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21 - Chivalric Violence

from Part IV - Religious, Sacred and Ritualised Violence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 March 2020

Matthew S. Gordon
Affiliation:
University of Miami
Richard W. Kaeuper
Affiliation:
University of Rochester, New York
Harriet Zurndorfer
Affiliation:
Universiteit Leiden
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Summary

Viewed, as it often still is, from a neo-Romantic perspective, chivalry becomes a force for order and hedge against violence, but this represents decidedly post-medieval conceptions. European medieval chivalry actually constituted the ideals and practices of the warrior elite, elaborating views on licit violence, lived piety, valorized status, gendered relationships, and the distribution of wealth. This chapter takes chivalric violence as its focus, carefully distinguishing when medieval sources are describing reality and when they present idealistic plans for reforming knighthood. The search is for authentic knightly frames of mind and courses of action. Clearly, they needed some framework to guide their demanding lives and as elite warriors obviously essential in their world, they could choose and shape working codes that met their needs and simply ignore or modify troublesomely restrictive conceptions thrust at them. Of the many sources close to practicing knights used in the chapter, two receive special emphasis, the History of William Marshal (the biography of the manor cross-Channel knight of late 12th and early 13thC) and the Book of Chivalry (written by the leading French knight of mid 14thC). Both show the powerful role of this warrior code emphasizing the role of prowess in the search for honour, sustained by religious piety showing divine blessing on knighthood as one sustaining society.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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