French and Burgundian Military Ordinances

Written by

Author: Louis XI, King of France
Original Language: Middle French
Place of Composition: Paris
Date of Composition: 1450 (or later? Louis XI first became king in 1461, so either the date or the king is incorrect)
Source of Text: du Cange, Glossaire, s.v “Jacke, Jaque” http://ducange.enc.sorbonne.fr/IACKE
Source of Translation: Sean Manning 2018.
Conditions of Use: Please give me credit for the transcription and translation

This text already appears du Cange (17th century) and Meyrick (1821) but is known today because Charles ffoulkes quoted it shortly before the First World War.  Jonathan Dean has located the original manuscript, and du Cange’s transcription is much more accurate than ffoulkes: phrases which are in du Cange (and the manuscript) but not ffoulkes are in bold. Gary Embleton published a translation in 1990 which floats around the Internet with the caption “from the Ordinances of Louis XI of France, 1461-1483.” This translation relied on the unreliable ffoulkes transcription, leaves out some difficult phrases without indicating the gap, and it translates toille as “fold of cloth” when in fact it means “linen” as contrasted with drap “cloth.” People in the 15th century were as conscious of the difference between cloth and linen as we are of the difference between a car and a bus.

Memoire de ce que le Roy veult, que le Francs archers de son Royaume soient habillez en Jaques d’icy en avant, et pour ce a chargé au Bailly de Mante en faire un get : et semble au dit Bailly de Mante, que l’abillement de Jacques leur soit bien proufitable et avantageux pour faire la guerre, veu qui sont gens de pié, et que en ayant les brigandines, il leur faut porter beaucoup de choses, que un homme seul et à pié ne peut faire.Reminder of that which the King wishes: that henceforth the Francs-archers of his realm shall be equipped with jacks, … that their equipment of jacks will be profitable and advantageous for making war, seeing that they are men on foot, and that in having brigandines, they must carry many different things, which a man just on foot cannot manage.
Et premierement leur faut desdits Jacques de 30. toilles, ou de 25. à un cuir de serf à tout le moins : et si sont de 31. cuir de serf, ils sont des bons. Les toilles usées et deliées moyennement sont les meilleures, et doivent estre les Jacques à quatre quartiers, et faut que les manches soient fortes, comme le corps, reservé le cuir. Et doit estre l’assiette des manches grande, et que l’assiette prengne pres du collet, non pas sur l’os de l’espaule, qui soit large dessous l’aisselle, et plantureux dessous le bras, asses faulce et large sur les costez bas, le collet fort comme le demourant du Jacques : et que le collet ne soit pas trop hault derriere pour lamour de salade. Et faut que ledit Jacques soit lassé devant, et que il ait dessous une porte piece de la force dudit Jacques. Ainsi sera seur ledit Jacques et aisé, moiennant qu’il ait un pourpoint sans manches, ne collet, de deux toilles seulement, qui n’aura que quatre doys de large sur l’espaule : auquel pourpoint il attachera ses chausses. Ainsi flotera dedens son Jacques, et sera à son aise : car il ne vit onques tuer de coups de main, ne de flesche dedans lesdits Jacques ses hommes, et se y souloient les gens bien combattre.And first of all, their jacks must be of thirty linens, or at least 25, and a buckskin; and if they are of 31 buckskins they are the best. Used and moderately worn (déliées) linens are the best; and these jacks must be of four quarters, and it is necessary that the sleeves are as strong as the body, except for the skin. And the scye (assiette) of the sleeves ought to be big, and that the scye should be very close (pregne pres) to the collar, not on the bone of the shoulder, and should be deep underneath the armpit and wide under the arm, equally loose (faulce < faux “false”) and broad down to the elbow, the collar as strong as the rest of the jack, and that the collar should not be too tall in the back for the sake of the sallet. The opening of the said jack should be left in front and it should have a door piece (porte piece) of the same strength as the said jack. In this way he will be at ease in the said jack, as long as he wears a doublet (pourpoint) without sleeves or collar, of just two linens, of the kind which is four fingers broad on the shoulder; to which doublet the hose shall be laced. In this way the archer will float within his jack and be at his ease. For never have been seen half a dozen men killed by blows or by arrows in jacks like this, especially if they are men well accustomed to fighting.

The French does not say whether this jack is laced or buttoned closed, and both solutions appear in art.

In addition, Samuel Rush Meyrick translates another version of this text which is four times as long and describes four kinds of francs-archers (armed with vouges, lances, bows, or arbalests).  This full text never seems to have been printed just translated: Samuel Rush Meyrick, A Critical Enquiry into Antient Armour … (1824), vol. 2 pp. 171-172 https://archive.org/details/MeyrickAntientArmour2/page/n225

The original law of Charles VII from April 1448 establishing the francs-archers appears in Ordonnances des rois de France de la troisième race volume 14 pages 1 and following and declares that the francs-archers shall be armed with sallet, dagger, sword, bow, sheaf of arrows (trousse) and jacks or huques of brigandines). Since Jonathan Dean has located the original manuscript, I am working on my own transcription to address some oddities of the published transcriptions. For example, it was not normal for armour to be as thick in the arms as the chest, and 31 layers of buckskin would be very heavy and bulky.

Other Translations and Commentary:

I thank Mart Shearer and William Knight for help tracking down transcriptions and translations.

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Edit 2019-09-26: Finished providing my own translation of the description of the cut in four quarters, the opening in front of the jack, and the doublet worn underneath.

Edit 2019-11-25: Added a note about the longer version in Meyrick

Edit 2021-01-01: For an interpretation of such a heavy, shaped jack see Charles Lin, “A 31+ Layer Jack” https://practiceandart.wordpress.com/2020/12/31/a-31-layer-jack/

Edit 2021-02-24: Jonathan Dean found a story in Le Jouvencel about the hero stealing washing from the castle of Verset to make his jack. Louis Douët-d’Arcq’s Comptes de l’argenterie des rois de France au XIVe siècle pp. 142-144 has examples of worn linen (toille déliée) being recycled in cotes à plates (probably what an English or Scottish writer would call a jack of plates or plate-coat, possibly more of a pair of plates) and doublets in fourteenth-century France.

Edit 2021-08-01: Fixed formatting errors and quoted the equipment from the 1448 ordinance

Edit 2021-08-02: Switched the transcription from ffoulkes to du Cange after examining photos of the manuscript.  Added a key phrase which ffoulkes failed to transcribe to the translation.

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