Why this book will be a must-read for medieval military historians
This entry was posted on August 19, 2020.
My intention, with God’s help, is to write a little treatise, in the form of a story, to inspire all men, and especially those who pursue the extraordinary adventures of a life of war, to seek always to do good and enhance their fortitude.
That passage is from the beginning of Le Jouvencel, which has just been translated into English. This might be the most valuable book to be published in recent years for the field of medieval military history, and surely will have a huge impact on those studying and writing about warfare in the later Middle Ages.
Le Jouvencel was written in the 1460s by Jean de Bueil, a French nobleman. On the surface it is just another chivalric romance, centering around a young squire as he gains experience as a warrior, taking part in campaigns and battles, rising through ranks, and eventually becoming the regent of the fictional Kingdom of Amydoine. It even involves marrying a princess.
But this story is only the first layer of what Le Jouvencel really is. As the tale unfolds, the narrator and other characters have a series of digressions, where they offer advice on many subjects related to medieval warfare; for example, tactics in battle or sieges, campaign logistics, treatment of prisoners and ransoming, managing disputes and distributing booty. For the reader it soon becomes obvious that this is actually a military manual, clever disguised in an entertaining tale.
For scholars of medieval military history, this makes Le Jouvencel very valuable. We have relatively few treatises about the art of warfare in the Middle Ages, so having this shows what soldiers in the fifteenth century were thinking about when it came to the practice and ethics of their profession. Moreover, Jean de Bueil was no ordinary nobleman - he had spent decades as a soldier, rising through the ranks to the point when in the 1450s he was a senior commander among the French, including in several battles against the English during the Hundred Years’ War.
There is another layer to this book that makes even more valuable - a few years after Jean’s death in 1478, one of his squires named Guillaume Tringant wrote a commentary to Le Jouvencel, where he revealed that much of what was recorded in this tale was actually true - they had come from the life of Jean de Bueil, but that the names of the people and places were changed. Tringant goes on to provide crucial details on who these fictional names actually represented, and thus giving us a new version of various real events that took place in the latter decades of the Hundred Years’ War.
In essence, Le Jouvencel is really three books in one - a chivalric tale, a military manual, and a chronicle. It is something that historians will undoubtedly want to read thoroughly. While this work is certainly known by medievalists, this English translation, carried out by Craig Taylor and Jane M.H. Taylor, makes it far more accessible. The edition only came out a couple of months ago, and you can get a copy through The Boydell Press.