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Rodriguez-Velasco, Jesus D., Order and Chivalry: Knighthood and Citizenship in Late Medieval Castile.

Rodriguez-Velasco, Jesus D., Order and Chivalry: Knighthood and Citizenship in Late Medieval Castile (Middle Ages), Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010; cloth; pp. 304; R.R.P. US$65.00, 42.50 [pounds sterling]; ISBN 9780812242126.

The considerable question of how a social class is created is comprehensively addressed in Jesus Rodriguez-Velasco's latest publication on chivalry and society in medieval Castile and Leon. His background as a scholar of Alfonso X's transformation of Hispanic law and legal discourse enables him to examine another facet of chivalry's implications for the developing European urban class.

He uses the framework of the 'poetics of ordo', the estado social model and its dialogue, for this study of the transformation of a Castilian social class and the justification of legal and monarchical sovereignty. He puts forward convincing models of how the Castilian bourgeois reinvented discourse on chivalry, affecting economics, political theology, morality, and vocabulary. The broader implications of this investigation are discussed, including how the themes of chivalry were articulated in literature, the socio-political benefits of chivalry, the dialogue on chivalry between monarch and nobility, and how Castilian and European society and culture developed with these foundations.

In his Introduction, Rodriguez-Velasco defines knighthood and chivalry more articulately than many earlier works on chivalry, touching on the political strategy and creation of knighthood that 'sets a structure that buttresses the civic values of a peaceful society' (p. 2). Throughout he demonstrates his sound background knowledge of historical documents and chronicles, and draws on a detailed understanding of how the Castilian monarchy, especially Alfonso XI, incorporated chivalry into political and juridical discourse and configured it as a means to translate theological hierarchy into law.

Rodriguez-Velasco frames his investigation with those visible topoi of chivalry: rituals; the fraternity, or Hermandad, constituting chivalric orders instituted by the urban bourgeois; confraternity and regulation; the creation of the Order of the Sash, the Orden de la Banda, by Alfonso XI; and the discourse on royal power and sovereignty. The implications connecting this poetics of chivalric order is related to the construction of modern political and urban social structure in such a way that an arc from medieval to modern can be clearly understood.

The most inspiring part of this book is its central chapter, Chapter 5: 'Rewriting the Order'. This is where Rodriguez-Velasco's research on Castilian regal power and its discourse is really exploited. With textual examples and the compilation of a table, Rodriguez-Velasco outlines the differences in the versions of the Book of the Sash, which was rewritten over several centuries. Poems and legal texts that refer to this document are discussed, and historical nuances of the Castilian court are illuminated to demonstrate the commerce and unity of the urban knightly class, and their desire for independence from the monarch. The complex relations of power are outlined to support Rodriguez-Velasco's assertion that the Book of the Sash was an instrument comprising regulations in retrospect of the time it was written, as a power-tool for the monarch in an attempt to retain his sovereignty.

As the particulars of the Order of the Sash are investigated, Rodriguez-Velasco points out the practical effects of the developing society on the Book, and vice-versa. Alfonso XI's attempts to hold on to the power of the monarch over knightly society are explained, and illustrated by the examples of Don Juan Manuel's Libro del cavallero et del escudero, by the transformation of the details of investiture, and the relationship of the king to the order. The author illustrates the process by which the order was rewritten, and how it must then be understood as a process by which the ennobling of a knight was established, and thus political and royal communication of power laid down as law.

Stylistic variations in the different versions of the Book's texts are explained and supported by historical events and literature. Within this comparative framework, Rodriguez-Velasco convincingly challenges the view held by historians such as Maurice Keen, on the military and political function of the tournament, the rules of which are outlined in the Book, and posits that it was mainly a cultural device to demonstrate the relationship of groups or individuals with power. Similarly, Rodriguez-Velasco refers to passages in the Gran Cronica de Alfonso XI and in the Cantar de mio Cid that demonstrate the function of knights' accoutrements as symbols of vassalage and royal power seen at a tournament, or at court when contrasted to their appearance in a more practical military use.

Besides presenting a valuable study of the formation and identity of Castilian society, Rodriguez-Velasco's book expands the study of chivalry into the areas of social historiography, law, and cultural identity. Though its focus is the monarchy of Castile and Leon, this volume will benefit scholars of medieval literature, chivalry, and history in a broader European context as well as those whose focus includes the development of modern society in Spain and its colonial regions.

Stephanie L. Hathaway

Sub-faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages

University of Oxford
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Author:Hathaway, Stephanie L.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2011
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