Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe

Article excerpt

Richard W. Daeuper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). xi + 338 pp. ISBN 0-19-820730-1. L30.00.

In this elegant, interpretative essay Richard Kaeuper takes another look at the meaning of chivalry. Eschewing romanticism, he is in no doubt that knightly activity was at least as much a cause of disorder as its cure. Seasoned students of the subject will find his views confirmatory rather than revolutionary, but judicious and finely tuned for all that. Like Painter, Keen, and Barnie before him (the last a surprising omission from his citations), he seeks the heart of chivalry in the knights' own ideology as they interacted with, borrowed from, but only partially absorbed clerical and royalist formulations. Kaeuper finds a strong strain of knightly independence running through the literature of chivalry. But this does not necessarily mean that knights were unreflective: `chivalric literature is ... a literature of criticism and reform as much as a mirror to society' (p. 209). For him the key to understanding chivalry lies with that `demi-god prowess', as he frequently calls it. Prowess, a `competitive, bloody work with edged weapons' (p. 155), came into the world, it seems, oozing blood from every pore: `Bors "saw that the banner which had been white before, was scarlet with blood, and he was overjoyed"' (p. 147). Kaeuper is not blind to the fact that once we leave the fictive world in favour of the reality of warfare, the blood these nobles waded in was as much the blood of non-combatants and foot soldiers as the blood of knights. …

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