Textual commemorations

Pas d'armes were at once spectacular and ephemeral events in terms of how they were commemorated. Whilst shields with the competitors' coats of arms were sometimes taken away once the combats were over to be displayed in buildings such as a castle, a church or a hospital, no statues commemorating these feats have survived and no medals were struck.

The Livre des faits de messire Jacques de Lalaing was compiled from various sources by an unnamed author, but the frontispiece depicts him as the Burgundian King of Arms, Golden Fleece (Jean Lefèvre de Saint-Rémy at the time of the event) whose record of the Pas de la Fontaine des Pleurs, at which he had been a judge, was incorporated into it. Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum 114, fol. 1r. Photo: Getty.

By far the most durable form of commemoration of a pas d'armes was therefore the written text, whether a narrative account (in prose or verse) or a financial record. Many authors of these narratives were heralds who had been involved in publicising the event, such as Orléans Herald who explicitly names himself as the author of the account of the Pas des armes de Sandricourt (1493). Others do not give their names but were most likely responsible for commemorating the Pas du Perron Fée (1463) and the Pas of Carignano (1504). Heralds were probably involved in writing up other types of narrative text too, such as the chivalric biography known as the Livre des faits de messire Jacques de Lalaing (early 1470s), which has an account of the Pas de la Fontaine des Pleurs (1449-50). Heralds' reports of pas d'armes could also serve as the basis for chroniclers to write up their own versions, as Olivier de La Marche, the prolific Burgundian historiographer, freely acknowledges. Finally, and most unusually, the account of the Pas de la Bergère (1449) was composed by Louis de Beauvau, a knight from Anjou who had actually jousted at the event himself. As he himself says, he could not resist the temptation to mention how he had performed in the lists as this was all in the interests of telling the complete truth about this particular pas d'armes...

Authorial priorities

Contrary to what we might perhaps expect, the authors of pas d'armes narratives were not exclusively concerned with noting the winners of a specific event. Their primary focus was on using their record of it as a means of teaching their readers about chivalry through recounting the fine martial deeds performed by those knights who had recently competed at a pas d'armes. Their accounts were therefore meant to be both commemorative and prescriptive so that the readers followed these knights' good example in their own lives.

Some pas d'armes authors often dealt quite briefly with the actual scoring aspect of these events, noting the number of lances broken, how many blows or strokes with sword or pollaxe were exchanged, who had dropped his weapon and who had fallen to the ground, etc. Others went into far greater detail, more in the manner of a modern sports commentary, explaining who had performed particularly well and given the entrepreneur a real run for his money or who had failed to make his mark. They also noted rare instances of unsporting conduct, such as when a defeated challenger refused to pay a forfeit that the judges had imposed on him or when a man had injured or even killed his opponent's horse.

Knights competing in the 'Tenebrous Crossroads' event at the Pas des armes de Sandricourt. Paris, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, 3958 Réserve, fol. 9v. Photo: Arsenal.

Of particular interest to many of these authors was the spectacle of the pas d'armes. They therefore paid a lot of attention to how each competitor entered the lists, which high-ranking figures accompanied him, how lavishly he - and his horse - were dressed (e.g. in silk, satin, velvet, cloth of gold, and with jewels and gold ornaments ), what the crest on top of his helm was made of (e.g. egret plumes, expensive veils, etc.), and even how many times an entrepreneur changed his outfits in the course of a multi-day event.

Click here to read a translated extract from the Pas du Perron Fée (Bruges, 1463), recounting how various competitors made their entry into the lists, what they wore and how they fared in the joust
Monseigneur Jean de Luxembourg came accompanied by Monseigneur de Saint-Pol, Monseigneur Jacques his brother, Monseigneur the count of Brienne the eldest son of Saint-Pol, Monseigneur de Fiennes and several other knights and squires. His horse's trappings consisted solely of a velvet caparison with a border of cloth of gold. His principal page carried a lance of war and his horse's caparison was made of black velvet with a tan-coloured velvet border. The caparison of the second page was of crimson cloth of gold with a black velvet border. The knight [i.e. the entrepreneur, Philippe de Lalaing] broke his lance but my lord Jean didn't; however, he managed to strike twenty-seven times with his sword and the knight only six times. This suggests that, because of my lord Jean's youthful age, the knight, who was full of courtesy, held back and was content to spare his opponent. [...]

Messire Antoine, bastard of Brabant, was preceded by a man on horseback dressed in yellow who was led by a great giant with a wild man flanking him on each side; on his helm was a clutch of fine feathers and, on top of that, a crimson crest laden with gold decorative elements. His horse's caparison was of blue velvet wth a border of gold thread, golden teardrops and little silver bells shaped like pears; sitting on top of the horse's rump was a large, round-shaped bell. The knight broke his lance but Messire Antoine didn't; the knight managed twenty-seven strokes with the sword and Messire Antoine fourteen. [...]

Messire Joost van Wassenaar was led into the lists by two men dressed in white and blue who were wearing gowns with wide sleeves that were open behind and hoods in the same colours. They had liripipes wrapped round their heads and were wearing masks and grey beards; one of them was playing a little set of bagpipes and the other a wooden reeded instrument. On his helm he wore a black plume and a length of cloth; on his horse was a caparison of violet velvet with a border in black cloth of gold. [...] He broke none of his lances whereas the knight broke three.

Original source: Chloé Horn, Anne Rochebouet and Michelle Szkilnik, eds, Le Pas du Perron Fée (Édition des manuscrits Paris, BnF fr 5739 et Lille BU 104) (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2013), pp. 178, 181, 192.

Click here to read a translated extract recounting a foot combat with pollaxes fought between the disguised entrepreneur, Jacques de Lalaing, and Jean de Boniface (also known as the 'Sicilian knight') at the Pas de la Fontaine des Pleurs (Chalon-sur-Saône, 1449-50)
Once all the proclamations and orders had been announced, the knight-defender of the Pas emerged from his pavilion; he was armed and wore a white tunic strewn with blue tears and a sallet on his head. Boniface was fully armed, with a basinet on his head [...]. With his visor down, he approached the knight-defender of the Pas who walked towards him with bold strides. The two men fought with pollaxes and dealt each other tremendously heavy blows. After they had exchanged ten or twelve strokes of the pollaxe, the knight-defender of the Pas grabbed hold of Boniface’s weapon with his right hand whilst holding his own pollaxe in his left hand and struck three blows with the thrusting spike of it on his opponent’s visor. Once he had done this, the knight of the Pas let go of Boniface’s pollaxe and instead took hold of the crest that he wore on his helmet; he pulled him over so roughly that he caused him to fall full-length to the ground. On seeing the Sicilian knight lying on the ground, the judge ordered the guards to lift him up and bring him over; they were also commanded to bring over the knight-defender of the Pas. When both men were standing in front of him, the judge told them that, according to the content of the chapters, the fight was now over. To this, Boniface replied that he did not wish to go against either the judge or the chapters and he begged the judge to do him the courtesy of informing him of the identity of the knight with whom he had just been fighting. The judge made the two men embrace and touch hands. They did so, delighted at recognising each other from the feat of arms that they had previously performed against each other in the good town of Ghent.

Translated by Rosalind Brown-Grant and Mario Damen, A Chivalric Life: The Book of the Deeds of Messire Jacques de Lalaing (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2022), pp. 228-9.

Click here to read a translated extract recounting the adventure 'in the manner of knights-errant' that took place in the 'Labyrinthine Forest' at the Pas des armes de Sandricourt (1493)
As they made their way out of the castle, the knights-errant rode along two by two, some here and others there, through the fields and woods wherever they thought that they might come across some adventure. Likewise, on their entry into the forest, those from the attacking teams split up in order to see what they might encounter. As they were on their quest, Louis de Hédouville, lord of Sandricourt, and Picart the bailiff, from the attacking team, found themselves in the forest and so, with lances couched, they ran their horses at each other and struck so fiercely that it was as if a storm and a whirlwind were tearing through the trees. On impact, their lances were broken and the two men stayed upright, putting their hands to their swords and fighting for quite some time. In the end, however, Picart the bailiff was disarmed of his sword by the lord of Sandricourt. The lord of Clermont, riding through the forest that day, fought against three different knights on the attacking team, acquitting himself with great vigour for he refused no one who made his way over to fight him. In various different places, whether in the fields or in the woods, these knights-errant encountered each other and fought there all day long without rest. They were in so many different places that, as far as the eye could see, there were knights locked in combat with one another, displaying so many feats of arms that were deserving of praise. That day, the lord of Saint-Vallier did not take part because he had sustained a wound to his hand, but he acted as a servant to the lord of Clermont the whole time in the forest and was very unhappy at not being able to be present with his companions. On one side and on the other, many lances were broken and many fine deeds of arms were performed there, such that it would take a long time to recount if all were to be committed to memory.'

Original source: Augustin Vayssière, ed., Le Pas des armes de Sandricourt. Relation d’un Tournoi donné en 1493 au château de ce nom, publié d’après un manuscrit de la Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal et l’imprimé du temps (Paris: Léon Willem, 1874), pp. 49-51.

Click here to read a translated extract recounting an unfortunate death in the lists at the Paso Honroso (Órbigo Bridge, Léon, 1434) organised by entrepreneur Suero de Quiñones

The very vivid description from the narrative account of this event by the chronicler Pero Rodríguez de Lena certainly made an impression on one reader who wrote, in the margin of their manuscript copy, the word 'Muerte' (Death!)...

In the ninth course, Suero, son of Álvar Gómez, struck the aforenamed unfortunate Asbert de Claramunt through the eye-slit of the helmet, and he dealt him such a mighty blow that he pushed the entire head of the lance through his left eye socket into his brains. He made his eye pop out of the socket, and he broke his lance in it with a palm's length of the shaft and with the lance-head, which Asbert de Claramunt bore stuck through the eye-slit of the helmet with the piece of the broken lance, and through his eye, as is described to you. Thus he leant a little over the tilt until he fell dead from his horse to the ground. And he died so suddenly that as quickly as they managed to go to his aid, they never heard him utter a word, nor move an arm or leg.

Translated by Noel Fallows, Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2010), pp. 482-3.

Patrons and readers of narrative accounts

Whilst many pas d'armes narratives survive in a sole manuscript lacking any decoration, others have been preserved in single or even multiple lavishly illustrated copies. The people who commissioned or owned these deluxe manuscripts often did so for the purpose of memorialisation, that is to enhance their own memory or that of past members of their own families.

Page from an unillustrated manuscript of the Livre des faits de messire Jacques de Lalaing. Rijksarchief Kortrijk, Verzameling Jacques Goethals-Vercruysse, 325, fol. 8r. Photo: Rijksarchief.

The most heavily illustrated pas d'armes manuscript, that of the Pas de la Joyeuse Garde/Pas de Saumur (Saint Petersburg, National Library of Russia, fr. F. p. XIV, 4), which has nearly 90 miniatures, was probably commissioned by one of the daughters of the event's entrepreneur, René of Anjou. This is most likely to have been Yolande of Anjou, who was married to Ferry II de Vaudémont-Lorraine, the winner of the pas, as a way of preserving her husband's memory for posterity.

The Livre des faits de messire Jacques de Lalaing, which records the hero's deeds as entrepreneur of the Pas de la Fontaine des Pleurs, survives in at least twelve copies, three of them illustrated with 18 images apiece. These were mostly owned by later members of the Lalaing dynasty who saw them as monuments to their family's history and often included other narratives or documents recounting their famous ancestors' exploits, such as the Pas du Perron Fée defended by Philippe, brother of Jacques.

The Pas des armes de Sandricourt is the first pas d'armes narrative to appear in early printed book form (1490s). Whilst cheaper paper copies without illustrations would have appealed to a broad readership, more expensive illuminated copies on vellum (calf-skin) were also produced, probably for those like the chief entrepreneur, Louis de Hédouville, and other high-ranking competitors, who wanted their own permanent and luxurious souvenir of the event.

Page from the illuminated early printed book copy on vellum of the Pas des armes de Sandricourt: text and image (painted by hand) were purposely designed to look like an expensive manuscript. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Vélins 1033, fol. B3v. Photo: BnF.