Monday, January 5, 2009

The Paladin (Part 4B): Chivalry and the Code of Conduct

In my previous blog, I went into detail about the history of the code of chivalry. For the most part that was all background for this section. In this section I am going to provide a bit of commentary on Chivalry, based on the information provide in the previous section. As a general note, I am going to use the term knight in this section, as Chivalry was initially attached to the knight, and then in Part 5, I bring it all together on how it relates to playing the paladin.

I think it is very important to understand that the meaning of Chivalry has changed from the original definition. Initially, Chivalry was attached to the knight, and it had a very direct linkage to military affairs. In a sense, it was the first code of conduct ever created. A code of conduct in military terms is the set of rules of engagement with specific instructions on how to handle POWs, and more important to this conversation, what constitutes a POW. This concept moves warfare from an unbounded behavior event, to a defined bounded state between two belligerent states. This is a significant recognition of what defines warfare, and brings in the concept of boundaries. While I would not say that warfare is a civilized event, but with Chivalry, warfare moves one step closer.

What I find most telling in this original concept of Chivalry is that the code of Chivalry (conduct) only applied to gentry, and did not apply to the peasant footman or other support personnel. For capture and treatment of gentry, the code was very specific, and deviations were not tolerated. For everyone else, the knights could do what ever they wanted, as this was not covered by the code of Chivalry, and hence this was not regulated. This is a very important concept. I think there is a bit of a myth that everyone was covered under the code, but this is clearly not true. In fact, it is not even true today.

Building on this theme, the code of Chivalry in this context continued to grow and became more defined. It is important to note that code of conduct with regard to POWs, would be pulled out from the definition of Chivalry, but the concept stayed with the military, and governs how they wage war. As the weapons and tactics changed, the rules of warfare changed. In medieval times and even in the renaissance period, gentry would be captured and ransomed back. This was a very common practice, and I would even go as far as to say that went into the decision to start the war in the first place, as this was a potential source of revenue and wars are an expensive proposition. As we fast forward a bit to the 1700’s and 1800’s, there were rules about how the troops would engage each other, and there was a gentleman’s agreement not to fire directly at officers, which are the descendants of gentry in history of warfare. I am not saying that everyone followed this, but it was a common understanding.

Continuing to move forward to the 20th century, the code of conduct would turn into an international treaty (Geneva Convention) on the treatment of POW’s. It is interesting to note that in this treaty, not everyone is treated the same. Officers are entitled to better treatment than the common private, and higher ranking officers are entitled to better treatment than lower ranking officers. The concept of rank and entitlement goes back to the days of knights and chivalry. I will also add that even in the Geneva Convention, there are certain groups that are not recognized as being covered (i.e. spies, terrorists, etc..). The agreement clearly states what it takes to be covered under the agreement. I bring this up, as we need to understand that even though there is a code, and that deviation from the code are not acceptable, not everyone is covered and those that are not covered under the code are subject to a different type of justice. This was true in medieval times and it is true today. This is an important theme that I am going to revisit in Part 5, and link it back into my blog on what is an orc.

Continuing on with the military side of chivalry, heraldry was an important element of Chivalry. There were specific rules on how to display the coat of arms of the knight. This has been pulled out of the current definition, but the rules on displaying flags remains with us. I am not going to comment too much about this, as I think this is very straight forward. I do agree that knights and paladins need a good coat of arms, and that should be integral to the character.

The next item I am going to comment on is the social side of Chivalry. Clearly, this is the element of Chivalry that has stayed with us to this day. For the knight, there are significant social obligations to uphold. It goes beyond being polite and courteous to women, and this is definitely an aspect of the social side. Most knights are what I would call minor gentry, and they owe fealty to a higher ranking noble. With this in mind, there are going to be court engagements, dinners, tournaments, and other social events to attend, along with managing land. With this in mind, in order to play a character of gentry, the character needs to be divorced of these requirements; otherwise it becomes an unplayable character in the traditional D&D environment. Now I could see a scenario in which a second born child, that is not going to inherit his father’s estate, going off and trying to make a name for himself. I think it is difficult to make this work for the first born, as too much of these social activities would prevent this, and to be brutally honest, the first born does not need the money/treasure. As characters work their way up in levels, this side of role playing can move to center stage, but it is very different than the traditional dungeon crawling.

The last item that I am only briefly going to mention is the religious aspects of Chivalry. This is clearly an important element of the paladin class, and I will be commenting on this in detail in part 5.
Paladin Series Summary
For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:
Part 1A

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