The medieval code of chivalry demanded that warrior elites demonstrate fierce courage in battle, display prowess with weaponry, and avenge any strike against their honor. They were also required to be devout Christians. How, then, could knights pledge fealty to the Prince of Peace, who enjoined the faithful to turn the other cheek rather than seek vengeance and who taught that the meek, rather than glorious fighters in tournaments, shall inherit the earth? By what logic and language was knighthood valorized?
In Holy Warriors, Richard Kaeuper argues that while some clerics sanctified violence in defense of the Holy Church, others were sorely troubled by chivalric practices in everyday life. As elite laity, knights had theological ideas of their own. Soundly pious yet independent, knights proclaimed the validity of their bloody profession by selectively appropriating religious ideals. Their ideology emphasized meritorious suffering on campaign and in battle even as their violence enriched them and established their dominance. In a world of divinely ordained social orders, theirs was blessed, though many sensitive souls worried about the ultimate price of rapine and destruction.
Kaeuper examines how these paradoxical chivalric ideals were spread in a vast corpus of literature from exempla and chansons de geste to romance. Through these works, both clerics and lay military elites claimed God's blessing for knighthood while avoiding the contradictions inherent in their fusion of chivalry with a religion that looked back to the Sermon on the Mount for its ethical foundation.
Chapter 1: Violent Knights, Holy Knights
Chapter 2: Two Model Knight/Authors as Guides
Chapter 3: The Religious Context for Chivalric Ideology
Chapter 4: Independence in Knightly Piety
Chapter 5: Knightly Ideology Developed and Disseminated
Chapter 6: The Hero and the Suffering Servant
Chapter 7: Knighthood and the New Lay Theology: Ordines and Labor
Chapter 8: Knighthood and the New Lay Theology: Confession and Penance
Chapter 9: Writing the Death Certificate for Chivalric Ideology
Richard W. Kaeuper is Professor of History at the University of Rochester. Elspeth Kennedy is Sometime Fellow at St. Hilda's College, Oxford University.
"Kaeuper's arguments brilliantly elucidate the theological ideas that were used to justify chivalric conduct. . . . The book is carefully and elegantly written, and the arguments are abundantly documented. It must be essential reading for any scholar concerned with the knightly culture of the Middle Ages."
~American Historical Review
"It brings to bear the rich experience, wide knowledge, and balanced judgment of a long scholarly career while pushing forward the lines of investigation where they yield most results. . . . An excellent book that greatly enhances our understanding of medieval chivalric culture."
"Kaeuper's book offers much to the understanding of knighthood because it examines a little understood aspect of chivalry in detail, namely, the religious ideas of chivalry and their application in the daily life of the knight."
"A triumph. . . . in bringing attention to the specifically devotional aspects of chivalry and the ways in which this elite group of laity reacted to and transformed Church initiatives, Kaeuper deserves special credit."
~Sixteenth Century Journal