French and Burgundian Military Ordinances

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: Charles ffoulkes, The Armourer and His Craft, p. 87 “1450. Ordonnances of Louis XI, Chambres des Compts, Paris” with some missing sentences added from du Cange in bold
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. 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 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.

If anyone in the last hundred years has read the actual manuscript, please tell me so by email! These 19th century writers seem to copy earlier editions but they do not say which, and I don’t think that these early antiquarians were as careful with medieval sources as classical and biblical ones.

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 en hommes seul et à pied 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 premièrement leur faut des dits jacques trente toilles, ou de vingt-cinq, à un cuir de cerf a tout le moins: et si sont de trente-un cuirs de cerf ils sont des bons. Les toilles usees et déliées moyennement sont les meilleures; et doivent estre les jacques a quartre quartiers, et faut que manches soient fortes comme le corps, réservé le cuir. Et doit estre l’assiette pregne pres du collet, non pas sur l’os de lépaule, qui soit large dessoulz l’assielle et plantureux dessoulz les bras, assez faulce et large sur les coustez bas, le collet fort comme le demourant des jacques; et que le collet ne soit bas trop hault derrière pour l’amour de salade. Il faut que ledit jacque soit lasse devant et qu’il ait dessoulz une port pièce de la force dudit jacque. Ainsi sera seur ledii (sic) jacques et aise moienant qu’il ait un pourpoint sans manches ne collet, de deux toilles seulement, qui natura que quatre doys de large seur lespaulle; auquel pourpoint il attachera ses chausses. Ainsi flottera dedens son jacques et sera à sol aise. Car il ne vit oncques tuer de coups-de-main, ne de flêches dedens 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 armhole (assiette) ought to 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). He does not give his source, and it seems to be absent from the series Ordonnances des rois de France de la troisième race (the original law of Charles VII from April 1448 establishing the Francs-Archers appears in volume 14 pages 1 and following). If anyone ever finds the original document, it may look significantly different than any of the versions which pass from mouth to mouth today. 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.

Samuel Rush Meyrick, A Critical Enquiry into Antient Armour … (1824), vol. 2 pp. 171-172

Other Translations and Commentary:

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

This website is reader-supported. If you found it helpful, please consider a small donation through Patreon or or even liberapay

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”

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, possibly more of a pair of plates) and doublets in fourteenth-century France.

← Back to Armour in Texts ←