THE RISE OF CHIVALRY
A knight there was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first began
To riden out, he loved chivalrie,
Trouthe and honour, freedom and curteisie.
CHAUCER: The Prologue.
URING the interval of comparative peace
that followed the downfall of the mad Caliph
Hakim, a new spirit of religious devotion
began to awaken in Christendom.
This was, to a large extent, a reaction from a truly
"dark age"—the period which immediately preceded
the end of the tenth century. Famine and pestilence
had devastated Europe, and had resulted in absolute
demoralisation of the population. Travellers went
their way in fear not only of robbery, but of a far worse
fate. It was whispered that men, women and children
had been waylaid in forest depths, torn to pieces, and
devoured alive by human wild beasts. The Church,
in her efforts to bring about a better state of things,
resorted to counsels of despair, and began to preach,
in every part of Christendom, that the end of the world
was at hand, and that the appointed time was the
thou sandth year after the birth of Christ.
The result was an outburst of intense religious
excite-  ment which did much to check the progress of evil and
outrage. It had a practical outcome, too, as is seen
in that curious institution known as the Truce of God.
In joining this, every knight took an oath not to commit
sacrilege; to treat all travellers with respect; to
"keep the peace" during the sacred days of each week —
that is, from Wednesday evening to Monday
morning; not to fight for purposes of private revenge,
and always to defend and keep sacred the persons of
women. Here we have clearly the foundation of that
spirit of chivalry which plays such a prominent part
in the Story of the Crusades.
The appointed time for the end of the world came and
went, but the spirit of devotion remained. A new
interest was awakened in the scenes of the life-work
of the Saviour, and crowds of pilgrims, young and old,
of all ranks and professions, hastened to undertake
the long and toilsome journey to the Holy Land.
Many of these suffered under the persecution of
Hakim; and even after his time, though no active
measures were taken against them, they were not
received with the favour shown in former days. But
this only added zest to the enterprise. To visit the
Church of the Holy Tomb, and to return and build a
church in his own land, became the ambition of every
man of wealth and high rank; while the poor palmer,
with his staff and hat decorated with palm sprigs or
cockle-shells, became a well-known figure upon the
roads of every country in Europe.
Says a writer of that day, "At the time there begun
to flow towards the Holy Sepulchre so great a multitude
as, ere this, no man could have hoped for. First of
all went the poorer folk, then men of middle rank,
 and lastly, very many kings and counts, marquises
and bishops; aye, and a thing that had never happened
before, many women bent their steps in the same
Things were made a little easier for them by the
conversion of the Huns to Christianity; for this enabled
the pilgrims to pass along the land route through
Hungary instead of crossing the Mediterranean and
travelling through Egypt.
Robert the Magnificent, the father of William, the
future "Conqueror," was among these eleventh century
pilgrims, and he, like many another, died before he
could return home.
Sweyn, the eldest and worst of the sons of Godwin,
was another; and Eldred, Bishop of York in the days
of William the Conqueror, made the little realm of
England famous at Jerusalem by his gift before the
Holy Sepulchre of a wonderful golden chalice.
Side by side with this spirit of religious zeal there
grew up and developed that remarkable body of
sentiment and custom known as chivalry.
Chivalry has been described as the "whole duty
of a gentleman"; and when we realise the condition
of barbarism, brutality, and vice out of which even
Western Christendom was only just emerging in the
eleventh century, we can see how important was the
work it had to do. Religion, Honour, Courtesy—those
were the three watchwords of the knight of chivalry,
and they covered a wide area of conduct.
The education of a knight began at the age of seven,
and commenced with the personal service, which was
regarded in those days as a privilege. The small boy
was proud to hold the wine-cup behind the chair of
 his lord, or his stirrup when he rode on horseback.
For the next seven years, though much of his time was
spent in waiting upon the ladies of the household, who
taught him reading, writing, music, and the laws of
chivalry, he also learnt the duties of a squire—how to
hunt and hawk, and to look after the kennels and the
stables. At the age of fourteen the boy might be called
a squire, when his duty, in addition to those mentioned,
would be to carve for his lord at table, tasting the food
first himself for fear of poison; and also, of course, to
attend upon him at all times. Thus he had to arm
him for battle, to see that his weapons were in perfect
condition, to fight by his side, and to lie before his door
while he slept.
When the squire had mastered all his duties and
obligations, he had then to "win his spurs," that is,
to perform some deed of valour that should prove him
worthy of knighthood.
The ceremony of girding on his armour was largely
a religious one. The whole of the previous night was
spent by him on his knees with his sword held upright
between his hands, before the altar upon which his
armour was laid. Thus he dedicated himself by prayer
and fasting to the service of God, and on the morrow
was solemnly consecrated by the Church to his high
office, before the armour was actually buckled on.
This last part of the ceremony was the privilege
of some fair damsel, to whom the knight was bound
to give devotion and respect. "To do the pleasure
of ladies was his chief solace and the mainspring of his
Another of the features of chivalry was that of
"brotherhood-in-arms," by which two knights vowed
 eternal faith and love to one another. They dressed
alike, wore similar armour, prayed together, supported
each other in battle and in any kind of quarrel, and had
the same friends and enemies.
That their devotion to the rules of chivalry was a
very real thing is proved over and over again by the
conduct of the knights who took part in the Crusades.
It is well expressed by Tristan, in one of the most
famous romances of the chivalric age. As he lay dying,
he said to his squire, "I take leave of chivalry which
I have so much loved and honoured. Alas! my sword,
what wilt thou do now? Wilt thou hear, Sagremor,
the most shameful word that ever passed the lips of
Tristan? I am conquered. I give thee my arms, I
give thee my chivalry."
It took many a long year to bring to perfection this
great institution, with all its rules and regulations,
and chivalry was but in its infancy when the First
Crusade began. The two movements developed
together, and many a chivalric lesson was learnt by the
knights of Christendom from the Moslems of the East.
Perhaps, however, one of the most marked effects
of the Crusades upon this greatest of mediaeval
institutions was the welding together of the various nations
of Europe in a common knighthood, bound by the
same rules and codes of honour, and fighting for the
"All wars and brigandage came to an end. The
Crusade, like the rain, stilled the wind."
Out of this combination of the spirit of chivalry,
with that of the Crusades themselves, sprang certain
military orders, which play a very prominent part
in the history of the time.
 The first of these was known as the Order of the
Knights Hospitallers. About the middle of the eleventh
century a guest-house or "hospital," where pilgrims
could be entertained, was established by a company
of Italian merchants, in connection with the Church
of St Mary, opposite that of the Holy Sepulchre, in
Jerusalem. This hospital, dedicated to St John, was
managed by Benedictine monks, under one called the
"Guardian of the Redeemer's Poor." When the First
Crusade was over, its hero, Godfrey of Boulogne, visited
the place and found that these good monks had devoted
themselves during the siege of Jerusalem to the care
of the sick and wounded Christians, giving them the
best of all they possessed, and living themselves in
the utmost poverty. Godfrey at once endowed the
Hospital of St John with lands and money, and set
up one Gerard as its first Grand Master. A new and
splendid church was built for the monks, and a habit
or dress was prescribed for their use, consisting of a
black robe with a cross of eight points in white linen
upon it—the famous Maltese Cross of later days.
Early in the twelfth century, this company of priests
and holy laymen was changed by its second Grand
Master into a military order, bound to carry on the
same kind of charitable work in tending the sick and
wounded, but specially to defend the Holy Sepulchre
by force of arms. Many of this order of "Brothers"
had been originally knights who had retired from the
world and taken religious vows; hence it was said that
the changes merely "gave back to the brethren the
arms that they had quitted." These were now
distinguished from the rest by a red surcoat with the white
cross worn over armour.
 Except for the obligation of fighting the vows were
not changed, and these Knights Hospitallers owed
the same allegiance to the three-fold laws of obedience,
chastity, and poverty as ordinary monks. The brethren
were to be the "servants of the poor"; no member
could call anything his own; he might not marry;
he could use arms only against the Saracen; but he was
independent of any authority save that of the Pope.
This Order became immensely popular; in the thirteenth
century it numbered fifteen thousand knights, many of
them drawn from the noblest houses of Christendom;
and it is much to its credit that, at a time when chivalry
had become little more than a name, it upheld the old
traditions even when it had been driven from Palestine,
and forced to find a new home for itself at Rhodes.
Driven from thence in the sixteenth century, the Knights
of St John were settled by the Emperor Charles V.
at Malta, where they remained until the days of the
The Order of the Knights Templars was founded
early in the twelfth century by Baldwin, then King
of Jerusalem, as a "perpetual sacred soldiery," whose
special object was to defend the Holy Sepulchre and
the passes infested by brigands which led the pilgrims
to Jerusalem. Their headquarters was a building
granted them by Baldwin, close to the temple on Mt.
Moriah. War was their first and most important
business, though they were bound by their rule to a
certain amount of prayer and fasting. The latter was,
however, easily relaxed, and "to drink like a Templar"
became a proverb.
In every battle of the Holy War these two Orders
took a prominent part; the post of honour on the
 right being claimed by the Templars, that on the left
by the Hospitallers. Unlike most other knights, the
Templars wore long beards, and from their dress of white,
with a large red cross upon it, they gained the title
of the Red-Cross Knights.
You will, no doubt, remember that Spenser's knight
in the first book of the Faery Queene was of that order.
And on his breast a bloudy cross he bore
In dear remembrance of his dying lord.
Their banner was half black, half white; "fair and
favourable to the friends of Christ, black and terrible to
These Knights Templars, by their arrogance and
independence, made for themselves many enemies, and
early in the fourteenth century they were strongly
opposed by Philip of France. By this time they were
established in various parts of Europe, and one of their
most powerful "houses" was the building known as the
"Temple" in Paris, the members of which openly defied
the authority of the king.
With some difficulty the consent of a weak Pope was
obtained for their destruction. On a given day, when
the Grand Master and most of his knights were staying
in France, every Templar in the country was seized,
imprisoned, and tortured until he had confessed crimes,
many of which he probably had never imagined in his
wildest moments. More than five hundred were burnt
alive, as a preliminary to the Order being declared
extinct. Whether the Templars deserved their terrible
fate may well be a matter of doubt, though public
opinion, in their own day, was decidedly against them.
It is generally considered that Philip's treatment of
 an order, the members of which had again and again laid
down their lives for the cause of God, ranks as one of the
blackest crimes of history.
There is a legend to the effect that on each anniversary
of the suppression of the Order, the heads of seven of the
martyred Templars rise from their graves to meet a
phantom figure clad in the red-cross mantle. The latter
cries three times, "Who shall now defend the Holy
Temple? Who shall free the Sepulchre of the Lord?"
And the seven heads make mournful reply, "None!
The Temple is destroyed."
The Temple Church, in London, was originally built
for the English branch of this great Order, the members
of which in England, as well as in Spain and Germany,
were almost all acquitted of the charges brought against
But we must now return to the period prior to the
foundation of these two great Orders, with which are
associated most of the gallant deeds of the Holy War.