Hey all. Sorry I’ve been MIA for the past week here on the blog. I’ve been very busy working on various projects. I had a presentation for my Medieval Europe class yesterday which I think went really well. Now, I’m treating myself to a coffee because it’s Valentine’s Day and I luvvvv myself. Just need to finish up my Roman World short report about the Colosseum which is due in on Friday. Mom flies over to visit me on Saturday.
Okay cool beans, because it’s Valentine’s Day I figured I would write this blog post about things that I luvvvv…. which considering that my cat is in America, defaults to coffee, thunderstorms, osteology, and medieval history in no particular order.
So (partially because I feel bad about nothing exciting happening in a while to exploit here on the internet… unless you count me reorganizing my history books into chronological order the other night) here’s the transcript of the presentation I gave yesterday in class about a topic I luvvv.
To what extent did chivalry motivate men to fight in the Hundred Years War?
Chivalry affected many aspects of medieval life. But what is it? Chivalry was a set of moral, social, and religious codes men were to follow both on and off the battlefield. This included the treatment of noblemen and the soldiers fighting for them and against them.
To what extent, if any, chivalry motivated men to fight in the Hundred Years War will be explored in the next ten minutes. Special attention will be given to separate the motivation of nobility as well as the motivation of the common solider.
First concerning nobility. I’d like to start with a quote from Sir Thomas Malory’s work The Death of Arthur, which I believe perfectly, encapsulates the sense of chivalric pride sought by men of nobility:
“And when they heard of his adventures, they marveled that he would jeopard his person so, alone. But all men of worship said it was merry to be under such a chieftain that would put his person in adventures as other poor knights did.”
Malory was writing during the reign of Edward IV and many people credit his work to be an attempt to link Edward IV to Arthur but also to link Edward IV to Henry V.
At Crecy, Edward the Black Prince is described as fighting valiantly, even when outnumber, his father Edward III insisted the day’s honor be given to his son. So, at age 16, the Black Prince earned his ‘spurs’ at Crecy. At Poitiers, similarly, John II, the French king, fights his way into the city. Even though, the English capture John, his honor is still kept in tact. John is an English hostage. However, later that evening at dinner, the Black Prince compliments his honor and valor… and then ransomed for three million ecchos.
This is due to both Edward and John upholding the chivalric standards of the time; they respect the rights of nobility, especially the rights of kings. Because, battlefield conduct was dependent on the capture and ransom of kings and princes, when John II was captured, he had no reason to believe that he was to be killed. He knew that he was worth more to the English alive as well as the rules of chivalry condemned the killing of kings who were anointed by God.
To put simply: while both Edward and John had put themselves in the thick of the battle, they faced no real danger because if captured, they knew, albeit they would be ransomed back for a large sum of money, they would be returned relatively unharmed. The reward, the motivation of chivalric glory, outweighed the risk.
Later kings emulated this sense of chivalric duty, especially the notoriously pious Henry V. Although part of a work of fiction and not to be taken at face-value, the famous St. Crispin’s day speech before the battle of Agincourt from Shakespeare’s play Henry V perfectly encapsulates the chivalric values of glory and remembrance of great deeds with the lines behind me.
So, the motivation for nobility to fight for personal glory was high. Jean Froissart writes of King John of Bohemia, a blind man, who wished to fight. His men tied their horses together and rode onto the battlefield while directing their blind king. Did this really happen? It’s debatable. But nonetheless, it illustrates the desires of the nobility to fulfill chivalric values.
Personally, I do believe that the nobility saw warfare as a means of gaining personal glory and to assert their divine right to rule. But, perhaps we give it too much weight and overlook the realities of war. Before each chivalric victory was a bloody battle, which exposed the brutality of noble knights against their enemies. As the pious Henry V is credited, ‘War without fire is like sausages without mustard.’ Spoils of war were used for building projects or funding royal courts. Although, hard to trace, it is widely believe that Edward III used the ransom money he gained from the capture of John II to renovate and expand Windsor Castle.
Meanwhile, the common people… While yes, there were rallying cries for patriotism, fueled by royal propaganda featuring the English kings as King Arthur, or even the establishment of the Knights of the Garter, a ‘new version’ of the Knights of the Roundtable. Huge victories after Crecy, Poitiers, and even Agincourt saw men enlisting on their own accord. However, sense of nationalist pride, or a chivalric epiphany, was not the main call to arms for the common people. There was no money in the ransoming of common people or chivalric code for them to obey, as chivalry was seen as something only the nobility could hide behind. The motivation for their allegiance was predominantly gold, not glory.
However, to be clear this was not the monetary reward in the sense of a salary. While mercenaries and some soldiers did receive payment, especially the English longbowmen who were enlisted in archery troops, the payment was small and rather unreliable. What they relied on was battlefield spoils, like the capturing and ransoming of prisoners, seizure and later resettlement of land, and other miscellaneous sacking and pillaging. Truthfully, it was smart. They played off of the nobilities’ strict adherence to chivalric values and used it for their own personal gain. In fact, Edward III had specific people who controlled and redistributed the spoils collected while on campaigns. Some knights, if they happened to be lucky and take hostage or win the favor of the nobility could in fact earn a large fortune. Sir John Fastolf was gifted land in Normandy by Henry V after his performance on campaign. Fastolf established a household in France and continued to make large sums of money. However, this was not the case for all and truthfully was a gamble with some winning big and others not.
Further examples of this motivation are seen at the battle of Crecy. The French had hired nearly 6,000 Geonese crossbowmen. However, when called to fight, they attempted to flee from the battle by cutting the strings of their crossbows. They were not motivated by chivalric values, but by the possibility of monetary rewards and when it was clear there were none, and they would likely die instead – they fled. This is in direct contrast to the actions of the nobility on both sides prior.
Conflict of Interest: Agincourt
As previously mentioned, the motivation to fight is not always as black and white as contemporary chroniclers make it out to be.
At the battle of Agincourt, Henry V orders the execution of many of the French hostages, which included nobility. This is detailed in Monstrelet’s account of the battle. The act was in retaliation to the misconduct of a few of the French nobles who had outflanked the English and slaughtered their baggage train, which would have consisted of non-combatants. It was widely held that warring factions would not attack the others’ baggage train. The English viewed the attack as a violation of the codes of chivalry, especially that of protecting the innocent, and acted in retaliation. However, because Henry ordered the execution of the prisoners did he tarnish his own chivalric reputation? What were his motivations? Executing nobility on the battlefield was against previous chivalric precedents.
It’s a tricky case. If Henry were indeed motivated by chivalry, he would have strictly obeyed the rules against the killing of hostages. I think it is worth a discussion on Henry’s motivation to order the execution of the French hostages. Did he view his order as a just punishment for the ‘misconduct of the French’ and slaughter of the innocent? Or did Henry disregard chivalry and act in a pure vengeance?
As I earlier mentioned, the chivalric code had a religious burden. In my own opinion, fitting with his pious personality, Henry’s motivation was in line with his interpretation of chivalry. In this case, Henry was motivated to act because of his chivalric and religious responsibly. He couldn’t leave the French slaughter of the innocents unpunished; the slaughter of innocents called for the ultimate penance, death. This brings into question of who really had the authority to define the codes of chivalry.
It is important to remember what accounts we have and how we analyze the Hundred Years War. We must not forget that while the various primary sources depict great deeds of heroics and valor of nobility, the common soldiers are marginalized. The intention of medieval chroniclers was to tell a story and the best stories always centered on great knights and heroic acts. What we are reading is what they wanted us to read: a lengthy ode to chivalry.
However, while the nobility did appear to have a higher sense of moral value and pride when it came to warfare, to say that they were solely motivated by chivalry would be naïve and simplistic. We must remember the Hundred Years War is first and foremost a war. Likewise, while most accounts concur the common solider was not in the fight for chivalric pride but for more economic means, we cannot deny that some soldiers must have felt strongly about their cause. So yes, chivalry did motivate men to fight, but for the majority it was not the primary factor.
De Monstrelet, E. ‘Battle of Agincourt:’ http://medieval.ucdavis.edu/130/Agincourt.html (accessed 8 Feb 2017)
Froissart, J. Chronicles, trans. and ed G. Breeton: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/froissart1.asp (accessed 8 Feb 2017)
Malory, T. Le Morte Darthur: The Winchester Manuscript, ed Helen Cooper (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)
Shakespeare, W. Henry V, ed T. N. R. Rogers (Mineola: Dover Publications, 2003)
Bennet, M., Bradbury, J., DeVries, K., Dickie, I., Jestice, P., Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World AD 500-1500: Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005)
Currry, A. Great Battles: Agincourt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)
Cole, Tersea, Henry V: The Life of the Warrior King and the Battle of Agincourt 1415 (Gloustershire: Amberley, 2015)
Fowler, K. ‘Froissart, Chronicler of Chivalry’, History Today, 36.5 (May 1,
Kaeuper, R. Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)
Tuck, A. ‘Why men fought in the 100 Years War’, History Today, 33.4 (Apr 1, 1983), 35-41.
Keen, M. The Penguin History of Medieval Europe, (London: Penguin Books, 1968)
Neillands, R. The Hundred Years War (London: Routledge, 1990)
Are you feeling the luvvv yet? Because I’m enveloped in a scholarly hug.