Friday, April 29, 2016

The Code of Chivalry: Do Not Offend Deliberately, Avoid Unfairness, Meanness and Deceit, Always Speak the Truth

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Rules 5, 11, and 13, to refrain from the wanton giving of offence, to eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit, and at all times to speak the truth, of all the rules, these pertain most to the everyday domestic life of the knight.

Remember that the Knight is a new class within the Nobility during this time period, and the people who populated this class were initially military horsemen, lacking sophistication. And since the Nobility is a system of relationships, and therefore a system of trust between the parties to each relationship, the knights had to learn how to become trustworthy in all circumstances, particularly within the domestic sphere.

Now, remember also that the domestic sphere for the Noble class didn't just include one's immediate family. A Nobleman owned a manor and land, and this includes the employment and housing of all the people needed to operate such an estate. It would have included farmland, livestock, and craftsmen to support the manor, as well as servants within the manor, who tended to the everyday needs of the Lord and Lady and their family.

Noblemen needed to know how to interact with all of these people in such a manner as to keep the peace, to ensure their employees were happy and fulfilled, so that their estate would be prosperous. Essential to this would be honesty and thoughtfulness.

Deliberate Offence

Nobody, no matter how careful he is, is able to refrain to causing offence to others. This is true for the simple fact that everyone is different, with their own sensibilities and value systems. This is recognized in this rule, and what is actually prescribed is to refrain from giving deliberate offence.

And think about it, when would anyone want to deliberately offend someone else except when that someone else is asking for it? Generally, people don't go around flipping people the bird for absolutely no reason. Either, there is a perceived or real offence already, or that someone else is being very difficult, perhaps deliberately so.

Actually, perhaps this isn't true. With a position of authority can sometimes come an air of superiority, and perhaps a sense of being "beyond reproach." From this, a bullying manner can derive, one of "looking down" on others as though they are less than you because of their difference in class. For example, it could become easy to be overly critical of others' work just because they are part of an "inferior" class, even if their work is excellent.

What this rule prescribes, then, is to refrain from social vengeance. It is to control oneself in the face of belligerence, ineptitude, or aggression. It is also to exercise humility and recognize that you need the people who work for you as much as they need you. It requires being thoughtful and considerate with other people, whatever class they belong to, and to refrain from being prideful in your Noble position.

Unfairness, Meanness, Deceit

These three are grouped together because they are interrelated. Whether speaking about business transactions, or the simple treatment of others, one should always deal fairly, kindly and honestly. And kindness really goes hand in hand with fairness, in the Christian worldview. Why? Because we believe that every person is made in the Image and Likeness of God, and is therefore owed the dignity and respect that such a nature bestows. So, to treat one fairly, according to the fact they are Children of God, one ought not to treat them with meanness or deceit.

And fairness is really a matter of justice. It is to treat each thing according to what it is, according to its nature, its reality. So, this wasn't just a matter of trade. It was a matter of, really, all social interaction. It is to recognize one's position when dealing with those of higher nobility. It is to discipline those in your employ equally according to the offence committed. It is to treat all with dignity and respect, and to do all of this honestly. It is NOT to behave spitefully.

And that's how deceit is tied together with these others. Whenever one deliberately treats another unfairly, one necessarily acts dishonestly. Why? Because being deliberately unfair implies you know what actually is fair, but then to act contrarily to what you know to be true. And often, treating someone unfairly means convincing them that they are getting fair treatment.

The Truth

And all of this is to establish trust. Trust is the foundation of all relationships. Without it, relationships break down. And in trust, there is no room for dishonesty. Therefore, the Noble Knight must always speak the truth. The actual wording of this rule is even stronger: at all times to speak the truth. At all times, speak the truth.

In battle, your fellow soldiers needed to trust you, to be able to rely on you to watch their backs. In marriage, your wife needed to trust you, to be able to rely on the fact you would not betray your fidelity to her while away from the manor, that she was your sole desire. Your Liege Lord needed to be able to trust you, that you would remain loyal, true to your oath, that he could call on you in his time of need. Your employees, all who worked on your manor, needed to trust you, to know that you would not treat them unfairly, that you had their best interests at heart, and that they could rely on you to protect them when the manor was attacked.

A Nobleman was a man of great responsibility, who needed to meet the needs, not just of himself nor even just those of his family, but many, many people beyond that. They needed to know he was an honest and trustworthy man. Therefore, it was exceptionally important that he always spoke the truth. Otherwise, once caught in deception, the bonds of trust that he had to maintain would begin to corrode, and in time, he would lose everything. Especially on the battlefield, if his fellow knights didn't trust him, he would very quickly come to a gruesome end.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Code of Chivalry: Aid the Widow and Orphan, Respect the Honour of Women

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

To give succour to widows and orphans, and to respect the honour of women; these are rules 4 and 15 from the Song of Roland. I'm going to talk about respecting the honour of women first, because I see supporting them in their widowhood as an extension of this principle.

This principle is about exactly what it sounds like: treating women with dignity and respect, living chastely, and defending them and their good name in the face of unjust aggression.

Women during this time in Europe were very important to society, and were part of roughly five classes: the Lady of the Manor, Free Townswoman, Unskilled Townswoman, Peasant Woman, and Religious (Nun).

Ladies were highly competent women. Though the management of the estate was largely run by the Lord of the Manor, the Lady had to be capable of carrying out his duties in his absence, and due to the fact that war was frequent, and the Lord (especially in the case of Knights) was therefore either frequently away at war, or dead because of war. Thus, the Lady was often in charge of the management of the estate, including management of the land itself, its crops, animals, and other property. She had charge over, often, hundreds of employees and their homes. She was also responsible for making legal arguments, settling fights and riots, as well as defending the manor against armed attacks. Competent, indeed.

Free townswomen, on top of managing the household, was also normally a skilled tradesworker, frequently working alongside her husband in craft. These were part of the merchant class. Some trades they engaged in were solely a woman's craft (textiles, for example). Unskilled townswomen were a lower class than free townswomen in that they were often uneducated, and untrained in a craft. While these did take up some crafts that required little skill, very often these women turned to prostitution to earn income. Peasant women were part of the country folk, who farmed the land alongside their husbands. Peasant women did virtually all of the same work that the men did, as well as tending to home care.

Finally, religious women were educated and taken care of by the order they belonged to. These included both cloister and non-cloister orders, the latter of which participated in charitable works throughout their communities. Much more can be said of this class, but I'm trying (as I usually do in vain) to be relatively brief.

Because Knights were part of the Noble class, and had their own manor, and land, and employees, they would have been seen as desirable men and would have had plenty of opportunity for carousing with the maidens (St. Francis of Assisi comes to mind). Part of respecting the honour of women was to behave modestly and chastely with them, and if one was married, to not violate one's own vows of faithfulness.

This would have been a particularly important rule in warfare, as with the sacking of a city, the women of the sacked city would have been particularly vulnerable to violation, as is so often the case in war. This would have also been seen as a direct contradiction to the rules of Islamic warfare, which considers women to be part of the war booty to be divided among the victors.

This ties in well with the second rule I want to talk about today: supporting the widows and the orphans. As happens in war, men are killed, leaving women without husbands and children without fathers. This rule of responsibility to these deprived women and children was firstly to their fellow Knights and Infantrymen in arms. The Knights, who had status and a small wealth, would return home and take care of the women and children that their brothers in arms, their friends, had waiting at home. War might have been profitable, but it came at a heavy cost to the families who lost their husbands and fathers, and their comrades made the dedication to care for them.

But it was just as important to offer care and aid to the women and children of the men they killed in battle. Rather than taking these women as war booty, the Knight would have been obliged to offer recompense to them for taking the lives of their husbands and fathers on the battlefield. It was a very different way of conducting war.

Historical Footnote

I feel this is probably a good place to interject an important note. I was going to wait until I had completed the full Code, but I've changed my mind.

What I have been presenting, and what I will continue to present, is an ideal, an objective to be obtained by following the Chivalric Code. The reality is that this ideal was rarely met. During the late part of the first millennium (800's-900's), knights did not have nobility, and really anyone who could afford to buy and train a horse and ride it into battle was a knight. That's what a knight was, a soldier who rode a horse. During this time, there was tremendous violence in Europe as the Nobility fought over land. And along with that violence, came the other violence that attends warfare (such as violence against women).

At the turn of the millennium, in the early 1000's, Knights began entering the Nobility, until the Knight became a static Noble position. It was during this transition, that the Chivalric Code was developed, and largely promulgated by the Church. It was done in order to, firstly, curb the violence of the knighthood, and secondly to transform the Knights, who were becoming part of the Nobility, into men who should properly act as Noblemen, with integrity, virtue and honor.

The sad fact is that it wasn't until the 1200's, that these ideals really started taking hold among the Knightly class. Why? Because it was at this time that the Arthurian Legend was written. In this tale, the Code of Chivalry was on full display in the honorable characters of Lancelot and Arthur, etc. This made the ideal of the Code much more attractive.

Now, this doesn't mean that there were no good knights. However, even the most virtuous knights, as is true of all of us, had their own vices. The point is, the Code as I'm presenting it is idyllic, but cannot be said to have been the norm for those times. Nevertheless, it was an ideal that was striven for, particularly in the latter years of the Middle Ages, and I consider these rules to be ideals we should strive for even today.