Conversation With: Prof. Steven Muhlberger

In a world marked by ferocious politics, economic change, warfare and violence, social upheaval, and religious schism, how, exactly did chivalrous knights and their sword fighting games and jousting activities fit into the scheme of everyday life?

Conversation with Prof. Steven Muhlberger – Chivalry and Formal Combat in the 14th Century

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The joust between Englishman Peter de Courtnay and the French champion Gui de la Tremoille is an example of a “formal combat” of the 14th century, as depicted in Froissart’s Chronicles. The events leading up to, and surrounding the encounter had much larger political, social, and even economic repercussions than a simple “jousting match” for sport or pleasure. (Image courtesy of the British Library.)

Tournaments, jousts, duels, and knightly games are without a doubt some of the most colorful elements of medieval history – we all know that these were the sorts of places where knights went to demonstrate their honor and chivalry; and where ladies were revered for their inspiration and beauty.

All of that sounds delightful, but not terribly practical. In a world marked by ferocious politics, economic change, warfare and violence, social upheaval, and religious schism, how, exactly did chivalrous knights and their sword fighting games and jousting activities fit into the scheme of everyday life? Beyond the storybook image of a jousting tournament as a showcase for heroic behavior, just what did it mean to take part in a “formal combat” in the Middle Ages? Did things like duels, tournaments, jousts and deeds of arms have meaning and repercussions outside of knightly society – in the realms of politics, economics and cultural values? Can we learn anything about the ideals of chivalry in the Middle Ages – and perhaps our understanding of it today – by taking a more pragmatic and down-to-earth look at formal combats and the people who attended, supported, criticized, and participated in them?

Prof. Steven Muhlberger teaches ancient and medieval history at Nipissing University in Ontario Canada, and has published many articles and books on medieval knights, tournaments, and the practices of chivalry, including Jousts and Tournaments, published in 2003, and Deeds of Arms, published in 2005.

Apart from studying and writing about chivalric combat, Prof. Muhlberger is a practitioner as well. He studies historical European sword combat himself, and he regularly participates in “living history” events that seek to recreate the sort of knightly deeds that he researches in his work. It’s safe to say that he knows what the view is like from inside a suit of armor!

Prof. Muhlberger’s latest book is Formal Combats in the 14th Century, which has just been released by Witan Publishing, and is available in both Kindle and Nook format.
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About Scott Farrell

Scott Farrell is the founder and director of the Chivalry Today Educational Program. He gives dozens of live presentations on the history and values of chivalry every year at schools, libraries, and civic and professional organizations throughout Southern California. His thoughts and conversations on chivalry can be heard worldwide every month on his Chivalry Today Podcast. His essays on the code of chivalry have appeared in numerous magazines and books, including Living A Life Of Value (Jason Merchey, editor) and the forthcoming Martial Arts And Philosophy (Damon Young, editor).