Villain Knights and Going Medieval

I found this video on the subject of ‘villain knights’: Spanish peasants who were elevated to a lower knighthood during the Reconquista, essentially functioning as light cavalry on the frontier during the long reconquest of Spain.

I recommend watching the video, but the short version is that while the Spanish conquered new territories from the Muslims, it was important for them to hold the lands once taken. Since there weren’t enough noblemen to both fight the wars and hold the land, the Castillian kings arranged it so that any peasant man who could provide himself with a horse and suitable arms (not full armor, just something that he could use from horseback) would be granted lands and tax exemptions, essentially elevating him, not to full nobility, but roughly to a state of higher yeomanry.

The result was that you had lots of frontier towns that were largely populated by these so-called ‘villain knights’ and their families; low-born men who took up the challenge to maintain the growing Christian frontier against the Moors.

Personally, that sounds to me like ‘Medieval Knights meet the Old West’: free men living in small, self-sufficient communities and fighting in defense of their homes, families, and comrades, but all relocated to Medieval Spain.

Sounds to me like a potential gold mine for historical fiction.

I’m just starting to look through this channel, Real Crusades History. So far it’s very interesting, though I haven’t watched enough to give it a blanket recommendation yet. Medieval history is probably the trickiest one to find good sources on, since for so long the bulk of English-language scholarship around it basically amounted to explaining how horrible, hypocritical, superstitious, and ugly the Medieval Age was and how much better and more enlightened the post-reformation world became: a triumphalist Protestant approach, followed by a triumphalist Liberal approach, followed by a triumphalist Modernist approach, all of which were eager to cast the Medieval world as the villain from which we are at last escaping. So finding sources that are willing to actually give the period the benefit of the doubt and look at it from a more or less open perspective can be difficult.

One rubric for judging sources is what they say about Medieval witch trials:

Personally, when it comes to history I like going to primary sources as much as I can, since even if they’re biased or inaccurate in facts, they at least present an accurate image of how people at the time thought and understood the world, which I think is much more important to understanding a historical period (since it’s so easy to impose our own prejudices and biases on people living in the past, or to understand their biases after the pattern of our own). But in any case it’s something to keep in mind for anyone dealing in the era.

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