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Images of Law and Justice in Late Medieval French Chivalric Tales 1
9 May. 2019 -
11:00 - 12:30
Korte Spinhuissteeg
Conference Room
By invitation

Textual and Visual Representations of Just War in Burgundian Prose Romance

NIAS Seminar

Professor of Late Medieval French Literature Rosalind Brown-Grant (University of Leeds) will discuss the view of late medieval knighthood that emerges from looking at illuminated manuscripts of French chivalric tales.

About the Seminar

The political and juridical issue of what constituted a just war had long been debated by jurists, moralists, and theologians in the Middle Ages. At the late medieval courts of England, France, and Burgundy in particular, works that rehearsed these debates, such as Giles of Rome’s late 13th-c. Government of princes (De Regimine principum), Honorat Bovet’s late 14th-c. Tree of Battles (L’Arbre des batailles) and Christine de Pizan’s early 15th-c. Book of Deeds of Arms and Chivalry (Livre des fais d’armes et de chevalerie), still commanded considerable attention from noble patrons.Yet, just war theory was not expounded exclusively in juridical, theological, or military treatises. It also influenced much of the imaginative literature of the day which thus played its part in the vulgarisation and dissemination of these ideas for the benefit of a lay, aristocratic audience. In the chivalric prose romances produced at the mid-fifteenth-century ducal court of Burgundy, theoretical questions regarding the legitimacy of conflicts are not presented in any systematic fashion but are nonetheless integral to the definition of the romance hero as constructed both in and through the narrative.


How, then, do these romances justify the wars fought by their heroes as well as the conduct that they adopt when performing their military deeds? How is this textual justification of war translated into visual terms in the images that so often accompanied the narrative in manuscripts containing these tales?


This paper takes as its focus various romances that circulated in manuscripts illuminated in the 1450s and 1460s by the Lille-based artist known as the Wavrin Master, who is named after his chief patron Jean de Wavrin, a chronicler, counsellor, and bibliophile at the court of Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy. It will argue that these texts put just war theory into practice through their construction of heroes who are judicious in choosing between good and bad causes, conduct themselves with honour in all the different stages of a military campaign, and succeed in restoring peace. As the visual interpreter of the textual lessons on just war in the manuscripts preserving these tales, the Wavrin Master consistently valorises the hero’s appearance as a chivalric leader at the expense of his discredited opponents, and uses his physical domination of space as a way to underline the rightness of the causes that he espouses. Translating theoretical issues into the textual and visual tropes and codes of romance, these texts, like so many others illuminated by the same artist, formed an integral part of the political and juridical culture of the late medieval Burgundian court.

About NIAS Seminars

NIAS Seminars are aimed to stimulate scientific cross-pollination within the NIAS academic community. Attendance is by invitation only.