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Learning to be Noble in the Middle Ages. Moral Education in North-Western Europe

Claudia Wittig

WITTIG Claudia, 2022, Learning to be Noble in the Middle Ages. Moral Education in North-Western Europe, Paris, Brepols.

ISBN : 978-2-503-59500-9

This book explores for the first time the moral education of the Western European nobility in the high Middle Ages. The medieval nobility created and utilized values and ideals such as chivalry and courtliness to legitimize their exalted position in society, and these values were largely the same across Europe. Noble codes of conduct communicated these ideals in everyday interactions and symbolic acts at court that formed the basis of European courtly society. This book asks how noble men and women were taught about morality and good conduct and how the values of their society were disseminated. While a major part of moral education took place in person, this period also produced a growing corpus of writing on the subject, in both Latin and the vernacular languages, addressing audiences that encompassed the lay elites from kings to the knightly class, men as well as women. Participation in this teaching became a distinguishing feature of the nobility, who actively promoted their moral superiority through their self-fashioning as they evolved into a social class. This book brings together analyses of several major European didactic texts and miscellanies, examining the way nobles learned about norms and values. Investigating the didactic writings of the Middle Ages helps us to better understand the role of moral education in the formation of class, gender, and social identities, and its long-term contribution to a shared European aristocratic culture.


Nobility and Morality in the High Middle Ages
Socio-Cultural Shifts in the High Middle Ages
Learned Discourses of Virtues and Values in the West
Moral Discourse in the Vernacular Languages
Research into Medieval Aristocratic Ethics
The Contribution of this Book
Chapter 1. Teaching Morality
Teaching the Noble Child
Lifelong Learning
Didactic Communities
Chapter 2. Models of Authority
Teaching and Authority
Letters – Letter Books – Treatises
Dialogues and Monologues
Chapter 3. The Courtly Cosmos
The Court Criticized – The Court Idealized ?
The Court as a Formative Environment
The Court as a Communicative System
Chapter 4. Communities of Values
Aims of Instruction
Ideals of Medieval Aristocrats
Nobility in the Order of the World
Chapter 5. Organizing Knowledge
The Primacy of Poetry and the Truth of Prose
Structuring Knowledge : From Florilegium to Encyclopaedia
The Codex Speaks


Claudia Wittig specializes in the history of secular elites in high and late medieval Europe. Trained in both history and philology, her work explores the use of literature and language as a means to create identity and perform social status. She has worked at universities and research institutions in Germany, Denmark, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom.