From Agincourt (1415) to Fornovo (1495): aspects of the writing of warfare in French and Burgundian 15th century historiographical literature
By Georges Henri Pascal Le Brusque
PhD Dissertation, King’s College London, 2001
Abstract: The object of this thesis is to inquire into some major aspects of the historiographical writing of war in France and Burgundy, from Henry V’s invasion of France in 1415 to the first wars of Italy. A comparative methodology is used to study the emergence and establishment, in Burgundy, then in France, of an official and semi-official writing of the prince’s wars; these authoritative accounts are contrasted with independent versions. The thesis demonstrates that the writing of war promoted by the Dukes of Burgundy greatly influenced French chronicles, although the specific, national features of the early Renaissance French writing of war are also exemplified.
The evolution of the writing of war is examined through the analysis of the treatment, by contemporaries, of selected episodes of French and Burgundian history, ranging chronologically from 1415 to 1500. Two themes are considered: the ideology of the prince’s wars, and the representation of the prince’s soldiers. The two are connected, for the prince’s interest was that his agents in his wars – mainly, the nobility – should accept, and be flattered by, their representation in accounts of the prince’s deeds. The development of a propagandist discourse in the official historiography of Burgundy and France is delineated; particular attention is given to the concept of the guerre de magnificence, which is seen, as far as Burgundy is concerned, in the context of Philip the Good’s crusading endeavours. The crisis experienced in Burgundy, with the practical failure of the Dukes’ guerres de magnificence, contrasts with the French propagandist discourse, which appears increasingly confident as France emerged victoriously from the trauma of the Hundred Years War and became, through the wars of Italy, a fearsome conquering nation. The evolution, in French historiography, of the Joan of Arc epic demonstrates more precisely the shaping of the discourse on defensive war, while the treatment of offensive war is seen through accounts of Charles VIII’s descent into Italy.
Introduction: Our fantasy of the Middle Ages resounds with the din of trumpets, the clash of armour and the neighing of horses. However romantic or dramatic this image may be, it is quite hyperbolic: Philippe Contamine, the acknowledged French expert in medieval warfare, recently stressed that the Middles Ages were `une periode faussement militaire’, concluding with the words: `Le Moyen Age a aussi connu les paix, la paix’. But Contamine also acknowledged that, even in times of peace, war was an element of medieval man’s usual horizon; the imposing presence of fortresses, for instance, was a constant reminder that war could always break out. War was seen as a predestined ingredient of life; this is expressed, for instance, in the opening lines of Jean de Bueil’s Jouvencel, a 15th century manual for candidates for a military career, as the author explained: `Au, commencement de ce monde, apres que Dieu eut cree l’homme et la femme et qu’il eut produit toutes choses pour servir ä l’homme [… ], ne fut pas longuement la terre en paix’. Envy was the source of the first ever conflict, when Cain slew his brother Abel; shooting forth from the seeds of discord, war soon spread its branches over the whole world.