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of Logres, although later many a valiant man would do it™.59 Such basic lessons
are preached repeatedly: not only do good men disdain mounted advantage,
they refuse to ¬ght several against one, and (as Lancelot instructs Mordred)
they will not ¬ght, armed, against an unarmed man.60
Yet all these romances show somewhat more ambiguity on the question of
riding over prostrate opponents. The valiant Bors rides his horse over a
¬‚attened opponent, for example, until the trampled man yields. Even Lancelot
can appear graciously dismounting to ¬ght an unhorsed enemy in one passage
and then shortly thereafter ride over another™s body ˜until he had completely
broken it™ so that ˜the knight fainted in his great agony™.61 Debate and ambi-
guity continue through the texts of the post-vulgate cycle of romances.62 A
similar tension can be found in Malory™s Morte Darthur.63
On one aspect of knightly ¬ghting chivalric literature is quite unambiguous:
the standard display of all-important prowess takes the form of combat on
horseback, at least as long as the knights could keep their saddles. Malory has
Sir Lamerok say to his brothers, unhorsed on the sixth day of the great tour-
nament at Surluse:
Bretherne, ye ought to be ashamed to fall so of your horsis! What is a knyght but whan

Asher, tr., Merlin Continuation, 231; Paris and Ulrich, eds, Merlin, II, 84“5.

Asher, Merlin Continuation, 272; Roussineau, ed., Merlin, II, 375.

Asher, Merlin Continuation, 179“80; Paris and Ulrich, Merlin, II, 191. These ˜later™ displays of

courtesy have, of course, actually already appeared in romances that preceeded this one in date of
E.g. Krueger, tr., Lancelot Part IV, 44, 61, 93; Micha, ed., Lancelot, II, 152, 221, 347; IV, 69;

V, 207“8; Kibler, tr., Lancelot Part V, 130; Carroll, tr., Lancelot Part VI, 257.
Krueger, Lancelot Part IV, 44, 34“5; Micha, Lancelot, II, 152“3, 116“17.

See, e.g., Asher, Merlin Continuation, 13, 17, 27“8; Quest, 190, 275; Sommer, ed., Zeitschrift,

42, 53, 76; Bogdanow, ed., Version Post-Vulgate, 361; Piel, ed., Demanda, 396.
Examples can be found in Stroud, ˜Malory and the Chivalric Ethos™, 336.
The Ambivalent Force of Chivalry
he is on horseback? For I sette nat by a knyght whan he is on foote, for all batayles on
foote ar but pyllours in batayles, for there sholde no knyght fyghte on foote but yf hit
were for treson or ellys he were dryvyn by forse to fyght on foote. Therefore, bretherne,
sytte fast in your sadyls, or ellys fyght never more afore me!64

This link between a focus on mounted prowess in all ideological statements
and the changing role of heavy cavalry in actual combat provides us with a fact
of considerable importance. Many scholars have argued that chivalry began to
take on recognizable form at roughly the time a basic set of changes appeared
in the favoured mode of ¬ghting. Mounted shock combat had arrived.65 With
feet planted in sturdy platform stirrups and lance ¬rmly tucked under the arm,
an individual knight or a thundering line of knights could be expected to
deliver the decisive blow on the tournament ¬eld or the battle¬eld. In fact,
such a charge delivered at lance point all the combined force of man and
mount. Two lines of such units clashing produced a roar of battle so deafen-
ing that, as one medieval writer after another swears, ˜you could not hear
God™s thunder™.66
We now know that the dominance of heavy cavalry on medieval battle¬elds
was much less total than was once thought.67 Moreover, war typically took the
form of the less-than-heroic raid, or the grind of siege operations, and even set-
piece battles might depend on dismounted knights rather than the sweeping
cavalry charge, pennons snapping in the wind. The knights themselves, most
famously the English in the course of the Hundred Years War, could ¬ght with
much success on foot. Some of the most famous engagements of even the
twelfth century had been won by dismounted knights.68 Moreover, specialist
footmen with crossbows and eventually with longbows, engineers with
increasingly powerful forms of counterweight artillery, throwing ˜stinking
Greek ¬re™69 or sizeable projectiles, sappers with humble picks and shovels”
all actually formed essential elements of military victory.70

Vinaver, ed., Malory. Works, 408. This same knight is surprised when Palomides wants to

¬ght him on foot: ˜hit wolde beseme a knyght to juste and to fyght on horsebacke™ (p. 367).
A discussion of the classic thesis of Heinrich Brunner, with an emphasis on the signi¬cance

of the stirrup, appears in White, Medieval Technology, 1“38.
See comments in D. J. A. Ross, ˜Pleine sa hanste™, and idem, ˜L™originalit© de “Turoldus” ™.

See especially DeVries, Infantry Warfare.

Strickland, War and Chivalry, 23; Ayton, Knights and Warhorses, 19“20.

Muir, tr., Capture of Orange, 113; R©gnier, ed., Prise d™Orange, l. 1118.

For the most recent and thorough overviews, see Prestwich, Armies and Warfare; Strickland,

War and Chivalry; Bachrach, ˜Caballus and Caballarius™. The actual breeding of suitable horses is
explored in R. H. C. Davis, Medieval Warhorse; the relationship between military technology and
military service in Ayton, Knights and Warhorses.
Knighthood in Action 173
Yet the powerful strata of medieval society maintained and projected in the
literature they patronized a belief in the superiority of the mounted warriors
who were chivalry.71 The Lancelot do Lac, playing with cheval and chevalier,
states that when knighthood originated ˜as the Scriptures reveal, no one was
so bold as to mount a horse, if he was not a knight; and that is why they were
called knights™.72 In his equally mythical account of the origins of chivalry,
Ramon Llull places the choosing of the horse as the knight™s characteristic
beast immediately after his account of the selection of the knight for his char-
acteristic role.73
One literary passage after another links chivalric ideology with mounted
shock combat. Boson, in Girart de Roussillon, we learn, is ready to ¬ght any-
one, once he was on his horse.74 Having discovered the liaison between his
queen and Lancelot, Arthur, in the Stanzaic Morte Arthur, pragmatically
doubts if Lancelot can be taken ˜Yif he were armed upon his steed™.75 The
author of the Perlesvaus tells us that Lancelot, besieged by robber knights in a
hall, ˜would have cared little for their threats if he had had his horse with him,
but in combat he was not so sure of himself on foot as on horseback, nor has
any good knight ever been™.76 Being Lancelot, he, of course, accounts for him-
self well, breaking out of the hall, cutting off the leg of one of his mounted
opponents at the thigh, and getting the essential horse, ˜and at once he felt
more assured™.77 If we want a real-life parallel”though with a less successful
conclusion”we need only consider Richard Maluvel, a twelfth-century
Scottish knight, who did marvellous feats of arms in a battle at Alnwick: ˜As
long as he was on his horse he feared nothing; he had a splendid horse and he
was splendidly accoutred; but once his horse was slain, he promptly surren-
Horses are, of course, signi¬cant characters in early chivalric literature;
those ridden by heroes are often named and may be as individualized as any
other character. Aliscans, for example, features Vivien™s horse which even
The same mounted self-image appears in manuscript illuminations and on seals. As Ayton

points out, the illustrations in the Ellesmere manuscript shows the knight and squire mounted not
on the palfreys they would have routinely ridden, but on their status horses, the great beasts they
would ideally ride into battle: Knights and Warhorses, 31“2. Rezak surveys chivalric use of seals in
˜Medieval Seals™.
Corley, tr., Lancelot of the Lake, 53; Elspeth Kennedy, ed., Lancelot do Lac, I, 143. This text

mentions in passing a signi¬cant bit of imagined chivalric history, the ¬rst appearance of a
warhorse covered in protective iron. Corley, ibid., 384; Kennedy, ibid., 550.
Byles, ed., Book of the Ordre of Chyvalry, 15. He later feels compelled, signi¬cantly, to remind

his reader that chivalry lies not in horse and arms, but in the knight himself: p. 114.
Meyer, ed., tr., Girart de Roussillon, ll. 6289“90.

Benson, ed., Morte Arthur, l. 1751.

Bryant, tr., Perlesvaus, 135; Nitze and Jenkins, eds, Perlesvaus, 206.

Bryant, Perlesvaus, 139; Nitze and Jenkins, Perlesvaus, 213.

Prestwich, Armies and Warfare, 328. Michel, ed., tr., Chronicle, ll. 1878“86.
The Ambivalent Force of Chivalry
understand™s the hero™s conversation.79 In more than one story about William
of Orange, the great hero ¬ghts with an interesting mixture of motives: the
desire to defeat pagans threatening Christendom and the desire to possess his
opponent™s marvellous horse.80 Two centuries later the register of the Black
Prince provides the proud names of some of his destriers: Grisel de Cologne,
Morel de Burghersh, Bayard de Brucell, Bayard Dieu.81 Such horses possess
equine prowess. In Yder we hear warhorses captured by the hero making a ter-
rible racket as they neigh and try to injure one another.82 In the alliterative
romance William of Palerne, the warhorse that had served the hero™s father rec-
ognizes the returning son, bows down on its forelegs before him, and carries
him proudly into battle, conscious of the knight™s valour.83
French knights seem to have prided themselves on a particular act of
knightly horsemanship, quick turns for a second charge against a surprised foe.
Turning ˜in the French style™ is mentioned admiringly in more than one chan-
son de geste.84
The author of the Mort Artu (a man much interested in tactical details)
informs his readers that King Arthur, on his way to the climactic battle against
the traitor Mordred, wisely went at a pace that would not tire the warhorses
for the critical moment of battle.85 Whoever wrote The Story of Merlin was like-
wise fascinated with horses and comments closely on the details of mounted
The staple of all combat in all chivalric literature, of course, is the encounter
of two mounted knights, lances ˜straight out™ in the words of the Chanson de
Roland.87 Many thousands of these combats appear in works that were listened
Ferrante, tr., Guillaume d™Orange, 201; Wienbeck et al., eds, Aliscans, 35. Don Pero Ni±o™s

biographer asserts that ˜horses [have] been found that in the thick of battle have shewn themselves
as loyal to their masters as if they had been men™. They are so ˜strong, ¬ery, swift and faithful, that
a brave man, mounted on a good horse, may do more in an hour of ¬ghting than ten or mayhap
a hundred could have done afoot™: Evans, tr., The Unconquered Knight, 11. He later describes such
a horse, ridden by his hero against the Moors. Hit by many stones, the horse half-wheeled, caus-
ing Pero Ni±o to feel shame at turning from his foe. But the horse, ˜which was gallant and loyal,
returned to the charge, feeling the will of its rider, amd thrust itself into the midst of the Moors™:
p. 194.
80 Wienbeck et al., eds, Aliscans, 77. In the Crowning of Louis, William likewise covets his

pagan opponent™s great horse: see Hoggan, tr., Crowning of Louis, 15; Langlois, Couronnement de
Louis, 22.
Prestwich, Armies and Warfare, 30“1. Adams, ed., tr., Romance of Yder, 76“7.
81 82

Bunt, ed., William of Palerne, ll. 3282“95.

Kay, ed., tr., Raoul de Cambrai, laisses 199, 206. Muir, tr., Song of William, 195; Suard, ed.,

Chanson de Guillaume, 204.
Cable, tr., Death of King Arthur, 205; Frappier, ed., La Mort, 226.

E.g. Pickens, tr., Story of Merlin, 240; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, II, 135: ˜Right away the

squires ran to put their armour on. They got on their horses and lined up by rows and then
squeezed right together, just as the knights showed them to do.™ This text and others provide
numerous battle¬eld scenes which turn on procuring horses for unhorsed comrades.
Brault, ed., tr., Chanson de Roland, l. 1204.
Knighthood in Action 175
to or read for centuries. Audiences seemingly never tired of the details: one
lance pierces shield, hauberk, and body; or both lances splinter spectacularly,
perhaps leaving the two knights unhorsed and temporarily dazed, soon to rise
and go at each other with their sharp swords. Tens of thousands of lines of
poetry and later of prose are devoted to the variations on this pattern. The rare
comic scenes only make the same point more obliquely: the huge pre-knightly
Rainouart in the William of Orange cycle mounted on a charger for the ¬rst
time”backwards”or learning the economical use of the sword as opposed to
his beloved but rather undiscriminating club (which crushes both the enemy
and his valuable horse).88 In literature, chivalry ¬ghts its battles with lance,
shield, and sword astride a cheval. Virtually every problem that arises in the
great bulk of chivalric literature is solved by the outcome of such encounters.
The yawning gap between ideal and practice seems signi¬cant. If knights
often”and by the later Middle Ages increasingly”fought on foot, but appear
without fail as mounted ¬ghters in chivalric literature, is this not a good case
for discounting the evidence of imaginative literature? In fact, though the lit-
erary portrayal is not a guide to battle¬eld practice in this regard, it is assuredly
an important window into chivalric mentalit©. The evidence of romance is, we
should note, redoubled by that of historical writing (Froissart, the Chandos
Herald) and of manuscript illumination (Sir Geoffrey Luttrell in the Luttrell
Psalter): in all representations of themselves knights want to be seen mounted
on great chargers, a noble man atop a noble beast, literally above common-
ers.89 Purveying this image must have been considerably more important than
getting the particulars of battle right.
Moreover, the image was less far off than might seem, if we think of the
entire range of deeds in a life of prowess and not just moments of full-scale
battle. Tournaments ¬lled more days than such battles and usually meant a
classic mounted encounter. Even during campaigns jousts à outrance were
fought before or in place of battle, as individual knights or small groups chal-
lenged each other to these ˜jousts of war™, lovingly described by chroniclers and
biographers. Hunting, too, meant horsemanship, another species of prowess,
another active display of lordship. Even funerals make the ¬nal point, as one
or more caparisoned warhorses preceded the warrior™s body in procession.90
The literary accounts may also reveal a congruence in timing between
romance writing and military technique. Michael Prestwich suggests that after
some signi¬cant experience of ¬ghting on foot in the twelfth century, English

Muir, tr., Song of William, 196; Suard, ed., Chanson de Guillaume, 206; Wienbeck et al., eds,

Aliscans, 251, 261.
89 Prestwich, Armies and Warfare, 13, provides the scene from the Luttrell Psalter.
90 Ayton provides a good discussion in Knights and Warhorses, 20“39.
The Ambivalent Force of Chivalry
knights became reluctant to dismount on thirteenth-century battle¬elds. They
had to relearn a willingness to ¬ght on foot in warfare with the Scots in the
early fourteenth century.91 The ¬‚ourishing of chivalric literature and the set-
ting of its conventions would ¬t nicely into this chronology. The physical,
social, and military superiority of the knight atop his huge warhorse could eas-
ily have become a ¬xed theme in the heyday of the writing of chivalric works.

Looting and Destruction
If chivalry made warfare better for knights, what of everyone else? Historians
have long been tempted to believe that knights tried to limit damage to non-
combatants; some have attributed the horrors of medieval warfare to common
soldiers who could simply not be regulated by their social superiors in brighter
armour.92 What does the ˜historical™ and ˜literary™ evidence show?
In the second half of the twelfth century the poetry of Bertran de Born glo-
ries in the very opportunities for looting non-combatants that war brings the
knightly. Hoping that strained relations between Richard the Lion-Heart and
Alfonso de Castile will bring war in the late twelfth century, he writes, in
words that have become well known:
Trumpets, drums, standards and pennons and ensigns and horses white and black we
soon shall see, and the world will be good. We™ll take the usurers™ money, and never a
mule-driver will travel the roads in safety, nor a burgher without fear, nor a merchant
coming from France. He who gladly takes will be rich.93

His poetry joins other works that show the knight™s hand holding the torch
that ¬res peasant homes, bourgeois shops, even churches. Bertrand declared
that ˜War is no noble word when it™s waged without ¬re and blood™.94 The
English king Henry V agreed; speaking three centuries later he declared that
˜War without ¬re is like sausages without mustard.™95 This sentiment was far
from theoretical: accounts of one fourteenth-century English chevauch©e after
another show that English commanders seldom denied themselves their mus-
tard while campaigning in the French countryside. We also know that the
royal ¬‚eet which carried Edward III and his army to Brabant in 1338 indis-

Prestwich, Armies and Warfare, 317“19.

Idealist writers of the time could hope the same; Philippe de M©zières wrote in 1395 that

˜countless ills and cruelties . . . occur in war, against and outside the laws of chivalry™: see
Coupland, Letter to King Richard II, 52“3, 126.
Paden et al., eds., Poems of the Troubadour, 398“9.

Ibid., 358“9. He says in another poem; ˜War wants you to shed blood and set ¬re and never

avoid giving, or tire of it™ (pp. 454“5).
Quoted in Gillingham, ˜Richard I™, 85.
Knighthood in Action 177

criminately plundered merchant shipping in the Channel.96 Private wars in all
ages regularly caused widespread arson.97
This association of warfare with destruction by ¬re appears as a common-
place in many chansons. Near the end of the twelfth-century Coronation of Louis,
William of Orange hopes that his seemingly endless ¬ghting for king and
Christendom may be over: ˜But that was not to be for as long as he lived, for
the Frenchmen took to rebelling again, making war against each other and act-
ing like madmen, burning down towns and laying waste the countryside. They
would not restrain themselves at all on Louis™s account.™98 In the Chanson
d™Aspremont, Girart, Duke of Burgundy, refers to such local warfare almost
casually in a speech to his knights:
If my neighbor starts a quarrel with me,
With ¬re burns my land to cinders;
And I, his, on all sides;
If he steals my castles or keeps,
Then so it goes until we come to terms,
Or he puts me or I put him in prison;99

˜Then so it goes.™ Girart is simply recalling the facts of raid, arson, and counter-
raid at home, as a contrast to the great battle to the death they are facing now,
against a pagan host.
The language of Raoul de Cambrai speaks to the same subject with charac-
teristically brutal clarity: ˜Then they cross the boundary of Vermandois; they
seize the herds and take the herdsmen prisoners; they burn the crops and set
¬re to the farms.™100
Girart de Roussillon, another chanson, presents the same picture, although
with greater epic exaggeration. When Fouque, speaking for Girart, warns
King Charles that his baronial style of war is to burn every town, hang every
knight, and devastate every land taken, the royal response is to promise even
worse by way of revenge. When the sage Fouque stays in an abbey while on a
mission to the king, he is so pleased with their hospitality that he gives the
monks a revealing promise: the bourg where the monastic house is located will
not be destroyed or ruined in the coming war.101 As warfare goes on for years
in this chanson, the knights cut down vines and trees, destroy wells, and turn

See Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order, 98, and the sources cited there. Though only

one example from among hundreds, this case is interesting because ships of all nationalities
suffered”not simply those of the enemy.
E.g. the raid discussed in ibid., 82“3.

Hoggan, tr., Crowning of Louis, 56; Langlois, ed., Couronnement de Louis, 83.

ll. 5012“17; my translation. Kay, ed., tr., Raoul, laisse 59.
99 100

Meyer, ed., tr., Girart de Roussillon, 113, 121“2.
The Ambivalent Force of Chivalry
the land into a desert; they pillage and destroy even churches and monasteries.
One monastery goes up in ¬‚ames with a thousand royalist refugees inside.
Those captured in the war, the poet tells us, are hanged or mutilated. Charles
later claims that Girart has killed or wounded 100,000 of his men and that he
has ravaged and devastated his realm: ˜His great valour is only wickedness
(mauvaistez).™ Merchants who hear a false report of Girart™s death respond
with joy, since his war always heaped evils upon them. Fleeing from the victo-
rious king at the nadir of his fortunes, Girart and his wife must endure similar
maledictions from a widow and daughter in a household which lost knightly
father and son in Girart™s war. Even Girart™s wife tells him that he has killed
and despoiled more men than he can reckon, earning the rebuke of God. King
Charles is not spared criticism himself, however; the Bishop of Saint-Sauveur
rebukes the king for having burned 10,000 churches on his own, causing
monks and priests to ¬‚ee. In his sermon denouncing the war, late in the poem,
the pope tells the warriors that God is angry; they have burned churches and
their clergy; they have caused great suffering among simple folk; they have
destroyed towns and caused great sorrows. They must make restitution for
their own souls and those of their ancestors. At the end of his life, Girart,
thinking about making ¬nal amends, proposes grants to support 500 poor
people and 1,000 monks; but he hears that it is not enough, for he has driven
100,000 people from their homes and his father™s earlier warfare has actually
killed no fewer.102
Epic exaggeration, of course. Yet the knightly role in warfare appears much
the same in works traditionally classi¬ed as romance. Despite its fashionably
classical setting, the Eneas attributes knightly warfare to imagined Trojans and
Latins. The Trojan knights ˜dispersed the peasantry, who were not trained for
battle,™ sacked a nearby castle, and ˜set out for home, gathering booty from the
countryside. They plundered and seized everything and they burdened a thou-
sand sumpter horses with wheat.™103
Two knights in William of England enthusiastically conduct war against the
lady whose lands border those of their lord, not knowing that this lady is their

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