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Otto Cartellieri, The Court of Burgundy

Drawing extensively on the writings of Olivier de la Marche, Cartellieri in these excerpts presents a valuable picture of the nature of life at the court of the Valois Dukes of Burgundy.

Excerpt from Otto Cartellieri, The Court of Burgundy, p. 64: Duke Philip and his son submitted themselves unconditionally to the laws of etiquette and demanded a like submission from their servants, from the highest to the lowest, from the chancellor to kitchen-boy....

Every detail of life at Court was very strictly regulated. The guiding principle was that nothing was dishonourable /p. 65: if it was done in the service of the sovereign. It was the greatest honour to serve the prince in his most intimate and private affairs. Two matters were of supreme importance, firstly to protect the prince from injury, and secondly to show him due respect. Here again the spiritual exercised an influence over the temporal. Just as no one shrank from an apotheosis of the sovereign, so in matters of ceremony no one hesitated to borrow examples from the hold observance of the church. In the description of the quatre estaz que servent le corps et la bouche du prince, the panetiers and cupbearers are mentioned first. The justification for their office is that what they do is done in honour of the Holy Sacrament and in memory of the dear Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Many details seem to have been copied from the Mass itself. At the same time precaution was absolutely necessary. The possibility of poison could never be ignored.

The napkin with which the prince dried his hands was kissed when the sommelier delivered it to the panetier; in the same way the valet-servant touched with his lips the handles of the two large knives, which were laid at the Duke's place at table., the fruitier in like manner kissed the torch which was intended for the ruler. Bareheaded, the valets and pages carried the dishes from the kitchen to the dining hall, the squires knelt frequently before the prince. The manner in which the various articles were to be held was carefully prescribed, the salt-cellar between the foot and the girdle, the drinking vessel at the foot. When the prince had finished drinking, the cup-bearer received the cup with great reverence.

The chronicler Olivier de La Marche, who served the House of Burgundy also as a diplomatist and soldier, actor and stage-manager, has left us a valuable description of life at the Court of Charles the Bold and of the rules of conduct and the order of precedence which had to be observed.

He commences first with the service of God and the ordering of the ducal chapel. A bishop supervised the chapel, supported by forty clergy, priests, confessors and musicians. Before the prince left a town upon his journeys the almoner had first to present him with a list of those who were to receive gifts.

Next came the Council. Here the chancellor was supreme. A bishop served as his deputy, and numerous officials, four /p. 66: knights, eight maîtres de requêtes, fifteen secretaries, huissiers and quartermasters were in attendance to execute his orders.

Public audiences were held two or three times a week. These were open to all, and here the poor and lowly could present their complaints against their betters. Duke Charles sat on his throne on a raised daïs beneath a canopy of tapestry. Two maîtres de requêtes and an audiencier knelt before him and presented the petitions, while a secretary also on his knees, took note of the proceedings. The whole Court, the household, the princes of the blood, and envoys, had all to be present, often much to their annoyance. But not one of them we are told, would have dared to absent himself.

A special council dealt with matters relating to war which de La Marche regards as a separate branch of justice. He calls it Justice of the Strong Hand. The chancellor, the first chamberlain, and the comptrollers of the Court were among the members. Many of the court officials possessed at the same time military rank. Thus in case of war the first panetier and the first cup-bearer were squadron leaders and their esquires were attached to them.

The maître de la chambre aux denier controlled the treasury. The ordinary expenditure for the household and the salaries exceeded 400,000 livres a year. The ordinary budget of the war treasurer amounted to 800,000 livres, the extraordinary budget as a rule to 160,000 livres. The argentier, who had to defray the cost of the legations and journeys, as well as the necessary gifts and the wardrobe, spent at least 200,000 livres a year. The Duke frequently took part in the meetings of the Treasury. He signed all authorizations for gifts, as well as the accounts and documents. He sat at one end of the board and calculated like the others, with this difference that whereas the officials used silver counters for reckoning, the Duke had counters of gold.

The garde des joyaux and his assistant had the custody of the jewels, the gold and silver services, the prince's private savings, and the sacred vessels of the chapel; they controlled between them probably a million in gold.

In the household the Grand Pensioners came first. These included six dukes and twelve princes, marquesses, counts, and numerous other representatives of the nobility and knighthood, most of whom appeared on the list of the daily /p. 67: expenditure. The expenses of the household of the Duchess and her ladies, which were kept separately, amounted to 40,000 livres yearly.

The first chamberlain kept the key of the sovereign's chamber as well as the privy seal, and he carried his banner into battle. He was reverenced and obeyed as the Duke's deputy.

The grand maître d'Hôtel enjoyed privileges in Burgundy which differed from those in the other ducal territories. He was especially prominent at the four great feasts of the year. At the service of the table, he walked in front of the bearers of the dishes, with raised sword. Five comptrollers maintained order in the palace.

Sixteen esquires of the best families were constantly in attendance on the prince and slept in close proximity to him. When the prince retired at the conclusion of the day's work the esquires provided for his entertainment. Some sang. others read romances or tales aloud, others spoke of love and military glory.

Six physicians were in attendance at table and advised the Duke as to what meat was especially suitable for him. They frequently took part in the meetings of the Council. The four surgeons in chief were always extraordinarily busy, car le prince est chevalereux. Wounded men were constantly to be found at the castle, and fifty other surgeons attended to their needs. They likewise were budy men. Charles allotted also one surgeon to every company of 100 lances. Two épiciers had charge of the drugs and medicines, the sweets and medicated wines.

Most of the forty valets de chambre were permanently employed as barbers, tailors, and shoe-makers. Painters made tabards, banners and standards, others shared with the sommeliers the responsibility for the rooms and beds.

The order of service at table was very detailed and complicated. The duties were shared by the first panetier, the first échanson and the first écuyer, each of whom was attended by fifty esquires, while nobles, pages, and servants were always in waiting for special duties. A good memory and a most complicated system of training were necessary if all the rules of order and precedence were to be observed. Food and drink were brought in in solemn procession. All eyes /p. 68: were upon the prince; a nod sufficed and the cup-bearer presented the wine. When he bore the cup to the table, he held it on high above his head so that it should be untouched by his breath.

The court household, disposed according to rank, ate separately in different rooms. All were required to finish before the Duke in order to be ready to wait on him at table and pay him homage.

The most elaborate regulations preserved the prince against the danger of poisoning. Food and drink were examined and tasted beforehand. A silver ship was placed before the prince, which contained alms. Beside it stood the silver tranchoirs, the salt-cellar, a small silver wand, and a piece of a unicorn's horn for testing dishes.

Duke Charles drank only much-diluted wine. Indeed, there can have seldom been a prince who took so little wine himself, and yet disposed of so much. At least a thousand casks a year were needed for the Court.

The esquires had certain privileges appertaining to their office. If the prince ate in public, all the meat which remained belonged to the écuyer tranchant. On feast days, however, it was distributed otherwise: to the holy man who preached, to the court-blacksmith who had shod theDuke's horse, or to the armoyeur, who had cleaned his armour. Nor were the poor forgotten. Boiled and roast meats were constantly distributed among them by special servants.

The management of the kitchen was entrusted to two esquires. The cook was in command "C'est mestier subtil et sumptueux et qui toute seureté sent." This important personage was chosen with great care and deliberation by the comptrollers of the Court. He had at times the right to appear personally before the ruler, and was permitted to serve him with the earliest truffles or herrings.

During the service, the cook sat enthroned on a high stool in the kitchen between the buffet and the fireplace so that he might see and control his servants. In one hand he held a large spoon, primarily for tasting the soup, but he used it also for purposes of correction or to eject intruders. The vast kitchen with the huge fireplaces which Philip the Good installed in the castle at Dijon serve still to remind us of the scene of the master-cook's activities and the extent of his dominion./p. 69:Twenty-five persons were constantly employed as special cooks for the joints and soups, keepers of the storerooms, stokers and fuel attendants, polishers and apprentices.

A sausserie and the fruiterie, which in addition to homegrown and southern fruits, had to supply wax and tallow for the innumerable candles and torches, were maintained close to the main kitchen, but separate from it. The demand for lights at high festivals and processions must have been extraordinary. At the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary the whole ducal household, from the highest to the lowest, walked candle in hand behind the prince and his relatives, who themselves bore special lights on which their arms and devices were displayed.

In like manner, fifty esquires, as well as pages, the palefrenier, blacksmiths, couriers and musicians, quartermasters and servants were under the orders of the écuyer de l' écurie. In battle this official took up his position beside the prince and bore the standards. At solemn entries he carried the sword of state; at jousts and tourneys he had charge of the decorations to be worn by the Duke with the sole exception of those of pure gold and precious stones.

In the herald's office, six kings-at-arms, eight heralds and four pursuivants were employed. If a pursuivant had given satisfaction for seven years the Duke christened him personally with wine and promoted him herald. If the herald rose to the dignity of a king-at-arms, it was the Duke who crowned him with the herald's crown. This was composed of silver-gilt and set with sapphires, signifying, with that passion for religious symbolism which was a characteristic of the age, that the king-at-arms should turn his mind from earthly to heavenly wealth, of which the sapphires were the visible emblems. Of the kings-at-arms, he of the Golden Fleece held the first and most honoured place. His pursuivant was called Fusil. The other kings-at-arms were named after the various territories owing allegiance to the prince. The gifts which were bestowed at feasts when the heralds cried "largesse, largesse ", were allotted half to the heralds' office and half to the twelve trumpeters and ten musicians.

It was the privilege of the noblest in his territories to protect the prince from danger. His bodyguard consisted of 126 esquires of rank assisted by the same number of archers. /p. 70:They were commanded by a captain. Under him were the chiefs of the four squadrons, and these squadrons in their turn were divided into four chambres or messes. Then came the officers, archers, coutilliers, trumpeters and a chaplain. All were paid monthly. A special body-guard of archers, which comprised sixty-two men, was placed under two further captains.

In view of the unfortunate experiences of his predecessors with their mercenaries and communal militia, Charles estab lished in 1471 a standing army on the French pattern, without, however, entirely discarding his mercenaries. The" lance" served as the military unit and consisted of the mounted man-at-arms, three mounted archers, a crossbowman, the coulevrinier and the picquenaire. The knight maintained at his own expense a page and a mounted coutillier. One hundred "lances ", that is 900 men, 600 mounted and 300 on foot, composed a " band ", which was divided into four squadrons and each squadron was again subdivided into four chambres or messes. In 1473 the standing army consisted of 2,000 "lances ", that is of 18,000 men, not reckoning infantry and artillery. Duke Charles himself commanded the "lances ", and the conductors or commanders of companies received their commissions direct from him.

La Marche did not profess to treat of military matters in his work: "pour ce que Ie duc Charles qui a ses ordonnances mis sus, a labouré en sa personne si notablement et fait mettre par escr'ipt les ordonnances de sa guerre si bien, si notablement et a tous mystères esclarci en telle forme que mon escripture ne sembleroit après que temps perdu."