- Chivalry and Knighthood in Scotland, 1424–1513
Katie Stevenson’s monograph delivers on the considerable promise of her doctoral thesis. It provides an excellent beginning in the examination of a universal medieval experience in a hitherto neglected Scottish context, as the introductory historiographical survey makes plain.
By taking Maurice Keen’s seminal definition of chivalry as its starting point – with a focus upon the inter-twined martial, aristocratic and Christian elements of the medieval chivalric ideal – this book presents a convincing thematic exploration of chivalry and knighthood in Scotland during the reigns of successive and strongly contrasted Stewart monarchs, James I to James IV. This approach aids the illustration of the author’s persuasive central thesis, that of a marked development in Scottish chivalry and knighthood during the fifteenth-century, driven almost exclusively by the Crown but also in response to Europe-wide military and humanist intellectual change. These influences placed an increasing emphasis on civic responsibility and royal service alongside the more ‘traditional’ ideals of individual martial prowess, noble lineage and Christian virtue.
Taken together, chapters two and three [‘Knighthood in Scotland’ and ‘The Bestowal of Knighthood and the Dubbing Ceremony’] paint a clear picture of the growing dominance and control by the Stewart monarchy of the creation and effective employment of knights and chivalric ideals. As in other kingdoms, ‘solemn court events’ like coronations often saw large numbers of Scottish knights dubbed and thus bound to the person of the king or [End Page 336] the royal household, associations which were further strengthened throughout the fifteenth-century as monarchs drew upon such men as administrators and military captains. As Dr Stevenson shows, Scottish Crown events such as weddings, baptisms, battle-musters, tournaments, and even political assemblies like parliaments, saw nobles (and in turn their infant sons) elevated by the king or his guardians from esquire to knight – or even from knight to banneret or other honorific ranks. Yet dubbing was less frequent in Scotland on such occasions as judicial combats, the beginnings of a pilgrimage or in the pursuit of courtly love (the latter thus offering a marked contrast between Scottish and European characteristics of knighthood).
The author offers a compelling case, indeed, for viewing James I’s return from English captivity in 1424 as a watershed in terms of the Crown’s efforts to wrest control of chivalric ideals and European renown from such affinities as the Albany Stewarts and Black Douglases, a task then continued with renewed martial vigour by James II. However, in doing so, and in making impressive and judicious use of the often frustrating paucity of archival and printed evidence, a necessary limitation of any study with royal-reign parameters is revealed: that of the potential underplaying of alternative patrons of chivalry and knighthood in Scotland, here both before and after 1424. Prior to James I’s return, it had actually been a bold, confident time to be a Scottish esquire or knight in aristocratic or French royal service: thus the established, extensive and often informal lord-man networks of service, apprenticeship and non-royal dubbing which must have existed to facilitate this activity must surely have persisted long into the period under study.
A similarly rewarding point of debate might be raised in consideration of the next – and strongest – chapter in this book, ‘Scottish Tournaments’, which builds on the exploratory work of Carol Edington. James I, taking his lead from Henry V of England, had no great love for the lists and held only one tournament at his favoured royal centre of Perth in 1433. But, as the author demonstrates, James II loved to joust and learnt a potent lesson from the tournament between Scots and Burgundians organised through Black Douglas connections and hosted at Stirling in 1448. Dr Stevenson makes the intriguing suggestion, too, that just as James II sought to destroy Douglas influence over Scottish chivalry, so he may have acted to reduce the power of the Sinclair earl of Orkney as a patron of knighthood and the commissioner of such chivalric text translations...