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Page, Esquire, and Knight by  Marion Florence Lansing


 

 

THE ORDER OF ST. GEORGE

How the order came to be

[144] For two hundred years the knights of Christendom made the conquest of the Holy Land their goal. Ever and anon as the years went by and one Crusade after another failed in its purpose of driving the heathen forever out of Palestine, a new king or priest or warrior would come forward and summon the knights to join once more in this sacred enterprise. But the time came when the crusading spirit passed, and there was no great mission to unite all men of chivalry and honor. King Edward the Third of England pondered long over this matter, as the chronicler tells us, and then resolved to rebuild the great castle of Windsor, formerly founded by King Arthur, and there in that place, where the Round Table was first established, to [145] create an order of knights, the bravest in the land. They were to be forty in number, and the day when they should be called together should be the feast day of St. George; and because you do not know the story of St. George as it was told to every page in England before ever he became an esquire, I am going to tell it to you now as it is written in the ancient books of England. Then you will see why this new order of knights met on St. George's day and were called by his name, and why the rallying cry of every English army was

"St. George of merry England.

The sign of victory."

How St. George fought the dragon

"And by my pen I will recite

St. George's deeds, an English knight."

[146] Away back in the second century after Christ, many hundred years before the coming of King Arthur, the ancient city of Coventry gave birth to St. George, the first Christian hero of England, who was also the first knight-errant that ever sought adventure in foreign lands. He deemed it dishonorable, when he grew to be a man, to spend his time at home in idleness, and not achieve somewhat by valor and prowess, so he set out from England in search of worthy adventure.

After many months of travel by sea and land George came in his journeyings to Egypt, which country was then greatly annoyed by a dangerous dragon. It is a fearsome description of him that the minstrel of that day gives.

[147]

"Within that country there did rest

A dreadful dragon, fierce and fell,

Whereby they were full sore oppressed.

Who by his poisonous breath each day

Did many of the city slay.

His skin more hard than brass was found,

That sword nor lance could pierce nor wound."

This terrible dragon had ranged up and down the country for twenty-four years, killing many and leaving devastation in his path.

George, seeking for shelter one night, was told this tale by an old hermit at whose door he knocked. Only on days when an innocent maiden was offered up to be swallowed alive, the old man told him, did the dragon cease to give forth this poisonous breath, against which no man living could stand. But now, alas! all the maidens had been offered up. In all Egypt there was none left but the king's daughter, and on the morrow she must give herself to the dragon unless some brave knight could be found who should have courage to encounter him and kill him. To such a knight the king had promised to [148] give his daughter in marriage and the crown of Egypt after his death.

The tale of this terrible monster and the news of the royal reward so fired the English knight that he vowed that he would either save the king's daughter or lose his own life in so glorious an enterprise. He took his repose with the old hermit that night, and at sunrise buckled on his armor and journeyed to the valley where the king's daughter was to be offered up. The bold knight had scarce entered the valley where the dragon had his abode, when the fiery monster caught sight of him and sent forth from his leathern throat a sound more terrible than thunder. George turned and beheld the dreadful sight. The size of this fell dragon was fearful to behold, for his length from his shoulder to his tail was more than fifty feet, and the scales on his body shone like glittering brass. The knight rode against him with all his speed, thrusting his spear straight at the fiery dragon's jaws, but it broke to splinters against those brass-like scales.

[149]

"The dragon then 'gan him assail,

And smote our hero with his tail;

Then down before him went horse and man,

Two ribs of George were bruised then.

Up started George with right good will,

And after ran the dragon still.

The dragon was aggrieved sore,

And smote at George more and more.

Long and hard was the fight

Between the dragon and the knight."

At last George hit him under the right wing, which was the only place where there were no scales. He smote so hard with his sword that it went in up to the hilt, and the dragon fell lifeless on the ground.

Thus within the view of the maiden who was waiting to be offered up he slew the dragon.

"When as that valiant champion there

Had slain the dragon in the field,

To court he brought the lady fair,

Which to all hearts much joy did yield."

When the people of the city saw him coming with the dragon's head upon his spear, they began to ring the bells, and brought [150] him into town with great procession. Not only in Egypt but in all the world he was held in great honor, and was made welcome in every place wherever he journeyed for that brave deed. In those days he was reckoned one of the seven great champions of the world, and so dearly did all knights hold him in remembrance in later days that they called upon him for aid in battle, thinking of him as a saint in heaven; and the story goes, as you have read, that when the knights were in great danger at Jerusalem, he did appear to Godfrey and the army and signed them on to enter and conquer the Holy City. Many times the soldiers returned from battle with the tale of how, when the day was going against them and they had prayed for aid, they had seen St. George appear in white armor, with the blood-red cross on his shoul- [151] der and the dragon on his shield, and always thereafter the soldiers pushed forward with fresh enthusiasm and won the day, shouting,

"St. George of merry England,

The sign of victory."


[Illustration]

How the order of St. George was founded

Therefore it was that King Edward called his knights together on the day of St. George, when he would found a new order of knighthood, whose members should perform in their day deeds as brave and as needful as those of St. George and of the knights of the Round Table.

First he summoned all the earls and barons and knights of the whole realm, and signified his purpose and great desire to form such an order. They all concurred joyfully in this, for it appeared to them an honorable undertaking. Forty knights were elected, who were known and celebrated as the greatest, and they bound themselves by oath and fealty to obey the ordinances agreed upon. For their name they took "The Order of St. George," and for the distinctive garment of the order a blue woolen mantle lined with scarlet (save the king's, which was lined with ermine), and upon every mantle were wrought the [153] arms of St. George. There is a pretty story of the way their motto came to them, and it shows well the knightly courtesy of those days.

A few days before the feast of St. George, while the king was still planning the brotherhood, the garter of the queen or one of the noble ladies of the court fell off as she danced. King Edward bent to take it from the ground and, observing the smiles of the courtiers, exclaimed, "Evil be to him who evil thinks," adding that the garter would soon be held in such high estimation that they would count themselves happy if they were permitted to wear it. When the order of St. George was founded, every knight wore upon his shoulder a garter of blue cloth or silk embroidered with gold, and upon it was inscribed the motto of the order, "Evil be to him who evil thinks"; by which the knights meant that only to him who carried evil in his heart would the world be evil.

When the forty knights were elected, they sent heralds to proclaim in France and Scotland, Burgundy and Flanders, Brabant and [154] the German Empire, that the order of St. George would hold at Windsor Castle a feast and tourney to which all knights and esquires were invited. To all who should be willing to come a safe-conduct would be granted until fifteen days after the feast, no matter what wars should be going on at the time. There was to be held at this feast a jousting by the forty knights of the order of St. George against all comers, and also by forty esquires. So should they prove their knightly skill to all the world. Moreover, the queen of England, accompanied by three hundred ladies and damsels, was to be present.

The king made great preparations for the feast, and for fifteen days the tourney was held at Windsor Castle. Many knights crossed the sea to be present, and there was great feasting and much skillful tourneying.

Thus King Edward renewed in those later days the order of the Round Table, making St. George the patron thereof. In every land like orders of knighthood were founded, and for the time the glory of chivalry was renewed.


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