des Chapelles
may, however, seem to deny these changes. From roughly the mid-sixteenth
century a veritable cult of duelling stands as a remembrance of things past that
is all but immovable in the face of all other changes taking place. Tournament
was gone, or as near as mattered, and judicial combat was likewise on its way
into memory, but autonomous individuals could still remove any stain to
their sacred honour by spilling an opponent™s blood in the duel, the obvious
descendant of these forms. Duelling certainly demonstrates at least a partial

Vale, War and Chivalry, 162. Hale, War and Society, 94“5, similarly argues that ˜[i]t has been

suggested that the adoption of unchivalrous gunpowder weapons and the declining importance
of cavalry led to a decreasing appetite for military service among the aristocracies of Europe.
Neither assumption can be taken seriously.™ Hale likewise discounts ˜the case for the suggestion
that artillery was an instrument centralizing power™: p. 248.
Hale, War and Society, 247“8; Vale, War and Chivalry, 162“3.

Discussed in Vale, War and Chivalry, 100“74; Contamine, War in the Middle Ages, 132“72.

Quoted in Dewald, Aristocratic Experience, 57. Of course, many medieval captains used their

wits well, but the shift of emphasis away from prowess is fascinating. Some contemporary observers
noted the same phenomenon, but were on the other side. At Elizabeth™s court, the poet Samuel
Daniel regretted the lowered ˜virilitie™ of an age in which ˜more came to be effected by wit than by
the sword™ and decried ˜all-drowning Sov™raintie™. Quoted in McCoy, Rites of Knighthood, 105, 118.
Keen, Nobility, Knighthood, 167“70.
continuance into the early modern era of the old chivalric theme of a defence
of honour through violence, and the old chivalric sense of political and even
ethical autonomy as well. This survival of the chivalric obsession with honour
and the perhaps even heightened assertion of personal independence seemed
to the participants not so much an illegal as an extra-legal practice, a statement
of their freedom from troublesome restraints in important matters of their
own choosing.27
Of course the institutional force of both Church and State formally opposed
the duel, and sometimes even took genuine steps to restrain it. The pattern will
look familiar to anyone who has studied the arguments and measures directed
at other troublesome chivalric practices, such as private war or the early tour-
nament. The sense of a genuine opposition of ideals is obvious, as is the cau-
tion that the governors knew must accompany any clash with the deeply held
beliefs of those whose support was still essential to successful governance.
Royal legislation sometimes explicitly raised the issue of sovereignty and (as
we have seen) royal administrations sometimes insisted that spectacular viola-
tors suffer the full punishment of the law; but the crown seldom pressed the
issue to its logical and rigorous conclusion. As Fran§ois Billacois suggests con-
cisely, ˜Duel is the supreme af¬rmation that aristocracy and monarchy are
essentially opposed associates in a coherent political system.™28
Yet we must recognize that duelling is not the same social practice as its
ancestor, private war. Perhaps the crown was all the more willing to look the
other way because duel involved only individuals in private combat; the days
of calling out a veritable army of armoured relatives and tenants and going to
war, pennants ¬‚ying, had come down to a few men with pistols or rapiers in a
dark alley or a convenient ¬eld. Public order was, of course, still threatened in
theory, but was obviously less threatened in fact; the public stance of those in
charge could be maintained by growling and occasionally making examples of
spectacular offenders.
In fact, insistence on the right to duel may inversely illustrate the degree of

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