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CHIVALRY AND VIOLENCE IN
MEDIEVAL EUROPE
ddddddddddddddddddddddddddd

CHIVALRY
AND

VIOLENCE
IN MEDIEVAL EUROPE
ddddddddddddddddddddddddddd

RICHARD W. KAEUPER




1
1
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© Richard W. Kaeuper 1999
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First published 1999
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to Seth, Geoffrey, and John
acknowledgements
ddd

Essential support for launching this project came from awards granted by the
Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation in 1989“91. Their generous ¬nancial
and moral support is gratefully acknowledged. The University of Rochester
gave me one-semester academic leaves in 1991, 1993, and 1997, for which I am
likewise grateful.
Warm thanks go to the anonymous Clarendon Press readers, and to William
Calin, John Maddicott, Jeffrey Ravel, and Roberta Krueger, who read large
parts of the book manuscript and gave helpful critiques. Tony Morris encour-
aged the project and saw the book through the contract stage at the Press with
much appreciated skill and enthusiasm. Ruth Parr, Anna Illingworth, and
Dorothy McLean directed the crucial process by which a large manuscript
became a book. Sarah Dancy did the truly heroic work of copy-editing. The
staff in Reference and Interlibrary Loan, Rush Rhees Library, University of
Rochester, obtained even the most obscure French sources. The index was
skilfully prepared by Nicholas Waddy.
Responding to my ideas as I formulated them was one gift from my wife
Margaret. Even more important was her splendidly sound advice as I shaped
the book and her unfailing capacity to ask the hard questions.
This book is dedicated to my sons, Seth, Geoffrey, and John, with love and
pride.
Richard W. Kaeuper
University of Rochester
contents
ddd

vii
Acknowledgements

Prologue 1

PART 1. ISSUES AND APPROACHES 5

1. The Problem of Public Order and the Knights 11
The High Middle Ages and Order 11
Three Witnesses 12
Context: Socio-Economic and Institutional Change 19
Evidence from Chivalric Literature 22
Conclusion 28

2. Evidence on Chivalry and its Interpretation 30
Did Knights Read Romance? 30
Is Chivalric Literature Hopelessly Romantic? 33
The Framework of Institutions and Ideas 36

PART II. THE LINK WITH CLERGIE 41

3. Knights and Piety 45
Lay Piety, Lay Independence 45
Chivalric Mythology 53
Knights and Hermits 57

4. Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 63
Clerical Praise for Knightly Militia 64
Clerical Strictures on Knightly Malitia 73
The Church and Governing Power 81
The Force of Ideas 84

PART III. THE LINK WITH ROYAUTÉ 89

5. Chevalerie and Royaut© 93
Royal Stance on War and Violence 93
Contents
x
Capetian Kingship and Chivalry 98
The Balance Sheet 102

6. English Kingship, Chivalry, and Literature 107
Royal Ideology and Enforcement 107
The Evidence of Literature 111

PART IV. THE AMBIVALENT FORCE OF CHIVALRY 121

7. The Privileged Practice of Violence: Worship of the
Demi-god Prowess 129
Identi¬cation of Chivalry with Prowess 135
Competition 149
Conclusion 155

8. Knighthood in Action 161
A Delight in War and Tournament 161
The Fact of Fear? Voices for Peace? 165
Conduct of War 169
Looting and Destruction 176
Loyalty 185

9. Social Dominance of Knights 189
Chivalry and Nobility 189
The Role of Largesse 193
The Role of Chivalric Mythology (Revisited) 199
The Role of Formal Manners 205

10. Knights, Ladies, and Love 209
The Variety of Voices 210
Male Bonding 215
The Link with Prowess 219
Sexual Violence 225

11. Chanson de Geste and Reform 231
The Song of Aspremont 232
The Crowning of Louis 237
Raoul de Cambrai 244

12. Quest and Questioning in Romance 253
The Quest of the Holy Grail 253
The Death of King Arthur 261
Contents xi
Robert the Devil/Sir Gowther 265

13. Chivalric Self-Criticism and Reform 273
The Romance of the Wings 273
The Book of the Order of Chivalry 275
L™Histoire de Guillaume le Mar©chal 280
Geoffroi de Charny, Livre de chevalerie 284
Thomas Malory, Morte Darthur 288

EPILOGUE 298
The Essex Rebellion and the Bouteville Affair 299
Dissolving the Fusion of Chivalric Elements 302
Prowess and Honour 304
Prowess and Piety 307
Prowess and Status 308

BIBLIOGRAPHY 311

INDEX 331
PROLOGUE
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M A R K T W A I N ™ S Connecticut Yankee, ¬nding himself suddenly
transported across centuries into the strange world of Camelot, man-
ages, despite the shock of time travel, to preserve his acute sense of observa-
tion. From the start he views the Arthurian court ambivalently, feeling horror
at its failure to anticipate the democratic and technological glories of his own
nineteenth century, mixed with a somewhat reluctant dash of romantic admi-
ration for its very otherness, exhibited with such vigour and colour, especially
in the quaint richness of its verbal expression.
If the Yankee thus drops substantial weights onto the pans swinging on each
side of the scales of judgement, the balance arm tips heavily toward the nega-
tive. His early conclusion is that Camelot must be an insane asylum, its
denizens virtual savages who can be dismissed as ˜white Indians™. Listening to
the talk in court for the ¬rst time, he reports:
As a rule the speech and behavior of these people were gracious and courtly; and I
noticed that they were good and serious listeners when anybody was telling anything”
I mean in a dog¬ghtless interval. And plainly, too, they were a childlike and innocent
lot; telling lies of the stateliest pattern with a most gentle and winning naivety, and
ready and willing to listen to anybody else™s lie, and believe it, too. It was hard to asso-
ciate them with anything cruel or dreadful; and yet they dealt in tales of blood and suf-
fering with a guileless relish that made me almost forget to shudder.1

This passage, of course, shows us much that we try to avoid as historians. Here
the Yankee shares the prejudices of his age and wears the racial blinkers of his
creator; he also reveals the sour suspicion of all things venerably European that
periodically appeared in Twain™s books.2
Yet we can more easily read on past the prejudices and culturally smug com-
ments about childlike natives when we observe that the passage and the book,
whatever their obvious failures in cultural relativism, present a thoroughly

A Connecticut Yankee, 13. Twain would have appreciated Clausewitz telling his wife that it
1

would be years before he could recall the scenes of Napoleon™s Russian campaign ˜without a shud-
dering horror™. Quoted in Keegan, A History of Warfare, 8.
The complex, shifting, even contradictory relationship between Twain and European culture
2

is noted in Kaplan™s fascinating study, Mr Clemens and Mark Twain.
Prologue
2
salutary admonition to us as modern analysers of the medieval phenomenon
of chivalry. For the great danger in the study of chivalry is to view this impor-
tant phenomenon through the rose-tinted lenses of romanticism, to read
chivalry in terms of what we want it to be rather than what it was. However
glorious and re¬ned its literature, however elevated its ideals, however endur-
ing its link with Western ideas of gentlemanliness”and whatever we think of
that”we must not forget that knighthood was nourished on aggressive
impulses, that it existed to use its shining armour and sharp-edged weaponry
in acts of showy and bloody violence. As Twain reminds us succinctly, we
must not forget to shudder.
To avoid romanticism should enable analysis, of course, not prevent it. An
occasional, salutary shudder does not mean we must judge chivalry”as Twain
does here”by modern liberal standards, nor indeed that we must judge it at
all, but simply that we should take care not to be blinded by the light re¬‚ected
off shining armour; we should try instead to look at the social effects of
chivalry as dispassionately as possible, and now and then manage to write of
chivalry in a tone other than the reverential. Such efforts in no way diminish
an appreciation of the vast investment in chivalry by medieval people or of the
vast importance attributed to chivalry by modern analyses that may go well
beyond the particularly medieval range of vision. In fact, the most compelling
reason to avoid romanticizing chivalry is that taking a view through rose-
tinted lenses distorts and ¬nally trivializes this extraordinarily powerful force
in early European history.
Signi¬cant bene¬ts accrue if we follow Twain™s advice and avoid romanti-
cism. We can better evaluate the mixture of the ideal and the actual in the
medieval past. We can consider chivalry as a range of ideals closely and com-
plexly intertwined with a set of practices and problems, noting always the con-
text which required this fusion. By escaping romanticism we can better
recognize the linkage between chivalry and major issues in medieval society,
especially the crucial issue of violence and public order.
In any romanticized reading, chivalry becomes a purely positive and uncom-
plicated factor in securing order. Such a reading holds, in essence, that chivalry
brought about the internalization of necessary restraints in a vigorous group
of men”valorous and violent men, to be sure, but potentially the ¬nest of fel-
lows their society could produce. These stout men learned the ideal, used their
weapons in the name of God and in aid of the weak and oppressed. If violence
and the prevalence of war in medieval society caused any problems of order,
some modern scholars imply, these problems could not be inherent in chivalry
itself, nor could they even be encouraged by chivalry. Rather, the trouble
stemmed from the insuf¬cient generalization of chivalry in society, from the
Prologue 3
unfortunate fact of limited diffusion, with chivalry unable to touch all warriors
with its simultaneously elevating and restraining hand.
A preference for reading texts in this fashion is surely understandable.
Scholars™ tasks are so much easier, so much more hopeful, if the tone of the
texts is considered unproblematically upbeat, if these texts are considered to
favour values scholars themselves hold dear. Most denizens of the groves of
academe, after all, tend to be mild-mannered (except for the verbal violence of
departmental meetings, long footnotes, reviews, and the institutional cocktail
party); they sometimes also show a certain emotional commitment to positive
value judgements about their particular era and ¬eld of study.
An element of modern scholarly identi¬cation with the upper social layers
in the distant past may even lie buried now and then within this line of argu-
ment, for should any slightly distasteful issues about warlike violence arise in
analysis, the locus of trouble is quickly identi¬ed and the terminology is
quickly changed. ˜Soldiers™, whose very name implies wage-taking rather than
the true calling (and the right social status) might, granted, be hard for the
knights to control; they might get out of hand, might ride, pillage, burn, and
rape on a scale suf¬cient to constitute a social problem; but the problem of the
soldiery was that they were not knights and had yet to acquire the internalized
restraints of chivalry. War on the home front, the ˜private war™ of knight
against knight, or of knight against the sub-knightly, was apparently either
uncommon or simply the means of asserting needed hierarchical order.
This study argues, to the contrary, that in the problem of public order the
knights themselves played an ambivalent, problematic role and that the guides
to their conduct that chivalry provided were in themselves complex and prob-
lematic. The issues are built into some of the very ideals of chivalry, not merely
in the lamentable inability of fallible men to attain them. This approach is not
simply a self-consciously hard-nosed brand of realism or even some species of
cynicism. It takes as a given the yawning gap between a knightly practice that
is recoverable (if we only look diligently) and the impossibly high ideals
expressed for it in one major text after another. This gap is unsurprising and
need spawn no modern moralizing.
Upon discovering this divergence, beginning students, of course, often
decide to debunk chivalry: the cads did not live up to the high ideals after all.
Any slice of human history could, however, show groups of people more or
less professing one course and more or less following another; surely that dis-
covery cannot be the point of serious study. Nor need it be the point in a study
of chivalry and order. The chivalry that knights practised upheld the high
ideals of a demanding code of honour; as we will see, these ideals were prob-
ably achieved as nearly as any set of human ideals ever can be in an imperfect
Prologue
4
world. Yet even when achieved, their ideals may not have been fully compati-
ble with the ideal of a more ordered and peaceful society also being advanced
during ˜the age of chivalry™.
The issues analysed in this book are thus as much social as individual and the
questions concern political and social order more than any judgement of
knighthood. Of course, competing investments of meaning will compel us to
think of chivalry throughout this book as a concept working under constant
tension. The goal is to discover the mixture of ideals and practices knights fol-
lowed in an atmosphere of reform, and to learn how this process affected the
effort to secure public order in a society just coming to its mature formation.
It will not prove helpful to analyse chivalry in terms of an unre¬‚ective and
rough practice of knights confronted by a glowing theory or high ideal that
outsiders all agreed upon and wanted to impose. Each competing ideal sought
to bend chivalry to its plan; knights took up some of these ideas, rejected
others, and were sure they had ideals of their own.
Use of the term chivalry by the medievals themselves suggests a blurring of
such simplistic categories as theory and practice. When they spoke or wrote of
chivalry (militia in Latin, chevalerie in French), any of three related meanings
may have been in their minds. First, the term could mean nothing more theo-
retical or ethical than deeds of great valour and endurance on some ¬eld of
combat, that is, heroic work with sword, shield, and lance. Second, the term
could mean a group of knights. In the simplest sense this may be the body of
elite warriors present on some particular ¬eld of battle. In a more abstract
sense the term might refer to the entire social body of knights considered as a
group stretching across space and time. Third, chivalry might be used to mean
a knightly code of behaviour.
Just what that code should be was not clear in detail, sometimes not in fun-
damentals. Idealist critics wanted to change much in the knightly mixture of
ideals and practices; some of these idealistic reformers were knights them-
selves. Chivalry can only be interpreted, in other words, as a mixture of ideals
and practices constantly critiqued by those who wanted to change both.
PART I
ddd
ISSUES AND APPROACHES
H A L F a century after Twain™s Connecticut Yankee appeared, Norbert
Elias, a German sociologist, published Über den Prozess der Zivilisation,
a massive study of changing manners and of the ˜civilizing process™ in
European history.1 The present book shares certain basic questions with his.
Was the medieval world (in its mentality and practice) signi¬cantly troubled
by violence? Were knights in particular a source of violence? How and when
did Europeans begin to internalize restraint and edge away from disruptive
personal violence? What role was played by kings and the civilizing in¬‚uence
of their courts?
Medievalists who read Elias will ¬nd his questions thoughtful and impor-
tant; they are likely to be less satis¬ed with the range of evidence and the view
that signi¬cant signs of change appear only in post-medieval Europe. For the
medieval centuries Elias™s questions could stimulate further close investigation
along many lines of enquiry, at least one of which is taken up in the chapters
that follow: the complex connections of chivalry and violence.
Emphasizing these problems of order is scarcely a denigration of medieval
civilization and does not align us with those for whom ˜medieval™ has always
been a term of abuse. On the contrary, such an enquiry emphasizes how deeply
medieval people worked at solving a fundamental problem”one which, even
with our greater resources, we have not quite managed to ¬gure out in the
long span of post-medieval centuries.
The issue of violence was always present, either obvious and in the fore-
ground or more subtly present behind the scenes and between the lines. To be
sure, chivalry created elaborate codes designed to re¬ne knightly behaviour
and to set knights apart from others. Showing elegant manners became
increasingly important; knowing how to talk and act in re¬ned company and
especially with ladies was added to knowing how best to drive a sword-edge
through a mail coif into a man™s brain. These ˜courtly™ qualities are of much
obvious importance in early European history.
Yet scholars have studied and emphasized these courtly qualities so enthu-
siastically that they threaten to claim exclusive right to the large mantle of
chivalry, blocking from our vision the prickly sense of honour, the insistence

Über den Prozess der Zivilisation (1939; reissued 1997); English translation in 2 vols: Edmund
1

Jephcott, tr., The Civilizing Process. Volume I: The History of Manners (1978), and Volume II: Power
and Civility (1982). Cf. final section of Chapter 9.
Issues and Approaches
8
on autonomy, the quick recourse to violence. Chivalry was not simply a code
integrating generic individual and society, not simply an ideal for relations
between the sexes or a means for knocking off the rough warrior edges in
preparation for the European gentleman to come. The bloody-minded side of
the code”even if it seems to moderns, as Twain might say, a shuddering
matter”was of the essence of chivalry. The knight was a warrior and not
Everyman.
After all, the division of high medieval society outlined in spoken or written
word was always threefold: the imagined world divided into those who ¬ght,
those who pray, and those who work.2 The ¬ghting, let us remember, was not
merely defensive, not simply carried out at the royal behest in defence of
recognized national borders, not only on crusade, not really (despite their self-
deceptions) in the defence of widows, orphans, and the weak, never (so far as
the historian can discover) against giants, ogres, or dragons. They fought each
other as enthusiastically as any common foe; perhaps even more often they
brought violence to villagers, clerics, townspeople, and merchants.
The lay elite cherished as a de¬ning privilege this right to violence in any
matter touching their prickly sense of honour. ˜Because I like it (pour ce qu™il
me plest)™ was the belligerent motto of the late fourteenth-century Breton lord
Olivier de Clisson.3 Such a combative sense of autonomy is encountered time
and again in all the evidence relating to chivalry; the sense of honour it con-
veys was secured with edged weapons and bloodshed. In the provincial
leagues that formed in 1314, French lords demanded that the Capetian crown

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