Scott Farrell comments:
In this segment, Professor Bellitto discusses:
- Resources to help students understand what chivalry is, and consider how it was used in medieval society in both an idealistic and a practical sense.
- Different methods of exploring the ideals of chivalry and knighthood, including oral presentations, debates and an introduction to selected primary source material.
Chivalry can be approached from a variety of angles, depending on a teacher’s goals on student proclivities and on classroom resources. A unit on chivalry could begin with a few students going to the library to look up key ideas or people for a five-minute oral presentation; if possible, students should be directed to Bradford Broughton’s two-volume Dictionary of Medieval Knighthood and Chivalry. ((Bradford Broughton, Dictionary of Medieval Knighthood and Chivalry, vol. 1, Concepts and Terms (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1986) and vol. 2, People, Places and Events (1988). In general, see also Joseph R. Strayer, ed., Dictionary of the Middle Ages (New York: Scribner, 1982—).)) A pair of studies by Maurice Keen and Richard Barber are good sources of research for teachers or selected readings for students ((Maurice Keen, Chivalry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), is the recognized leader in scholarly work on the topic. A popular book, and therefore more readily accessible to the student reader, is offered by Richard W. Barber, The Knight and Chivalry (New York: Scribner, 1970); see especially his detailed introduction into the major components of chivalry. For a more academic resource and broader perspective, consult Georges Duby, Chivalrous Society, trans. Cynthia Postan (Berkeley: University of Calif. Press, 1977).)). Because historians disagree on what chivalry meant and who precisely knights were, the unit could continue with issues for discussion which introduce students to historical debate and conflicting evidence. One of the main questions students may wish to debate is the role the Church played in forming knights into a distinct layer of medieval society (“those who fought”), especially with respect to the frequently sacramental rituals of “dubbing.” ((Students should see Cairns, Medieval Knights, pp. 42-47. Teachers can consult Colin Morris, “Equestris Ordo: Chivalry as a Vocation in the Twelfth Century,” Studies in Church History 15 (1978), pp. 87-96.)) Students should also be encouraged to read primary sources. Selections from medieval manuals by Ramon Llull and Christine de Pisan give a flavor of the period while mixing the military and spiritual sides of knighthood ((Ramon Lull, The Book of the Order of Chivalry, trans. William Caxton (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1926). Christine de Pisan, The Books of Fayttes of Arms and of Chivalry, trans. William Caxton, ed. A.T.P. Boyles (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1932). Note that teachers may have to retype their selections since these editions reprint Caxton’s 15th-century spelling and style.)).
© 2003 Christopher Bellitto, Ph.D.
About the author: Christopher M. Bellitto, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of History at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, and the Academic Editor at Large of Paulist Press. He is a church historian, teacher, and lecturer whose work is both academic and popular. His most recent books are Ten Ways the Church Has Changed (Pauline Books and Media, 2006), The General Councils: A History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicaea to Vatican II (Mahwah NJ: Paulist Press, 2002) and Renewing Christianity: A History of Church Reform from Day One to Vatican II (Mahwah NJ: Paulist Press, 2001). “Chivalry: A Door to Teaching the Middle Ages” originally appeared in the August 1995 edition of The History Teacher magazine.
Teaching With Chivalry