A Burgundian Death: The tournament in Le Chevalier Délibéré


A Burgundian Death: The tournament in Le Chevalier Délibéré

By Marc van Hasselt

Master’s Thesis, Utrecht University, 2010

Introduction: The Medieval tournament is an evocative image. The glint of armour and weapons, the bright colours of banners and coats, the clash of horses and knights: all of these elements made the tournament a lasting memory to anyone who witnessed one. They still fascinate us today, as can be seen in such popular media as Hollywood movies. In the late Medieval period, this was no different. The literature and art of the time often used the tournament as a theme, as a sort of shorthand for what it meant to be chivalrous. One text in particular has caught my attention: Olivier de la Marche’s Le Chevalier Délibéré. The main theme, the tournament of death, first enticed me to read it. I was struck by the layers of meaning and the complex allegories in the poem. The descriptions of the tournament itself were evocative, but also the descriptions of the miniatures that were meant to accompany the text fascinated me. I was left with many questions, of which I chose one to delve into.

The central subject of this thesis is Le Chevalier Délibéré. However, since there are a great many aspects of this text which may be researched – the literary themes, the iconography, the roll of the dead, the Ars Moriendi, its use as a mirror for princes – choices have to be made. One central theme of the text is the tournament, or more specifically the joust. This is the aspect I have chosen to research for this thesis; how does Olivier de la Marche use the tournament as an allegory for life and death in Le Chevalier Délibéré? In answering this question, some of the other elements of the text, literary, historical and art-historical, cannot be excluded. However, I shall attempt to limit my research to this central question.

Moving from the general to the specific, I shall sketch out the development of the Burgundian Pas d’Armes to start with. I shall attempt to relate some of the historical developments of the tournament and their representation in the literature of the time through some examples. For the fifteenth century and the life of Olivier de la Marche, I shall concentrate on a small number of examples from his own writing.




Olivier de la Marche, in his role as court chronicler, described a number of these events in his Mémoires, which cover the period of 1435- 1488. He began writing them in 1473 and continued until his death in 1502. There have been a number of publications on the subject of these Mémoires. Especially the Pas de l’Arbre d’Or (Pas of the Golden Tree, 1468) features heavily in his writing, as he played a significant role in organizing the event. By describing this tournament, which lasted over a week, I hope to relay some of the imagery of the late Medieval tournament.

By describing the life of the author and the way the Pas fits into it, I hope to give some insights into his motivation for using the tournament as a theme in his literary work. After analyzing the life and works of the author and describing the text of Le Chevalier Délibéré (LCD) itself, I will take some time to analyze the use of allegory in the text, as well as some aspects of its literary motives and elements.

Moving from the text to the text-carrier, I will delve into the manuscript tradition of LCD, taking into account the codicological context in which the text functioned in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. I have chosen to delve further into the Dutch translations and adaptations of the text, as it reflects on the spread of LCD to the Burgundian Netherlands. From the specifics of the codices, I will necessarily fan out into the reception history of the text, on which I have to be brief. Not only the Nachleben of the text must be considered, but also what came before: the influence exerted by other texts, specifically the Le Pas de la Mort by Amé de Montgesoie.

Click here to read this thesis from Utrecht University