Saturday, October 22, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Chivalry and the Medieval Past edited by Katie Stevenson and Barbara Gribling

I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

I love medieval history. While I mainly stick to biography and straightforward narrative history of particular events or time periods, every once in a while I like to wade through the weeds of more academic history.

Chivalry and the Medieval Past, edited by Katie Stevenson and Barbara Gribling, is a multi-author collection of essays examining how chivalry is and has been interpreted and how those interpretations influence visions of medieval culture. It seems that as soon as the Middle Ages ended, people were already looking back at it with either nostalgia or disdain. The militarism inherent in the word "chivalry" was either romanticized as a manly virtue or criticized as barbaric.

The contents of the book are as follows:

Introduction: Chivalry and the Medieval Past - Katie Stevenson and Barbara Gribling
'An Institution Quite Misunderstood': Chivalry and Sentimentalism in the Late Scottish Enlightenment
- David W. Allan
Creating a 'Medieval Past' for the Swedish Orders of Knighthood - Antti Matikkala
'Hung Round with the Helmets, Breast-Plates, and Swords of our Ancestors': Allusions to Chivalry in Eighteenth-Century Gothicism - Peter N. Lindfield
Knights on the Town? Commercial and Civic Chivalry in Victorian Manchester - Rosemary A. Mitchell
'The Dark Side of Chivalry': Victory, Violence and the Victorians - Barbara Gribling
Daze and Knights: Anachronism, Duelling and the Chivalric Ethic in Nineteenth-Century Italy - Steven C. Hughes
The German Crusade: The Battles of Tannenberg, 1410 and 1914 - Stefan Goebel
'Hark ye back to the age of valour': Re-enacting Chivalry from the Eglinton Tournament to Kill Streak - Paul Pickering

While not every topic will appeal to every reader interested in medieval studies, nevertheless I recommend reading them all, since you might be surprised by which essay ends up grabbing you.

There is something interesting to find in each of the chapters, which cover topics ranging from the construction of a medieval past to lend legitimacy to newly established orders of knighthood in Sweden, to the pros and cons of Gothic architecture versus classical architecture in England, to the widespread popularity of historical re-enactment with its claims of increasing historical knowledge, not just providing entertainment. And while the analyses can be ponderous at times, the individual essays were varied enough to create a very readable whole. For those interested in an exploration of how perceptions of the middle ages are always evolving, this book is worth a look.