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Maurice Keen, "Chaucer's Knight, the English Aristocracy and the Crusades."

by Mary Ellen Havens
Web posted at 10:57 AM on 3/7/96 from 38.salc.wsu.edu.
Keen, Maurice. "Chaucer's Knight, the English Aristocracy and the Crusades." English Court Culture in the Later Middle Ages. Ed. V. J. Scattergood and J. W. Sherborne. New York: St. Martin's, 1983. 45-61.

Keen clarifies that he writes as an historian, not as a Chaucer critic. His focus of interest is Chaucers description of the Knight in the General Prologue, specifically the litany of battles and voyages, lines 43-60 (Riverside edition).

Keen responds directly to Terry Jones' argument in Chaucers Knight: Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary in which Jones denigrates, through biting satire, the Knights moral and chivalric standing.
Rather, Keen sees Chaucer as a serious, not ironic, moral critic who uses his literary creations in TCT to indicate patterns of virtuous living that are not outmoded, but which too few, in Chaucers opinion, made a sufficiently serious effort to follow (47).

His research focus: What evidence...is [there] that crusading really was a live issue, an ideal to which English knighthood really did pay more than lip service, in the latter half of the fourteenth century?

The three geographic locations of crusading enterprise connected to the Knight:
1. Spain
* most of these expeditions were against Christian Spaniards rather than Moors
(although some seemed to expect that they would fight the Moors eventually)
2. the Eastern Mediterranean
* the Alexandrian Crusade of 1365
* the Duke of Bourbons Crusade to Tunis in 1390
* the French Expedition against the Turks at Nicopolis in 1396
3. Prussia
* markedly different from the above campaigns: here conquering and defending pagan lands survived as a goal (reise--what such an expedition was called)
* from 1350 on Pruce and Lettowe were primary sites of crusading campaigns

The main support and source for Keens assertions comes from his examination of three armorial bearings disputes:
* Scrope vs. Grosvenor
* Lovell vs. Morley
* Grey vs. Hastings'

By examining testimony given during these hearings, Keen has established the presence of many aristocratic family members at specific crusade sites between 1330-1400; the families include all the above named disputants, plus members of the royal family (Henry of Grosment, Duke of Lancaster; Henry Bolingbroke and several of his inner circle; John Beaufort, also son of Gaunt; and Hotspur of the Percy family) and the sites include Prussia, the eastern Mediterranean, Rhodes, Konigsberg, Satalia, Hungary, Alexandria.

Keen argues that the profit motive could not have encouraged Crusaders as it did participants in the Hundred Years War because of the material conditions [of the Prussian front] which frequently resembled a no-mans-land: land acquisition, yes; portable wealth, no. Rather than with wages of war, the Teutonic Knights rewarded their western allies with feasting, entertainment, special badges of honor and recognition.

Based on the above evidence, Keen believes that what Chaucer was trying to portray...was the best kind of knight of his time, one who had expressed his love of Îhonour and Îchivalrie by his dedication to the noblest activity for a knight... (57). However...Keen also suggests that the Christian sanction had greatly diminished and that what impelled crusading in many cases was conformist acceptance of established ideals, together with the prospect of winning repute and the lure of adventure (60). Interestingly, he seems unaware of any irony or contradiction in his arguments; he approaches historical record straightforwardly, uncritically, and with an almost complete lack of skepticism or allowance for politics and self-interest in the Machiavellian sense.
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