We all know that medieval chivalry was not about holding doors open for ladies, and standing up when they enter the room. We also know that a ‘code of chivalry’, if indeed such a thing could be said to exist, was very much like the Pirate’s Code in Pirates of the Caribbean: ‘Less a code, and more a set of guidelines’. Indeed, so much has been written on chivalry in the middle ages, that one might wonder why put together a companion to chivalry at all.
Of course, therein lies the answer to the question. The academic study of chivalry, chivalric culture, and the chivalric elite is vast. It is a topic covered by a wide range of disciplines – history, archaeology, literature, and art history – and through a wide range of approaches. There has been no attempt to synthesise all of the work done on the topic since Maurice Keen’s seminal work Chivalry, first published back in 1984.
When Boydell approached Peter Coss and me to edit the Companion, this was very much in the forefront of their minds. For me, there was a slightly different agenda. I had been teaching a course on chivalry and knighthood for some years and had been very fortunate to be able to teach it as a tutorial, to one or two students in a semester, allowing us to tailor the syllabus to their particular interests. Thus, when it came to selecting the topics to be covered, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to see included.
So there are the traditional fields (although not always dealt with in a traditional way): tournaments, arms and armour, heraldry, chivalric literature (both practical and entertaining). There are those fields that have developed over more recent years; in particular chivalric violence, chivalry and gender, and the chivalric landscape. We have studies of particular chivalric communities: the military orders, the secular orders of chivalry, and the post-medieval chivalric elite. We included discussion of the structure of the chivalric elite, in government and in war. Finally, we wanted to make sure that we addressed the use and abuse of chivalry in the modern world, tapping into the fascinating field of medievalism. Add a superb overview of the anglophone and francophone historiography of chivalry and knighthood by my co-editor Peter Coss, and I think that we can confidently say that we covered all the bases.
I think what really makes this book particularly special for me is that not only have the contributors provided a digest of the current scholarship in their particular area of study, but that each has pushed the envelope, suggesting new ways of looking at the subject and asking new questions. It is my hope that it will perhaps inspire a student new to the field, reading this book as an undergrad, to pursue research that takes our understanding of this fascinating and central aspect of medieval society much further.
This guest post was written by Robert W. Jones, PhD, FRHistS, Visiting Scholar in History, Franklin and Marshall College. He is the author of Bloodied Banners: Martial Display on the Medieval Battlefield (Boydell Press, 2010) and a contributor to Military Communities in Late Medieval England: Essays in Honour of Andrew Ayton (Boydell Press, 2018) and The Sword: Form and Thought (Boydell Press, 2019).