Gift exchange at the court of Charles the Bold

Gift exchange at the court of Charles the Bold

By Mario Damel

In but not of the market: movable goods in late medieval and early modern urban society, ed. M. Boone and M. Howell (Brussels, 2006)

Introduction: Guillebert de Lannoy’s Instruction d’un jeune prince of ca. 1440 , one of the many so-called ‘mirror for princes’ of the late Middle Ages, advised Charles the Bold, son of the duke of Burgundy Philip the Good, for whom it was written that:

‘A knight must be above all other men in honesty, generosity, and open-handedness, he must avoid disputes or wanton plunder; he must always be accompanied by arms, horses, military officers and appropriate companions as fits his rank.’

Following recommendations contained in the widely circulated Secretum secretorum, a text attributed to Aristotle, or the popular tale, Romance of Alexander, which also invoked Aristotle’s authority, Lannoy’s mirror went on to explain that the generous and open-handed prince or great lord will be amply compensated for such munificence:

“Generosity and open-handedness belong above all to princes and great lords,for they are praised and loved for them, as Aristotle attests,[and] who in his instructions to the king Alexander, admonished him that a prince who gives generously has no need of a fortified castle”.

In this text,as in so many of the literary remains from this period,generosity and open-handedness were thus attached to the more traditional Christian virtues of temperance, fortitude, prudence, justice, faith, hope, and charity that formed the basis of the knightly code of conduct. But generosity and open-handedness were different from other virtues in that they were considered to have instrumental uses on earth. As Lannoy’s text emphasizes, a prince should, to be sure, act as homo generosus because it was fitting for him to do so,but in doing so he was also acting as homo economicus. When a prince gave gifts to his followers or bestowed them on allies,he was assembling credits that could be cashed in when needed to secure his rule.

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