The world of medieval chivalry is at once glamorous and violent, alluring yet alien. Our popular views of the period are largely inherited from the nineteenth-century romantics, for whom chivalry evoked images of knights in shining armour, competing for the attention of fair ladies - with pennons and streamers fluttering from castle battlements.
But what is the reality? Were the rituals and romance of chivalry designed to provide an escape from the brutal facts of almost continuous warfare? Or did they instead help regulate the conduct of war and moderate its violent excesses?
Nigel Saul charts the introduction of chivalry by the Normans, the rise of the knightly class as a social elite, the fusion of chivalry with kingship in the fourteenth century and the influence of chivalry on literature, religion and architecture. He shows us a world of kings and barons, castles and cathedrals - a world shaped by Richard the Lionheart and the Crusades, by Magna Carta and the rule of law, by battles like Bannockburn and Crecy, by the Black Death and by tournaments, round tables and the cult of Arthurianism.
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Nigel Saul takes a relatively benign view of medieval noblemen. He rejects the once-fashionable notion that war was all about money and land, and that chivalry was just tinsel. And, although he sees a steep decline in standards in the last medieval century, he thinks that chivalric values did have a real influence in civilising the conduct of war... Saul can make the most unpromising material speak to us with a directness that can surprise even those who are already familiar with it. This is a rich book that does ample justice to its complex theme - The Times
Clear sighted history - Guardian
Professor Saul's achievement is to provide for the first time a holistic overview of English chivalric culture in its historical perspective. This is a fine book, whose richness of texture defies a brief review, but which will undoubtedly become a classic - BBC History Magazine
The book is full of solid, engrossing history…[it] serves, too, as a primer in medieval history, and the political and martial achievements of this country's rulers from William to Henry VII… Saul is a clear-eyed historian, not one to be taken in by popular legend - Guardian
Chivalry has often been something of a footnote in other volumes concerning the Middle Ages but here Saul proves that it is a worthy topic in and of itself - Bookgeeks
About the Author
Nigel Saul is Professor of Medieval History in the University of London. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and of the Society of Antiquaries. His publications include Richard II, A Companion to Medieval England, Death, Art and Memory in Medieval England and, most recently, The Three Richards.