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The Lettered Knight

Knowledge and Aristocratic Behaviour in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries


Martin Aurell, University of Poitiers, France

An encounter between a warring knight and the world of learning could seem a paradox. It is nonetheless related with the Twelfth-Century Renaissance, an essential intellectual movement for western history. Knights not only fought in battles, but also moved in sophisticated courts. Knights were interested in Latin classics, and reading and writing poetry. Supportive of “jongleurs” and minstrels, they enjoyed literary conversations with clerics who would attempt to reform their behaviour, which was often brutal. These lettered warriors, while improving their culture, learned to repress their own violence and were initiated to courtesy: selective language, measured gestures, elegance in dress, and manners at the table. Their association with women, who were often learned, became more gallant. A revolution of thought occurred among lay elites who, in contact with clergy, began to use their weapons for common welfare. This new conduct was a tangible sign of Medievalist society’s leap forward towards modernity.

This monograph contains a great deal of detailed information about the attitudes towards learning and written culture among members of the nobility in different parts of Europe in the Middle Ages.

“A study of very great and broad significance for the understanding of the nature of knighthood, chivalry and courtesy. It counters the casually held notion that makes clean separation between knights and clerics. The literacy of knights was widespread, and more important, a strongly held and asserted social value. It had a powerful influence on the behavior of knights, and on held and practiced social values of the aristocracy. The book stands as an important contribution to studies of chivalry and the intellectual and social life of the high Middle Ages.” -- C. Stephen Jaeger, Gutgsell Professor Emeritus, German and Comparative Literature, University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign

468 pages, 2017
ISBN 978-963-386-105-9 cloth
$70.00 / €53.00 / £44.00

"The author ranges widely across religious and secular realms through every conceivable genre of Latin and vernacular writing in the 12th and 13th centuries: religious and canon law texts, philosophy, historical writing, literature, and poetry: this is an impressive achievement.
Summing Up: Recommended."