Document 7687111

Before embarking on any historical pathway a pause to consider the
subject in terms of the modern world might be considered a reasonable
approach, and so the student might turn to a C20th century Oxford
Dictionary which defined Chivalry thus : horsemen, cavalry (archaic);
knightly skill (archaic); medieval knightly system with its religious, moral
and social code; ideal knight’s characteristics; devotion to the service of
women; inclination to defend weaker party; gallant gentlemen. Another
dictionary yielded similar results, which reinforced the possibility of
variations of conduct over time, a proposition that might well bear
Chivalry is normally associated with nobility of soul or spirit and largely
attributed to princes, from which height it filtered down through nobles to
knights and, in due course to esquires or gentlemen of repute. Its
history evolved from a period when the barbarian tribes who had broken
through the Roman Empire’s defences, began to settle. Order had
ultimately to be established and, in most western areas, this would lead to
the creation of some kind of feudal system, with an emperor, a king, a
prince, an earl or a count exercising control in their specific area, and
paying homage to an overlord. The system demanded a strong man at
the top and, if this condition did not obtain, there was anarchy that might
be tempered only by the intervention of the Church – a universal Catholic
Church that had eliminated all rivals and which could offer moral
guidance. It first sought to protect non-combatants in a dispute by a
proclamation of a “Truce of God”(end of C10th) and later (c. 1040)
established a “Peace of God” proposing that no engagements would be
undertaken between Thursday night and Monday morning.
The foremost power in Western Europe had been the Empire of
Charlemagne, whose nobles were to be attributed as authors of the first
Code of Chivalry, culled from the Song of Roland and which might be seen
to set the pattern of the ideal to be fostered in the feudal chivalry period.
The accent would be upon : the promotion of the Church, of liege lord, of
honour and glory, to keep faith, to tell truth, to respect women, never to
turn a back upon a foe, never to refuse a challenge from an equal, to obey
authority, to protect the weak, the defenceless, widows and orphans –
noble aspirations which set the target for the C11th warrior – in essence a
military code of honour, that could appreciate the idea of the Just War,
and nothing could be more just than to fight for the Faith against the
Saracens, who had captured the Holy City.
The First Crusade, inaugurated by Pope Urban II brought new attitudes
towards the protection of the property of volunteers who marched to the
East ; some made enormous sacrifices, others sought advantage, but for
most the prospect of honour, even of salvation, loomed large – a mighty
chivalrous enterprise was born. The holy city of Jerusalem was rescued,
as were Edessa and Antioch en route and a Kingdom and Principalities
were established that gained the overall title of Outremer.
It should not be forgotten that, before this success, Moslem states in the
Mediterranean had been seized by Norman knights and the Reconquista
from the Moors had begun in the Iberian peninsula. A universal struggle
had opened up and, among the problems that arose perennially was the
defence of peaceful pilgrims (palmers), an endeavour enthusiastically
encouraged by the Church, out of which emerged the Religious Orders of
Knighthood – the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitallers, both
systematically to erect those magnificent castles. Later the Teutonic
Order was established and in the peninsula were created the great orders
of Santiago, Calatrava and Alcantara. It took until 1492 for the total
elimination of the Moorish Kingdom, the final war for Granada producing
many chivalric figures, immortalised by Washingon Irving. The Crusader
states in Outremer did not last as long.
Commerce with the Moslem world was not all blood and thunder. There
was an inevitable attraction to certain aspects of Eastern life that were to
permeate Western society. Contact with the peninsula, where, through
expansive libraries, the learning of people like Avicenna spread and where
Moorish romanceros or ballads telling of the love of sturdy knights and
attractive ladies were celebrated, often accompanied by tambourists.
The most important connection with these new influences was to be the
Languedoc, Acquitaine Provence, where William IX Duke of Acquitaine and
Count of Poitiers set in motion a fresh exciting environment. An
unsuccessful Crusader, a more successful ladies’ man, who achieved
lasting celebration as a troubadour, producing verse in the manner of the
Moors and setting a standard for his fellow minstrels.
Even more famous was his parenthood of the dazzling and adventurous
Eleanor of Acquitaine, destined to become first Queen of France and later
of England. Her court was to become a base for troubadours, chivalry
and courtly love, although more credit for the latter innovation might be
given to her daughter, Marie of Champagne, who became the patron of
Andreas Capellianus, author of “The Art of Courtly Love”, which laid down
rules for this preoccupation which included :marriage was no excuse for
not loving; no one should be deprived of love without reason; love should
not be made public; love should be difficult to obtain; lovers should be
apprehensive; a true lover, in everything he does, should always be
thinking of his beloved. Similar sentiments punctuate the “Romance of
the Rose” celebrating the search for love.
These developments, allied to the older ideals of chivalry , meant that the
goal-posts were being moved and it was another protégé of Marie who
initiated the appropriate vehicle – Chretien de Troyes, who translated the
“Ars Amoris” of Roman Ovid and applied its lessons to his early
Romances, which could contribute to decisions made in the “Court of
Love” Marie has established. The impetus to write of love stemmed from
Moorish contact and a gentle sweet love between couples was reflected in
early tales like “Aucassin and Nicolette” and “”Floris and Blanchfleur”
which, in themselves, softened the early rougher Chanson de Geste
concepts of the ideal knight,
What Chretien was to do was to take up the Arthurian banner which had
been planted in the Provencal court through Wace (who translated into
French Geoffrey of Monmouth), but new prominent knights took centre
stage, the most famous of whom was to be Lancelot, who would undergo
even disgrace to serve his lady, who happened to be Guenevere, the wife
of Arthur. As an always victorious knight, embewed with that concept of
courtly love, Lancelot became the model for a new chivalry.
More romances followed, often spread by trouveres, the Northern version
of the troubadour, and, yes when the Germans took up the French model
“minnesingers”. The Arthurian thread took further strength from longer
romances like the Book of Lancelot, part of a formidable series that
became known as the Lancelot-Grail or Vulgate cycle. This, among
others, would be welded by Sir Thomas Malory into his seminal work.
So was engendered a world of knights on horseback, in glittering armour,
behind emblazoned shields, jousting in the lists, avoiding the rough and
tumble of the old primitive melee, wearing ladies’ favours, fulfilling the
vow of their predecessors, along with the precepts of courtly love. Not
every husband appreciated this new order, with occasional slaughter of
both errant spouse and lover. The involvement of queens was to
disappear from the romances when, in 1314, at the Tower of Nesle, three
princesses allied to the royal family of France were taken and charged
with adultery, the ladies being confined and their knightly lovers
destroyed. Notwithstanding these occasional blips, the kings and princes
of Western Europe began to vie with each other for the honour of ruling
the most celebrated court. Gentler attitudes had been further advanced
by the growth of a cult of Mariolatry , the worship of the most ideal
woman, a reinforcement of the prevailing secular attitudes.
The apogee, and probably the nadir, of this new chivalry came with the
Hundred Year’s War, when a golden age emerged with Edward III, who,
with his sons, principally young Edward, the Black Prince, as father and
son could hold the lists against all comers. Arthuriana held sway; jousts
became very elaborate affairs; a Round Table was constructed; Edward
bowed to the solicitude espoused by his wife Phillipa at Calais; the Order
of the Garter was established with its motto “ Honi soi qui mal y pense”, a
phrase that might well adorn a Court of Love.
What a galaxy of knights would grace the field of battle and the courts of
kings, so many who might be accorded the title, ”Flower of Chivalry”, as
the Chronicles of Froissart would aver; his choice would be the Black
Prince, sullied only by his sack of Limoges and, perhaps, of supporting
Pedro the Cruel. Contempories would give the laurel to Sir John Chandos
on the English side, Bertrand du Guesclin on the French, both notably
chivalrous in the affairs of ransom and its payment. There were many
others of note, mainly becoming, in peace or truce, Captains of roving
Companies who often had difficulties controlling their troops. One noble
lord had associations in both camps, which he maintained with honour, a
French hostage who married Isabella of England, knight of the Garter,
supporter of the French king – Enguerrand of Coucy, the hero chosen by
Barbara Tuchman in “A Distant Mirror”, one who died a prisoner after his
valiant participation in the “final crusade” of Nicopolis, where also fought
Jean Sans Peur, a future Duke of Burgundy. There was also a dark,
brutal side to Western conflict – jousting gave way to the barbarous
melee, making for bloody encounters like the Battle of the Thirty.
The Treaty of Bretigny, the intervention of the Black Death , the
subsequent diminution of the labour market, the growing senility of
Edward III made for a hiatus in hostilities, during which that Bertrand du
Guesclin had slowly retrieved for France a large part of the territory
Edward had won . English honour was revived when Henry V came to the
throne, fought an Agincourt and won back even more of France. His
early death left a minor (Henry VI) as king and divisions among the
nobility resulted, and these contributed to a downward spiral of English
success in France, a success that had originally been supported by Philip,
the Duke of Burgundy, the son of that Jean Sans Peur, who had been
treacherously assassinated on the 10th September 1419 on the bridge of
Montereau-fault-Yonne, a salient marker in the decline of chivalry, an
affront that tarnished the name of Tanneguy du Chastel.
Philip the Good held court in magnificent fashion, keeping alive the spirit
of chivalry, but France had become a land where bands of armed warriors
plagued its citizenship, the routers, flayers, eschorciers of the Chronicles
of Enguerrand de Montstrelet.
Some of these bands could be coerced into reliable action under the
leadership of men like La Hire and Pothon de Xaintrailles, who brought
their ruffians to the side of La Pucelle and Dunois, sowing the seeds of a
French revival where men of all quality joined to expel the English, whose
nobles were to be left with no enemies but their own kind, in a land
governed by rival parties seeking to influence a weak king.
So began the Wars of the Roses. The nobles who supported the House of
York or the House of Lancaster at first seemed on the surface to be
keeping up old manners, the initial argument placed symbolically in a rose
garden, but when serious battle commenced, old concepts like capture
and ransom gave way to assassinations in the field. The countryside
could be devastated as much by liveried retainers as had France by the
Routiers, both bringing discredit to the world of chivalry. Some show of
splendour, possibly encouraged by the advent of Caxton and the printing
press, had graced the reign of Henry VI , and Edward IV sought to bring
to life an Arthurian glory, but treachery, severity and hatred permeated
the scene. Edward sought to pacify the situation and exercise control of
the state, but intrigue was to go underground, to surface in the reign of
his successor, who had little time to prove his worth before his ultimate
betrayal, the ultimate betrayal, through desertion in the field.
Chivalry seemed to have come to an end. There had been a constellation
of noble minded men gathered around the Maid of Orleans, none more so
than Gilles de Retz, who has gone down in history as the original
Bluebeard, a mass murderer of children, who saw their blood as the elixir
of youth, a descent to infamy.
Yet, at the same time, on the plains of Italy could be found the Great
Captain, Gonsalvo de Cordoba, and, among his opponents, one Pierre
Terrail, Seigneur de Bayard, ” le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche”,
and other courteous knights emerging from the conflict between France
and Spain in the Kingdom of Naples.
Times were changing – the Renaissance was developing – authors like
Castiglione wrote “The Courtier”, influencing princes beneficially, where,
perhaps, Machiavelli may have, in some cases, been a counter weight. A
new Romantic influence, deriving from Boiardo, Ariosto and their like filled
the air. There would be magnificence like the Field of the Cloth of Gold,
and heroism in the Elizabethan period. Again, a galaxy of nobles
assembled, of whom perhaps the most famous was Sir Philip Sidney,
celebrated for his behaviour as he lay dying at Zutphen. Arthurian ideals
sprang forward once more in the court of Gloriana, wooed by Prince
Arthure, as we learn from Edmund Spencer in his “Faerie Queene”, where
also are related the adventures of Calidore, the Knight of Courtesy.
The early Stuarts spent too much time proclaiming their Divine Right and
arguing with parliament, a measure of how state control was developing –
it ended in civil strife, when bright stars sometimes shone. Charles I’s
followers, the cavaliers, had all the apparel and appeal of an older order,
led by the dashing, ever over-enthusiastic Prince Rupert, but the man who
emerged from this sorry business with the finest character was Lucius
Cary, Lord Falkland, a principled young man who reluctantly went to war,
a former Parliamentarian who supported the King, meeting his death on
the field at Newbury. We cannot ascribe chivalry to men who beheaded
their king, but Romance had its hero – the gallant Marquis of Montrose,
one of the few people who could lead wild highlanders into battle. A
namesake, Bonnie Dundee was to achieve the same feat, winning and
dying at Killiecrankie, and a third such adventurer was to be Bonnie Prince
Charlie – a trio who lent colour to the affairs of Scotland.
The Restoration had witnessed a resumption of the cavalier spirit.
England became involved in wars as an ally of Louis XIV and, in one
campaign, ”le bel Anglais”, John Churchill, distinguished himself, fighting
in the army of the Great Turenne at the siege of Maestricht, before which
city was to fall the Chevalier Claude de Batz de Castelmar D’Artagnan,
captain of the Grey Musketeers. That young Churchill would become
Marlborough, who destroyed the armies of Louis in more or less courteous
battles until the blood bath of Malplaquet, following which all yearned for
Different kinds of war followed, wars of manoeuvre , sustaining lesser
losses. Some chivalry held the field as the commanders of opposing
(French and English) Guards regiments could offer each other the
advantage of firing the first shots at Fontenoy. Napoleon would put paid
to such rubbish – he was an artillery man, fond of a whiff of grapeshot.
Colour returned to the war with such cavalry leaders as Murat and Lannes,
and most of Napoleon’s Marshals were, in their way, men of good
behaviour in combat.
But the world had changed ; industrialisation had brought heavy metal to
the fore, and barbed wire and machine guns would ultimately cut down
both cavalry and infantry. The knight in shining armour had validity no
more, apart from the sacrifices of some gallant gentlemen. There had
been an overall decline, but manners and courtesy could proliferate within
in a more enfranchised society. The Captains and the Kings departed
about 1919. Rigorous isms and ologies became the order of the day It
would be only on a personal level that some form of chivalry could coexist, and, today the virtues might be: holding the door to house or car
open for a lady, walking on the outside of the pavement for a lady, and
similar courteous actions. Sadly, today, such efforts may go unnoticed or
unappreciated, or worse.