How many of us first became interested in history through tales of chivalry – knights rescuing damsels in distress, the doomed love of Tristan and Iseult, the search for the Holy Grail? This romantic yearning for a past of heroes and heroines is not new – it motivated much of elite society during the Middle Ages and Tudor period as well – witness the founding of the chivalric orders, such as the Order of the Garter, or the Golden Fleece.
Emperor Maximilian I (1459 – 1519) loved the game of chivalry even more than most. When he was not arranging advantageous marriages for his family (not too concerned about love in day-to-day life) or reneging on international treaties, which he did with remarkable frequency, he was promoting the arts of chivalry – jousting and tourneying of all kinds. Three of the greatest tournaments of the period were those to celebrate his wedding to Mary of Burgundy in 1477, his coronation as King of the Romans in 1486, and the first Congress of Vienna of 1515. Maximilian took part as a combatant in these, and many other tournaments, and he also commissioned Freydal – the tale of a knight (Maximilian himself, in traditional, unknown youth-turned-hero guise), who must win a fair lady (Mary, Duchess-regnant of Burgundy). The original text, with corrections by Maximilian, is at the Austrian National Library, whilst the accompanying tournament book, with some 255 illuminated miniatures may be found at the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.
It is this latter book which has been reproduced by Taschen, with all the glorious original illustrations in full colour. The volume is huge – over 430 pages, about 10 inches square, printed on thick and delicious-smelling paper, with red and gold edging. Each illustration is labelled, and the main text, which is in three languages (English, German and French) gives an overview of Maximilian’s life, and sets Freydal in context. The captions for the illustrations explain who the original models were, and more about the armour, the costumes and the events depicted.
The book comes in its own carrying case, and is quite the loveliest book in my collection.
Tudor Times received a review copy from the publisher.