HANNAH HOLLAND ’15
On Thursday, Oct. 18, Trinity hosted celebrated Middle Ages historian Dr. Richard Kaeuper. Kaeuper gained notoriety in the world of Middle Ages academia through his thorough use of exploratory literary sources as historical evidence. His extensive collection of publicized works, focused more recently on the idea of medieval chivalry, is currently in the process of being printed by the Cambridge Press. Kaeuper has published six books to date. Currently, Professor Kaeuper is working at the University of Rochester teaching Medieval History.
His seminar at Trinity, entitled “Knights, Kings, Poets and Bankers,” largely centered around the misnomers associated with the Dark Ages, a pillar to his medieval research. He also touched upon chivalry and its central place in Medieval Europe.
Although traditionally regarded as a time of academic standstill and cultural stoicism, the Middle Ages, Kaeuper explained, were far more than just “dark ages.” Specifically, from the mid-10th century through the 13th century the world underwent notable growth by way of literature, architecture and, seldom thought to have any significance in the medieval world, governmental power.
Literature of the High Middle Ages immortalized characters such as Richard the Lion Heart, the Knights of the Round Table and Joan of Arc. These medieval characters are intertwined within the very fabric of the modern day world and have exhibited staying power and influence comparable to Shakespearian characters or the like. Chaucer, of a slightly later time period, is still an extensively studied and revered Dark Ages writer.
From an architectural perspective, the churches, castles and temples that were produced during the Middle Ages are still regarded as some of the world’s most impressive feats of architecture. Gothic architecture, from the development of the rose window, the flying buttress and the pointed arch, is classic, timeless and sought after architectural beauty no matter in which century it was created.
Medieval growth and change in government gave way to the rise of practiced law. It was during this century that the crown extended authority to the localities by asserting specific rights, and only intervening through the use of protected property and official redress. From this, Kaeuper argues, came a drive for effective, unified and supportive government. Ultimately, this marked the trend towards the current government functions that are present in the modern world.
Despite the immense presence that architecture, literature and the government held and still hold to understanding the Middle Ages, nothing is so fundamentally medieval than the idea of chivalry. In sum, the medieval code of chivalry is the theology behind knighthood culture.
Kaeuper explains that to be chivalrous a knight would have to demonstrate prowess in battle but also an innate sense of honor and a devotion to Christianity. Many of the cultural constructs of the chivalrous knight still stand as benchmarks to modern day morality, such as the idea of turning the other cheek and other, similar ideology.
How might it be possible that a time regarded for its stunted intellectual growth could produce such a lasting cultural presence? Kaeuper argues that it, in short, could not. He argues instead that the Middle Ages are merely an immensely misunderstood time, given no credit where credit is clearly due.