The Knight in History by Frances Gies

The Knight in History offers a broad sweep of the evolution of knighthood in Europe from its rise from the peasantry to the end of the chivalric age.  The individual sections of the book are presented chronologically, but there is enough time-shifting between chapters that it might seem a bit disjointed at first.  The reason for this is simply due to how quickly knights had to adapt to ever-changing circumstances.  The average person with a broad understanding of King Arthur may not at first understand something like this, but that’s precisely where a book like this comes in handy.  The knights of the First Crusade do not resemble the Templars in the Second Crusade, for example.  The chapter on “The Troubadours and the Literature of Knighthood” was of special interest to me, given my recent studies on this topic.  William Marshal is examined here (of course!), and the reader can compare him to later chapters on Bertrand du Guesclin and Sir John Fastolf, both of whom really should be more commonly known.

I have a general rule whenever I find myself perusing the history section of my local bookstore: if the names Frances and/or Joseph Gies appear on the byline, buy it.  When it comes to all things Medieval, these authors know their stuff.  Their books are intricately researched, well-presented, and offer enough detail that you quickly realize there’s more information to be had in one of their books than in a tome three times the size.  At the same time, while they can be a little dry at times, their books are easier reads than many of those heftier tomes for the simple fact that it cuts through the fluff.  This book is right in line with everything I’ve come to expect and admire: more focused than an overview, and an excellent springboard for deeper investigation for those inclined.

4 stars

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