Maurice Keen

Maurice Keen is an emeritus fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. He has written a number of books on medieval subjects, including Chivalry and Origins of the English Gentleman.

Blood on the Block: Henry IV

Maurice Keen, 5 June 2008

Returning unbidden from exile in July 1399 to claim his confiscated inheritance as Duke of Lancaster while Richard II was in Ireland, Henry Bolingbroke was greeted tumultuously as the prospective saviour of the realm. Richard, hurrying home, found himself deserted in mid-Wales and faced with no alternative to putting himself in his cousin’s power. With Richard his virtual prisoner, and...

Hoo sto ho sto mon amy: Knightly Pursuits

Maurice Keen, 15 December 2005

These two paperbacks, of Geoffroi de Charny’s A Knight’s Own Book of Chivalry and Edward, Duke of York’s The Master of Game, make accessible two texts that are of exceptional interest for the light they shed on the ethos, style and tastes of the secular aristocracy of the later Middle Ages. Charny’s book offers an exploration and explanation of the values and proper...

‘The greatest mercenary of an age when soldiers of fortune flourished,’ says the cover flap of Frances Stonor Saunders’s biography of Sir John Hawkwood (c.1320-94), one-time leader of the White Company made famous by Conan Doyle’s historical novels. The 14th century was indeed an age of opportunity for military adventurers, and for mercenary soldiers in particular....

Robert Bartlett examines with verve, scholarship and gusto the extraordinary story of a Welshman hanged by the neck outside Swansea in 1290 (and rehanged to make double sure he was done for), and restored to life by the intervention of a saint. The Welshman was William Cragh (cragh in Welsh means ‘the scabby’), a follower, it appears, of the Welsh patriot Rhys ap Maredudd. Cragh...

By 1350 at the latest, the recognisable ancestor of the insurance policy had been developed; in a surviving contract of that year, the Genoese merchant Leonardo Cattaneo underwrote a shipload of wheat (value 300 florins) during transit from Sicily to Tunis, for a premium of 54 florins.

Like Edward Gibbon, that earlier master of narrative history, Jonathan Sumption went to Magdalen College, Oxford and stayed the course there longer and more successfully than his great predecessor. There are other points of comparison. Both left academia early for more public walks in life; Gibbon successively as squire, officer in the militia and Member of Parliament, Sumption for the Bar, where he became a leading QC. Both cast around with other historical interests before settling on their respective projects for a magnum opus. Sumption, having done so, has succeeded like Gibbon in fitting into a life with other preoccupations a prodigious effort of historical research. Though Gibbon’s Decline and Fall covers more than a millennium and Sumption’s history of the Hundred Years War only a little more than a century, it is unclear which (when his work is completed) will be the shorter. Sumption’s first volume, published in 1990, carries the story to 1347, the second to 1369: there are still more than eighty years to go, before we reach the final chapter, with the collapse of the English cause in France in 1450-53. As the first two volumes amply demonstrate, it is a story worth telling in all the detail he has devoted to it.

Medieval Fictions

Stuart Airlie, 21 February 1985

Few images from Medieval Europe are as familiar, or as potent, as that of the armoured knight on horseback, riding off in quest of adventure. It is an image that has inspired varied imaginative...

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