ePub 版

of peace, clothed in ermine, and ven truth would prevail in the combat, erable with age and learning; they were few men, it was argued, would dare to either the peers or equals of the chal- maintain a downright perjury in single lenger, or of his feudal superior, a fight, or if they did, would, under the baron, not of the coif, but of the sword. fearful presentiments of an evil conThe trial of this appeal took place, as science, be likely to succeed in the we have said, in the court of the Lord encounter. At all events, it was but paramount, where the challenger did leaving, it might be said, to the chance battle either with the first of the peers of battle those cases which, as they who had passed judgment on him, afforded no grounds for legal decision, with three of their number, or with the must in some sort be left to chance. whole of them, according to certain After the trial by jury had been exrules for this species of forensic dis- tensively applied by Henry II., there play. If in the baron's court, where still remained a class of cases where the accused was first brought to trial, the principle of the combat was ex. as peers chose to give a judgment clusively applicable. Bracton, a law which they should have thus gallantly writer of the period, mentions a case to defend, the baron himself was com of this kind.

A person was charged pelled to uphold the justice of his own with having poisoned a man; the accourt; which must needs have made cuser, called the appellant, (from an him anxious to have about him able old French word, appeller, to accuse,) bodied and stout-hearted councillors. was willing, in the language of the Accordingly, there might accrue this times, to prove the fact on the body of advantage from even so preposterous the accused, the appellee.

The aca thing as the appeal of false judg- cused, however, was not willing that ment-it might present, more especi- his body should be used for any such ally as it prevailed where subinfeuda- judicial purpose, and desired to be tion had been permitted, the admin. tried by a jury-by the country, as it istration of justice from falling into was then styled. But it was decided mean and contemptible hands. In that he had no election-he must deEngland, there was no appeal of false fend himself per corpus, by his body; judgment, or rather none that was for, says Bracton, “ the patria, the tried by arms,

And in France, as no country could know nothing of a con. challenge could be given of the king's cealed fact like this.” court, there being no superior court At a later time the well-known eninto which the appeal could be carried, counter between the Dukes of Here. there was one expedient by which the ford and Norfolk, which was interlord might escape the inconvenience rupted so strangely by Richard II., of a combat, if in those fighting days was an instance of the strict applicathis could possibly be thought an in- tion of the law of combat. The scanconvenience. Should the criminal be dalous words which Hereford accused too powerful to be dealt with by his Norfolk of having uttered, being spoimmediate superior, the cause could ken in the presence of no witness, there be carried at once to the king's court, could be no corroborative evidence; or he could send down his peers to there was merely oath gainst oat

and the battle was to determine whose Perhaps our readers may not be oath was strongest. unwilling to take a glance at the man From the judicial combat, on the ner in which the combat was dealt one hand, and, on the other, from a with by the English law, as it advanced peculiar sense of honour generated by in judicial wisdom and dignity. Even the institution of chivalry, we have after that jurisprudence had assumed derived our custom of duelling. The some degree of form and consistency, judicial combat had supplied men with its lawyers were compelled to admit the notion of a formal regulated enthe combat into the system. They gagement, by which legal disputes, were fain to reason upon it as a mode especially between gentlemen, were to of testing the credibility of a witness be decided ; and chivalry created new to be applied when there was a failure offences by the extreme sensitiveness of corroborative evidence. Reason, to personal indignity which it encoubefore she triumphs over an absurdity, raged. By the law of the ancient labours to make it look as much like Franks, if a freeman struck another good sense as she can. If a general freeman three blows, (a less number, belief existed that the party who spoke we suppose, was not worth considera

try it.

[ocr errors]

tion,) he was fined three sous; if he with death a rude contradiction, or a drew blood, fifteen. With the de. blow, which wounded nothing but scendant of those Franks, a single pride. When, therefore, the lists were blow, however slight, could be aven abandoned as a place for the trial of ged only by the blood of the aggress legal controversies, they were re-ocsor. Nay, the lie given was a mortal cupied, and with somewhat more prooffence. Yet the laws of a country priety, for the determination of those made for all men, citizen and noble, private quarrels which no law could knight and peasant, could not visit hope to determine.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]


[ocr errors][ocr errors]

This leads to our subject of chivalry only wonder is, that oaths and pro. -on which who is there that loves not mises could continue to answer the to descant ? Yet the reader need not purpose of deception, for which alone, fear that we shall din or dazzle him in the court of Richard, they seem to with battle or with tournament. have been employed. We begin to

It is the peculiar advantage of this doubt if the virtues of chivalry ever our miscellaneous literature, that it existed except in fable and in song. allows the writer to give out upon old But having disabused ourselves of topics just what he thinks may be new the flattering notions which poets or acceptable, without trudging his and fabulists may have instilled into methodical way, treatise-fashion, over us, we must not fall into the opposite ground familiar to all. He is enabled error of a total and arid scepticism. to communicate, with as little of intro The well-known fact that knights, ductory matter as may be, just those when taken prisoner, were often reobservations or notices which he leased upon their parole, in order to thinks himself entitled to call his own; obtain their ransom, shows that chiand can at once place his subject in valry was not altogether a dead letter that aspect which appears to him no at least in the intercouse of war. vel, or which, at least, has come out The higher virtues of chivalry never to his optics, as he fancies, with more could have belonged to a whole class, than usual distinctness.

any more than the enthusiastic and Turning from romance to history, single-hearted piety which led to a we are disappointed at finding that seclusion from the world could be chivalry had so little influence on the perpetuated in an order of monks. Its manners of feudal barons who em disinterested heroism-its pursuit of braced the institution. If we regard glory, through deeds not of valour only, these men of gentle blood in their more but performed in defence of the right private life, we find them carrying on - in the service of the weak, or for perpetual wars against each other, or the advocacy of the true faith,-all this even descending into the plains from could have been realized only in a their castles to pillage the inhabitants few singular and elevated spirits. But of towns, or the passing traveller; and, these, its true disciples and bright exif we contemplate them as they come emplars, threw a splendour over the before us on the public stage, and in whole order, and certainly extended the full light of history, we find in throughout, and to the least of its their conduct, not only violence and members, a jealous sense of honour, bloodshed, but consummate treachery and a fear of reproach from cowardice and falsehood, most unknightly vices, or falsehood, the effect of which EuroWe need only turn to our own annals., pean society feels to this day. Many Take the reign of Richard II., which a good knight might have been living immediately succeeded what we are in the worst of times, though the counaccustomed to regard as the zenith cil-chamber of a crafty monarch was of chivalry—we seem to be read not the place to find him. Nor let us ing a page out of the worst period deny the institution its influence beof Italian history, when the political cause it failed to answer purposes quite adventurers of that country were con beyond its scope. From chivalry nostantly aiming at tyranny_through thing could be expected in the way of fraud and assassination. Treachery political reformation. It taught no more refined and cruelty less reluctant Roman or Attic virtue, whose object could hardly be practised ; and the was the good of the commonwealth ;

nor did it induce its members to look of Sir Philip Sydney, was of a higher into forms of government, or take a strain of chivalry than knights of old vivid interest in their administration. can be said to have attained. One of Its virtue was quite personal, and the these might have passed the cup of knight remained self-centred. He was water to a fellow knight, or to a poor not converted into a patriot; he was gentleman, but hardly to the plebeian not connected any more closely to his soldier. Even in the exercise of that own country. It was a European chivalrous virtue, liberality, so espeorder he had entered; one which made cially extolled by romancers and trouhim a cosmopolite, or denizen of all badours, who had, we suspect, more nations-an order which extended interest in the largess of a knight than wherever the Church extended, under any other demonstration of virtue he the shadow.of whose might it grew could possibly make—even here, we and flourished. His best qualities un meet with instances of the most curifitted him for an instrument of politi ous obliquity of moral vision. Halcal amelioration. Fidelity to engage.. lam relates the following excellent ments, preserved with Stoic rigidity, anecdote :-A Count of Champagne was the leading virtue of a true knight; was petitioned by a poor knight for a and, if once bound to a sovereign by sum to marry his daughter with. A personal allegiance, no views of expe- rich burgess, who was standing by at diency could have justified him in a de- the time, in order to relieve the Count parture from his plighted faith. How of an importunate suitor, told the the king governed, was his responsibili- knight that the Count had already ty--the knight had only to perform his given away so much that he had noown part-to maintain his own loyalty thing left. “ How say you,” cried

Nor was it to be expected that chi- the Count, turning to the unfortunate valry, itself an aristocratic institution, burgess, “ that I have nothing left, could assist in breaking down those when I have yourself!” And there. barriers which distinctions of birth with he gave the rich citizen to the had thrown up between the several poor knight, who, nothing embarrasclasses of society. Every knight sed, seized his prize by the collar, nor could give the accolade, but could relinquished him till he had paid a give it only to one of gentle blood. ransom of 500 crowns. The contemIt was a new order of nobility, highly porary writer, it seems, who tells the favourable to the poor gentleman, or story, notes in it nothing but a signal the younger brother, and therefore in instance of liberality. The Count, some measure a counterpoise to that having nothing more to give to poor feudal nobility which was founded on gentlemen who wanted a dowery for the proprietorship of the soil. But, their daughters, gives a worthy burthough confessedły the reward of per- gess to the next petitionerma whole sonal prowess, it served rather to in- burgess of very squeezable material. crease than diminish the prejudice in After all these explanations and favour of birth, by appearing to con drawbacks, chivalry still remains a fine valour and courtesy to the well. subject of just admiration, and will born; and, what is still more to the still continue to furnish the dream and disparagement of knighthood, one is romance of future ages. In dissecttempted to think, from the stories that ing its character, or tracing its origin, are told, that not only were gentle- which are often one and the same promen the sole materials out of which cess, there is no necessity to recur to knights could be made, but that gen. the customs of the Germans or Scytlemen were the only objects on which thians, or other barbarians, in their the virtues of knighthood were worthy native woods, who introduced the of being practised. The courtesies of young soldier into his military life, war seem rarely to have been extend and placed the shield upon his arm ed to the rude rabblement, as Spencer with certain solemn ceremonies. (himself, in this particular, a some

Whether these solemnities were or what too knightly poet) would have were not of a religious character, they called them, or to the plebeian towns

concern us little, for there is nothing men, who were slaughtered with as little mercy by their chivalrous con

extraordinary in the union of sacred

rites with the profession of arms. querors

, as they ever were by conquer. Many people have mingled religion

any age of the world. That with their war-few have failed to do beautiful instance of conduct related so---but with no equivalent result.

their way.

The followers of Odin were pious in tution the Church affectionately

What is peculiar to chi, watched. The priest assisted at the valry arose, not from a union of war installation of its neophyte, who perand religion, but from the nature of formed his vigiis in the Church, and that religion which was here com who received his arms from the altar. bined with the martial character. It Many a form of external worship was was Christianity disguised, but not devised in those days of sacred ritual, extinct, which was seen in this, to it and the knight had his: when at mass, so strange companionship,-it was this and while the Gospel was being read, religion which was animating the va the military champion of the cross lour of battle, presiding over the held his drawn sword before him, the pomp of life, distributing the glories hilt upon his breast, and its point of the world. Other warriors had upwards—and so he worshipped. fought under their gods of war, the But the enthusiasm of the Crusades knights were heroes marshalled under could not be perpetuated, and the chathe God of Peace. Self-renunciation racter of chivalry undergoes no slight and lowliness of heart—the perpetual modification as the scene of its exploits prayer for pardon and for mercy changes. The knight was not always sorrow, and pain, and humiliation, in Palestine, nor did the church alone made divine in the sacred object of his employ his sword. Amongst those worship-such was the spirit, such the who claimed the protection of his duty, such the contemplation of him valour the weaker sex held a conspiwho embraced the Christian faith. cuous place. The knight, with all Strange and incongruous, indeed, his capacity for endurance and volun. seems the association of such a faith tary toil, was no ascetic, nor turned with the profession of arms s-the com

with horror from the loveliness of bination of its self. denying temper woman. What more natural than that with the impetuosity of a military he, who had relinquished all selfish champion, and the boast of military advantage of his arms except their triumph. But the association, incon- glory, should lay that glory itself as gruous as it may seem, took place. a tribute at the feet of beauty? The The Christian faith could not con knight became the champion of the quer the reigning passion for war, fair-a service not barren of reward. but it made close alliance with it. It God and the ladies ! was his favourite pierced the stubborn heart of the war

Doubtless there was some imrior, though it could not turn it to perfection in a theology which could peace. Disarm he would not, but he mingle together these two objects of knelt in iron mail, and lowered his so different a species of devotion, but hanghty crest, before the image of how fresh and single-hearted does the resignation and suffering, before the ejaculation sound! God and the ladies ! most tender objects of devotion, and How it tells of a free conscience along the most affecting that ever were pre a joyous path of existence! of a spirit sented to the mind of man. And thus

open to pleasure and to piety, and came forth the character of the knight finding, perhaps, from a happy ig-a bold instance of the resolution of norance, no contradiction between moral forces. Christian humility was them ! transmuted into the courtesy of knight Disbanded from the Holy Wars, the hood; the patience of a disciple of the knight frequently had no other recross was sustaining the hardships of source than to offer his sword to the a camp; the self-renunciation of a

several potentates of Europe, whose Christian had become the devoted he. contests found for it abundant emroism of the soldier.

ployment. He was now the soldier The Crusades brought out in full of fortune ; but if a true knight, he carand sudden perfection this strange ried with him a high sense of honour compound, this warrior-Christian. that placed him above all fortune. The knights were pilgrims, marching With a steadfast, but certainly not too under spread banners to the tomb of rigid piety,—with a heart prepared for Christ. Chivalry became all but a danger, open to delight, he often wanbranch of the hierarchy; and indeed dered from court to court, partaking the two orders touched so closely at gaily of what pleasure or what battle one point as to unite in the warrior- might be found. The unsettled nature monk, or the Knights of the Temple of the times fostered this spirit of and St John. Over the whole insti. independence and of jovial ease, come


the at tendant sanctions diction, to the prevailing temper of his

according to all abundant perjury.

sisted to apply, tended only to aggra and imposed of still greater sanctity the word of a man of honour is the thus it came to be a matter of general, more binding than another. Now, to Mainly, we think, because in no period speak the truth, and adhere to your word in obedience to your vow, is all human character so broadly distintwo oaths, if more or less sacred, this ment of passion, and an undivided can only be efffected by sometimes will. breaking one of them. If to swear by cumstance that the external pomp of ing than a simple oath, the simple oath the eye this striking contrast of chasuffers disparagement. Besides which, racter, forms the secret charm which superstition in creases that mischief and captivating to all who court the Srom the real virtue to be performed, arch, the feudal noble, the bishop, the namely, that it transfers the attention procession in review the feudal mon

jauxiliary to the virtue. of the catha, as in these times, Robert inind ? He who craved solitude, and

s the simple obligation of vidual allowed to deliver himself so

npletely obscured and entirely, and with so little self-contra.

bined with toughest fortitude. Quiet of France, a. pious prince, grieved at times breed timid hearts. The orderly the amount of perjury committed, and progress of affairs brings with it so that on the most sacred relics, had an strict a dependence upon that very empty reliquary made, that men might order that we dare trust nothing to swear on that, and so be saved at fortune. And wisely are we distrust- least from the most heinous part of ful.

Fortune has nothing to bestow. their offence. All kinds of subterfuges Every thing is in the gift of sober and tricks, such as not in reality industry, or devolves in due course of touching the sacred emblem, were law,

But the very violence of rude used by the swearer to exculpate him-times which gives uncertainty to pos- from what? from the crime of medisession, and throwsa fear upon the pros- tated falsehood, of which the very perous, takes also half the cloud from subterfuge convicted him. Sometimes adversity, and, releasing the mind the trick was played by the opposite from its too anxious moorings, permits party, and the swearer was made to it at once to be adventurous and gay. take a greater oath than he thought for. The word of a knight! There was

When Haroldwent over to Normandy, a moral re-action here which has not, William, then duke of that province, perhaps, been sufficiently noticed. prevailed on him to swear that he Notwithstanding the sacred or super- would assist him in his future claims stitious character which jurisprudence to the throne of England. Harold in the Middle Ages had assumed, and took the oath, laying his hand, as he perhaps, indeed, owing in part to this thought, on a table merely covered very circumstance, there prevailed, with a cloth ; on the cloth being re

accounts, the most moved, it was discovered that there

Whatever was had been secretly conveyed under it a the cause of this evil

, or whether it box of relics of the most awful charesulted solely from the ignorance and

racter. But in such matters there is barbarity of the times, though people happily a point of reaction in men's as ignorant and barbarous have been

minds. When all this perjury and speaking the truth,) inefficient superstition was most rife,

the knight stood forth, and challenged

faith in his veracity on the simple word Oaths were invented of a gentleman. And, from that day

had been found so surest bond of confidence between man swear by the cross

and man. on the relics of a Why are these times of the knight peculiarly stringent; and and the monk so favoured of the poet, of popular belief, that one oath was

– why are they held pre-eminently entitled to the epithet, “ romantic?

of history are the great varieties of can be done ; and if guished ; each being, at the same to be made between time, informed with its full comple

This, together with cirthe ceremonial of renders these ages so acceptable

all , . the in fact no value monk, the knight, the burgess; when

was life so varied, when was the indi.

renowned for
certain it is that the remedy men per-

vate the malady

than those which unavailing. To of Canterbury, or

saint, was

that in any case

distinction is

every addition


which is inherent

to that which has

ercent as an

Never was veracity so com bad

sight of in

« 上一頁繼續 »