A Dictionary of Chivalry

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GREENAWAY MEDAL WINNER – 1968

A Dictionary of Chivalry

by Grant Uden

illustrations by Pauline Baynes

Age: 9+

Interests: history, British history, knights, medieval history, war

352 pp.

Longmans Young Books Ltd.: 1968

Next: Adam of the Road, A Bundle of Ballads, The Sword in the Stone, The Door in the Wall

A dictionary for all things related to knights and chivalry. Written for a young audience, with excerpts from many literary works relating to the topic, from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Tennyson to T. H. White. Entries include the names of specific pieces of armour and weaponry, short biographies of famous figures from history and literature, accounts of noteworthy battles and crusades, terms of heraldry, descriptions of castles, jousts, sports, recreation, clothing and general medieval life.

This is an engaging, entertaining look at medieval history. You may not set out to read it from cover to cover, but this volume is wonderful to browse – the topics really draw you in, from an explanation of what armour actually weighed to descriptions of heraldic coats of arms and lists of who was allowed to use which bird for falconry. (Only kings could use gerfalcons. Ladies had merlins, priests were allowed sparrowhawks, and servants had to make do with kestrels.)

Among the biographies I found this terrific quote from the french knight Bayard, defending a town against Charles of Austria. When asked to surrender he replied “I need a bridge by which to march out, and your bodies have not yet filled the ditch.” I also learned that Sir Thomas Malory, the knight who famously collected all the Arthurian legends into one book for the early printer William Caxton, was not so wonderfully chivalrous himself, being a thief and cattle-rustler, and he did much of his writing in jail.

At the end is a subject index, with lists of all the words relating to heraldry, or armour, or weapons, for example.

The illustrations by Pauline Baynes, for which she was awarded the Greenaway medal, are extensive, filling the side margins on every page of this large volume. They vary greatly in style (see examples below), though she clearly used medieval art as a starting point. Text and artwork are both lively and accessible, and the many quotes from literary sources provide titles for further research.

Now I am sorry to rave on about this book, since it’s no longer in print, although there are used copies available here and there online. I accessed it through an interlibrary loan. If you can find a copy I’d say this is the perfect gift for anyone interested in knights and the medieval period.

(here are some used copies on amazon.com)

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.