Aristocratic male friendship in the Anglo -Norman world, 1066–1300

Rebecca Slitt, Fordham University


The political friendship distinctive to the central Middle Ages was a public relationship rather than a personal, affective one: a bond, voluntarily entered, that established a set of mutual obligations as well as political and military ties between two men. It that played a crucial role in the political discourse of the aristocracy of England and its continental possessions just after the Norman Conquest. Its obligations included such elements as non-aggression in warfare, and giving and receiving counsel, and could overlap with other types of personal and political bonds—a lord-vassal relationship, positions at court, kinship through blood, marriage, or fosterage. Because of the public nature of Anglo-Norman court life, political friendship was expressed by means of a set of similarly public signs and gestures: a well-established physical and visual discourse complementary to the verbal discourse of friendship seen in written sources. Political instability and frequent warfare, combined with the twelfth-century intellectual interest in systematization and classification, resulted in a new concern with cataloguing and classifying friendship. There was a strong desire for the outward signs of friendship to match the future patterns of behavior that they promised, and a corresponding fear of duplicity: a growing awareness that the established signs of friendship could be misused or corrupted, apprehension about what might happen if a friendship failed, and insecurity about friendships that were not conducted in the proper way.

Subject Area

Medieval literature|Medieval history

Recommended Citation

Slitt, Rebecca, "Aristocratic male friendship in the Anglo -Norman world, 1066–1300" (2008). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3310425.