How Arthurian knights fought : reading late medieval romances with fight books

  • Laura Giorgia Bernardazzi

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis offers a new and interdisciplinary approach to depictions of fighting in late medieval chivalric romances by combining Arthurian literary studies with the emergent field of Historical European Martial Arts studies. Introducing sources and disparate scholarship of the latter brings the attention to new research opportunities. Reading Arthurian romances produced in England, Languedoc, and Italy with the knowledge that emerges from (mostly German) medieval Fight Books is a rewarding approach with relevance for historians and literary scholars alike.

From a historical perspective, the coded violence that emerges from connecting Arthurian texts with Fight Books demonstrates that there was a shared late medieval pan-European fighting practice. Its accurate technical knowledge was present both in romances from earlier in the period and in the somewhat later genre of Fight Books. Both genres circulated not only among the knightly class but also the middle urban class, thus demonstrating that not only nobles were privy to this information and that skilled fighting is much more than an aspect of chivalry.

From a literary perspective, my research shows that how a fictional knight fights and the connection that this has to actual practical knowledge (as evinced from Fight Books) is essential for understanding the romances. Through portrayals of fighting and its aftermath, Off Arthour and of Merlin proves to be a romance about legitimacy and supremacy aimed at an audience of young fighters; attention to combat scenes completely overturns the accepted interpretation of Jaufre as a simple parody of Arthurian romances; and Tavola Ritonda portrays Tristan as the best knight through subtle and accurate combat descriptions that go beyond the common technical digressions of the romance.
Date of Award16 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorJustine Marie Firnhaber-Baker (Supervisor) & Bettina Bildhauer (Supervisor)


  • Medieval history
  • Comparative literature
  • HEMA studies
  • Fight books
  • Off Arthour and of Merlin
  • Middle English literature
  • Jaufre
  • Occitan literature
  • Tavola Ritonda
  • Medieval Italian literature
  • Medieval German literature

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 15 November 2026

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