What was Medieval Chivalry really about?
by Professor Nigel Saul

Date: Tuesday 20 November 2018

The lecture will explore some of the myths about medieval chivalry, arguing that its essence lay principally in the humane treatment of one another by the knightly class in battle.
What was Medieval Chivalry really about?

The concept of Chivalry is one of the best known aspects of the Middle Ages and Professor Saul seeks to integrate it into the larger narrative of English history, showing how what originated as a military code of behaviour for the aristocracy had important cultural and political aspects too.  Thus, knighthood was individualised and Christianised to confer divine sanctions on warfare, and Edward I popularised tournaments and revived Arthurian legends with the purpose of raising the status of participation in his own campaigns.  His grandson, Edward III, behaved similarly in creating the Order of the Garter and encouraging the cult of the warrior Saint George.  Richard II’s rejection of these values, by contrast, contributed to his downfall.  Certainly chivalry promoted heroic violence as a proof of manliness and prowess, but it also imposed restraint, by stressing the values of courtliness, moderation and benevolence.  Chivalry suffused the fabric of late medieval aristocratic life and was multi-faceted.

Nigel Saul is Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at Royal Holloway, University of London.  He is the author of Richard II (Yale University Press, 1997) and For Honour and Fame. Chivalry in Medieval England, 1066-1500 (London: Bodley Head, 2011).  In 2013 he was historical advisor for the BBC4 series ‘Chivalry and Betrayal’, about the Hundred Years War.  He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a Fellow of the Historical Association.

His interest in knights and knighthood was aroused by doing brass rubbings of knightly effigies as a boy.

Back to the previous page