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Poster: David KUIJT <email@example.com>
On Thu, 19 Nov 1998 EoganOg@aol.com wrote:
> I was reading a book on King Robert the Bruce and the author made a passing
> reference to King Robert as being called one of the three greatest knights in
> Christendom. This got me wondering..... who were the other two? I figure
> one of them to be William Marshall, but are there any guesses as to the third?
The idea of a "greatest knight in Christendom" is fairly common in the
later Middle Ages (I'm most familiar with it in the 13th - 15th
centuries). This is actually separate from the "Nine Worthies" concept
that Mistress Deirdre mentioned. Modern political figures were never
considered for entry into the Nine Worthies (with the exception of
Baldwin, but that is a special case -- only one person gets to be the
first guy to be King of Jerusalem). The "greatest knight in Christendom"
concept is more akin to modern folk discussing who is the greatest hockey
player, Wayne Gretzky or Eric Lindros, especially if Wayne and Eric were
also major political figures.
Most of Western Europe shared a common, interconnected culture at the
time, and puissance (martial ability) was seen as closely connected to
political power (ability to impress one's will), and vice versa. This was
naive, of course, but in the cases where a single figure combined martial
ability and political impact, the culture of the time immediately held him
up as a living example. One of the common ways for this feeling to be
expressed was to proclaim this exemplar as the (or one of the) "Greatest
Knights in Christendom."
Of course, as with any sports figure or political figure (and this was
basically both together), tastes change over time. Also, opinions of who
was the Greatest Knight in Christendom would vary from one region to
another. It varied by region less than you would expect, though, much
less than you would expect in today's society of nation-states and
national sports figures -- remember, the nobility of France, Spain,
England, Scotland, the Low Countries, and even (to a lesser extent)
Northern Italy and Germany were all intermarried and shared a common
culture, and even a common language (French).
Robert the Bruce was one of the figures that was acclaimed (for a while)
the Greatest Knight in Christendom. Interestingly, thirty years or more
earlier, so was his major foe, King Edward I of England (Edward
Longshanks, also known as the Hammer of the Scots). Edward was a puissant
warrior in his prime, although he was an old man at the time young Robert
the Bruce decided to switch sides and fight against the English and his
liege-lord, King Edward.
Other examples abound. A generation after Bannockburn one of the
favorites for the title was the Black Prince, son of Edward III, the man
who beat the French at Crecy and Poitiers. A generation or so later than
that, one favorite was the great French hero Sir Bertrand du Guesclin, the
man who continually eroded the English lands won after Poitiers.
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