Chivalry, by Maurice Keen: Book Review Essay

Chivalry, by Maurice Keen: Book Review Essay

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When Maurice Keen set out to write a book on the components and development of chivalry, he did not know it would be “the last word on a seductive subject,” as stated by one Washington Post reviewer. Instead, Keen was merely satisfying a curiosity that derived from a childhood fascination of stories filled with “knights in shining armour.” This juvenile captivation was then transformed into a serious scholarly interest by Keen’s teachers, the product of which is a work based upon literary, artifactual, and academic evidence. Keen’s Chivalry strives to prove that chivalry existed not as a fantastical distraction, as erroneously portrayed by romances, but instead as an integral and functional feature of medieval politics, religion, and society. The thirteen chapters use an exposition format to quietly champion Keen’s opinion of chivalry as being an element of an essentially secular code of “honour” derived from military practices.
Keen opens his book with an introductory chapter examining three literary works pertaining to chivalry: the Ordene de Chevalerie, the Book of the Ordre of Chyvalry, and the Book of Chivalry. All three of these were written during a period of great religious reform, yet, according to Keen, they appear to not have been influenced by the ideas of the Church. The Ordene de Chevalerie is an anonymous poem that stresses the importance of the ritual required for initiation into knighthood. The popularity of the piece leads to the conclusion that the poem reflects “what men understood chivalry to mean” (8). This poem is then contrasted by the Book of the Ordre of Chyvalry, a narrative work written by Ramon Lull that describes in detail the origins and meaning of chivalry. A consideration of Geoffrey de Charny’s ...

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...ep love and appreciation for his subject matter is easily perceived by the reader and is exemplified by his thorough and in-depth analysis of every aspect of chivalry.
This edition of the Chivalry is a result of a reissue of the original edition and is photographically reduced by one-fifth. Though not a fault of Keen’s literary style, this reduction does make reading text much more difficult to accomplish, no matter one’s age. This reduction also sometimes makes the many black and white illustrations, a helpful addition of Keen’s, blurred and reduces their effectiveness in aiding the reader. Overall, however, Chivalry excellently communicates Keen’s belief of the practical importance of chivalric ideals and institutions and results in an enduring work with the “last word” on chivalry.

Works Cited

Maurice Keen, Chivalry. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

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