More Militaristic Than Thou?

We think of the Middle Ages as a militaristic epoch. But consider this: the knightly class, whose sons were trained in arms from an early age, was only a fraction of the population. To this may be added the city militias, and a probable martial facility on the part of the peasantry (women all carried knives then, too), and certain frontier or backward regions in which the entire population was under arms. From this figure, however, may be deducted all monks and clerics, who were most definitely not supposed to shed blood. How numerous were this class of “pacifists” relative to the soldiers, and how did the ratio compare with that between those subject to military conscription in the Great War and those allowed to become conscientious objectors? I strongly suspect that there would be more male non-combatants in 1114 than in 1914.

In any case, the primary sources for the period are less dominated by knights than one might expect from Hollywood-dominated perceptions, not to speak of bad fantasy literature. There is, in fact, a civil society back there. If we calculate how many modern novels do not involve the professional military, we will cut ourselves a yardstick that we can then apply to the medieval or cod-medieval historical novel. Ideally, the proportion of knight-centred stories ought not to exceed this. All possible kudos to Ken Follett for giving us the story of a mason instead.

Posted on November 12, 2009 at 08:53 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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