Pious Captains: Religion, Masculinity, and Combat in 16th Century France

When and Where

Friday, February 22, 2019 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
North House
1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 3K7


The sixteenth century witnessed a proliferation of military texts written by French noblemen who were veterans of the Italian Wars and religious wars. In these texts, authors developed a new masculine standard through how they represented noblemen in combat. They abandoned the medieval trope of the knight and replaced it with that of the captain. Religious piety was an essential aspect of this change as the authors incorporated a renewed emphasis on crusade in their idealised representation of nobility. In the beginning of the period, authors’ religious ideals conflicted with political realities as they placed crusader imagery alongside gleeful descriptions of France waging war against Popes and allying with Protestants and Muslims against Catholics. These inherent contradictions did not resolve themselves until the latter half of the century when authors’ glorification of holy war dissipated as France plunged into its vicious cycle of religious conflict that shattered the social fabric of the nobility. The bloodshed between Frenchmen over religion meant that representations of noblemen as imagined crusaders ceased to be a favourable trope in military literature. Religious fanaticism was no longer glorified, and thus noblemen needed to present themselves as secular actors devoid of aggressive religious motivations. Authors continued to utilise the trope of the pious captain but without its original crusader rhetoric.

Benjamin (Benji) Lukas is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at the University of Toronto. His dissertation, “From Knights to Captains: The construction of nobility through masculinity and warfare in sixteenth-century France,” examines the changes in the representation of nobility in sixteen-century military literature. His research interests include the study of masculinity, warfare, religious conflict, and sexual violence.


1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 3K7