The Rusted Hauberk: Feudal Ideals of Order and Their Decline

The Rusted Hauberk: Feudal Ideals of Order and Their Decline

The Rusted Hauberk: Feudal Ideals of Order and Their Decline

The Rusted Hauberk: Feudal Ideals of Order and Their Decline


The metaphor of the hauberk, a tunic of chain mail that rusts over time, shapes and unifies this investigation of medieval culture. These essays question the very rubric of the feudal ideal, demonstrating that in historical and legal practice, and in imaginative and didactic writing, a breach often exists between ideal and practice. The authors challenge the notion of a fixed historical construct, emphasizing instead that all constructs must be elastic to allow historical perspectives to enlarge.


When the knight of the Middle Ages rode into battle, he protected the central portion of his body by donning a hauberk. Carl Stephenson describes the hauberk as "a shirt of mail that was constructed by sewing metal scales on a leather foundation or -- the much more expensive process -- by welding iron links to form a continuous fabric." Stephenson goes on to explain that the hauberk reached to the knee, with slashes to allow for horseback riding, and included elbow-length sleeves and a hood.

According to Ramon Lull's influential treatise on knighthood, The Book on the Order of Chivalry, the hauberk could be even more important as metaphor than as physical protection:

The hauberk signifies a castle and fortress against vices and faults. Just as a castle and fortress are closed all about, likewise a hauberk is strong and closed on all sides, signifying to a noble knight that he in his spirit ought not to enter into treason or any other vice.

The hauberk, like the feudal system itself, is here described as a closed system, impermeable provided that the various links in the chain do not give way. The sublunary world being what it is, however, no ideal system can remain intact, if indeed its ideality ever physically existed. Just as the hauberk was susceptible to rust, so the feudal system was inevitably subject to change.

Although both the hauberk and the feudal system have become obsolete, the age they represent, even as it slipped into an irretrievable past, impressed itself indelibly on the Western imagination. The feudal ideal of order -- whatever romantic images that phrase may evoke . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.