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  • Holy Warriors: The Religious Ideology of Chivalry
  • Diana Jefferies
Kaeuper, Richard W., Holy Warriors: The Religious Ideology of Chivalry (Middle Ages), Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009; cloth; pp. 344; 1 illustration; R.R.P. US$59.95, £39.00; ISBN 9870812241679.

Richard W. Kaeuper describes the subject of his book as an investigation into how chivalry could fit into a Christian framework (p. 5). He comes to his subject not by examining the clerical notions of knightly piety but by examining how the knights themselves came to justify their violent profession within Christianity. Although clerical responses to knightly violence are discussed in Chapter 1, Kaeuper acknowledges this is an area that has attracted much scholarly interest (p. 6). He also notes the church's pervasive influence in all aspects of medieval life, often stemming from beliefs about the afterlife. However, what interests Kaeuper is how knights interpreted these clerical responses and developed their own notions of knightly piety.

The investigation into knightly piety begins in Chapter 2 when Kaeuper explores the religious ideas of two knights, Henry of Lancaster and Geoffroi de Charny. Both knights lived in the first half of the fourteenth century and fought on opposing sides during the Hundred Years War. And they had something else in common: both wrote chivalric treatises that examined the religious aspects of chivalry.

Kaeuper demonstrates that Henry's treatise, Livre de seyntz medicines (The Book of Holy Remedies) presents a model knight whose piety is based in his desire to suffer in imitation of Christ. His suffering is not just about his love for Christ but is an attempt to cancel out many of his sins and place him in favour on the Day of Judgement. His knightly activities are offered as atonement for sin, a meritorious suffering (p. 41) that is pleasing to God.

Charny's Livre de chevalerie contains the same themes as Henry's treatise but his emphasis is firmly on the chivalric life with religious overtones. To [End Page 225] Charny, the bodily sufferings endured by knights are an essential component of the prowess required to be a great knight. It is this suffering that links knightly activities to honour and makes these activities the highest form of human endeavour (p. 43). Although this perhaps seems to be a conventional view of how the knights saw their contribution to chivalry, the religious nature of chivalry is present because knightly prowess is a gift from God. Therefore the knight has a responsibility to use this gift in a righteous and appropriate manner.

Kaeuper emphasizes that both treatises are the independent thoughts of two practising knights. They arrived at their own conclusions about the piety of knightly life despite the great clerical interest in the subject. Notions of heroic prowess, meritorious suffering and lay independence formed their response to clerical ideas of chivalry. Although it is possible to see clerical ideas about knighthood in their writings, Kaeuper argues that the two knights were highly selective in their use of them (p. 50).

Having discussed specific knightly notions of the religious aspect of chivalry, Kaeuper moves on to look at what would have influenced the two knights' religious ideas. Chapter 3 examines the context of religious chivalry. Again, Kaeuper states that his purpose is not to investigate how clerical reforms influenced chivalry, already a well-researched subject. He is interested in another religious aspect of medieval life, that is the atmosphere of asceticism that created the necessary environment for chivalry. It was this asceticism that informed knightly ideas of meritorious suffering (p. 65).

Yet, even though ideas of asceticism were directly related to clerical writings, Chapter 4 shows how the independent spirit of the knights informed their own religious ideas of chivalry. In Chapter 5, Kaeuper examines how these religious ideas were disseminated through chansons, romances, chronicles and crusade propaganda. Kaeuper ends this chapter with the assertion that the religious justification of the crusades came to justify all warfare fought in a good cause during the medieval period (p. 115).

Chapters 6, 7, and 8 discuss how religious ideas of chivalry infiltrated the life of the knight. Chapter 6 examines the knight's identification with the suffering...


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