In an absorbing and very interesting book, just published in France, Frédéric Magnin presents a hitherto unknown equestrian treatise of a French author of the late Renaissance. It is a fundamental work because it demonstrates the circulation of texts about horsemanship in manuscript and because it is the second equestrian treatise by a French-speaking author known to date
Every time that have I published a book, I swore it would be the last. Not because of the effort of researching, or inventing, that has always repaid me with the joy of discovery (although a very talented friend of mine, Patrizia Carrano, effectively defines been a writer as a tough job: like that of a stonebreaker). What discouraged me was, rather, the exhausting difficulties of the relationship with publishers, the labyrinthine logic of editorial distribution and the unnerving confrontation with the laws of the market. Despite this, however, I have repeatedly fallen into this vice of writing and wanting to publish. And, after everything, I have never regretted it. Especially because the publication of a book has always been an opportunity to communicate with people, with whom I discovered, through unpredictable paths, a comforting affinity: a common feeling. I then understood that the passion which had driven me to deny the intention not to publish anymore and, which absorbed me for months, sometimes years, with work, was not a solitary obsession. Fortunately, there was someone else who was interested in the same topics and appreciated my effort to get to know and voice them. In short, this revealed to me that I was not alone.
This also happened when, a few months after the publication of my book about the history of Italian horsemanship, I received a message from a French reader, who expressed his appreciation for my work. I was surprised that a researcher of the French National Center for Scientific Research, whose studies mainly focused on the history of the Mediterranean ecosystem, was interested in an essay about Italian Renaissance equestrian literature. Not an unreasonable surprise, though, considering that, after all, my book was written by a television journalist… But, even if it was very concise, that message contained an evaluation of the method of my work, thus demonstrating a specific competence. After deepening my search on the web, I realize that, in fact, that reader was anything but a neophyte of the equestrian culture. He already had to his credit two books that testified to a refined taste and a special curiosity. The first (MAGNIN, 2005) was dedicated to Mottin de la Balme, a cavalry officer who lived between France and the United States where, at the end of the 18th century, he participated in the American Revolution and who was the author of an Essay about horsemanship, or reasoned principles on the art of riding and training horses (Essai sur l’équitation ou principes raisonnés sur l’art de monter et de dresser les chevaux, 1773). The second book was dedicated to the equestrian manual by Henry L. de Bussigny, a French rider, who moved to the United States, where, at the beginning of the 20th century, he exported Buacher’s doctrine (BUSSIGNY, 2013).
That first message was followed by a correspondence lasting almost five years, during which, despite never meeting him in person, I developed high esteem and sympathy for Frédéric Magnin, and a great curiosity for the study to which he has been working during those years. Now his book has finally been published.
Magnin had the talent and the luck to make one of those discoveries that create every scholar’s happiness. In fact, he discovered and now he reveals to us, in an accurate and enlightening book (MAGNIN, 2019), a hitherto unknown French equestrian treatise, handed down to us only in manuscript. The work that Magnin discovered is entitled: Escolle de L. de Chardon escuyer sieur de Lugny gentilhomme tourangeau en lequelle est monstré l’ordre et methode ques doibt tenir le cavalier envers ses escoliers (School of Louis de Chardon, horseman, lord of Lugny, gentleman of the Touraine, in which the orders and method that the rider must observe towards his students are explained). This is a very important discovery for two main reasons. The first, of general interest, is that this work confirms that, alongside the tradition of printed works, inaugurated by the publication in 1550 by Federico Grisone’s Ordini di cavalcare (Rules of Riding), there are other equestrian treatises transmitted only in manuscript, still to be discovered and studied. The second is more specifically related to the French equestrian culture. This one, discovered by Magnin is, in chronological order, the second equestrian treatise known to date, written by a French-speaking author, datable to the year 1597. It was written between the first (1593/94) and the second (1610) edition of the famous treatise by Salomon de La Broue, Des précepts du cavalerice fraçois.
For a long time, the study of equestrian literature remained limited to the works that, thanks to printed publication, had wider diffusion and fame. For several centuries, Grisone was considered the “inventor” of the equestrian treatise genre because his work dedicated “to the training of horses for the use of war” was the first to be printed and was then the first to be disseminated on a large scale. The discovery in 1820 of the manuscript of the Livro da ensinança de bem cavalgar toda sella, by Dom Duarte (1391-1438), king of Portugal, dedicated “to the art of riding with any type of saddle”, however, showed the existence of works dedicated specifically to equitation more than a century before the publication of Grisone’s book. Moreover, we have seen in a previous article (see The breeds of the Kingdom. An unpublished manuscript by Federico Grisone) a text about horse breeding in the Kingdom of Naples in the 16th century, handed down to us in a manuscript kept in the Osuna Collection of the National Library of Spain in Madrid is attributed to the same Grisone. We also know that in the same Osuna Collection there are manuscripts containing excerpts of Pasquale Caracciolo’s La Gloria del Cavallo, and of Cavallo Frenato by Pirro Antonio Ferraro, works which, by the author’s own admission, circulated in manuscript form before being printed, respectively in 1566 and 1602 (we will devote a specific study to these manuscripts in the future).
But who was the author of the treatise discovered by Magnin? Louis de Chardon, Lord of Lugny, was born in Ferrara, Italy, in 1557, from a family of small nobility from Touraine. The parents were in the service of Renée of France (1510-1575), daughter of King Louis XII, who became Duchess of Ferrara, after marrying, in 1528, the duke Ercole II d’Este. Louis’s father, René de Chardon, was a chamber usher of the duchess, then he became her horseman and, after Renata’s return to France (following the death of Ercole II) in 1570, he became his first butler and councilor. Lugny’s mother was also in the duchess’s service as a chamber maid. Despite being born in Italy, the equestrian education of Lugny took place in France, as his parents returned there when he was only three years old. Between 1590 and 1595 he was probably in the service, as horseman, of Jean VI d’Aumont (1522-1595), Marshal of France. Thus, between 1596 and 1599 he was horseman of Philippe Duplessis-Mornay, governor of Saumur. It was precisely at this time that he wrote his treatise.
In this work Lugny illustrates the duties of the riding master towards his students and the order of his lessons. A theme that, in his opinion, was not treated by preceding writers of equestrian works (Italians and not only). Magnin explains that, from a technical point of view, the book is not particularly innovative with respect to the works of his predecessors, or his contemporaries. Nevertheless, it represents “a treatise which undoubtedly reflects the horsemanship that was practiced almost everywhere in the riding schools at the turn of the Sixteenth century: a horsemanship whose maxims were the use in the first place of sweetness and the search for lightness “(p. 17). This latter found its highest expression in the so-called “airs above the ground”, such as the cabriole, the ballotade and the courbette. For Lugny, lightness was the necessary condition to fully enjoy the pleasure of riding a horse, made easy and pleasant by a wise training. Although, the author notes, “nothing good is achieved without pain”. According to Lugny, pleasure was therefore the reward of work and patience.
Following the canons of the time, Lugny considers “grace” the supreme virtue of a rider. An attitude that it is manifested starting from the expression of the face and by the elegance and lightness of the seat. The rider should avoid “affectation”, which can result from an excess of application. Here Lugny refers to the concept of “sprezzatura”, theorized by Baldassarre Castiglione in his Book of the Courtyard, where he speaks of a gracefulness and self-assurance that make any act look easy. Grace is the essential quality of nobility and combines physical and intellectual qualities. It is opposed to the “lourderye”, i.e. to heaviness. For some it is a natural gift, but it can be refined and perfected through endless work, “because natural vices are so ingrained that we must fight for a long time to eradicate them”. This work presupposes judgment ability, knowledge, patience and moderation, given that the rider “can never assume that he has reached the true limit of this science, since it is infinite” (MAGNIN, 2019, p. 106).
Lugny’s treatise has a further reason of interest: it is in fact written in an era in which the influence of the Italian equestrian culture is still very strong in France. Precisely for this reason Magnin chose to print on the cover of the book a plate from the Italian treatise by Pirro Antonio Ferraro, Cavallo frenato (1602), which shows a riding master with his student. The Italian influence in France followed three main directions: that of the circulation and translation of Italian treatises about horsemanship and hippology (Lugny mentions Grisone, Fiaschi, Corte and Pirro Antonio Ferraro); that of the education of the French riders who went to Italy to learn the equestrian art (such as La Broue, Pluvinel, de La Noue,); that of the Italian riders who emigrated to France, as well as to other European countries, to work as riding masters and horse trainers. “The Lugny school – writes Magnin – is at the heart of the process of assimilation and appropriation of Italian equestrian art and of its pedagogy, but it still has to deal with the strong competition of immigrant horsemen from Italy” (MAGNIN, 2019, p. 140).
I stop here, referring you back to the pleasure of reading the book, which has the essential merit of reconciling an absolute scientific exactitude and a vast horizon of references to the equestrian culture, with great lucidity and ability in popularizing such a complex subject. In short, it is a work that significantly expands our knowledge of a crucial period in the history of horsemanship and European customs.
Finally, I am grateful to Frédéric Magnin because the beauty and originality of his book diverted me from the troubles of my profession and gave me the desire to return to study and write about these subjects. I am convinced that, as he did for me a few years ago, many, after reading his passionate and highly educational book, will confirm to him that he is not alone in his research, and that we share and admire his passion and his curiosity.
At the moment Frédéric Magnin’s book is published only in French. Anyone interested in ordering a copy can send an email to this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also visit the book’s Facebook page, by following this link: https://www.facebook.com/sieurdelugny/
Below is the presentation video that accompanied the crowdfunding campaign that allowed the publication of the book:
BUSSIGNY, Henry L. de French Equitation: Un bauchériste en Amérique (1922), introduction et traduction par F. Magnin, Arles, Actes Sud, 2013.
MAGNIN, Frédéric, Mottin de La Balme, Cavalier des Deux Mondes et de la Liberté, Paris, Editions L’Harmattan, 2005.
MAGNIN, Frédéric, Une ecole d’équitation à la fin de la Renaissance. Le Traité du Sieur de Lugny (1597), A.H.C.E., 2019.