Monday, April 6, 2009

The Code of Chivalry

Here is a picture of a squire making his vigil before the Blessed Sacrament, praying for the grace to measure up to the code of chivalry, as was the custom before being knighted. There was no set code of chivalry for the medieval period; it changed according to region and century. However, here are some codes which were attributed to the Emperor Charlemagne:
To fear God and maintain His Church.
To serve the liege lord in valor and faith.

To protect the weak and defenseless.

To give succor to widows and orphans.

To refrain from the wanton giving of offense.

To live by honor and for glory.

To despise pecuniary reward.

To fight for the welfare of all.

To obey those placed in authority.

To guard the honor of fellow knights.

To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit.

To keep faith.

At all times to speak the truth.

To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun.

To respect the honor of women.
Never to refuse a challenge from an equal.

Never to turn the back upon a foe.
And here is one issued at the beginning of Charlemagne's reign:
Love God Almighty with all your heart and all your powers.
Love your neighbor as yourself.

Give alms to the poor as ye are able.

Entertain strangers.

Visit the sick.

Be merciful to prisoners.

Do ill to no man, nor consent unto such as do, for the receiver is as bad as the thief.

Forgive as ye hope to be forgiven.

Redeem the captive.

Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the widow and orphan.

Render righteous judgment.
Do not consent to any wrong.

Persevere not in wrath.

Shun excess in eating and drinking.

Be humble and kind.

Serve your liege lord faithfully.

Do not steal.

Do not perjure yourself, nor let others do so.

Envy, hatred and violence separate men from the Kingdom of God.

Defend the Church and promote her cause.

Did all knights follow such codes? Certainly not, but many did, such as Saint Louis IX, Saint Ferdinand of Castile, and Blessed Nuno. The code of chivalry was intended to keep military men from indulging overmuch in pillage and rapine, by encouraging the protection of ladies, peasants and monastic houses. Some of it must have worked, since both the rich and poor traveled a great deal in the Middle Ages, going to various pilgrimage sites throughout Europe, and even to Jerusalem. The Knights Hospitaller had the duty of caring for sick pilgrims and guarding pilgrims on their way. Were all knights saints? No, there were corrupt people then, just as there are now. But that does not mean the system was all bad. Saints such as Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola were inspired by the codes of chivalric conduct and tried to apply the ideals to the religious orders which they founded. This is especially evident in St. Teresa's spiritual masterpiece The Interior Castle.

With the rise of industrialization and the fading of the old aristocracy, the Victorians were enthralled with the old Arthurian legends and the days when Knighthood was in flower. Did they over-romanticize? Yes, probably. But many young people were inspired with ideals, which is one of the purposes of great art and literature.