Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Knight on a Pedestal: Sir Geoffroi de Charny

Who was Sir Geoffroi de Charny and what made him special?

The French knight was born around 1300 CE.  His father, Jean de Charny was the Lord of Lirey in Burgundy and his mother was Margaret de Joinville.  Jean de Joinville counted himself as a close friend of King Louie IX.  As a younger son, Geoffroi tried to keep out of trouble as he was taught the typical skills of a knight until he married his first wife, Jeanne de Toucy.  Jeanne brought Pierre-Perthius, a castle, complete with lands. After Jeanne’s death in 1341, Geoffroi married again, this time to Jeanne de Vergy. His second wife was the Lady of Montfort and Savoisy. Jeanne bore Geoffroi a son, Geoffroy, and a daughter, Charlotte.

Charny might be described as a typical lord of his time: proud, impetuous, pious, and loyal to his King and Country. As an individual knight, he was a well-travelled man. He willingly went wherever his King willed him. It is well documented de Charny was in Scotland by order of the French King and Geoffroi was taken prisoner in Flanders. Geoffroi accompanied Humbert II to the Holy Lands in 1345 for a crusade, but abandoned the attempt in Rhodes after an attack. Geoffroi returned to France.

Geoffroi was a man of principles. One famous anecdote concerned a man, Aimery of Pavia, who supposedly was foresworn during a campaign to take Calais in 1349. The attempt was done during midnight, but the English were waiting, lead by Edward III. During the subsequent fight, Geoffroi was injured and taken captive by Sir John Potenhale. Sir Potenhale was rewarded by the Black Prince (Edward III), who’d fought under a disguise. The French King Jean II ransomed Sir Geoffroi de Charny.

Angry at being betrayed, Charny planned out his revenge. He entered Aimery’s home at St. Omer. The traitor was supposedly in bed with his English mistress, Marguerite, when Geoffroi arrived. He dragged the knight out of his home, decapitated him, quartered his body, and displayed the parts at the town gates.

During his service to King John II of France, Geoffroi was a founding member of The Order of the Star, in November 6, 1351. The Order of the Star was the French equivalent to the English Order of the Garter. Members were sworn never to turn their backs on the enemy or retreat more than four steps back. This provision was the death knell at the Battle of Poitiers,during the Hundred Years War, for the King of France and his knights.

King John II also designated Geoffroi the honor of carrying the Oriflamme – the official banner of the French Crown. Whoever was the carrier of the Oriflamme, the banner of the French Royal house, was expected to stick close to the King and protect the Oriflamme. Geoffroi had Papal approval to cast a medal, or badge, for pilgrims who came to his family’s home to view the Shroud of Turin. It is unknown how the Shroud had came in to the Charny family’s possession,  but it remained with them for one hundred years, give or take a few, until it passed to the Savoy family.

Geoffroi met his end at the Battle of Poitiers during the Hundred Years War. Edward III and his English long bow archers decimated the French knights, who tried to fight a traditional war with heavy cavalry. The English used long bowmen to decimate the knights. King John II and his son, Prince Phillip were captured. Geoffroi, along with a host of French nobility killed including Peter I, the Duke of Bourbon(killed); the Constable of France, Walter VI the County of Brienne (killed); and, Jean de Clermont the Marshall of France (killed).

Sir Geoffroi de Charny isn’t famous for his occasional bout of knight-rage. Geoffroi wrote three books during his lifetime. His writings, or treatises, were most likely dictated to a cleric (monk) during the period when Charny was serving the Royal house. Livre de chevalerie is a treatise on life and a guide to living according to the values of chivalry. Demandes puor la joute, les tournois et la guerre is an extensive series of thoughtful questions regarding jousting and tournaments. Book of Chivalry speaks of to lifestyle of the knight as it applies to all aspects of his life. The Book of Chivalry covers religion, socioeconomic structure, politics, love, military training, and women.

Charny was considered the epitime of knighthood during his time. Geoffroi's books were more than rants by a man, they were almost textbooks on the progression from squire to knight. Due partly to his deeds, but mainly because of his books, Sir Geoffroi de Charny’s name has lasted well beyond his death. He was the flower of Chivalry greatness, held up as a model for young nobility to emulate.

For further reading:

The Book of Chivalry, Text, Content, and Translations
Kaeuper, Richard and Elspeth Kennedy
University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1996
ISBN #0-8122-1579-6

Keen, Maurice
Yale University Press, 1984

Jousts and Tournaments, Chivalry and the Rules for Chivalric Sport in the Fourteeth Century France
Muhlberger, Steven
Chivalry Bookshelf, 2002

Stay safe out there!

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