THE MYTH OF THE CHIVALRIC AGE

10551062_202685470073543_7136720278654418917_nI originally wanted to call this “Why Chivalry is a Damn Dirty Lie” but thought better of it. Before I launch into this, let me get this out of the way: The Chivalric Code was a code of conduct implemented to noble militaries somewhere in the late 12th and early 13th centuries CE. The term “chivalry” itself comes from the Old French term chevalarie meaning “horse soldiery”. It has its roots in Germanic and Roman military traditions and is known to be used by Charlemagne’s military forces. But what I really want to get into is what chivalry was, why it was necessary, and why it was a damn dirty lie.

We all know the basic ideas of what chivalry was, but here were the Ten Commandments of Chivalry as established in French historian Leon Gaultier’s book “La Chevialaire”:

1) Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches and thou shalt observe all its directions.
2) Thou shalt defend the Church.
3) Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
4) Thou shalt love the country in which thou wast born.
5) Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
6) Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation and without mercy.
7) Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
8) Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word.
9) Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse to everyone.
10) Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.

Sounds neat, right? I mean it just embodies the whole concept of the Knight in Shining Armor in ten easy steps. I mean, it even bears some resemblance to the Ten Commandments of Moses (henceforth referred to as TCoM). I mean, sure, the TCoM doesn’t allude to outright murder so long as it is the enemy of God and country (in fact the TCoM expressly forbids murder, but hey, who is counting?), but what is semantics between friends? Why did we need this document in the first place then? Assuming most soldiers who fought for a Christian King were Christians themselves, one would assume they adhered to the TCoM as much as the next Christian, so why have alternate rules for soldiers?

In a word? Peacetime.

Come with me a moment. Suppose… you’re a monarch. You’ve just led a very successful campaign against your enemies. This is the last in a long line of campaigns dating back to your father’s time. Perhaps even your father’s father’s time, but who knows or cares, what is done is done and now, right now, you come back to your homeland at the head of a victorious army of soldiers. Hundred, perhaps thousands of them. You can’t wait to get home to take your yearly bath (whether you need it or not, right? wrong, but we’ll geet to THAT myth in a different post!), put on some nice clothes, give your arranged and estranged wife a little goose and then get to the feasting and wenching. But it occurs to you that most of your men who have spent most, if not all, of their lives at war are probably wanting to do the same things… especially the feasting and wenching part… and you’re the king so gluttony, sloth, and lust are a divine birthright, but your men are on a soldier’s salary. And being they have spent most, if not all, of their lives fighting to STAY alive for God and country, there is very little they would restrain themselves from doing to GET to the feasting and wenching, including pillaging and raping your less martial subjects. I mean sure, you’ll maintain a standing army, but what kingdom can afford a standing army so large? Most of these soldiers behind you were conscripts anyway, you’ll have to let most of them go about their business, so they can’t even stay on a soldier’s pay. Since they joined up as young as the age of ten, most of them couldn’t plow their own furrow to save their lives. It seems, your majesty, that you have a big army-shaped problem. You can’t just set them free on the land and then roll over them with your own army, these men fought and bled for you. I mean, other kings have done it… but that doesn’t make it right, does it? What is a monarch to do?

I could go on, but ultimately the result was the notion of chivalry. It was in a very real way a method of controlling the veteran soldiers from various wars and instilling in them a sense of continued purpose. It was also likely intended to have the secondary effect of policing and protecting the peasantry. Did it work? Hard to say. I mean history is full of stories of returning soldiers raping and pillaging wantonly throughout the unprotected countryside, but perhaps without a chivalric code it would have been worse. Legends would have us believe that every Knight of the Realm was good and pure, but history tells us otherwise. But take heart, dear reader, there were legitimate knights in shining armor. Every tale has a grain of truth to it.

Is chivalry dead? I don’t think so, not really, but certainly the ideas behind chivalry have evolved. If I had to pick ten commandments for the modern code of chivalry, here is what it would look like:

1) Keep your faith in your way, and respect all faiths as you would want yours to be respected.
2) Defend your faith with civil discourse.
3) Everyone has the right and duty to fight for their basic human rights.
4) Defend those who cannot defend themselves.
5) Do not flee before an enemy but often words go farther than violence.
6) There is true evil in this world. Ours is a duty to find it and eradicate it.
7) Obey the law if the law is just. If the law is unjust, work with others to change the law.
8) Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word. (I like this one).
9) Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse to everyone. (I like this one too.)
10) Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.

AG