Holy Warriors: The Religious Ideology of Chivalry

Holy Warriors: The Religious Ideology of Chivalry

Holy Warriors: The Religious Ideology of Chivalry

Holy Warriors: The Religious Ideology of Chivalry

Synopsis

This study argues that chivalric ideology of the high and later Middle Ages selectively appropriated religious ideas to valorise the institution of knighthood, and describes how both elite warriors and clerics contributed to a Christian theology that validated the knights' bloody profession.

Excerpt

Coming unexpectedly upon the splendid manuscript painting in British Library Harley 3244 (folios 27b, 28) provided one of those moments that richly reward scholarly work in archives. This striking mid-thirteenthcentury illumination vividly portrays knighthood in a righteous struggle against sin and vice. It could easily have been missed, for the obviously visual part of this volume features an engaging bestiary (an illustrated, moralized “book of beasts” at folios 36–71b); this menagerie of animals so suddenly and colorfully intruded among somber treatises on sin, confession, and penance that I half feared an outburst of trumpeting, howling, and braying that would disturb other readers in that wonderfully quiet Manuscript Room. The serene calm and serious religious tenor of the book was only reasserted when I leafed back to a partial copy of a thirteenth-century encyclopedic work on virtues and vices by a French Dominican named William of Peraldus (Guillaume Peyraut). This is the book for which our stunning illustration now provides a frontispiece.

The painting can likewise serve to introduce the present book on the religion of knights. Carefully planned and beautifully drawn, the bifoliate illumination brings chivalry and religion into the same conceptual framework. Yet the right-hand page irresistibly draws the reader’s eye first, for with much boldness and confidence it presents a mounted knight fully encased in mid-thirteenth-century armor, ready for rough action with lance and drawn sword. At the top of this page a Latin inscription (emphasized by being outlined and written in red ink) serves as caption for the full painting; it quotes a passage from the Book of Job (7:1): “Militia est vita . . .

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