Henry's Wars and Shakespeare's Laws: Perspectives on the Law of War in the Later Middle Ages

By Theodor Meron | Go to book overview

7
Henry's Challenge to the Dauphin: The Duel that Never Was and Games of Chivalry

Shakespeare's close reliance on Holinshed and Hall gave his Henry V a certain historical basis (see Chapter 1), but also meant that he probably was unaware of some events the chroniclers did not mention. Consequently, certain events of great dramatic potential were overlooked. Two such events, to be discussed in this chapter, reflect chivalric norms to which lip-service was often given, but which were not generally followed in practice: Henry's duelling challenge to the Dauphin after conquering Harfleur, and the French proposal that both parties jointly choose the place and the time for the battle. In each case, one party to the conflict offered, and the other party refused, to apply those norms.

Chivalry, as Huizinga observed, blended 'formulation of principles of international law . . . with the casuistical and often puerile regulations of passages of arms and combats in the lists.'1 Although sentiments of honour had a real impact on affairs of state and strategic interests might, on occasion, be sacrificed 'to keep up the appearances of the heroic life',2 rulers increasingly realized that, for example, it was senseless to expose the interests of a kingdom to the outcome of a single combat between leaders or their champions.

In most cases, theoretical norms of chivalry yielded to interests of state. Thus, during the initial stages of the Hundred Years War, when Philip VI of France offered to fight Henry's great-grandfather Edward III in a single battle ( 1347) in order to relieve the besieged Calais, Edward III refused -- at least

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1
J. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages ( 1924), 101.

-131-

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