Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Charles VII. King. King of France. Lily. Lilies. The Virgin Mary. The Holy Trinity. God. Jesus. The Holy Spirit. Angels. Neumes. Throne. Bible.
Long Reads

The Success Story of the Fleur-de-Lys in Medieval Heraldry

What Asinus Teaches

  1. The Legend of Clovis and the Fleur-de-Lys
  2. The Fleur-de-Lys in Medieval Heraldry
  3. The French “Copyright” on the Fleur-de-Lys

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

>>> Link to the original Reddit post

Of all the medieval motifs to choose from, why is the Fleur-de-lys so popular? Why don’t we see Papal staffs or English lions on fence posts, organisation logos and flags everywhere?

Side question: Where does it actually come from? It’s often listed as the coronation of Clovis in the 6th century, but some sources (not very trustworthy ones mind you) claim that the symbol dates back older than that.

My Answer

Welcome to our class of Heraldry 101, young Padawan. I’m glad you made it on time. Today, we’ll discuss why the kings of France preferred a flower over, say, some powerful predator like the lion or the bear. I mean, isn’t it weird? And even weirded when you think that Charles VI chose winged deer as his emblem instead of… I don’t know… winged wolves, or dragons?

In order to get to the bottom of this mystery, we need to consider a few things.

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. King. Kings. King of France. Kings of France. Angels. Angel. Royalty. Power.
Allegory of the French Royal Power – Paris, BnF, fr. 2598, f. 1r

1. Clovis Has Nothing to Do with It

By the second half of the 14th century, Charles V of France was all busy patroning the arts and the writing of many new lavish manuscripts—he wasn’t only bailing out the upcoming commander-in-chief of his army with his royal treasury. He had his own army of translators. They would offer French renditions of major Latin cultural texts; e.g. Raoul de Presles translated Augustine’s City of God.

Why the well would I bring up such pointless trivia?

The fact is that the whole Clovis legend you mention is mentioned in Raoul de Presles’ translation of Augustine’s City of God and that is because medieval translators didn’t only translated what they read, they also augmented their translations with new prologues, running commentaries and full-on exegeses. Don’t ask me why they did it, we’d be here for another hour at least. The fact is that they indulged themselves with such fancy rhetoric.

Raoul de Prelses translated the City of God for Charles V of France, therefore he wrote the latter a letter justifying his scholarly work and placed it at the beginning of it. Raoul de Prelses went on to talk about many things but first he had to remind how great, wise and noble Charles V of France actually was. Therefore he reminded the legend tying Clovis to the fleur-de-lys. Do you remember how Constantine converted to Christianism? Hold on to your seat because we’ve got some major flashback incoming.

According to the legend, Clovis was about to face a Saracen king who cut his way through Germany (not Spain) and was now threatening France. It was on this very battle that the battle-cries of “Monjoye” and “Saint-Denis” were shouted for the first time—just like La Hire would then shout them at Montargis, in 1427.

Montjoye!

On the eve of battle, Clovis had a dream. He dreamt of three fleur-de-lys. The next day, he wiped what was then his emblem, three crescents (this version of the legend makes Clovis a Saracen himself!—in other versions of the tale, his emblem was made of three toads*), and replaced it with three fleur-de-lys. He then marched on to victory.

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Clovis. King. King of France. Baptisme. Genealogical Tree. Holy Spirit. Religion. Pope.
Clovis’ Genealogical Tree – Toulouse, BM, 988

Raoul de Presles exposed as an obvious evidence that the legend was true that the Abbey of “Joie-en-Val”, which was allegedly founded after the battle—and is better known as the Abbey of Saint-Denis—still carried three fleur-de-lys on its escutcheon by his own lifetime. Let’s reckon that Raoul de Presles was very creative with archeological and heraldic materials but that he didn’t just made up the legend either. Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis, French official and chronicler, first came up with the idea in the 12th century. It was strongly passed on through the 13th century with the production of stained glasses and sculptures. Raoul de Presles merely revived the legend when he translated Augustine’s City of God, by the early 1370s, because around those very years, Charles V of France was changing the royal French coat of arms from “Azure semy-de-lys or” to “Azure, three fleurs-de-lys or”. As such, Charles V of France wished to symbolically tighten the knot between the French monarchy and the Holy Trinity, placing the kingdom of France under the direct protection of God—and himself, the king, as His direct representative on Earth.


 * Michel Pastoureau (“Une fleur pour le roi. Jalons pour une histoire médiévale de la fleur de lis”, in Une histoire symbolique du Moyen Âge occidental. Paris: Seuil, 2004, p.110-124) quotes the manuscript Paris, BnF, fr. 22912, f. 3v and writes “crapaulx” (toads) instead of “croissans” (crescents) but this is a paleographic mistake. However, I didn’t have the time to cross-reference this finding with the latest edition of the BnF, fr. 22912 (Olivier Bertrand (ed.), La Cité de Dieu de saint Augustin traduite par Raoul de Presle (1371-1375), livres I à III, édition du manuscrit BnF fr. 22912. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2013).

** The semy-de-lys didn’t vanish, though. However, only the “three fleur-de-lys” came to symbolise the French king as a person and individual once Charles V of France was done with it, whereas the “semy-de-lys” became more of a general emblem related to the royalty.

2. When and How Did It All Start?

If it didn’t start with Clovis? When did the big fashion for fleur-de-lys emblems actually begin? Was it with Charlemagne? Was it with Hugues Capet? None of the above! The first died in 814 and the second in 996. As stated before—we live and die by our mantra, each and every one of us—coat of arms only came into fashion by the 12th century. It is only then that fleur-de-lys emblems started to sprout all over Europe.

The fleur-de-lys had many thing going for it to promote its success. First, its abstract representation was pretty. It matters. Second, it was a flower named in the Holy Bible. In the Song of Songs no less! “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. | As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” (Song 2:1-2) Those verses were picked up in the Middle Age to further the devotion to the Virgin Mary. The lily became Mary’s flower. She was depicted either surrounded by lilies or holding a lily into her hand on several French coins and ecclesiastic seals during the 12th century.

When the time came for the kings of France to choose their own symbol, they liked the idea of placing their realm under the protection of the Virgin Mary. Since the lily was her flower, they would be crowned while carrying great blue coats covered with golden lilies (instead of stars, that other regal figures fancied). That way, as a symbolic gesture, they placed themselves under the protection of the queen of Heaven, the mother of God, Mary. The symbolism was quite long in the making*. It took a few kings to be properly picked up but by 1211, a royal French figure is for the first time depicted on a seal with a shield that displays a “semy-de-lys”.

  • Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Charles VII. King. King of France. Lily. Lilies. The Virgin Mary. The Holy Trinity. God. Jesus. The Holy Spirit. Angels. Throne. Bible.
  • Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Jesus. The Virgin Mary. Baby Jesus. Prayer. Lilies. Lily.
  • Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Angel. The Virgin Mary. Lily. Lilies.

By then, however, the fleur-de-lys was a proper heraldic emblem, only second in popularity to the lion, the eagle, or a few geometric figures. It was often encountered in various places such as the northern Low Countries, the Rhine valley, the duchy of Brabant, the county of Artois, the duchy of Tuscany, many regions in France, etc. On seals, it ranks among the most used symbols in Normandy, Flanders, Zeeland and Switzerland. It was imprinted on the emblem of peasant families, urban communities (such as guilds) and cities. The city of Lille, in France, bears the lily on its coat of arms because it makes up for a great pun. In Latin, the lily is called lilium, it resembled “Lille” enough to draw a visual parallel.


* Though it was long in the making, the symbolism also lasted very long. In the basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which is a 19th century construction, we find a gorgeous mosaic of Louis XIII begging Mary to give him a son and secure the future of his realm. The prayer was heard and a son was born. He grew up to become Louis XIV. The Virgin Mary so appears, on several mosaics of the basilica, to have granted her special protection to the kingdom of France through the ages. Isn’t it amazing? How long symbols can survive?

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Charles V. Books. Books in the Middle Ages. Reading. Reading in the Middle Ages. King of France. Semy-de-Lys. Fleur-de-Lys. King. Heraldry. Bible. Song of Songs.Charles VI. Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Semy-de-Lys. Fleur-de-Lys. King of France. King. Heraldry.
Charles V of France and Charles VI with Semy-de-Lys garments and furniture

3. The Fleur-de-Lys, Joan of Arc and the Medici

By the 15th century, the king of France started to share his emblematic fleur-de-lys to people, families and communities that supported him through hard times. I’ve already touched on it in my post about Joan of Arc’s origins but I don’t mind to cover the topic again. It’ll give me the opportunity to pile a few more details on the stack for you insatiable history geeks. 

Joan of Arc's coat of arms.
Joan of Arc’s coat of arms.

Some people have believed, because Joan of Arc was granted the right to carry a fleur-de-lys on her own coat of arms, that Charles VII secretly acknowledged her as his secret royal sister. What a prank! By the 15th century, French kings had already begun a long-lasting political strategy that we could tag as the hostile public takeover of power symbols. Just like they claimed that only them and no other could have inherited their aristocratic title “by the Grace of God”, they wished to monopolize the fleur-de-lys as their own symbol. The fleur-de-lys, despite its wide and ancient popularity, belonged to them, represented them, and was for them to “offer” to their most precious allies.

French kings would grant people the right to bear the fleur-de-lys on their coat of arms as a symbolic gesture of binding friendship. Joan of Arc wasn’t the only one to “receive” the fleur-de-lys from Charles VII. John Stewart of Darnley, Constable of the Scottish Army in France, was also granted the fleur-de-lys on his personal coat of arms, back in 1426, three years prior to Joan’s epic. Two cities at least, Tournay (1426-1427) and Saint-Maixant (1440) were also awarded fleur-de-lys for their valiant resistance against the “English”. Louis XI, who succeeded Charles VII, might have hated his father, but he understood the political finesse behind gifting the fleur-de-lys. He awarded it himself to the Medici family in 1465 for their precious aid.

The fact that two daughters of the Medici family later became queen of France certainly furthered the popularity of the fleur-de-lys. If you happen to visit the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, you will end up in a room which walls are covered with fleur-de-lys.

Conclusion: Charles VI, the Winged Deer and the Fleur-de-Lys

I started with the mystery of Charles VI’s winged deer. I haven’t forgotten about it. Truth is that the deer, just like the fleur-de-lys, carried a religious meaning. The deer had been interpreted by scholars and theologians as a “red beast” (meaning, a good beast) and as a symbol of Christ—for various reasons that would be too long to enumerate here. The lion, too, was a symbol of Christ, though it is a predator. On the contrary, wolves, bears or boars had become devilish avatars.

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Winged Deer. Deer. Coat of Arms.
Charles VI’s Armorial: Two Winged Deers Holding the Three Fleurs-de-Lys – Paris, BnF, fr. 2608, f. 1r

To conclude on that note, the popularity of the fleur-de-lys was boosted by its perception as a religious and then regal emblem. It quickly became a popular emblem on coat of arms from the very start, but its political (and spiritual) appropriation by the kings of France only made it more visible, meaningful and desirable.

Short Reads

Relic Snagging: AoE2 vs. History

Not so long ago, on Age of Empires 2, my father and I were holding our ground against waves and waves of conquistadors. My halberdiers were butchered by the dozens and I noticed my father lacked gold to sustain his military production. Faithful son that I am, I tasked a monk with the perilous duty to deliver my relics to my father’s monastery despite enemy raids between both our bases.

Most of the time, however, we see players snagging relics from each other. On Arena maps, light cavalry and monks rush into the no man’s land as soon as players hit Castle Age and it leads to epic micro-fight. Those well versed into the arcane arts can even teleport their monks to snag relics in the blink of an eye. A blood pact with the Devil is required to gain this wizardly skill, though, since you need two of your monks to shag in a dark alley, which is not very Christian.

Now, I’d like to talk to you about some historic relic gifting and snagging. Since I introduced the early Christian Dukes of Bohemia in a former post, I’ll keep my focus on them for this one.

As you may have read, Václav was the first Christian Duke of Bohemia despite his mother’s Pagan faith. The Přemyslid family strife got to some Game of Thrones proportion, though, when Drahomira, the mother, allegedly had her son Václav murdered by his own brother when he dared to found a rotunda church in Prague. Boleslav, Drahomira’s younger son, was maybe every inch a dutiful son but foremost he was quite the power grabber. With or without his mother’s scheming, he killed his brother without a flinch and took the Duchy for himself. While doing so, however, he also embraced Christianity then he didn’t wait a second to elevate his murdered brother to sainthood.

Go figure.

All this seems weird and fairly unreasonable to us. Yet, there might be a sound political reasoning behind Boleslav’s actions. Not only did he promote Václav to sainthood, he also made him the patron of Bohemia. Every Duke would promote Václav’s cult after Boleslav’s reign and use it as a propaganda of power. However, guilt may not have been the only thing to move Boleslav. Though he abode to Christianity, and therefore had to bow to the Holy Roman Empire, he tried to make Bohemia an independent polity. Sneaky and shrewd as he was, when the Magyars came westwards, Boleslav let them pass through his lands and it took the Duke of Saxony some fierce convincing to bend Boleslav to his will and join him to the Battle of Lechfeld, in 955.

Why does any of this matter? Let’s look at the bigger picture. Capture Age is our friend.

The Holy Roman Empire in 962.

When Václav founded his rotunda church, he acquired a holy relic to dwell it from the Duke of Saxony. That relic was St Vitus’ arm and St Vitus had since become patron of the Ludolfings. What can I say? Two and two make four. The Ludolfings were the Dukes of Saxony themselves. It meant that Prague religious life was enfeoffed to Saxony’s holy patron! Add water to the burned area, the Duke of Saxony was well placed to sit on the vacant throne of the Emperor and that is exactly what Otto I did, eventually, when he was crowned in 962.

Before that fateful year, still in the absence of an emperor in power, and before the Ludolfings claimed and took over the title, Boleslav wished to sunder Bohemia from Saxony’s religious oversight. He murdered his brother to seize the duchy then he made him a local saint so that St Vitus’ cult would not obstruct his personal display of power. This was a very clever move! When Boleslav turned his brother’s cold corpse into holy relics, he insured Bohemia religious life wasn’t overshadowed by a foreign patron. The next step was to elevate Prague into a bishopric and make it as free as possible from Imperial supervision.  

Bohemia’s Christianization was first kicked off by missionaries sent from the bishopric of Passau. Nonetheless, as soon as 895, the bishopric of Regensburg took over the missionary agenda of Bohemia and all substantial religious matters regarding the Přemyslid duchy were settled in Bavaria, Bavaria being nothing but a friend to Saxony.

According to some dubious record in a 12th century chronicle, Boleslav managed to give Prague its own bishopric thanks to the good influence of his daughter, Mlada-Maria, as soon as 967. Nevertheless, it is certain that Prague had its own bishopric in 976 and was freed from Regensburg’s oversight. It was not yet an archbishopric, though, and still answered Mainz. Bohemia would have to wait the Luxembourg dynasty and John the Blind’s reign to see Prague become its own archbishopric. All the credit falls to John the Blind’s son, however, Charles IV.

St Václav (or Wenceslaus) in the ‘Vyšehradský kodex’ ~ Prague, National Library, MS XIV.A.13, f. 68r

It would be time now to talk about Boleslav II and his epic relic snagging skills. However, I’ll first gloss over the former sentence I wrote, ‘St Vitus had since become patron of the Ludolfings,’ because there are more relics gifting to deal with on that matter!

Little did I know when I started to write this post that St Vitus relics dwelled in ‘France’ before they made their way into Saxony and, from there, found a path to Bohemia’s capital. Even before that, St Vitus’ relics were in Rome! They were moved to St Denis abbey in the 8th century.

Then, what happened?

During the 9th century, the Vikings forced many monks to move out relics from their sanctuary. However, this is not what happened to St Vicus relics. Hilduin, the abbot of Saint-Denis, found himself exiled to the German abbey of Corvey, in Saxony, because he’d allied an enemy of the Emperor, Louis the Pious. Hilduin was quickly reinstated but he made a friend along the way: the abbot of Corvey, Warin. The bound of friendship that united the two abbots is what made the relics transfer possible and moved St Vitus remains from Saint-Denis to Saxony.

First off, this relics transfer hastened the Christianization of Saxony. The German duchy had known very few martyrs: relics mostly had to be imported and St Vitus’ case set up a trend that would only grow stronger. Furthermore, the importation of relics into Saxony tethered its links to the Frankish Empire and helped its integration. Moreover, the chronicler Widukind interpreted the transfer from St Vitus’ relics to Saxony as a translation imperii: the Saxons symbolically inherited the imperial power that the Franks had held for so long when the holy remains entered the Corvey abbey.

A relic transfer was therefore much more than just a symbolic gesture. It could also have deep economic repercussion. Albeit I’ll discuss that in the next installment of this post series.

See you next time for some more relic trivia!

Attack of a monastery ~ Paris, BnF, fr. 2644, f. 142r

Further readings:
~ Nora Berend, Central Europe in the High Middle Ages. Bohemia, Hungary and Poland, c.900-c.1300. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
~ Anne Van Landschoot, “La translation des reliques de saint Vit de l’abbaye de Saint-Denis à celle de Corvey en 836”, in Revue belge de philology et d’histoire (1996), 74/3-4, p. 593-632.

Epic Arena Relic Swipe
Short Reads

Short History of the Early Christian Dukes of Bohemia

St Václav (or Wenceslaus) in the ‘Vyšehradský kodex’ ~ Prague, National Library, MS XIV.A.13, f. 68r

As promised, here begins a very short history of the early Dukes of Bohemia, from Vratislav to Bretislav. Hang on to your hats, fasten your seatbelts, grab your popcorn and enjoy some Crusader King 2 worthy storyline.

Vratislav, living in the first half of the 10th century, hated the Franks. He married a pagan princess to upset their plan of world domination and she was a fine young woman, but she evolved into a bitter old mother. When Vratislav died, his son Václav became Duke of Bohemia. That’s only logical. However, the latter saw many political upsides to embrace Christianity and he founded a rotunda church, right there in Prague. In doing so, Václav also recognized the authority of the Holy Roman Empire over his Duchy and for many years, Christian matters in Bohemia were overseen by Imperial churchmen. This whole situation enraged Ludmilla, Václav’s mother. She plotted to get her first-born and she enlisted the best man for the job, Václav’s own little brother, her second son, Boleslav.

Boleslav was shrewd. Boleslav was smart. He agreed to murder his brother. He carried the deed. He became Duke of Bohemia, hurray! However, he was too smart to backtrack on his brother’s spiritual choices and he embraced Christianity so hard that he promoted his murdered brother to sainthood. #Paradox

The four Apostles in the ‘Vyšehradský kodex’ ~ Prague, National Library, MS XIV.A.13, f. 1v

From that point onward, St Václav, better known as St Wenceslaus West of the Rhine, became the spiritual patron of Bohemia. All Bohemian Dukes and Kings had to worship him dutifully to secure their dynastic propaganda of power.

Bretislav was quite the state builder. Beyond handing Bohemia a spiritual patron, he also insured his control of the land by building strongholds all over the country. He built the stronghold in Prague, too. He was nicknamed ‘the Cruel’ when people found out that he had quite an expedite way to deal with his political opponents. To be clear, he gifted them with the same fate that he’d offered his brother. Eventually, Boleslav also tried to free Bohemia from the Holy Roman Empire grasp by reaching to Bavaria and helping the Magyar migrate West. However, Otto I was a bit of a tough nut to crack. The Magyar were utterly crushed by the Imperial Army at Lechfeld in 955 and Bohemia was forced to provide troops. It was clear from that point onwards that Bohemia would be part of the Holy Roman Empire because of its Christianization. There was no escape from it.

Boleslav II succeeded to his father. He maintained friendly relationships with the Holy Roman Empire, but most of all, he secured access and control to the silver mines of Kutná Hora and it would greatly benefit to Bohemia in the centuries to come.

The Biblical Magi in the ‘Vyšehradský kodex’ ~ Prague, National Library, MS XIV.A.13, f. 13v

Boleslav III was the next Duke of Bohemia. Nicknamed ‘the Red’ because he had red hair—what do you want me to say?—Boleslav was a gentle fruitcake. He reigned only a year or two that he already tried to strangle his brother Ulrich and castrated his other brother, Jaromir. Both fled to Bavaria and the Bohemian nobility chose to overthrow their tyrant by inviting Vladyvoj to the throne. Vladyvoj took on the Duchy of Bohemia as an imperial fief from the German King, Henry II, but he died shortly after that. Jaromir and Ulrich still out of the picture, Bołeslaw the Brave, King of Poland, swooped in and took over. Bohemia was from now on into a personal union with the Kingdom of Poland, and free from the Empire. There was no way Bołeslaw would bow to the Emperor. It would be as if the King of England bowed to the King of France only because he holds a fief of the latter.

Wait…

That’s how the Hundred Years War started!

Bołeslaw’s story as Duke of Bohemia was much shorter. Jaromir was quickly put in charge of Bohemia and the Duchy reconciled with the Holy Roman Empire. Then Ulrich took over and ultimately his son, Bretislav I, inherited Bohemia, which he ruled for twenty years from 1034 to 1055.

Bretislav wished to steal a page from Bołeslaw’s book and refused to pay tribute to the Empire. It cost him dearly. He ended up walking barefoot through Regensburg, wearing a penitentiary sack, begging for pardon. The Emperor granted his pardon and Bretislav swore his total allegiance to his suzerain. Bohemia was definitely part of the Empire, it wouldn’t be contested anymore, yet all those wars forged the Duchy as a stable and powerful polity. It wouldn’t be long before it was elevated to Kingdom. Well, two centuries basically. But who keeps count?

The Crucifixion in the ‘Vyšehradský kodex’ ~ Prague, National Library, MS XIV.A.13, f. 42r

Note on the manuscript introduced in this post (thanks to Google Translate)

The Vyšehrad Codex (National Library of the Czech Republic, XIV A 13) is probably the most valuable manuscript preserved in the Czech Republic. Researchers believe that the manuscript is the coronation evangelist of the first Czech King Vratislav I (as Prince II), or that he has composed it to commemorate this event.

The Czech King Vratislav I (ruled as Prince Vratislav II from 1061) was crowned on June 15, 1086 at Prague Castle. The Evangelist contains excerpts from the Gospels that were read at the Mass during the church year. […] The Visegrad Code was originally created without a specific purpose, into stock. Later, approximately one third of the Code was hastily completed on order from Bohemia. It also contains a reading on the feast of Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia, who opens the initial D-ixit with a depiction of a throne prince who, as a gesture of his right, expresses his consent to the act of Vratislav’s coronation and symbolically passed it over to the government.

Further Readings:
~ Nora Berend, Central Europe in the High Middle Ages. Bohemia, Hungary and Poland, c.900-c.1300. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
~ Peter H. Wilson, Heart of Europe. A History of the Holy Roman Empire. Cambridge [MA]: Belknap Press, 2016.

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Rouen. Illuminated manuscript.
Short Reads

The Day Joan of Arc Ran Out Of Sass

Joan of Arc never failed to be breezy and impertinent when faced with her social higher-ups. That is one of her predominant character trait which makes her so charismatic. She was blunt. She was fearless. She bowed to no one but the King. She was fine damn ready to kick some ass and to admonish anyone whom she felt had crossed a line. She certainly was one of a kind.

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Chinon. Vaucouleurs. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc goes to Chinon to meet Charles VII – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 55v

Joan Meets Jean de Metz

“Should I lose my feet I’ll walk on my knees.”

When Jean de Metz first met her back in Vaucouleurs, where her journey started, she was wearing a threadbare red dress. “What are you doing here, darling?” he asked. She answered in a straightforward manner: “I’ve come here to talk with the Lord of Baudricourt, so that he would send me to the King. He won’t hear me, but I’ll get there. Should I lose my feet I’ll walk on my knees. No one in the world, nor any King, nor any Duke, nor any daughter of the King of Scotland, nor anyone else, can take back the realm. The King shall have no succour but mine!” Jean de Metz fell head over heels for Joan. He escorted her himself to Chinon after he had her dressed as a man. He would then follow her for several months [1].

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Jeanne d'Arc. Joan of Arc. Prostituées. Prostitutes.
Joan of Arc chasing prostitutes away from the camp

Joan riles the Duke of Lorraine

However, before they left Vaucouleurs for Chinon, Jean de Metz went with Joan to meet The Duke of Lorraine. The latter had invited the Maid to his court because he thought she could be a healer of some sort. She candidly told the Duke to ditch his mistress and be faithful to his wife. Then she went on to ask if René of Anjou, the Duke’s future son-in-law, could accompany her to Chinon. The ten years old prince belonged to the highest nobility. He was cousin to the King. Joan really got some nerve. Yet her request was unabashedly denied [2].

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Charles VII.
Joan of Arc convinces Charles VII to go to Reims despite his advisors – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 61v

Joan Flames A Theologian

“I speak better French than you”

Joan eventually made her way to Chinon and met the King as she promised she would. At that point she was requested to meet theologians to vouch for her visions. Pierre Seguin was amongst those theologians and mighty doctors of the Church. He asked Joan which dialect she spoke. “I speak better French than you”, she replied, for he had a southern accent. He carried on to ask Joan to give a sign that she was indeed sent by God. She came out as sharp as a knife. “I didn’t come here to grant you tokens from God. Send me to Orleans. I’ll show you the sign you’re looking for. [3]

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Jeanne d'Arc. Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Troyes. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc and Charles VII are given the keys of the city of Troyes – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 62r

Joan of Arc Mocks Dunois

“I come by God’s own guidance, which is far safer and wiser than yours.”

Joan went on to Orleans. On her way over there, the French army rode up to the East of the city to cross the river Loire. It pissed Joan, for John Talbot and his troops were sitting West of Orleans. If there was ever a fearsome captain, it was John Talbot. I found various occurrence of French armies avoiding him or fleeing upon his arrival to avoid to face him. Yet Joan had wished to meet him head on. She walked right to the man responsible of the coward itinerary, the Bastard of Orleans himself. “Is it on your advice that we cross the river here and not where Talbot and the English are?” The Bastard was rather startled to be addressed in such a fashion. “Yes it was!” he boasted. Joan put him back to his place: “Know, Bastard, that I come by God’s own guidance, which is far safer and wiser than yours. Right at that moment, the winds which had been unfavourable to cross the Loire turned and made the crossing possible. The Bastard couldn’t believe in his own eyes. From that moment onwards he had faith in Joan [4].

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 5054

Nevertheless Joan got captured in Compiegne, after she helped to liberate Orleans. Once captured and faced with her enemies, however, Joan didn’t tune down.

Joan Knows What Awaits Her

“I know very well that the English will have me killed”

Back in the 15th century, the English already used to yell “God damn!” whenever something displeased them. Therefore the French came up with a derisive and derivative nickname for them: they called the English the “Godons”. Joan hated anyone to call out the name of the Lord in vain, but she called the English Godons herself. She did so, although imprisoned in a cell, right in front of the earls of Stafford and Warwick, who ranked amongst the most powerful men of England. “I know very well that the English will have me killed. Yet a hundred thousand Godons couldn’t take the kingdom.” Stafford got so mad he draw his dagger with the clear intent to kill her. Warwick through herself in front of Joan to protect her. He would later protect her too from rape. You see, Warwick was of a sound state of mind. He wanted Joan killed properly: on the pyre like a heretic after a due trial to rob her from her mystical charisma [5].

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Jeanne d'Arc. Joan of Arc. Paris. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc besieges Paris – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 66v

Joan Faces Her Judges

“Should you tear my limbs apart…”

Joan however kept a full grip of herself when she met her judges: an army of theologians from the University of Paris who longed for her death. They tried to catch her off guard with theological traps when asking her if she believed she had received the grace of God. “I don’t know if God granted me his grace. If he has, I pray that he keeps to do so. If he hasn’t, I pray that he extends it to me,” she answered. Then they asked if Saint Michel was naked when he visited her. She thought the idea utterly ludicrous: “Do you think Our Lord doesn’t have clothes for him?” Eventually she was threatened with torture. She feared nothing. “Should you tear my limbs apart or split my soul from my body, I wouldn’t tell you otherwise. Should I tell you otherwise, then I would always argue that you forced me to.” They ruled out torture. They went for entrapment. At the end Joan was burned because she took on her male clothes after she swore she would not put them on again. If there ever was a thin pretext to kill someone, it was that one [6].

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Illuminated Manuscript. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Compiègne.
Joan is being captured by the Burgundians at Compiègne – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 70r
Paris, BnF, latin 9473. St Michael. Devil. Satan.
St Michael Facing the Devil – Paris, BnF, lat. 9473, f. 166r

How Joan Ghosted Her Best Friend…

Joan was around eighteen years old when she went on her quest to rescue the King of France. She was no more than nineteen when she died. She answered to the powerful and the wealthy with nothing but confidence and cheek. Yet, there is one person she didn’t dare to face, Hauviette. The latter said: “I’ve known her since I was a child. We grew up together, you see. We had a fun sleeping next to each other in the same bed when we were kids. Joan was good, pure and sweet. She liked to go church. People often made remarks about it and she felt a bit ashamed… She was like any other girl. She’d tend to her house and to her father’s cattle. She could spin wool too. There was a big tree not far from the village. We called it the tree of the fairies. We’d go there, with some bread and some nuts, and we’d play. We never saw any fairies. There was none.” Then, she added: “When Joan definitely left the village, she told me nothing. I only learned afterwards that she was gone. I cried a lot. She was so good and I loved her so much. She was my friend. [7]

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Rouen. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc being burned as a heretic at Rouen – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 71r

More About Joan:

Quotes sources:

[1] Jules Quicherat, Procès de condamnation et de réhabilitation de Jeanne d’Arc. Paris: Jules Renouard, 1861-1869. Cf. t. 2, p. 436.
[2] Ibid., t. 3, 87.
[3] Ibid., t. 3, 204-205.
[4] Ibid., t. 3, 4-5.
[5] Ibid., t. 3, 122.
[6] Pierre Champion, Procès de Condamnation de Jeanne d’Arc. Paris: Honoré Champion, 1921. Cf. t. 2, p. 42, 151, 252-253.
[7] Quicherat (1861-1869), t. 2, 417-419.

Further readings:

Régine Pernoud & Marie-Véronique Clin, Jeanne d’Arc. Paris: Fayard, 1986
Philippe Contamine, Olivier Bouzy & Xavier Hélary, Jeanne d’Arc. Histoire et dictionnaire. Paris: Robert Laffont, 2012 (coll. Bouquins).

Short Reads

Knighthood 101. Is The Knighting Ceremony in Game of Thrones Anywhere Near Historically Accurate?

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

Who had knighting privileges in medieval Europe?

A popular series set in a medieval/fantasy universe had a knighting scene and the one doing the knighting claimed “You don’t need to be a king to Knight someone, you only need to be a knight”.

This just doesn’t sound viable since there would be insane knighting inflation. I imagined only a king or the leader of a Knightly Order could Knight someone.

What exactly were the rules around knighthood?

A question by u/TelegraphBlues on r/AskHistorians


My Answer

I really wanted to answer to that question on the AskHistorians subreddit. For two reasons: first, the scene referred to in the question really struck my feelings when I watched it because of how well acted and written it was; second, I had the knowledge and the necessary books at my disposal to answer in a fashion that would respect the AskHistorians community rules and expectations. Enjoy!

The Very Short Version

The short answer is that any knight could dub a squire to elevate him to knighthood. The long answer offers more contrast. The dubbing ceremony came into fashion in the 11th century. Originally it constituted in very little: a lord gave arms and armours to his vassals to help him into battle. This would also serve as a rite of passage into adulthood and to some extent, we can trace that rite all the way back to Germanic tribes (Keen, 1984, 66-67).

Early Mass Promotions to Knighthood

In the 12th century we observe ceremonies of mass promotions to knighthood. Therefore the knight becomes really distinct from the vassal. The dubbing ceremony gains in complexity and the multiplication of knights give them the feeling to belong to a social order apart from the rest of society. The techniques of warfare would however evolve drastically from the 13th to the 15th century. Crossbow became deadlier and firearms made their introduction. The knights therefore improved their physical protection and adopted the plate armour, which kept on being improved generation after generation.

Only the Best and Wealthiest

To be made a knight became a very pricy thing. Moreover the idea of knighthood was the object of more and more sophisticated theories. The behaviour expected from a knight, in and out of the battlefield, was codified to an extent that made it impossible for anyone to be randomly dubbed. At this point, I’d like to quote the Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology (2010, vol. 2, p. 468-469):

All knights were warriors, but not all warriors were knights. […] The concept of the knight as a distinct elite group of warriors began to emerge in the eleventh century. The words used to designate members of this group indicate that the origins of this class lay with the armed and mounted servants who formed a lord’s entourage, or comitatus. The latin word used for a knight from the eleventh century on was ‘miles,’ which in classical Latin meant a soldier and by the tenth century a servant. […] As church attitudes toward violence changed and certain sorts of warfare became theologically acceptable, the warrior rose in status, provided he fought for the right cause. Kings and other rulers made increasing use of knights as administrators. […] Knights regarded knighthood as a separate order in society. Knightly status became a sort of institution, with its own literature, ideals of behaviour, and rituals, such as the tournament and the ceremony of dubbing into knighthood. Initially, dubbing was simply a ceremony in which the lord presented his warriors with weapons and armor, but during the twelfth century the ceremony expanded to include a blessing of the new knight’s sword. […] As the defining characteristics of knighthood developed, the numbers of those entering this elite class of men declined. By the mid-thirteenth century in England and northern France, warriors of lesser means could no longer afford to undergo the public ritual that would make them knights. The social expectations of knights and the public responsibilities that they were expected to take on exceeded their means. Knighthood became an exclusive caste, limited to those who were descended from knights and had the means to maintain the status.

A Knight Always Pays his Debts

Wealth became a capital requirement for anyone to be elevated to knighthood. In a 15th century manuscript that describe how emperors and kings must be enthroned to power, we also find a paragraph on the making of knights (Paris, BnF, MS fr. 5930, f. 3r-4v):

Comment se doit faire ung chevalier

Escuier quant il a  bien voyagie et esté en plusieurs fais d’armes et qu’il a bien de quoy maintenir | son estat ou qu’il soit de grant hostel et de riche et qu’il se tienne en une rencontre ou bataille doit adviser le chief ou ung vaillant chevalier de la compaignie et lors doit venir à luy et lui demander et requérir chevalerie ou nom de Dieu et de saint Gorge. Et celui doit tirer son espee et le doit faire chevalier en disant : « Je te fay chevalier ou nom de Dieu et de saint Gorge, pour la foy et justice loyaulment garder, et à juste querelle soustenir loyaulment à ton povoir, en gardant l’Eglise, femmes, veusves et orphelins. » Et s’il advient qu’il soit noble homme ou vaillant et qu’il soit povre, le prince ne le doit laisser estre fait chevalier s’il ne lui donne de quoy il se puisse vivre honnestement pour l’onneur de l’ordre de chevalerie

How to dub a knight

When a squire has travelled much and been part of feats, if he has enough to provide for himself or if he is part of a great and wealthy house, he must advise his commander or a valiant knight at the beginning of a battle and request to be dubbed in the name of God and saint George. The latter must then draw out his sword and say: “I elevate you to knighthood in the name of God and Saint George, so that you would loyally defend the faith, fight honourable causes, and protect the Church, women, widows and orphans.” If the squire is a noble or valiant man but has no money for himself, the prince must not let him be elevated to knighthood unless he grants him enough to live a decent life.

Who’s Knighting Who?

This text also confirms that any knight could dub a squire. However, as Keen notes, “We have noticed in many early texts the anxiety of aspirant knights to receive knighthood at the hands of some lord of particular distinction or repute. In the later middle ages a still more particular dignity was associated with receiving knighthood at the hands of one who had established a name for himself as a knight of prowess by deeds recognised as outstanding.” (Keen, 1984, 77) My personal favourite promotion to knighthood is the one held for Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. Since his father had passed away, he turned to the most skilled, feared and respected knight of his court: John of Luxembourg, lord of Beaurevoir.

I will translate Chastellain directly on that one: “The Duke required the order of knighthood to John of Luxembourg while riding next to him, showing no emotion and talking in a cold manner, handing to the latter his sword: ‘Dear cousin, in the name of God I ask of you to grant me the title of knight.’ The foresaid Luxembourg received the request as a high mark of honour. He dubbed him, saying: ‘My Lord, in the name of God and Saint George, I elevate you to knighthood; may your Grace therefore become a knight as you and all of us will need you to be.” (George Chastellain, Oeuvres. Edited by the Académie royale de Belgique. Brussels: F. Heussner, 1863, p. 259) Afterwards, Philip the Good went on his way to dub other valiant squires in his ranks.

A Dubbing Was Pretty Much a Christening

We tend to forget however that the Church could also dub knights. Monstrelet’s son was dubbed knight of the Order of Jerusalem by the canons of Cambrai in 1444; read J. B. Dacier, « Mémoire sur la vie et les chroniques d’Enguerrand de Monstrelet » (1826). Keen addresses that matter quite extensively in his chapter “The ceremony of dubbing to knighthood”. He explores as to why and how the Church became the sole institution to anoint kings and emperors, but failed to monopolize the dubbing of knights. Yet, he observes: “The fact that so often knights were dubbed in church impressed on all minds that knighthood was a Christian calling, imposing broad obligations of Christian observance and morality, whether it was given in a church or not. Under the church’s influence, crusading, the martial pilgrimage, established itself firmly as the highest mode of expression of the chivalric virtues of courage and endurance. Ecclesiastical teaching also gave definition to the idea of chivalry as an order, possessing, as every order should, its rule of life, and instructed the knight about how he should view his individual discharge of his office as a Christian duty.” (Keen, 1984, 76)

When is it Good to be Knighted?

Any knight could therefore dub another knight, but the prerequisites to become a knight made it impossible for any “insane knighting inflation” to ever happen. Matters of wealth, moral code and lifestyle strictly limited the access to knighthood, more and more so from the 12th to the 15th century.

I’d like to end this post as it should with a last observation made by Keen: “A number of late medieval sources mention three normal occasions for receiving knighthood. It may be given, they say, when the emperor or a king holds a solemn court, or at his coronation; usually the ceremony will take place in a church, after the bath and vigil, and the prince himself ‘or some other lord who is a knight’ will gird the aspirants. […] The second occasion for taking knighthood that they mention is on pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, the rise of which practice we have also traced. The third occasion for taking knighthood that they all mention is on the eve of battle, or of the storming of a city, when men seek knighthood ‘in order that their strength and virtue may be greater’. From the latter part of the thirteenth century on, this became a very common occasion for the taking of knighthood. […] In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the making of knights became almost a regular feature of the eve of battle, and the pages of such chronicles as Froissart [and Monstrelet] are in consequence full of references to such creations.” (Keen, 1984, 79-80)

Medieval Literature on Knighthood:

Bernard of Clairvaux, In Praise of new knighthood (1129)
Ramon Llull, The Book of the Order of Chivalry (1279-1283)
Honoré Bonet, The Tree of Battles (1382-1387)
Christine de Pizan, Livre des fais d’armes et de chevalerie (1410)

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2678, f. 364r ~ Knights had the strict interdiction to flee the battlefield.
It was regarded as a great dishonnor and chronicler seldom make up excuses
for such behaviour when they write on knights that they know personnally.

Modern Studies on Knighthood:

Peter Coss, The Knight in Medieval England, 1000-1400. Stroud, U.K.: Alan Sutton, 1993.
Georges Duby, The Chivalrous Society. Translated by Cynthia Postan. London: Edward Arnold, 1977.
Maurice Keen, Chivalry. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984.
Malcolm Vale, War and Chivalry. Warfare and aristocratic culture in England, France and Burgundy at the end of the Middle Ages. Liverpool: Duckworth, 1981.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2678, f. 372v ~The best tactic was often to charge an enemy caught off guard.
There was no shame in defeating an enemy that was unprepared for battle,
it showed shrewdness, a quality most valuable to knights.