Short note – About crossbowmen post 1440.

The next post, on the theme of Plague, Medicine, Money and Secrecy, will refer again to France and to Burgundy, so this seems a suitable moment to publish matter originally written as postscript to my post of September 11th., 2022, in which Dukes of Burgundy are listed as notable early book-collectors and bibliophiles.

Here are the paragraphs to which the information was initially linked, as postscript, in that post.

At this juncture kings and princes began to develop a taste for books and to form libraries; that of St. Louis* was one of the earliest. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries these amateurs had in their pay veritable armies of copyists. Thenceforth it was they who directed the movement of the production of manuscripts.

*Louis IX of France, reigned 1226 to 1270 AD.

The most famous were Popes John XXII (1316-34), Benedict XII (1334-42); the poet Petrarch (1304-74), who was not satisfied with purchasing the manuscripts in convents but himself formed a school of copyists in order to have accurate texts, the King of France, Charles V (1364-1380), who collected in the Louvre a library of twelve hundred volumes [subsequently purchased in 1424 by John of Lancaster as Duke of Bedford and Prince Regent of France – D], the French princes Jean, Duke of Berry, a forerunner of modern bibliophiles (1340-1416), Louis Duke of Orléans (1371-1401) and his son Charles of Orléans (d. 1467), the dukes of Burgundy, the kings of Naples, and Matthias Corvinus. Also worthy of mention are Richard of Bury, Chancellor of England, Louis of Bruges (d. 1492), and Cardinal Georges d’Amboise (1460-1510)

from from: ‘O’Donovan notes: Calendar emblems “July” – The making of manuscripts’ voynichrevisionist, September 11th., 2022. Source cited in the earlier post.

Deciding to cut it from that post, I later added it – again as postscript – to the post of December 19th., 2022 but once more it was cut as a bit tangential.

So now here it is at last, and upgraded from incidental postscript to a post of its own. 🙂

Images of Crossbowmen in German calendars after 1440.

The mid-fifteenth century was still a time when German-speaking regions were looking to France and to Italy for their fashions – in clothing, in literature, and in styles for manuscript-illuminations. I’d suggest it worth considering, as one reason for the proliferation of crossbowmen in German works made after 1440, that it had been in that same year of 1440 that Philip the Good of Burgundy had taken part, as a competitor, in a crossbow-shooting competition in Ghent, this competition being part of a festival that lasted for weeks and officially eliminated the last trace of impropriety which had earlier attached to use of that weapon.

As Crombie reports, it was on 13th March, 1440, that the Ghent crossbow guild invited to a great crossbow competition ‘kings, lords, provosts, deans, wardens… and other honourable men and communities of crossbowmen ‘in privileged and free towns’ to what it described as “the honourable, right and proper” pastime of crossbow shooting. The word ‘game’ still described the exercise of learned skills as a form of pleasure. The sense in which we mean ‘game’ as a trivial, or at least non-serious activity, was still rare.

For the benefit of American and other modern, non-European readers who may not realise the extraordinary deference, amounting to what non-Europeans would see as near-worship, which northern Europeans paid to members of the nobility in those days, I should add that this deference went .far beyond simple snobbery or social ambition and might see a member of the nobility treated as almost more than human.

In the case of Philip and the impact of his decision to compete in that crossbow competition, it has to be kept in mind that he was not only Duke of Burgundy but part of the genealogical tree which included the Valois Kings of France during the fifteenth century. So when John took up that crossbow in so public a place at a time of political tensions, that act created more than just a local ‘stir’. It was quite enough to remove finally the stigma which had earlier attached to the weapon but more importantly for that time, served as an act of international diplomacy.

On those political tensions between Burgundy and more northern regions, any good history of the period will provide details.

German crossbow guilds/fraternities were, I believe, established from that year but am open to correction on the point.*

*I have read a paper on the subject of the German crossbow guilds but it was a few years ago and I cannot for the life of me now recall its details. It was well illustrated, as I recall.

  • Laura Crombie, ‘Shooting for prizes and honour’, Medieval Warfare , JUL / AUG 2017, Vol. 7, No. 3. pp. 40-45
  • Laura Crombie, Archery and Crossbow Guilds in Medieval Flanders, 1300-1500, Boydell Press (2016). A number of the chapters were released separately as essays.

Having already analysed the Voynich ‘December’ emblem in detail elsewhere, I’ll summarise by saying that with all due respect to the conscientious effort made by Jens Sensfelder in 2003, his reservations and doubts – so honestly expressed – were well-founded. The bow cannot be asserted uniquely German or uniquely fifteenth-century.

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