The Pas d’Armes and Its Occurrences in Malory

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Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,019 words

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[(essay date 1980) In the following essay, Annunziata discusses the origin of the pas d’armes, the late medieval ritual of ceremonial battle, arguing that historical examples were typically based upon literary models, including Arthurian romances. Annunziata discusses the occurrence of pas d’armes jousts in one of the best-known pieces of Arthurian literature, Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.]

A discussion of the pas d’armes, or passage of arms, can begin with a brief account of the chivalric ceremony of the round table, which was earlier than the pas d’armes and closely related to it. In the Introduction to his edition of “Sir Cauline,” Bishop Percy remarked that “any king was said to ‘hold a round table’ when he proclaimed a tournament attended with some peculiar solemnities.”1 A round table was sponsored either by a king or, occasionally, by a very great noble, and it combined two features of chivalric ceremony: in the field there was a tournament, an opportunity for knights to show military prowess, or fortitudo, in arms; in the hall there was a feast, an opportunity to show regal magnificence, also an expression of fortitudo. The term “round table” thus signified a combination of ritual fighting and feasting sponsored by a king or great lord of regal status and usually held in imitation of one of the chief festivals of Arthurian romance. Participation was restricted to selected guests, who were specifically invited to join the round table for the ceremonies involved. As a chivalric ceremony, the round table seems to have ended in the late fourteenth century.

In 1389 when Boucicaut held his famous feat of arms at St. Ingelbert, the event is referred to in Le Livre des faicts du Marêchal de Boucicaut as a round table:And so Boucicaut set up his equipment there in a magnificent and honorable way and ordered a supply of excellent wines and food, graciously and plentifully, and all else that was necessary to hold a round table for all comers during the prescribed time. And this he did at his own expense.2Despite the use of the term “round table,” however, Boucicaut’s ceremony was a pas d’armes. The confusion of terminology is not surprising, because this is among the earliest examples of the late medieval ceremony of the pas d’armes,3 an imitation of the sort of adventures encountered by Arthur’s knights, such as the guarding of a fountain against all comers in Chrétien’s Yvain. These passages of arms were, in general, sponsored by individual knights, not by kings or great lords, although knights did need permission from their lords to hold a pas d’armes. Unlike the round table, which was for invited guests only, the pas d’armes was open to all challengers of the knightly class, as in the passage quoted above. It was widely announced and set up according to both general and local rules called the chapitres d’armes. These rules were frequently elaborate, as in Jacques de Lalaing’s Pas de la fontaine des pleurs, where they fill...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420114765