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157 CHAPTER SEVEN Chivalric Literature Rhiannon Purdie and Katie Stevenson What is chivalric literature? This seemingly straightforward label is complicated by the fact that both terms, ‘chivalric’ and ‘literature’, carry different meanings for different groups of readers, both medieval and modern. Chivalry is a fluid concept. Stripped of the sentimental romanticism encouraged by the Gothic revival of late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it can be defined as the cultural ethos of the medieval military elites. The term ‘chivalry’ comes from Old French chevalerie, itself a derivative of Latin caballerius or ‘horseman’, and implies a focus on the deeds and mores of the military elites as represented by the figure of the mounted knight. ‘Courtliness’ – the courteous behaviour that knights were expected to display but which could be equally displayed by others (such as women) – did not define knighthood in the same way as prowes, worschip, manheid or price, to use some of the favourite terms of praise of the fourteenth-century Scots poet John Barbour. Thus the term chivalry has a more specific application than the broader notion of ‘courtliness’, or Barbour’s curtasy. If the chivalric ethos originated on the battlefield, its relevance to wider medieval society must nevertheless be recognised: the knightly class was that from which all medieval secular leaders were drawn, so everyone had a stake in the ethos governing the ‘order of knighthood’ to which they all (at least in theory) subscribed. ‘Knychthede is the hyest temporale order þat is jn the warld […] ffor quhy þat all Emperouris and kingis aw to bere that ordre or ellis thair dignitee is nocht perfyte’ wrote Sir Gilbert Hay, the fifteenth-century translator and embellisher of several important continental works of chivalric literature.1 The centrality of the ideals of chivalry to medieval social order meant that it remained a subject of keen interest and debate throughout the period. It was regularly re-shaped or customised by individual writers and commentators, in Scotland as much as elsewhere, and inevitably developed multiple shades of meaning for different groups. 158 rhiannon purdie and katie stevenson Bearing in mind the shifting definition of chivalry, ‘chivalric literature’ may be defined as a body of works that either engages directly with chivalric themes, or is informed by chivalry in its composition or potential audience. The genre of romance may be the most obvious representative this, but the term ‘chivalric literature’ also includes works that offer incidental comment on the values and practices of chivalry, such as the comic mock-tournament poems by William Dunbar and Sir David Lyndsay, amongst others. More importantly, it includes a large body of descriptive or instructional material on chivalry – commentaries on chivalry and knighthood, and instruction manuals for various aspects of knightly conduct – upon which the student of late medieval and early modern chivalry might fruitfully draw. This material provides a crucial context for understanding both the imaginative works of chivalric literature, and the late medieval and early-modern audience(s) for whom such works were designed. Medieval Romance The medieval genre of romance is often seen as the most characteristic representative of chivalric literature, and much has been written on its symbiotic relationship with actual chivalric practice.2 Setting aside the two great historical epic poems, Barbour’s Bruce and Hary’s Wallace,3 and Lyndsay’s ‘chivalric biography’ of William ‘Squyer’ Meldrum (which are discussed separately below), there are twelve Scottish ‘medieval’ romances that survive in whole or part from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and a small handful of later sixteenth- and early seventeenthcentury romances written more clearly in the renaissance mode.4 The medieval romances are: two fifteenth-century romances of Alexander5 and about five hundred surviving lines of a romance about Alexander’s fictional grandfather Florimond of Albany;6 the Arthurian romances Golagros and Gawane and Lancelot of the Laik;7 a Scottish Troy Book (ca. 3,700 lines of which survive incongruously in two separate sixteenthcentury manuscript copies of Lydgate’s Troy Book);8 Rauf Coilȝear;9 Eger and Grime (first cited in 1497 but surviving only in two related but very different versions from the seventeenth century);10 King Orphius (fragments of a rather different Scottish version of the Middle English Sir Orfeo); Sir Colling the Knycht (a fantastical tale associated with the powerful Campbells of Argyll);11 Clariodus (the first romance in this list that was demonstrably composed after 1500, though before 1550);12 and 159 chivalric literature finally Roswall and Lillian, a medieval romance in style and form...


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