Introduced by the author
In this fascinating study, historian Richard Barber examines the elaborate pomp and ceremony of the medieval court festival, revealing as he does so its wider cultural and political importance. This volume is published exclusively by The Folio Society.
Published exclusively by The Folio Society, this lively and entertaining book examines the splendours of the medieval court festival in all its forms – from jousts and knightings to feast days and weddings. Displays of such extravagance were not just desirable but a vital political tool, allowing the powerful to demonstrate their prosperity and influence. Drawing on a wealth of primary material, often eyewitness accounts of great events, Barber sheds a new light on this previously little-researched area.
‘Barber demonstrates a gift for lucid, lively prose and an ability to make highly complex developments … both immediate and accessible’
Festivals were many and varied, but they always functioned as part of religious, dynastic or political agendas: from coronations and knightings to celebrations of the birth of royal children, betrothals, weddings, visits from foreign princes, and rulers challenging each other to tournaments. Barber expertly examines, in unprecedented detail, the many different facets of the festival: the food and fashions, the art and music, the organisation, financing and logistics of such grandiose events, and the people that made the splendours possible.
‘Court festivals were among the most spectacular occasions in the life of a medieval ruler. Because they were ephemeral events, what follows is a series of tantalising glimpses into the numerous feasts and festivals held between the tenth century and the middle of the fifteenth century’
René, Duke of Anjou, for example, entered a joust with a procession that included two Turkish attendants ‘leading live lions on silver chains’. Food was often served in a similarly dramatic style: entire courses gilded with gold leaf, or guests presented with elaborate castles made of pastry. Minstrels and troubadours would compete for their lords’ attentions, while dancing was so enthusiastic that one gathering collapsed a ceiling. New technologies, such as automata and clockwork, made events more memorable; roaring lions in the Byzantine court, boats in pools of water cunningly moved by a concealed mechanism, and even fire-breathing beasts.
This edition, only available from The Folio Society, is lavishly illustrated with a frontispiece and 24 pages of colour plates; reflecting the extravagant nature of courtly festivals and the exquisite craftsmanship of the period.
Richard Barber is one of Britain’s leading authorities on medieval history. He began his career as a writer in 1961 with Arthur of Albion, the first of a number of books on Arthurian legend, including The Holy Grail: The History of a Legend (2004). His second book was on English medieval history, a biography of Henry Plantagenet (1964); subsequent biographies were Edward, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine: A Biography of the Black Prince (1978) and Edward III and the Triumph of England: The Battle of Crécy and the Order of the Garter (2013). His most recent book is a biography of Henry II in the Penguin Monarchs series (2015). Barber combined history and literature in The Knight and Chivalry (1971), for which he won a Somerset Maugham award. He has edited nine titles for The Folio Society, including British Myths and Legends (1998) and Epics of the Middle Ages (2005). Barber is currently Honorary Visiting Professor in the department of history at the University of York.
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