Chivalry-art - 1/18/94
"Chivalry and Feudalism" by Peregrine Payne
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.
This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: lisch at ws.mentorg.COM (Ray Lischner)
Date: 20 May 91 17:00:38 GMT
Organization: The Internet
Tournaments were expensive, especially for the lesser skilled. How
could a knight afford to lose his horse and harness every other week?
To understand the answer, one must also understand what the victor
does with several new horses every other week: give them to his
unlucky friends. Following is an article that I wrote for a
newsletter for a tournament that will take place this fall in An Tir.
The newsletter is one of three that we are producing as a way of
educating the participants.
Copyright (c) 1991 Ray Lischner.
Permission is granted to reprint the article below, provided nothing
is changed. If you wish to add formatting information, please contact
the author who might be able to help you (especially if you use TeX).
Chivalry and Feudalism
by Peregrine Payne
``It is impossible to be chivalrous without a horse.''
Tournaments in 1188 were conducted on a ransom basis. After unhorsing
an opponent, the victor usually seizes the horse and holds it for
ransom. If the vanquished cannot afford the ransom, the victor keeps
the horse. A knight with little skill can lose many horses, and one
with greater skill can quickly become quite wealthy, since horses are
Of course, the Middle Ages do not consist solely of rich knights and
poor knights. Instead, there is a balance of payments, a
redistribution of wealth among the chivalry. The rich help the
poor---as part of feudal obligations, for friendship, out of courtesy,
or to show off one's wealth and station.
L'Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal paints a fascinating picture of
after-tournament activities, illustrating the dependency of knights on
friends, relations, and lords.
The tournament is over now,
And everyone prepares to go,
Enough of fighting for this day,
The crowd is great, but some must stay.
Some ask about their friends who are
Retained as prisoners so far.
And others seek their harnesses,
In ransom held, the poet says.
And many knights who now must raise
Their ransom price in diverse ways:
Some ask their parents, some their friends,
Acquaintances to make amends.
After tournament, each knight
Asks for ransom fees tonight.
Great lords together,
Help themselves and help each other.
One who loses his horse and cannot afford to ransom it back can look
to his lord or to friends who were more successful in the tournament
to provide a horse.
When a knight cannot afford a horse, the medieval society provides an
immediate source of help. A Lord is expected to provide for his
knights, often by giving horses, arms and armor as gifts. For
example, before his first tournament, William the Marshal did not own
a horse. His lord, the Lord of Tancarville, made sure he had one for
The room was full of knights, all bent
To travel to the tournament.
The Marshall, all alone, without
The means to go, was lost in thought.
Then asked the Lord of Tancarville,
``Ho, Marshal, why are you so still?''
``I have no horse, my lord, and so
``There is no way for me to go.''
``Then, Marshal, worry not at all,
``For you will have a horse to call.''
The Marshal needed the help of his protector to get started, but after
that he was able to sustain himself on the strength of his arms.
During this first tournament, the Marshal captured four and a half
horses. (The half horse is another story, and will be told another
The feudal society provides a hierarchy of responsibilities. At each
level, a person is expected to provide for his dependents beneath him,
and can expect to be provided for by the lord above him. Usually,
this provision takes the form of gifts, such as the gift of a horse
from the Lord of Tancarville to William the Marshal.
Ramon Llull tells us how a knight should be generous with gifts in his
Book of the Order of Chivalry. When a squire is made knight, for
example, he is expected
to make a great feast and to give fair gifts and great dinners, to
joust and sport and do other things that pertain to the order of
chivalry, and to give to kings of arms and to heralds as it is
accustomed of ancient, and the lord that maketh a new knight ought
to give to the new knight also a present or gift, and also the new
knight ought to give to him and to others that same day, for who
so receiveth so great a gift as is the order of chivalry honoreth
not his order if he give not after the power that he may give.
In other words, a knight is expected to give out gifts according to
his means. Not being generous is a blight on the order of chivalry,
and on the knight.
Such generosity also extends to squires, friends and companions.
Philip, Count of Flanders, had a great reputation for his generosity.
He gave to all with open hands
Of horses, money, arms, and lands.
At one point, he offered to the Marshal land worth 500 pounds in rents
to join his retinue, or mesnie.
At the time, the Marshal was in the mesnie of the young king Henry.
Also with the young king were about 200 other knights. Of the 200,
there were 24 knights directly subordinate to the young king, of whom
fifteen carried banners. Each of these fifteen knights banneret had
more knights in their own retinues. As part of the feudal balance of
payments, these knights banneret were expected to help their
subordinate knights, giving them gifts and supporting them. The young
king, in turn, helped his knights by paying them for each subordinate
knight they brought.
A more concrete example of generosity and charity is an incident
involving William the Marshal. At a tournament at Joigni, the
countess and her attendants were waiting for the tournament to begin, when someone asked for a dance to occupy their time, asking ``who will
be so courteous as to sing for us?'' The Marshal graciously sang for
them. Then a minstrel, newly made a herald, sang a song with the
refrain, ``Marshal, give me a good horse!'' When the Marshal heard
the song, he left without a word, a squire brought him his horse, and
he entered the tournament. He unhorsed his first opponent, and, still
without speaking a word, led the horse over and gave it to the
By his act of generosity, the Marshal supported all of chivalry, and
garnered worship for himself. He used the opportunity to demonstrate
his prowess at arms, his charity toward those outside of the chivalry,
and his generosity with gifts.
As shown by the Marshal, charity outside of the knightly class is as
important as generosity to ones peers. Ramon Llull, therefore,
includes charity in the virtues of a knight.
A knight without charity may not be without cruelty and evil will,
and cruelty and evil will accord not to the office of chivalry
because that charity behooveth to be in a knight, for if a knight
have not charity in God and in his neighbor, how or in what way
should he love God? And if he had not pity on poor men, not mighty
and diseased, how should he have mercy on the men taken and
vanquished that demand mercy, as not of power to escape and may
not find the finance that is of them demanded for their
deliverance? And if a knight were not charitable, how might he be
in the order of chivalry? Charity is a virtue above other virtues
for she departeth every vice.
Generosity and charity are among the greatest knightly virtues.
Giving gifts is necessary for the maintenance of the feudal society,
and is a way of establishing a knight's reputation. Remember that,
for the Pride of the Lions, generosity, chivalry, and courtesy are
more important than prowess at arms.
HGM is L'Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal. Paul Meyer, ed. 3 vols.
Paris: Librairie Renouard, 1891--1901. Quotes are from volume 1.
Translations by the author.
BOC is Ramon Llull. The Booke of the Ordre of Chyvalry. William
Caxton, trans. Alfred T. P. Byles, ed. London: Early English Text
Society, 1926. Modern spelling and punctuation by the author.
 N. Denholm-Young. ``The tournament in the thirteenth century,''
in Collected Papers of N.~Denholm-Young. Cardiff: University of
Wales Press, 1969. Originally published in Essays in Medieval
History presented to Frederick Maurice Powicke, 1962.
 Christopher Dyer. Standards of Living in the later Middle Ages.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. pp. 30, 72.
 HGM, 3013--3040
 HGM, 1218--1230.
 HGM, 1364--1372.
 BOC, chap. VI.
 HGM, 2682--2684.
 HGM, 6157--6161.
 HGM, 4750--4776.
 HGM, 3464--3420.
 BOC, chap. VII.
Suggested Additional Reading
David Herlihy, ed. The History of Feudalism. NY: Harper & Row, 1970.
A collection of primary sources, translated into English.
Includes a large part of the chanson de geste, Raoul de Cambrai, a
modern English rendition of The Book of the Order of Chivalry, a
variety of feudal contracts, writs, related documents, and more.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.