The code was enforced in chivalric courts. To illustrate how they worked, Keen cited the trial of a 14th-century knight charged with rape, arson, murder and kidnapping. The knight was convicted and executed — but not for those barbarous acts.
“The knight had carried out his violence after a truce was declared between the two sides in the combat,” Rogers related. “He was executed for violating the truce, not for murder and rape. Murder and rape were accepted as the norm.”
Still, for Keen, the chivalric code was a turning point in social history.
“Its most important legacy was its conception of honor,” he wrote, one that incorporated traits still considered the gold standard of human behavior: loyalty to friends, courage in combat, personal honesty, athletic skills, protection of the weak, courtesy toward all and, he wrote, “the constant quest to improve on achievement.”
Maurice Hugh Keen was born in London on Oct. 30, 1933, to Harold Hugh Keen and the former Catherine Cummins. His father was a university administrator, his mother an artist. After military service, he graduated from Balliol College in 1957 and earned a master’s degree in history there in 1961. He remained a Balliol fellow throughout his professional life.
His survivors include his wife, Mary, and three daughters.
Abels said he had assigned Keen’s “Chivalry” many times for his Naval Academy class “The Age of Chivalry and Faith.”
It is an important source book on the roots of military culture and the social history of warfare, he said — although, he added, “I find myself disillusioning my students year after year when they discover chivalry wasn’t what they thought it was.”