Such obsession with ‘worth’ was what lead to the Chivalric principle of the ‘worthy man’ (Preudomme). Modern Capitalist society recognises ‘worth’ by financial reward: those who are ‘most worthy’ are paid the highest salaries. Worthiness is similarly proven by means of curriculum vitae. The ideal of chivalry was that all should strive to achieve, and that achievement would be rewarded. In a sense, it was defined by what we call the Curriculum Vitae. In accordance with Da Vinci who once observed that we are all born equal, but through practice the gap increases, it seems likely that it was through acts of Chivalry that one was observed to have been chivalrous. To the medieval Knight, worth was derived from achievement and recognition of said achievements. Tales of classical Greek and Roman warriors whose fame and legend were told time and time again were the germ for motivation. They inspired the Knight to not only aspire to fame in his own life-time, but to make so much impact that his name becomes remembered for centuries. In this way, according to Greek legend, one is able to live on forever.
Despite the value of Chivalry being sanctioned by medieval society, it was notoriously difficult to pursue it accurately, and in a way which was unanimously praised. Even fictional characters failed in their ability to reconcile the three pillars of Chivalry: fighting, loving and praying . Balancing martial responsibilities, giving attention to women and devoting oneself to God was a difficult task. Not to mention the fact that (to an extent), devotion to women and devotion to God were somewhat conflicting, unless pursued in the sanctioned manner.
THE ORIGIN OF A CODE
“He would defend to the uttermost the oppressed, the widow and the orphan, and that women of noble birth should enjoy his especial care” – so stipulated Pope Urban II in 1095 at the Council of Clermont in regards to the perfect knight of Christ. This decree officially signalled a shift in the mentality and perception of Europe’s warrior class. The oration also arguably became the basis for knighthood for the subsequent centuries, allowing such roles as Defence of the people and Justice to become almost a public service, and a personal duty.
Yet this was not the first time that the definition of Knighthood had been decreed by the Church. In 989 the Council of Bishops at Charroux imposed restrictions upon violence, aimed particularly at those who stole from Churches, from peasants or who struck an unarmed cleric (supposedly an armed cleric was capable of defending himself!). A year later the synod of Le Puy further prohibited attacks on merchants, on mills and upon vandalism of vines. These oaths became the Pax Dei (Peace of God).
Besides defining who was to be offered sanctioned protection, we also see the development of the Truga Dei (Truce of God), which restricted the practice of warfare to particular days of the week, and particular occasions. This latter decree “besought them to pledge themselves by oath to keep the peace, not to oppress the churches or the poor, and to give back what they had carried off.” These oaths were the first attempts to sever the inclination to turn to conflict as a means of social resolution.
Yet these stipulations were contracts easily broken, and their enforcement was virtually non-existent. Evenso, the effort of the church to bring control and sanction to warfare was significant. Indeed, what was inevitably required to unite the Knights of Europe was a strong and threatening common enemy. Only then was it possible for those warring states of Christendom to find common ground, and a reason to fight higher than territorial disputes. Confronting the arrogant and machismo knights, and [as one might expect from a Pope] with a highly religious tone, Urban II orated (1095):
Listen and learn! You, girt about with the badge of knighthood, are arrogant with great pride; you rage against your brothers and cut each other in pieces. This is not the (true) soldiery of Christ which rends asunder the sheepfold of the Redeemer. The Holy Church has reserved a soldiery for herself to help her people, but you debase her wickedly to her hurt. Let us confess the truth, whose heralds we ought to be; truly, you are not holding to the way which leads to life. You, the oppressers of children, plunderers of widows; you, guilty of homicide, of sacrilege, robbers of another's rights; you who await the pay of thieves for the shedding of Christian blood -- as vultures smell fetid corpses, so do you sense battles from afar and rush to them eagerly.” (Balderic of Dol, from August. C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eyewitnesses and Participants, (Princeton: 1921), 33-36)
Urban set up his audience as being debased, practicing violence and warfare for personal and material motives; with a future worthy of nothing more than a thief and robber. The alternative of course was its logical opposite. To not be defenders of oneself: but defenders of ideals, of safety and of Peace, and of course by utmost extension, of God. The context of the speech was entirely gravitated towards inspiring Knights to crusade to Jerusalem where their brothers “are scourged, oppressed, and injured…or are driven from them [their homes], or they come as beggars among us; or, which is far worse, they are flogged and exiled as slaves for sale in their own land.”
Immediately, warfare acquired a God-given and religiously-sanctioned purpose. And the face of the European warrior was changed henceforth. The Knight as “defender of the faith” became central to the idealised function of the warrior, and such a spiritual subcurrent defined the entire subculture. The influence of the Church was far reaching given that the clergy were often the most educated in society, meaning that they most often were called upon in the capacity of teachers. This meant that, besides the social predicates which lead to the manifestation of a warrior-class, there was also a strong influence from the Church, both in its religious and its scholastic doctrines.
The Code of Chivalry
A number of 'codes' have been discussed and identified in relation to Chivalry. Some authors cite the words of Pope Urban II (above), and other cite quotations from various fictional narratives. A significant study of what characteristics constituted Chivalry was made by the historian Maurice Keen identified a number of core components. These consisted of 'Prouesse' (Prowess), 'Franchise' (Free-spirit), 'Pite' (Mercy), 'Debonairete' (Good manners), 'Courtoisie' (Courtesy), 'Loyaute' (Loyalty). This assessment was based upon taking the themes underlying source accounts (as well as fictional narratives). A comparison of these knightly characteristics within the Cardinal Virtues reveals such a significant overlap that they might be said to be subordinate to them.
The subordinate characteristics found within each of the Cardinal virtues are detailed below. They are recognisable from both Chivalric literature as well as from fight-books.
• To pursue perfection of the Body (corpus), Mind (intellectus) or Soul (spiritus) via the Cardinal Virtues
o Fortitude: 'To bear the burdens that others cannot bear' - Over Time: Endurance, toward the Unknown: Audacity, in terms of Skill: Excellence, Prowess.
o Prudence: To employ the mind and the intellect to become a good Judge, to be quick; To have Knowledge, Wisdom, Foresight etc.
o Justice: To be the defender of Rights, be fair, honest, true, transparent, and to apply one's Fortitude and Prudence as a duty to society and to oneself.
o Temperence: To exercise Moderation in all things. To be Charitable, to maintain Mercy, and to be Liberal.
• To be chevalier sans peur et sans reproche (Knight without fear, and without reproach; or in the positive - Knight, brave and honest)
• To be suaviter in modo, fortiter in re (mild in manner, firm in action)
• To be loyal - In Historical Chivalry, this meant to one's Lord, one's Household and one's King. It also meant fidelity to one's Lady. Loyalty may refer to many things, but it generally means maintaining the integrity of an agreement, or promise whether to an employer, to one's friends and family, or especially to oneself.