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Just A Man Who Was Trying To Be Decent (Bessieres Part 5)

The triumphal parade of the Grande Armée in th...

The triumphal parade of the Grande Armée in the Prussian capital of Berlin on 25 October 1806. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From March 1802 to 18 May 1803, Europe was at peace, the longest peace during the Napoleonic era. The Bessieres’ would be married for eleven and a half years, until Jean’s death in battle in May 1813, yet even this 15 month peace would not allow him to be home with his bride.

Though, Napoleon had wanted Jean to marry his sister Caroline Bonaparte he was quite happy with Jean’s choice. Jean and Marie were a perfect match. Marie (the name she went by instead of her first name Adele) was very beautiful and with the same strong character, charm and manner of her husband.

The couple was a great social success everywhere they went. Marie became a close friend and confidant of Josephine. This friendship drew the Bonaparte and Bessieres families even closer together. When Napoleon divorced Josephine, it made the friendship difficult at times, yet true to their character and sense of fidelity, Jean and Marie never wavered in their affections and loyalty to both Napoleon and Josephine.

The War of the Third Coalition would last until 1806, to be followed by the Fourth, Fifth, and finally the Sixth Coalition War. It was during the War of the Sixth Coalition that Marshall Bessieres was killed followed two years later by the final defeat of Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. Napoleon said, “If I had had Bessieres at Waterloo, my Guard would have brought me victory,” this point has been argued by historians. I am not sure if Waterloo could have been a French victory, even with Bessieres at the battle.

What do I believe? If Bessieres had been at the battle of Waterloo, even if the French had been defeated, it would not have been the rout that destroyed the French army. The French may have lost, but Bessieres’ unbiased advice on the battlefield would have allowed Napoleon to conduct an orderly retreat that would have preserved the French army and Napoleon’s throne. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

In 1803, the War of the Third Coalition began between Great Britain and France. Napoleon’s actions in Italy and the execution of the Duke d’ Enghien (which Bessieres was against) brought Austria and Russia into the war in 1804-05. In the Ulm campaign (August to October 1805), an entire Austrian army was captured. Then came the battle of Austerlitz in December, outnumbered by the Russian and Austrian allies, Napoleon soundly defeated the allies effectively ending the Third War of the Coalition. Once again, the friends Murat and Bessieres were in the thick of the fighting, helping to win the day for France.

Napoleon at the battle of Austerlitz, by Franç...

Napoleon at the battle of Austerlitz, by François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The War of the Fourth Coalition happened without a period of intervening peace. The Fourth Coalition was basically the Third Coalition without Austria and the addition of Prussia. This was to continue for the rest of Bessieres’ life and continue after his death until the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. Jena, Auerstedt, Eylau, Friedland, Somosierra, Corunna, Aspern-Essling, all of these and more would see the victorious and dashing friends Murat and Bessieres working hard for French victory.

At the battle of Wagram (July 1809) a cannonball knocked him unconscious and killed his horse, the Guard wept thinking Bessieres had been killed and charge into battle vowing revenge. Napoleon later told Bessieres, “That was a fine shot, it made my Guard cry.”

Napoleon during the battle of Eylau

Napoleon during the battle of Eylau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At Elyau the Austrians technically defeated Napoleon, but they let him get away with his army. Partly because Bessieres led the Imperial Guard in a frontal assault against the main Austrian attack force at a vital point in the battle. Not once but several times Bessieres led his men in a suicidal attack. The last year and a half of Bessieres’ life was spent constantly in battle. It is miraculous that Bessieres did not die earlier than he did. At this time in the Napoleonic Wars, the allies were getting better because of experience from the earlier defeats, and the French were slowly losing their best and most experienced men through combat deaths.

Bessieres was the first to recommend they leave Russia, even before they arrived at Moscow. In Moscow, the French found the city burning and deserted by the Tsar and his army. Bessieres took his own food from his own table and gave it to hungry Muscovites and Russian children. On the retreat from Russia in October 1812, 6,000 Cossacks surrounded Napoleon’s headquarters on three sides. Without concern for his own safety (as Bessieres always was in battle) he led a charge of the Imperial Guard, running off the Cossacks, killing thousands of Cossacks, and rescuing Napoleon.

Battle of Weissenfels 1813 by Girardet

Battle of Weissenfels 1813 by Girardet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 This image shows the death of Bessieres

The morning of Bessieres’ death, he told an aid he was eating breakfast because if the enemy got him that day he did not want to die on an empty stomach. Sixteen years of war and eighteen months of continuous battle were taking a great effect on the great Marshall. Apparently, he was beginning to believe own combat death was inevitable, that can be dangerous for any person in combat. But, who could he confide in? His wife was thousands of miles away for much of their married life and all of  1812 and 1813, Napoleon and his men not only counted on his calm, cool, courage in battle; they depended on. If Bessieres showed his fear it could have been disastrous for the Imperial Guard.

There was no one Bessieres could turn to for comfort, so Bessieres took a mistress. Not what you would have expected considering his reputation and the deep love he had for his wife. However, even in this one vice, Bessieres’ character was above that of the men and women of his day. Affairs were common in this day, even Napoleon and Josephine both had a long lists of lovers. Bessieres though did not follow the norm of inviting woman after woman into his tent. Bessieres took one mistress, for whom he paid all of her bills. An expense his contemporaries all avoided by going through lover after lover. Even in his one vice, there was a certain amount of honor.

At the battle of Borodino (7 Sep 1812) the Russians and French were both decimated, but there was no clear-cut winner. Napoleon is criticized for not committing his reserve to bring about a victory. All of Napoleon’s Marshalls wanted to commit the reserves except Marshall Bessieres. Bessieres did not argue the point, he made one simple statement to Napoleon, “But, Sire, you are 700 leagues (2,100 miles) from Paris.” If Napoleon would have used the reserve and not destroyed the Russian army, he would have had a French army that was worse than decimated, deep inside an enemy country facing an enemy army thousands of miles from home. Bessieres was correct and Napoleon knew it.

Bessieres is criticized by historians as a capable commander, but a failure as an independent commander due to his conservative nature. I would like to point out though, that when historians look at a battle they are looking at that one battle with the knowledge of how it and all the following battles ended. They also tend to look at each battle as an isolated affair. Bessieres’ advice and actions were always tempered by the knowledge that he did not know what would come tomorrow and the knowledge that if the army was utterly destroyed, France’s enemies would own the streets of Paris (which they eventually did).

Bessieres is also criticized for the one battle where he was placed under the command of his old enemy Lannes. Bessieres’ supporters say that Lannes still had a grudge against Bessieres, and that his orders to Bessieres were not designed to win a battle, but to embarrass and humiliate Bessieres. The historians say, “Posh, Lannes was happily married and his grievance with Bessieres was old news happening years ago.” Really? Maybe the
historians should read the diaries and memoirs of the aides of both Bessieres and Lannes who witnessed this whole affair. A good place to start is with the memoirs of General Marbot. General Marbot was one of the men ordered by Lannes to deliver Lannes’ orders to Bessieres. Marbot had no doubt that Lannes’ purpose was to insult and humiliate Bessieres. Marbot states that there was no doubt of this at the headquarters of Lannes and Bessieres. He goes on to describe the scene when he gave the orders to Marshall Bessieres.

I have already printed the letter Napoleon wrote to the Duchess Bessieres on the occasion of the Duke’s death. When Marshall Jean Baptiste Bessieres, Duke of Istria died he left huge debt. Napoleon created a pension for the great general’s widow to insure she was taken care of.

In his book, Travels in France during the years 1814-1815, Archibald Alison wrote of spotting General Blucher leaving his apartments in Paris (which Blucher rarely did). Alison followed the General to the church of the Invalides, where he went to a grotto in the church where the body of Bessieres lay in state surrounded by flowers his widow brought to the church daily for her husband, this was two years after his death. General Blucher paid his respects to his former adversary (Bessieres beat Blucher in 3 out of 4 battles they faced each other in) and then left.

This is a reproduction of an original portrait showing Madame bessieres, dressed in morning with the bust of her husband that is in the hall of heros in paris. Reproductions are available at http://www.artchive.com/web_gallery/R/Robert-Jacques-Francois-Faust-Lefevre/Portrait-of-Madame-Bessieres.html

This is a reproduction of an original portrait showing Madame bessieres, dressed in morning with the bust of her husband that is in the hall of heros in paris. Reproductions are available at http://www.artchive.com/web_gallery/R/Robert-Jacques-Francois-Faust-Lefevre/Portrait-of-Madame-Bessieres.html

The Bust of Jean Baptiste Bessieres, Duke of Istria, Marshall of France. This bust is just inside the hall of Heros in Paris to the right of the entrance.

The Bust of Jean Baptiste Bessieres, Duke of Istria, Marshall of France. This bust is just inside the hall of Heros in Paris to the right of the entrance.

There are so many more instances that I am prepared to give to demonstrate the greatness of this simple man. A simple man who loved his country, his friends, his family, and his wife. However, I will leave you with the words of Napoleon as he neared his own death in exile.

“If I had had Bessieres at Waterloo, my Guard would have brought me victory.”

Jean Baptiste Bessieres' name is on the east wall of the Arch De Triumph. Second col. from the left third stone up from the bottom. The line under his name denotes he was killed in action. His younger brother is on the South wall without the line because his brother survived the wars.

Jean Baptiste Bessieres’ name is on the east wall of the Arch De Triumph. Second col. from the left third stone up from the bottom. The line under his name denotes he was killed in action. His younger brother is on the South wall without the line because his brother survived the wars.

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Napoleon’s Best Friend (Bessieries part Four)

Jean Baptiste Bessieres Duke of Istria Marshall of France

Jean Baptiste Bessieres
Duke of Istria
Marshall of France

The goal of the Egyptian campaign was to weaken Britain, for at the heart of it all the Napoleonic Wars were one campaign between two nations, France and Great Britain. Great Britain feared that a successful France (without a monarchy) would eventually lead to the demise of monarchy and the hereditary privilege of the upper classes in Great Britain. France’s great fear was the subjugation of France to Great Britain.

There was a large contingent of scientists and artisans with the Egyptian expedition, but the scientific aspect of the expedition was secondary to the military goals. With France in control of Egypt, the British trade route from the Mediterranean to the East Indies would be disrupted. This was to be followed by a military expedition to India from Egypt to unite with French allies and disrupt the British trade routes to India.

What the governing Directorate in Paris wanted was to remove Napoleon from the center of power in France, just as they had sought to do with the Italian Campaign. After the successful Italian Campaign Napoleon was even more popular in France and even more ambitious which caused the Directorate to fear him even more than they had before.

On 19 May 1798, Napoleon departed Toulon, France with 40,000 soldiers and 10,000 sailors. On the 11 June, the French forces captured Malta. On 1 July, Napoleon landed in Alexandria, Egypt.

While in Egypt Bessieres again distinguishes himself at the siege of Acre (19 march – 20 May 1799) and the battle of Aboukir (25 July 1799), this last battle saw him promoted to general of a brigade. While in Egypt Bessieres and Napoleon became good friends, a relationship which would only grow stronger. It was during this time that the War of the Second Coalition had started. France was suffering losses in Europe and the French people were becoming tired of the dictatorial leadership of the Directorate. Napoleon saw this as his chance.

Napoleon announced he was going on a voyage on the Nile Delta, while in reality he was returning to France to seize the government. On 23 August 1799, Napoleon left Egypt for France with only his most trusted men, of which Bessieres was chief among those.

The small cortie arrived in France in September. Abbe Sieyes, one of the five directors of the Directorate, was planning a coup to stop the Jacobins. Sieyes was planning on Napoleon’s popularity with the people to advance the coup and place himself at the head of France. Napoleon planned a coup within the coup using his small group of select, trusted officers. Bessieres was a member of this small group and helped Murat, Lannes, and Marmont secure the support of the Army for Napoleon in the coup d’état.

Napoleon wanted a wedding between Bessieres and his sister Caroline Bonaparte, However, Bessieres preferred his childhood sweetheart. Then Napoleon decides to wed his sister to Murat or Lannes. Murat and Bessieres were great friends and Caroline preferred Murat, but Napoleon preferred Lannes. Bessieres intervened and influenced Napoleon to choose Murat, and Lannes became a lifelong enemy of Bessieres. There would be many clashes between Bessieres and Lannes in their future. Lannes would go on to wed and have a happy marriage with his wife (this was his second wife), but the bitterness with Bessieres would only grow.

On 11 November, the Consular Guard was created with General Bessieres as its second in command. By 14 June 1800, during the battle of Marengo Bessieres, leading the Consular Guard, and Kellermann, leading the Dragoons, once again saved the battle for France (an occupation that was becoming a habit for General Bessieres). Bessieres was appointed commander of the guard on 18 July 1800.

Adele Marie Jeanne Lapeyriere age 20 On the occasion of her marriage to Jean Baptiste Bessieres 26 October 1801

Adele Marie Jeanne Lapeyriere
age 20
On the occasion of her marriage to Jean Baptiste Bessieres
26 October 1801

At age 33, on 26 Oct 1801, Bessieres married 20 year old Adele Marie Jeanne Lapeyriere (1781-1840). Miss Lapeyriere was of modest wealth (without fortune) from a royalist family. The Duchess d’ Abrantes said of Miss Lapeyriere, “… perfect model of all the virtues of wife, mother, daughter, and sister.”

Bessieres saved Napoleon’s life by exposing the plot of an artist, Caracchi, to blow up Napoleon at the theater. When Napoleon decided to execute the Duke of Enghien (related to the ruling Bourbon family of France) on constantly changing charges, Bessieres protested long and loud against it.

During the peace, Napoleon kept Bessieres a busy man as a diplomat, ambassador, and in arranging a royal marriage for the sake of political alliances. In 1804, General Bessieres was made a Marshall of France; he was fourteenth on the promotion list after Napoleon had reinstituted the title. At the time Marmont (who was upset he did not make the list) said, “If Bessieres is a Marshall anyone can be a Marshall.”

Life was good for the Marshall by 1804, France was at peace, he started his family by marrying his childhood sweetheart, his son Napoleon was born 2 August 1802, and he was Napoleon’s best friend. Honors and awards were bestowed upon Marshall Bessieres, but the peace was to last for a mere year. In eight years he would be killed in battle, but it was also in those eight years that the level of his compassion and influence would be revealed.


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And What Were You Doing When You Were 22? (Part 3 Bessieres)

Napoleon at the Battle of Rivoli (January 14, ...

Napoleon at the Battle of Rivoli (January 14, 1797) by Félix Philipoteaux. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Bessieres arrived in the Army of Italy it was in a rebuilding stage, normally 107,000 men strong it had fallen to a mere 30,000. Bonaparte had been given command of the Army of Italy as a way of sending him into obscurity. However, General Bonaparte was rebuilding the army for an invasion of Italy. The Army of Italy began its war against Austria in Italy with the now famous ‘march across the Alps.’

There were more than a dozen major battles in Italy, and Bessieres was in the center of the fighting of the most important of these. The Italian campaigns, as they are known, brought Bessieres to the attention of General Bonaparte. Murat, Bessieres’ old friend, is the one who pointed out the cavalry captain to the General.

The battles of the Italian campaign have now been relegated to the history books, but in 1796 and 1797, they were instrumental in defeating the Austrians: Montenotte, Millesimo, Dego, Mondovi, Lodi, Castiglione, Roverto, Bassano, Arcole, and Rivoli. The battles of Lonato, Castiglione, Rovereto, Rivoli, and la Favorita di Mantovia would prove fateful for the future of France, and General Bonaparte, these were the battles at which Bessieres’ uncommon valor, calm in the heat of battle, and clearness of thought under pressure were noted by the General.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Napoleon Crossing the Alps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On 4 Jun 1796, because of his courage and abilities, Bonaparte created the Guides and made Bessieres their commander. The Guides was the unit that Napoleon would use as the foundation to build his famous Imperial Guard.

At the battles of Lanato and Castiglione (4 August 1796) he was, as he remained throughout his life, at the center of the most heated fighting; he had the unusual ability to accurately assess any situation without the biases of hope, fear, and ego. Whether standing on the ground or sitting tall in the saddle, Bessieres could always be seen leading the fighting or directing it, as if he were standing in his own parlor directing furniture movers. Swords, bullets and balls (cannonballs) all around and yet it was as if Bessieres had not noticed.

At the battle of Rovereto he broke through the center of the Austrian line, capturing two enemy guns and turning them on the enemy. After the battle of Rovereto he received a battlefield promotion to major for courage under fire (4 Sept 1796). At the first battle of Rivoli he led an ambush that surprised the Austrians and was the deciding point of the battle. At the second battle of Rivoli (14 Jan 1797) he again distinguished himself for courage under fire and clearness of thought while all about him chaos reigned. At the siege of Mantua, Bonaparte began an offensive to defeat the Austrians coming to the relief of Mantua. The left and center of the Austrian line crumpled under the assault. The most contested fighting was in front of the Palace la Favorita di Mantovia (16 Jan 1797) on the right. In the center of this action, you guessed it, there was Bessieres; like George Washington twenty years before, he moved as if he wore an invisible armor that made him immune from harm and invincible. Eventually, the Austrians were driven from the field in full retreat.

On Friday night 20 Jan 1797, Bonaparte wrote the following letter:

“Citizens, Directors: I send you eleven flags taken from the enemy in battles Rivoli and Favourite. The Bessieres citizen, commander of guides, which carries them, is a distinguished officer for his bravery.”

(Je vous envoie, Citoyens Directeurs, onze drapeaux pris sur l’ ennemi aux batailles de Rivoli et de la Favorite. Le citoyen Bessières, commandant des guides, qui les porte, est un officier distingué par sa bravure et par l’ honneur qu’ il a de commander à une Compagnie de braves gens qui ont toujours vu fuir devant eux la cavalerie ennemie, et qui, par leur intrépidité, nous ont rendu, dans la campagne, des services très-essentiels.)

21 Jan 1797 Napoleon ordered Bessieres be sent back with captured flags and the letter above. On 24 Jan 1797 he departed Verona (western Venetia) to the Executive Directory with the captured Habsburg regimental flags, returning to Paris as the honored conquering hero. On 4 Mar, Bessieres was promoted to squad leader, and on 9 Mar, the Guides were enlarged to also include infantry and artillery; and Bessieres received his second promotion in less than a week to full colonel and brigade commander. More important, as a sign of his growing respect for Bessieres, Bonaparte appointed the new colonel as tutor and instructor to Bonaparte’s stepson Eugene.

English: Map of the Battle of Rivoli

English: Map of the Battle of Rivoli (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next campaign would take Bessieres to the East and Egypt with Bonaparte. When the two men returned to France the next time, it was to install Bonaparte as France’s new ruler, and Bessieres as a Marshall of France. When the old title of Marshall of France was revived, Bessieres would be on the first list of those promoted to the honor; he would also be Napoleon’s best friend and most trusted advisor, the man Napoleon turned to for advice in his darkest hours. Napoleon Bonaparte had plans for returning stability to France, regaining France’s lost territory, and marrying Jean Baptiste Bessieres to his sister Carolyn Bonaparte. However, as always, Bessieres would prove to be his own man, loyal to his country, but still in control of his own destiny.

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The Patriot: Part Two

Jean-Baptiste Bessières, Duke of Istria, Marshall of France (1768-1813)

Jean-Baptiste Bessières, Duke of Istria, Marshall of France (1768-1813)

In Prayssac near Cahors southern France, on 6 August 1768, Antoinette Lemosy Bessieres, wife of the affluent surgeon Mathurin Bessieres, gave birth to a son, Jean Baptiste Bessieres. He was trained to become a country surgeon like his father, but it was not to be. This son was destined to influence the world for the benefit of his beloved France during his life and against France through his absence, after his death. He did not seek the world stage; he was simply a decent man who took a stand for what he believed in. He was a man of integrity and strong character who set a high standard for himself. He had a clear, unbiased vision to see things as they were, and a strong desire to do what was right.   After his death, Napoleon said of Bessieres, “He lived like Bayard, he died like Turenne.”

In 1789, Frances finances were in shambles and King Louis XVI’s inability to improve the economy brought on the French Revolution. Jean Bessieres was 20 years old; he left his studies and joined the Prayssac National Guard as a non-commissioned officer. That same year he became a captain in the grenadiers.

The Flight to Varennes of King Louis XVI of France

The Flight to Varennes of King Louis XVI of France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By 1791, France had become so chaotic that the other monarchs in Europe were becoming concerned. They were concerned for the safety of the royal family in France and they wanted to contain the French Revolution. Many of the French nobles and aristocrats had already fled as refugees to the neighboring Austrian and Prussian kingdoms. King Louis decided to flee to Austria with his family. He intended to retake France with the protection and help of Austria and the French refugees there, restoring stability to France.

On 21 June 1791, the royal family fled Paris dressed as their servants. Jean Bessieres was only 22, but he had already developed the character and integrity for which he would later become famous. Bessieres joined the royal party as part of the guard. In Varennes King Louis was recognized, because of his profile on French coinage, and the entire party was captured. The royal family was returned to Paris and placed under house arrest in the Tuileries on 25 June 1791.

Tuileries Palace before 1871 - View from the T...

Tuileries Palace before 1871 – View from the Tuileries Gardens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On 27 August 1791, the kings of Austria and Prussia issued the Declaration of Pilnitz threatening vague consequences if any harm came to the royal family; in hindsight, this only made matters worse. Bessieres was appointed to the new King’s Constitutional Guard on 7 April 1792. On 27 April 1792, France declared war on Austria and Prussia; this was the beginning of the War of the First Coalition. On 4 March, Murat was dismissed from the King’s Constitutional Guard. Murat and Bessieres would remain great friends throughout Bessieres’ life. It was an attraction of opposites; Murat was more aggressive and Bessieres more thoughtful and reflective. The two would work well in the Grand Army balancing off each other’s strengths.

The King’s Constitutional Guard was disbanded on 5 June 1792, and Bessieres joined the Paris National Guard. On 10 August 1792, the Tuileries Palace was stormed and Bessieres defended the king fighting alongside the Swiss Guard against the Marseilles volunteers and the Paris mob. Bessieres was declared an outlaw and fled Paris. On 13 August, the king was arrested; and on 21 September, France was declared a republic.

On 10 August 1792 the Paris Commune stormed th...

On 10 August 1792 the Paris Commune stormed the Tuileries Palace and massacred the Swiss Guards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Three months after fleeing Paris, Bessieres joined the 22nd cavalry regiment on 1 November 1792. King Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793. This event brought the other European powers into war against France. France began a massive draft of conscripts for the army.

Bessieres’ status as an outlaw was forgotten and the 22nd regiment was sent to Spain as part of the Army of the Pyrenees and the Army of Moselle. Bessieres was elected a lieutenant on 10 May 1793 and a captain on 8 May 1794. In 1795, the 22nd regiment was transferred to the Army of the Italy.

Bessieres had already distinguished himself in Spain, but it was in Italy that he would come to the attention of General Napoleon Bonaparte. This meeting would change the future of France.


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Who Made This Lance Anyway? — Chivalry Part 2


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 l...

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

“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.

1 Rectitude

2 Courage

3 Benevolence

4 Respect

5 Honesty

6 Honor

7 Loyalty

8 Filial piety

9 Wisdom

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


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