There has been a lot of discussion lately about chivalry and about whether it should still be practiced or not. There have also been a lot of comparisons being made with the modern day deference to women or so called “white knight” behaviour and chivalry as it was practiced in the Middle Ages and even before. I just wanted to write a little piece on the differences between the two because it is my contention that the two are unrelated and that modern day chivalry is actually a perversion of the original concept. Modern chivalry is a concept whereby women, can expect preferential treatment in return for absolutely nothing. That is not the way it worked in the middle ages.
Remember that chivalry came to prominence when the continent of Europe was in a state of perpetual war. The word itself taken from the French for horseman gives us a clue not only as to where it came from, but also what it was designed to accomplish. The mounted knights of the era were the most fearsome warriors of their age; the elite troops of the middle ages. Chivalry was an attempt to moderate their ‘manly’ behavior and ensure that the toughest men of all would still defer to those weaker than themselves, and would inspire other men to emulate their behaviour.
So chivalry originated in France and spread quickly through the plethora of baronies and kingdoms that were beginning to form the countries we now know as Spain, Germany and Italy. Soon it reached as far west as Ireland, as far east as Kievan Rus, and as far north as Scandinavia. By the end of the twelfth century some form of chivalry had taken hold in every corner of Europe and was also adopted to a large extent in the Islamic world. There were many attempts by medieval scholars to write down an exact code; a ‘ten commandments of chivalry’ if you like, but the concept remained vague and transient and varied from place to place.
It must be remembered that chivalry was not just about the treatment of women. It dictated what was acceptable in the behaviour of a knight. It governed his treatment of other men too, and it imposed restrictions on how he could deal with vassals or serfs under his control. It admonished him to treat captured enemies with mercy and to provide protection not only for the lord who ruled over him, but also for the peasants who served on his estate. When Ṣalaḥ al-Din took Jerusalem for example, he warned his men not to mistreat the Christian population and allowed Christian churches to remain open. French Knight Guy de Bohremond was castigated from the pulpit by the Roman bishops, angry that he had spared the Muslim prisoners he had taken in his victory near Acre.
Of course not all knights lived up to these codes, and massacres and atrocities still happened. It is interesting to note though that in the ancient Roman world, it was not unusual for the population of an enemy town to be massacred in its entirety if it had offered too much resistance to the invading army. During the middle ages, such massacres became rare and armies were generally prepared to allow the civilian populations to go unmolested. This code of chivalry lasted right up to the twentieth century.
But even as regards the treatment of women, chivalry was not a one way street. Women were bound by the code too. A knight was expected to treat a woman gently and with respect. But he was not expected to see her as an equal. He was obliged to protect her and provide for her precisely because it was accepted that she was not his equal and not capable of protecting or providing for herself. We all know that when a woman got married to a man, it was quite common for him to be obliged to kneel before her during the ceremony, but what we forget is that she was obliged to swear obedience to him, not the other way around. The kneeling before her was known as ‘the promise to God’. The knight was not worshiping the woman, he was swearing that he would respect her, care for her and protect her, but only on condition that she upheld her side of the marital bargain.
The cult of woman worship that sprung from the poets and story tellers of the Middle Ages was a romantic, fictional take on the idea of knightly virtue and chivalry. Like the ‘Chick-lit’ of today, it must not be confused with historical reality. The knight was expected to respect his lady but she was expected to earn that respect by being a faithful and industrious wife, and she could expect the chivalry to evaporate pretty quickly if she didn’t carry her weight. One example of this was that under early French law, a man was entitled to take a mistress or a ‘professional woman’ into his house if he was displeased by his wife’s performance or if his wife became fat or slovenly. Chivalry forbade a man from beating his wife but it did allow a husband the right to order her to be silent for up to three days at a time.
Now I am not suggesting for a minute that anyone would want a return to medieval practises. The point is that chivalry as its practiced today is in no way related to the chivalry practiced by those medieval knights. Men today pander to women without any expectation for the woman to reciprocate in any way. That’s not chivalry. That’s just being a sycophant.
What amuses me is that in some subconscious way, the fawning modern metro-sexual somehow sees his pathetic behaviour as in some way an upholding of the noble tradition of those medieval knights. Does this grovelling gelding actually compare himself at some level to a Templar, a Carinthian or a Teutonic knight? It never occurs to him that as much as those men may have respected and cared for their ladies, they also expected their ladies to obey them and they fully expected their meal to be on the table when they got home. The white-knights miss the point. A medieval lady had earned her husbands respect and protection through her own respect and commitment. It worked both ways then, and it doesn’t work both ways today.
When you visit the crypt of an old church in France or Spain and see the Lord and Lady lying together, the knight in his stone armour and the Lady in her finest stone dress; you always hear people say ‘oh its so romantic. Now that was real love!!!’ ‘Eternal’ – blah blah blah. OK maybe it was real love, but the respect came first and that Lady is only being honoured in stone in that church because she earned it in life. She didn’t just get it because she was female.
I think it was Cervantes who wrote that ‘a Frankish knight on his armoured mount would storm the gates of hell’. It has been, and still is a very clever ploy on the part of some women to use the word chivalry when what they really mean is subservience. The use of the word ‘chivalry’ does exactly what it is supposed to do. It conjures up in a man’s subconscious a powerful image from the mists of medieval history. A man is taught very subtly all through his youth that if he panders to women, if he is chivalrous, then just for a few minutes, he gets to be just a little bit like that knight; That Frankish knight on his armoured mount ready to ‘storm the gates of hell’. Lets be honest, what man would not want to be associated with that image?
Let’s not allow feminists to twist the history of medieval Europe the way they have twisted other periods in history. Let’s not allow them to compare the medieval knights of Europe with the crawling castrati of today. Chivalry then was useful to society and it served both men and women. Today it is just a one way street of subservience and that is only worthy of someone who has no dignity or self-respect.
And that’s why I don’t like the term ‘white knight’ as it’s used to describe weak supplicating men. I sometimes think of it as a little insulting to the memory of the medieval warriors who made Europe safe for the building of western civilization. Real knights were nothing like modern white knights. We could use their help right now. Unlike the legions of male castrati that pass for leadership in the modern western world, I think those knights of old would make short work of feminists. In fact if we could bring them back, we really would see a massacre.
I have just had a vision of a bunch of rabid feminists screaming abuse at a Templar knight. No doubt he said something “inappropriate”. I can see him looking confused at first, wondering what kind of strange demons they are, and if he has died and gone to hell; but then he’s beginning to look annoyed, and I’m taking bets on just how long their empty heads will remain attached to their over-sized bodies ……… We can all dream…….