Instructor: Professor Marc Saurette

Course Description:

Medieval aristocratic society needed heroes: the valiant warrior holding the bridge against invading barbarians, the brave kings feasting at sumptuous banquets, the noble horseman rescuing a paramour. This heroic culture allows aristocrats to speak out – transmitting dreams, values and ideals in words and action. Medieval heroes provide social models, and by studying how they are represented in literature, in historical writings, and in art, historians can come to better understand medieval society.

This course examines the medieval aristocratic world, in which acts of violence, ways of speaking or feeling and methods of presenting oneself demonstrated a complex social code. The definition of what constituted ‘aristocratic culture’ was debated by medieval knights, nobles and clerics, and had an impact on how people acted, whether peasants, bishops, merchants, or knights. Through lectures and readings, we will explore how medieval men and women were in constant negotiation for honour, power and wealth, and why they did so.

This course is organized around chivalric literature, including the notoriously bloody twelfth-century poem Raoul de Cambrai – which will serve as a gateway for reading modern historical studies of medieval aristocratic culture. Key themes of our analysis will include: notions of martial identity, honour and virtue, the bonds of kinship and other co-operative social affiliations, the performance of political ritual, the navigation of gender, and the regulation of violence by the medieval Church.

Student success will be evaluated by the following means:

  1. Participation
  2. Reading Responses (one page)
  3. Guided library research assignment
  4. Research Paper