15.04.04, Fallows, trans., The Book of the Order of Chivalry

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Peter W. Sposato

The Medieval Review 15.04.04

Ramon Llull. trans. Fallows, Noel. The Book of the Order of Chivalry. Rochester, NY: The Boydell Press, 2014. pp. ix, 102. ISBN: 9781843838494 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Peter W. Sposato
Indiana University Kokomo

Our understanding of medieval chivalry has increased exponentially over the past two decades thanks to the publication of a series of important scholarly studies and the translation of numerous chivalric treatises and works of imaginative chivalric literature (epics, romances, and chanson de geste). [1] Noel Fallows' excellent new translation of Ramon Llull's The Book of the Order of Chivalry, among the most influential works on chivalry produced during the Middle Ages, is an excellent and necessary addition to this corpus. Given the fact that the last and only previous English translation was published by William Caxton in 1484, Fallows' translation of Llull's seminal work succeeds in filling a major gap, to the great benefit of scholar-teachers and students alike.

Ramon Llull composed The Book of the Order of Chivalry in Catalan between the years 1274 and 1276. The treatise was extremely popular and widely circulated after the author's death (d.1316) and it serves as a crucial source for discerning how some contemporaries understood and sought to reform medieval chivalry. Llull's treatise, like other medieval reform works, was strongly shaped by contemporary events. In particular, Llull was dismayed by the failure of Louis IX's Eighth Crusade (1270) and the flagging momentum of the Reconquista, reversals which he blamed on the shortcomings of secular chivalry, especially competition, conflict, and outright violence between members of the warrior elite. Fallows writes in his introduction that Llull's Book of the Order of Chivalry "emerged... from beneath the dark cloud of militaristic and chivalric malaise that had cast its gloomy shadow over the failures of the recent crusade in the East and hung ominously over the hiatus in the Reconquista in the West". (2) In order to combat this malaise and the failures of secular chivalry, Llull drew upon "the climate of spiritual optimism" which he had engendered in his new monastery of Miramar in Majorca to compose a manual of reformed knighthood. (2)

Llull's The Book of the Order of Chivalry is prescriptive rather than descriptive: instead of describing how the warrior elite actually behaved, its purpose was to inundate knights and arms bearers with idealized dictates and norms, spelling out in no uncertain terms how they should comport themselves. Moreover, the work was also intended for consumption by clerics (whom Llull conceives of as members of a spiritual knighthood), who would use the ammunition provided therein to reach out to the warrior elite and effect the reform of their minds and souls. Evidence of this desire to bridge the gap between secular chivalry and the spiritual version promoted in the treatise is offered by the religious meanings Llull imputes to the various accoutrements of contemporary knighthood. The powerful reform message embedded in these allegories was intended to convey to the practicing knight and arms bearer everything that a proper, well-adjusted chivalrous warrior ought to be. Indeed, Llull's conception of a reformed secular chivalry permeated by religious themes and guided by clerics is all the more notable and worthy of study because the author was himself once a strenuous secular knight.

While medieval historians in general, and scholars of medieval chivalry in particular, have long been familiar with Llull's The Book of the Order of Chivalry, readership among students has been severely limited by the lack of an accessible and modern English translation. Fallow's translation will make it possible for students to read and digest this critical treatise. To describe Fallow's translation as merely accessible and thus suited only for students, however, is to overlook what is a rigorous and scholarly translation. Indeed, Fallows succeeds in providing a translation that stays true to the original work and recaptures the essence of the author's original prose, a welcome change from Caxton's difficult fifteenth century English translation of a French version of the original treatise.

Students will also benefit from Fallows' useful introduction. Fallows does a good job describing Llull's sources and the larger context surrounding the composition of The Book of the Order of Chivalry. He also offers a useful basic overview of Llull's conception of chivalry and an analysis of the powerful allegories embedded in the text. Moreover, Fallows acknowledges the prescriptive nature of this text, a crucial point that is often lost on students, and offers helpful references to the scholarship of Richard Kaeuper, Maurice Keen, and other prominent historians of medieval chivalry.

While these references will prove useful to students and non-experts, they are not comprehensive. Conspicuous in its absence given the larger context and implications of Llull's treatise is Kaeuper's Holy Warriors: The Religious Ideology of Chivalry. [2] Moreover, given the significant popularity and influence of The Book of the Order of Chivalry, scholars and students alike would have benefited from a brief comparison of the text with other contemporary and near-contemporary medieval treatises on chivalry, such as Raoul de Hodenc's Roman des eles (c.1200-1220), the anonymous Ordene de chevalerie (c.1220), and the Livre de chevalerie (c.1350-1355) composed by the strenuous French knight Geoffroi de Charny. [3] These minor omissions, however, do little to diminish the overall quality and usefulness of Fallows' translation of Llull's The Book of the Order of Chivalry.

The book itself is handsome and affordable. In addition to generously spaced and clean text, the publication also contains several color illustrations of excellent quality, all of which relate to the author, his treatise, or the larger context in which he lived and worked. The publisher Boydell should be commended for balancing cost and quality. In summary, Noel Fallows deserves considerable praise and thanks for providing students and scholar-teachers alike with an accessible and modern English translation of this seminal work, one which will no doubt help engender considerable discussion in the classroom and new scholarship outside of it.



1. The following monographs are among the most important in the Anglophone historiography: Richard Kaeuper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); idem, Holy Warriors: The Religious Ideology of Chivalry (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009); and Craig Taylor, Chivalry and the Ideals of Knighthood in France during the Hundred Years War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). Also noteworthy given the Iberian context in which Llull lived and worked is: Jesus D. Rodriguez-Velasco, Order and Chivalry: Knighthood and Citizenship in Late Medieval Castile, trans. Eunice Rodriguez Ferguson (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010); Noel Fallows, Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia (Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2011); and idem, The Chivalric Vision of Alfonso de Cartagena: Study and Edition of the Doctrinal De Los Caualleros (Ediciones criticas, 4) (Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 1995). The translated works are too numerous to enumerate here, but they can be readily found in the bibliographies of the abovementioned works.

2. Op. cit., n. 1.

3. Raoul de Hodenc, Roman des eles and the anonymous Ordene de chevalerie, trans. Keith Busby (Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1983). For Charny's Livre de chevalerie, see Goeffroi de Charny, A Knight's Own Book of Chivalry, trans. Elspeth Kennedy and intro. Richard W. Kaeuper (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).

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