A Reading List on Chivalry


For Re-Enactors

Brian R. Price
April 27, 1997



Numerous people have written to me to ask where they should turn for further information on knighthood, chivalry, and tournaments. There are many fine works, some of which are even out of print, that can serve to provide an introduction. We have been working for some time on a database of chivalric bibliography, but it is far from complete. Therefore I offer this list of works designed first to provide a general introduction, and then a deeper set of sources covering topics of interest to tournament re-enactors.

I should hasten to note that this list is meant for re-enactors, but that it might have some applications for students or instructors working on curriculems centered on chivalry. The production staff at the KCT website has been working on a children’s site for some time–within the next month you should see the debue of our first pages designed specifically for middle-school age children and a curriculem useful for middle school instructors. Drop us an email if you have suggestions for this project.

For this list, I have arranged in the first group works I think all re-enactors interested in knighthood should be familar with. I have in general provided the easiest edition to obtain, rather than the “best” edition, because I have discovered that the difficulty in acquiring many of these works has created a far greater barrier than I would have imagined. If you read only one book, then make it Dr. Maurice Keen’s Chivalry, the first book cited on the list.

The rest of the list is broken down by time period, starting with the early ‘pre’ chivalric stories, moving through the 15th century. Each of these sublists is ordered not alphabetically, but rather by which ones I believe might provide the most information the quickest. In this way I hope to eliminate part of the guesswork that often accompanies such studies.

Note also that there will be other reading lists under the other headings–at least under tournaments and arms & armour. These should also be consulted if the combatant seeks to have a good grasp of the tournament culture surrounding knights of the era they are interested in.

A Brief Survey

Keen, Maurice. Chivalry 1984 Yale University Press(in print)
Dr. Keen’s work gives the best overview for the study of chivalry. This cornerstone work should form the foundation of further studies, for the lively text and detail offered gives on of the few careful studies of the concepts that has driven chivalry throughout history. In these pages you will find hundreds of pointers to other more exhaustive sources for particular elements of chivalric study, but because the ideas that are chivalry have changed so radicially throughout the ages, Keen’s book provides a unique and extremely useful grounding where basic terms can be defined, explored, and organized.

de Troyes, Chretien. Arthurian RomancesPenguin Books (in print)

Although the Arthurian Romances derived from older Welsh legends, it was the pen of Chretien de Troyes, working under the patronage of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who first articulated the images in a compelling enough manner to see widespread imitation. Chretien can in many ways be seen as the ‘grandfather’ of the romantic tradition of chivalry, a tradition that evolved side by side the other major influences on the knight of the 12th century, the church and the exigencies of the warrior services the knight was required to perform. In reading a few of the major tales from Chretien’s collection, you will get an idea of how this ‘ideal’ image was built.

Froissart Chronicles Penguin Books (in print)

Froissart was the primary chronicler of the 14thcentury Hundred Years War between England and France, creating a quasi-historical quasi-fictional chronicle of the war from the point of view of the knights and nobles. Today the chronicle is derided for being of limited historical value because of Froissart’s frequent error, yet there is no finer presentation of war and society from the perspective of the medieval knight. Additionally, chivalry has always maintained this exact quasi-historical magic, the ‘bending pens’ of chivalric authors forging ideals to fit new realities. Froissart gives an excellent sense of this ‘bending’, and of the tone that feats of arms should evoke. Like most authentic works from the period, this one was composed in French, but it has been translated many times through the centuries. Part of it can even be found online by the grace of Duke Finvarr, at His Grace’s website.

Anonymous The Ordene de Chevalerie Trans. W. Morris, Chronique #5 (in print)

To gain some idea of the religious impact on the knightly ideal, this fine poem should round out the picture for the purposes of an introduction.

More to come!