Now and forever. Amen.
Good evening, folks! I've got a great topic for tonight, which I plan to expand on in future entries: the Medieval Code of Chivalry. I think this is an important topic for a few of reasons. First, this code and ethic was something that the Crusaders of the Middle Ages lived by. So, if we want a deeper insight into the kind of men these were, taking a look at their rules for living will help big time.
Second, I think men of our era only have loosely defined moral rules, and that can be problematic in many ways. What happens when a difficult situation arises that they haven't thought about very much, or at all? Indecision, a sense of uncertainty and helplessness that often manifests as aggression, perhaps making a bad choice that he later regrets. Having a well defined set of rules for conduct assists us in making decisions, both simple and difficult, and will help us succeed in both our personal and our professional lives.
Third, we often hear how "chivalry is dead" these days, a phrase often used with regard to how men and women interact. It is interesting to note that the code of chivalry was originally developed as a habit and discipline for knights (which is what the word chivalry actually means: knight, or knighthood. See Chivalry at etymonline, the etymology dictionary), and only later expanded to include rules relating to courtship and romance. For the purposes of this blog entry, I will not be looking at these later associations, but rather on the codes of knighthood as they were originally envisioned.
Finally, I tend to find that this kind of old wisdom will help us to understand our world today in a new way. One of the great plagues these days is the way we use other people, as though they are there for our pleasure or satisfaction. As we will see, people were treated as subjects to be appreciated and loved for their own sakes, and not looked at from a selfish standpoint.
The Codes and Virtues
There have been more than one formulation of the code of chivalry. The earliest one we know of comes from an epic poem called the "Song of Roland" which was about the eighth century knights of the Dark Ages, and the military exploits of Emperor Charlemagne. The poem was written between 1098 and 1100, so during the latter years of the first crusade. The code of chivalry described in this poem is referred to by some as Charlemagne's Code of Chivalry. It consists in seventeen directives:
- To fear God and maintain His Church.
- To serve the liege lord in valour and faith.
- To protect the weak and defenceless.
- To give succour to widows and orphans.
- To refrain from the wanton giving of offence.
- To live by honour and for glory.
- To despise pecuniary reward.
- To fight for the welfare of all.
- To obey those placed in authority.
- To guard the honour of fellow knights.
- To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit.
- To keep faith.
- At all times to speak the truth.
- To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun.
- To respect the honour of women.
- Never to refuse a challenge from an equal.
- Never to turn the back upon a foe.
In the fourteenth century, so within a century of the final crusades, the Duke of Burgundy described the chivalric virtues relating to this code as the following:
In future entries, I will be examining each of the directives individually, associating them with their relevant virtues, as described by the Duke.
Interestingly, in the nineteenth century, an historian by the name of Leon Gautier lamented the loss of the chivalric code in a society that preferred the mythical Arthurian Knights over our own notable history. In an effort to try to revive the code, he formulated the code of chivalry as a set of what are known as the "Ten Commandments of the Medieval Code of Chivalry." It reads as follows:
- Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches, and shalt observe all its directions.
- Thou shalt defend the Church.
- Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
- Thou shalt love the country in the which thou wast born.
- Thou shalt not recoil before the enemy.
- Thou shalt make war against the Infidel without cessation, and without mercy.
- Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
- Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word.
- Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse to everyone.
- Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.
I'm not sure I prefer his rendition to that of the Song of Roland. I take particular issue with item number 6 on the list. This kind of language is absent from the Song of Roland. However, this interpretation may be due to the fact that service to one's liege lord during crusader times could have meant the waging of war against "the Infidel." I think, though, that this is an interpretation coloured by the glasses of historical retrospection, rather than the way the Medieval Knights actually thought.
Nevertheless, along with these Commandments, Leon Gautier also supplied us with his own list of chivalric virtues, which is much shorter than that provided by the Duke of Burgundy. They are:
- Largesse or Liberality
- The Davidic ethic
So there you have it. These are what we have relating to the Code of Chivalry, both from the times when these mandates were formulated in their historical circumstances, and from the perspective of historians looking back on those times. I think these are really interesting and worth delving into more deeply. I think that by the end of this series, I will propose a new Code of Chivalry for men of our time. This will require some thought, indeed!
I hope you enjoyed! God bless!