9 SOCIAL DOMINANCE OF KNIGHTS

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MEN who possessed and exercised the right to fight and who enjoyed the

blessing of God on their hard way of life easily came to believe that they

were, or deserved to join, the social elite; they readily demanded recognition

of their rising status. Assertion of a right to social dominance thus provides

another crucial component for the fusion that made chivalry and gave it such

power in medieval society. Over time, knights rose in status and even the

nobility decided to wear the chivalric mantle.1

Chivalry and Nobility

The knights initially had to separate themselves from anything suggesting cultivation

of the soil and the smell of manure, for many of those who became the

knights were at first not fully and not always differentiated from villagers,

tillers of the soil, even the unfree.2 At the opening of our period, when a fighting

man was termed miles (plural milites)—the word which will come to designate

knight—the meaning often carried a distinct sense of subservience and

could be used of warriors of rather low social status. Many owned no land and

few could have claimed to be possessors of political power.3 In fact, the term

miles in this early period had no clear connotation of status and referred simply

to function. Yet over time knighthood fused with nobility as a result of

common military function, the decline of effective royal power over much of

1 The frame for current historical discussion was set by Duby, ‘Origines de la chevalerie’,

Chivalrous Society. General discussions in Keen, Chivalry, especially 18–43, 143–61; Coss, The

Knight; Crouch, Image of Aristocracy; Barber, Knight and Chivalry, 3–46; Jackson, Chivalry, 37–84;

Strickland, War and Chivalry, 19–30, 143–9; Flori, Essor de la chevalerie; Hunt, ‘Emergence of the

Knight’; Poly and Bournazel, Feudal Transformation; Barbero, L’aristocrazia. Useful essays on particular

subjects appear in Contamine, ed., La Noblesse au Moyen Age; Keen, Nobles, Knights; and

Duby, Chivalrous Society.

2 In a document from the decade before the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror

thought it necessary to specify that he was referring to ‘free knights’: Marie Fauroux, ed., Recueil

des actes des ducs de Normandie, cited in Strayer, Medieval Statecraft, 67. Many chansons de geste carefully

specify that the knights are free men.

3 Strayer, Medieval Statecraft, 655–9.

continental Europe, the increasing valorization of knighthood via ecclesiastical

efforts for peace and crusade, and the influence of romance literature.4

Though the process was far from uniform, in most regions of France knighthood

and noble status began to fuse in the course of the twelfth century;

knighthood became the ‘common denominator of the aristocracy’.5 The rise of

knights was slower in German lands and took a different turn in England,

where a distinct legal nobility never emerged; in Italy it gradually accommodated

with swiftly reviving urbanism.6 But everywhere the right to commit

warlike violence whenever honour was at stake became a sign of superior status;

in time, it hardened into noble right over much of Europe.

By the early thirteenth century, The Romance of the Wings, a popular vernacular

manual for knights (c. 1210), says ‘their name, rightly speaking, is the

true name of nobility’.7 This century, as Maurice Keen notes, shifted emphasis

away from entry into knighthood via the ceremony of dubbing towards eligibility

via noble lineage.8

Works of literature show the conviction that chivalric qualities are rooted in

genetic inheritance. Ceremonies welcoming back Lancelot to the Arthurian

court (in the Lancelot) include a procession which orders the great men

‘according to their valour and lineage’.9 The assumption, of course, is that

these two scales exactly coincide. In fact, knights in chivalric literature who fail

to show the highest qualities may turn out to have a bad genetic line or other

ignoble formation. Antor assures Arthur in The Story of Merlin that Kay’s

unpleasant ways must have come from the peasant girl who nursed him.10 In

The History of the Holy Grail from the same cycle, a bad knight, we learn, was

born ‘the son of a vile peasant, descended from a bad line and bad seed’. He

was not the king’s son he had been thought to be.11 Inversely, Tor’s prowess,

in the Merlin Continuation, proves his nobility; he was not the son of the peasant

who had raised him; his mother had been raped by Pellinor, a great chivalric

figure. Arthur has sensed the lineage from the start, as he tells Tor: ‘I believe

that if nobility had not come to you from somewhere, your heart would never

have drawn you to something as exalted as knighthood.’12

4 Flori, L’Idéologie du glaive; Hunt, ‘Emergence of the Knight’.

5 The phrase used by both Bur and Chédeville, quoted in Contamine, La Noblesse au Moyen

Age, 26.

6 Barber, Knight and Chivalry, 41; Larner, ‘Chivalric Culture’.

7 Busby, ed., Ordene de chevalerie, l. 39. 8 Keen, Chivalry, 143.

9 Carroll, tr., Lancelot Part VI, 283; Micha, ed., Lancelot, VI, 20. See Elspeth Kennedy, ‘Quest

for Identity’.

10 Pickins, tr., Story of Merlin, 214; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, II, 84.

11 Chase, tr., History of the Holy Grail, I, 113; Sommer, Vulgate Version, I, 197.

12 Asher, tr., Merlin Continuation, 225; Roussineau, ed., Merlin, I, 208. Once Arthur has evidence

of Tor’s prowess, he argues that ‘the son of a cowherd and a peasant could not have had such

a noble start . . . heredity and true nobility have led and taught him in a short time’: Asher, ibid.,

The young Gawain, at the tender age of eleven, likewise shows heroic genes

at work. Standing by his father’s graveside, he vows revenge on the killer, King

Pellinor, in terms that elicit much admiration: ‘Please God, my lord, may I

never earn praise for knightly deeds until I have taken appropriate vengeance

and killed a king for a king.’ Those within hearing marvel at his words, ‘for

they were noble, especially for a child’.13

Nobility was likewise proved by physical beauty. In their literature knights

portrayed themselves tirelessly as more beautiful than other mortals. A wellproportioned

body and a comely face identify the truly chivalrous, even if the

young man is unknown, in disguise, or in rags.

When the Lady of the Lake brings the young Lancelot to be knighted by

Arthur, the king at first resists her request to knight him wearing the armour

and robes she has provided; he only knights men dressed in his own robes, he

explains. Yvain, however, urges Arthur to make an exception: ‘you mustn’t

just let him go, not a fine fellow like this! I don’t remember ever seeing such a

good-looking young man.’ His advice is accepted and the Lady of the Lake

leaves Lancelot at court. Her parting advice to him links moral and physical

beauty with prowess: ‘Take care to be as beautiful in your heart as you are in

body and limb, for you have as much beauty as God could bestow on any child

and it would be a great wrong if your prowess did not prove its equal.’14

Some reality may even have supported the idea of superior physical form

among the chivalrous. Surely not every villager or townsperson was unattractive,

but better diet, better living conditions, and the catalyst of confidence

might have produced distinct physical improvements in appearance. In their

literature they are the beautiful people, the perfection of their bodies enhanced

by contrast with the dwarves who so regularly appear in their menial service

and who are usually as uncourtly in speech and manners as they are unlovely

in body.

As knighthood continued its social rise, the term knight even took on a

more restrictive meaning than the term noble. Knighthood, in the close sense

of those who had actually been dubbed and become active, strenuous knights,

became a minority, a subset, even among the nobility.

The case is clear from England. The number of men called knights in the

England of William the Conqueror stood at about 6,000; by the midthirteenth

century actual or potential knights numbered only about 3,000,

Social Dominance of Knights 191

237; Roussineau, ibid., 251. Merlin reinforces the sentiment soon: ‘if you were of peasant stock,’

he tells Tor, ‘the desire to be a knight would not have seized you, but nobility must show itself, be

it ever so deeply hidden.’ Asher, ibid., 243; Roussineau, ibid., 272.

13 Asher, tr., Merlin Continuation, 199; Paris and Ulrich, eds., Merlin, I, 263.

14 Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part I, 63; Elspeth Kennedy, ed., Lancelot do Lac, I, 154; Micha, ed.,

Lancelot, VII, 269.

with about 1,250 actually having been dubbed.15 Perhaps three-quarters of a

typical fourteenth-century English army was composed of men below the rank

of knight.16 The cost of the ceremony of dubbing, of horses, and more elaborate

armour restricted the group. Obligations to participate in local activities

of royal governance supply another reason, adding to the economic costs of

taking up knighthood the investment of time and the sheer bother of serving

on the judicial and administrative inquests so characteristic a feature of

medieval England.

In France, also, the cost of active participation in chivalric life rose, and the

number of dubbed knights fell accordingly; knighthood as a specific status

ceased to encompass all those who were recognized as noble. Fewer than half

the French nobles had actually been dubbed in the early fourteenth century.17

To read any documents relating to this nobility is to encounter many esquires

(damoiseaux) alongside the knights and great lords.18 Strenuous knights were

only a core of the medieval French nobility, as they were only a core of a

medieval French army. Such an army meant a small body of belted knights

accompanied by a much larger company of men-at-arms.19

Does this trend mean a waning of the influence of chivalric ideas? On the

contrary, the chivalric ethos in fact generalized to all who lived by arms,

whether of noble family or not; chivalry served as a source of inspiration even

beyond the ranks of lords and active, strenuous knights; it touched all men-atarms.

In theory, chivalry might best be exemplified in the conduct of those formally

noble or the practising milites, but several social rings beyond this inner

circle aspired to the status and benefits it conferred.20

Christine de Pisan wanted the ideal of chivalry extended to all warriors.

Geoffroi de Charny endorsed the aspirations of those below the social level of

knights; the key to the honoured and honourable life inherent in chivalry, he

thought, ought to guide all who lived by the honest practice of arms.21 He

would have been less happy with the aspirations of those bourgeois families

that kept arms and armour and showed devotion to tournament and romance

15 Denholm-Young, ‘Feudal Society’. Prestwich suggests stability in numbers for a century

after the 1270s, followed by rapid decline: Armies and Warfare, 52.

16 Ayton, Knights and Warhorses, 5, 228–9. 17 Cazelles, Societé politique, 66.

18 Examples appear plentifully in Actes du Parlement.

19 Contamine, Warfare in the Middle Ages, 80–6.

20 Keen, Chivalry, 145. He notes: ‘The shift of emphasis away from the taking of knighthood

towards nobility of blood . . . clearly did not, in any significant degree, undermine the conception

of the essential role of the secular aristocracy as being a martial one’ (pp. 152–3). Cf. Ayton, Knights

and Warhorses, 3–6, and Ayton and Price, eds, Medieval Military Revolution, 81–103.

21 On Christine, see the comment of Willard, ‘Christine de Pisan’, 511, and the passages quoted

at length from Christine’s Le Livre des fais et bonnes meurs du sage roy Charles V, in ibid., 518–19. On

Charny, see Kaeuper and Kennedy, Book of Chivalry: in his text Charny regularly praises and gives

advice to both knights and men at arms.

literature.22 Yet their interest, too, makes the point, valuable for our enquiry,

that to all who wanted any share of power and influence, any recognition of

high status, showing signs of a chivalrous life was crucially important.

This fact would not be lost on those wearing mitres, tonsures, or cloth hats

rather than iron helms. A powerful show of prowess could add an accepted,

perhaps necessary layer of respectability to high status grounded in ecclesiastical

office or the unheroic possession of moneyed wealth. A town facing a formal

declaration of war by the lord of the nearby castle, a religious house

threatened or attacked by a knight who contested some monastic rights, a

bishop defending his rights as a great lord—all would quickly appreciate the

power of chivalry as prowess, the valorization of vigorous action taken with

arms in defence of honour.

Public order was a problem of such urgency in high medieval society precisely,

that is, because the capacity to use arms in this manner and a belief in its

efficacy, even in its nobility, were such characteristic features at the top of society.

The Abbot of Saint-Nicholas-au-Bois presumably had such thoughts in

mind as he led an armed troop against the town of Crespy in Laonnais in the

early fourteenth century; as his troop attacked the outskirts of the town, crying

‘Kill, kill! Death to the louts from Crespy!’, the abbot wounded one man

with his own hand and then rode his horse over another.23 For their part,

French townspeople claimed the characteristic chivalric right to private war;

French knights indirectly recognized such rights by issuing formal challenges

of war against these collective lordships.24 The number of men who claimed

the social status of knighthood and who went to the wars as practising warriors

undoubtedly declined during the Middle Ages; yet the code of knights,

with its strong focus on prowess as the key to honour, cast its mantle over a

widening circle of believers.

The Role of Largesse

Even as the knights soared far beyond any fear of identification with mere rustics,

they still had to close ranks and watch another flank as well. Significant

social and economic change, as always, created problems with an existing hierarchy:

noble or knightly rank did not always equate with wealth.25 Given the

Social Dominance of Knights 193

22 See, for example, the evidence provided by Juliet Vale, Edward III, 40.

23 Actes du Parlement, 6147.

24 Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order, 190, and sources there.

25 Honoré Bonet thinks it necessary in 1387 to insist, in his famous treatise, that ‘a knight must

not till the soil, or tend vines, or keep beasts, that is to say, be a shepherd, or be a matchmaker, or

lawyer; otherwise, he must loose knighthood and the privileges of a knight’: see Coupland, ed.,

tr., Tree of Battles, 131.

commercial and urban boom that so marked the High Middle Ages, knights

became more keenly aware of the need to establish distance between themselves

and the elite townsmen. For the bourgeois were most anxious to join

them on the social summits and would take on identifying characteristics of

chivalry as swiftly as they were able. It proved impossible to keep them from

holding tournaments of their own, from showing coats of arms, from marriage

alliances with proud but impecunious knights. What could prevent them

from reading chivalric literature and imitating fine manners? Perhaps it was all

the more necessary to stress chivalric distance from such folk, as knights actually

broke the code themselves, mingled with the middling classes, relied

on their loans, their commercial expertise and management, and married

their daughters.26 The great chivalric exemplar William Marshal worked at

profitable urban development on his estates and was no stranger to London

moneylenders.27 The family of Ramon Llull, author of the most popular vernacular

treatise on chivalry—which emphasized the link between nobility and

chivalry—was only a few decades away from bourgeois origins in Barcelona.28

Of course the knights raised as many barriers as they could. The distance

between their exclusive, chivalrous life and the lives of the sub-chivalric bourgeoisie

could be clearly established by a quality tirelessly praised in all chivalric

literature: only they could truly display the magnificent, great-hearted

generosity known as largesse. This great virtue could then, especially in France,

appear in sharpest contrast to the mean-spirited acquisitiveness of the merchants.

On this line, moreover, chevalerie and clergie could join forces. Images of the

bourgeoisie tainted by disgusting avarice and sinful usury appear frequently in

medieval art, as Lester Little has shown. All those with noble bloodlines could

agree, whether clerics or knights: Avarice looks like a merchant; he counts and

hoards his coins (when he is not depicted defecating them); he has assuredly

not learned to broadcast his wealth to the deserving with grand gesture,

confident that valour can always replenish the supply.29

The southern French poet Bertran de Born sings the praises of largesse and

links it with prowess and love. All these traits necessarily connect; they all separate

the one who possesses them in his eternal youthfulness from ordinary

folk:

26 As noted by Keen, Chivalry, 147. Cf. Stanesco, ‘Le chevalier dans la ville’, and the numerous

sources cited there.

27 Crouch, William Marshal, 168–70. 28 Cardona, ‘Chevaliers et chevalerie’, 142.

29 Little, ‘Pride Goes before Avarice’. The more fluid social hierarchy in England and developed

urbanism in Italy made for differences, of course.

Young is a man who pawns his property, and he’s young when he’s really poor. He

stays young while hospitality costs him a lot, and he’s young when he makes extravagant

gifts. He stays young when he burns his chest and coffer, and holds combats and

tourneys and ambushes. He stays young when he likes to flirt, and he’s young when

minstrels like him well.30

No miserly merchant need apply. In fact, townsmen are often pictured in

chivalric literature as fair game for the knightly lions, who will put the booty

to nobler use. The biography of the great William Marshal passes over his

father’s career as a robber baron, it is true, and paints no scene of William looting

merchants in glad war; but it does picture him taking money from a priest

who is running off with a lady of good family. The money which the priest

intended to put to usury William spends more nobly, as his biographer

proudly tells us, on a feast for a circle of knightly friends. His friends’ only dissatisfaction

with William is that he failed to take the horses as well.31

Largesse pointedly reinforces high social status in the early life of Lancelot.32

Out of innate nobility he gives his own horse to a young man of noble birth

who has been ambushed, his horse incapacitated: without Lancelot’s gift he

would miss a chance to confront a traitor in court. Lancelot’s generosity preserves

him from shame.

Meeting an aged vavasour shortly after, Lancelot politely offers him some of

the meat of a roebuck he has shot. The man, who has had poorer luck in his

own hunting, had been trying to put food on the wedding table of his daughter.

Lancelot, learning that he is talking to a knight, tells him that the meat

‘could not [be] put to better use than to let it be eaten at the wedding of a

knight’s daughter’. He graciously accepts the gift of one of the vavasour’s greyhounds

in return. But Lancelot’s tutor—one of the sub-knightly, insensible to

such fine points of generosity—refuses to believe Lancelot’s truthful account;

he slaps the lad, and whips the greyhound. In a rage, Lancelot drives off the

man (and his three subordinates), promising to kill him, if he can catch him

outside the household of his patroness, the Lady of the Lake.33

The young Arthur gives another case in point. As claimant to the throne

(having pulled the sword from the stone), Arthur is shown ‘all kingly things

and things that a man might lust after or love, to test whether his heart was

greedy or grasping’. But he treats all these things nobly, giving them all away

appropriately. His actions win him regard and support: ‘They all whispered

Social Dominance of Knights 195

30 Paden et al., eds, Poems of the Troubadour, 298–9.

31 Meyer, ed., Histoire, ll. 6689–864.

32 See the discussion in Elspeth Kennedy, Lancelot and the Grail, 15.

33 Corley, tr., Lancelot of the Lake, 30–7; Elspeth Kennedy, ed., Lancelot do Lac, I, 41–7. Cf.

Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part I, 20–1; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, III, 35–40.

behind their hands that he was surely of high birth, for they found no greed in

him: as soon as anything of worth came his way, he put it to good uses, and

all his gifts were fair according to what each one deserved.’34

Clearly, this virtue sets men like Arthur apart from the grasping, retentive,

bourgeois, or—God forbid—from any among the nobles who might stoop to

such base behaviour. It is interesting to note that the scruffy townsmen and

their money appear only faintly and in the background in this literature,

almost as part of the scenery. They now and then put up knights for a tournament

or house the overflow crowd gathered for a colourful royal occasions;

they are called forth by the author to cheer when a hero frees a town from some

evil custom through his magnificent prowess.

Of course largesse not only keeps the ambitious townsmen out of the club,

in the hands of a great lord or king it becomes a crucial buttress to dominance,

a tool of governance. Repeatedly in The Story of Merlin Arthur’s largesse to

poor, young knights secures their loyalty and provides him with armed force.

Early in his career, ‘[h]e sought out fighting men everywhere he knew them to

be and bestowed on them clothing, money, and horses, and the poor knights

throughout the country took him in such love that they swore never to fail him

even in the face of death.’ After his forces have been joined by those of King

Ban and King Bors, ‘King Arthur bestowed gifts of great worth on those in the

two kings’ households according to their rank, and he gave them warhorses,

saddle horses, and beautiful, costly arms . . . and they swore that never, ever in

their lives, would they let him down.35

Ideally, it was warfare, not simply the income from one’s own vast estates,

that produced the wherewithal for such lavish generosity. After a great battle

with the Saxons, Arthur hands out all of the wealth garnered from them, and

he let it be known throughout the army that if there were any young knights who

wanted to win booty and would go with him wherever he would lead them, he would

give them so much when they came back that they would never be poor another day in

their lives. And so many of them came forward from here and there that it was nothing

short of a wonder, for many wished always to be in his company because of his openhandedness.

36

In his great encounter with Galehaut, an alarmed Arthur finds his knights

deserting him.37 The Wise Man explains the causes of this crisis and presents a

list of reforms which features a return to generosity: Arthur is to ride a splen-

34 Pickens, tr., Story of Merlin, 215; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, II, 87.

35 Pickens, Story of Merlin, 220, 223; Sommer, Vulgate Version, II, 96, 102.

36 Pickens, Story of Merlin, 300; Sommer, Vulgate Version, II, 242–3.

37 When Arthur’s largesse lags early in the Perlesvaus, the knights similarly begin to drift away

from his court: see Nitze and Jenkins, eds, Perlesvaus, 26.

did horse up to the poor knight and ‘give him the horse in consideration of his

prowess and the money so that he may spend freely’; the social hierarchy must

be reaffirmed by a downward flow of largesse producing an upward flow of

loyalty; the queen and her ladies and maidens must likewise cheerfully show

largesse; all are to remember that ‘none was ever destroyed by generosity, but

many have been destroyed by avarice. Always give generously and you will

always have enough.’38 This advice in romance reappeared in a bold motto on

the wall of the Painted Chamber in Westminster Hall during the reign of

Henry III: ‘He who does not give what he has will not get what he wants.’39

In romance the goods were given out according to two scales, which, we are

not surprised to find, always smoothly merged: high status and exemplary

prowess. Asked to distribute the loot taken from the Saxons at one point in

The Story of Merlin, Gawain defers to Doon of Carduel, explaining that ‘he can

divide it up and distribute it better than I can, for he knows better than I do

who the leading men are and the worthiest’.40

Sometimes the pious fiction of funding knighthood with booty snatched

from the unworthy hands of pagans slips a bit. In the Lancelot do Lac Claudas’s

son Dorin looks remarkably like one of the disruptive ‘youths’ whose role in

French society Georges Duby analysed so tellingly.41 Like these young men,

Dorin admits no check on his vigour and will, and spends with even less

restraint:

The only child [Claudas] had was a very handsome, fair boy almost fifteen years old,

named Dorin. He was so arrogant and strong that his father did not yet dare make him

a knight, lest he rebel against him as soon as he was able; and the boy spent so freely

that no one would fail to rally to him.42

Claudas, moreover, learns from his own brother by what means Dorin has

acquired the wealth he dispenses so grandly: ‘Dorin had caused great harm in

the land, damaging towns, seizing livestock, and killing and wounding men.’

Yet Claudas plays the great chivalric lord even more than the indulgent father

in his response: ‘I am not troubled by all that. . . . He has the right, for a king’s

son must not be prevented from being as generous as he may like, and royalty

cannot allow itself to be impoverished by giving.’43 The attitude was, of

Social Dominance of Knights 197

38 Carroll, tr., Lancelot Part II, 122; Elspeth Kennedy, ed. Lancelot do Lac, I, 288–9.

39 Colvin, gen. ed., History of the King’s Works, I, The Middle Ages, 497: ‘Ke ne dune ke ne tine

ne prent ke desire.’

40 Pickens, tr., Story of Merlin, 243; Sommer ed., Vulgate Version, II, 140.

41 Duby, ‘Dans la France du Nord-Ouest’.

42 Corley, tr., Lancelot of the Lake; Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part I, 15.

43 Elspeth Kennedy, Lancelot do Lac, I, 38; Rosenberg, Lancelot Part I, 18. Claudas is a morally

complex figure in this romance; yet his advice here does not seem to contradict common practice

and attitude.

course, not limited to royalty, as many villagers and merchants in many centuries

of medieval European history could testify. Knightly prowess and

largesse went hand in hand throughout the countryside. Some feud, skirmish,

or war could regularly be counted on to provide opportunity for despoiling

the wealth available in fields or villages, or hoarded in merchants’ town houses.

One of the five villages attacked in a private war by Gilles de Busigny in 1298

lost (Robert Fossier estimated) the equivalent of 40,000 man hours of work

by a labourer such as a mason, roofer, or harvester.44 Loot from such raids

could be distributed grandly, and according to well-established rules, as

Maurice Keen has shown.45

Thus the great virtue of largesse is enabled by the great virtue of prowess.

Knights know how to get money and how to spend it. ‘Lords, pawn your castles

and towns and cities before you stop making war!’ Bertran de Born cries

out in one of his poems.46 Largesse falls like ripe fruit from the tree of prowess

into the strong hands of the worthy.

Might these two great chivalric qualities prove rivals? Competition usually

turns thin and unconvincing on close inspection. Largesse wins high formal

praise, for example, early in Chrétien’s Cligés where it appears as the queen of

virtues enhancing all others; largesse by itself can make a man worthy, the old

Emperor of Constantinople tells the young hero Alexander, though nothing

else can (rank, courtesy, knowledge, strength, chivalry, valour, lordship).47 Yet

in this romance, as in so many others, the glittering prizes are won by prowess.

Not by largesse does Alexander win the battle outside Windsor, seize the castle

itself, and earn the love of Soredamor; nor does his son Cligés by largesse

defeat the nephew of the Duke of Saxony (and kill him in a later encounter),

unhorse and behead the Duke’s most vigorous knight, foil the Saxon ambush

of the Greeks, rescue Fenice from her captors, defeat the Duke of Saxony in

single combat, carry off the prize in King Arthur’s great four-day tournament

(fighting even Gawain to a draw), and range all over Britain doing feats of

chivalry, before returning to the Eastern Empire and a final triumph. In the

reception that Arthur’s knights give Cligés after he has won the great tournament

at Oxford, near the end of the story, they crowd around him in great joy,

telling him how much they value him, declaring that his prowess outshines

theirs as the sun outshines little stars.48

44 Fossier, ‘Fortunes et infortunes’. 45 Keen, Laws of War.

46 Paden et al., eds., Poems of the Troubadour, 344–5.

47 Luttrell and Gregory, eds., Chrétien de Troyes, ll. 192–217,

48 Ibid., ll. 4983–95. Chrétien is more willing than most writers of chivalric romance to allow

his characters to solve important issues by means other than sheer prowess. Cleverness, rather than

prowess, alone, effects the bond of Cligés and Fenice at the end of Chrétien’s Cligés; yet prowess

retains its importance.