The Medieval Review 11.07.28

Fallows, Noel. Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia. Armour and Weapons. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2010. Pp. xix, 541. $99. 978-1-84383-594-3. . .

Reviewed by:

Teofilo F. Ruiz
University of Calfiornia, Los Angeles

In this handsomely-produced and beautifully-illustrated book, Noel Fallows offers, for the benefit of scholars and general readers alike, four engaging, valuable, and interrelated contributions to our understanding of jousting in late medieval and early modern Spain. More importantly, the author, through a thoughtful deployment of texts and images, takes us into the complex social and cultural world of late medieval and early modern chivalry. Having just completed a book on festive traditions (at the copy-editing stage presently), I can only bemoan not having read this book earlier. And although I have tried to incorporate many of Fallows' valuable insights and information into my own work, his insights into these questions and capacious treatment of the subject deserve more than just a passing reference.

Anchored on the close reading of four seminal texts on jousting (plus a series of other ancillary texts)--Pero Rodríguez de Lena's El passo honroso de Suero de Quiñones (1434), Ponç de Menaguerra's Lo cavaller (1493), Juan Quijada de Reayo's Doctrina del arte de la caballería (1548), Luis Zapata de Chaves' "Del justador (in his Miscelánea, 1589-93), plus short excerpts from Hernán Chacón's Tractado de la cavallería de la gineta (1551)--Fallows brings to life the chivalric world of jousting, connecting these texts to their particular historical contexts. His four distinct and signal contributions to the scholarship on jousting and other martial games rest on his careful edition and translation of the above mentioned works. His edition of the texts of Menaguerra, Quijada de Reayo, Zapata de Chaves, and short excerpts from Chacón are the first modern grouping of these works into one book. Although closely related to each other thematically, they have never been examined as an almost century and a half long discussion on jousting, warfare, and knightly values. As such, his editions of these texts--also translated into English for the first time--allow us to trace changes over time in the rules, character, and equipment employed in Spanish jousts and elsewhere in the West in the transition from the Middle Ages to the early modern period.

Moreover, his new edition of significant portions--the most salient ones--of Rodríguez de Lena's El passo honroso (the ur-text of jousting in the Iberian peninsula) offers, once again through his up- to-date edition and translation, an important source for the study of fictional warfare in late medieval and early modern Spain, and, because of the international nature of jousting in this period in general and of the passo honroso in particular, the rest of western Europe. His edited and translated short excerpts of Chacón's Tractado is similarly the first version in English of a very significant treatise on Spanish equestrian skills.

Second, although the edition and translation of the texts are found in the second part of the book--almost as a stand-alone monograph--the introductory study, found in Part One of Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia, expands on the textual evidence, offering to the reader four diverse perspectives on Spanish chivalrous culture. His introduction and chapter 1 provides a typology of knightly armed encounters: mêlée tournaments, tournaments, jousts, and other such martial games. The introduction also places Fallows' edition of the texts within a judiciously drawn map of methodological and historiographical approaches to the topic. His opinions are measured and sound, dealing as he does with diverse and, often times, contradictory interpretations. And he does this in a civil fashion, assessing the worth of each approach, while presenting his own point of view. Moreover, he allows the texts to guide us through these discussions, and what can be better than his command of these primary sources in guiding his readers to a new understanding of the evidence.

While noting the cultural importance of printing in the diffusion of the new culture and technologies of jousting, Fallows, by deploying Pedro Cátedra's ideas about "paper chivalry," Martín de Riquer and, most famously, Huizinga's arguments about late medieval chivalry, explores the links between literature and armed combat and the circularity of writing about chivalrous deeds, fictional combat, and the reality of lived lives. In chapter 1, Fallows turns to a careful analysis of the three main treatises on jousting, examining how these texts intersect with the authors' personal experiences, as well as the different contexts from which they wrote. These brilliant mini- biographies and case studies allow us to place the three main writers of treatises on jousting within a long tradition of martial games, warfare, and court life. For me in particular, the information on two of these authors, Quijada de Reayo and Zapata de Chaves, and their role at the great pageantry held at Binche in 1549 and at Philip II's court is a most welcome revelation.

Although his introduction and chapter one are also in themselves a small monograph, chapters 2 and 3 offer us a different and as equally valuable contribution. These two chapters, erudite and technically complex, discuss types of armor, helms, saddles, weapons, and every other piece of equipment used by knights during jousts and tournaments. Profusely illustrated, technically precise, and with a myriad of examples and images from the sources, they are a veritable mine of information and a source for tracing the evolution of armor and other equipment associated with these martial games from the late fifteenth century into the sixteenth.

Chapters 4 and 5 shift the inquiry from armors and knightly equipment to the nature of combat, its rules, and expectations. Fallows notes the principles or ideals that governed the joust, how scores were kept, excessive harm prevented, and wounds tended to. In chapter 6, he turns his attention to war or, far more accurately, to the relationship between jousting and actual warfare. Fallows, once again, places his inquiry within the historiographical debate on whether tournaments were a form of preparation for war or simply a form of theater and display. Yet, his somber reflections on the actual carnage found in sixteenth century warfare, the increasing toll taken by firearms, and by the emphasis (for the sake of victory over the enemy) on infantry and well disciplined formations over heroic single combat clearly show the disconnect between the world of jousting and that of the battlefield. Chapter 7 focuses on other forms of martial spectacle, with the game of canes and the running of bulls featured most prominently. These two semi-martial activities came to parallel the medieval joust, marking a transition that the author describes as "from sport to spectacle."

Early in his introduction Fallows notes that "chivalry must be seen in order to be understood."(p. 27) This he has done as best as it could be done by his vivid textual examples, case studies, and vivid descriptions, creating a textual portrait of the joust. This he has done superbly well by his choice of images and by the abundant amount of visual material included in the book and keyed to the text. When Spanish images have been lacking, he has borrowed from Italian, German, French, and English visual evidence to provide us with a clear idea of what was like to be in a joust. Technical at times, highly engaging at most other times, this is a book that does many different things, and it does all of them well. While examining the diverse social and cultural aspects of fictitious and chivalrous warfare, the texts that he has so carefully edited and translated remain a thread that links the book's varied themes into a comprehensive and compelling vision. I would have liked to see a more careful discussion of the game of canes and of the role of bulls. I, for one, think that they occupied an important place in the festive imaginary of early modern Spain, but this is a very small quibble on what is an impressive and important achievement. Fallows' super book, beyond bringing these important treatises to the attention of scholars and other readers, reintegrates Spain--often neglected in Huizinga's masterpiece or in Roy Strong's discussions of festivals--into the general late medieval and early modern European culture of jousting and chivalric culture. That in itself is a worthy achievement.