In search of “gentlemen” in the fifteenth century: “The Boke of St. Albans”
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This thesis explains the concept of “gentleman” and its place in the social and cultural world of fifteenth-century England. To this end it examines the Book of St. Albans, compiled by a mysterious individual towards the end of the century, which is concerned with the aristocratic pastimes and pursuits of the time. Familiarity with aristocratic codes and manners helped individuals create beneficial social connections and command respect, resulting in better social standing. Namely, an increasing interest in aristocratic culture was the result of a widespread presumption that manners and adequate knowledge of the gentle world would be enough to pass as a “gentleman”. In this context, the Book of St. Albans is regarded as an example of courtesy writings whose principal aim was to instruct people on the complex cultural world of the aristocracy to better their chances of success in the highly competitive real world. For modern historians, the importance of these works lies in the definitions that they provide regarding “gentility” and its place in the social world of late medieval England.