Guillaume Bureaux (université de Rouen)

Urban Issues of the Pas d’armes in the 15th and 16th centuries

The city is not to be considered as a simple piece of the princely political ‘puzzle’, nor is it a contre-pouvoir ready to rise systematically in the case of a disagreement with the ducal power. The city, as the seat of a particular power, is a privileged partner to relay, support and represent the noble power.

Two tendencies emerge from reading the sources, whatever they may be. In Anjou and in the Kingdom of France, the city played a role of occasional support, taking over only in a secondary way in the organization of most steps. In Saumur, a castle was built outside the city and the lists took place in the surrounding plain. In Tarascon, if there was no castle, the plain served as a support for the Pas. While in Sandricourt, it took place in front of the castle, outside of the city, since the surrounding forest served as a meeting place for certain events. On the other hand, Burgundy developed a real tradition of organising festivities in the heart of the cities. While the first two Pas d’armes in Burgundy, namely the Tree of Charlemagne and the Belle Pèlerine, were organised in the outskirts of the towns of Dijon and Saint-Omer, the others taking place in the most important towns of the Burgundy states: Chalon-sur-Saône, Lille, Bruges and Ghent. As far as the empire was concerned, the Pas d’armes also took place in cities, generally in the marketplace, as in Nozeroy or Vincelles, or in the Princely or Alderman Palace, as in Binche.

The distinction is due to the differences in municipal power: having a strong economic and political influence and power, northern cities were at the heart of ducal political concerns, due to the interdependence of the powers in place at the time. Thus, Ghent, Bruges or Lille are not considered as subjected cities, as the Duke’s own possessions, but as partners necessary to flatter through the organisation of various local celebrations and to treat equally, in particular concerning privileges and the distribution of expenses.

For the city, the organization of a Pas d’armes was an important moment. In fact, it allowed the city to stage its power, its authority, and to place itself as an ally and partner to the princely power. This also provided the city with substantial revenues enabling both the reimbursement of expenses incurred for the preparation of the event as well as a substantial profit.

The participation in curial events was an opportunity for the bourgeoisie to show reserve and to put forward the image of a city prepared for any contingency, more than it was a moment for them to show off their individual weapons and skills. As a result, even if these festivities occurred in the city and were perceived as moments of lively sociability, due to the temporary coexistence of different social categories, they remained primarily for the promotion of the ducal figure, of his power and of his influence.


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