Wednesday, May 01, 2013


Detail from a parade shield in
the British Museum 15thC so a bit
late for my period, but I thought it suited.
Today's research snippet: The Donzel

A familiar medieval word now defunct, and referring to a particular sort of person was 'donzel'. Should you be insulted if you were referred to as a donzel?

Fortunately, mostly not, although occasionally it could have a slight edge. William Marshal referred to Louis Dauphin of France as a 'donzel' during the negotians for Louis to leave England following the battles of Lincoln and Sandwich in 1217.

A donzel was a young aristocratic male who had yet to come into his own. It runs the gamut of ages from five to thirty. Often it referred to young men who were full of the joys of youth and lived for war and tourneying. William Marshal had been a donzel in his time and the Young King was still one when he died. Generally the term is a very positive one and describes a man of noble birth before his prime who has the qualities of courtliness, largesse and prowess in battle. A young man light and agile and full of promise. When a donzel is killed on the battlefield, or dies untimely, the feeling is one of wasted youth.

A donzel might have duties at court such as serving at table, fetching and carrying and delivering messages, but he was not expected to muck out the stables or act as any sort of horse boy. He might deal with the hawks or make announcements, or attend on a lord as a follower to bolster that lord's prestige. In some ways that kind of service was the same as the female attendants for a high born lady. 'Donzel' and 'Demoiselle' are linked.

When William Marshal used it to the future Louis VIII of France, he was paying him a compliment, and at the same time stating the difference between a young sprig and seasoned oak!


Kasia Ogrodnik said...

How very interesting! I have never come across the term. From now on, in my future posts, I can refer to both William Marshal in his tourneying days and to the Young King as "donzels" :-) Thank you!

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Elizabeth, would you mind if I recommend your "Donzel" on both Sharon Kay Penman's blog and Henry the Young King? I find it so very interesting and worth sharing.

V. N. said...

Yes, this was very interesting! Like Kasia, I've never heard of that word before. It's something I can use now, maybe on my brother! :)

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Feel free Kasia - the source is part of an article by Linda M. Paterson in The Ideals and Practice of Medieval Knighthood - Papers from the first and Second Strawberry Hill conferences.

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Thank you so much for the source and your kind permission. I'm certain that the others will find it equally interesting.