Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 October 2020
Le Jouvencel is a chivalric narrative that was probably written in the second half of the 1460s. It recounts the military career of a young nobleman identified only as Jouvencel (Young Man), a nickname given to him by his fellow soldiers. The story describes his military exploits as a young squire learning how to lead men, and traces his rise through the military ranks, culminating in command of a great expedition to the kingdom of Amydoine where he marries a foreign princess and is appointed regent.
The text is a ‘roman-à-clef ‘, that is to say a story that hides real history behind the façade of fiction. Much of the tale was inspired by real events during the final four decades of the Hundred Years War (1337–1453), though the identities of real people and places were concealed by false names. The author was one of the most prominent French military commanders of the period, Jean V de Bueil (1406–78). He imagined Le Jouvencel as a book that would inspire young aristocrats to undertake a career in arms and teach them the art of warfare. The story presented an idealized model of the perfect military career, and this was supported by a series of digressions in which the narrator and various characters offered advice on a series of subjects that were essential for a military commander, including strategy, tactics in battle and at sieges, campaign logistics, the laws of war including safe-conducts, ransoming, and the distribution of booty, and the management of disputes and judicial combats. With its blend of exciting chivalric narrative and informative discussions of technical and ethical questions, Le Jouvencel was the culmination of fifteenth-century French efforts to write military manuals for young aristocrats intent upon a career as professional soldiers.
Le Jouvencel was not a traditional chivalric story of knight errantry and courtly love. During one of the military expeditions, two soldiers did take advantage, we are told, of a brief lull in the fighting to talk about love. But in general, such romantic notions had little place in a narrative that focused on warfare and combat.