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Men of Iron by  Howard Pyle


 

 

KNIGHTHOOD

[220] IN MYLES FALWORTH'S day one of the greatest ceremonies of courtly life was that of the bestowal of knighthood by the King, with the honors of the Bath. By far the greater number of knights were at that time created by other knights, or by nobles, or by officers of the crown. To be knighted by the King in person distinguished the recipient for life. It was this signal honor that the Earl, for his own purposes, wished Myles to enjoy, and for this end he had laid not a few plans.

The accolade was the term used for the creation of a knight upon the field of battle. It was a reward of valor or of meritorious service, and was generally bestowed in a more or less off-hand way; but the ceremony of the Bath was an occasion of the greatest courtly moment, and it was thus that [221] Myles Falworth was to be knighted in addition to the honor of a royal belting.

A quaint old book treating of knighthood and chivalry gives a full and detailed account of all the circumstances of the ceremony of a creation of a Knight of the Bath. It tells us that the candidate was first placed under the care of two squires of honor, "grave and well seen in courtship and nurture, and also in feats of chivalry," which same were likewise to be governors in all things relating to the coming honors.

First of all, the barber shaved him, and cut his hair in a certain peculiar fashion ordained for the occasion, the squires of honor supervising the operation. This being concluded, the candidate was solemnly conducted to the chamber where the bath of tepid water was prepared, "hung within and without with linen, and likewise covered with rich cloths and embroidered linen." While in the bath two "ancient, grave, and reverend knights" attended the bachelor, giving him "meet instructions in the order and feats of chivalry." The candidate was then examined as to his knowledge and acquirements, and then, all questions being answered to the satisfaction of his examiners, the elder of the two dipped a handful of water out from the bath, and poured it upon his head, at the [222] same time signing his left shoulder with the sign of the cross.

As soon as this ceremony was concluded, the two squires of honor helped their charge from the bath, and conducted him to a plain bed without hangings, where they let him rest until his body was warm and dry. Then they clad him in a white linen shirt, and over it a plain robe of russet, "girdled about the loins with a rope, and having a hood like unto a hermit."

As soon as the candidate had arisen, the two "ancient knights" returned, and all being in readiness he was escorted to the chapel, the two walking, one upon either side of him, his squires of honor marching before, and the whole party preceded by "sundry minstrels making a loud noise of music."

When they came to the chapel, the two knights who escorted him took leave of the candidate, each saluting him with a kiss upon the cheek. No one remained with him but his squires of honor, the priest, and the chandler.

In the mean time the novitiate's armor, sword, lance, and helmet had been laid in readiness before the altar. These he watched and guarded while the others slept, keeping vigil until sunrise, during which time "he shall," says the ancient [223] authority, "pass the night in orisons, prayers, and meditation." At daylight he confessed to the priest, heard matins, and communicated in mass, and then presented a lighted candle at the altar, with a piece of money stuck in it as close to the flame as could be done, the candle being offered to the honor of God, and the money to the honor of that person who was to make him a knight.


[Illustration]

THESE HE WATCHED AND GUARDED WHILE THE OTHERS SLEPT.

So concluded the sacred ceremony, which being ended his squires conducted the candidate to his chamber, and there made him comfortable, and left him to repose for a while before the second and final part of the ordinance.

Such is a shortened account of the preparatory stages of the ceremonies through which Myles Falworth passed.

Matters had come upon him so suddenly one after the other, and had come with such bewildering rapidity that all that week was to him like some strange, wonderful, mysterious vision. He went through it all like one in a dream. Lord George Beaumont was one of his squires of honor; the other, by way of a fitting complement to the courage of the chivalrous lad, was the Sieur de la Montaigne, his opponent soon to be. They were well versed in everything relating to knightcraft, and Myles followed all their directions with pas- [224] sive obedience. Then Sir James Lee and the Comte de Vermoise administered the ceremony of the Bath, the old knight examining him in the laws of chivalry.

It occurs perhaps once or twice in one's lifetime that one passes through great happenings—sometimes of joy, sometimes of dreadful bitterness—in just such a dazed state as Myles passed through this. It is only afterwards that all comes back to one so sharply and keenly that the heart thrills almost in agony in living it over again. But perhaps of all the memory of that time, when it afterwards came back piece by piece, none was so clear to Myles's back-turned vision as the long night spent in the chapel, watching his armor, thinking such wonderful thoughts, and dreaming such wonderful wide-eyed dreams. At such times Myles saw again the dark mystery of the castle chapel; he saw again the half-moon gleaming white and silvery through the tall, narrow window, and throwing a broad form of still whiteness across stone floor, empty seats, and still, motionless figures of stone effigies. At such times he stood again in front of the twinkling tapers that lit the altar where his armor lay piled in a heap, heard again the deep breathing of his companions of the watch sleeping in some empty stall, wrapped each [225] in his cloak, and saw the old chandler bestir himself, and rise and come forward to snuff the candles. At such times he saw again the day growing clearer and clearer through the tall, glazed windows, saw it change to a rosy pink, and then to a broad, ruddy glow that threw a halo of light around Father Thomas's bald head bowed in sleep, and lit up the banners and trophies hanging motionless against the stony face of the west wall; heard again the stirring of life without and the sound of his companions arousing themselves; saw them come forward, and heard them wish him joy that his long watch was ended.

It was nearly noon when Myles was awakened from a fitful sleep by Gascoyne bringing in his dinner, but, as might be supposed, he had but little hunger, and ate sparingly. He had hardly ended his frugal meal before his two squires of honor came in, followed by a servant carrying the garments for the coming ceremony. He saluted them gravely, and then arising, washed his face and hands in a basin which Gascoyne held; then kneeled in prayer, the others standing silent at a little distance. As he arose, Lord George came forward.

"The King and the company come presently to [226] the Great Hall, Myles," said he; "it is needful for thee to make all the haste that thou art able."

Perhaps never had Devlen Castle seen a more brilliant and goodly company gathered in the great hall than that which came to witness King Henry create Myles Falworth a knight bachelor.

At the upper end of the hall was a raised dais, upon which stood a throne covered with crimson satin and embroidered with lions and flower-deluces; it was the King's seat. He and his personal attendants had not yet come, but the rest of the company were gathered. The day being warm and sultry, the balcony was all aflutter with the feather fans of the ladies of the family and their attendants, who from this high place looked down upon the hall below. Up the centre of the hall was laid a carpet of arras, and the passage was protected by wooden railings. Upon the one side were tiers of seats for the castle gentlefolks and the guests. Upon the other stood the burghers from the town, clad in sober dun and russet, and yeomanry in green and brown. The whole of the great vaulted hall was full of the dull hum of many people waiting, and a ceaseless restlessness stirred the crowded throng. But at last a whisper went around that the King was coming. A momentary hush fell, and through it was heard the noisy clat- [227] ter of horses' feet coming nearer and nearer, and then stopping before the door. The sudden blare of trumpets broke through the hush; another pause, and then in through the great door-way of the hall came the royal procession.

First of all marched, in the order of their rank, and to the number of a score or more, certain gentlemen, esquires and knights, chosen mostly from the King's attendants. Behind these came two pursuivants-at-arms in tabards, and following them a party of a dozen more bannerets and barons. Behind these again, a little space intervening, came two heralds, also in tabards, a group of the greater nobles attendant upon the King following in the order of their rank. Next came the King-at-arms and, at a little distance and walking with sober slowness, the King himself, with the Earl and the Count directly attendant upon him—the one marching upon the right hand and the other upon the left. A breathless silence filled the whole space as the royal procession advanced slowly up the hall. Through the stillness could be heard the muffled sound of the footsteps on the carpet, the dry rustling of silk and satin garments, and the clear clink and jingle of chains and jewelled ornaments, but not the sound of a single voice.

[228] After the moment or two of bustle and confusion of the King taking his place had passed, another little space of expectant silence fell. At last there suddenly came the noise of acclamation of those who stood without the door—cheering and the clapping of hands—sounds heralding the immediate advent of Myles and his attendants. The next moment the little party entered the hall.

First of all, Gascoyne, bearing Myles's sword in both hands, the hilt resting against his breast, the point elevated at an angle of forty-five degrees. It was sheathed in a crimson scabbard, and the belt of Spanish leather studded with silver bosses was wound crosswise around it. From the hilt of the sword dangled the gilt spurs of his coming knighthood. At a little distance behind his squire followed Myles, the centre of all observation. He was clad in a novitiate dress, arranged under Lord George's personal supervision. It had been made somewhat differently from the fashion usual at such times, and was intended to indicate in a manner the candidate's extreme youthfulness and virginity in arms. The outer garment was a tabard robe of white wool, embroidered at the hem with fine lines of silver, and gathered loosely at the waist with a belt of lavender leather stitched with thread of silver. Beneath he was clad in armor (a [229] present from the Earl), new and polished till it shone with dazzling brightness, the breastplate covered with a juppon of white satin, embroidered with silver. Behind Myles, and upon either hand, came his squires of honor, sponsors, and friends—a little company of some half-dozen in all. As they advanced slowly up the great, dim, high-vaulted room, the whole multitude broke forth into a humming buzz of applause. Then a sudden clapping of hands began near the door-way, ran down through the length of the room, and was taken up by all with noisy clatter.

"Saw I never youth so comely," whispered one of the Lady Anne's attendant gentlewomen. "Sure he looketh as Sir Galahad looked when he came first to King Arthur's court."

Myles knew that he was very pale; he felt rather than saw the restless crowd of faces upon either side, for his eyes were fixed directly before him, upon the dais whereon sat the King, with the Earl of Mackworth standing at his right hand, the Comte de Vermoise upon the left, and the others ranged around and behind the throne. It was with the same tense feeling of dreamy unreality that Myles walked slowly up the length of the hall, measuring his steps by those of Gascoyne. Suddenly he felt Lord George Beaumont touch him [230] lightly upon the arm, and almost instinctively he stopped short—he was standing just before the covered steps of the throne.

He saw Gascoyne mount to the third step, stop short, kneel, and offer the sword and the spurs he carried to the King, who took the weapon and laid it across his knees. Then the squire bowed low, and walking backward withdrew to one side, leaving Myles standing alone facing the throne. The King unlocked the spur chains from the sword-hilt, and then, holding the gilt spurs in his hand for a moment, he looked Myles straight in the eyes and smiled. Then he turned, and gave one of the spurs to the Earl of Mackworth.

The Earl took it with a low bow, turned, and came slowly down the steps to where Myles stood. Kneeling upon one knee, and placing Myles's foot upon the other, Lord Mackworth set the spur in its place and latched the chain over the instep. He drew the sign of the cross upon Myles's bended knee, set the foot back upon the ground, rose with slow dignity, and bowing to the King, drew a little to one side.

As soon as the Earl had fulfilled his office the King gave the second spur to the Comte de Vermoise, who set it to Myles's other foot with the same ceremony that the Earl had observed, with- [231] drawing as he had done to one side.

An instant pause of motionless silence followed, and then the King slowly arose, and began deliberately to unwind the belt from around the scabbard of the sword he held. As soon as he stood, the Earl and the Count advanced, and taking Myles by either hand, led him forward and up the steps of the dais to the platform above. As they drew a little to one side, the King stooped and buckled the sword-belt around Myles's waist, then, rising again, lifted his hand and struck him upon the shoulder, crying, in a loud voice.

"Be thou a good knight!"

Instantly a loud sound of applause and the clapping of hands filled the whole hall, in the midst of which the King laid both hands upon Myles's shoulders and kissed him upon the right cheek. So the ceremony ended; Myles was no longer Myles Falworth, but Sir Myles Falworth, Knight by Order of the Bath and by grace of the King!


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