- Supplanting the Sword:The Crossbow and Shifting Perspectives of Masculinity in Díaz de Games El Victorial
Gutierre Díaz de Games's El Victorial (1436)–one of a few fifteenth century chronicles that exalt real knights1–describes the life and exploits of Pero Niño, a Castilian nobleman born in the latter part of the fourteenth century, raised in the house of Enrique III, and active militarily during the early fifteenth century. The work designates its protagonist as an exemplary knight, as stated in the "Proemio": "La causa material en aquesta obra es oficio e arte de cavallería; la causa eficiente es quién la fizo; la causa formal es loar los fechos de un buen cavallero; la causa final es provecho" (5). With this in mind, Díaz de Games–one of Pero Niño's lieutenants2–crafts "una narración histórica tan veraz y ordenada, tan exacta y rica en datos como la de una verdadera crónica" (Beltrán 474). According to Michael Harney, "the work may be regarded as the non-fictional counterpart to the chivalric romances, which often present themselves as biographical accounts" (34). The text's veracity, though, depends on Díaz de Games's recollection of events he purports to have witnessed some thirty to forty years prior to writing; in reality, as Rafael Beltrán argues, the author likely committed to memory certain prominent experiences, while embellishing other details (474).
Apart from Beltrán's efforts, this work's gamut of military exploits has largely escaped the attention of scholars. El Victorial, with its mixture of historical and invented content, preserves unique examples of how its contemporaries [End Page 381] conceived chivalric exemplarity at a time when warfare was undergoing tremendous change.3 For instance, Díaz de Games affords the crossbow a key role in Pero Niño's manly characterization instead of the sword, the weapon most commonly associated with military exemplarity. Although widely used throughout the medieval battlefield, the crossbow remained for the most part an unsuitable weapon for noble acclaim due to its reputation as being "unchivalrous" (Jones 48). Yet, in El Victorial, Pero Niño operates the crossbow for both utilitarian and symbolic purposes, and his successful handling of the weapon provides the agency for his masculine construction. As a result, Díaz de Games's treatment of the crossbow suggests the presence of a shift in chivalric thinking that embraces dynamic weapons in the same vein as traditionally symbolic ones such as the sword.
Historically, the sword was emblematic of a nobleman's hereditary rights to leadership (DeVries 19; Von Bloh 203), and, putting aside any phallic implications, was an extension of the knight's being and manliness. The weapon served as a symbol of a spiritual knighthood while also a choice armament for self-defense (Jones 44). In the "Introduction" to his foundational study of the medieval European sword, Ewart Oakeshott describes it as "a most noble weapon, which once had high significance in the minds of men, and fulfilled the most vital and personal service in their hands" (11). Don Juan Manuel, one of Spain's earliest philosophers of chivalry and nephew to the Wise King Alfonso the 10th, writes that "Et esta espada significa tres cosas: la primera, fortaleza porque es de fierro; la segunda, justicia porque corta de ambas las partes; la tercera, la cruz."4 Similarly, Ramon Llull–the late 14th century Majorcan philosopher and writer–characterizes it as "hecha a semejanza de la cruz para significar que, así como Nuestro Señor Jesucristo venció en la cruz a la muerte en la que habíamos caído por el pecado de nues-tro padre Adán, el caballero debe vencer y destruir con la espada a los enemigos de la Cruz" (90). In many instances, as with the Cid's swords "la Tizona" and "la Colada" appearing famously in the Poema de Mio Cid, the weapon reflected prowess if won in battle, and was considered a treasure to be passed down through the family for generations. [End Page 382]
The crossbow hardly garners the same esteem, making any associations between...