Geoffroi de Charny – a brief biography

If anyone has studied the concept of Chivalry, then they have probably heard of Geoffroi de Charny, but for those who haven’t, or for those who want to know more about him, here is a brief biography of the once famous French knight.

Geoffroi de Charny was born around 1300 (AD) born into a small family, loosely connected to the Burgundian nobility, the Charny family’s largest claim-to-fame was Geoffroi’s maternal grandfather, Jean de Joinville, was a close friend of King Louis IX, and was also his biographer. Geoffroi started fighting at a young age, a promising soldier for the French army. He was in the public eye from 1337 after a campaign to Gascony under the Constable of France, who may also have been his patron. This relationship would explain how Charny became a knight, as it was an expensive process, the Constable would have paid (at least in part) to put Charny through his training, possibly aiding him with his equipment as well. Charny was knighted after 19 years as a common soldier. Charny wished to be a knight due to his extreme sense of loyalty, not only to his liege-lord but also to God. Charny was a very religious man, even going so far to found a religious house on his one and only crusade to Anatolia in 1345.

Geoffroi de Charny took part in several battles during the Hundred Years War, most notably the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 (where he was among the hundreds of the French dead soldiers). Charny played an important role at the Battle of Poitiers as the carrier of the Oriflamme, the standard of the French Crown. This task may have made Charny a target on the battlefield, by taking down the Oriflamme the English could impact the French soldiers’ morale.

Geoffroi de Charny was perceived as an ‘ideal knight’ by his contemporaries, including Froissart, a well-known medieval author. Charny considered his duties as a knight to be the most important aspect of his life, eventually going on to write several books concerning life as a knight. These books include Livre Charny, Demandes pour la joute, les tournois et la guerre (Questions concerning the joust, tournament, and war), and Livre de chevalerie (Book of Chivalry). The last book is the most well-known of his works and reads as a guide for young knights, telling them how the best way to live as a knight is, including some remarks on those who were already knights but were failing Charny’s expectations.

The way that Geoffroi de Charny lived his life is quite interesting, a man of religion and war, holding both faith and prowess in the highest esteem. He managed to find a balance between serving his king and serving his god, this balance made him the ideal knight in his contemporaries’ eyes, making him an important person in the study of chivalry.

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