By Steven Muhlberger
Lecture given at Nipissing University, March 7, 2001
Introduction: Let me begin by admitting that I’ve lured you here under false pretenses — at least in one terminological respect. The announced title of this paper led you to believe that I would be talking about “tournaments” in the fourteenth century. I used that term because it is widely understood, but it is inexact. The “tournament” was only one kind of formal deed of arms practiced by knights and other “men at arms” between the 12th and 17th centuries. I’m not going to talk about any “tournaments” at all.
My focus will be on a few specific formal — that is ceremonious and ostensibly friendly — “deeds of arms” described by Jean Froissart, a prolific 14th century writer with an intense admiration for “deeds of arms” and chivalry. Froissart wrote hundreds of thousands of words in his Chronicles of his time, devoting almost all of his attention to the Hundred Years War, with particular emphasis on the actions of individual warriors. Froissart’s depiction of chivalry has had a tremendous cultural influence over the last 600 years; the nineteenth-century French historian Michelet called him “the Walter Scott of the Middle Ages.” It would be more accurate to characterize Scott, that towering figure of romanticism, as “the Jean Froissart of the Regency.”
My current research interest is in Froissart and how he depicted the wars and “men at arms” — fully armed warriors — of his time. Before I talk about what he has to say about “formal deeds of arms” (which you can continue to think as “tournaments”), let me talk very briefly about the history of such combats.