Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Paladin (Part 4A): The Code of Chivalry

In the previous sections, I went into length about the French myths and the Arthur myths. There is one more section of background that I need to cover, and that is the code of the knight, which most of us classify as chivalry. Chivalry is something that changed a bit over the years, and everyone has their own internal definitions of what chivalry means to them. In order to sort through all of this, we need to understand how the term changed over the years, and how different authors used the term. From here, I think we can agree on some standard concepts, or at least have an initial alignment on the definitions. Once we have this, we can get into how this applies to the paladin in gaming. I am actually going to split this into two parts. The first part will be more of the historical background stuff, and the second part will be my commentary on it all.

Chivalry is a term relating to the medieval institution of knighthood. It is usually associated with ideals of knightly virtues, honor and courtly love.

Kenelm Henry Digby in his book, The Broad-Stone of Honour, offers this definition: "Chivalry is only a name for that general spirit or state of mind which disposes men to heroic actions, and keeps them conversant with all that is beautiful and sublime in the intellectual and moral world."

Today, the terms chivalry and chivalrous are used to describe courteous behavior, especially that of men towards women.

Just looking at the definition, one can not help but notice the subtle shift in the definition from knightly behavior emphasizing virtue and honor, to the simplified courteous behavior, especially towards women. Now let’s look at some of the historical usage of the term.

The term chivalry originated in France in the late 10th century; based on the words for "knight" (French: chevalier), and "horse" (French: cheval). Knights possessed military training, a war horse and military equipment which required a substantial amount of wealth and prestige to acquire. It is interesting to note that there is a direct linkage between knight and horse, and an explicit military assumption, wrapped up in the origin of chivalry.

Historical references:

The medieval knightly class was adept at the art of war, trained in fighting in armor, with horses, lances, swords and shields. Knights were taught to excel in the arms, to show courage, to be gallant, loyal and to swear off cowardice and baseness. Related to chivalry was the practice of heraldry and its elaborate rules of displaying coats of arms. When not fighting, chivalric knights typically resided in a castle or fortified house, while some knights lived in the courts of kings, dukes and other great lords. The skills of the knight carried over to peacetime activities such as the hunt and tournament.

Knights of the medieval era were asked to protect the weak, defenseless, helpless, and fight for the general welfare of all. These few guidelines were the main duties of a medieval knight, but they were very hard to accomplish thoroughly. Rarely, even the best of knights were able to fully meet these guidelines, which proves the difficulty in their lifestyle. Knighthood consisted of all kinds of training including hunting, fighting, and riding horses. Apart from with the physical training, knights were trained to practice courteous, honorable behavior, which was extremely important. Chivalry was the main principle guiding a knight’s life style. The code of chivalry dealt with three main areas: the military, social life, and religion.

The military side of life was very important to knighthood. Along with the fighting elements of war, there were many manners and rules to be followed as well. A way of demonstrating military chivalry was to own expensive, heavy weaponry. Weapons were not the only crucial instruments to a knight, horses were also extremely important. Each knight often owned several horses for distinct purposes. One of the greatest signs of chivalry was banners. These decorative banners were flown to show power and distinguished knights in battle and in tournaments. Warriors were not only required to own all these belongings to prove their allegiance, they were expected to act with military courtesy as well. In combat when nobles and knights were taken prisoner, their lives were spared and were often held for ransom in somewhat comfortable surroundings. This same code of conduct did not apply to non-knights, who were often slaughtered after capture.

Becoming a knight was not a widely attainable occupation in the medieval era. Only the sons of a knight were eligible to the ranks of knighthood. Those who were destined to become knights were singled out of society. In the years of boyhood, these future warriors were sent off to be trained using horses, weapons, fighting, and also courtesy. Commonly around the age of twenty, knights would become admitted to their deserved rank by a ceremonial process called “dubbing.” Although these strong young men had proved to their eligibility, their social status would permanently be controlled. The codes of chivalry were expected at all times, and any failure to follow instructions was not accepted.

Christianity and Chivalry:

Christianity had a modifying influence on the virtues of chivalry. The Peace and Truce of God in the 10th century was one such example, with limits placed on knights to protect and honor the weaker members of society and also help the church maintain peace. At the same time the church became more tolerant of war in the defense of faith, espousing theories of the just war; and liturgies were introduced which blessed a knight's sword, and a bath of chivalric purification. In the 11th century the concept of a "knight of Christ" gained currency in France, Spain and Italy. These concepts of "religious chivalry" were further elaborated in the era of the Crusades, with the Crusades themselves often being seen as a chivalrous enterprise.

Symbolism (from the Knights Hospitaller)

Cross used by the Knights Hospitaller has a specific meaning behind it:

The emblem of the Order is a white eight-pointed cross embellished in the four principal angles alternately with a lion passant guardant and a unicorn passant. The four arms of the cross signify the cardinal virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude. The eight points signify the beatitudes: Humility, Compassion, Courtesy, Devotion, Mercy, Purity, Peace and Endurance.

In literature (from Malory):

To never do outrage nor murder
Always to flee treason
To by no means be cruel but to give mercy unto him who asks for mercy
To always do ladies, gentlewomen and widows succor
To never force ladies, gentlewomen or widows
Not to take up battles in wrongful quarrels for love or worldly goods

Next up

In my next post, I will summarize the themes and add some additional commentary.
Paladin Series Summary
For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:


Matthew James Stanham said...

Chivalry is a lot like Bushido, in that it was codified long after the most warlike and active period it purports to be representative of.

Another interesting similarity is that the word "knight" has its origin in "knecht" or servant, which parallels the major etymology proposed for samurai (also servant).

Mr Baron said...

I agree. I was thinking with a western focus, but there are some definte similarities with the code of Bushido.