But, before familiarizing themselves with these ideals, the rough spirits of the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries had to learn the principles of them.
our selection from La Chevalerie by Léon Gautier published in 1884. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Chivalry.
In 838 at Kiersy we have a similar scene. This time it is old Louis who, full of sadness and nigh to death, bestows upon his son Charles, whom he loved so well, the “virile arms” — that is to say, the sword. Then immediately afterward he put upon his brow the crown of “Neustria.” Charles was fifteen years old.
These examples are not numerous, but their importance is decisive, and they carry us to the time when the church came to intervene positively in the education of the German miles. The time was rough, and it is not easy to picture a more distracted period than that in the ninth and tenth centuries. The great idea of the Roman Empire no longer, in the minds of the people, coincided with the idea of the Frankish kingdom, but rather inclined, so to speak, to the side of Germany, where it tended to fix itself. Countries were on the way to be formed, and people were asking to which country they could best belong. Independent kingdoms were founded which had no precedents and were not destined to have a long life. The Saracens were for the last time harassing the southern French coasts, but it was not so with the Norman pirates, for they did not cease for a single year to ravage the littoral which is now represented by the Picardy and Normandy coasts, until the day it became necessary to cede the greater part of it to them. People were fighting everywhere more or less — family against family — man to man. No road was safe, the churches were burned, there was universal terror, and everyone sought protection. The king had no longer strength to resist anyone, and the counts made themselves kings. The sun of the realm was set, and one had to look at the stars for light. As soon as the people perceived a strong man-at-arms, resolute, defiant, well established in his wooden keep, well fortified within the lines of his hedge, behind his palisade of dead branches, or within his barriers of planks; well posted on his hill, against his rock, or on his hillock, and dominating all the surrounding country — as soon as they saw this each said to him, “I am your man”; and all these weak ones grouped themselves around the strong one, who next day proceeded to wage war with his neighbors. Thence supervened a terrible series of private wars. Everyone was fighting or thinking of fighting.
In addition to this, the still green memory of the grand figure of Charlemagne and the old empire, and I can’t tell what imperial splendors, were still felt in the air of great cities; all hearts throbbed at the mere thought of the Saracens and the Holy Sepulcher; the crusade gathered strength of preparation far in advance, in the rage and indignation of all the Christian race; all eyes were turned toward Jerusalem, and in the midst of so many disbandments and so much darkness, the unity of the church survived fallen majesty!
It was then, it was in that horrible hour — the decisive epoch in our history — that the church undertook the education of the Christian soldier; and it was at that time, by a resolute step, she found the feudal baron in his rude wooden citadel, and proposed to him an ideal. This ideal was chivalry!
That chivalry may be considered a great military confraternity as well as an eighth sacrament, will be conceded. But, before familiarizing themselves with these ideals, the rough spirits of the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries had to learn the principles of them. The chivalrous ideal was not conceived “all of a piece,” and certainly it did not triumph without sustained effort; so it was by degrees, and very slowly, that the church succeeded in inoculating the almost animal intelligence and the untrained minds of our ancestors with so many virtues.
In the hands of the church, which wished to mould him into a Christian knight, the feudal baron was a very intractable individual. No one could be more brutal or more barbarous than he. Our more ancient ballads — those which are founded on the traditions of the ninth and tenth centuries — supply us with a portrait which does not appear exaggerated. I know nothing in this sense more terrible than Raoul de Cambrai, and the hero of this old poem would pass for a type of a half-civilized savage. This Raoul was a kind of Sioux or other redskin, who only wanted tattoo and feathers in his hair to be complete. Even a redskin is a believer, or superstitious to some extent, while Raoul defied the Deity himself. The savage respects his mother, as a rule; but Raoul laughed at his mother, who cursed him. Behold him as he invaded the Vermandois, contrary to all the rights of legitimate heirs. He pillaged, burned, and slew in all directions: he was everywhere pitiless, cruel, horrible. But at Origni he appears in all his ferocity. “You will erect my tent in the church, you will make my bed before the altar, and put my hawks on the golden crucifix.” Now that church belonged to a convent. What did that signify to him? He burned the convent, he burned the church, he burned the nuns! Among them was the mother of his most faithful servitor, Bernier — his most devoted companion and friend — almost his brother! but he burned her with the others. Then, when the flames were still burning, he sat himself down, on a fast-day, to feast amid the scenes of his sanguinary exploits — defying God and man, his hands steeped in blood, his face lifted to heaven. That was the kind of soldier, the savage of the tenth century, whom the church had to educate!
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