Needy Knights And Wealthy Widows: The Encounters Of John Cornewall and Lettice Kirriel, 1378–1382
The publication of Terry Jones’s study of Chaucer’s Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary marked an important moment in the study of later medieval knighthood. Jones’s representation of the Knight as a “medieval mercenary” sent something of a shockwave through the academy and produced significant reassessments of the motives, values, and social mores of the knightly class in the era of the Hundred Years’ War. Not everyone concurred with Jones’s interpretation of the Canterbury Tales, and some scholars firmly dissociate themselves from any notion that knights were motivated solely by material gain.2 Yet Jones’s study may be seen to have bred a new understanding that the profession of arms was, for some men in the fourteenth century, not merely a matter of vocation but also emphatically a career. Much more attention has recently been given to the landless younger sons of English gentry families who did long-term service to the English crown—and, after 1360, to the Great Companies—in the long series of campaigns and military occupations in France, Iberia, and Italy. The ability of such men to establish themselves as members of the land-holding and office-holding aristocracy back home in England depended to a large degree on their ability to seek out the patronage of the Crown and nobility, to invest their fortunes of war into land, and not infrequently to indulge in the kinds of violent, direct action that earned them an abiding reputation as ruthless lawbreakers.3
KeywordsFourteenth Century Military Occupation Military Career Canterbury Tale Life Interest
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