- A Virtuous Knight. Defending Marshal Boucicaut (Jean II Le Meingre, 1366-1421) by Craig Taylor
Marshal Boucicaut was a crucial figure during the reign of Charles VI of France, born in Tours in 1366. His father, Jean I Le Meingre, had himself been a knight who served Charles V. His son, the subject of this book, was knighted in 1382, was appointed the marshal of France by the king in 1391, and took part in some of the most important events in the reign of the king: the Battle of Roosebeke, the battle of Nicopolis, and the battle of Agincourt. He died in captivity in 1421 after he was taken prisoner at Agincourt; his body was eventually brought back to France and buried in the Saint Martin Basilica in Tours.
In his book, Craig Taylor produces what can only be defined as an extraordinary piece of scholarship on not only the marshal himself, but, more generally, on the historical, political, and cultural events that happened during his life. After a chronology of the life of the knight and an introduction presenting the project, the books starts with chapter one, "The Life of Jean II Le Meingre, dit Boucicaut (1366-1421)" proposes a detailed account of the life of Boucicaut; Taylor insists how his account uses previously published works, such as those of Denis Lalande and earlier accounts by Delaville Le Roulx and Valois (9). Generally, Taylor's abundant use and analysis of primary and secondary sources, and how they are discussed and criticized in one of the most important points to acknowledge in his book. Chapter 2, "The Livre des fais du bon messier Jehan Le Maingre" examines the writing and the audience of the book, and notably proposes a thorough analysis of who its author might have been, and a fascinating discussion on the reasons why its author decided to remain anonymous. Chapter 3, "Defending the Marshal," is the [End Page 117] most impressive in this great book. Taylor explains the double issue that the author addresses in the Livre. It praises the glorious victories of the marshal; however, Taylor also explains that "the narrative could not mask the plain truth that the marshal had endured many disasters and setbacks" (74). The constant balance between these two sides of the life of the marshal and the fact that none of the mistakes he made are omitted in the book demonstrates how the author was attached to the idea of proposing a full, and complete vision of the man and of his life.
In chapter 4, "A Flower of Knighthood," Taylor examines how Boucicaut is described as a knight "who consistently demonstrated prowess, courage, and loyalty throughout his career, and thereby impressed his patrons and his peers" (127). However, Taylor also emphasizes the important fact that the Livre does not insomuch focus on the nobility of the actions, but rather on the actions themselves. He questions how honor was understood by the marshal and its biographer, arguing that there was an opposition between what Christine de Pizan defined as honor dependent upon service to the crown, and a notion of honor solely based on prowess and courage (128). Chapter 5, "The Virtues, the Good Habits and the Good Disposition of the Marshal" posits that Nicolas de Gonesse (who was in service of Boucicaut in Genoa, and who Hélène Millet and Craig Taylor argued played a role in the writing of the Livre), painted Boucicaut as a moral and noble person "in order to deny that any misfortune he had suffered could be regarded as a divine judgment against him" (10). The representation of the marshal and his actions is central to this chapter, which questions how the writing of the book (re)created the personality of the knight. Following a conclusion, the book ends with a bibliography and an index. It should be noted that Taylor's bibliography is probably the most complete and the most impressive on the subject; just consulting it already makes this book necessary for whoever is...