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The Discovery of New Worlds by  M. B. Synge

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THE DAYS OF CHIVALRY

"My knights are sworn to vows

Of utter hardihood, utter gentleness

And loving, utter faithfulness in love,

And uttermost obedience to the King."

—TENNYSON.

[90] LET us now take a look at Europe during the Crusades, and see how the people of these Middle Ages struggled from out the Dark Ages, which followed the fall of Rome, to something higher and better. We have seen how the Romans had lost their old loyal spirit. Falsehood, treachery, ingratitude—these were among the vices that had crept in to mar their manhood.

A new order of things was coming, which with the rapid spread of Christianity raised the people of Europe to a higher and better state, lifting them then, as now, beyond the civilisations of the East. The Crusades did for the countries of the West that which nothing else had done—they gave unity. A common danger made all men one. A spirit of loyalty and patriotism began slowly to arise. The idea of honourable service dawned on men, and out of the darkness of the past arose a wonderful system of chivalry. The word in French means literally one who rode on horseback; thus the warrior who served on horseback was called a knight. Let us see how a boy could [91] become a knight in these days of long ago, known as the Middle Ages.

Everywhere in Europe had risen great castles in which dwelt the large landowners or lords, the wealthiest men in the kingdoms. To these castles the little boy of seven years old was sent to serve as a page to the great man of the castle. Here he learnt how to use arms, how to ride and to become strong and useful. He learnt to obey, to be courteous, to serve his lords and ladies honourably, and to acquit himself well. At the age of fourteen the page became a squire, and acted as a personal attendant to his lord. If he were brave and true he was soon allowed to accompany his master to the field, to lead his war horse on the march, to buckle on his armour for the fight, keeping ever close to his side to help him in danger and to give him aid in need.

The ambition of every boy was to become a knight himself, a rank which made him equal in dress, in arms, and in title to the rich landowners. If he could distinguish himself in battle, or show himself courteous and honourable in times of peace, he was admitted to this holy order.

The preparation was severe. The young squire was first bathed and arrayed in white robes, in token of the unstained honour required by the laws of chivalry; new armour was given to him, and, sword in hand, he had to watch these arms all night in church till, in the early morning, service [92] was performed. His sword was then laid on the altar and blessed, while some older knight conferred on the young warrior the order of knighthood. As he knelt to take the solemn vow, he swore to protect the distressed, to maintain Right against Might, and never by word or deed to stain his character as a knight and as a Christian.

"Be thou a good and faithful knight," said the older man, touching the kneeling figure before him with the edge of the sword.

Then all present helped to lace on his helmet, gird his sword-belt, and bind on the gilt spurs which were the outward symbols of knighthood.

Added to this, he might now dress in rich silks and wear scarlet, while his horse might be clad in mail.

And still in Europe the different nations have their orders of knighthood, given for some distinguished service to king and country, while each can look back to the ages long past and still boast of a Roland, an Arthur, or a Cid, heroes of the ancient knighthood.

The Crusades, then, were a splendid chance for the young warriors of Europe to win their spurs, to show themselves loyal to their lord and to their king, to maintain Right against Might. So upon the rude manners and customs of the barbarian invaders arose from the Crusades a spirit of chivalry, which added grace and glory to the Middle Ages.

"And the new sun rose, bringing the new year."


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