The knighthood in and around late medieval Brussels
By Mario Damen
Journal of Medieval History (2017)
Abstract: Countries, the administrative district of Brussels, known as the ammanie, in the fifteenth century. A systematic identification of all knights (rather than a selection) enables us to correct Huizinga’s picture and that of other, more recent, historians of the late medieval nobility as a social group in decay. Moreover, this case study contributes to ongoing debates on the position and status of late medieval knighthood. First, the data make it possible to assess the impact of Burgundian policies on the social, political and military relevance of the knighthood of Brabant. Second, special attention is given to their feudal possessions, in particular lordships and fortified residences, in order to establish stratification within the knighthood. Finally, the status and position of bannerets within the Brabantine knighthood is highlighted since they played a crucial role as intermediaries between the duke of Brabant and the urban elites of Brussels.
Introduction: The medieval nobility was a very diverse and heterogeneous social category. This diversity is also reflected in the terminology historians use to describe or define segments of the nobility. German historians, for example, use terms like Hochadel, Ritteradel, Niederadel, Turnieradel, Kleinadel or Stadtadel. Of course these terms are not found in the sources but are the invention of historians to describe segments of the nobility. The same is true of a pair of terms often used in French historiography: haute noblesse and petite noblesse, or, for the sixteenth century, noblesse d’épée and noblesse de robe.
In England, historians draw a distinction between the nobility, which consists of the peers of the realm, and the gentry, which is comprised of knights, esquires and gentlemen. The gentry is, as Peter Coss states in his book on the origins of this social category, a construct or a categorisation by historians; it is not based on contemporary perceptions. In the last few decades many national and regional studies on the nobility have appeared which have tried to underpin all these different labels.
Some authors have even tried to compare different ‘nobilities’, as both Jonathan Dewald and Martin Aurell did in 1996 in their surveys of the European nobility, albeit for a different timespan. However, what Dewald and Aurell count and compare in their books are reconstructions of nobilities all over Europe. Their outcomes can mainly be explained by the differences in the nature and composition of the nobility in these different countries and regions.