Ah yes, that time of year is upon us again. A chill in the air, leaves rustling along the path, happy new students rushing about campus with their new books and of course the feelings of absolute fear and dread that accompanies the realisation that you are now one year into your research. Now que the terror that maybe you could have done more over the year, made more groundbreaking discoveries etc. Yes, this bleak place is where I now find myself, overwhelmed by the year to come and underwhelmed by my own work in the year gone by. Maybe a quick post taken from a small section of my earliest work on family and pilgrimage in courtesy literature will help or maybe send me further into the doubtfulness associated with the second year blues. The following piece is based on my research on The Book of the Knight of La-Tour Landry. It is a short introduction to the courtesy text and I will hopefully add two follow-up posts containing more of my findings on the text. It has its problems, but any thoughts or suggestions regarding this piece would be greatly appreciated.
Written in French in the time between 1371 and 1372 by Geoffroy de la Tour-Landry, the Livre du chevalier de la Tour-Landry was no exception to this ever-growing interest in moral, social and spiritual instruction within the family and domestic environment and bears some similarities to The Goodman of Paris. It was a popular text and more than twenty versions exist in different manuscripts. Though William Caxton translated and printed an edition of this text in 1484, which he called The Book of the Knight of the Tower, I am more interested in the anonymous Middle English translation, The Book of the Knight of La Tour-Landry which was completed during the reign of Henry VI. I will not, however, ignore Caxton’s text entirely but will use it as a comparison tool from time to time. The translation that is central to my research on courtesy literature, pilgrimage and the family is The Book of the Knight of La Tour-Landry. This is found in a manuscript in the Harleian collection, MS 1764, in the British Library and though the editor of the printed translation I am using, Thomas Wright, is writing from a nineteenth century perspective, he does identify that this particular version “displays much more freedom, and is more correct [than Caxton’s translation]”. (xiv). Even though this may be true and Caxton’s translation is overly “literal”, Wright also brings our attention to the fact that this “superior” text is from an imperfect manuscript, meaning that Caxton’s text cannot be overlooked.
Geoffry’s warnings extend to the anxiety of the patriarchal system at the time: the mobility of women. The domestic boundaries were beginning to break down during the Middle Ages with women becoming increasingly active in the public domain through the running of businesses, attending public events and of course travelling and going on pilgrimages. This, however, proved a problem for those possessing the belief that women should not leave the confines of their home without a good reason, for example to attend mass. The Book of the Knight of La Tour-Landry follows this belief to a certain degree but does not explicitly say “women should never leave the home”. Geoffroy dedicates chapter XXV to “ladies who go to justs and pilgrimages”. Pilgrimage, though only mentioned in the title of this section is linked to jousts and feasting, secular activities of purely entertainment value. Pilgrimage in some respects had descended into a form of entertainment by the time Geoffroy had written his book of instruction. It had become merely another social occasion where his daughters’ names could be compromised and necessitated a warning. He does not command his daughters to stay at home. He does, however, use examples of women possessing poor discretion at such occasions to frighten them but also gives them advice on what to do if they find themselves in a position where they have to attend social gatherings. In his translation of this text Caxton does not make any reference to pilgrimage in this chapter title. The advice provided is almost identical to that of the anonymous text but the missing reference to pilgrimage here may demonstrate how religious travel had declined in the public’s opinion in Caxton’s time.