ePub 版

humble, discreet, and as free from stain in mind as person: let him take up the cudgels for his newly acquired honour, delight in knightly exercises, follow arms without consideration of life or fortune; and, at the first tournament in which he shall be engaged, let him push his prowess to the utmost to obtain the prize. If he come off victor at the first tourney in which he bears a buckler, he is thenceforth raised to a new rank, assumes the title of bachelor, and becomes the object of admiration and fame."—" But it sufficeth not to have been' victor at the tournament: on his return to his castle, on his putting on the weeds of peace, he must be as distinguished by his courteousness and generosity, as by valour and intrepidity in the field. If rich, let him share his wealth with poorer knights; let him unlock his wardrobe, and distribute his superfluous garments amongst the minstrels—for such is the profession of arms :"—the thunder of battle in the field; the fountain of joyousness in the hall!"—Extrait des Poesies Provencales, vol. 2.

Another Provencal piece will complete the picture of perfect knighthood. It is a Tenson, or dispute between three Troubadours. The business is, to choose from amongst as many knights, the most worthy; and each of the poets displays his reasons for preferring his favourite to the other two. One of these lords is esteemed for his integrity and justice; another, animated by a steady courage, is ever prepared to defend or avenge his subjects; the third, liberal and magnificent, distinguishes himself by the use he makes of his riches, in maintaining open court for all comers, and scattering his bounty with a free hand. These three qualities united,—equity, valour, and generosity,—would therefore have formed a perfect knight; and, in fact, they comprehend all the obligations, which, for the benefit of humanity, chivalry imposed on those who submitted to its ordinances. Being the judge of his peers, and the protector of his vassals, it was the duty of a knight to award impartial justice to the former; and to defend the latter from their enemies, and, as a common father, assist and support them in their wants and misfortunes.

"He was likewise expected to soften the dignity or fierceness of his character, by a mild, modest, and courteous manner, and to keep his word sacred and inviolate."

Here chivalry appears in the splendour of its virtues, awakening our enthusiasm, and appealing to our best ideas of justice and excellence; and we do not doubt that many knights proposed this fine model to themselves, and acted up to it, as far as the weakness of humanity permitted. But the generality were far from regarding purity of sentiment and manners as essential to a member of chivalry. Courage, and a certain species of rude devotion, were the only qualities that maintained any thing like a general sway; every other knightly excellence vanished before untoward circumstances, and left the rough soldier to the guidance of his natural propensities. St. Palaye, in drawing a picture of the knights-errant, gives us but too much reason to think them vicious and unprincipled. Their wandering through desert and retired places, in search of adventures, sometimes brought them into temptations which they could not resist; nor could their oath, or the tablets of record,* restrain them within the pale of virtue.

"But without confining ourselves, says the author, to these adventurers, it is certain that even the regular knights paid but small regard to either religion or the state. They had made a vow to defend, maintain, and exalt both; they had been honoured by the church with the title of viscount, &c. yetnever ceased to abuse their authority, to the prejudice even of those who had placed themselves under their protection. Under the name of >patrons, they were real oppressors, seizing upon the property of those very ecclesiastics for whose defence they pretended to wear arms."

"I have shewn, in the beginning of these memoirs, what were the lessons inculcated on the minds of the youth who were devoted to chivalry, and therefore the fruits they produced will not excite astonishment. A completely superstitious creed seemed to be the sole rule of their conduct. They understood nothing farther than those exterior practices commanded by the priests, as ignorant, most commonly, as those whose consciences they governed. But being scrupulously exact in the performance of these frivolous practices, they believed themselves authorized by this regularity, and a few donations made to the churches and monks, to violate every law of religion and humanity. Knights who were polluted with crimes, flattered themselves with possessing an easy way of expiating their sins, by taking advantage of the first opportunity to go in pilgrimage to the Holy Land, or on some expedition against infidels or heretics. If this remedy should be out of their power, they did not doubt being able to elude the divine vengeance, when, at the end of their days, quitting the helmet for the cassock, they wrapped themselves in the mantle of some monastic order; nay, were frequently satisfied with ordering, at the moment of death, that their remains should be clothed with those venerated garments."f

* A knight's oath was composed of twenty-six articles; among which, the most curious, perhaps, was that by which he was compelled, on returning from an expedition or enterprize, to render a faithful account of his adventures, whether honourable or not. These relations were inscribed in the books of the heralds, or officers at arms; and served to support the courage, or console the misfortunes of young adventurers; as well as to keep up, according to St. Palaye's notion, a love of truth in the breasts of the knights.

t An anecdote of the valiant Stephen Vignolles,surnamed Lahire, will place before us the exact form which religion had assumed in the

"Our ancient knights likewise mingled gallantry in such a manner with their religion, that I shall easily be pardoned for never mentioning them apart. And if their Christianity was nothing more than a deplorable mass of superstition, we are not to form a higher idea of their amusements with the dames and damsels, of their conversations, and of the endless recitals, made by them and their squires, of their exploits in battle and war. Although the ladies commonly enjoyed in thencompany the recreations of the chace, is it to be credited that they were constantly to be entertained by discourses on dogs and birds—i. e. of falconry and hunting—with which they were sometimes amused; and in which the knights indulged themselves in explaining the nature of birds and animals, their qualities and peculiarities, the methods of preserving the race, &c? Inthose days the principal merit of a knight consisted in being brave, gay, handsome, and amorous. When it had been said that he could discourse equally well of birds, dogs, arms, and love—when this eulogy upon his mind and genius had been pronounced, imagination could add nothing to the picture.

"They never spoke of love without defining the character and essence of the true and perfect passion, and were soon lost in a labyrinth of speculative questions, upon the most delicious, or terrible situations in which a sincere and tender heart could be placed; upon the most amiable or odious qualities of a mistress, &c. The false subtleties which each employed to defend his positions were sometimes supported by the most indecent declamations against women—sometimes by pompous common-places in their favour, which had been a thousand times refuted. These lovers of the golden age of gallantry—who seem to have taken from the Scotists, rather than from Plato, their ideas and definitions of love—this species of enthusiasts boasted of being enamoured of the virtues, talents, and graces of their dames—of finding in these the only source of the happiness of their lives—and of merely aspiring to maintain, exalt, and spread abroad in all places, their reputation and glory.—Yet this metaphysical love, this vast field in which the most intellectual of these devoted servitors of the dames exercised their wit, had not banished from their conversation, the most obscene images, allusions, and equivoques. Indecency, indeed, was carried as far as it would go, in all the writings, and more especially in the poetry of the times; and this by the most noble personages then

minds of these warriors:—" He was proceeding in company with the Count de Dunois, to raise the siege of Montargis, in 1427. Drawing near the camp (of the English) Lahire fell in with a chaplain, of whom he requested immediate absolution. The priest bade him confess his sins. Lahire replied that there was no time for confession, but that he had been guilty of all the usual sins of a soldier. Upon this the chaplain granted him absolution; and Lahire, clasping his hands together, made the following prayer in his Gascon jargon. "God, 1 beg of thee that thou wouldest this day do as much for Lahire, as thou wouldest Lahire should do for thee, if he were God, and thou wert Lahire.'" And he believed himself, says the historian, to have prayed very properly.

professing the gay science, that is, the art of versification. And, as the superstition of our devout knights was only one step from irreligion, so was their fanaticism in love very closely allied to the most gross and unbridled libertinism. Never was there greater corruption of manners than in the times of chivalry—never was the empire of debauchery more universal. There were whole streets and quarters in every city set apart for the indulgence of voluptuousness; and St. Louis discovered a brothel close to his own tent in the most holy of the crusades, &c."

But enough of the manners of those good old times; they were not of a nature to be closely scrutinized; and SaintePalaye very judiciously observes, that their ignorance was not a better security against vice, than the excessive civilization of our own.

As the knights were much addicted to rambling about the country, it was of consequence that they should have some places of resort; and, feeling this, a great number of lords and gentlemen were accustomed to suspend antique helmets upon the gates of their castles, to serve the knights who might wander that way, as beacons of hospitality. But before describing the nature of this hospitality, it may be proper to sketch a short outline of the knight, with his travelling pomp and retinue.

"When the knight mounted his horse, the squires of the body held his stirrup; and other squires carried the various pieces of his armour, such as the brassards, the gauntlets, the helmet, and the buckler, on the road. With regard to the cuirass, called also hauberk or plastron, the knight was no less careful of its preservation, than the Greek and Roman soldiers were of their bucklers. Other squires bore the pennon, the lance, and the sword. While merely on a journey, he used a short-tailed, ambling-paced, horse—a palfry or courser; and the war horses were led by the squires, who, always keeping them on their right hand, they were called dextriers. The warhorse was delivered to the knight on the appearance of an enemy, or when he was about entering the field of battle: this was what they called mounting the great horse. When travelling, the squire carried his master's helmet resting upon the pummel of his saddle; but" when preparing for fight," this helmet, and all the other parts of his arms offensive and defensive, were given him by the different squires whp had them in their keeping, all evincing equal eagerness in assisting him to arm. By this means they were taught the art of arming themselves on a future day, with the dispatch and caution necessary for the protection of their persons. And, in fact, it was an art which demanded much skill and ability, to place together and fasten the joints of the cuirass, and the other pieces of armour; to fit and lace the helmet upon the head with exactness; and to nail and rivet carefully the visor or ventail."

But this nailing and lacing did not, of course, take place


when they were about entering hospitable castles; yet it did not unfrequently on their leaving them. For, as it was customary for rich widows and heiresses to entrust the government of their lands and castles to some celebrated knights, whom they frequently rewarded with their hand, it was common to see these redoubted champions rush from the festive board, to the performance of some of their wildest exploits.

"While they remained in these castles, however, the whole expense of maintaining both them and their retinue devolved upon their host, who likewise loaded them with presents at their departure. These consisted of arms, precious robes, horses, and even of money; and the greatest lords accepted these gifts without the least scruple."

The journeyings, fastings, and feastings of the knights terminated more frequently in a tournament than in a battle; and as they could display their splendour and agility with less risk and equal honour in the former, we may be pretty sure the tourney was generally preferred. There was, indeed, another most weighty reason for this preference: the ladies, notwithstanding their warlike propensities, did not think fit to honour real battles with their presence; but, to the tournaments

"in crowds they ran, Some to undo, &c."

This was enough. Tourneys were multiplied like locust-clouds in the desert, after a mild winter; and it was in vain that the popes fulminated their anathemas against them. In these, chivalry exhausted its magnificence and enthusiasm. Nothing, in the imagination of the times, could surpass the splendour of a tournament; the wealth of individuals and nations was drained to furnish out these expensive shows; which, although more noble, were little less inhuman than the Roman amusements of the amphitheatre. But let Sainte-Palaye describe them.

"When knights were created in time of peace, they generally gave a tournament, and it is easy to imagine what emotion the proclamation of these solemn spectacles gave rise to in every breast, being announced a long time before they took place throughout every canton, court, and province; and always in the most pompous language, they animated the knights and squires resident to institute others, in which they prepared themselves, by every kind of exercise, to appear upon a more splendid scene. Thus the gentlemen, far from remaining idle in their castles, practised the same exercise together daily, in order to obtain the flattering rewards which were always proposed in these private tourneys, looking to triumph one day in those solemn spectacles, in which the flower of all the courts of Europe would be spectators. While the places in which the tournaments

« 上一頁繼續 »