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THE KNIGHT'S INITIATION.
altar, had that sense of something ventured and something lost, that spirit of sacrifice and suffering, which are the conditions of all nobleness upon earth. Common things were lighted up with a new glory, when soldiers who were throwing away their lives aimlessly in petty feuds, and whose highest religion had been to hear a mass now and then, or endow an abbey at death, perceived that God might be served in the camp as well as in the sanctuary. A war, hitherto had been just or unjust, as it respected or violated treaties. A war henceforth required some plea of right to excuse it in the eyes of Christian men. Church and state, as their rival theories expanded, were threatening to divide society into two hostile camps. They joined hands, as it were, over the holy sepulchre.
Nothing, then, can be nobler than chivalry was in its beginnings and in its theory. The young squire, a boy of gentle birth, was brought up in some great household, where he learned to serve, and was trained to the use of arms. He looked forward to knighthood as the highest reward of distinction. Often, if he had the true spirit of a soldier, he refused to receive his spurs till he should have won them on the bloody battle-field. Even where knighthood was conferred, as a matter of course, on a young man of high lineage who had reached the required age of twenty-one, it was attended with ceremonies which the novice could never forget. He bathed in token of future purity, took a vow of chastity, and swore to shed his blood for the faith, and to have the thought of death ever present to his mind. He fasted till evening, and passed the night in prayer. At dawn he confessed, heard mass, and partook of the eucharist. Then he knelt before his god-father, and was pledged to maintain the right, to be loyal to all true knighthood, to shield women from wrong, and the poor from oppression; to forswear all treason, and keep faith with all the world; to love, honour, and succour all loyal knights. He was then arrayed in armour, every piece of which had some
1 St. Palaye Mem. sur la chevalerie, tom. i., chap. 1, 2. Milman's Latin Christianity, vol. iii., pp. 253, 254. I have not gone into the distinction of page and squire. The two terms are sometimes confounded.
EFFECTS OF CHIVALRY IN HUMANIZING WAR.
symbolical meaning; was dubbed knight, and rode round the lists, while the church bells pealed, and the multitude shouted.
Those who draw their notions of chivalry from romances, are apt to attach an undue importance to the place which tournaments held in chivalry. Any theory that consecrated war, no doubt tended to make its image popular. But the church, with a just feeling that bloodshed was too awful a matter to be jested on, forbade tournaments from the first. Our kings discouraged them from reasons of policy: it was not safe for the country that many men in arms should assemble at one spot.1 But if chivalry in a slight degree promoted the love for adventure and war, it certainly tended to make it more humane. In the battle of Brémule, one of the most decisive of Henry I.'s time, nine hundred men-at-arms were engaged, and only three slain. "For the Christian warriors," says the chronicler, "did not thirst to shed their brothers' blood, but rejoiced in the lawful triumph which God gave, to the profit of holy church and the quiet of the faithful." When the Danes under Hasculf attacked Dublin, Miles de Cogan placed his Irish allies at a distance, bidding them watch the event, and secure their own safety by siding with the conquerors. Such magnanimity was of course rare, as natures so gifted must always be; but it at least shows that contempt for the lives of the "canaille" or "rascal multitude," was not a necessary result of the spirit of chivalry.
Three popes forbade them, and Alexander III. refused Christian burial to those slain in them.-Hoveden; Savile, p. 334. Under Richard I., tournaments were allowed (1194 A.D.), to practise the knights in warfare. A party assembling accordingly near St. Edmund's were excommunicated by the abbot.-Chron. Joc. de Brak., p. 40. In the quarrel between the De Clares and De Montforts, 1265 A.D., the young De Montforts proclaimed a tournament at Dunstable, and challenged the De Clares especially to appear. Simon de Montfort accordingly forbade it.-Blaauw's Barons' War, pp. 229-231. "Orderic, vol. iv., p. 357.
He also gave them back their hostages, so as to leave them completely free. In the end, they sided with him.—Regan's Conquest of Ireland, pp. 109, 110.
4 I believe it will be found, that most of the instances quoted by Hallam, Arnold, and others, to show that chivalry had an alloy of intolerant pride of race
POSITION OF WOMEN IN SOCIETY.
How far the position of woman in England was raised during the twelfth century by chivalry, is difficult or impossible to decide. The splendid tournaments of Provence, at which women presided, and where knights contended as minstrels, are as foreign to early English history as adventures like that of the Provençal troubadour, who tried to win his lady's love by disguising himself in a wolf's skin, and allowing himself to be hunted by shepherds' dogs on the mountains. Our national sobriety never wandered into these exotic extravagances. Marriage seems to have been chiefly regarded as an arrangement for transferring property and consolidating estates. There is still a contract on record from the middle ages, in which a husband assigned his wife to another man at pleasure. The ecclesiastical courts declared the parties purged of adultery; but the secular courts were less complaisant, and barred the lady of dower at her husband's death. The proprietary theory of marriage is in general, however, favourable to its purity. That singular preference of the adulterer to the husband, which still distinguishes continental romance, was always rather French and Italian than English: Arthur was our hero, and Lancelot was
and blood-thirstiness, belong to continental history, and are traits of a particular nation, not of European society. The massacre of Limoges by the Black Prince is indefensible, but it was the storm of a town; and the coldblooded language of Froissart which describes it, could, I fear, be paralleled from modern military historians. Moreover, the sentiment of race was a fact of the times; a source of bitter enmity, and of much misery: but not derived from chivalry. After all, I know nothing in early English history, except William's devastation of the north, and the civil war under Stephen, that approaches the horrors which our troops have committed in putting down the Indian revolt; or any language in medieval writers so revolting as that in which an Anglo-Indian civilian has related a butchery he presided over.
1 This madman was Pierre Vidal of Toulouse. The delicacy of the compliment lay in an allusion to the lady's name, Louve de Penautier.-Sismondi's Literature of the South, vol. i., chap. 5.
2 John Comoy's grant of his wife. "Noveritis me tradidisse et demisisse spontaneâ meâ voluntate domino Gul. Paynell militi Margaretam uxorem meam; et concedo quod Marg. cum prædicto Gul. remaneat pro voluntate ipsius Gul."-Hargrave's Coke upon Littleton, p. 32, b, note. The last William Paynell mentioned in Nicholas's Synopsis of the Peerage, was of the reign of Edward II., but there were several in the preceding century.
GRADAUL ELEVATION OF WOMEN.
most popular in France.
Nevertheless, even in the Morte d'Arthur it has been well remarked that the knights are pure, or set purity before them, while the women are uniformly unchaste. In fact, the society of men and women who were uncultivated, idle, and lived high, could scarcely be otherwise than corrupt. The conversation and repartee of a mediæval circle would disgrace a modern tavern. The influences of the church on woman's position were various. It opposed the prestige of monasticism to the sacramental character of marriage, and regarded as impure the sex of her whom it reverenced as the mother of God. Unbelief in womanly virtue animates the ribald songs and gross stories which convent brothers have handed down. It was impossible that chivalry should teach men to respect what none around them respected, and what was not respectable. But as they grew in moral greatness themselves, by incorporating the spirit of self-sacrifice with their lives, they raised the tone of all around them, and of women more than all. The knight was strong and gentle, precisely because he believed in a cause which was grander in failure than evil could be in success. His idealism made him ready to see good, and his compassion to sympathize with weakness. Safe from outrage and insult, women began to
1 For some historical evidence of this, see Gul. Cant.; Vitæ Beck., vol. ii., p. 31; and Chron. Joc. de Brak., p. 52.
2 See Wright's Anecdota Literaria, pp. 74-76.
3 The right at common law which a woman has to marry, if her husband be absent, and no tidings of him procurable during seven years, was no doubt derived from Roman law through the canonists.-Exc. Ecgb., 123, 124; A. S. Laws, vol. ii., p. 116; Dictionary of Antiquities, Art. Postliminium. It is a curious proof of the conflict of theories that the church should have allowed one of its sacraments to be overridden by the feudal oath, and cancelled for the time by captivity. There is, however, this difference between the Roman and our own common law, that the first husband, in Roman law, could not, if he returned, reclaim his wife, except with her own consent.
A curious instance of the older view of woman occurs in an ancient version of the Morte d'Arthur. Meleagans challenges any knight of Arthur's court to joust with him, and proposes to wager the ladies in his castle against queen Guenever. Arthur consents; his champion, Kay, is overthrown, and Guenever carried off, but finally rescued by Lancelot.-Ellis's Metrical Romances, pp. 145-150.
CHIVALRY AN ELEMENT OF PROGRESS.
respect themselves, and refined passion into love. Ovid was the master of song in the twelfth century: two hundred years brought with them" the legend of good women."
It is these human elements in chivalry, its regard for life and infinite tenderness, that were the secret of its strength. With sympathies so wide, it could not restrict itself to the narrow circle of caste. Society tended to unalterable distinctions of ranks the sons of the conqueror and the conquered. The spirit of medieval legists aimed at solidifying what existed, at shutting out all change, at constructing a perfect logical fabric, and imprisoning man within it. Even poets betrayed the cause of the world, and delighted to show in their romances how the soldier, who seemed to be the peasant's son, was really begotten by a knight. But throughout English history, the man who had won his spurs by fair conduct in the field might wear them; the gentleman without fortune might command barons in war, and be called brother by his king. To be brave, loyal, and generous, established a claim to the title-deeds which were good through Europe. The universal church, with its one tongue and democratic hierarchy, did much for society; but it formed a world by itself. Chivalry invaded the very strongholds of rank, and clung like ivy round the grey battlements of feudalism, beautifying at once and destroying it. Accordingly, chivalry, as a system, perished when
' Garnier, however, has some fine lines (p. 89):-
"Mielz valt filz a vilain qui est preux et senez,
Again, in "The Four Sons of Aymon" the valiant knight Renaud becomes a mason, to testify his sense of human equality. But I suspect the feeling of the times would have endured a descent of this sort more cheerfully than the rising of a parvenu from the ranks.
2 "Then spoke Sir Joce: Friend burgess, you are very strong and valiant. * * You shall live with me, and I will never fail you.' Joce thought he had been a burgess: for burgesses really have put armour on," &c. -Hist. of Fulk Fitz-Warine, p. 31. So king Arthur knights Tor, believing him to be a cow-herd's son.-Morte d'Arthur, cap. 47. Our chronicles prove that a man had a fair chance of rising from the ranks under all our early Norman kings, either from the chances of war, or, in the cases of Henry I. and Henry II., from policy.