Chivalry in Medieval England

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Chivalry in Medieval England

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8=>K6 AGN > C B :9> :K 6 A : C< A 6 C 9

≤ CHIVALRY ≥ in Medieval England

C> < : A H 6 JA

Harvard University Press Cambridge, Massachusetts  

Copyright © 2011 by Nigel Saul Nigel Saul has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America First published in Great Britain in 2011 by The Bodley Head as For Honour and Fame: Chivalry in England, 1066–1500 First Harvard University Press edition, 2011 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Saul, Nigel. Chivalry in medieval England / Nigel Saul. — 1st Harvard University Press ed. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-674-06368-6 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Chivalry—Great Britain—History. 2. Knights and knighthood— Great Britain—History. 3. Great Britain—History—Medieval period, 1066–1485. 4. England—Civilization—1066–1485. I. Title. CR4529.G7S28 2011 394'.70941—dc23 2011025157

For my wife


To write about chivalry in medieval England is to embark on a voyage through a world at once glamorous and violent, alluring and yet elusive. For many, chivalry evokes images of knights in shining armour, menfolk competing for the attention of a fair lady, pennons and streamers fluttering from castle battlements. Much of this picture is a product of the nineteenth-century romanticisation of the Middle Ages – the kind of re-creation that gave us Waterhouse’s ‘Lady of Shalott’ and Viollet-le-Duc’s rebuilding of Carcassonne. Its roots lay in an idealised view of the medieval past which grew up in reaction to the horrors of the grim industrialisation of the time. The real medieval world was altogether less lyrical and more down-to-earth than the fanciful re-creation. Nonetheless, we know enough about the cultural achievements of the Middle Ages to be aware that the image of the fully accoutred mounted knight was one which attracted and captivated contemporaries. The tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table inspired a whole genre of vernacular romance literature. The prowess of the knights of the Hundred Years War was celebrated in Froissart’s Chronicle, one of the most compelling narrative accounts of the medieval period. From the early twelfth century the knightly class dominated the secular landscape of western Europe, spawning an aristocratic culture which was shaped in their heroic image and reflected their martial values. It is that richly layered chivalric world, which has done so much to influence our own view of the Middle Ages, which is the subject of this book. Over a quarter of a century ago another book was published which was to be the point of departure for all modern studies of chivalry. This was Maurice Keen’s Chivalry, an ambitious, pioneering work which rescued chivalry from the hands of lyrical escapists and placed



it firmly in the forefront of medieval studies. The aim of the present volume is to build on the foundations which Keen laid and to do so by engaging with his legacy more specifically in the context of medieval England. The book will accordingly concern itself with how chivalry shaped both the practice of kingship in England and the expectations which people had of their kings, with how it spawned a rich and distinctive aristocratic culture, and how its values infused aristocratic codes of behaviour and personal piety. It will look, too, at the knights and gentry at home, at their changing role in society and their place in local office-holding and administration. It will look at the architecture of chivalry, at the castles and fortifications which were the outward face of the aristocratic elite and proclaimed its militant values. It will look at aristocratic women and their relationship with chivalric culture. Finally, it will attempt a consideration of what the legacy of chivalry might be to us today. Chivalry was the value system and behavioural code of the secular aristocratic elite of the Middle Ages. Studying it focuses our attention on the social group which made the biggest and most forceful impact on the contemporary world. It affords us the opportunity to explore a world at once colourful and visual, mannered and polite, prickly and violent. It introduces us to a society whose values were very different from our own.


I would like to record my appreciation to Will Sulkin and Kay Peddle of The Bodley Head for their careful and patient work on the preparation of this book. I am especially grateful to Will Sulkin for his meticulous editorial work, which has added greatly to the book’s distinction.


List of Illustrations Introduction: Chivalry and History 1 The Origins of English Chivalry 2 Chivalry and Empire, 1066–1204 3 The Making of Chivalric Culture, 1100–1250 4 Knighthood Transformed, 1204–90 5 Kingship and War, 1272–1327 6 Edward III and Chivalric Kingship, 1327–99 7 War, Fame and Fortune 8 The Face of Chivalric War 9 Chivalry and Nobility 10 Chivalry and Violence 11 Chivalry and Christian Society 12 Chivalry and Crusading 13 Chivalry and Fortification 14 Chivalry and Women 15 Memory and Fame 16 Chivalric Literature, 1250–1485 17 The Wars of the Roses and Yorkist Chivalry 18 The Decline of Chivalry Conclusion

xiii 1 7 21 37 60 75 93 115 135 159 178 197 219 239 262 283 305 325 347 364

Bibliography and List of Abbreviations Notes Index

371 389 405

List of Illustrations

Colour-washed drawing of a kneeling knight, added c. 1250 to a Westminster psalter of the early thirteenth century (British Library/ Bridgeman Art Library ) Sir Geoffrey Luttrell being armed by his wife and daughter-in-law, from the Luttrell Psalter, c. 1335–45 (British Library/Bridgeman Art Library) Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, at the Battle of Hastings, from the Bayeux Tapestry (Bridgeman Art Library) Tomb effigy attributed to William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, in the Temple church, London (Chris Christodoulou) The chancel, Stoke d’Abernon church, Surrey, third quarter of the thirteenth century (author) The Round Table in the hall of Winchester Castle, late thirteenth century ( John Crook) Rubbing of the brass of Sir Hugh Hastings (d. 1347), Elsing church, Norfolk (Jon Bayliss) Tile showing a knight with a couched lance, Ottery St Mary Church, Devon (author) Cross–slab grave cover, Salford Church, Bedfordshire, early fourteenth century (author)


list of illustr ations

The ‘English saints’ window, Heydour Church, Lincolnshire, c. 1360 (author) Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire, the keep, c. 1430–50. To one side of the castle, and out of view, is the church, which Lord Cromwell rebuilt at the same time (the late Nicholas More) Dover Castle, Kent, the keep, c. 1170–88 (John Goodall) Cooling Castle, Kent, entrance gate to the inner courtyard, c. 1380 (author) Warkworth Castle, Northumberland, the keep, late fourteenth century ( John Goodall) Drawing of the brass of Joan, Lady Cobham (d. 1434), Cobham Church, Kent (Society of Antiquaries) Tomb of Reginald, Lord Cobham KG (d. 1361), Lingfield church, Surrey (author) Drawing of the brass of Robert Wyvill, Bishop of Salisbury (d. 1375), in Salisbury Cathedral (Edward Kite) The chantry chapel of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick (d. 1439), St Mary’s Church, Warwick (author) Drawing of the Battle of Shrewsbury from the Beauchamp Pageant, c. 1490 (British Library, Shaun Tyas) Sir William Chamberlain KG (d. 1462), from the east window of East Harling church, Norfolk ( Jon Bayliss) Portrait relief of Sir Thomas Lovell, attributed to Pietro Torregiano, c. 1516–20, Westminster Abbey Museum (Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey)

Introduction: Chivalry and History

One of the most attractive drawings to have come down to us of a medieval knight is a colour-washed sketch in a thirteenth-century psalter commissioned for Westminster Abbey. Probably the work of an artist associated with the court, it presents an idealised image of a Christian warrior. The young tyro is shown kneeling with his arms outstretched and his hands open. He is dressed in a mail hauberk, over which is draped a linen surcoat bearing the emblem of the cross patée. From his belt is suspended a sword in a scabbard, and through his left arm passes a lance with a pennon attached. Behind him, leaning over the battlements of a tower, a page is seen handing him his helm while, to one side, a warhorse rears up and begins to canter forward. The scene is deliberately conceived in a void. The knight, suspended in mid-air, turns away from, and not towards, the page handing him his helm. The warhorse is caught in the act of tripping over his left foot. Little or no relationship is established between the various elements which make up the drawing. The effect of this artistic licence is to present the knight in visionary terms: to invest him with the aspirations and idealism of his age, to make him an image of human perfection. He is like Chaucer’s Knight, ‘a verray parfit gentil knyght’, ‘a worthy man’, a lover of ‘trouthe and honour’. Greed and avarice, and the other vices of which knights stood accused, find no place in his nature. His ideals are the Christian ones of truth and justice, righteousness and peace. He exemplifies everything that might be considered best in his order. A very different image of knighthood is presented in the dedication miniature of the Luttrell Psalter, c. 1335–45. In the famous arming scene, Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, who commissioned the volume, is shown being fitted out for war. He is depicted astride a richly caparisoned


introduction: chivalry and history

charger, reaching out to receive his helm from his wife, while his daughter-in-law, to one side, prepares to hand him his shield. The emphasis in this scene is less on the visionary aspects of knighthood than on the insignia of status and rank. Heraldry figures prominently. Sir Geoffrey’s arms, azure a bend argent between six martlets argent, are shown everywhere – on his surcoat, the enormous ailettes behind his shoulders, his pennon, even on the fan-like crest of his helm. His warhorse has them blazoned on its saddle, on its exotic fancrest and its long flowing trapper. Family heraldry appears on the clothing of the two female figures. On Lady Luttrell’s gown are the arms of Luttrell impaling those of her natal family of Sutton (or a lion rampant vert), and on the gown of Luttrell’s daughter-in-law, Beatrice Scrope, those of Scrope (azure a bend or, a label of five points argent) impaling the arms of Luttrell. What is narrated in this miniature is a story of lineage and dynasticism, not just idealism and knightly vocation. Yet beneath the rich surface glitter of the picture there is a deeper meaning. The key to this is found in the juxtaposition of the image with the text of the manuscript. The miniature is placed at the end of Psalm 109 and opposite most of Psalm 110. Linkage with this second psalm is provided not only by position but by the presence of heraldic border patterns of repeated martlets, for Luttrell, and lions, for Sutton. The theme which ties together text and miniature is that of lordship. It is established in the opening words of the psalm, ‘Dixit dominus domino meo . . .’ (‘And the Lord said to my lord’), and is picked up in the imagery of the initial ‘D’, in which God the Father (the heavenly lord) is shown in conversation with an enthroned King David (the earthly lord), who sits at his right hand. A connection was thus made by the artist between biblical lordship and Sir Geoffrey’s own lordship. Sir Geoffrey’s knighthood is placed in a hierarchy of lordship which finds a role for knighthood in the divinely ordained scheme of things.1 The two miniatures are separated in time by some three-quarters of a century, and iconographically they differ sharply. Yet they project the same concern – the concern to invest the knight with an ethical quality, to make him more than a simple warrior or bearer of arms and to surround him with an aura of charisma and mystique. Knighthood is represented as noble and dignified, a divinely ordained estate, a bulwark of society against disorder. It is this quality of

introduction: chivalry and history


knighthood, this aristocratic ethic, which we recognise as chivalry, a word derived from the French chevalier, a knight. Yet if we recognise chivalry when we see it, it is tantalisingly hard to define precisely. Indeed, it is tempting to say that it is almost beyond definition. Medieval chivalry was more an outlook than a doctrine, more a lifestyle than an explicit ethical code. It embraced both ideology and social practice. Among the qualities central to it were loyalty, generosity, dedication, courage and courtesy, qualities which were esteemed by the military class and which contemporaries believed the ideal knight should possess. Chivalry meant different things to different people; like beauty, it was found in the eye of the beholder. For the heralds, whose primary task was to recognise coats of arms, its essence lay in the display of armorial charges on a shield, in the attesting of ancestral descent through the multiplication of quarterings. For the clergy, whose concern was to direct knighthood to the Church’s own ends, it was more a religious vocation, the responsibility of knights to wage war in a just cause, pre-eminently the recovery of the Holy Places from the infidel. For the legists, whose goal was to bring order to the brutal realities of war, it was a legal construct intended to curb military excess, a set of moral guidelines to distinguish proper behaviour from improper. For the writers of romances – lovers of stories but also moral instructors – it was about the attainment of virtue through ennobling feats of arms to win the favour of a lady. For others again, the knights themselves, it was about what Sir Thomas Malory in the fifteenth century called ‘dedys [deeds] full actuall’ – fighting on horseback, jousting in tournament lists and the achievement of manliness through prowess. For the intellectuals and theorists, whose aim was making sense of human society, chivalry – chevalerie in French – was the way to describe the military and aristocratic elite, a social order, the second estate of God’s creation. The divergent perceptions of contemporaries find an echo in the diversity of approaches to the subject in modern scholarship. To some writers – especially those who approach the subject from the standpoint of political and military history – chivalry boils down to a rationalisation of knightly practice; it is a way of describing the camaraderie which developed between knights as they practised the arts of fighting and jousting on horseback. To others, it is a more court-based affair, centring on the code of manners which characterised and regulated


introduction: chivalry and history

the polite society of courtiers and aristocracy. To others again, it is the set of conventions which limited the horrors and excesses of war by prescribing an ethical basis of reasonable conduct between knights. For yet others again, it is essentially the rough and ready business of titfor-tat justice which, so far from limiting violence, actually spread it by embodying an honour code which prescribed retaliation for every minor affront. What cannot be disputed is that chivalry, in the sense of an aristocratic value system, had a wide influence across medieval society. Because the aristocracy constituted the social as well as the military elite, and for this reason were culturally dominant, their value system impinged on areas far beyond the military. The influence of chivalry was felt in political life, in social behaviour, in the conduct of disputes, in funerary rituals, even in architecture and design. If chivalry lay somewhere between ideal and reality, between codification and practice, its impact on the culture of society was both real and substantial. Yet, strangely, chivalry has figured relatively little in most general accounts of medieval England. In virtually all writing on military history, it is the more down-to-earth business of the organisation of war which dominates.2 The raising of troops, the impressment of shipping, the hiring of mercenaries, the assembling of indentured retinues – it is these practical, administrative matters which have commanded historians’ attention. What, in particular, has attracted discussion is the levying of taxation for war, because this was connected with the emergence of parliament and thus with the rise of representative government. Chivalry, for all the importance it had in shaping contemporary attitudes – indeed, in shaping the conduct of war – has been strangely neglected. Much of the explanation for this oversight is to be found in its elusiveness as a historical phenomenon. Chivalry does not feature in the administrative sources which form the staple source material of the political and institutional historian. As the Dutch scholar Johan Huizinga wrote nearly a century ago: ‘Combing the records in which chivalry is little mentioned, [historians] have succeeded in presenting a picture of the Middle Ages in which economic and social points of view are so dominant that one tends at times to forget that, next to religion, chivalry was the strongest of the ideas which filled the minds and hearts of those men of another age.’3 The rise of cultural history in the twentieth century has gone

introduction: chivalry and history


some way to remedying this intellectual imbalance. Nonetheless, there is still a much larger literature on the origins and early history of chivalry than on its later development and its interaction with the broader culture of society. The main aim of the present book, therefore, is to present an account of English aristocratic society in the Middle Ages which puts chivalry centre-stage. The intention is to range broadly across chivalric practice and experience to illuminate the relationship between chivalry and the main political, military, social and artistic currents of the day. At the heart of the book is a series of narrative chapters tracing the history of chivalry in England from the eleventh century to the early sixteenth, while interspersed with these are thematically organised discussions of such issues as the organisation of war, the role of chivalry in the field, the relationship between chivalry and violence, and the influence of chivalry on art and literature. Chivalry provided the writers and artists of the Middle Ages with both a rich narrative repertory and an inexhaustible store of visual motifs. It would be misleading, however, to reduce the history of chivalry to a superficial romp through episodes of glitz and glamour. Within chivalry there were tensions and inconsistencies, and these were picked up and commented on by contemporaries. So the debates of the day about chivalry and chivalric conduct will figure nearly as much as the valorous deeds of the knights themselves. Chivalry was not a movement or institution cut off from the mainstream of society; on the contrary, it formed part of the wider ethos and value system of society. It was central to the identity of the English medieval elite. The medieval aristocracy were shaped in a chivalric image. When knights went off to war, they did so in one capacity as subjects acknowledging their obligations to their king, yet they did so in another as adventurers questing ‘for honour and fame’.

1 The Origins of English Chivalry

The Chivalric Conquest Chivalry, however it is defined, is associated first and foremost with the estate of knighthood and with fighting on horseback. The word knight, though Germanic in origin, carries the same meaning as the French chivalier, a knight, and both are connected with cheval, a horse. Chevalerie, the nearest contemporary approximation to ‘chivalry’, carries with it resonances of skill in the art of horsemanship. The arrival in England of chivalry in the sense of fighting on horseback can be dated very precisely. It was introduced by the Normans in 1066. In the period before the Norman invasion the English do not appear to have employed this technique: at the battle of Hastings, as in every other conventional setpiece military encounter, they fought on foot. The difference between the English fighting style and that of the Normans can be seen clearly in the Bayeux Tapestry. The two lines of soldiers in the battle scenes are virtually indistinguishable in terms of attire: they both wear mail hauberks with short sleeves and conical helms with long extensions over the nose. Where the two sides can be told apart is in their deportment and tactics. The English are shown fighting on foot wielding axes, while the Normans – or the Norman elite – fight on horseback wielding lances and sometimes swords. The sharply contrasting military traditions of the two sides influenced their whole approach to warfare. In battle the English had been accustomed to lining up in a strong defensive formation; at Hastings, therefore, Harold arrayed his men along the full length of a wide south-facing ridge. The Normans, on the other hand, tended to think more in offensive terms. The mobility given to them by the use of mounts allowed them to use shock tactics against their