Johan Huizinga's characterization of the fifteenth century as the “Waning” or “Autumn” of the Middle Ages has been as influential as it has been controversial, and despite the amount of criticism and skepticism the portrayal has elicited from its scholarly readers over the last ninety years, this conceptualization has largely stood its ground, invariably stimulating debate and further research. The present case study is at once a tribute to Huizinga's unique perceptiveness as an “intuitive historian,” but also an attempt to flesh out some of his intuitions by focusing more sharply on two figures that in different ways may be seen as symptomatic of the wider process of transition and transformation which Huizinga describes. Both Olivier de la Marche and Renè d'Anjou figure prominently in Huizinga's account, but deserve to be isolated from Huizinga's master-narrative for a moment to be seen as critical observers of their immediate cultural environment, articulating their own sense of the “waning” of the chivalric ideal.
Both figures were closely involved with the courtly culture of their day: Olivier de la Marche (1425–1502) held a variety of offices at the Burgundian court under Philip, Charles, and Mary, later entering the service of Maximilian I. A remarkable practitioner and theoretician of Burgundian chivalry, he was also the author of the Mèmoires as well as a number of ceremonial and more strictly literary works.
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