Monday, July 22, 2013

The Knight And Chivalry

I found this book in a used bookstore in Michigan. I like reading medieval tales and history, so I thought it would be fun to learn more about the ideas involved in many of these stories. This text follows the ideals of chivalry and how it influenced society. Barber writes that chivalry was not a static concept, but one that evolved over time. He uses popular tales to show what was expected of knights to be considered chivalric, and the different meanings chivalry had. The various texts referenced in this book reflect how chivalry was viewed by people at the time they were written.

I liked the references to different stories. It provides a great list of literature if you like reading about this topic. Some of the books referenced are:

  • Arthurian Romances by: Chretien de Troyes
  • Tristan by: Gottfried von Strassburg
  • Parzival by: Wolfram von Eschenbach
  • Orlando Furioso by: Ludovico Ariosto
  • The Adventures of Don Quixote by: Miguel de Cervantes
  • The Canterbury Tales by: Geoffrey Chaucer 
  • The Works by: Sir Thomas Mallory
  • Inferno by: Dante
  • Orlando Innamorato by: Boirado
  • The Song of Roland
  • Song of the Cid
  • History of the Kings of Britain by: Geoffrey of Monmouth
  • Alexiad by: Anna Comnena
  • The Niebelungenlied
  • The Faerie Queen by: Edmund Spenser

I found this book to be a fascinating history about where the concept of chivalry came from, and how it changed overtime. To discover how jousting tournaments and later on, duels were influenced by chivalry, made the section on tournaments more engaging. I enjoyed learning about what it meant to be a chivalric knight. I also liked that there was a section included on how chivalry could get in the way during war. For example, knights would not always fight as a cohesive army, despite plans to do so. Eager for honor and glory, they would lead small groups of soldiers against a much larger force. Such actions would often cause them to lose many more men than necessary. This could be detrimental to the overarching battle plan.

There is also discussion about kings being less enthusiastic about the chivalric actions of their knights. They wanted their knights to be alive and available for them to use as they saw fit. Having your knights die in a joust, leave on a personal pilgrimage, or leaving the country to fight in someone else's crusade gives little benefit to the rulers. Eventually, kings decided to use chivalry to their advantage. Making knighthood a selective court honor limited who could be a knight, and gave a more personal connection between the knight and his king. The vows made at knighthood started to include more of a patriotic theme to reinforce where their loyalty should be.

There was also some interesting sections on the Templar Knights, Tuetonic Knights, and Spanish Orders with their codes of conduct. There is a brief overview of each group's history. It was interesting to read how chivalry influenced the behavior of these groups.

Barber provides an engaging combination of the history of chivalry, and the perspective people held about it. I would recommend this book to people who are interested in medieval history, and those interested in learning about knights. It was a well researched book, and the material was presented in a clear manner.

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