The Medieval Review 11.07.02

Rodríguez-Velasco, Jesús D. Einuce Rodríguez Ferguson, trans. Order and Chivalry: Knighthood and Citizenship in Late Medieval Castile. The Middle Ages. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010. Pp. 292. $65. 978-0-8122-4212-6. . .

Reviewed by:

Philip Daileader
The College of William and Mary
phdail@wm.edu

There is now a rich tradition of applying methods and concepts drawn from literary and sociolinguistic theory to medieval history. A short-list of important and admirable works reflecting the influence of the linguistic turn, to varying degrees and in different ways, might include Daniel Lord Smail's Imaginary Cartographies, John Baldwin's The Language of Sex, Joëlle Rollo-Koster's "The Politics of Body Parts: Contested Topographies in Late Medieval Avignon," as well as Jésus D. Rodríguez-Velasco's "La urgente presencia de Las Siete Partidas." [1] The last of these works, written by the author whose book is under review here, draws on concepts such as "creative entropy" as it examines how the Siete Partidas, a thirteenth-century Castilian law code, served the purpose of constructing power and empire from the moment of its creation through subsequent Hispanic history. "La urgente presencia" is a bravura piece, original in its conception, lucid in its expression, tight in its argumentation. Every medievalist should read it.

I wish that I could say the same about Order and Chivalry: Knighthood and Citizenship in Late Medieval Castile. I admire the author's ambition, but Order and Chivalry lacks too many of the qualities that make "La urgente presencia" so remarkable, especially with regard to expression and argumentation.

"The present study will focus on how certain bourgeois groups that accrued a growing economic importance set up new spheres of power by invoking and reinventing discourses on chivalry" (2). The bourgeois invocation and reinvention of chivalry are part of a broader historical process that led to the creation of the "the chivalric class," and the creation of the chivalric class is a phenomenon whose importance (according to the author) can scarcely be overestimated: "Chivalry is an integral principle of Western politics, society, and morality. It encompasses the framework of moral and political categories that underpin interpersonal networks as well as relationships between genders or between institutions throughout Western culture" (1). In fact, the book aims to underscore "the relevance of this poetics of the chivalric order to the construction of the political structures of modernity" (13).

Order and Chivalry contends that bourgeois groups invoked and reinvented chivalric discourse through their foundation of, and membership in, knightly urban confraternities that arose in Castilian towns during the first half of the fourteenth century. To study this phenomenon, the book chiefly relies on the confraternities' manuals, which established the rules and regulations that members were to follow. The first chapter, "Ritual as a Strategy for Chivalric Creation," examines Castilian texts that mention or describe the knighting ceremony. In theory, the ritual by which one became a knight would make a logical starting point for an examination of the bourgeois appropriation of chivalry, but none of the texts examined in this chapter relate specifically to urban knightly confraternities, so the chapter is of limited usefulness. Chapter two, "Poetics of Fraternity," brings us to the book's actual subject. This chapter examines the Hermandad de Caballeros (Brotherhood of Knights), which was established in 1315 and included knights from various cities. The main surviving source of information for this brotherhood is its manual, the Cuaderno de la Hermandad de Caballeros, which the author supplements with material drawn from the records of the Castilian Cortes. Chapter three examines two confraternities (and their manuals) that existed within a single city, Burgos: the Cofradía de Caballeros de Santa María de Gamonal and the Cofradía de Caballeros de Santiago. Chapters four and five examine a single confraternity, the Orden de la Banda (Order of the Sash), which was a royal foundation. Chapter six, like chapter one, examines a single aspect of chivalry, in this case heraldic emblems. While chapter six revisits some of the texts discussed in chapter one, it does connect with the urban knightly confraternities via an examination of heraldic emblems associated with the Orden de la Banda and with the members of the Cofradía de Caballeros de Santiago. (In the case of the latter, heraldic emblems represented individuals and their lineages, rather than the brotherhood per se.)

As for what these chapters reveal about the bourgeois invocation and reinvention of discourses of chivalry: despite several readings of the book, I have no idea. Perhaps the problem is my personal lack of acuity, but a case can be made, I think, that something else is at issue. Here, see for yourself:

"Any social dialectic articulated around the poetics of the ordo has order itself as its referent: class, category, and structure are not subject to destruction or deconstruction. Neither does the poetics of the order seek to advance an alternative social system to that of the ordo, or of the state. Rather, its inquiry attempts to read between the folds of the existing system. The dialectics of order is not exterior, but interior to the very concept of order." (3)

"During the first half of the fourteenth century, only the two chivalric congregations I have mentioned--Santiago and Gamonal--were organized around a codex of self-regulation that constitutes at once their presence and their memory. It entails their presence, since it is this codex that defines their character, their will to transform in the urban space, and their ceremonies, all in a continuous present. It also entails memory, because the codices are cumulative and not only do they depict the present of the confraternity, but they elucidate--at least documentary [sic?]--the conduct of the confraternity throughout its history, and they trace its background from the moment when the gap between foundation and construction of the codex was bridged." (90)

"The book does not paint a specific space. The portraits and the speech act are in a vacuum, in the space of the book. The book constitutes one of the rules for the practice of space, a grammar of the speech act, but not the practice of space itself. As will be evident when I address the ostentation of luxury, this is a key element of these books. Space itself cannot be represented because it is outside the book. The space of the cities, in which the confraternities have meaning, is a space that they appropriate when they begin to practice the grammar of the speech act." (102)

These examples are not atypical, and, to my mind, this sort of writing is more than just aesthetically displeasing. Clear writing and clear thinking are inseparable, and the absence of the former reliably indicates the absence of the latter.

To assist (I suppose) the reader, the author includes a striking number of large block quotations, usually consisting of Castilian or Latin, followed by the author's English translation. There are well over fifty block quotations in a book whose text runs to 233 pages. Also noteworthy is the frequent use of emphatic italics, starting on the first page:

"It is difficult to determine whether a social class is the object of a creation, or the subject of that creation." (1)

and carrying throughout the book

"They construct the codex to the extent that they are agents in all that pertains to the regulation of the code, but are also constructed, since the codex offers an hieratic, stable, and model representation of its members, and this is their self-modeling, or fashioning." (94)

"This is the map that urban knights transform into space, that is, they produce space." (100)

all the way to the conclusion

"Chivalry is the public and social hope of the process of redemption for both the bourgeoisie and the nobility." (230)

The heaping of block quotations upon the reader and the seemingly random yet constant over-enunciation of words do not make the book or its arguments any more comprehensible.

The quotation taken from page 230 concerning the bourgeoisie and the nobility leads to an especially crucial issue. The book's casual, inconsistent, and sometimes flatly incorrect use of social and legal categories is far more than an annoyance--it defeats any attempt to grasp the sociological process that the book purports to identify. The author certainly knows and well understands the terminology of social distinction in fourteenth-century Castile, the "ricos hombres (high nobility), caballeros hidalgos (noble knights), or caballeros villanos (bourgeois knights, non-nobles who lived mainly in the cities" (8; see also the good discussion on pages 49-50). Yet, instead of rooting his analysis in those categories, the author bandies about terms such as middle class, upper-middle class, bourgeois, and citizen in ways that make it impossible to know what the author means by them, or how the author understands the relationships among them. "As we will see upon examining the Knights of the Sash in Chapters 4 and 5, the position of the chivalric institution with respect to the interior and exterior of the kingdom is part of a process of institutionalization destined to consolidate the values of the monarchy, but, in the case of the Hermandad [of 1315], impressing upon it changes that come from the political demands of the middle and upper-middle classes, stemming from the nobility as much as from the bourgeoisie" (79). What, in the context of fourteenth-century Castile, constitutes the "middle class" and the "upper-middle class," and what distinguishes the "middle class" from the "upper-middle class?" What is the relationship between the "middle class/upper-middle class" distinction, on the one hand, and the "nobility/bourgeoisie" distinction mentioned immediately afterward, on the other? The author sometimes uses bourgeois as a synonym for urban, as in "For bourgeois or urban knights" (96). Elsewhere, bourgeois and bourgeoisie are not synonymous with urban, but rather refer to some subset of urban society, as in "These popular urban elites--or rather, bourgeoisie," (87) and as in "These entail the control of urban space by the so-called urban patricians, that is, the bourgeois class" (231).

Terminology pertaining to historical periodization is equally slipshod. The introduction speaks of the book's significance for understanding "modernity" (13); seventy pages later, the foundation of these brotherhoods leads instead to "early modernity" (83); in the conclusion, the book goes back to highlighting the importance of these brotherhoods for "the modern age" (232). Curiously, one of the scholars who provided a blurb for the book hails it for "pushing back significantly the beginnings of early modernity to the first half of the fourteenth century." I cannot discern why the blurb follows the formulation on page 83 rather than the ones on page 13 and on page 232.

The most egregiously misused terms are citizen and citizenship. Not all people living in a town were its citizens, and sometimes not all citizens lived in the town where they held citizenship. Nonetheless, Order and Chivalry explicitly uses the terms "citizen" and "urban" interchangeably: "I will refer to this group as citizen knights or urban knights [italics in the original]" (49). Nor should membership in a knightly confraternity be conflated with citizenship, notwithstanding the fact that Order and Chivalry speaks of membership in these confraternities as constituting a "chivalric citizenship" that existed in contradistinction to "monarchical sovereignty" (12).

A more sympathetic reviewer might point to the author's statement that "this study conceives of itself as a chapter in a genealogy of chivalry" and therefore adopts a "genealogical perspective" rather than a "historical approach" (11). The invocation of a "genealogical approach," or of any methodology, relieves none of us from the obligation to be as lucid and as precise in our expression, and to be as rigorous in our thinking, as possible.

The reader of "La urgente presencia" and of Order and Chivalry has to wonder: what happened? How could the former succeed so well, while the latter struggles so badly? True, the author published "La urgente presencia" in the Spanish in which he wrote it, while Order and Chivalry was translated into English prior to publication; there is, however, no reason to think that the translation is anything but a faithful rendition. Perhaps the answer is the following: the Siete Partidas lend themselves well to the methods of literary criticism, while the confraternity rules do not. Surely the author is right to see in the Siete Partidas an instrument of power and even of empire, laden with ideology; the law code's centuries-long history affords him ample opportunity to examine how that instrument was used. The brotherhood that is the subject of chapter three lasted only ten years; the confraternity manuals are sometimes rather jejune. The Book of the Sash, for example, has chapters on food, on drink, and on meeting dates--these are quotidian logistical matters. To extract broad ideological and sociological significance from these texts and the organizations that gave rise to them is a difficult undertaking. To spot the advent of (early?) modernity in them might well be an impossible one.

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Notes:

1. Daniel Lord Smail, Imaginary Cartographies: Possession and Identity in Late Medieval Marseille (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999); John Baldwin, The Language of Sex: Five Voices from Northern France around 1200 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); Joëlle Rollo-Koster, "The Politics of Body Parts: Contested Topographies in Late Medieval Avignon," Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies 78 (2003): 66-98; Jésus D. Velasco- Rodríguez, "La urgente presencia de Las Siete Partidas," La corónica: A Journal of Medieval Hispanic Languages, Literatures, and Cultures 38/2 (2010): 99-135.