Knights: In History and Legend

Today, I’m taking a break from reviews on scholarly editions to do a review of a book that I bought solely for the pretty pictures. Knights: In History and Legend by Constance Brittain Bouchard has 283 pages of marvelous photographs (okay, there’s also a lot of text too). Most of the pictures are of medieval artwork—usually manuscript work, but also some stained-glass windows, paintings, and tapestries. A great deal of it is architecture. Some of it is Pre-Raphaelite paintings from the Victorian revival of Arthurian literature. Then, there’s the armor.

I love looking at pictures of armor. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s because I fenced for three years and always felt sad that my plastic chest protector was far less awesome than plate armor. Perhaps it’s because getting a sense of what armor was worn in a certain decade does a great deal to set a piece in its historical circumstances. Perhaps it’s because the swords are pretty. Either way, Knights has wonderful photographs of arms and armor.

However, this book is not an art book. It is a historical book with a great number of visual aids. The information in each chapter is not extensively detailed, but it is accurate and enlightening on a number of topics. The breakdown of types of weapons and their uses is particularly useful for Arthurian literature since it helps outline how battles were fought, how they are usually described in literature, and what the medieval reader would assume from what isn’t described. The pages outlining the technique of using and differences between spears, javelins, halberds, poleaxes, pikes, and lances are particularly useful. Of equal value is the chapter on the upbringing and daily life of a knight, topics only discussed in footnotes since the original audiences of Arthurian legends needed no introduction to the topic. Knights is not a resource for high-level academic research, but for the casual historian or as a book to supplement other materials, it’s fantastic.

Table of Contents

  • Part One: Introducing Knights
    • The Origins of Knights
    • Chivalric Ideals
    • The Noble Steed
    • Knights in the Arts
  • Part Two: The Life of a Knight
    • Becoming a Knight
    • Chivalry
    • Everyday Life
    • Castles
    • Armor
    • Weapons
    • Tournaments
    • Knights and War
    • Heraldry
    • Crusading Orders
    • Asian Knights
  • Part Three: The Knight in History
    • The Rise of Knights
    • The Norman Era
    • The Crusades
    • The Reconquista
    • The Albigensian Crusade
    • The Hundred Years’ War
    • Knighthood in Decline
  • Part Four: The Cultural Legacy
    • Knights in Literature
    • Film and Television
    • War Games
    • Honorific Orders
  • Part Five: Reference
    • Timeline
    • Medieval Monarchs
    • Further Reading
    • Glossary
    • Index
    • Acknowledgments

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