Cover image for Chivalry and violence in medieval Europe
Chivalry and violence in medieval Europe
Kaeuper, Richard W.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xi, 338 pages ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1570 Lexile.
Format :


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CR4513 .K34 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Medieval Europe was a rapidly developing society with a problem of violent disorder. Professor Kaeuper's original and authoritative study reveals that chivalry was not simply part of the solution. Chivalry praised heroic violence by knights, and fused such displays of prowess with honour,piety, high status, and attractiveness to women. Though the vast body of chivalric literature, here examined, praises chivalry as necessary to civilization, most texts also worry over knightly violence, criticize all ideals and practices of chivalry, and often propose reforms. The knights themselvesjoined the debate, absorbing some reforms, ignoring others, sometimes proposing their own. Complexity likewise characterized the interaction of chivalry with major governing institutions ("church" and "state") emerging at the same time: kings and clerics both needed and feared the force ofknighthood. This fascinating book lays bare the conflicts and paradoxes surrounding the concept of chivalry in medieval Europe.

Author Notes

Richard Kaeuper is at University of Rochester, New York State.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

By studying and citing medieval works about chivalry--histories, romances, chansons, songs--Kaeuper (Univ. of Rochester) argues that the people of the Middle Ages had no single theoretical or practical image of what chivalry was. Obviously there was a problem of violence in society, but was chivalry an answer to that violence or its cause? Were knights the backbone of the armies relied on by the evolving monarchical states or were they an obstacle to be overcome in the establishment of modern national armies? Were knightly armies the instruments of the Church to be used against the enemies of the Church, or were they a threat to the continued existence of the poor and the weak whose protector the Church claimed to be? Kaeuper contends that there was no agreement among medieval authors about the meaning of chivalry. He asserts that this ambiguity is the result of wide-ranging social and economic changes associated with the appearance of an identifiable noble class (on the Continent) and the challenge to it by bourgeois and other classes, who eventually enter the higher estate through wealth or influence and submerged the chivalric features of former knights. Lower-division undergraduate through graduate level. K. F. Drew; Rice University

Table of Contents

Issues and Approaches
1 The Problem of Public Order and the Knights
2 Evidence on Chivalry and its Interpretation
The Link with Clergie
3 Knights and Piety
4 Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform
The Link with Royaute
5 Chevaleriue and Royaute
6 English Kingship, Chivalry, and Literature
The Ambivalent Force of Chivalry
7 The Privileged Practice of Violence: Worship of the Demi-God Prowess
8 Knighthood in Action
9 Social Dominance of the Knights
10 Knights, Ladies, and Love
11 Chanson de Geste and Reform
12 Quest and Questioning in Romance
13 Chivalric Self-Criticism and Reform