Publisher: Tumblar House
Publication Date: November 30, 2015
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The Everyday Life of the Medieval Knight
CHIVALRY has fascinated Western civilization for over a millennium, from way back when Knighthood was in flower, all the way to present day. Today, this fascination is as prevalent as it ever was, manifesting itself in works such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. But what IS Chivalry? Is it proper manners (the lack of which, especially toward ladies, is sometimes spoken of as “Chivalry being dead”)? Is it kindness? Steadfastness? It is all of those things, and much more. Leon Gautier, the author of this magnificent book, describes it thusly: “Chivalry is the Christian form of the military profession: the knight is the Christian soldier.” In a word, it is militant Christianity. But this is neither a religion confined to Sunday worship, nor a profession restricted to barracks; nor yet are the religion and the profession at all separate from each other. It is the armed defense of the unarmed Truth. In his work, Gautier leaves no stone unturned, covering every aspect of the knight: his birth, education, marriage, everyday life, battle, and death. He also dedicates several chapters to the code of chivalry, which serves as the ten commandments of knighthood. Let Gautier take you back to a time when Christians had to defend all that they hold dear: their families, their property, their country, and their Faith. Foreword by Charles A. Coulombe.
Transcript of Video (Slightly abridged and paraphrased for brevity and clarity)
Vincent: So let’s talk about Chivalry. The stories in Chivalry are taken from epic poetry, handed down from oral tradition. So, tell us some of these tales from some of these famous knights. Maybe Roland?
Charles: Well Roland was the nephew of Charlemagne by his sister. He was a very brave individual. His sword was called Durendal, which is important to remember for reasons which will become obvious momentarily. So Charlemagne went down to fight the Moors in Spain to help the Christians. And they fought him and smacked him around. Then it was time to go back to France through the Pyrenees. And Roland, his nephew, was going to be the rear guard. Now, whether as in The Song of Roland, it was the Muslims, or as others say, it was the Basques, when the main body of the army was out of sight, and it was just the rear guard, the enemy attacked them. And Roland refused to blow the horn to summon his uncle back. And they fought and fought, and they died. And finally he blew the horn. But it was too late, and they were all killed. But the enemy was so busy looting, they didn’t notice Charlemagne and his army return. And so they cleaned their clocks. So in a sense, although Roland was defeated, he won. And his absolutely distraught uncle rescued his sword, Durendal, which, so they say, you can see today at the great shrine of St. Mary Magdalene in France..
Vincent: Wow, did you ever see it?
Charles: A long time ago when I was very young.
Vincent: Wow, that’s quite a story. Unfortunately, there’s not just good knights in portrayed in the Chivalry. There are also bad knights. And one of the bad knights is Raoul of Cambre. Can you tell us anything about Raoul?
Charles: He was not a nice person. He had no respect for God or anything.
Vincent: How could he be a knight then?
Charles: Well he went bad. Sort of how priests go bad. And really with the qualities he exhibited most of his life, he would have been a highly electable political candidate here in the United States.
Vincent: Oh yeah? What qualities?
Charles: He was ruthless. He didn’t stand for anything. He was very secular. He believed in birth control in the sense of killing babies. Mind you, he was a little bit more “in your face” with it than the abortion industry, but it’s all just the same, cutting open wounds and all that kind of stuff. Yeah he would have been a very popular person today, but much more honest. So, maybe his honesty might have kept him off the ballot. So remember that the others have all of Raoul of Cambre’s qualities except his honesty.
Vincent: Alright, let’s talk about some other parts of Chivalry. One of my favorite parts of the books is when they talking about “hawking”, where I guess you’re training falcons to act like a hound on a hunt. I found that fascinating because that takes an incredible amount of intelligence and knowledge, which modern scholars don’t apply to medieval people.
Charles: *laughs* You can imagine what medieval people would think of modern scholars: little dweebie ones, who can’t even use a falcon to hunt; you take them into a church and they’ve got to look at their little notebooks to try to figure out what it all means. They’re not very smart! … No, believe me, we would look like utter moral midgets to those [medieval] people. The average modern western person, in terms of his strength of character, his ability to withstand pain, I think our ancestors would laugh us to scorn. And yet we sit in judgment on them like so many Supreme Court judges ordering the murder of children. I mean, ladies and gentlemen, they would think we are utter scum! Look at what we tolerate! The mind reels! “Oh they were so awful and savage!” … yeah, because they didn’t have drones to murder people in large numbers without ever having to see it. See that’s the difference between us and them. They had public hangings, they had public executions. They were brutal. But they were honest. We like to pretty it all up and make it all nice. Well, not only is it no better than what they did, it’s actually worse, because we pretty it up. We are the barbarians, not them. We murder infants in the womb, not them. Unless you’re Raoul of Cambre, who thought it was fun, but did it himself with a sword.
They had all sorts of schools back then that we don’t have because we don’t need them. We’re fed, like infants, by the regime. The difference between getting all your food from the supermarket and being spoon-fed like an infant, is not that great. And by the way, I’m not saying that I’m any better than the rest of us. I’m a product of this time too. You throw me out into the medieval ages, and I’d be scared to death.
Vincent: What are some of your other favorite parts of the book, Chivalry?
Charles: When he goes into detail about the religion of the knight, how he prayed, how very strong and forward his faith was; very open and honest. What’s interesting to me about Gautier is how much his language reminds me of Dom Gueranger: very “here it is”.
Vincent: You told me that the French write like that in general.
Charles: Well they do, actually. They tend to be pretty in-your-face. French does not lend itself well to mealy-mouthedness.
Vincent: The way you expressed it, is that one of the goals of French writing, as compared to American writing, is clarity – clearness of thought.
Charles: Yeah, they value that. Whereas we prefer mellifluous language. We [English speakers] are not really so much interested in clarity of thought or precision of thought as much as beauty of expression. And that’s one reason why, for instance, the great fantasy writers are all English-speaking people: Tolkien, Lewis, Williams. Honestly, the French, the Germans, the Italians, have no one to compare with that. Mind you, in other genres they do. And fantasy is popular now in those languages. But that’s why authors like Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe were popular in France long before the United States. Because while they did have beauty of language, they also brought with it a certain precision of thought.
OUR first intention was to give this volume the more expanded title of Chivalry, according to the Epic Poems, but we have been compelled to consult so many other authorities that we feel obliged to adopt a more general and shorter title.
The Epic Poems (Chansons de Geste) do not the less remain as the principal and the best of all our sources of information; for in them (in our own opinion) we find the truest pictures of Chivalry itself, and the most exact representations of the days of Chivalry. The authors of these popular poems, whose sincerity is unquestionable, only depicted what they actually witnessed. No other writers have so minutely described the costumes, armor, habitations, furniture, the private lives and the manners of the Feudal nobility. Good judges are not easily deceived. There is perhaps not a page of the admirable Glossary of Ducange, or of the Memoirs of Saint Palaye, which does not bear witness to the truthfulness of our songs. Nor does Jules Quicherat hold them in less esteem; he declares in round terms that: “their heroes are creations modeled on Feudal seignors.” Viollet le Duc quotes them as frequently as Ducange. They complete the Annals and the Chronicles, filling in lapses, and adding force to the cases recorded. It is, besides, very easy to assure one’s self that the poets spoke the same language as our historians. This can be substantiated by reading alternately such a Chronicle as that of Lambert d’Ardre and a poem like Ogier.
It will appear to many good souls that our enterprise is rather a rash one, if we reflect how many volumes have been inspired by Chivalry. But we have chosen to produce our book on a new plan, and this view may commend it to competent judges. We have devoted a large portion of the volume to the private life of the period: and have enshrined it in a chronological frame which is not very elastic. We have seldom gone farther back than the time of Philip Augustus, and rarely go lower than his death. Within these limits, as has been truly said, lies the golden epoch of the Middle Ages—and to it we have confined ourselves. The chief fault of works which have preceded this is, in our opinion, the long period included in them, and they do not sufficiently draw the distinction between the Chivalry of the twelfth and of the thirteenth centuries. We hope we have avoided this confusion.
The result of many years of application, this volume has been from all points of view the object of conscientious preparation. The writer has, above all things, striven to be perfectly impartial, and would be the very last person deliberately to lay on color too thickly or to embellish his models. His confessed aim is to bring out the glories of old France, to compel affection by making her known; and, as Guizot says, “to bring her back to the memory, and into the intelligence, of her generations.”
But we conceived another idea, which may appear more daring still: this was to enlarge the mind, to check the mercantile spirit which abases, and the egotism which is killing it: to convey to it some of the enthusiasm for the Beautiful, which is menaced; and for the Truth, which seems to us to be dying out.
There is more than one kind of Chivalry, and lance thrusts are not everything! In default of the sword, we have the pen: failing the pen, speech: and in default of speech, honor, in our lives!
The Author of Chivalry will esteem himself happy if he has created some “knights.”
The characterization of the everyday life of the knight was fascinating, with how they lived, what their responsibilities were, what their interests were. At a distance, the lifestyle appears very quaint and appealing. In addition to that, I really liked the stories of the real life knights and their heroic deeds. These knights aren't household names but they should be, with Godfrey de Bouillon right at the top of the list.
Early in the book we see chivalry described as "the armed force in the service of the unarmed Truth" and that alone is the best description I have ever heard of it. The book is older and sometimes challenges the reader (in a good way) to go looking up some of the references to older literature but it winds up being a fun trip through some literature I didn't even know existed. It's rather plain-spoken for an older text as well and doesn't hide it's defense of the faith. Gautier seems to be just as knightly with his pen as those medieval knights were with their swords.
The book supplies you with the side of chivalry that has often been absent from mainstream history books: the centrality of the Faith in the military profession. You will encounter many hitherto unknown knights as you follow the life of a dameoiseau from infancy to death.
While a bibliography and a glossary of terms would have certainly been helpful (perhaps a suggestion for future editions?), the book is packed with enough content to earn a five-star review.
I gave this book as gift to my husband, and he loved it. It’s inspired him to be a better husband, father, Christian, and man!
A very in-depth book about Chivalry!