Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pardon milord, I'm going to kill you now: chivalry

When did the concept of chivalry begin? Oral traditionshave  glorified warriors as far back as men have trained to fight. Minstrels and poets sang of deeds and spoke of battles, exploits becoming embellished with each generations.

Knights lived by their own set of rules. From the moment a boy of noble birth started to walkm he was guided towards knighthood, enveloped in to a masculine world where women weren’t allowed to play. His body was trained, muscles honed by long hours of training in the lists and his mind filled with knowledge relating to his future station in life.

Knights were both respected and feared. The hard reality of a warrior lifestyle led to possibilities of serious injuries and/or death at a young age. Progressing through training and becoming a knight, a man was initiated as a knight normally around 19-22 years old. It was not unusual for the knighting to be done after a battle. Before any ceremonies had been put to words, men going through the rituals may have been sworn to be honorable, ever ready to defend those to which he gave his oath, defend women, not be a party to treason, and fast every Friday. Other oaths may have been loyalty to his lord, not to swear false judgment, or to defend the weak. Other parts of the ritual included spending the evening before in solitude, comtemplating his life and prayer to God.

Chivalry as an ideal didn’t come about as a formal way of living until the late 12th century. Before that time, knights took their oaths and went about their duties. Stories of great knights were passed down through songs or stories. It wasn’t until writing for pleasurable reading became popular that the legends of valiant knights spread out amongst the people. Queen Eleanor’s grandfather, Duke William IX helped with his poetry. It was listening to his poems that capativated Elanor and later gave her the idea for her own court of love.

A favorite verse making the rounds was the story of Roland. Charlemagne’s nephew, Roland of the Lord of the Breton Marches, was a real man who whose deeds, and death, was chronicled in the Chanson de Roland. The poem was written in 1100, but the events occurred in 778. The poem describes Roland as being a proud man, easily angered, and a fierce warrior. Roland’s best friend, Count Oliver is a steady man, described as his opposite. Charlemagne takes his army through the Pyrenees Mountains, leading the way.

Roland’s stepfather, Ganelon, in an act of betrayal (and retaliation against Roland for sending Ganelon on a dangerous mission), sides with the enemy, King Marsile of the Basques. Roland & Oliver are sent to cover the rear guard. Loyal, proud, and brave to the point of being foolish, Roland refuses to blow on his horn, Olifant to request help. King Marsile and his Saracens allies attack Roland and his men. Outnumbered, the Christian army fought until only Archbishop Turpin and Roland are left. Roland suffers fatal wounds, but sounds the horn and tried to help Turpin. Knowing he is near death, Roland sets down his sword and horn, then falls upon them and dies.

The story of Roland inspired young boys and men for centuries. Roland’s refusal to back down was seen as a kick-ass and take-no names tale, just forget that he died in the end. Violence was encouraged and admired – the battlefield was where the ultimate test of skills and loyalty to one’s liege occurred.  Various traits of chivalry were noted in the epic poem, and include: the fear of God, keeping faith, telling the truth, accepting challenges from another knight, valor in service to one’s lord, and refusing to fight for money.

Another knight, Sir Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar of Spain, better known as El Cid, fought to regain his honor, another virtue prized by the chivalric code. Castile and Leon had been invaded by the Moors. Rodrigo led the fight to banish the infidel Moors, even in death when his men strapped the dead knight to his horse, sending El Babieca out in front of the Spanish army. Sir Rodrigo “El Cid” Diaz de Vivar is a national hero.

Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine is credited for starting the courtly values of chivalry in the 12th century. After she was ‘exiled’ to Normandy by King Henry II, Eleanor gathered minstrels, troubadours, and poets to her home. Knights were expected to worships ladies from afar – although there is no doubt that men and women had their trysts. Her court attracted all sorts, and the Queen encouraged many writers, including Geoffrey of Monmouth and Robert of Wace. Geoffrey had written the History of the Kings of Britain. Eleanor’s daughter, Marie, the Countess of Champagne, continued in her mother’s footsteps by sponsoring Chretien de Troyes who wrote many poems about King Arthur. Eleanor and Marie encouraged their retainers to write or sing about knights who lived their lives according to the chivalric code. Tales were also sung about the forbidden love between Isolde, the wife of King Mark and his nephew Tristan.

King Arthur’s legends bespoke of chivalric values combined with military prowess. The Camelot knights were depicted as mortal men, often flawed at first, but most redeemed in the end. Arthur prized honesty, loyalty, honor, and valor.  

William Marshall was held up as a knight to emulate. His word was above reproach, which considering he served the Plantagenet family, is remarkable. It was Williams’s actions & beliefs in chivalric codes that made him successful during his life.

Ramon Lull, born in either 1232 or 1233 wrote a handbook called ‘The Book of the Order of Chivalry” around 1275.  Ramon instructed knights to defend those who could not defend themselves; defend the Church; participate in tournaments to keep in shape; serve the king; find bad guys; and, avoid lies, sins, and pride. Lull started out as a knight, only to end his life as a monk.

French born Geoffroi de Charny wrote his treatise, “The Book of Chivalry” in the 1350’s. Men used Geoffroi’s ideas as the basis what they considered the ideal knight. Geoffroi was so well thought of as a knight, he carried the Oriflamme (banner of France) during the Hundred Years War. Charny was killed in 1356, at the Battle of Poiters.

The Duke of Burgundy wrote his version of chivalry in the fourteenth century. Among the twelve desired virtues were temperance, faith, charity, faith, diligence and hope.  This was a time when the men in iron were gradually being replaced by paid armies & mercenaries. When gunpowder was introduced, the mounted knight fell out of vogue. Chivalry was relegated to the tournaments and social scene.

It would be absurd to say all knights lived their lives based upon the principles of chivalry. Just as with any trade, profession, or class, there were good men and bad. Not all knights swore service to a lord.  Knight-Errants roamed the lands, selling their services as they could. Even those sworn to serve as a household knight carried out questionable commands.

In Thaelia’s World, chivalry stands strong. A knight is only as strong as his word. Knighting ceremonies are important occasions, and planned as carefully as weddings.

As always, stay safe out milords and my ladies!

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