Paper given at the 5th Annual Indiana University
        Symposium on Medieval Studies:
        Work and Play in the Middle Ages
        April 1992

                  From Functional Feast to Frivolous Funhouse:
                   Two Ideals of Play in the Burgundian Court

                               by Jesse D. Hurlbut

             I would like to report and comment briefly on two unique
        instances of PLAY from the court of Philip the Good, Duke of
        Burgundy from 1419 to 1467.  The first of these was a banquet
        held in Lille in 1454, widely referred to as the Feast of the
        Pheasant.  The second concerns some unusual features of the
        duke's castle in Hesdin.

             Before describing the Feast of the Pheasant, I would like to
        point out two basic historical facts which contribute to the
        understanding of some of the details of this event.  First,
        Philip the Good founded the chevalric Order of the Golden Fleece
        in 1430, on the occasion of his wedding to Isabelle of Portugal.
        The champion of the Order was originally Jason the Argonaut.
        Later questions about this hero's morality gave rise to the
        selection of the biblical Gideon as a replacement.
        Representations of both Jason and Gideon persisted throughout
        Burgundian culture until the end of the century.  Second, in
        1453, the city of Constantinople fell to a Turkish invasion,
        inspiring Duke Philip to embark on a Crusade, although no
        official measures had been taken to this effect prior to the
        feast in Lille.

             Here, then, are some of the details regarding this Feast.
        The banquet was served on three tables--one large, one medium,
        and one small.  On the medium-sized table, there was a church
        with bells, stained-glass windows, and a working pipe organ and
        choir, which provided musical interludes throughout the evening.
        On the same table, a mannekin pis kept a silver ship filled with
        rose water.  There were, in addition, a model of an anchored
        freight ship and a glass fountain which featured Saint Andrew,
        Philip's patron saint, with water spewing from the X-shaped cross
        of his martyrdom.

             The large table was far more elaborate.  Eight-and-twenty
        musicians, baked in a giant meat pie, accompanied the interludes
        of the church choir on the previous table.  In addition, the
        towers of a castle squirted orange punch into its moat; archers
        tried to catch a magpie perched on top of a windmill.  A trick
        barrel could give either sweet or sour wine: "Take some, if you
        want!" was written on the scroll of a man standing nearby.  There
        are no dimensions or proportions mentioned in the chronicles, but
        it is a reasonable assumption that with the exception of the meat
        pie, all of these "entremets" (as they were called) were scale
        models.  Practicality and the chronicler's amazement at the
        attention to minute details support this impression.  Five more
        "entremets" adorned this same table: a tiger fighting a serpent;
        a wildman on a camel; an amorous couple eating the birds that a
        man was beating out of a bush with a stick; there was also a
        jester on the back of a bear and a ship floating back and forth
        between cities.

             There was room for only three "entremets" at the small
        table: a forest with wild animals that moved as if alive; a man
        hitting a dog in front of a lion attached to a tree; and a street
        merchant carrying his wares on a harness.

             Elsewhere in the hall, a living lion was chained to a pillar
        protecting a statue of a nude woman who served "hypocras" from
        her right breast.  Above the lion, it was written, "Ne touchez a
        ma dame."

             Once the guests, most of whom were in disguise, were seated
        and in their places, the real spectacle began ("entremets
        vivants, mouvants, et allants par terre" Coussy 101).  This
        included an assortment of musical numbers and acrobatic acts,
        interspersed with three scenes of a play relating the story of
        Jason.  At one point, two falcons, which had been released in the
        banquet hall, captured and killed a heron, which was presented to
        the duke as a trophy.  Later on, a dragon is reported to have
        flown from one end of the hall to the other.

             The climactic event, and presumably the justification for
        the entire affair, was the sudden arrival of a giant, dressed
        like a Saracen.  On a leash, he held an elephant.  On the back of
        the elephant was a castle, and in the castle was woman dressed
        like a nun.  The giant led the elephant to Duke Philip's table,
        where the disheveled woman introduced herself as Holy Church.
        She relayed the dangers she had endured since the Turkish
        invasion of Constantinople.  She then asked the duke for his
        assistance in restoring peace by taking up the cross and
        restoring her honor.

             At the conclusion of this speech, a contingent of ladies and
        knights approached the duke lead by the King of Arms, an officer
        of the Order of the Golden Fleece, named Toison d'Or.  He was
        carrying a live pheasant in his arms, which was richly decorated
        with a golden necklace of pearls and jewels.  He invited the duke
        to make a vow in the presence of the bird according to the
        tradition of noble courts (no doubt a reminder of the Peacock
        oaths of Alexander's court as found in French romances of the
        13th century).  Conveniently enough, the duke had a vow written
        down, which he delivered to the King of Arms.  He then pronounced
        a brief promise to do what he had written in the letter.  Toison
        d'Or read the letter out loud, which included the duke's vow to
        undertake, God willing, a crusade to restore Constantinople to
        the Christians.  Holy Church, overcome with joy, expressed her
        gratitude and left the same way she came in.

             In an enthusiastic outbreak, knights, squires and
        trenchermen in turn pronounced their own oaths to join Philip on
        the crusade.  The chronicle of Mathieu de Coucy, in which the
        description of this whole event is preserved, records the vows of
        99 men after Philip.  Not all of these vows were delivered at the
        banquet, however.  Always sensitive to the attention span of his
        court, and seeing that "la chose eut este merveilleusement
        longue" (Coussy 118), the duke ordered that the vows stop and
        that the remainder be recorded the following day and be valued
        just the same.

             The evening's entertainment continued with an allegorical
        play in which The Grace of God addressed the duke and awarded him
        with twelve Virtues to aid him in the fulfillment of his vow.
        The roles of the Virtues and their escorts were played by the
        highest members of the court, with the exception of the duke (who
        played himself).

             After the play, they all danced and ate.  In all, 48
        different dishes had been served.  A prize for that day's
        tournament was presented to Philip's son Charles, who proclaimed
        a new joust for the next day.

                                      * * *

             In the long series of playful forms I have just described
        here, I am struck, first of all, by the ingenuity of some of the
        activities and decorations.  For the purposes of this paper,
        however, I am particularly interested in those portions of that
        evening's activities for which spectacle was not a passive form
        of entertainment, but in which the duke and his court became
        active participants.

             The involvement, indeed, the interaction, of the court in
        the last portion of the spectacle was not merely for
        entertainment purposes--it was not just audience-participation
        night at the duke's palace.  Specifically, the activity of making
        vows was taken particularly seriously.  Each vow was registered
        with Toison d'Or, seals were attached and the documents were
        signed.  Many of the vows included clauses stating in very
        specific terms how the vow would be fulfilled if visible ill-
        health or imprisonment prevented its accomplishment.  Usually
        this involved sending one or several paid soldiers in the place
        of the volunteer himself, who garanteed their financial support
        for a stated amount of time.

             The fact that several vows were put off until the next day
        shows that they were important enough to be collected and
        recorded.  On the other hand, it also shows that the
        entertainment facade for what was, in essence, a political rally
        overtook the central purpose in importance to the point of
        relegating the enlistment of volunteers to another day.

             From the time Philip had established the Order of the Golden
        Fleece, the Burgundian ideal was clearly one of preserving a
        deteriorating chevalric culture.  The models for these ideals may
        have come, in part, from historical precedent or progressive
        strategies.  It appears, however, that the models for this ideal
        were largely "romantic," that is, stemming from the romances of
        the day.  The duke wanted to play out the stories he so avidly
        collected in his library while establishing political policy and
        international relations at the same time.

             A closer look at the vows shows how some of this "literary"
        or "playful" ideal won out over a wiser, more prudent ideal of
        contemporary politics and warfare.  The 100 vows were formulaic
        in nature and can be categorized according to which motifs were
        included by each knight.  Several volunteers, for example,
        beginning with Duke Philip himself, vowed to serve as champions
        in single combat against the Great Turk or his chosen warriors.
        Others committed themselves to wearing an "emprinse"--a banner or
        scarf of some sort that served to indicate one's willingness to
        do battle either on horse or on foot.  Still others promised to
        try their hardest to be in the front lines of battle or to smite
        down the Turk's flag, like Jehan de Chassa who swore that "jamais
        la teste de mon cheval ne retournera que je n'aye veu la banniere
        du Turc abattue ou gaingnee"  ("My horse's head will never turn
        back until I've seen the Turk's flag toppled or captured," Coussy

             Certainly, the most intriguing collection of vows are those
        involving some privation for a determined period.  From the day
        of his departure, Philip Pot, for example, promises that he will
        not wear any armor whatsoever on his right arm and will not eat
        sitting down on Tuesdays until he has seen a battle in which 1000
        men lose their lives.  In a brief lapsus into the realities of
        their commitments, Duke Philip ordered Toison d'Or to strike from
        the record the part about leaving off any armor in battle--
        another indication that they were taking this whole thing quite
        seriously.  Still, Louis de Chevallart gets away with a similar
        vow by promising to wear a gauntlet and Inglebert d'Orlay's
        promise to fight with a bare right arm goes unchecked by the
        duke.  The Lord of Pons refuses to stay in any city more than two
        weeks or to sleep in a bed on Saturdays until he has fought a
        Sarracen from the army of the Great Turk.  Some deny themselves
        any meat on Friday, or on Sunday.  Others will go without wine on
        Saturdays or give it up altogether for a year.  Still more will
        eat, but not sitting down on one day of the week.  And then,
        there is the valiant trencherman who combines several vows,
        promissing always to wear some piece of armor night and day,
        never to drink wine, sleep in a bed or eat at a table on
        Saturdays, and to wear a hairshirt until he has seen the face of

             I am not really prepared to talk about the sociology of war
        and what kinds of "rituals" or activities accompany the decision
        to go to war or the recruitment process.  What we observe here,
        however, is a strange mix of play and very real commitment--just
        as the banquet featured, on the one hand, "stage" depictions of
        Jason's conquests, and, then, the real slaughter of a heron
        brought down by two hawks.  The presence of the lion at the
        banquet also evokes the arousing blend of spectacle and real
        danger.  Perhaps the literary evocations and imitations, along
        with all the spectacle, were a superficial veneer for political
        performance and activity--or was it, rather, the result of
        cultural intoxication that had naturalized the dangerous notion
        that King Arthur's way really was the best way, even in the
        fifteenth century?

             Even religion seems to submit itself to this deeply-anchored
        "literary" ideal.  Complimenting the pursuit of the cult of the
        Virgin Mary, for example, is what Georges Doutrepont called "le
        culte . . . de la femme" (115).  Each of the vows is modeled
        after Philip's and begins (with only slight variation): "Je voue
        a Dieu mon createur, tout premierement, et a la tres glorieuse
        Vierge sa mere, et en apres aux dames et au phaisant..." ("I vow
        to God my creator, first of all, and to his mother, the most
        glorious Virgin, and thereafter to the Ladies, and to this
        Pheasant..." Coussy, 115).  Could it be that it was the
        privileged role of the Lady in the chevalric ideal that set
        priorities out of kilter for Jehan de Bremettes, who vowed: "se
        je ne joys point de ma dame entre cy et le voyage, que la
        premiere dame ou damoiselle qui aura vingt mille escus, je l'en
        prendrai en mariage si elle veult" ("if I do not enjoy the
        pleasures of my lady before the trip, that I will take as my wife
        the first woman with 20,000 ecus, if she is willing" Coussy 172).

                                      * * *

             A second product of Burgundian culture worth investigation
        in a study of PLAY was the ducal palace at Hesdin.  We know
        little about this castle, built in a small town between Arras and
        Boulogne-sur-Mer, yet, which was one of the most popular
        residences of Duke Philip and his family. It was demolished in
        the 16th century at the order of Charles Quint.  The best
        description of the castle is in an accounting record of payment
        made to one Colard le Voleur for certain enhancements to some
        already existing fixtures on the interior of the castle.

             From this document, we learn that there was a large gallery
        painted with the arms and mottoes of the duke. An impressive
        fountain that could be switched on and off was, at first glimpse,
        the main attraction.  At the entrance to the galery, however,
        there were paintings of three people which squirted water to
        anyone passing by.  The account reveals, in addition, a distorted
        mirror, and a machine that would slap the visitor in the face and
        dump soot or flour on them.  Another machine splashed water "pour
        mouiller les dames par dessoubz."  On the way out of the gallery,
        one received several blows to the head and shoulders.

             The next room could produce rain, thunder and snow.  A
        hermit, made of wood, conversed with visitors.  A false floor was
        put in so that anyone trying to get out of the rain would fall
        through into a sack of feathers.  Elsewhere, another trap door
        was installed, this time on a bridge over water.  In many other
        places, water was dumped, splashed or squirted at the touch of
        special buttons devised for that purpose.  Anyone trying to open
        a particular window was hosed down by an automaton who closed the
        window after them.  A book of ballads on a lectern may have
        looked inviting, but touching it caused one to be covered in soot
        and then sprayed with water.  Flour was dumped on anyone trying
        to see themselves in a mirror.

             Another automaton was programed to enter the room and order
        everyone out by the command of the Duke himself.  That meant
        running the gauntlet past gigantic statues of fools ("sots et
        sottes").  Anyone resisting would get completely drenched.  An
        owl, perched on a window responded to the questions of visitors.

             Additional references make it clear that these were
        luxurious chambers with ceilings painted in azure with golden
        stars.  The walls were covered with elaborate historiated murals
        and faux-tapestries.  Understandably, an oil-based paint was used

             Similar to portions of the banquet in Lille, this was an
        active form of spectacle.  Yet, as eager as the duke seemed to be
        to engage the Grand Turk in single combat, and willing, therefore
        to participate in the drama of the Holy Church, I don't imagine
        that he devised this Funhouse in Hesdin in order to subject
        himself to the buffetings and humiliations it afforded.  The
        primary function of such a contraption was most certainly for
        entertainment, implying some kind of gratification to an
        audience--presumably, the duke.  But, just who was expected to go
        through these galleries and just who was in control of the
        buttons and switches that made it all work?  Did the duke herd
        local peasants through for his own sadistic pleasures?  Did he
        greet visiting dignitaries, perhaps even nobility there?  Was it
        just a practical joke or a convenient way to discourage unwanted
        visitors?  We can find no real answers to these questions.
        Indeed, I think that where I was able to suggest an ideological
        motivation for much of what took place at the banquet in Lille, I
        am unable to substantiate any congruity in motives regarding the
        galleries of this castle.  The codes of chivalry, upheld in the
        enlistment to honorably serve God, the Virgin-Mother and the
        Ladies of the court seem breached in this instance.  Is there any
        way that the Funhouse antics can be construed as anything other
        than sneaky, tricky and abusive?  Could an officer of the Order
        of the Golden Fleece engage in behavior of this sort in good
        conscience.  Or was hazing part of the initiation rite into the
        prestigious chevalric Order?

             My frustration at so many questions and so few answers has
        already given rise to too much speculation here.  By way of
        conclusion, then, I will simply point to another important
        literary product of the Burgundian court, _Les Cent Nouvelles
        Nouvelles_, in which sacred and profane stories are collected 
        together, demonstrating that there is apparently room for
        multiple, and even conflicting ideologies within the boundaries
        of a single cultural space.


        the Pheasant are: Olivier de la Marche, _Memoires_, Ed. H. Beaune
        and J. d'Arbaumont, Paris, Societe de l'Histoire de France, 1883-
        88, vol. 2, pp. 340-380 and Mathieu de Coussy, _Chroniques_, Ed.
        J. A. Buchon, in _Chroniques d'Enguerrand de Monstrelet_, Paris,
        Verdiere, 1826, vol. 11, pp. 83-185.  For a recent study and good
        bibliograph, see: Agathe Lafortune-Martel, _Fete noble en
        Bourgogne au XVe siecle: Le Banquet du Faisan (1454): Aspects
        politiques, sociaux et culturels_.  Cahiers d'etudes medievales
        8.  Paris: Vrin, 1984.

             For the castle in Hesdin, see: Danvin, B.  _Vicissitudes,
        heur et malheur du vieil-Hesdin_.  St. Pol, 1886, pp. 115-134.  A
        partial translation is found in Richard Vaughan, _Philip the
        Good: The Apogee of Burgundy_.  New York: Barns and Noble, 1970,
        pp. 138-139.  Studies of the castle can be found in: Brunet,
        Michel.  "Le Parc d'attractions des ducs de Bourgogne a Hesdin,"
        _Gazette des Beaux-Arts_, 78 (1971): 331-342; Anne van Buren-
        Hagopian.  "Un jardin d'amour de Philippe le Bon au parc
        d'Hesdin.  Le role de Van Eyck dans une commande ducale."  _Revue
        du Louvre et des musees de France_.  3 (1985): 185-192; and, by
        the same author, "La Roulotte de Philippe le Bon."  _Liber
        amicorum.  Etudes historiques offertes a Pierre Bourgard_.  (also
        found in: _Memoires de la Commission Departementale d'histoire et
        d'archeologie du Pas-de-Calais_, 25; _Revue du Nord_, no 3,
        special hors serie collection histoire), Arras, 1987, 115-122.

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