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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

Christopher Gravett

Knight: Noble Warrior of England, 1200-1600

Oxford: Osprey, 2010. 288pp. $19.95. ISBN-10: 9781849081382.

see also the Sep. 2008 DRM review of the hardback edition.

The paperback edition of Christopher Gravett’s Knight: Noble Warrior of England is a welcome addition to the Osprey military history library. Essentially unchanged from its original hardcover edition (Osprey, 2008), the new paperback edition provides the same rich illustrations and impressive breadth of coverage, but at a lower cost. As a result, this book is even more accessible to its intended audience: from the undergraduate student to the casual reader with an amateur interest, the price and quality of this work mark it as a must-have. In addition, instructors teaching courses on medieval or military history will find this book to be a useful supplement to a more traditional textbook. 

The author, Christopher Gravett, is a seasoned veteran in the Osprey publishing stable. In fact, the depth of knowledge contained in Knight: Noble Warrior of England is largely a compilation of four of Gravett’s earlier volumes in Osprey’s Warrior series: Warrior 35: English Medieval Knight 1400-1500, Warrior 48: English Medieval Knight 1200-1300, Warrior 58: English Medieval Knight 1300-1400, and Warrior 104: Tudor Knight. The resulting chronological coverage is impressive, although the historian of English chivalry and knighthood will find the format somewhat artificial: individual chapters are each devoted to about a century of coverage and thus do not relate to specific developments. Regardless, the intended audience of this work will find that the format facilitates an awareness and appreciation of larger, long-term developments. Indeed, Knight: Noble Warrior of England is particularly well suited for teaching purposes, as individual chapters are further divided into sub-chapters ranging in topic from “Training”, “Armour and Weapons” and “Campaigning”, to “Ideals and Customs”. In addition, the beautiful illustrations, both in color and black and white, are eye-catching and will be certain to intrigue even the most hesitant student.

While the bibliography is sufficient for introductory students and those with an amateur interest in knighthood and chivalry, scholars will notice that a number of works are conspicuously absent, particularly in the field of chivalry. Most notable are the important works by Matthew Strickland, Richard Kaeuper, and John Gillingham for the medieval period, and that of Richard McCoy for Elizabethan England. In consequence, the author’s assumptions and conclusions about chivalry lack some of the insight provided by these more recent studies. For example, the practical nature of the chivalric ethos is largely overlooked, as is the fundamental question of whether knighthood is a function, status or some combination of both. Scholars of Elizabethan chivalry will notice that Gravett’s discussion of chivalry and “The End of the Knight” overlooks the deep division within Elizabeth’s court between the togati and militia, the latter forming the vanguard of a revival of “medieval” chivalric ideals which were subsequently applied to the realities of their own world. While it is clear that armored knights lost their predominance on the battlefields of the early modern period, they certainly did not lose their social preeminence or cease to comprise the military leadership of the English realm. Indeed the practical nature of chivalry allowed it to remain influential in many English circles at least through the life of Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales (d.1612).

In conclusion, it should be stated unequivocally that these issues take nothing away from this fine work of considerable depth and impressive chronological breadth, well suited for the undergraduate classroom and the library of an amateur enthusiast. Christopher Gravett and Osprey Publishing should be commended for having once again teamed up to produce an excellent basic study of the English knight.

Peter W. Sposato

University of Rochester <psposato@mail.rochester.edu

Page Added: April 2010