Chivalry – The Duties of a Knight

I’ve been doing some reading up on chivalry and have found out that there isn’t exactly a set or authentic code of chivalry in the way we (or at least I) would expect.  There’s no clearly defined list of rules, qualities or virtues.  Most of my search results yield information that supports each other.  The majority of differences I’ve noticed have only been the wording of the descriptions on individual websites.

The Song of Roland, published sometime in the 11th century, describes the 8th century knights and battles of Emperor Charlemagne, documents what has been described as a Code of Chivalry, or Charlemagne’s Code of Chivalry.  The Song of Roland itself is a rather long document, so I won’t post excerpts here.  (The text may be found at http://www.angevin.org/sor1.htm)  The code of chivalry, such as it is, describes the duties of a knight as follows:

  • 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

Off the top of my head, there’s 12 or 13 items from the list that seem relevant today.  Others feel rather peculiar when I think about how they would be performed now as opposed to back in the 11th century.

1) To fear God and maintain His church.  This one seems pretty self-explanatory.

2) To serve the liege lord in valor and faith.  Not relevant to today’s society, at least, not if you take it literally.  One way to do this one would be to serve God in valor and faith, other than that, I don’t see how you can do this one, given the differences between the way society is now versus the way it was back then.

3) To protect the weak and defenseless.  Stand up for others who cannot stand up for themselves.  Even when they are not present.

4) To give succor (aid) to widows and orphans.  This does not necessarily mean monetary aid, although I’m sure that would be appreciated.  You could do yard work, housework, cook a meal for someone, volunteer with children once a week – or whatever else you can think to do.

5) To refrain from the wanton (deliberate/unprovoked) giving of offense.  First thought – I wonder if this meant it was okay to give offense if the other person provoked you to it.  But I understand where this one is going.  It means that a knight was not to do or say something intentionally that would (or could) offend someone.  I haven’t found anything yet on what a knight was expected to do or how he was expected to act if someone was trying to provoke them into doing or saying something to give offense.  I would think that they were expected to not give it to the temptation to ‘teach that person a lesson’ or ‘lose their cool.’  And for accidentally causing offense, I expect that a knight would offer a sincere apology and make amends, if possible.

6) To live by honor and for glory.  I think this one is self explanatory, but I personally have an issue with the ‘glory’ part.  I’ve never been one to enjoy having a lot of attention directed at me.  I’m not writing this blog so that I’ll become famous or even moderately well-known.  I’m doing this because it’s important to me, and if people like it, good.  If younger people read it and consequently start looking up to me or something like that, fine.  I’m not an attention-seeker, or attention-hungry.  There will be times when I’ll have someone’s attention, or a whole group of people perhaps, but hopefully that will be one of those instances when it’s necessary.

7) To despise pecuniary reward.  This one ties in with the previous.  Like I said before, I don’t do the things I do for glory.  I don’t do them in hopes that I will be well-compensated at the end.  Helping someone move, lending someone a hand when there seems to be more than they can handle by themselves, etc – those should be done because it’s the right thing to do, not because you might get some cash out of it.

8 ) To fight for the welfare of all.  Self explanatory.

9) To obey those placed in authority.  This one is not hard to misunderstand, but there’s something about the word ‘obey’ that does not sit well with me.  At least as it is in this ‘duty.’  Those in authority could be a supervisor or a manager, or they could be a police officer or hold a political position.  I can understand obeying your manager or a supervisor when they tell you to do something, because if you don’t, you run the risk of losing your job.  The problem I have lies with blindly obeying the orders you’re given, or obeying without question.  If you are told to do something, and if that something is (or seems to you) morally wrong, then I would think you have the right (and for that matter, SHOULD) refuse.

10) To guard the honor of fellow knights.  Another self explanatory one.  To me, this one involves standing up for friends and loved ones, even, and perhaps most especially, when they are not present.  This involves gossip, bad-mouthing, backtalk, etc.  In the event that the offender, when confronted, refuses to cease what they are doing, then the only thing left to do is remove yourself from their presence.  Just get up and leave.  Preferably before things get violent.

11) To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit.  In other words – be fair, play nice and don’t lie.  Even when you are the victim of said unfairness, meanness or deceit.

12) To keep faith.  Self explanatory, and one that I sometimes have trouble with, for a variety of reasons, but more on that later.

13) At all times speak the truth.  Looking at this one now, I can’t help but think of the many times a wife has asked her husband “Does this make me look fat?”  As I am currently single, I have no advice or personal experience to offer on that one.  In the rest of the world, though, whether you’re in court, at work, at home, with friends or family – wherever you are and whoever you may be with – tell the truth.  …Unless, of course, it involves a present from you to them and they want to know what it is.  C’mon.  That one’s just common sense.

14) To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun.  Start what you finish.  Going to school?  Hope to see you walking on stage at graduation.  Starting a job that involves more physical labor than what you’re used to?  Suck it up and stick with it.  Doing a work related project?  Can’t wait to see the presentation.  Having trouble or an argument with your boyfriend/girlfriend?  Swallow your pride and apologize (Some things are more important than being right).  Getting married?  …I’ll let other people answer that one, since I have no personal experience in that particular area.  Yet.  The point I’m trying to make here is that though the road ahead may seem hard and the end is not visible, and you may feel worn and beaten down, don’t lose hope.  It will be worth it in the end.  *Note to self – take my own advice.*  Yes, it may be a hard road, but as the comedian Brad Stine has said: “Hard is good…It’s supposed to be.  It’s supposed to build something that we’ve lost in this country.  It’s called character.”

15) To respect the honor of women.  I cannot stress enough how important this is.  I’ve failed this…goal, duty, call it what you will…more times than I want to remember.  Every now and again, I will hear one friend or another complain or vent about something that happened – either to them or to someone close to them – and whatever the event or occurrence was, the gist of it is usually some jerk guy disrespecting a woman he claimed to have cared about or cared for.  Every time I hear about something like this, I want to help my friend, or my friend’s friend.  Most of the time, though, I can’t.  All I can do is listen; be an ear for them to vent to, without trying to fix the situation or offer solutions.

As for my own experience, yes, I’ve failed more times than I want to remember.  I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way over the years, and I hope I can safely say that I know better, even if I don’t always live it.  I’m trying to do better.  I try my best each and every day to uphold this duty, or whatever the right word is for this.  However I can.

16) Never to refuse a challenge from an equal.  This is another one that I don’t think is relevant much in today’s society.  Leastways, I haven’t yet been able to think of a situation that would be similar.

17) Never to turn the back on the foe.  Self explanatory.  ‘Nuf said.

That’s all I’ve got to say on the matter, for now.  I may come back to this sometime in the future.

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