University of Rochester

Professor's Book on Chivalry Earns History Prize

December 18, 2002

Richard Kaeuper, professor of history at the University of Rochester, has been awarded the Verbruggen Prize for his book Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. He is the first recipient of the prize, presented by De Re Militari, an international society of medieval military historians, for the best book on medieval military history.

In the book, Kaeuper examines northwestern Europe between the 12th and 15th centuries, describing a complex and evolving society that needed a system of keeping order. Alongside Kingship and the Church, chivalry in theory established that order, he notes, but it was an aristocratic code of honor that legitimized violence in certain circumstances, including defense of the touchy honor of the knights.

Kaeuper based his book on his research of chivalric literature, examining the mentality of the knightly class and how knights regarded themselves in relation to the world in which they lived. He read close to 20,000 pages over a decade and found that medieval writers glorified and justified gruesome, bloody killing, depending on the cause and the combatant.

In awarding the prize to Kaeuper, the selection committee noted that his book "legitimizes the careful use of romance and epic as tools to the understanding of the minds of participants in medieval warfare. The result is an amazing insight into the psychological forces that, for example, drove French knights at times in heroically suicidal charges into the Flemish lines at Courtrai and a refusal to acknowledge the power of English bowmen at Agincourt."

The annual Verbruggen Prize is named in honor of Jans F. Verbruggen, one of the most noteworthy scholars in the field of medieval warfare, and is offered for the best book on medieval military history published within the prior three years. Kaeuper's book was published in 1999.

Kaeuper, who joined the University faculty in 1969, teaches courses about medieval Britain and continental Europe. A fellow of Great Britain's Royal Historical Society, he hosted an international conference on violence in medieval society in 1998 and in 1999 was awarded a research fellowship at the Huntington Library in California as the R. Stanton Avery Distinguished Fellow. His earlier books include Bankers to the Crown: The Riccardi of Lucca and Edward I; War, Justice, and Public Order: England and France in the Later Middle Ages; and The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny: Text, Context, and Translation.