Chivalry, Violence and Empire in Medieval Spain

Episode 47 with Sam Claussen

Chivalry was the dominant worldview of the lay elite of medieval Europe, shaping understandings of politics, warfare, gender relations and prescribing ideal behaviors. Knights and nobles consumed and produced chivalric ideas in imaginative literature, song and historical writings and chronicles. The deeds of knights and men-at-arms were celebrated across these genres and became a ubiquitous part of medieval culture.

In this episode, we discuss the intersection of chivalry and violence with Dr. Sam Claussen, with a focus on the chaotic Trastámara period of Castilian history (1369-1516). In examining chivalry, we find ourselves immersed in the bloody history of late medieval knights, grappling to understand the purposes of chivalric violence, their meanings and consequences. The destruction wrought by knights and nobles in late medieval Castile was closely tied to the ideas broadcast in chivalric writings and helped shape the course of Castile as it approached the early modern world and stood on the precipice of a European and global empire.

The Episode

The Guest

Sam Claussen is Assistant Professor of History at California Lutheran University. He received his Ph.D. in 2015 from the University of Rochester under the direction of Richard Kaeuper. As a medieval historian, his research has focused on the relationships between chivalry and violence as well as the lived religious experiences of elites in the Middle Ages, with particular attention to the Kingdom of Castile in the late Middle Ages. He has published several book chapters on these topics, and in 2020 published his monograph, titled Chivalry and Violence in Late Medieval Castile, with Boydell and Brewer. In examining the relationship between chivalry and violence, Sam’s argues in his book that violence formed the heart of the knightly identity, defining the political, socioeconomic, religious and gender identities of the dominant lay elite of Castile during the Trastámara period. In the classroom, Sam teaches not only medieval history, but also ancient history as well as early modern European and colonial Latin American history.  

Suggested Readings

  • Claussen, Samuel A. Chivalry and Violence in Late Medieval Castile. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2020.
  • Kaeuper, Richard W. Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Moreta, Salustiano. Malhechores-Feudales: Violencia, antagonismos y alianzas de clases en Castilla, siglos XIII-XIV. Madrid: Ediciones Cátedra, 1978.
  • Nirenberg, David. Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.
  • O’Callaghan, Joseph F. Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.
  • Ruiz, Teófilo F. Spain’s Centuries of Crisis: 1300-1474. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2011.
  • Sánchez Saus, Rafael. Caballería y linaje en la Sevilla medieval: estudio genealogico y social. Cádiz, Spain: Universidad de Cádiz, 1989.

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