Chivalry (Photo credit: aperture_lag)
I intended the article on chivalry last week was to be one article. I did enough research to write a book, but quickly boiled it down to my self-imposed word limit. Then I had such a response I decided to write a second article, which has now grown to four. So, here is the second installment, “Who Made This Lance Anyway –Chivalry Part 2”.
When we think of chivalry we think of Camelot and King Arthur, knights and ladies. We also think of men opening doors for women and pulling out their chairs for them. So, where did chivalry begin and what did it mean.
God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900: a late Victorian view of a lady giving a favor to a knight about to do battle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Since most of us think of medieval, European knights we will start there. Chivalry began in France. It is much older, but we will get to that later. Before knights and the round table, men owned the lands they could hold, and they employed warriors to insure their rule of that land. Though, quite often these nobles or landowners found themselves damaged by the same warriors they employed, equally by the warriors actions and inactions. These warriors were an undisciplined lot. This led to the Knight’s Code of Chivalry. It was a moral code to live by, a code that sought a higher standard of accountability of those who lived by the code. Being a chivalrous knight was the only way men had of improving their station in life. As the Muslims united under one warrior leader and spread their influence throughout Arabia, North Africa and then into Southern Europe the knights were united under a common cause, a religious war against the Muslims. The code changed to incorporate this religious war. This part is not important to our discussion of chivalry, but there is much that has been written on the subject if you wish to examine this more.
There are many different warrior codes which are very similar. I have tried to consolidate these into one universal code, which explains the warrior code of conduct. The original warrior code these European knights became disciplined by was:
1 Honor: Always act honorably, always show honor to others (peers, subordinates, seniors, God, Country and self). This included other knights, men, women, poor, nobility, royalty, God, and country.
2 Respect: Respect goes with honor, all are to be respected, including self, though the most respected knights, honored and respected their enemies as well, while doing all within their power to defeat their enemies.
3 Loyalty and faithfulness: loyalty and faithfulness to God, country, king (or whoever employed the knight) and peers (other knights). Loyalty and faithfulness go hand-in-hand, one cannot exist without the other
4 Courage: Never show cowardice, death is better than retreat.
5 Mercy: Be merciful to the weaker, less fortunate, and your defeated enemies (though make sure your enemies cannot attack you again).
6 Fairness: Always act justly and do what is right to all and with all.
7 Protection for those in need: Protect and defend those who cannot protect and defend themselves.
8 Honesty: Never lie, not in word deed or by omission.
9 Wisdom: A knight should be wise, to always distinguish the honorable and just words and deeds in every situation, and to know how to enact each part of the code in every situation.
10 Humility: This is the keystone of all the rest. Without humility a knight becomes an arrogant boor, a mere caricature of what he would otherwise become.
“Chivalry,” 1885 by Sir Frank Dicksee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The codes placed emphasis on action in combat, but were to be a moral code to live by. A noble or landowner gained nothing if a knight pillaged the lord’s peasants or stood-by while others raped, pillaged, and plundered the peasants, land and property of the lord. This chivalric code was intended to govern all of a knight’s actions, words, and deeds. All other forms of chivalry are rooted in the Knight’s Chivalric Warrior Code.
Domnei (or courtly love) was a medieval European conception of chivalry in love. It was never expressed between husband and wife (marriages at this time were arranged). Domnei was secret and between members of the nobility. Courtly love was “… a love at once illicit and morally elevating, passionate and disciplined, humiliating and exalting, human and transcendent.” Courtly love was secret and never consummated. Though this was in accordance of the chivalric code, I am sure the code was bent quite often if not broken completely on this last part.
The intent was for domnei to be chaste and the story of King Arthur teaches us of the consequences of unchaste domnei. Though seldom recognized as such, unchaste domnei is a central point of the story. Do you remember what happened to Camelot after Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot consummated their love? King Arthur died and the paradise of Camelot was forever lost as well.
Camelot was paradise on earth. A perfect example of the code of chivalry in action. The peasants love and honored their king and queen. No knights were as chivalrous as the knights of Camelot. Even the round table advanced the principles of chivalry. When Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere engaged in their courtly love, all was still as it should be in the kingdom of Camelot. However, when that love was consummated, all was lost.
Though it is now believed that King Arthur was an historical figure, much of what we know about King Arthur is not historical fact. The story of King Arthur and Camelot very well may have been a parable meant to teach us what is possible under the code of chivalry, and what happens when we violate the code of chivalry.
Though we often think of medieval Europe when we think of chivalry, chivalry is as old as man, and as wide spread. Remember the knightly chivalric code of conduct? Now we go across oceans and time, centuries before medieval Europe to an island off the coast of Asia.
Samurai (Photo credit: kennabee)
Translated Bushido means, “the way of the warrior.” Confused? Where is Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad? Ah. Let us look at the ten virtues of Bushido.
8 Filial piety
10 Care for the aged
Look familiar? It should. But a warrior code as a moral code to live by does not end there.
Now we go further west, to China itself. The Youxia or “wandering force”. These knights wandered the land using force if need be, to right the wrongs done to the common people and the emperor, if need be. How did they know when and where to act, or what to do? That’s right, they had a warrior code, a moral code, a chivalric code they lived by. One last stop in our journey.
Now we go to the south shore of the Baltic Sea in the 10th century to the stronghold of Jomsborg. Vikings. These warriors too had a strict code that they lived by and guided every aspect of their lives. Membership was open to any man between 18 and 50. Any violation of the code was punished by expulsion from the order. Vikings as chivalrous knights … who would have thought?
Vikings-Clash (Photo credit: Tancread)
Every culture and time period has a warrior class with a code, a moral code, a chivalric code, that seeks to instill honor and discipline. A code to live by. Even the modern United States military has The Uniform Code of Military Justice. A code that seeks to control the conduct of its warriors both on and off the field of battle.
You see chivalry is as old as mankind. Often the code these warriors live by is many pages long, sometimes only a few short sentences, and sometimes not written down at all. No matter the language, no matter the country or time, each code of chivalry has one unifying principle.
Put others first.
Has Anyone Seen My Lance? — Chivalry Part 1