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Books in brief: the Medieval Warrior’s (Unofficial) Manual

The perfect reference book for those of us who cannot just offhand distinguish a gambeson from a hauberk

Well researched and packed with detailed information, Michael Prestwich’s book has not been “dumbed down” as its quirky title and its jokey “Chivalry for Dummies” style might suggest. Prestwich, until recently professor of history at Durham University and an authority on English medieval history, explains the various facets of knighthood: training, arms and armour, horses, tournaments and jousts, campaigns, crusades, the role of women, sieges, battles, pay, chivalrous piety and codes. The book is enhanced by a glossary, timeline, bibliography and index. It includes colour plates of illuminated manuscripts reproduced in sharp detail. The author focuses on the heyday of knighthood in the 14th and 15th centuries (when, in fact, knights were gradually becoming obsolete as gunpowder and professional soldiering became the order of the day for European warfare) and knighthood stood more for social status and power than for an effective battlefield force. He gives a succinct overview of the orders of chivalry (where is the Golden Fleece?) and knightly codes and practices; the book does not, perhaps, sufficiently register that these phenomena were largely nostalgic, albeit symbolically and culturally powerful, but it is not seriously flawed as a result. It is the perfect reference book for those of us who cannot just offhand distinguish a gambeson from a hauberk.

Knight: the Medieval Warrior’s (Unofficial) Manual, Michael Prestwich, Thames & Hudson, £12.95 (hb) ISBN 9780500251607

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Knight: the Medieval Warrior’s (Unofficial) Manual, Michael Prestwich, Thames & Hudson, £12.95 (hb) ISBN 9780500251607'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 212 April 2010