David I. Mc Williams – Views

 

Chivalry

Chivalry would never have been the ideal of life during the several centuries if it had not contained high social values. Its strength lay in the very exaggeration of its generous and fantastic views’ (Huizinga), discuss.

Chivalry is an elusive term that is devoid of any solid definition as the meaning and role of chivalry has progressed in order to encompass a broad base of philosophical thoughts and practices. Chivalry can be viewed in many ways including, “a body of heavily armed horsemen”1, an order of knighthood, which is “compared to an order of religion”2 as well as a code of conduct and values which encompasses this “order or estate”3.

Huizinga’s view that the “generous and fantastic views”4 of chivalry were the basis of its longevity during the Middle Ages is only partly true. In the early middle ages the basis of chivalry was derived from classical literary works such as Ramon Lull’s ‘Libre del order de cavayleria5 that formed the noble ideal. This was apparent in the early middle ages, but by the eleventh and twelfth centuries chivalry had adapted to form a basis for social life in Europe. As warring factions in France and Britain sought to incorporate a lavish lifestyle with a code of arms that would benefit both the warrior-class and the clergy alike. “This cult of chivalry found expression also in the great court tournaments which the dukes staged, and in which every device was employed to combine the flavour of romance with that of magnificence”6.

The chivalric code sought to amalgamate the warriors code into society by addressing the role of the militaristic aspects of nobility and to absolve warriors of the sins of society. Odo, abbot of Cluny first wrote of St Gerald of Aurillic in the Vita and notes that, “it is demonstrated that a powerful noble could achieve sanctity and become a miles Christi without laying down his arms”7. By the mid-twelfth century “this ideal reached its classic formulation”8 in virtues of “prouesse, loyaute, largesse (generosity), courtoisie, and franchise”9.

In bringing the ‘glory of Europe’ into line with ecclesiastical thinking and the militaristic nature of war in the middle ages, chivalry morphed into a system of values which seen a tenuous harmony between the violent nature of life and ecclesiastical philosophy. The church sought to integrate the warrior-class for their own ends and protection, in doing so, advocated an Old Testament philosophy allowing the warrior-class to take arms and kill in the name of God in order to gain riches. From France, to Rome and Britain, chivalry sought to bond these warring factions against a common enemy – the infidels.

By the early twelfth century the milites encompassed both the vassi10 and the nobility11 in social cohesion “12, extending the franchise of the military orders and strengthening the chivalric attitude and nature within the population, “the whole order of chivalry that Lull was later to describe as a ‘noble’ order”13. This notion of the “soulverein preux14 was based on knights who encompassed the ideal of chivalry by practising the art of war, ethics, and science, on the battlefields and tournaments in the quest for glory and redemption.

Literature and art was “clearly conscious of the existence of a conventional model of preux chevalier15 to which society had become accustomed too by the middle of the twelfth century. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries the mode of dissemination for these ideals and social values was the combination of romantic literature, art, and ceremony. This combination allowed these high social values to bond the nobility across Europe in this heroic ideal.

The early French verse epics were known as chansons de geste (from the Latin gesta: ‘deeds done’, extended to mean the deeds performed by a hero or by a group or clan)”16. These literary works tend to praise heroes and “refer to their generosity as patrons as well as to their warlike exploits”17. The heroic ideal of chivalry was the epitome of knighthood as it saw the coming together of everything which society at the time held true, such as honour, discipline, romance, and learning.

These views were solidified in social life within Britain by the mid-eleventh century seeing the romantic literature as well as the classical stories of valour and conquest intertwined to create the ideal of chivalric life during the several centuries, which followed. From this view of chivalry the first crusade was able to adopt these ideals and the church sought to harness the training and ability of the ‘noble-warrior-class’ in order to do the churches bidding. The shift in ecclesiastical thought on the nature and justification of war was able to direct this romantic view of chivalry and far-flung adventures to mobilise a force to recapture the holy land from the unworthy infidels.

The strength and pride of chivalry saw these traits and customs being used to the churches advantage as killing in the name of god was sanctioned by the philosophy that these great knights were doing the work of God18. The eleventh and twelfth centuries saw the training of nobles in the art of war as the highest possible vocation and knighthood spread from the nobility to any who wished to achieve absolution. It is within this time period that the warrior-class grew to encompass those without pure bloodlines and social standing allowing them to achieve redemption and riches for their deeds. The literature of the time reflected this, and as the franchise of knighthood was extended, there became sub-divisions of knights, which had more or less nothing in common other than chivalry.

In order to keep these high social values intact it was imperative that ceremonial duties were upheld in order to distinguish levels of superiority within the warrior-class19. These ceremonial rights were depicted in the knightly ceremonies, which followed from the twelfth century onwards as the template for being knighted diversified containing these high social values. As these new, ‘lower born’ warriors were brought into the fold the “exaggeration of its generous and fantastic views”20 became the ideal of life. From the mid-twelfth century, and as the role of chivalry progressed through the ages, their customs and traditions formed the backbone of the ideal life and these social values became the norm.

As chivalry progressed there became distinctions between classes of warriors, which saw ceremonial traits, entrenched in the chivalric way of life. Examples of this are evident in not only the churches attitude to chivalry but also the way in which knights were belted and in the way these social values were upheld. Differences in knighting ceremonies show that there was no fixed way in which a person was knighted, these vary from the elaborate ceremonies and grand feasts conducted on holy ground to the extravagance of one who was noble born and followed the ‘true path’ of knighthood. As a youngster the high social values, manners and etiquette were instilled through military combat, tournaments, and extended learning in the arts and science of the time. During the several centuries of the middle ages there were those who followed this path and those who earned their place by striving for the ideal of chivalric life.

By the latter half of the twelfth century there was already a firm career path for knighthood and an expectance of those born into chivalric circles to adhere to the strict social values21 of good manners and higher learning. In 1167 William the Marshal was knighted, of middling rank and born of no social standing to speak of he gained “entry into one of the most prestigious knightly circles of his age”22, reaching such standing to take over the role as tutor in the ways of chivalry for the Young King Henry III23. William the Marshal and Arnold of Ardres fitted Geffory de Charny’s model of chivalry which was “an adventurous youth, an apprenticeship in the tourney to the ‘great business of war’, the eschewing of idleness at home and seeking service in far-flung places, all these are already essential ingredients of a stylish opening in chivalry”24. This style was to be the basis for service in a “cultivated society”25 which saw patrons “of chivalry and of courtly letters”26 being the ideal model of the worldly wise, cultured, and well mannered professionals such as Phillip of Flanders who was seen as the pinnacle of a chivalric lifestyle.

By the mid-twelfth century “shifting social and cultural forces – new military techniques, a new vocabulary of status, new literary themes – had given definition to a new kind of figure, called the knight, and to a way of life that was coming to be called chivalry”27. This new social order – chivalry, is the way in which the church came to terms with war28 and the “medieval Christian theory of the just war”29. This Christian aspect of chivalry (militia Christi) was the justification for war within the chivalric code.

The change from militia secularis, which was fuelled by passion and greed, was endemic in medieval Europe and harnessed by the church to create the ideal of militia Christi – in the service of God30. “The militant tradition of the Old Testament”31 was seen by ecclesiastical thinkers as the justification for war in a time when the church32 was under threat from barbarian invaders. In order to secure their institutions, society, and way of life “ecclesiastical thought began to tip in favour of militancy”33.

Huizingas claim that “chivalry would never have been the ideal of life during the several centuries if it had not contained high social values”34 is in all aspects a fair comment as this was the ideal of the highest orders of the aristocracy during the middle ages. Chivalry provided a framework for not only matters of war but also politics, romance and vernacular. These high social values were disseminated from the aristocracy in France to the peasantry of Europe as everyone strove to achieve this high standing within society.

Everyone did not achieve the ideal of chivalry, even in the realm of knighthood as often necessity took precedence over this ideal for one reason or another. Chivalry was the ideal standard for life in the several centuries and as such this allowed society to have a romantic picture of higher goals in life. The “exaggeration of its generous and fantastic views”35 was therefore placed on a pedestal in order to maintain high standards of living within all classes of society throughout the middle ages. The fact that these “generous and fantastic views”36 were based on the exaggeration of achievements and heroic virtues was the basis of a society, which was rooted in glory and honour.

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the chivalric code re-assessed its origins to allow for the historical content and foundation of high social values. Writers and chroniclers during this period wished to back up the chivalric code by relating it not only to the aristocratic vernacular of the time but by giving it a greater depth and thus solidifying the chivalric nature of heroisms with historical relevance.

Huizinga’s comments reflect this tendency when he proposes that during the latter Middle Ages the emphasis shifted from the warrior code of conduct towards the “richness of décor”37 and the “over-symbolification”38 of the rituals and pageantry of chivalry. Huizinga suggests that the effort that was once directed to the high social values of chivalry had in effect been diluted by the tendency to put emphasis on the glamour and pomp of chivalry rather than the initial values and virtues that were once the bone and marrow of the warrior-class.

Looking across the several centuries of chivalry it is evident that the role of symbolism within chivalry began to overshadow the higher status of discipline and learning and as “rude warriors were transformed into courtly nobles, these nobles were drawn to the luxuries provided by urban merchants and became indebted to urban moneylenders in order to maintain their ‘gracious’ lifestyles”39.

The romantic view of chivalry in the middle ages was indeed exaggerated as its “generous and fantastic views”40 were to become increasingly unlike anything in the real world and reflected that in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the reality of the ideal of chivalry was unattainable by those who did not hold the wealth and standing of those who were bestowed with a strong lineage and bloodline which dated back to the great and heroic warriors of old.

The ideal of chivalric life was never going to be realised fully as the goal was to strive for perfection and seek higher standards of living. Redemption from God was their just rewards, but in the early thirteenth century “bishops were described as ‘fishers for money and not for souls”41 and the “papal legate in Germany complained that clergy in this jurisdiction revelled in luxury and gluttony”42.

As chivalric literature progressed, by the mid-fourteenth century the “very exaggeration of its generous and fantastic views”43 was seen as the ideal of life not only within the aristocracy but also by the public in general. These high social values were evident in the “pages of chivalrous romances [which] were full of stories of high-born champions who, when not fighting the infidel, did service in the cause of wronged princes”44

To be “instructed in good manners and in the martial arts”45 was the ultimate goal and “to be a cavalryman began to imply substantial means or substantial patronage”46 as international chivalry encompassed European society, straddling nations of varying economic and political differences, therefore, forming a “common bond of knighthood in which all alike shared”47. In the twelfth century “the culture, ethic and ideology of French chivalry chimed perfectly with their aspiration”48 allowing the chivalric ideal to “reflect the aspirations of social groups”49 in societies across Europe as a whole. On the crusades these knights would have travelled and lived in close quarters dispersing chivalrous attitudes within their poetry and deeds50. The values and attitudes which it fostered were interchangeable within societies51 as the “French conceptions informed the notion of chivalry in Germans and Italians”52 as well as Britain and the rest of Europe.

Heroic traditions and the “secular virtues of hardiness, prowess and loyalty”53 were enshrined into “the martial calling and its code of honour ”54 within a Christian setting in order too admit them into the “charmed chivalrous circle”55 where chivalry was “ more than a polite veneer”56 and a “ social influence of any significance”57 during the middle ages.

1 (“A collective of chevaliers”), M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P2.

2 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P2

3 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P2

4 Huizinga.

5 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P9

6 M. Keen. The Penguin History of Medieval Europe. (London, 1991). Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN: 0-14-013630-4. P274.

7 P. Contamine. Translated by M. Jones. War in the Middles Ages. (Oxford, 1991). Blackwell Publishers Ltd. ISBN: 0-631-14469-2. P275,fn54.

8 P. Contamine. Translated by M. Jones. War in the Middles Ages. (Oxford, 1991). Blackwell Publishers Ltd. ISBN: 0-631-14469-2. P275,fn55.

9 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P2,fn4.

10 (Vassals)

11 (Overloads of vassals)

12 “(Though not of course economically)”, M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P27.

13 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P28.

14 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P19.

15 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P18.

16 J.R. Smith. The Oxford History of the Crusades. (United States, 2002). Oxford University Press Inc. ISBN: 978-0-19-280312-2. P91.

17 J.R. Smith. The Oxford History of the Crusades. (United States, 2002). Oxford University Press Inc. ISBN: 978-0-19-280312-2. P94.

18 This allowed bloodshed to be ordaned, providing no Christian blood was being spilt by Christians.

19 As well as the clergy.

20 Huizinga.

21 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P19.

22 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P20.

23 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P20.

24 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P21.

25 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P22.

26 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P22.

27 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P42.

28 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P45.

29 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P45.

30 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P46.

31 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P46.

32 (and clergy)

33 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P46.

34 Huizinga.

35 Huizinga.

36 Huizinga.

37 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P199.

38 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P199.

39 M. Kishlansky, P. Geary & P. O’Brien. The Unfinished Legacy A Brief History of Western Civilization. (United States of America, 1993). HarperCollins College Publishers. ISBN: 0-673-46604-3. P261.

40 Huizinga.

41 M. Baigent & R. Leigh. The Inquisition. (London, 2000). Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN: 0-140-27466-9. P9.

42 M. Baigent & R. Leigh. The Inquisition. (London, 2000). Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN: 0-140-27466-9. P9.

43 Huizinga.

44 M. Keen. The Penguin History of Medieval Europe. (London, 1991). Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN: 0-14-013630-4. P250.

45 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P26.

46 Due to the fact that horses, armour and helpers were expensive in the twelfth century, M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P26.

47 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P36.

48 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P37.

49 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P34.

50 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P34.

51 (French- prouesse, largesse, courtoisie and loyaute…German- Manheit, Milte, Zuht and Trouve), M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P37.

52 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P41.

53 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P82.

54 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P82.

55 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P90,fn38.

56 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P1.

57 M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678. P1.

035967.

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H.A.L. Fisher. A History of Europe. (London & Glasgow, 1972). Collins Clear-Type Press. Code: 2070L.

J.R. Smith. The Oxford History of the Crusades. (United States, 2002). Oxford University Press Inc. ISBN: 978-0-19-280312-2.

M. Kishlansky, P. Geary & P. O’Brien. The Unfinished Legacy A Brief History of Western Civilization. (United States of America, 1993). HarperCollins College Publishers. ISBN: 0-673-46604-3.

M. Baigent & R. Leigh. The Inquisition. (London, 2000). Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN: 0-140-27466-9.

M. Keen. Chivalry. (New Haven & London, 2005) Yale University Press. ISBN: 9780300107678.

M. Keen. The Penguin History of Medieval Europe. (London, 1991). Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN: 0-14-013630-4.

P. Contamine. Translated by M. Jones. War in the Middles Ages. (Oxford, 1991). Blackwell Publishers Ltd. ISBN: 0-631-14469-2.

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