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to Seth, Geoffrey, and John

Essential support for launching this project came from awards granted by the
Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation in 1989“91. Their generous ¬nancial
and moral support is gratefully acknowledged. The University of Rochester
gave me one-semester academic leaves in 1991, 1993, and 1997, for which I am
likewise grateful.
Warm thanks go to the anonymous Clarendon Press readers, and to William
Calin, John Maddicott, Jeffrey Ravel, and Roberta Krueger, who read large
parts of the book manuscript and gave helpful critiques. Tony Morris encour-
aged the project and saw the book through the contract stage at the Press with
much appreciated skill and enthusiasm. Ruth Parr, Anna Illingworth, and
Dorothy McLean directed the crucial process by which a large manuscript
became a book. Sarah Dancy did the truly heroic work of copy-editing. The
staff in Reference and Interlibrary Loan, Rush Rhees Library, University of
Rochester, obtained even the most obscure French sources. The index was
skilfully prepared by Nicholas Waddy.
Responding to my ideas as I formulated them was one gift from my wife
Margaret. Even more important was her splendidly sound advice as I shaped
the book and her unfailing capacity to ask the hard questions.
This book is dedicated to my sons, Seth, Geoffrey, and John, with love and
Richard W. Kaeuper
University of Rochester


Prologue 1


1. The Problem of Public Order and the Knights 11
The High Middle Ages and Order 11
Three Witnesses 12
Context: Socio-Economic and Institutional Change 19
Evidence from Chivalric Literature 22
Conclusion 28

2. Evidence on Chivalry and its Interpretation 30
Did Knights Read Romance? 30
Is Chivalric Literature Hopelessly Romantic? 33
The Framework of Institutions and Ideas 36


3. Knights and Piety 45
Lay Piety, Lay Independence 45
Chivalric Mythology 53
Knights and Hermits 57

4. Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 63
Clerical Praise for Knightly Militia 64
Clerical Strictures on Knightly Malitia 73
The Church and Governing Power 81
The Force of Ideas 84


5. Chevalerie and Royaut© 93
Royal Stance on War and Violence 93
Capetian Kingship and Chivalry 98
The Balance Sheet 102

6. English Kingship, Chivalry, and Literature 107
Royal Ideology and Enforcement 107
The Evidence of Literature 111


7. The Privileged Practice of Violence: Worship of the
Demi-god Prowess 129
Identi¬cation of Chivalry with Prowess 135
Competition 149
Conclusion 155

8. Knighthood in Action 161
A Delight in War and Tournament 161
The Fact of Fear? Voices for Peace? 165
Conduct of War 169
Looting and Destruction 176
Loyalty 185

9. Social Dominance of Knights 189
Chivalry and Nobility 189
The Role of Largesse 193
The Role of Chivalric Mythology (Revisited) 199
The Role of Formal Manners 205

10. Knights, Ladies, and Love 209
The Variety of Voices 210
Male Bonding 215
The Link with Prowess 219
Sexual Violence 225

11. Chanson de Geste and Reform 231
The Song of Aspremont 232
The Crowning of Louis 237
Raoul de Cambrai 244

12. Quest and Questioning in Romance 253
The Quest of the Holy Grail 253
The Death of King Arthur 261
Contents xi
Robert the Devil/Sir Gowther 265

13. Chivalric Self-Criticism and Reform 273
The Romance of the Wings 273
The Book of the Order of Chivalry 275
L™Histoire de Guillaume le Mar©chal 280
Geoffroi de Charny, Livre de chevalerie 284
Thomas Malory, Morte Darthur 288

The Essex Rebellion and the Bouteville Affair 299
Dissolving the Fusion of Chivalric Elements 302
Prowess and Honour 304
Prowess and Piety 307
Prowess and Status 308



M A R K T W A I N ™ S Connecticut Yankee, ¬nding himself suddenly
transported across centuries into the strange world of Camelot, man-
ages, despite the shock of time travel, to preserve his acute sense of observa-
tion. From the start he views the Arthurian court ambivalently, feeling horror
at its failure to anticipate the democratic and technological glories of his own
nineteenth century, mixed with a somewhat reluctant dash of romantic admi-
ration for its very otherness, exhibited with such vigour and colour, especially
in the quaint richness of its verbal expression.
If the Yankee thus drops substantial weights onto the pans swinging on each
side of the scales of judgement, the balance arm tips heavily toward the nega-
tive. His early conclusion is that Camelot must be an insane asylum, its
denizens virtual savages who can be dismissed as ˜white Indians™. Listening to
the talk in court for the ¬rst time, he reports:
As a rule the speech and behavior of these people were gracious and courtly; and I
noticed that they were good and serious listeners when anybody was telling anything”
I mean in a dog¬ghtless interval. And plainly, too, they were a childlike and innocent
lot; telling lies of the stateliest pattern with a most gentle and winning naivety, and
ready and willing to listen to anybody else™s lie, and believe it, too. It was hard to asso-
ciate them with anything cruel or dreadful; and yet they dealt in tales of blood and suf-
fering with a guileless relish that made me almost forget to shudder.1

This passage, of course, shows us much that we try to avoid as historians. Here
the Yankee shares the prejudices of his age and wears the racial blinkers of his
creator; he also reveals the sour suspicion of all things venerably European that
periodically appeared in Twain™s books.2
Yet we can more easily read on past the prejudices and culturally smug com-
ments about childlike natives when we observe that the passage and the book,
whatever their obvious failures in cultural relativism, present a thoroughly

A Connecticut Yankee, 13. Twain would have appreciated Clausewitz telling his wife that it

would be years before he could recall the scenes of Napoleon™s Russian campaign ˜without a shud-
dering horror™. Quoted in Keegan, A History of Warfare, 8.
The complex, shifting, even contradictory relationship between Twain and European culture

is noted in Kaplan™s fascinating study, Mr Clemens and Mark Twain.
salutary admonition to us as modern analysers of the medieval phenomenon
of chivalry. For the great danger in the study of chivalry is to view this impor-
tant phenomenon through the rose-tinted lenses of romanticism, to read
chivalry in terms of what we want it to be rather than what it was. However
glorious and re¬ned its literature, however elevated its ideals, however endur-
ing its link with Western ideas of gentlemanliness”and whatever we think of
that”we must not forget that knighthood was nourished on aggressive
impulses, that it existed to use its shining armour and sharp-edged weaponry
in acts of showy and bloody violence. As Twain reminds us succinctly, we
must not forget to shudder.
To avoid romanticism should enable analysis, of course, not prevent it. An
occasional, salutary shudder does not mean we must judge chivalry”as Twain
does here”by modern liberal standards, nor indeed that we must judge it at
all, but simply that we should take care not to be blinded by the light re¬‚ected
off shining armour; we should try instead to look at the social effects of
chivalry as dispassionately as possible, and now and then manage to write of
chivalry in a tone other than the reverential. Such efforts in no way diminish
an appreciation of the vast investment in chivalry by medieval people or of the
vast importance attributed to chivalry by modern analyses that may go well
beyond the particularly medieval range of vision. In fact, the most compelling
reason to avoid romanticizing chivalry is that taking a view through rose-
tinted lenses distorts and ¬nally trivializes this extraordinarily powerful force
in early European history.
Signi¬cant bene¬ts accrue if we follow Twain™s advice and avoid romanti-
cism. We can better evaluate the mixture of the ideal and the actual in the
medieval past. We can consider chivalry as a range of ideals closely and com-
plexly intertwined with a set of practices and problems, noting always the con-
text which required this fusion. By escaping romanticism we can better
recognize the linkage between chivalry and major issues in medieval society,
especially the crucial issue of violence and public order.
In any romanticized reading, chivalry becomes a purely positive and uncom-
plicated factor in securing order. Such a reading holds, in essence, that chivalry
brought about the internalization of necessary restraints in a vigorous group
of men”valorous and violent men, to be sure, but potentially the ¬nest of fel-
lows their society could produce. These stout men learned the ideal, used their
weapons in the name of God and in aid of the weak and oppressed. If violence
and the prevalence of war in medieval society caused any problems of order,
some modern scholars imply, these problems could not be inherent in chivalry
itself, nor could they even be encouraged by chivalry. Rather, the trouble
stemmed from the insuf¬cient generalization of chivalry in society, from the
Prologue 3
unfortunate fact of limited diffusion, with chivalry unable to touch all warriors
with its simultaneously elevating and restraining hand.
A preference for reading texts in this fashion is surely understandable.
Scholars™ tasks are so much easier, so much more hopeful, if the tone of the
texts is considered unproblematically upbeat, if these texts are considered to
favour values scholars themselves hold dear. Most denizens of the groves of
academe, after all, tend to be mild-mannered (except for the verbal violence of
departmental meetings, long footnotes, reviews, and the institutional cocktail
party); they sometimes also show a certain emotional commitment to positive
value judgements about their particular era and ¬eld of study.
An element of modern scholarly identi¬cation with the upper social layers
in the distant past may even lie buried now and then within this line of argu-
ment, for should any slightly distasteful issues about warlike violence arise in
analysis, the locus of trouble is quickly identi¬ed and the terminology is
quickly changed. ˜Soldiers™, whose very name implies wage-taking rather than
the true calling (and the right social status) might, granted, be hard for the
knights to control; they might get out of hand, might ride, pillage, burn, and
rape on a scale suf¬cient to constitute a social problem; but the problem of the
soldiery was that they were not knights and had yet to acquire the internalized
restraints of chivalry. War on the home front, the ˜private war™ of knight
against knight, or of knight against the sub-knightly, was apparently either
uncommon or simply the means of asserting needed hierarchical order.
This study argues, to the contrary, that in the problem of public order the
knights themselves played an ambivalent, problematic role and that the guides
to their conduct that chivalry provided were in themselves complex and prob-
lematic. The issues are built into some of the very ideals of chivalry, not merely
in the lamentable inability of fallible men to attain them. This approach is not
simply a self-consciously hard-nosed brand of realism or even some species of
cynicism. It takes as a given the yawning gap between a knightly practice that
is recoverable (if we only look diligently) and the impossibly high ideals
expressed for it in one major text after another. This gap is unsurprising and
need spawn no modern moralizing.
Upon discovering this divergence, beginning students, of course, often
decide to debunk chivalry: the cads did not live up to the high ideals after all.
Any slice of human history could, however, show groups of people more or
less professing one course and more or less following another; surely that dis-
covery cannot be the point of serious study. Nor need it be the point in a study
of chivalry and order. The chivalry that knights practised upheld the high
ideals of a demanding code of honour; as we will see, these ideals were prob-
ably achieved as nearly as any set of human ideals ever can be in an imperfect
world. Yet even when achieved, their ideals may not have been fully compati-
ble with the ideal of a more ordered and peaceful society also being advanced
during ˜the age of chivalry™.
The issues analysed in this book are thus as much social as individual and the
questions concern political and social order more than any judgement of
knighthood. Of course, competing investments of meaning will compel us to
think of chivalry throughout this book as a concept working under constant
tension. The goal is to discover the mixture of ideals and practices knights fol-
lowed in an atmosphere of reform, and to learn how this process affected the
effort to secure public order in a society just coming to its mature formation.
It will not prove helpful to analyse chivalry in terms of an unre¬‚ective and
rough practice of knights confronted by a glowing theory or high ideal that
outsiders all agreed upon and wanted to impose. Each competing ideal sought
to bend chivalry to its plan; knights took up some of these ideas, rejected
others, and were sure they had ideals of their own.
Use of the term chivalry by the medievals themselves suggests a blurring of
such simplistic categories as theory and practice. When they spoke or wrote of
chivalry (militia in Latin, chevalerie in French), any of three related meanings
may have been in their minds. First, the term could mean nothing more theo-
retical or ethical than deeds of great valour and endurance on some ¬eld of
combat, that is, heroic work with sword, shield, and lance. Second, the term
could mean a group of knights. In the simplest sense this may be the body of
elite warriors present on some particular ¬eld of battle. In a more abstract
sense the term might refer to the entire social body of knights considered as a
group stretching across space and time. Third, chivalry might be used to mean
a knightly code of behaviour.
Just what that code should be was not clear in detail, sometimes not in fun-
damentals. Idealist critics wanted to change much in the knightly mixture of
ideals and practices; some of these idealistic reformers were knights them-
selves. Chivalry can only be interpreted, in other words, as a mixture of ideals
and practices constantly critiqued by those who wanted to change both.
H A L F a century after Twain™s Connecticut Yankee appeared, Norbert
Elias, a German sociologist, published Über den Prozess der Zivilisation,
a massive study of changing manners and of the ˜civilizing process™ in
European history.1 The present book shares certain basic questions with his.
Was the medieval world (in its mentality and practice) signi¬cantly troubled
by violence? Were knights in particular a source of violence? How and when
did Europeans begin to internalize restraint and edge away from disruptive
personal violence? What role was played by kings and the civilizing in¬‚uence
of their courts?
Medievalists who read Elias will ¬nd his questions thoughtful and impor-
tant; they are likely to be less satis¬ed with the range of evidence and the view
that signi¬cant signs of change appear only in post-medieval Europe. For the
medieval centuries Elias™s questions could stimulate further close investigation
along many lines of enquiry, at least one of which is taken up in the chapters
that follow: the complex connections of chivalry and violence.
Emphasizing these problems of order is scarcely a denigration of medieval
civilization and does not align us with those for whom ˜medieval™ has always
been a term of abuse. On the contrary, such an enquiry emphasizes how deeply
medieval people worked at solving a fundamental problem”one which, even
with our greater resources, we have not quite managed to ¬gure out in the
long span of post-medieval centuries.
The issue of violence was always present, either obvious and in the fore-
ground or more subtly present behind the scenes and between the lines. To be
sure, chivalry created elaborate codes designed to re¬ne knightly behaviour
and to set knights apart from others. Showing elegant manners became
increasingly important; knowing how to talk and act in re¬ned company and
especially with ladies was added to knowing how best to drive a sword-edge
through a mail coif into a man™s brain. These ˜courtly™ qualities are of much
obvious importance in early European history.
Yet scholars have studied and emphasized these courtly qualities so enthu-
siastically that they threaten to claim exclusive right to the large mantle of
chivalry, blocking from our vision the prickly sense of honour, the insistence

Über den Prozess der Zivilisation (1939; reissued 1997); English translation in 2 vols: Edmund

Jephcott, tr., The Civilizing Process. Volume I: The History of Manners (1978), and Volume II: Power
and Civility (1982). Cf. final section of Chapter 9.
Issues and Approaches
on autonomy, the quick recourse to violence. Chivalry was not simply a code
integrating generic individual and society, not simply an ideal for relations
between the sexes or a means for knocking off the rough warrior edges in
preparation for the European gentleman to come. The bloody-minded side of
the code”even if it seems to moderns, as Twain might say, a shuddering
matter”was of the essence of chivalry. The knight was a warrior and not
After all, the division of high medieval society outlined in spoken or written
word was always threefold: the imagined world divided into those who ¬ght,
those who pray, and those who work.2 The ¬ghting, let us remember, was not
merely defensive, not simply carried out at the royal behest in defence of
recognized national borders, not only on crusade, not really (despite their self-
deceptions) in the defence of widows, orphans, and the weak, never (so far as
the historian can discover) against giants, ogres, or dragons. They fought each
other as enthusiastically as any common foe; perhaps even more often they
brought violence to villagers, clerics, townspeople, and merchants.
The lay elite cherished as a de¬ning privilege this right to violence in any
matter touching their prickly sense of honour. ˜Because I like it (pour ce qu™il
me plest)™ was the belligerent motto of the late fourteenth-century Breton lord
Olivier de Clisson.3 Such a combative sense of autonomy is encountered time
and again in all the evidence relating to chivalry; the sense of honour it con-
veys was secured with edged weapons and bloodshed. In the provincial
leagues that formed in 1314, French lords demanded that the Capetian crown
recognize their right of private war; a generation earlier they had pointedly
reminded clerics that the French kingdom itself had been founded ˜by the
sweat of war™.4 ˜I will be justice this day™, exults Gamelyn in the fourteenth-cen-
tury English romance; he has just recovered right and honour by violently
overwhelming the meeting of a corrupt royal court, has hanged the sheriff and
jurors, and will shortly hang the king™s justice, after cleaving his cheekbone and
breaking his arm.5 English and French judicial records can produce parallels
from life to this violent scene of autonomy imaginatively realized in literature.6
The identity of chivalry and status with proud violence will continue through-
out the medieval centuries and into those we call early modern.7

See Duby, Les Trois Ordres. His life is examined in Henneman, Olivier de Clisson.
2 3

Paris, Chronica Majora, iv, 593: ˜regnum non per jus scriptum, nec per clericorum arrogan-

tiam, sed per sudores bellicos fuerit adquisitum™; cited in Clanchy, ˜Law and Love™, 51.
Sands, Middle English Verse Romances, 178“81.

See the examples in Kaeuper, ˜Law and Order™ and War, Justice, and Public Order, 225“68.

See, e.g., Mervyn James, ˜English Politics and the Concept of Honour™; Billacois, Le Duel

dans la soci©t© fran§aise des XVIe“XVIIe siècles; Kiernan, The Duel in European History; Schalk, From
Valor to Pedigree.
Issues and Approaches 9
Of course we need no more believe that most knights were constantly out
of control, moved by sheer glandular urges to cut and thrust, than to believe
that most of them had happily experienced a complete taming of such impulses
simply by learning courtesy. The problem that distinguishes the medieval
chapter of the story of public order, however, is that (as we will see) the right
and personal practice of warlike violence has fused with honour, high status,
religious piety, and claims about love, so that those knights who are inclined,
or who see opportunity, will be likely to act with whatever force they can
muster, con¬dent in their course of action. This ethos, moreover, will
inevitably and understandably extend beyond the caste of knights to play a role
in society generally. It will be a long time, indeed, before con¬dence in the role
of heroic violence is truly shaken.

The High Middle Ages and Order
The millennium of European history we call medieval has known more than
one scheme for subdivision into shorter thematic and chronological periods.
Charles Homer Haskins™s Renaissance of the Twelfth Century stands among the
most enduring, fruitful, and debated of these plans.1 However polemical its
chosen title, however excessive we may think the book™s untiring emphasis on
revived classicism as the key indicator and engine of change, Haskins™s book
was one of the key works to focus our attention on the period beginning in
roughly the mid-eleventh century (or even earlier, as many scholars would
now insist), often termed the Central or High Middle Ages. A distinguished
body of scholarship emphasizes the fundamental importance of this period of
European history: to Henri Pirenne, Roberto Lopez, M. M. Postan, it repre-
sented the transformation of economic and urban life; it was the in¬‚uential
˜second feudal age™ for Marc Bloch; for R. W. Southern the age embodied
˜medieval humanism™; for Robert Fossier it was ˜the beginnings of Europe™, for
Georges Duby it brought the ˜early growth of the European economy™ and the
˜age of the cathedrals™; for Joseph Strayer it created the ˜origins of the modern
state™; for Karl Leyser its early decades marked ˜the ascent of Latin Europe™.2
The list could be considerably extended, but the basic point remains that many
historians have argued that in so many varied and important dimensions of life
the generations between something like the eleventh and the early fourteenth
centuries saw change and accomplishment on a scale truly important for the
long course of Western history.

Hasking, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century.

Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe; Lopez, The Commercial Revolution of

the Middle Ages; Postan, Medieval Trade and Finance and Medieval Society and Economy; Marc
Bloch, Soci©t© F©odale; Southern, Medieval Humanism and Other Studies; Fossier, Enfance de
l™Europe; Duby, Early Growth of the European Economy and Age of the Cathedrals: Strayer, Medieval
Origins; Leyser, Ascent of Latin Europe .
Issues and Approaches
Change on this scale inevitably produces tensions, many of which have been
explored by medievalists. The uneasy coexistence of spirituality and commer-
cial expansion is an excellent case in point.3 Yet in all of the discussion of this
central period of medieval history one of the most signi¬cant issues has
attracted less close analysis than it deserves. This basic issue is public order. We
have studied ecclesiastical and lay government in detail, we have analysed war,
and, more recently, crime; chivalry as an ideal has long attracted scholars, and
some have even descended to consider it in daily life; but we cannot truly
understand public order by studying any one of these topics in isolation.
Working to create and sustain the order, the regularity, the acceptable
degree of peacefulness that make civilized life possible is, of course, a funda-
mental need of all societies. The effort will always raise signi¬cant questions.
What violence is licit or even sancti¬ed? What violence is considered destruc-
tive of necessary order? Who has the power to decide these questions and how
are such decisions actually secured?
If these questions are universal, however, Western Europeans in the High
Middle Ages confronted the issues with particular urgency; they had quite
speci¬c and compelling reasons to concern themselves with issues of violence
and order. How do we know this?
We can be certain of their concerns because they so clearly uttered them and
because they effected broad changes in the institutions and ideas by which they
lived. Looking at the views of several twelfth-century historical writers can
give us an initial sense of this evidence; then, after brie¬‚y considering some
well-known evidence about social and institutional change, we will turn to the
rich ¬eld of imaginative literature.4

Three Witnesses
The ¬rst of our three historians, Orderic Vitalis, though born in England,
spent his life as a Norman monk at Saint-Évroul. His wide-ranging chronicle,
The Ecclesiastical History5 shows that monastic walls formed no impenetrable
Little, ˜Pride Goes Before Avarice™, 16“49; Southern, Western Society .

This is, of course, not the only evidence that could be used. The books of miracle stories of St

Benedict which were compiled in the eleventh and twelfth centuries ˜are very much concerned
with men who appear to be knights and are almost invariably represented as agents of violence™:
Rollason, ˜The Miracles of St Benedict™, 82“7. Though the topic is little investigated, Europeans
of this period may even have painted their concerns; see Raynaud™s study of the portrayal of vio-
lence in manuscript illuminations, La Violence au Moyen ‚ge. Canon law also re¬‚ects a concern
over violence: Gaudemet, ˜Les collections canoniques™; Richard M. Fraher, ˜Theoretical
Justi¬cation™ and ˜Preventing Crime in the High Middle Ages™.
Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History. For general discussion of this work in context, see

Chibnall™s introduction, and her article, ˜Feudal Society in Orderic Vitalis™; Holdsworth, ˜Ideas
and Reality™; Strickland, War and Chivalry, especially 12“16.
Public Order and the Knights 13
barrier to a genuine understanding of the outside world or to writing an
account of its major features; in roughly 1123“37 Orderic, in fact, wrote one of
our most useful accounts of the society taking shape around him.6 In the sec-
tions of his history dealing with northwestern Europe, as opposed to his deriv-
ative accounts of the ¬rst crusade, Orderic reveals an almost obsessive concern
for order and the elusive goal of a more peaceful society. As a monk, he shows
a thoroughly professional distaste for sexual laxity in any form, as we might
expect; but a more consistent and urgent leitmotiv in his history, highly
signi¬cant for our purposes, is the need for ¬rm, authoritative action against
the violence, disorder, and constant warfare that so characterized his world.7
Orderic is no paci¬st. Violence in the right cause, carried out by the proper
people, can cause him to wax eloquent, as, for example, he does frequently
when narrating the crusade.8 Violence of Christian against Christian troubles
him more, but even here he can show approval if the goal and end result seem
to be a more orderly society. His language describing even the monastic life
can take on the martial tonality not uncommon for religious writers of his
time: monks are ˜soldiers of Christ™ battling demons; they use the ˜weapon of
prayer™. But looking out over monastic walls at the violence in his own society,
he repeatedly laments the impulse to war in such terms as: ˜The turbulent are
chafed by peace and general tranquillity and, while they attempt to destroy the
pride of others, are themselves through God™s just judgement very often slain
by their own weapons. How blind and foolish are the men who desire war in
times of peace.™ When a marriage alliance ended one of these local wars, he is
relieved ˜that multiple crime did not proliferate from the root of evil and put
out new and worse shoots continually in future generations™.9
He is certain that the cure for such disorder rests with proper authorities
who can at least attempt to restrict the practice of major acts of violence to
their own capable hands. In an ideal world there would perhaps be no need for
violence at all, but in a speech he puts into the mouth of Count Helias at the
time Henry I is establishing his rule in Normandy, Orderic says, ˜as the popu-
lar saying goes, “wrong must be done to put an end to a worse thing.” This

Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, I, 32. Duby says that Orderic has given us ˜du premier XIIe

siècle la meilleure vision, sans doute™: ˜Guerre et soci©t©™, 474. Orderic comments on the frequent
conversations between monks and visiting knights: see, e.g., Chibnall, Ecclesiastical History, III,
206“7, and Chibnall™s helpful comments in I, 36“8; also see her article, ˜Feudal Society in Orderic
Vitalis™. Cf. Flori, L™Essor de chevalerie, 271“4.
7 Orderic, for example, praises Henry I to the skies for his role as a provider of peace, despite

the king™s record number of illegitimate offspring. William Rufus and Robert Curthose, much less
successful kings, are scorched by Orderic for their sexual laxity: Chibnall, Ecclesiastical History, V,
286“7, 300“1. For general comments on Orderic™s concerns, see sources cited in note 5.
8 See, e.g., ibid., V, 68“9. Examples abound throughout all Orderic™s crusade accounts.
9 E.g. ibid., III, 260“1, 292“3; VI, 328“9; IV, 200“3.
Issues and Approaches
indeed I repeat as a common proverb, I do not claim divine authority for it.™
Orderic imagines his hero Henry I speaking in similar terms: ˜I saw with sor-
row the af¬‚iction of my ancestral inheritance, but could bring no help to the
needy except by force of arms.™10
Believing in right order secured, if necessary, by the coercive violence of the
right authorities, Orderic speaks high praise for the stern governance of both
William I and Henry I as dukes of Normandy. A deathbed speech he puts into
the mouth of William the Conqueror has the king confess: ˜I was brought up
in arms from childhood, and am deeply stained with all the blood I have shed™,
but he pictures the king going on to justify his action on the grounds that his
Norman subjects ˜need to be restrained by the severe penalties of law, and
forced by the curb of discipline to keep to the path of justice™.11 Praising this
¬rm and just rule of William, Orderic provides at one point a wonderfully con-
cise statement of his belief. The king/duke, he tells us, ˜forbade disorders, mur-
der and plunder, restraining the people by arms and the arms by laws™.
Narrating one of William™s visit to Normandy, he elaborates on this capsule
assertion of one of his major themes:
At the news of the king™s coming peace-lovers everywhere rejoiced, but trouble-makers
and criminals trembled in their evil hearts and quailed before the coming avenger. He
assembled all the nobles of Normandy and Maine and used all his royal powers of per-
suasion to move them to peace and just government.12

Vivid accounts of disorder after William™s death and again after Henry™s death
underscore the importance of authoritative curbs on lordly violence.13 Orderic
has no kind words for Robert, William™s eldest son and heir in Normandy,
who was unable to suppress local warfare and brigandage. In a speech which
Orderic creates for Henry, Robert™s brother and supplanter, Henry tells Pope
Calixtus that he actually wrested Normandy not from Robert but from the
robbers and evildoers who effectively controlled it. Orderic™s blessing on this
work is clear: Henry has ˜calmed the tempests of war by his royal might™.14

Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, VI, 96“7; ibid., VI, 284“7. Henry continues: ˜I did not

wish to refuse my service to holy mother Church, but endeavoured to use the of¬ce laid on me by
heaven for the general good. So by taking up arms to ¬ght and spreading ¬re I . . . recovered the
inheritance of my father . . . and strove to uphold my father™s laws according to God™s will for the
peace of his people.™
Ibid., IV, 80“1. Compare the deathbed speech of Robert Bruce, thanking God he has been

given time to repent for all of his bloodshed, quoted in McDiarmid and Stevenson, eds, Barbour™s
Bruce, book XX, ll. 169“81.
Chibnall, Ecclesiastical History, IV, 192“3, 284“5.

See the opening of ibid., IV, bk. viii, and ibid., VI, bk. xiii. On Henry™s death, Orderic, writ-

ing of the local lords, laments ˜now they imagine no law will constrain them.™ Ibid., VI, 450“3.
Quotation at ibid., IV, 138“9. For his attitude towards Robert and Henry as peacekeepers see

the opening of IV, bk. viii, and VI, bk. xi, passim, especially 32“3, 58“65, 92“3, 98“9, 146“9.
Public Order and the Knights 15
Philip I of France, on the other hand, proved himself unable to restrain ˜proud
and turbulent men™ and so ˜allowed his princely power to decline™, with the
consequence that ˜the royal justice had become too lax to punish tyrants™.15
The agent of order may be other than a king/duke. Count Geoffrey Martel
of Anjou merits Orderic™s praise as a punisher of robbers and enforcer of just-
ice; his father, Orderic complains, had by contrast spared such men and shared
the loot with them. A ruler at any level, he argues, had to offer God the ˜fruit
of justice™ in order to escape the charge of barren governance. Tyrants, in his
view, were thus not hard-driving and ef¬cient kings or dukes but, rather, the
feuding local lords who escaped any royal restraints.16 Robert of Bellême is the
classic type; driven from England, he continued his career of disruption and
devastation in Normandy. Orderic describes him as
a renowned knight of great enterprise in the ¬eld . . . endowed with quick wits and a
ready tongue as well as courage; but everything was marred by his excessive pride and
cruelty and he hid the talents with which Heaven had endowed him under a sombre
mass of evil deeds. He engaged in many wars against his neighbours.17

Even Orderic™s own monastery found it necessary to pay Robert protection
money, as did many other victims, ˜for at that time kings and dukes were
unable to restrain his ferocity and secure the peace of the Church by any
authority of theirs™.18
But if Robert of Bellême represents the classic offender, Orderic thinks the
violence is endemic within the knightly layers of society. Almost in passing he
mentions a Robert of Vitot, knight, who had nearly forty kinsmen, ˜all proud
of their knightly status, who were continually at war with one another™.19
Of course, kings could themselves create disorder through their disputes;
then the ˜war-shattered people™ could only rejoice when the ˜long-desired calm
serenity of peace™ was achieved. Orderic is at one point left marvelling how
God ˜directs his church amidst the tumults of war and the clash of arms, and
preserving and enlarging it in many ways leads it on to safety™.20 Clearly, the
peace of God was something which, in the words of the liturgy, passes human

Ibid., VI, 154“7. Ibid., VI, 74“5; 86“7; 154“7.
15 16

Ibid., 298“9. The parallel to the description of Claudas in the opening of the Lancelot is note-

worthy: ˜Claudas was a king, a very ¬ne knight and clever man, but he was treacherous as well™, in
Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part I, 3; Elspeth Kennedy, ed., Lancelot do Lac, I, 1.
Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, IV, 298“301. Robert appears prominently in Orderic™s

book; cf. VI, bk. xi, especially 26“7, 32“3, 58“65. Of Robert, Orderic says, ˜he mercilessly sent out
his armed bands against all his neighbours and terrorized monks, clerks, and the defenceless pop-
ulace by his ¬erce tyranny™: IV, bk. viii, 298“9.
Ibid., II, 120“1. Ibid., II, 288“91; III, 18“19.
19 20
Issues and Approaches
Between 1138 and 1145, that is just a few years after Orderic wrote his informa-
tive general history, another monk, Suger, Abbot of Saint-Denis just outside
Paris, was writing a much more particular but equally informative kind of his-
tory, an admiring account of the deeds of King Louis VI of France (Louis le
Gros).21 Abbot Suger was not second to Orderic in his admiration for royal
agents of imposed peace, nor in his belief that they might act with force in the
interests of order.22 He praises Orderic™s hero Henry I as a man known
throughout the world, and pointedly quotes a prophecy of Merlin about the
coming of a Lion of Justice; after giving good justice to England as king, he
came to Normandy as duke and imposed order there by force. Suger always
refers to him approvingly, using some such phrase as ˜the illustrious king of the
English™. Peacemaking is the great quality in a leader. He even praises Pope
Calixtus for the somewhat surprising achievement of clearing brigands out of
Italy and Calabria.23
But Louis le Gros was his subject as biographer, and it is signi¬cant that the
king is lauded not only because he is Suger™s friend and the benefactor of his
monastery, but above all because he was a guarantor of order and, as such, the
imago dei, the image of God on earth. In fact, Suger tells us, Louis began to
play this role even before he came to the throne in 1108 on the death of his
father, Philip I, who had been much less active and successful as a promoter of
peace and order, a fact noted even by Orderic.24 Louis, though, as Suger
observes approvingly, had always been the proper son and had never brought
disorder in the realm ˜as is the custom of other young men™.25 A very great deal
of Suger™s account in fact consists of colourful vignettes showing Louis, either
as prince or as king, moving out into the Île de France (the central royal
demesne between Paris and Orleans) to play the policeman, leading his
knights and the parish militia against some offending lord, ¬ghting pitched
battles, or, more frequently, besieging the castles that served, in Suger™s view,
as the nodal centre for the spread of the cancer of disorder. Of one of these
local strongmen, Eudes, Count of Corbeil, Suger states that his death
strengthened the peace of the realm; he then adds, warming to the subject, that
Eudes thus transferred his battle to the depths of hell where he could carry on

Waquet, Vie de Louis VI. In their introduction to their translation, The Deeds of Louis the Fat,

Cusimano and Moorhead insist, with reason, that this is an account of the deeds of Louis, rather
than a biography.
His support for royal peace efforts was not merely chauvinistic. He commended Henry I of

England for his judicial organization and could think of him as the Lion of Justice. Ibid., 98“9.
Waquet, Vie de Louis VI, 206“7.

Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, VI, 154“7.

Waquet, Vie de Louis VI, 82“3. On the turbulence of ˜the youth™, see Duby, ˜Dans la France

de Nord-Ouest™.
Public Order and the Knights 17

war eternally.26 Like Orderic, he reserves the term tyrant for just such terror-
izers of some locality, men who ˜provoke wars, take pleasure in endless pillage,
trouble the poor, destroy churches™; if not restrained, these tyrants would
grow more bold still and act ˜in the manner of evil spirits™. It pertains to the
of¬ce of kingship to repress the impudence of tyrants. Against such men, he
writes, a king™s hand is very strong.27
The chief villain in Suger™s story is probably Thomas of Marle (though
Hugh of Le Puiset runs a close second). Thomas is homo perditissimus, a man
who, aided by the Devil, devoured the countryside in the region of Laon,
Reims, and Amiens ˜like a furious wolf ™, sparing neither clerics out of fear of
ecclesiastical sanctions, nor the common folk out of any sentiment for human-
ity. Louis moved against him in 1114, backed by the blessing of the Church,
which had, under the leadership of a papal legate, declared Thomas excom-
municate and un¬t to wear the cingulum militarem, the belt of knighthood.
Seizing the castles of Cr©cy and Nouvion, Louis ˜piously massacred the impi-
ous™. Captured at Marle, Thomas offered indemnities to both Church and
King, and won a pardon unwisely granted him by Louis. He quickly went back
to his old work, requiring a second royal expedition in 1130. By this time the
expedition went without the king, since Louis was too fat to mount a horse,
but Thomas was again taken, and died in captivity, being at the last, Suger
gleefully reports, unable to take the Eucharist.28
Thus, however ill Suger™s idealized portrait of Louis VI may have matched
the imperfect man, the biographer™s great concern for order, his worry about
grasping strongmen as a source of disorder, and his belief in a royal discipli-
nary role are as clearly set forth as Orderic™s. The latter would approve Suger™s
borrowing from Ovid the maxim that kings have long arms.29

For a third witness, we can turn to a different sort of historian writing a quite
different sort of history. After the murder of Charles the Good, Count of
Flanders, in 1127, Galbert of Bruges, a notary (who may have been in minor
orders but was apparently not a priest or canon), wrote a strikingly precise and
detailed history of events in Bruges and in the surrounding countryside. In The
Murder of Charles the Good (De multro, traditione, et occisione Gloriosi Karoli
Comitis Flandriarum)30 he narrates the collapse of order, the ensuing, almost

Waquet, Vie de Louis, 150“1.

Ibid., 172“3. He later (pp. 232“5) gives the bishop of Clermont a speech accusing the Count

of Auvergne of playing the tyrant against him.
Ibid. 30 ff., 174“7. Ibid., 180“1.
28 29

Ross, tr., Murder of Charles the Good; her translation is based on the Latin text edited by

Pirenne, Histoire du meurtre de Charles le Bon, but I will cite Rider, ed., De multro. Cf. Nicholas,
Medieval Flanders, 62“70; Dhondt, ˜Les “Solidarit©s” m©di©vales™.
Issues and Approaches
universal violence, and the gradual restoration of order. However much his
point of view might differ in detail from our monastic writers”he can show a
caustic anti-clericalism, for example”his account dovetails with their empha-
sis on the perils of private war and vengeance, the need for a strong authority
¬gure to repress violence and secure peace.
The murdered Count Charles had been just such a ¬gure. He had taken
˜such measures to strengthen the peace, to reaf¬rm the laws and rights of the
realm, [so] that little by little public order was restored . . . everything was
¬‚ourishing, everything was happy and joyful in the security of peace and just-
ice™. To secure these blessings of peace he had enforced arms legislation, so that
his subjects ˜should live together in quiet and security without resort to arms;
otherwise they would be punished by the very arms they bore™.31
The crisis had erupted because of two characteristics of the powerful
Erembald clan, the chief plotters of the murder, whose leader, Bertulf, was
the count™s chief of¬cial: they were vulnerable because they were technically
of servile status; and they were enthusiastic practitioners of the local violence
and warfare Count Charles was committed to stamping out. Galbert tells us
that Bertulf had ˜armed his kinsmen for strife and discord; and he found ene-
mies for them to ¬ght in order to make it known to everyone that he and his
nephews were so powerful and strong that no one in the realm could resist
them or prevail against them™. The pillaged country folk (under cover of
darkness) appealed to the count, who took vigorous measures, but he
was then brutally murdered, on Bertulf™s orders, before he could act deci-
Page after page of Galbert™s narrative records the waves and counterwaves
of violence that washed over Flanders as contenders fought for the prize of
rule, as private quarrels found outlet in the general strife, as merchants were
plundered or ¬‚ed in the nick of time. ˜Now in truth,™ he lamented, ˜the whole
land was so torn by dangers, by ravaging, arson, treachery, and deceit that no
honest man could live in security.™33 Like our monastic historians, Galbert is
no paci¬st, no uncompromising opponent of all violence. Revenge for the
murdered count, attacks on his enemies, and, in fact, all violence in a cause he
approves receive his full approbation.
Several weeks into his grim story Galbert paused to re¬‚ect on the site of the
crime, the church of Saint-Donatian. For him it remained a symbol of what
the count who had been murdered there had once meant to Flanders:

Ross, tr., Murder, 82“3; Rider, ed., De multro, 5, 7.

Ross, Murder, 116, 102“5; Rider, De multro, 33, 35; 21“33.

Ross, Murder, 291; Rider, De multro, 155.
Public Order and the Knights 19
˜in the splendor of its beauty like the throne of the realm; in the midst of the fatherland
it called for safety and justice everywhere in the land through security and peace, right
and laws™.34

At the end of his account Galbert is left puzzling over how he might ¬nd the
dispensation of God in the complex and violent actions of men.

Context: Socio-Economic and Institutional Change
Con¬dence in the evidence provided by our three witnesses increases when we
review two features of the general environment within which they lived and
worked. The very pace and consequences of change in the Central Middle
Ages forced basic questions about order into the forefront of the thinking and
acting of all those in any position of awareness or responsibility, and led to the
creation of important institutions. An age vibrant with as much change as
noted historians ¬nd in these centuries would necessarily devote a good deal
of energy to securing order, reducing disruptive violence, and ¬nding ways of
resolving disputes. If even calmer times yield such a channelling of energies,
the need could only be greater when one social, economic, political, and reli-
gious catalyst after another was actively at work speeding the rate of reaction.
The exact measurement of demographic growth (to take an obvious and
important example) is likely to continue to elude scholars, but the fact of a
signi¬cant increase in population commands general agreement.35 Historians
have fought even longer over theories of the nature of urban origins, but the
fact of a signi¬cant urbanization of Europe in this period stands beyond dis-
pute.36 That this phenomenon rested on an economic transformation likewise
seems established, though the details are again a matter of contention.37
By the year 1000, moreover, people over a wide stretch of Europe faced the
necessity of political reconstruction almost from the ground up. The order
tentatively set in place by the family of Charlemagne had fractured time and
again into increasingly localized units, which constituted the only political
units retaining anything like effective governing power and what might
pass for loyalty or at least acquiescence from those governed.38 By the age
of Orderic, Suger, and Galbert, as we have seen, the work of political

Ross, tr., Murder, 167; Rider, ed., De multro, 86.

Overviews, with many sources cited, in Pounds, Economic History, ch. 3, and Fossier, Enfance

de l™Europe, I, 87“287.
Surveyed in Ennen, The Medieval Town.

Duby, Early Growth of the European Economy; Fossier, Enfance de l™Europe.

Analysis of the scholarship written during the last half century on all aspects of the

Carolingian world appears in Sullivan, ˜The Carolingian Age™.
Issues and Approaches
reconstruction was well under way in northwestern Europe; in another gen-
eration or two it would be considerably advanced.39
Growth in political frameworks relied of necessity on supportive public
opinion, or at least on the good will of those levels of society whose opinion
counted. Measures to secure public order, in other words, could scarcely have
been imposed simply from the top down, without the foundation of fairly
widespread support, generated by real concern about basic questions of order.
Both the reforming Church and the emerging State took on increasingly insti-
tutionalized form during the High Middle Ages, and in the process consider-
ably expanded their role as guarantors of acceptable levels of order. Clearly,
large numbers of the people whose opinion mattered in this society had some
investment in peace and order and often backed institutions of government
that might help achieve these goals.40
On the early edge of this period the Church, despairing of kings who no
longer seemed able to play this role, tried to secure a minimal level of peace
through its own councils, generating what historians have long termed the
Peace Movement, beginning in the late tenth century.41
The movement for reform in the Church which began in the late eleventh
century led, among its many signi¬cant results, to an increased emphasis on
effective papal administration; a growing network of courts and system of
appeals brought papal judicial in¬‚uence across the Alps; the canon law and a
framework of ecclesiastical courts grew both in strength and outreach into
society; a system of taxation siphoned off some portion of the wealth of ¬eld
and town to fund”always inadequately though, it seemed to clerical
of¬cials”the growth of ecclesiastical administration at all levels. The sheer
volume of documentation produced at the centre in Rome, if plotted on a
graph, rises inexorably.42
At about the same time the growing power of kingship and the equally dra-
matic extension of its social role have led historians to analyse the medieval ori-
gins of the modern state as an outstanding feature of high medieval society.43

See Hallam, Capetian France; Reynolds, Kingdoms and Communities; Strayer, Medieval

Origins; Baldwin, Philip Augustus. England, as so often, proves to be a special case, building on
Anglo-Saxon foundations: see James Campbell, ˜Re¬‚ections on the English Government™;
Chibnall, Anglo-Norman England .
One of the arguments in Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order.

Some of the recent scholarship, and the contentions and debates it entails, appear in Head

and Landes, eds, The Peace of God.
Southern, Western Society and the Church; Morris, The Papal Monarchy; I. S. Robinson, The

Papacy; see the graph in Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record, 44. The ideological stance of
the post-Gregorian ecclesiastical hierarchy with regard to violence, sancti¬ed and otherwise, will
concern us later.
See especially Strayer, Medieval Origins. Cf. the wide-ranging essays in Gouron and

Rigaudiere, eds, Renaissance du pouvoir legislatif .
Public Order and the Knights 21
The growth of the English state makes the case most plainly. By their very
bulk, increasing year after year, records from the English royal lawcourts
preserved in the Public Record Of¬ce, London, dramatically document the
growth of business; they show us the willingness, even the eagerness, of
people to bring their cases before the king™s justices, however much they
complained about the partiality, delay, and expense that seem the perennial
accompaniments of centralized justice in all ages that know them. The ˜regis-
ters of writs™, in which working attorneys and litigious monasteries collected
the standard formulas of the royal writs that initiated legal action on the civil
side, ¬lled ten or twelve pages with the styles of 50 or 60 writs in the early thir-
teenth century; they grew to 120 writs by the last quarter of that century and
to 890 writs by the ¬rst quarter of the following century.44 On the criminal
side, the English crown by the 1170s required local grand juries to name before
its circuit justices all those suspected of murder, larceny, harbouring criminals,
forgery, and arson. As Alan Harding has cogently argued, the demands of the
crown and the press of business thrust by litigants upon these circuit justices
across the twelfth and thirteenth centuries ¬nally exhausted the legal work-
horse of the general eyre by overuse.45
In both England and France litigants could bring a case into a royal court by
making the signi¬cant charge that an enemy had wronged them by illicit vio-
lence: the formula in England stated the wrong was done ˜by force and arms
and against the king™s peace™; one analogous French formula charged the
wrongdoer had acted ˜by force, violence and by the power of arms™.46 Royal
interest and activity in criminal jurisdiction increased suf¬ciently in France for
the central law court, the Parlement, to open a separate criminal register in
Even the briefest sampling of the evidence, then, shows the concern over
disruptive violence and the support which allowed major institutions to
increase their roles in an age of widespread growth. In other words, all the evi-
dence we have examined thus far seems congruent: from our three witnesses
(and many others we could summon to the stand from the following cen-
turies), from the social and economic setting around them, from the institu-
tions their contemporaries were busily creating.

Harding, Law Courts of Medieval England, 77. Ibid, 86“7.
44 45

Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order, 158, citing sources.

Strayer, Philip the Fair, 208“36.
Issues and Approaches

Evidence from Chivalric Literature
One ¬nal source of evidence shows perceptions of order and violence: the vast
body of chivalric literature.48 Even a brief, initial sampling can reveal patterns
of thought, for these texts drew on the continuous experience of daily life, on
collective memories and imagination. Since we can never recover all this par-
ticular experience in detail, it is all the more important that we take into
account the powerful cumulative traces of experience in literature. Examining
this literature puts us in touch with a vast store of relevant human experience;
moreover, it obviously attempts to shape attitudes. No simple mirror re¬‚ect-
ing society, it is itself an active social force, identifying basic issues, asking
probing questions, sometimes suggesting constructive change.
Almost without fail these works give prominence to acts of disruptive vio-
lence and problems of control. Complexity characterizes the point of view:
even more than in the histories we have already sampled, attitudes about vio-
lence come strongly mixed. Belief in the right kind of violence carried out vig-
orously by the right people is a cornerstone of this literature. Yet aggression
and the disruptive potentiality of violence is a serious issue for these writers no
less than for the historians. This signi¬cant fact has seldom been analysed.
What troubles these writers (echoing our three historians) is not usually vio-
lence in the abstract, nor war simply conceived as one sovereign or even one
seigneur marshalling his forces against another. Rather, the issue is how to
carry on daily living with enough security and peacefulness to make civilized
life possible; the world seems almost Hobbesian, with violence carried out on
any scale possible to achieve any end desired.
In confronting such issues, a writer sometimes creates an image of unusual
power and vividness, conveying across the centuries the elemental fear created
by knightly violence. The author of the Perlesvaus (written in the early years of
the thirteenth century) produces just such an image in the huge knights in
black armour who appear more than once in the pages of his romance.49 We

The issues involved in using this literature are discussed in the second section of Chapter 2.

The several quotations that follow come from Bryant, tr., Perlesvaus, 144, 176“8, 221; for the

original French, see Nitze and Jenkins, eds, Perlesvaus, 222“3; 274“8; 344. The earliest appearance
of these knights, or some men very much like them, comes near the opening of the romance when
King Arthur ¬ghts a black knight with a ¬‚aming lance at the Chapel of St Augustine. Mysterious
knights appear on the scene to hack this knight into fragments after Arthur defeats him; they sim-
ilarly cut apart one of their company who failed to kill or capture Arthur. This company is not,
however, described as being black, nor carrying ¬‚aming weaponry. Bryant, Perlesvaus, 27“30;
Nitze and Jenkins, Perlesvaus, 38“40. Black knights on black horses appear again, issuing from the
Castle of the Black Hermit, later identi¬ed as Hell. Bryant, Perlesvaus, 37, 73, Nitze and Jenkins,
Perlesvaus, 55, 109. The black knights are later identi¬ed as spirits of those who died ˜sanz repen-
tance™ or as ˜ungodly demons™. Nitze and Jenkins, Perlesvaus, 222, 345.
Public Order and the Knights 23
¬rst see these dread ¬gures through the eyes of Perceval™s sister when she
comes to the Perilous Cemetery:
As the maiden peered around the graveyard from where she stood among the tombs,
she saw that it was surrounded by knights, all black, with burning, ¬‚aming lances, and
they came at each other with such a din and tumult that it seemed as though the whole
forest were crumbling. Many wielded swords as red as ¬‚ame, and were attacking one
another and hewing off hands and feet and noses and heads and faces; the sound of
their blows was great indeed.

Later in the story, when Arthur, Lancelot, and Gawain journey on a Grail pil-
grimage, they ¬nd themselves in the midst of a dense forest without the
accommodation that usually appears in such stories as if on cue. After sending
a squire up a tree to try to discover some sign of civilized life and hospitality in
the engul¬ng darkness, they move towards an open ¬re he has sighted in the
distance. The ¬re is burning inexplicably, they ¬nd, in the ruined courtyard of
a forti¬ed but deserted manor house.
When they send the squire in search of food for the horses, he returns in
utter terror, having in the dark stumbled into a chamber ¬lled with fragments
of butchered knights™ bodies. Suddenly a maiden appears in the courtyard,
bearing on her shoulders half a dead man, the latest addition to the grisly col-
lection the squire discovered within. For her sins against knighthood this
unfortunate maiden has had to ˜carry to that chamber all the knights who were
killed in this forest and guard them here at the manor, all alone without com-
pany™. She warns the Round Table companions against a fearsome band of
knights who will come at night, ˜black they are, and foul and terrible, and no-
one knows where they come from. They ¬ght one another furiously, and the
combat is long.™ On her advice, Lancelot draws a circle all around the house
with his sword”just in time, for the demon knights
came galloping through the forest, at such a furious speed that it sounded as though
the forest were being uprooted. Then they rode into the manor, clutching blazing
¬rebrands which they hurled at one another; into the house they rode, ¬ghting, and
made as if to approach the knights, but they could not go near them, and had to aim
the ¬rebrands at the king and his company from a distance.

Though the maiden warns Lancelot not to step outside the protective magic
of his circle, with characteristic valour he attacks the knights. Inspired by his
example, Arthur and Gawain join in; swords swing, sparks and hot coals ¬‚y,
the evil is defeated. As the swords of the heroes cut through them, ˜they
screamed like demons and the whole forest resounded, and as they fell to the
ground and could endure no more, both they and their horses turned to ¬lth
and ashes, and black demons rose from their bodies in the form of crows™.
Issues and Approaches
With hardly a moment™s rest Arthur, Lancelot, and Gawain confront another
band, ˜even blacker men, bearing blazing lances wrapped in ¬‚ames, and many
were carrying the bodies of knights whom they had killed in the forest™.
Flinging down the bodies, they demand of the maiden that she deal with them
as with all the others. She refuses, declaring her penance done. They attack the
three companions, seeking revenge for their defeated fellows and the combat
is terrible until a bell (which we later learn is sounded by a hermit saying mass)
rings out in the forest and they ¬‚ee suddenly.
Towards the end of the story, shapes that are apparently these same demon
knights put in a ¬nal, chilling appearance. Lancelot at the Perilous Chapel
˜came to the door of the chapel, and there in the graveyard he thought he saw
huge and terrible knights mounted on horseback, ready for combat, and they
seemed to be staring at him, watching him™. Though these astonishing and ter-
rifying images could be ¬tted into the elaborate religious symbolism in this
romance (which has generated much interesting scholarship), this imagery
works in another dimension as well.50 The ˜dark side of the force™ of knight-
hood (to borrow the familiar language of the popular Star Wars ¬lms) could
scarcely be rendered more powerfully than in the portrayal of these demon
knights lurking in the forest shadows or suddenly emerging to hack at each
other and at the innocent with their ¬‚aming weaponry.51
Their appearance in the Perlesvaus takes on even more force when we con-
sider that the author seems to be drawing the raw material of his images from
a folkloristic tradition known as ˜la Mesnie Hellequin™, or Herlequin™s Hunt, a
wild nocturnal ride by a hunting party or armed host across the countryside.52
The use of such images in this romance calls to mind ˜one of the most unfor-
gettable passages in the Ecclesiastical History™ of Orderic,53 thus linking, once
again, our chronicles with imaginative literary sources.
Orderic tells us the story given to him in person by Walchelin, a priest who
claimed to have witnessed the fearful procession on the ¬rst night of January

See Carman, ˜Symbolism of the Perlesvaus™; Kelly, A Structural Study, 91“194, with many cita-

tions to earlier studies. Kelly sees this text as addressed primarily to lay males as an encouragement
to them to conduct their chivalry in accordance with divine will. The preoccupation of the text
with almost macabre violence and cruelty seems to him a re¬‚ection of actual issues in this society
(20“3, 95, 158“61, 171“8). Saly, ˜Perceval-Perlesvaus™, emphasizes the role of lignage and vengeance
in Perceval™s quest.
Writers on fantasy have noted that accounts like this test social truths and reveal the ˜dark

side™ of the dominant order in society: Jackson, Fantasy, 4, 15.
Sain©an, ˜La Mesnie Hellequin™, shows how widespread the tradition was in medieval

Europe, the image of nocturnal army being older, the image of hunt being more widespread; Lot,
˜La Mesnie Hellequin™. Both are cited in Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, IV, xxxviii“xl, where
she discusses this phenomenon and the available scholarship.
Chibnall, Ecclesiastical History, IV, xxxix“xl; the following quotations appear in the text, pp.

Public Order and the Knights 25
1091, while returning from a visit to a sick parishioner. Hearing them
approach, Walchelin mistook the noise to mean a troublesome contemporary
force, the household troops of Robert of Bellême (Orderic™s bête noire), on
their way to the siege of Courcy, and feared being ˜shamefully robbed™. His ini-
tial fear is useful evidence in itself.
What happened was yet more terrifying, however, for he saw pass before
him in the clear moonlight not an army of mortals, but four troops of tor-
mented spirits: ¬rst commoners on foot, then women riding sidesaddle, then
a great troop of clergy and monks, all groaning under torments. The last
troop was ˜a great army of knights, in which no colour was visible save black-
ness and ¬‚ickering ¬re. All rode upon huge horses, fully armed as if they were
galloping to battle and carrying jet-black standards.™ Wanting proof that he
had actually seen ˜Herlechin™s rabble™. Walchelin foolishly tried to seize one
of the coal-black horses, which easily galloped off. His yet more foolish
second attempt provoked an attack by four of the demon knights. Orderic
assures us that he saw the scar on the priest™s throat caused by the
knight™s grasp, ˜burning him like ¬re™. One of the knights proved to be the
cleric™s dead brother, who spared Walchelin, told him of the torments
the ghostly knights suffer, and begged for his priestly prayers as his hope for

I have endured severe punishment for the great sins with which I am heavily burdened.
The arms which we bear are red-hot, and offend us with an appalling stench, weighing
us down with intolerable weight, and burning with everlasting ¬re. Up to now I have
suffered unspeakable torture from those punishments. But when you were ordained in
England and sang your ¬rst Mass for the faithful departed your father Ralph escaped
from his punishments and my shield, which caused me great pain, fell from me. As you
see I still carry this sword, but I look in faith for release from this burden within the

Walchelin noticed what seemed to him ˜a mass of blood like a human head™
around his brother™s heels where his knightly spurs would attach. It is not
blood, he learns, but ¬re, burning and weighing down the knight as if he were
carrying the Mont Saint-Michel. His brother explains: ˜Because I used bright,
sharp spurs in my eager haste to shed blood I am justly condemned to carry
this enormous load on my heels, which is such an intolerable burden that I
cannot convey to anyone the extent of my sufferings.™ The knight™s message is
clear: ˜Living men should constantly have these things in mind.™ It seems likely
that the author of the Perlesvaus, a century later, had them much in mind. Both
he and Orderic testify vividly to a fear of knightly violence at the deepest level
of human psychology.
Issues and Approaches
Another image of similar vividness and power is much better known. The inci-
dent of a ˜dolorous stroke™ with frightful consequences to whole kingdoms
appears in more than one romance, often in connection with the theme of
wasteland. As portrayed in the story of Balain, contained within the Post-
Vulgate Merlin Continuation (written probably soon after 1240),54 the dolor-
ous stroke gives us particularly useful evidence of fears generated by knightly
violence and the devastation it caused.
This story is all the more powerful for being a part of a major structural con-
trast built into this widely read cycle of romances. The contrast is embodied in
two knights. Both possess undoubted and praised prowess; but the results of
their knighthood could scarcely be more different. Balain, source of misery
and misfortune, is set opposite Galahad, bringer of joy and release; the
Unfortunate Knight stands on one side, the Good Knight on the other. Balain
brings into being the oppressive ˜adventures™ of the Grail when he wounds
King Pellehan; Galahad lifts this curse when he cures him. In a society accus-
tomed to thinking about Fall and Redemption, it seems signi¬cant that Balain
is compared to Eve, Perceval to Christ.
The story of Balain™s misadventures is compelling. Doggedly pursued by an
invisible knight who repeatedly kills his companions without warning, Balain
¬nally ¬nds the man in conveniently visible form at the castle where King
Pellehan is holding court. Wasting no time, Balain kills his enemy with a
sword stroke, splitting the man from his head down through his chest. King
Pellehan is even more outraged at this act of vengeance in his court that was
Arthur when Balain had similarly killed a lady in his presence. In his hot wrath
the king attacks Balain with a great pole and breaks the knight™s sword. A wild
chase through the castle ensues, with Balain searching in desperation for any
weapon to resist the pursuing king.
Disregarding an unearthly voice warning him not to enter so holy a place,
Balain rushes into a marvellous and sweet-smelling room containing a silver
table upon which stands a gold and silver vessel. A lance suspended miracu-
lously in mid-air, point down, is poised over this vessel. Ignoring another
voice of warning, Balain seizes the lance just in time to thrust it through both
thighs of King Pellehan, who falls to the ¬‚oor grievously wounded. Although
it ¬rst seemed to Balain that this stroke was justi¬ed, his monumental error
becomes progressively clear. This time, he cannot ignore the voice, which
trumpets the following sentence, the entire castle trembling all the while as if
the world were coming to an end:

Asher, tr., Merlin Continuation, chs 8, 10“13, 16“23; Paris and Uhlric, eds, Merlin, I, 212“25,

233“61, 276“80; II, 1“60. For Balain™s story in most recent French edition, see Roussineau, ed.,
Merlin, I, 65“111, 129“97. David Campbell has also translated these passages: see Tale of Balain.
Public Order and the Knights 27
Now begin the adventures and marvels of the Kingdom of Adventures which will not
cease until a high price is paid, for soiled, befouled hands having touched the Holy
Lance and wounded the most honored of princes and the High Master will avenge it
on those who have not deserved it.55

Balain has, of course, seized the sacred lance that pierced the side of Christ, the
Lance of Longinus, and has used it against the king into whose care God had
entrusted the keeping of the Holy Grail.
What follows may remind modern readers of an atomic bomb explosion,
with rings of gradually decreasing devastation. A great part of the castle wall
falls; hundreds within the castle die from pure fear; in the surrounding town
many die and others are maimed and wounded as houses tumble into rubble;
no one dares to enter the castle for several days, as a sense of divine wrath akin
to radiation lingers. Merlin ¬nally leads people back into the site, accompanied
by a priest wearing ˜the armour of Jesus Christ™, which alone will guarantee
them safe entry. Finding Balain, Merlin leads him out, even providing him
with the necessary mount. Everywhere he rides the prospect is cheerless:
As he rode through the land, he found the trees down and broken and grain destroyed
and all things laid waste, as if lightning had struck in each place, and unquestionably it
had struck in many places, though not everywhere. He found half the people in the vil-
lages dead, both bourgeois and knights, and he found laborers dead in the ¬elds. What
can I tell you? He found the kingdom of Listinois so totally destroyed that it was later
called by everyone the Kingdom of Waste Land and the Kingdom of Strange Land,
because everywhere the land had become so strange and wasted.56
So powerful and complex an incident as the Dolorous Stroke can only be
considered a polyvalent symbol. Yet we can see immediately its signi¬cance for
our enquiry. A man who is recognized as one of the best knights in the world
takes perhaps understandable vengeance for unprovoked attacks. Fleeing for
his life, weaponless, he commits the great sin. A knight, whatever his good
qualities, has laid profane hands on the weapon that pierced God in the course
of divine redemption and has used it in his private quarrel to wound one of his
fellow knights and one of God™s chosen agents. Devastation, like lightning”
like war”blots out or blights the lives of innocent people throughout an
entire region. Pure knightly prowess, highly praised at the opening of this
story, has produced these stunning results near its close.
Is such evidence representative or merely exceptional? Extensive reading in
chivalric literature provides a convincing answer, for these works are ¬lled
Asher, tr., Merlin Continuation, 212; Bogdanow, Romance of the Grail, 246, supplies the pas-

sage quoted, on one of the pages of the old French text missing in Paris and Uhlric, eds. Merlin,
Asher, Merlin Continuation, 214; Paris and Uhlric, Merlin, II, 30.
Issues and Approaches
with plentiful and consistent evidence along the lines of the passages already
noted. As we will see in exploring this literature, almost any text to which we
turn shows deep concern over disruptive violence in medieval society.

Medieval writers”historians, authors of vernacular manuals, and creators of
the ¬ction patronized at the most in¬‚uential levels of society”clearly voiced
concerns for order, fears about unrestrained violence, and hopes for some path
to improvement. It is important to locate what was the origin, in their view,
of the problem of disorder and unfettered force.
Of course, ordinary crimes of the sort to be expected”robbery, assault, and
the like”and committed by the most ordinary farmers and carpenters, clearly
received much attention in our period; sometimes public outcry or a particu-
larly vigorous lord or lord king generated new measures to stiffen the criminal
law to deal with these crimes. Likewise, the seigneurial regime itself produced
impositions that might easily lead to fears of popular rebellion, another kind
of violence. Sometimes these fears took on frightening reality. As towns
increased in size and strength, their demands for a corresponding control over
their own governance easily led to urban uprisings, even as the settling of their
internal affairs and shifting social and economic hierarchies produced seem-
ingly endless quarrels. Over time the accumulating burdens of governmental
taxation, whether royal or regional, would likewise produce fears of popular
Yet the common concern of our evidence points unmistakably in another
direction. What particularly worries all our witnesses is not primarily common
or garden crime, not country folk attacking their lordly exploiters, not simply
urban unrest, not tax revolt, but the violence of knights. The medieval prob-
lem of order took on its particular contours because the lay elite combined
autonomy and proud violence in the defence of honour.
Of course the violence of feuding (or ˜the peace in the feud™, if we choose to
look at its ideal bene¬ts)57 can provide one formula for establishing hierarchy
and settling disputes. Yet this pattern, prominent in earlier medieval centuries,
was unlikely to continue to satisfy all expectations, especially in an era experi-
encing as much fundamental growth and change as occurred in Europe in the
Central Middle Ages. We will be especially interested in the relationships
between this autonomous, violent elite and centralizing authorities, who, on
the obvious basis of much popular support, were developing strong views
Southall, ˜Peace in the Feud™. Many scholars have studied medieval dispute resolution. See,

e.g., White, ˜Pactum™; Geary, ˜Vivre en con¬‚it™; Davis and Fouracre, eds, Settlement of Disputes.
Public Order and the Knights 29
about licit and illicit violence and the authority for setting those categories”
even as they enthusiastically raised banners of war themselves.
As Europeans moved into one of the most signi¬cant periods of growth and
change in their early history, they increasingly found the proud, heedless vio-
lence of knights, their praise for settling any dispute by force, for acquiring any
desired goal by force on any scale attainable, an intolerable fact of social life.
Such violence and disorder were not easily compatible with other facets of the
civilization they were forming.
We will misunderstand chivalry if we fail to set it squarely in the context of
this knightly violence so evidently in the minds of all our witnesses or if we
miss the linkage of this issue with the broader search for that degree of order
essential to the creation of high medieval society. This context sets the tone,
and, as Maurice Keen has sagely observed, the meaning of chivalry is to a
signi¬cant degree tonal.58 By placing chivalry within this context, we can move
beyond microanalysis, close attention to the evidence of chivalric ideals in the
careers of individual knights, and engage in macroanalysis, considering the
social effects of chivalry and speci¬cally its complex role in public order.
Insisting on the very complexity of that role, this book parts company with
much scholarship that has characterized chivalry in less problematic terms, as
a positive and less ambiguous force for building an ordered society. The fol-
lowing chapters will argue that medieval evidence on chivalry and order is
¬lled with tension and contradiction. Among its contemporaries, chivalry won
high praise as one of the very pillars of medieval civilization, indeed, of all civil-
ization. At the same time the practitioners of its great virtue, prowess, inspired
fear in the hearts of those committed to certain ideals of order. As they wor-
ried about the problem of order in their developing civilization, thoughtful
medieval people argued that chivalry (reformed to their standards) was the
great hope, even as they sensed that unreformed chivalry was somehow the
great cause for fear. How chivalry could be praised to the heavens at the same
time it could be so feared as a dark and sinister force with ¬‚aming weaponry
makes a topic worth investigating.

Keen, Chivalry, 2.

O U R investigation can rely in part on the kinds of evidence long used by
historians”chronicles and judicial records, for example. But this book
will draw heavily on the evidence available in the vast body of chivalric literary
texts, a rich source much less frequently (and certainly less comprehensively)
used by historians. It is a species of evidence that can provoke doubts and mis-

Did Knights Read Romance?
We must ¬rst be certain knights actually attended to works of imaginative lit-
erature, either by reading or listening.2 Of the various kinds of writing within
the rubric of chivalric literature only the works traditionally classed as romance
are in question.3 No one doubts that chivalric biography, chanson de geste, and

Elspeth Kennedy, ˜The Knight as Reader™. See also Duby, preface to Flori, L™Id©ologie du

glaive. Jacques le Goff, in his introduction to Boutet and Strubel, Litt©rature, politique et soci©t©, 18,
argues: ˜[L]es historiens ©prouvent de plus en plus le besoin d™integrer dans leur champ docu-
mentaire le document litt©raire et prennent conscience du double caractère de l™oeuvre litt©raire, à
la fois comme document sp©ci¬que, document de l™imaginaire, et comme document d™histoire
totale, pour peu qu™on sache y d©mêler les relations compliqu©s de la soci©t©, de la litt©rature et des
pouvoirs.™ As Spiegel writes, ˜texts both mirror and generate social realities, are constrained by and
constitute the social and discursive formations which they may sustain, resist, contest, or seek to
transform™: ˜History, Historicism™, 77. Strohm, discussing problems of reading texts, rightly calls
˜literary™ and ˜historical™ texts ˜outworn categorization™: Hochon™s Arrow, 3“9. I occasionally use
such terms in this book only as traditional categories.
More may have heard than read. As Asher notes, in the Merlin Continuation, ˜there are only

two references to reading the story instead of hearing it . . . (273, n. 8).™ However, as Clanchy has
demonstrated, lay literacy was much higher than we once thought: From Memory to Written
Record. Hindman discusses these issues for Chr©tien™s romances in Sealed in Parchment.
No rigid separation of chanson and romance is suggested. Current scholarship blurs older cat-

egories of chanson de geste and romance, emphasizing rough coincidence in time and space and
increasing broad similarities. Calin provides a good introduction to this theme, with many cita-
tions, in A Muse for Heroes and in ˜Rapport introductif ™. Cf. Kibler, ˜Chanson d™aventure™ and
Maddox, ˜Figures romanesques™. Kay argues for essential difference with a dialogic relationship
between genres: Chansons de Geste. The relationship of chivalry to growing governmental
Chivalry and its Interpretation 31
vernacular manuals of chivalry were written for knights and read or heard by
knights. But what of the extensive body of romance?
As Elspeth Kennedy has shown, knights in the very real world referred fre-
quently and familiarly to these works of literature. A ˜two-way traf¬c™ con-
nected these men of war, law, and politics with Arthurian romance no less than
chanson de geste. Many owned copies of these texts, which seem to have been
readily passed from one set of hands to another, often registering considerable
wear.4 Some, such as the father of the famous jurist Philippe de Beaumanoir,
even wrote romance themselves.5 Under Isabella and Mortimer, the English
Privy Wardrobe issued works of romance to male and female courtiers alike;
Mortimer himself borrowed twenty-three such works and must have spon-
sored a romance-reading group.6 Geoffroi de Charny, the leading French
knight of the mid-fourteenth century, apparently knew romances like the
Lancelot do Lac and wrote easily (and disapprovingly) of men who would love
Queen Guinevere only if they could boast of it.7 In addition to borrowing
heavily from the imagery of the Ordene de chevalerie (Order of Chivalry; one of
the vernacular manuals for knights), Ramon Llull, the former knight who
wrote the most popular book on chivalry in the Middle Ages, likewise drew
heavily on thirteenth-century prose romances.8
Romance and other categories become indistinguishable in the minds of
those who wrote and those who read. The authors of historical works sense no
gap between the actions they describe in chronicle or biography and those in
imaginative literature; often they stress the links between the types of writing.9
The author of the Norman-French ˜Song of Dermot and the Earl™, written
around 1200, sometimes says his work is based on a geste and refers to it both
as le chansun and l™histoire. He records Maurice FitzGerald defending an Irish
king and, like a hero from romance, swearing on his sword that anyone who

institutions is especially noticeable in chansons de geste. Works traditionally classed as romances
focus on a deepening knightly piety which must address the ¬t of its ideals with those of clergie.
Yet these themes are far from exclusive and topics inevitably overlap in particular works of chival-
ric literature. See Chapters 11, 12.
4 Kelly (Structural Study, 20) notes that manuscripts of the Perlesvaus, for example, were owned

by chivalric ¬gures, not monks. Hindman comments on borrowed and worn manuscripts of
Chr©tien™s romances in Sealed in Parchment, 3, 8“9, 46“8.
5 Gicquel, ˜Le Jehan le Blond ™.
6 Vale, Edward III, 49“50; Revard, ˜Courtly Romances™.
7 Kaeuper and Kennedy, Book of Chivalry, 118“19.
8 Elspeth Kennedy, ˜Knight as Reader™ (typescript kindly provided in advance of publication).

An additional example supporting her argument appears in Gutierre Diaz De Gamez, standard-
bearer and biographer of Don Pero Ni±o, who says he has been ˜reading . . . many histories of
kings and famous knights,™ and decides to add the deeds of his master to these accounts of other
famous deeds: Evans, tr., The Unconquered Knight, 13.
See Keen™s useful discussion of the broad question in Nobles, Knights and Men-at-Arms,

Issues and Approaches
lays a hand on the king would have his head split.10 John Barbour (d. 1395)
terms his chronicle of Robert Bruce a ˜romanys™.11 Both Barbour and Sir
Thomas Gray assure us that if all the deeds done in Ireland by Robert™s brother
Edward Bruce were set down they would make a ¬ne romance.12 Other active
knights shared the sentiment. We even know that Robert Bruce often told
˜auld storys™ to his men in trying times, to buck them up. During a tedious pas-
sage over Loch Lomond, he merrily read out passages from the romance of
Moreover, the very content of the romances leads to the same conclusion.
Anyone who has read thousands of pages of chivalric literature knows that
either these texts were meant for men as well as women, or that medieval
women simply could not get enough of combat and war, of the detailed effects
of sword strokes on armour and the human body beneath, of the particulars of
tenurial relationships, and of the tactical manouevres that lead to victory. Such
evidence suggests that the great body of chivalric literature was aimed at
knights even more than at their ladies.14
The knights™ conduct, of course, also shows that the literature is reaching
them, as students of chivalry have shown in case after case.15 Larry D. Benson™s
examination of the tournament in the romances of Chr©tien de Troyes and in
the Histoire of William Marshal, for example, concluded that tournament
wonderfully illustrates the interplay of life and art”impossible, of course,
were knights not deeply steeped in chivalric romance as well as chanson.16
Knights, in sum, say that they have read this literature, which itself does not
distinguish genres closely; they show that they have read it by using it in their

Orpen, ed., tr., Song of Dermot, ll. 1065, 1912, 2115“20, 2403.

McDiarmid and Stevenson, eds, Barbour™s Bruce, bk. I, l. 446.
12 Maxwell, tr., Scalacronica, 57. Gray says Bruce performed there ˜feats of arms, in¬‚icting great

destruction upon both provender and in other ways, and conquered much territory which would
form a romance were it all recounted™. What constitutes proper subject matter for romance is as
instructive as the link between romance and history. Barbour says of Edward Bruce, ˜off his hey
worschip and manheid / Men mycht a myckill romanys mak.™ McDiarmid and Stevenson, eds.
Barbour™s Bruce, bk. IX, ll. 496“7.

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