Friday, June 10, 2011

Knights and Chivalry

Chivalry is defined as a medieval knightly system with its religious, moral, and social code. The concept of honor was nothing new to men. From the first time a group of men banded together to protect what was theirs, men have given allegiance to a chosen leader. Countless numbers of oaths of loyalty and/or vows of fealty have been spoken over the centuries. One of the most famous Chivalric codes documented was in the Song of Roland composed between AD 1098 and 1100. The poem is the story of Count Hrodland (Roland in the poem), Count of the marches of Brittany. In the great poem, Roland is Emporer Charlemagne’s man, and is betrayed by Ganelon, which results in his death by the Saracens. In the real incident, Count Hrodland is in the back of the army as it passes the Pyrenees Mountains. Basque soldiers attacked the rear part of the army at Roncesvaux Valley, and Count Hrodland was killed.

The knighting ceremony in which men swore to protect those weaker wasn’t standard. Many knights were average guys, doing their own thing: acting as mercenary soldiers, knight-errants (wandering the lands), or staying at home. The men who stayed at home many times never married or had children of their own. Men are not perfect creatures, therefore they were flawed. Did knights lie, cheat, steal, rape, murder, and perform dishonest acts? Yes, but most were decent men performing a service to the lords they swore vows.

Queen Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine encouraged her knights to worship ladies from a distance with acts of words and deeds. The stories told first in ballads and later in print of King Arthur were one of the larger sources of the Chivalric Codes. Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales told of a knight’s love for of a lady in “The Knight’s Tale”, made in to a popular (if slightly inaccurate) movie. The rules of the tournaments were written down by Sir Geoffroi de Charny in the 1300’s. Sir Geoffroi wrote multiple books on the subject of chivalry. An interesting side note, Sir Geoffroi is recorded as being one of the owners of the Shroud of Turin. Sir Geoffroi of Charny died in 1356, at the Battle of Poiters.

A Knight is defined as a military servant of a king or other feudal superior; tenant holding land on condition that he serve his superior as a mounted man-at-arms. The word ‘knight’ is derived from the Old English cniht, which means servant or boy. Eventually the word knight was changed to mean a man of status. A Knight was nothing without his horse and in most cultures; the word knight was close to that of horse. An example is the French term chevalier, the word for knight. A horse is called cheval in French. Two names very close to one another.

Knights were the elite warriors of their time. The cost of outfitting the warriors was incredible. Armor, whether it was leather, maile, or the plate armor cost a fortune. Too many times a suit of maile is referred to as chain maile, when it should be called a hauberk.

Many men wore armor handed down from father to son, or in some cases, scavenged from a dead man on a battlefield. Weapons were obtained the same way. Horses were even more expensive. A knight needed at least two mounts: his warhorse and his riding horse. No knight used his warhorse for everyday riding if he could avoid it. Men who fought in tournaments did so with the understanding that they risked losing all they possessed (arms, armor, and horse).

Throughout history, there have been those that have risen above the rank and file to stand out. The above mentioned Hrodland of Brittany is one man. Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (El Cid of Spain)was a knight so renown his men strapped his corpse to his horse, Babieca, and sent the horse to lead the Spanish armies against the Moors. Sir William Marshall, who as a boy was held out of a tower by a foot, and yet became regent to the young King Henry III – ruling England until Henry III came of age. Zawisza Czarny z Garbowa, a famous polish knight ultimately killed in 1428.

Knights have been around in fiction for as long as storytellers have told stories around campfires. Arthurian tales of King Arthur and his knights continue to entertain children and adults to this day. Other classic tales of knights include Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy (1817), Ivanhoe in 1819, Keniworth (1821), Quentin Durward (1823), and Tales of the Crusaders (1825) among other stories. Mark Twain wrote his A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavera, Men of Iron by Howard Pyle, The Once and Future King by T.H. White, and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.

Modern writers are still fascinated with men and chivalry. S.M. Stirling has approached the ideals of knights and a world hit by a collapse of technology in his Emberverse series starting with the book Dies the Fire. George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series starts with A Games of Thrones, an epic fantasy which has been made into a series on HBO. The late Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote her take on the King Arthur legend from the female point of view starting with The Mists of Avalon (also made in to a miniseries). Knights were a focal point in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga. For romance lovers, two must reads are Jude Devereaux’s A Knight in Shining Armor and Lynn Kurland’s Another Chance to Dream.

In Thaelia’s World, there are a few knights of note. Sir Neelam Wesnes is the Captain of King Arken’s guards is said to be undefeated in combat. Sir Neelam was trained at Baron Wymerth’s keep. Sir Braeden du Faucione and Sir Ranulf de Corbeau also earned their spurs at Baron Wymerth’s home. Braeden is a tracker par excellence while Ranulf is infamous for his ability to make any man spill his secrets via torture. Sir Haeveldt of Crealek is a famous knight from the past (see prior blog entry).

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