The Lettered Knight

Knowledge and Aristocratic Behaviour in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries
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Publication date: 
468 pages

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.

The Renaissance of the twelfth century
Scholasticism, reading and writing
‘Literature’ and orality
The lettered and the unlettered
The cleric and the knight
Courtesy and the civilisation of mores

2. Knighthood and Literacy
Schooling and teaching children to read and write
Sons faced with the choice of taking up arms or the calling of the cloister
The first teachers: family, private tutors, and courtly clerics
In the monastic, cathedral and parish schools
From cloister to secular life
Italian precocity and pragmatic knowledge
Methods of learning, new programs and the spread of writing in the vernacular
The Latin of the knights
The Latin skills of Anglo-Norman knights
The Italian educated nobility
Semi-literate laymen
Book collectors and patrons

3. Knighthood and Literary Creation
The court and literary social life
Castles transformed into palaces
Halls, rooms and gardens
A literary setting
Literature intended for performance
Ladies holding salon
Dancing, jeux partis and dialogues
Minstrels and professional performers
Wide-ranging skills
The dissemination of political songs
Rivalry with the knights and clerics
A more positive image
The Knight Writers
Songs: a preference for the brief genre
The troubadours on love and war
Northern trouveres and Germanic Minnesänger
Romances, sagas and other fictional genres: a rare form of writing
The Grail, love and war in French
The German ministerials
Italy, compilers and encyclopaedists
Snorri Sturluson’s sagas
Impiety or religiosity?
History and memory: telling the Crusade
Overseas adventure in oc and oïl
The Catalan-Italian wars around the Mediterranean
Learned Women
The education of girls
Preceptors and schools
Convent education
Disparate educational levels
Women readers
The indispensable Psalter
Receiving love poems and letters
Women writers
Women epistolarians
Marie de France
Trobairitz, hagiographers and visionaries
The superiority of feminine knowledge?

4. Clerical Instruction and Civilizing Knightly Mores
War and the codifying of violence
The moral of the story
Rebuking greed, violence and vanity
Pillaging and murder
Hunting, tournaments and games
The chivalrous ideal
Warring under the king for peace and justice
The knighthood and dubbing
Sparing human lives
The crusade as armed pilgrimage
The paradox of the soldier monks
The internalisation of persuasive arguments?
Manners: mastering movement and speech
Courteous clerics
Instructional books on civility
Clothing and attire
Cleanliness and elegance
Shame and immodesty
Self-control in gestures
Table manners
The art of pleasant conversation
Love: refinement and self-control
The patient, enduring and meek lover
Perfecting oneself through love
Classical knowledge and courtly love
The debate on knights and clerks in love
Religion: the warrior’s piety
The lettered knights and theological thought
Courtliness and piety
Mass attendance and the dangers of Pharisaism
Meditating at church, invoking the Holy Virgin, and other forms of devotion
Love for fellow-men, alms and voluntary poverty
Confession and penance
The knight’s martyrdom
Individuation and nobility of the soul

5. Conclusion

Sources and bibliography

“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.”
"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."