A Golden Age of English Poetry
Edited By Gerald Morgan
GAVIN HUGHES Fourteenth-Century Weaponry, Armour and Warfare in Chaucer and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 83
Gavin Hughes Fourteenth-Century Weaponry, Armour and Warfare in Chaucer and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight And over that an haubergeoun For percynge of his herte. — The Tale of Sir Thopas, B2 2051–2 This essay attempts to re-appraise selected passages of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from a wider military histori- cal and archaeological perspective. In particular, my aim is to discuss the military context of arms and armour in the portrait of the Knight in the General Prologue, the tournament in the Knight’s Tale and the arming scenes in The Tale of Sir Thopas and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. One of the most pressing dilemmas for any such assessment of the literary sources is the problematic, and occasionally multiple, meanings of words and nomenclature. Today, such issues have been greatly standardised, but we should remember that when Chaucer uses, for example, the term spere he is not necessarily referring to the short-shafted weapon we recognise today but, more often, to the long-shafted lance favoured by the knightly classes.1 Equally, popular misconceptions abound regarding medieval arms and armour.2 When discussing medieval military terms we are potentially faced with an alarming quagmire. While many words and phrases may still appear to make sense to a twenty-first century reader, such as ‘harness’,3 the original meaning may be contorted or changed altogether. Worse still, there is a bewildering array of archaic terms and technical designations for specific armour parts, all of which must be...
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