other words, were warriors engaged one way or another in battle against evil,
even as Christ himself had been.14
In a scene of wonderful symbolic content, white-robed monks in The Quest
of the Holy Grail literally pull the knight errant Galahad into their religious
house to enjoy their hospitality; on his part, he recognizes them, the author
tells us, as brothers. In this same text the hermits who so prominently dispense
religious advice regularly put on â˜the armour of Holy Churchâ™ or â˜the armour
of Our Lordâ™, when saying mass for the knights.15
See the discussions in Russell, Just War, 55â“85, and Chodorow, Christian Political Theory,
234â“46. For Gratianâ™s text, see Richter, ed., Decretum Magistri Gratiani, I, 890â“965.
As noted by Holdsworth, â˜Ideas and Realityâ™, 77.
This parallel is not conď¬ned to comparisons of monks and knights, though that is its usual
form. Clerics other than monks might feel the basic similarity of roles, as John of Salisbury notes:
Dickinson, ed., tr., Statesmanâ™s Book, 190.
E.g. Matarasso, tr., Quest, 53, 86, 103; Pauphilet, ed., Queste, 26â“7, 62, 81â“2.
The Link with Clergie
Orderic Vitalis draws upon the world of war to write of monks using â˜the
weapon of prayer (arma orationis)â™. He can use the term martyr for knights
who suffer death on their crusade. When he pens the phrase â˜soldiers of Christ
(milites Christi)â™ he sometimes means monks, sometimes crusading knights.16
Writing in praise of a man named Gerold, a pious clerk in the household of
the Earl of Chester, Orderic says:
[He] did his best to convert the men of the court to a better way of life by showing
them the examples of their forebears. He rightly condemned the worldly wantonness
that he saw in many and deplored the great negligence that most of them showed for
the worship of God. To great lords, simple knights, and noble boys alike he gave salu-
tary counsel; and he made a great collection of tales of the combats of holy knights,
drawn from the Old Testament and more recent records of Christian achievements, for
them to imitate. He told them vivid stories of the conď¬‚icts of Demetrius and George,
of Theodore and Sebastian, of the Theban legion and Maurice its leader, and of
Eustace, supreme commander of the army and his companions, who won the crown of
martyrdom in heaven. He also told them of the holy champion, William [of Orange],
who after long service in war renounced the world and fought gloriously for the Lord
under the monastic rule. And many proď¬ted from his exhortations, for he brought
them from the wide ocean of the world to the safe harbour of life under the Rule.17
Orderic presents a fascinating compromise here, suggesting, indirectly, the
validity of a knightly life in the world, so long as religion is not neglected and
the battles are fought for good causes, but ending conventionally with the ulti-
mate monastic solution: it would be better for the knights to become monks,
at least at the end of an active life in the world. Of course many knights in fact
heard this call, William Marshal only the most famous of them.18
In the writings of St Bernard, himself the son of a knight, these military
metaphors appear regularly. An Augustinian canon, who had given up his reli-
gious vocation and returned to the world, was admonished in a letter from
Bernard: â˜Show yourself in the ď¬ght. If Christ recognizes you in battle he will
recognize you . . . on the Last Day.â™ He wrote to Robert de ChĂ˘tillon to return
to his â˜fellow-soldiersâ™ in the monastery at Clairvaux: â˜Arise, soldier of Christ,
I say arise! Shake off the dust and return to the battle.â™ Bernard tells Robert he
is sleeping, while his house is invaded by armed men scaling the walls, pour-
ing in at every entrance.19
Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, III, bk. VI 260â“1, 292â“3, 298â“9; V, bk. IX, 6â“7, 52â“7, bk.
Chibnall, Ecclesiastical History, III, bk. VI, 216â“17.
Even Bertran de Born, famous warrior/poet, retired to a religious house he had patronized:
Paden et al., eds, Poems of the Troubadour, 24â“6.
Quoted in Evans, Bernard of Clairvaux, 24.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 69
Crusade was clearly another conduit for transmitting clerical valorization of
knightly violence.20 In the era of crusade, as Christian society was being
divided by clerical intellectuals into three distinct â˜ordersâ™â”those who pray,
those who ď¬ght, and those who workâ”knighthood became, in clerical minds,
an ordo. Knights became, that is, one of these divisions of society approved by
God, one of the orders within which one might achieve salvation.21
At a time when much cultural attention was likewise focused on penance
and the means of achieving salvation,22 when salvation may have appeared to
many almost as a treasure securely kept behind monastic walls, contemporaries
sensed the novelty of creating this new order not simply for laymen, but
speciď¬cally for knights, with all their enthusiasm for killing. In the early twelfth
century Guibert of Nogent, a monk and supporter of Gregorian ideals, wrote
that knights who wore the crusaderâ™s cross could now ď¬nd salvation without
taking the traditional path of giving up their way of life and entering a
God in our time has introduced the holy war so that the knighthood and the unstable
people, who shed each otherâ™s blood in the way of pagans, might have a new way to
win salvation. They need not choose the life of a monk and abandon the world in accor-
dance with the vows of a rule, but can obtain Godâ™s grace through their own profes-
sion, in their accustomed freedom and secular dress.23
Otto of Freising, writing towards the middle of the twelfth century, thought
of crusaders in similar terms. At a time of senseless war at home,
some, for Christâ™s sake, despising their own interests and considering that it was not for
naught that they were wearing the girdle of knighthood, set out for Jerusalem and
there, undertaking a new kind of warfare, so conducted themselves against the enemies
of the Cross of Christ that, continually bearing about in their bodies the death of the
cross, they appeared by their life and conversation to be not soldiers but monks.24
The special service of crusade thus covered the sins of the knights and could
pry open the doors of paradise itself. The troubadour Aimeric de PĂ©gulhan
exults that knights â˜can obtain honour down here and joy in Paradiseâ™ and
manage all this â˜without renouncing our rich garments, our station in life,
courtesy and all that pleases and charmsâ™. He is wonderfully relieved that â˜[n]o
more is there need to be tonsured or shaved and lead a hard life in the most
Convincing views in Keen, Chivalry, 44â“63.
See Duby, Les Trois Ordres; Flori, Lâ™Ideologie du glaive.
Cowdrey, â˜Genesis of the Crusadesâ™, 21â“4.
Quoted in Erdmann, Crusade, 336â“7.
Otto of Freising, Chronica, in Hofmeister, ed., Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum, 320,
Mierow, tr., Two Cities, 414â“15.
The Link with Clergie
strict order if we can revenge the shame which the Turks have done usâ™.25 The
exchange is explicit and explicitly stated in some chansons: Christ died for the
knights, they must be willing to die for him.26
The most inď¬‚uential monastic voice speaking to knighthood as crusade
ideas gathered force was that of Bernard of Clairvaux, perhaps the most
inď¬‚uential churchman of the ď¬rst half of the twelfth century. Bernard was will-
ing to recognize a role for the hermaphroditic fusion of monk and knight in a
special body of crusaders, the Order of the Knights Templar, for whom he
wrote â˜Praise of the New Knighthoodâ™.27 His approval of this new knight-
hood, â˜unknown to ages gone byâ™, is fulsome, but speciď¬c: the order â˜cease-
lessly wages a twofold war both against ď¬‚esh and blood and against a spiritual
army of evil in the heavensâ™. The Templars can, he assures them, ď¬ght secure in
their moral stature as Godâ™s warriors:
The knight of Christ, I say, may strike with conď¬dence and die yet more conď¬dently,
for he serves Christ when he strikes, and serves himself when he falls. Neither does he
bear the sword in vain, for he is Godâ™s minister, for the punishment of evildoers and for
the praise of the good. If he kills an evildoer, he is not a mankiller, but, if I may so put
it, a killer of evil [non homicidia, sed ut ita dixerim, malicidia].28
Bernardâ™s last phrase recalls the wordplay with militia and malitia of which he
and other clerics made such telling use; but here the game elevates his ideal
knights at the expense of their brothers among merely â˜worldly chivalryâ™.
Some years later he granted his blessing to an even larger subset of the
knightly (admittedly somewhat slowly at ď¬rst) in his preaching of the Second
Crusade. At Vezelay in 1146, Bernard issued an eloquent call for crusaders,
using the â˜heavenly instrumentâ™ of his voice to praise the work they would do,
even modifying on behalf of these knights his usual preference for the ď¬ght of
the monk, whose warfare for the good was spiritual and interior, not physical
and exterior. Contemporaries noted that his eloquence on behalf of crusading
warfare won the approval of God, as the many miracles that took place at
Vezeley witnessed. In the preaching campaign that followed, Bernard trav-
elled many miles through the Kingdom of France and the Empire.29
Quoted in Painter, French Chivalry, 87, and linked to Guibertâ™s statement, quoted above, by
Keen, Nobles, Knights, 3.
See, for example, ll. 9380â“1 in Newth, ed., tr., Song of Aspremont and Brandin, ed., Chanson
dâ™Aspremont. For an example from romance, see Bryant, tr., Perlesvaus, 236; Nitze and Jenkins, eds,
Perlesvaus, I, 370.
In Greenia, tr., Bernard of Clairvaux, 127â“67. For the Latin version, see Leclercq and Rochais,
eds, Bernard of Clairvaux, III, 213â“39.
Greenia, Bernard of Clairvaux, 129, 134; Leclercq and Rochais, Bernard of Clairvaux, III, 214,
Berry, ed, tr., Odo of Deuil, 9â“10, describes the scene at Vezeley. Riley-Smith provides a map
of St Bernardâ™s preaching tour: Atlas of the Crusades, 48. For the rather slow development of his
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 71
Finally we should note that clerics gradually became willing to transfer the
blessings they had long reserved for kingship to the ordo of knights, shifting
the heavy mantle of praise and high responsibility from one set of shoulders to
another. Jean Floriâ™s detailed studies of knighting ceremonies, of church ritual
and liturgy, of the legislation of church councils, and the ideas of clerical intel-
lectuals and popularizers, have skilfully illuminated this revealing change.30
The clerical tradition which had praised and legitimized the necessary societal
role of Christian Roman emperors, sub-Roman Germanic kings, Carolingian
emperors and their successors, came in the course of the High Middle Ages to
bless and praise the ideal role of knights. The knights were needed in hard
times. Like kings, and even in place of kings who were failing to fulď¬l their
function, they could defend the Church, keep the peace, protect the weak.
Idealistic reformers assigned knights particular responsibility for defending
widows and orphans.31 If originally and ultimately such responsibility rested
with God, it had devolved in turn upon the Jewish people, the Christian
Church, and then, more speciď¬cally and exclusively, Christian kingship. When
the power of post-Carolingian kings slipped over much of Europe, the knights
came to share this aspect of royal responsibility.
Over time this more generous view of knighthood not only predominated
but generalized to cover the entire order of the chivalrous. A form of sacral-
izationâ”even though it always carried signiď¬cant qualiď¬cationsâ”came to rest
on the knighthood which clerics so decidedly needed for all of the business of
life sadly requiring force. Descendants of the knights whose excesses were con-
demned by the leaders of the peace movement (discussed below) heard their
praises sung as at least potentially blessed warriors. They could become the
â˜knights of St Peterâ™ at the time of Gregory VII, or the â˜knights of Christâ™ when
ď¬ghting under later crusade banners, whether the foe consisted of Muslims in
the Holy Land or heretics or declared papal enemies within Christendom.
Finally, the blessing spread from the select few to the generality of knights,
as knighthood began to be more or less equated with nobility over much of
Europe, as clerics attributed major aspects of royal power and responsibility to
the ordo of knights. Not just crusaders, but all knights could be saved within
this order if only they carried out their mission faithfully, listened to each ser-
monette from their clerical betters, and heeded the warnings. The formula of
enthusiasm for the crusade, and his efforts to explain its complete failure, see Evans, Bernard of
Flori, Lâ™IdĂ©ologie du glaive and Lâ™Essor de chevalerie. Floriâ™s numerous articles appear in the bib-
liographies to these books.
31 As Flori notes, however, â˜Le service de la Dame prime peu Ă peu sur celui de lâ™Eglise et la
âprotectionâ plus ď¬‚atteuse, de la pucelle lâ™emporte sur celle de la veuve et de lâ™orphelin. A lâ™idĂ©olo-
gie clĂ©rical se mĂŞle lâ™idĂ©ologie profaneâ™: Lâ™Essor de chevalerie, 302.
The Link with Clergie
willingness to die for Christ, who was willing to die for humanity, shifts eas-
ilyâ”chivalric literature shows usâ”to a willingness to die for the lord or king
who puts his body at risk for his men.32 This laicization and generalization of
crusade valorization is sometimes quite explicit. In the Lancelot do Lac and in
the Lancelot, the knight Pharian explains to his fellow vassals why they must
ď¬ght for their liege lords, the young Bors and Lionel:
if we die for them it will be to our honour in the world and to our renown as warriors,
because for the sake of rescuing his liege lord from death a man is duty-bound to put
his own life ungrudgingly at risk. If anyone then dies, he dies as sure of salvation as if
he were slain ď¬ghting the Saracens, the enemies of Our Lord Jesus Christ!33
Fighting for oneâ™s lord has taken on the aura of ď¬ghting for the Lord. The
point is made even more broadly and strikingly later in the Lancelot. A former
knight, who leaves the religious life he has adopted to return to the world to
ď¬ght against an enemy troubling his son, argues this case in discussion with
is he who destroys life without justiď¬cation not worse than a Saracen? If I went over-
seas to ď¬ght against the destroyers of Christendom, it would be judged praiseworthy,
for I must do all in my power to avenge the death of Jesus Christ, since I am a Christian.
Therefore Iâ™ll go to avenge my son, who is a Christian, and help him against those who
are in the place of the unbelievers.34
Such views had a long future.35
Clerics must have had their doubts about the logic as well as the behaviour
of the knights; but they had few alternatives. They crossed their ď¬ngers and
kept preaching their ideals, excepting from the blessings they bestowed on the
High Order of Chivalry only those (in theory a minority) who burned
churches, looted and raped the poor, and caused general mayhem through
The Order of Knighthood (Ordene de chevalerie, c. 1220) seems to sum up cler-
ical valorization. Evidently written by a cleric and possibly a priest, this man-
ual provides what its editor, Keith Busby, terms a mystico-religious meaning
for the ceremony by which a knight is made. Each step, each piece of equip-
See, for example, Pickens, tr., Story of Merlin, 291; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, II, 226â“7.
Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part I, 32; Sommer, Vulgate Version, III, 60; Elspeth Kennedy, ed.,
Lancelot do Lac, I, 73.
Carroll, tr., Lancelot Part II, 199; Sommer, Vulgate Version, III, 359; Kennedy, Lancelot do
Lac, I, 476.
They also had a recent past. The account of the crusade of Richard the Lion-Heart, written
around the turn of the thirteenth century, says that Richard, ď¬ghting hostile Cypriots en route to
the Holy Land, â˜forbore to seek worse Saracensâ™ than these enemies: (â˜Peors Sarazins ne volt
guerreâ™): Paris, ed., Lâ™Histoire de la guerre sainte.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 73
ment is given a moral or religious meaning. The bath shows the knight
cleansed from sin; the bed on which he rests ď¬gures the bed he will earn in par-
adise, etc. The intent to praise knighthood and ď¬t it into medieval Christian
society is obvious. The audience whom the author seems to be addressing is
clerical, as the following statement near the end of the manual indicates:
knights, whom everybody should honour . . . have us all to guard; and if it were not for
knighthood, our lordship would be of little worth, for they defend Holy Church, and
they uphold justice for us against those who would do us harm. . . . Our chalices would
be stolen from before us at the table of God, and nothing would ever stop it. But their
justice which defends us in their persons is decisive. The good would never be able to
endure if the wicked did not fear knights, and if there were only Saracens, Albigensians,
and Barbarians, and people of evil faith.
The clerical case for the necessity of knighthood and the justiď¬cation of their
swords could scarcely be made more clearly.36
Clerical Strictures on Knightly Malitia
Clerics balanced approval of chivalry, as an ideal type with the most blistering
criticism of the ideals and practices of chivalry actually encountered in the
The peace movement, at work between the late tenth and twelfth centuries,
overlapped the gestational age of chivalry.37 Despite much debate, most histo-
rians think that the warriors of middling and lesser rank, the castellans (mas-
ters of fortiď¬cations), and their subordinate milites were the targets of much of
the legislation. Clerics wanted licit war to be limited to the higher authorities,
which meant that the bishops and abbots pinned their hopes for social order
on the great lords, at least in the absence of effective royal control (which to
them would have been preferable still).
In the speciď¬c form known as the Truce of God (which sought, from the
second quarter of the eleventh century, to outlaw ď¬ghting during times of
religious signiď¬cance), the prohibition against ď¬ghting was often relaxed in
favour of the lay authority considered licit by the churchmen. A count or duke
could thus licitly ď¬ght against those engaged in acts of illicit violence. Not
surprisingly, at least in Normandy, Flanders, and Catalonia, the Peace of God
had, before the end of the eleventh century, become the Peace of the Count
Busby, ed., Ordene de chevalerie, tr., 174â“5; French text, 117.
The debates over interpretations of the Peace of God are surveyed and sampled in Head and
Landes, eds, Peace of God. See also Duby, Chivalrous Society, 123â“33; Cowdrey, â˜Peace and Truceâ™;
Jean Flori, IdĂ©ologie du glaive, 135â“57.
The Link with Clergie
or Duke; by the mid-twelfth century it had become the Kingâ™s Peace in
Some scholarship takes us beyond major peace councils to informal efforts,
which are no less signiď¬cant for our themes. With the approval of the count,
the monks of the monastery of Lobbes in Flanders, for example, left their
house, ruined by war, to take the relics of their patron saint, Ursmer, on a tour
in 1060. Among the many miracles recorded by the monks on this tour, the
greatest was that the saint brought peace to the region in which interlocking
feuds were everywhere. At Strazeele, the writer noted, â˜some knights were so
hostile to each other that no mortal man could bring them to peaceâ™. At
Lissewege, the problem centred on a young man named Robert who had a
large following of knights; he would not reconcile with his enemy. Pressed by
the monks and locals (including older knights, we should note), he and this
enemy lay prostrate before the saint for three hours. Robert gnashed his teeth,
groaned, turned alternately pale and red, clawed the ground and ate dirt in
sheer frustration with those who would rob him of revenge. Finally, the saintâ™s
reliquary dramatically spewed smoke and levitated: Robert pardoned his
enemy and peace was made.39
The solemn rigours of the canon lawâ”some distance from smoking, levi-
tating reliquaries in a Flemish villageâ”can likewise show us clerical doubts
and fears about the milites. Although, as we have seen, Gratianâ™s inď¬‚uential
Decretum created safe canonical space for just warfare, he seems to have sensed
how hard it would be to make Christian charity the motivating force for ď¬ght-
ing, how unlikely it would be for the knightly ranks of his day to give up such
sinful motives as private revenge or plentiful booty. Frederick Russell argues,
for example, that the prolix and pompous exhortations that Gratian and so
many later canonists addressed to the knights (against their â˜lust for doing
harm, cruelty of punishment, implacable and unsatisď¬ed vehemence, savagery,
and lust for dominationâ™) show deep fears on just these points. As Russell
writes, â˜Against the well-known greed, rapacity, and ferocity of the knightly
class of his time Gratian opposed the patristic portraits of the Christian soldier,
thereby striking at the core of knightly practice.â™40 The canonists, with hope in
their hearts, praised the military virtues, in other words, but they recognized
and feared the military vices so evident in their world; and they spoke to that
Flori, Ideologie du glaive, 154; Head and Landes eds, Peace of God, 8. The capacity of royal gov-
ernment in England eliminated the need for this infusion of support.
Koziol, â˜The Making of Peaceâ™, 250â“1. Koziol notes that the castellans must have welcomed
the monks into their regions, hoping for some increment to their own prestige.
Russell, Just War, 61.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 75
Though crusading epitomized knightly lay piety, most knights for most of
their lives were not crusaders; the majority of their ď¬ghting was done at home
against their fellow knights (or at least their enemiesâ™ peasantry). Clerics con-
stantly drew the sharpest contrast between the ordinary conduct of knight-
hood and the special service of crusade.
Even Urban II, as he preached the crusade at Clermont in 1095, took this
approach, if we can at all trust later accounts of his famous crusade sermon. He
seems to have stressed the evils inherent in the knightly life and presented cru-
sading as a means of atonement. The chronicler Fulcher of Chartres pictures
Urban saying, â˜Now will those who once were robbers become Christi milites;
those who once fought brothers and relatives will justly ď¬ght barbarians; those
who once were mercenaries for a few farthings will obtain eternal reward.â™41
Baldric of Dol gives the pope an even more outspoken speech of condemna-
tion with a smaller escape hatch of virtue opened for the knights:
You are proud; you tear your brothers to pieces and ď¬ght among yourselves. The bat-
tle that rends the ď¬‚ock of the Redeemer is not the militia Christi. Holy church has
reserved knighthood for itself, for the defence of its people, but you pervert it in
wickedness . . . you oppressors of orphans and widows, you murderers, you temple-
deď¬lers, you lawbreakers, who seek the rewards of rapacity from spilling Christian
blood. . . . If you wish to save your souls, either abandon the profession of arms or go
boldly forth as Christi milites and hasten to the defence of the Eastern church.42
Whether or not these are words actually spoken by Urban from his platform
at Clermont, they clearly establish the continuing clerical criticism of knight-
hood and the strait gate through which it had to pass to meet the approval of
If chroniclers wrote the popeâ™s words for him, their own words ď¬‚owed in
the same vein. William of Tyre thought the crusaders needed the opportunity
to redeem themselves by pious work: their habit was to commit theft, arson,
rape, murder. William of Malmesbury agreed; he thought that the departure
of the milites as crusaders meant that Christians at home could now live in
Views from the knightsâ™ â˜fellow warriorsâ™ in the cloisters had long been fear-
ful and condemnatory about knightly practice, however much they liked to
imagine a brotherly parallel between knights and monks in theory. We have
already noted some expression of these monastic fears when we looked at
Ordericâ™s chronicle and Sugerâ™s biography of Louis VI. To their witness we
should add that great voice of monasticism, Bernard de Clairvaux. If he sang
Quoted in Erdmann, Crusade, 339â“40. Ibid., 340.
Quoted in Flori, Lâ™Essor de la chevalerie, 199.
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the praises of the select company of Knights Templar, and of the larger body
of those who went on the Second Crusade, for ordinary knightsâ”which of
course means the overwhelming majority of the knights of his dayâ”St
Bernard could scarcely restrain his contempt.44 To these men, â˜ď¬ghting for the
devilâ™, go plain words of warning:
If you happen to be killed while you are seeking only to kill another, you die a mur-
derer. If you succeed, and by your will to overcome and to conquer you perchance kill
a man, you live a murderer. . . . What an unhappy victoryâ”to have conquered a man
while yielding to vice, and to indulge in an empty glory at his fall when wrath and pride
have gotten the better of you!
Warming to his subject, Bernard heaps scorn on the combination of vanity and
violence in chivalry as it was practised all around him:
What then, O knights, is this monstrous error and what this unbearable urge which
bids you ď¬ght with such pomp and labor, and all to no purpose except death and sin.
You cover your horses with silk, and plume your armor with I know not what sort of
rags; you paint your shields and your saddles; you adorn your bits and spurs with gold
and silver and precious stones, and then in all this glory you rush to your ruin with fear-
ful wrath and fearless folly.
Since most knights, he is convinced, are ď¬ghting for the devil rather than for
God, he does not hesitate to call them â˜impious rogues, sacrilegious thieves,
murderers, perjurers and adulterersâ™. When they are converted to the new
knighthood of the Temple, there will be twofold joy: â˜A twofold joy and a
twofold beneď¬t, since their countrymen are as glad to be rid of them as their
new comrades are to receive them. Both sides have proď¬ted from this
exchange, since the latter are strengthened and the former are now left in
peace.â™45 On one occasion Bernard backed up his ideas with dramatic effects on
some knights who visited Clairvaux, but refused his entreaties to put down
their arms and give up tourneying for the Lenten season. After Bernard gave
them beer which he had blessed, they soon left the secular militia and became
The voice from the schools could be no less critical, or at least no less demand-
ing than that from the cloister. In writings such as his sermon â˜Ad Militesâ™ the
noted scholar Alain de Lille (d. 1203) wields a pen as effective and almost as
Grabois, â˜Militia and Malitiaâ™. Cf. Buist-Thiele, â˜Bernard of Clairvauxâ™, 57â“65. Leclercq notes
that Bernardâ™s purpose in his treatise was not simply to promote the Knights Templar, but â˜to ď¬nd
expression for his own ideal of knighthoodâ™: Monks and Love, 21.
Greenia, tr., Bernard of Clairvaux, 138, 131, 132, 143; Leclercq and Rochais, eds, Bernard of
Clairvaux, 219, 215, 216, 213.
Leclercq tells the story in Monks and Love, 89.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 77
sharply pointed as that of St Bernard.47 In one important sense his position is
more comprehensively tolerant than that of Bernard; he sees a valid knightly
role extending well beyond that of knight-monks as a special subset of cru-
saders. In an unusual reinterpretation of the famous image of two swords
(often used to refer to the powers of Church and State) he even suggests that
knights possess them both. They belt on the physical sword to secure tempo-
ral peace; the second sword, he says, is spiritual, an interior weapon by which
they can secure the peace of their own hearts.48
But he charges knighthood in general with terrible sins of omission and
commission. They should be devoted followers of the military saints; they
should defend their homeland and the Church their mother; they should ď¬ght
her enemies boldly; they should protect widows and orphans. But how do
they act in fact? They show only the outward appearance of knighthood, not
realizing that these exterior signs are but ď¬gures of the true knighthood within,
that which is nourished by the word of God in their breasts. Their knighthood
becomes utterly empty, only a shell. Thus, what they practise is not true
knightly service, but plundering; not militia, but rapina. In short, they become
thieves, devastating the poor. They avoid ď¬ghting the enemies of Christ (out
of sloth or fear), but make fellow Christians the victims of their swords. In his
most telling phrase Alain denounces knights for sharpening their swords in the
viscera of their mother, the Church.49
His criticism of knightly pillaging and looting appears vividly in a story told
of knights from the region bursting into Alainâ™s theology classroom at
Montpellier. The knights (obviously motivated by intellectual curiosity and
some respect for the learning of clergie) demanded that he tell them what con-
stituted the highest degree of courtesy. An unrufď¬‚ed Alain pronounced the
opinion that it lay in giving liberally and beneď¬cently. Though the knights all
liked this answer, they could only have been less pleased as Alain turned the
tables with much didactic coolness and asked them what, correspondingly,
was the deepest degree of villainy (rusticitas). When the knights failed to agree
on an answer, he explained archly that it lay in living by looting the poor as
they did.50 Of course, no professor easily tolerates a rude invasion of his class-
room, but, as we have already seen, Alain gave similar views on the evils of
Patrologia Latina, 210, cols 185â“7. Cf his â˜Sermo de cruce dominiâ™â”in dâ™Alverny, Alain de
Lille, 279â“82â”in which he insists that crusaders must perform their service in a spirit of penitence,
not anger, and must wear this penitence as an inward cross, parallelling in a more meaningful form
their exterior crusading cross. They must imitate the thief to Christâ™s right on Calvary, not the
angry thief to his left. Was this thief imagery chosen purely by chance? For a general discussion of
Alainâ™s views on knighthood see Flori, Lâ™Essor de chevalerie, 291â“4.
â˜Ad milites,â™ Patrologia Latina 210, col. 186. Ibid.
Two versions of the story are quoted in dâ™Alverny, Alain de Lille, 16â“17, n. 30.
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knighthood, from the uninterrupted quiet of his study, in his sermon â˜Ad
John of Salisbury is generally more accepting. Since he clothes knights in the
classical drapery of his self-conscious learning, his view allows for more talk of
the loyal service owed by milites to â˜the princeâ™ and to â˜the commonwealthâ™. He
wants his readers to know he is not hostile to military men or the military life.51
He tries to think of contemporary knights as the Roman soldiers he so admires
in his books on antiquity, ď¬tted into a world properly directed by clergie. The
armed soldier, in fact, â˜no less than the spiritual one is limited by the require-
ments of ofď¬ce to religion and the worship of God, since he must faithfully and
according to God obey the prince and vigilantly serve the republicâ™. Given
such a military force, he announces his willingness to â˜undertake its defence
against whoever attacks it and will fully justify it on the authority of Godâ™.52
He knows, though, that the world in which he lives is not the world of his
books. He would that the knights of his own day were a stalwart, ideal soldiery
selected by careful examination, disciplined in constant drill, and enlisted for
true public service. He is thus disappointed and critical on two levels. First, he
confronts the knights on their own ground, on the level of sheer professional-
ism: the knights of his day are simply not good enough at their tasks as war-
riors, not bold enough, not truly committed to their high and necessary
vocation. The Roman discipline is gone, he laments, largely because of effem-
inacy and luxury.53
But his second criticism is more pointed, even if John, ever cautious, gives
it less space. The wrong people hold the swords and use them in wrongful pur-
suits. Many of those who call themselves milites â˜are in reality no more soldiers
than men are priests and clerics whom the Church has never called into ordersâ™.
He knows, from his books, what to call these men, â˜for in old writings those
who use arms outside the decree of law are called murderers and bandits.â™
These untrue milites,
believe that the glory of their military service grows if the priesthood is humiliated, if
the authority of the Church becomes worthless, if they would so expand the kingdom
of man that the empire of God contracts, if they declare their own praises and ď¬‚atter
and extol themselves by false eulogy. . . . Their courage manifests itself mainly if either
their weapons or their words pierce the clergy or the unarmed soldiers [i.e. the other
servants of the republic].
What follows draws on his Policraticus: see Webb, ed., Ioannis Saresberiensis and Nederman,
tr., Policraticus. The insistence that he appreciates the military appears at the opening of Book VI,
52 Policraticus, VI, chs viii and v.
53 Ibid., Book VI, ch. vi.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 79
Such men serve â˜rage or vanity or avarice or their own private willâ™ rather than
defending the Church and the poor, pacifying the land, and even giving their
lives, if needed.54 Though milites ideally offer their service to the republic and
the number is legion of those who when they offer their belt upon the altar for the pur-
pose of consecrating themselves to military service, their evil works seem to cry aloud
and proclaim that they have approached the altar with the intention of declaring war
against it and its ministers and even against God Himself who is worshipped there.
They are more like practitioners of malitia than members of the true militia.55
In such passages, John seems to step away from the classical backdrop that so
often formed the stage-set for his writing and to speak plainly about his own
Gerald of Wales, a bridge ď¬gure connecting this world of scholarship with
the busy world of clerical administrators, often adopts the mores of the world
he describes in his historical writing. Yet even he can slip in telling critiques. If
he praises the knights from England and the Welsh Marches who invaded
Ireland in the reign of Henry II, he can note archly that their work were bet-
ter done if they
had paid due reverence to the church of Christ, not only by preserving its ancient rights
and privileges inviolate, but also by hallowing their new and sanguinary conquest, in
which so much blood had been shed, and which was stained by the slaughter of a chris-
tian people, by liberally contributing some portion of their spoils for religious use. But
. . . this has been the common failing of all our countrymen engaged in these wars from
their ď¬rst coming over to the present day.56
Geraldâ™s contemporary, Etienne de FougĂ¨res, chaplain to Henry II and
bishop of Rennes (1168â“78), was even more outspoken and pointed in the crit-
icisms. His Livre des maniĂ¨res, which excoriates all the divisions of society,
states that knights should provide justice, extinguish violence and plundering:
But most knights are usually lax about their duties,
So I hear complaints all day long (from those the knights should protect)
That little remains to them
That they can own or obtain (with surety).
The great eat and drink up the hard-won fruits of peasant labour, turning
chivalry into faithless debauchery. Though loyal knights can be saved in their
own order of society, the evil knights who will not cooperate with Holy
Ibid., VI, ch. viii. Ibid., chs ix and xiii; quotation from the close of chapter xiii.
Wright, tr., Historical Works, 266.
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Church, who joust and tourney and misuse the power of the sword given them
by God, should be stripped of sword and spurs and expelled.57
How did clerics respond to the important phenomenon of tournament? At
ď¬rst, clerical writers universally took a censorious view of this most character-
istic and popular sport of chivalry, fulminating against what St Bernard of
Clairvaux termed â˜those accursed tournamentsâ™.58 Chronicle, chivalric biogra-
phy, and imaginative chivalric literature all show that participation in tourna-
ment was for knights the very afď¬rmation of chevalerie. But in clerical eyes these
mock wars imperilled soul as well as body, encouraged pride, occasioned the
risk of homicide, and, in a more general sense, deď¬‚ected martial energies bet-
ter spent on crusade. After the initial interdiction issued at the council of
Clermont in 1130, this condemnation would scarcely slacken in principle for
the better part of two centuries.
At the highest level churchmen gave ground slowly and only yielded to the
inevitable, ď¬nally, in 1316, when Pope John XXII revoked the ban on tourna-
ments. Local ecclesiastical authorities had probably compromised much
sooner: in 1281 Pope Martin IV had commented with resignation that some-
times custom is stronger than law.59 He was thinking of tournaments, of
knightly custom, and papal law.
One eminent scholar has emphasized the general shift in clerical position
symbolized by the acceptance of tournament. Georges Duby has, in fact, sug-
gested that the clerical critique of chivalry emerged from an essentially monas-
tic Church and so became muted, or rather transmuted, after the crisis in
Western monasticism so evident by roughly the mid-twelfth century. The
more worldly clerks and canons who dominated the Church from the later
twelfth century were men more attuned to military activity and were even
more personally involved in it; they thus turned away from monastic hostility
to chivalry and created for knights â˜la nouvelle morale des guerriersâ™.60
The present chapter argues that both impulses, the hostile and the valoriz-
ing, were actually present in a clerical ideology of reform throughout the lifes-
pan of chivalry, and that they both appeared not only in the cloister, but in the
papal circle, in episcopal courts, and in the schools. Both impulses continued
through the undoubted twelfth-century transformations which took place in
monasticism and its role within the Church at large. The crucial valorizing role
Lodge, ed., Etienne de FougĂ¨res, ll. 537â“676. Translation from Switten, â˜Chevalierâ™. Cf. Flori,
Lâ™Essor de chevalerie, 315â“19.
For what follows see Barker, Tournament, 139â“51; Barber and Barker, Tournaments, 139â“46;
Keen, Chivalry, 83â“102. For St Bernardâ™s comment, see Bruno Scott James, tr., Bernard of
Clairvaux, letter 405.
Quoted in Langlois, Philippe III, 199.
Duby, â˜Guerre et sociĂ©tĂ©â™. For overviews of this monastic change, see John van Engen, â˜Crisis
of Cenobitismâ™, and Leclercq, â˜Monastic Crisisâ™.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 81
of the Gregorians, who represent the ecclesiastical world moving beyond the
cloister, after all, stands on the early side of a mid-twelfth-century line, and the
continuing inď¬‚uence of stringent Cistercian critics, the most powerful and
effective monastic force of their day, was written into such powerful works as
The Quest for the Holy Grail in the early thirteenth century, on the later side of
that line. Criticism was never simply monastic, as we have seen in looking at
the ideas of schoolmen such as Alain de Lille and John of Salisbury. Clerics and
intellectuals of the later twelfth and thirteenth centuries did not simply create
a new morale for knights; most of them also continued to condemn the chief
and characteristic knightly sport of tournament, and many of them set stan-
dards for ideal chivalry so high as to be almost unreachable by the generality
But Dubyâ™s argument serves as a highly useful reminder of an important
fact. If both valorization and criticism were structural elements of the clerical
stance on chivalry, over time both the tenor of the discussion and the relative
weights on the balance beam of clerical opinion shifted signiď¬cantly. Stated in
its simplest form, knighthood became a given in high medieval society, an
accepted building block in the structure of civilization, imagined by ChrĂ©tien
de Troyes, for example, to be as old as civilization itself. As chivalry came to
signify the identifying set of values of the nobility in society, it became an ordo
in clerical thought. The rhetorical vitriol attributed to Urban II and that of a
certainty written by St Bernard and Alain de Lille thus gave way to a more bal-
anced, steady stream of didactic, reformist exhortation. Not the rightful exis-
tence of chivalry, but its rightful practice came to be the issue. More in
knightly life and practice was understood or tactfully overlooked; moreâ”
ď¬nally, by the fourteenth century, even tournamentâ”was overlooked or for-
The Church and Governing Power
â˜Enforcement of the lawâ™, as Richard M. Fraher notes, â˜stands with diplomacy,
defense, and taxation as one of the functions which modern observers associ-
ate with the state.â™61 In a famous passage, F. W. Maitland pointed to clear sim-
ilarities between the medieval Church and our contemporary idea of a state:
The medieval church was a state. Convenience may forbid us to call it a state very often,
but we ought to do so from time to time, for we can frame no acceptable deď¬nition of
a state which would not comprehend the church. What has it not that a state should
have? It has laws, lawgivers, law courts, lawyers. It uses physical force to compel men
Fraher, â˜Theoretical Justiď¬cationâ™, 579.
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to obey its laws. It keeps prisons. In the thirteenth century, though with squeamish
phrases, it pronounces sentence of death.62
In fact, as it dealt with the chivalrous, the institutional Church lacked one char-
acteristic feature of a state which is crucial for our analysis. Although clerics
had articulated an ideology concerning chivalry and order, although (as
Maitland states so elegantly) they possessed an elaborate system of courts,
codes, and practitioners of law, they lacked direct means of enforcing these
ideas or even these laws.63
The clerical hierarchy was not in any position, in other words, to use phys-
ical force to compel knights to obey its laws or to follow its more general
guidelines about licit and illicit violence. The paradoxical constitution of the
medieval Church comes sharply into focus on just such a point.64 In the broad-
est conception, of course, Christian society and the Church were coterminous;
the knights were the armed force of the church, the armed force within the
Church. In the more hierarchical and strictly clerical conception of the
Church, so inď¬‚uential following the Gregorian reform, however, the knights
represented a somewhat more alien force, one with ideas and standards of an
independent nature; they constituted a force, moreover, with weapons which
were thoroughly physicalâ”the only such force after the disarming of the
clergy, which had been another great goal of church reformers.
For peace, for right order in the world, churchmen turned from long-accus-
tomed habit to the upper reaches of the hierarchy of lay powers, to kings above
all, and to great lords. A colourful case in point appears in the early twelfth-
century efforts of Louis VI against the castle of CrĂ©cy belonging to Thomas of
Marle, the warlord who was so disliked, as we have seen, by Abbot Suger and
characterized by Guibert of Nogent as â˜the proudest and most wicked of menâ™.
Having called upon the king to destroy the power of this man, the prelates
gave the kingâ™s forces their most enthusiastic blessing. Guibert tells us that
the archbishop and the bishops, going up on high platforms, united the crowd, gave
them their instructions for the affair, absolved them from their sins, and ordered them as
an act of penitence in full assurance of the salvation of their souls to attack that castle.65
The blessing is important; but the point to note is that the armed force relied
upon was royal.
In England the reality and continuity of royal power made a peace move-
Maitland, Roman Canon Law, 100.
Useful discussions in Rodes, Ecclesiastical Administration, 99, and Helmholz, â˜Crimeâ™.
64 See discussions in Strayer, â˜State and Religionâ™, and Southern, Western Society, 19, and
Smalley â˜Capetian Franceâ™, 63.
65 Quoted and discussed in Benton, Self and Society, 204â“5.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 83
ment virtually unnecessary; and, in what was becoming France, such a con-
vergence of the concern for public order and a belief in holy war directed by
the Church faded gradually but signiď¬cantly before the advance of Capetian
In the south, Norman Housley notes, the fusion of clerical activism with the
peace movement went from strength to strength, â˜because of the absence of
such [lay] authority, coupled with the alarming spread of mercenary violence
and, later, heresyâ™. But â˜[i]n northern France, the incorporation of crusading
ideas into peace-enforcement had no long term future because of the rapidity
with which Capetian authority was growingâ™.66
Thus no coercive ecclesiastical role regarding violence developed in north-
western Europe. By the thirteenth century ecclesiastical authorities so gener-
ally relied on â˜the secular armâ™ that in England a speciď¬c royal writ offered a
regular means by which clerics secured the coercion of those offenders who
ignored even sentences of excommunication; the spiritual sentence was
enforced, in effect, by the kingâ™s ofď¬cer, the sheriff, when the chancery sent
him the writ de excommunicato capiendo ordering him to arrest the resisting
excommunicate.67 Relying on this writ is not the act of a competing form of
state, whatever the sophistication of its laws, however signiď¬cant its treasure-
store of ideas.
The same point appears in the famous thirteenth-century French legal trea-
tise, The Customs of the Beauvaisis, by Philippe de Beaumanoir. He insists that
lay ofď¬cials must use the secular arm to protect Holy Church, and he says why:
â˜For the spiritual sword would not be much feared by wrong doers if they did
not believe that the temporal sword would get involved; this in spite of the fact
that the spiritual sword is incomparably more to be fearedâ™.68 Evidently, eccle-
siastics recognized that the coercive force exercised by lay government was, in
fact, much more effective than spiritual censures in France, as it was in
Of course this recognition on the part of ecclesiastical authorities was not
some lamentable or reprehensible failure on their part. The Church had for
many centuries placed hope and conď¬dence in Christian Roman emperors
and, later, pious kings or at least great Christian lords. If Gregorian radicals
had brieď¬‚y considered taking the task in hand personally, even they, and cer-
tainly their successorsâ”while they continued to assert their leadership of
Christian societyâ”knew that for tasks involving coercion, physical force, and
blood, they had to work through the power of kingship (sometimes in the
Housley, â˜Crusades Against Christiansâ™, 25. Logan, Excommunication.
Akehurst, tr., Coutumes de Beauvaisis, 29â“30; Salmon, ed., Philippe de Beaumanoir, I, 39. The
ď¬nal statement is wonderfully theoretical in view of the plain words with which he begins.
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hands of great lords), and ď¬nally the power of knights themselves. These lay
powers were at once necessary and dangerous, worthy of sacralization and in
need of constant correction.
The Force of Ideas
Was the clerical ideology of reform absorbed by the knights themselves; in
other words, was this external ideology to any signiď¬cant degree internalized
by knights, who (as we have already noted) displayed a high degree of inde-
pendence of thought? Academics inclined to believe in the force of ideasâ”
especially scholars who rely primarily on the evidence of idealizing textsâ”are
likely to utter statements of hope in approaching this difď¬cult issue. The
medieval world knew much violence, to be sure, but at least clerical ideas set
the terms of the discourse and began to make a difference, to civilize the bru-
tal warriors, and help them make their world a better place. Along with John
of Salisbury, some scholars tend to link advancing civilization and restraint
with the admixture of classical and clerical ideas in chivalric culture.
Scholars who have spent years among court records and chronicles, on the
other hand, are less likely to think the knights stepped, transformed, out of the
soft hues of pre-Raphaelite paintings; the most hard-boiled are more likely to
argue that clerical efforts in factâ”however unintentionallyâ”pulled the
thinnest veil of decency over knightly behaviour that often went on largely as
before. In such a view, knights simply absorbed and laicized the clerical val-
orization of all the violence they carried on with such enthusiasm, while ď¬lter-
ing out most of the criticism.
The difď¬culty, of course, lies not only in ď¬nding sufď¬cient evidence but in
calibrating a standard for judging the effectiveness of reform ideas in the
world. How could we know in how many instances knights refrained from
burning a church or pillaging an opponentâ™s peasantry out of a fear and love of
God inculcated by clerical instruction on ideal chivalry?
Some evidence is suggestive. We might recall that Orderic Vitalis thought it
highly commendable and worthy of mention that Richer of Laigle hesitated to
attack peasants whom he had already plundered and who had prostrated them-
selves before a roadside cruciď¬x in terror. Such unusual restraint, praised so
highly (â˜something that deserves to be remembered foreverâ™) at least indirectly
suggests what was a common view of early twelfth-century Norman knights.69
A passage in the contemporary Crowning of Louis pointedly reminded its audi-
ence that Jesus liked knights who spared churches from the torch, a theme that
Chibnall, ed., tr., Ecclesiastical History, VI, 250â“1.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 85
might have special meaning for John Marshal (father of the more famous
William), whose face had been disď¬gured by molten lead dripping from the
roof of an abbey church burned by one of his enemies during the twelfth-cen-
tury period of civil war in England.70
Major characters in chivalric literature occasionally speak out in a surpris-
ingly self-critical vein. In the prose romances of the early thirteenth century
Queen Guinevere, Lancelot, and Galehaut confess fascinating and revealing
doubts about the moral solidity of chivalric life as they live it. The queen, in
conversation with Lancelot, says that it is â˜too bad Our Lord pays no heed to
our courtly ways, and a person whom the world sees as good is wicked to
Godâ™. A little earlier, Galehaut, learning from a dream that his death may be
close, decides to amend his life. He admits: â˜I have committed many wrongs
in my life, destroying cities, killing people, dispossessing and banishing
people.â™71 This confession comes from a man continually praised as an exem-
plar of all excellent chivalric qualities.
If such evidence is problematic and at best suggestive, other evidence is
indisputable. Wars without clerical sanction continued throughout the
Middle Ages and subjected â˜non-combatantsâ™ to the entire scale of violence
available, especially to the indiscriminate force of ď¬re.
It seems equally important that clerics themselves were not satisď¬ed with the
reception and internalization of their ideas by knights; even crusaders suffered
bitter criticisms from disappointed ecclesiastical enthusiasts. Certainly, the
knights showed no great inclination to listen to clerical condemnations of their
characteristic sport of tournament. In a letter to Abbot Suger, St Bernard com-
plained in bitter tones:
The men who have returned from the Crusade have arranged to hold again those
accursed tournaments after Easter, and the lord Henry, son of the count, and the lord
Robert, brother of the king, have agreed regardless of all law to attack and slay each
other. Notice with what sort of dispositions they must have taken the road to Jerusalem
when they return in this frame of mind!72
Nor did knights accept clerical claims regarding the dubbing ceremony. To
control these ceremonies would obviously win the clerics an excellent oppor-
tunity for inculcating their ideas of true chivalry at one of the more signiď¬cant
moments in a knightâ™s life. An ecclesiastical strand is undeniably present in the
historical and literary accounts of dubbing ceremonies. Yet, as Maurice Keen
has argued convincingly, the Church, which managed to establish its role in
Hoggan, tr., â˜Crowning of Louisâ™, 43; Langlois, ed., Couronnement de Louis, 64. The John
Marshal incident is discussed by Crouch, William Marshal, 13; John lost one of his eyes.
Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part III, 275, 254, Micha, ed., Lancelot, I, 152, 61.
Bruno Scott James, tr., Bernard of Clairvaux, letter 405.
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the coronation ceremony, achieved much less success when it came to the dub-
bing of knights.73 In fact, dubbing to knighthood looks very much like a clas-
sic example of independent lay piety, an appropriation or laicizing of the
clerical entry into knightly practice; once again, knights more readily took on
religious legitimation than the element of sacerdotal control intended from
the sphere of clergie.
None of these estimates needs to be read judgementally, of course. If
medieval churchmen did not cut through the Gordian knot binding violence
and religion, neither have thoughtful people before or sinceâ”at least not to gen-
eral satisfaction. Nor must we take up the ecclesiastical scales of judgement on
knighthood in this matter. Knights surely did not passively absorb restraining
and improving clerical ideas and then fail deplorably to reach the high standards.
They had ideas of their own, as we have seen, even ideas along religious lines.
They considered themselves competent judges as to which clerical ideas about
chivalry they would accept and may not even have wished to accord their lives
with many others. Our task is not to award or withhold good behaviour points
for knights, but to recognize how selectively they absorbed clerical ideology.
Their particular form of lay piety probably gave knights the conď¬dence that
God understood them and appreciated their hard service, even if further trans-
actions were necessary to secure formal approval via his touchy worldly repre-
sentativesâ”likely to be their brothers, sisters, and cousins who had entered the
clergy. Valorization of holy war, of course, spread easily at a time when any
war could, with minimal effort or sophistry, be considered holy.74 But the sim-
pler truth could be that knights needed very little valorization of their warfare
by clerics at all, though undoubtedly they would prefer to have it.
Their hard lives and their good service covered most of the tab for their
morally risky violence. If their hands were bloody, was it not becauseâ”as even
the clerics recognizedâ”some blood had to be spilled in a world spoiled by sin?
Whether loyally smiting the kingâ™s enemies or merely troubling their neigh-
bours, whether they fought before or after a crusade, they were doing what
they had to do in the conď¬dence that they could settle any accounts with the
fussy clerics through donations or deathbed contrition, even deathbed con-
version to the religious life. â˜In crude termsâ™, Emma Mason writes, â˜they tried
to buy off the consequences of their aggression by offering a share of the loot
to those whose prayers would hopefully resolve their dilemma.â™75 Christopher
Holdsworth makes a similar observation: â˜Standards were held up, but at the
See the discussion in Keen, Chivalry, 64â“82. See Russell, Just War.
Mason, â˜Timeo Baronesâ™, 67. Mason continues, â˜Such a naive attitude cannot, however, be
contrasted with any superior spirituality of the cloister, for religious houses were all too ready to
cooperate in this cycle.â™
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 87
last one lot of soldiers would take the others in, provided they received an ade-
quate payment.â™76 This certainly was the view of the Anglo-Norman knight
Rodolf Pinellus, when his violent way of life was criticized by Abbot Herluin
of Westminster; only after he had had his ď¬ll of worldly pleasure and was tired
of ď¬ghting, he coolly told the abbot, would he give it up to become a monk.77
Likewise, Gerald of Wales tells us that the Anglo-Norman invaders of Ireland
were great men; but they had failed to give enough in payments to the Church
to offset their slaughters.78
William Marshal in the early thirteenth century and Geoffroi de Charny in
the mid-fourteenth century took what probably seems to us a less crude view,
but they both showed the same spirit of lay independence when the matter in
question was the knightly right to ď¬ght, to take pleasure in the display of
prowess and the winning of honour and proď¬t. Williamâ™s ď¬‚attering biography,
primarily a study of war and, secondarily, of the quasi-war of tournament,
shows no evident qualms about warfare; instead, one comment after another
reveals an easy assumption of the knightly right to violence in causes any
knight would consider right.79 His unceasing piety hardly keeps Charny, sim-
ilarly, from paeans of praise for prowess and assertions of the religious charac-
ter of the knightly life per se. Charny is especially sure that the sheer suffering
endured by knights in their demanding calling wins them favour with God.80
In fact, we must remember that ideological inď¬‚uence ď¬‚owed both ways
between clergie and chevalerie, or at least that churchmen found it necessary and
sometimes even congenial to accept more of the self-estimate of the knightly
role than strict clerical ideology would suggest. In his sermon delivered at
William Marshalâ™s funeral, for example, the Archbishop of Canterbury waxed
eloquent about the â˜ď¬nest knight in the worldâ™ in language not very different
from that used to praise the Marshal at the French royal court. The Templar
sent shortly before Williamâ™s death to receive him into the order had
announced unambiguously that, as the greatest knight in the world, possessed
of the most prowess, â˜sensâ™, and loyalty, Marshal could be sure that God would
Holdsworth, â˜Ideas and Realityâ™, 78. See his further comment on pp. 76â“7: â˜The work of a
knight, the work of Christ, the work of a monk, were all inextricably linked because they seemed
varieties of battle.â™
Vita Herluini, in J. A. Robinson, Gilbert Crispin, 94â“5.
Wright, ed., tr., Historical Works, 266. Orderic would undoubtedly not have appreciated this stark
formulation, yet in praising the benefactors of his own house he tells us that a former knight, Arnold
(now one of the monks), travelled as far as Apulia and Calabria â˜to ask for support for his church from
the loot acquired by his kinsmen in Italyâ™: Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, IV, bk. VIII, 142â“3.
Gillingham, â˜War and Chivalryâ™. Kaeuper and Kennedy, Book of Chivalry, 176â“7.
Meyer, ed., Histoire, II, ll. 18387â“406, 19072â“165.
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Such unqualiď¬ed praise is easily understandable. Men who have acted
largely in the world brought great honour and legitimacy to a way of life with
which they were closely identiď¬ed, or which, as in Williamâ™s case, they per-
soniď¬ed. The need for knighthood was undeniable; churchmen knew that
knighthood could be the armed force of God. When that force acted heroically
on the battleď¬eld (even if not in strict accord with clerical standards) or when
it acted beneď¬cently in a court, giving gifts to religious foundations, the con-
cept of an ordo of knighthood was available as a vehicle for thought. It was
likely to loom much larger in both lay and clerical minds than the formal
qualiď¬cations and particular strictures attached to the idea.
THE LINK WITH ROYAUTĂ
W E have seen that clerical theory accepted violence for right causes and
not for wrongâ”a distinction that is tricky to make at the best of times,
and especially so in an imperfect world. Kings and royal administrators, no less
than their counterparts in the clerical hierarchy, had mixed feelings about basic
issues of war, violence, and rightful authority. They had two goals: to move in
the direction of a working monopolyâ”or at least a royal supervisionâ”of war-
like violence within their realm, and to maintain vigorous leadership of the
violence exported beyond the realm in the form of organized war. These royal
goals inevitably entailed a complex pattern of cooperation and conflict
between emerging kingship and emerging chivalry. Like powerful bar mag-
nets turning at different speeds in close proximity, chivalry and kingship now
drew each other together, now forced each other apart.
Yet on either side of the Channelâ”or at least within spheres dominated by
the Capetians and the Plantagenetsâ”kingship was rooted in specific historical
circumstances and gathered its strengths and capacities on differing timeta-
bles. These important differences, as well as many shared characteristics, shape
the chapters of Part Three. Common features, particularly well illustrated in
French chivalric literature, appear in Chapter 5, which only begins to sketch
out differences between Capetian and Plantagenet political culture. Chapter 6
takes up the case of chivalry and English kingship, emphasizing differences. As
so often, the particularities of English political and social circumstances repay
separate, close investigation.
CHEVALERIE AND ROYAUTĂ
Royal Stance on War and Violence
Powerful images of the fellowship of Arthur and his companions gathered at
the Round Table point us towards the genuine shared interests of kings and
knights. Yet this Arthurian literature, with its dĂ©nouement of destructive
conď¬‚ict, likewise suggests tensions and contradictions between royalty and
chivalry. This chapter examines both lines of force.
By right and duty kings were assumed to work to secure basic order in soci-
ety. Even though they might prove ineffectual or even troublesome in that
role, they settled disputes, were supposed to protect property, and promoted
honour; they operated a legal system of courts and ofď¬cials that knights clearly
Chivalric literature openly endorses this royal role in law and justice.1 A wise
man-at-arms in the Lancelot do Lac provides a classic statement of the right and
responsibility of royalty: â˜[E]veryone would be disinherited and ruined if King
Arthur were overthrown,â™ he says, â˜because the stability of all of us is his con-
cern.â™2 The Story of Merlin, takes the same line, asserting that able kings secure
order. The text relates that rebellions against Arthurâ™s father, Uther
Pendragon, had increased with the kingâ™s age and weakness.3 The Lancelot
makes a similar point: the land was sorely troubled by disorders, while Arthur
was imprisoned by the False Guinevere: â˜Now seeing their land without a mas-
ter, the barons began to war with one another, though this was unbearable to
the worthy and noble among them who sought only the general good.â™4 On
his quest in The Marvels of Rigomer, Lancelot enters a land he learns is rife with
In addition to the texts cited below, see two fascinating discussions: Elspeth Kennedy on
issues of royalty, chivalry, lineage, and prowess in the Lancelot do Lac in â˜Quest for Identityâ™, and
Roussineau on the Perceforest, chivalry, and the founding of the order of the Garter by Edward III
in â˜Ethique chevaleresqueâ™.
Elspeth Kennedy, ed., Lancelot do Lac, I, 35. The same sentiment is repeated in the cyclic ver-
sion of the Lancelot story: Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part I, 17; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, II, 31.
Sommer, Vulgate Version, II, 77.
Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part III, 265: Sommer, Vulgate Version, IV, 51.
The Link with RoyautĂ©
terror and conď¬‚ict because of weak governance. The message is doubled when
he is told that he should travel in a neighbouring land ruled well by a power-
ful king who is also a brave and noble knight who hangs robbers enthusiasti-
The king as ideal fount of justice can blend with the king as ideal patron of
chivalry. The Romance of Silence imagines this ideal partnership as its story
Once upon a time Evan was king of England.
He maintained peace in his land;
with the sole exception of King Arthur,
there never was his equal
in the land of the English.
His rules were not just idle talk. . . .
He upheld justice in his realm;
his people were no criminals.
He maintained chivalry
and sustained young warriors
by gifts, not empty promises.6
If they shared some ideals about peace and justice, kings and knights also
shared war. Persistently, on both sides of the Channel, rulers and those who
clustered around them acted on bellicose impulses, to which the political and
military history of the period stands as plain witness. War involved the king as
knight, with his knights. Of course it was never as simple as this. War also
involved money, ships, mercenaries, and specialist engineers for the inevitable,
grinding sieges; moreover, it did not closely involve all of the kingâ™s knights.
At the level of basic patterns of thought, however, royautĂ© and chevalerie agreed
on the inevitability and importance, even the desirability, of war. If kings
thought more of politics where some knights were more concerned with
prowess, both considered the proď¬tsâ”a completely honorable motiveâ”and
both thought war a characteristic and deď¬ning activity of their respective
spheres, here joined in basic cooperation.
What becomes more interesting, then, is to ask about royal and chivalric
attitudes towards war within the realm. What rules, if any, governed the pos-
session of fortiď¬cations, the open display of arms and the assertion of the right
Vesce, tr., Marvels of Rigomer, 53; Wendelin Foerster, ed., Mervelles de Rigomer, ll. 2365â“84.
Later in this romance a body of British knights overwhelms both sides in a private war and
imposes peace: Vesce, ibid., 163; Foerster, ibid., ll. 7484â“604. Giants who issue forth from their
castle to ravage the countryside could easily be a symbol of lordly ravaging: Vesce, ibid., 192â“3;
Foerster, ibid., ll. 8869â“9102.
Roche-Mahdi, ed., tr., Silence, 6â“7.
Chevalerie and RoyautĂ© 95
to use them in â˜privateâ™ war? And what of tournament, which basically
amounted to a form of war as chivalric sport?
Such topics involve fundamental issues of sovereignty, for kings increas-
ingly claimed that warlike violence undoubtedly ranked among the signiď¬cant
areas over which they wanted some control.7
On both sides of the Channel successive kings worked sporadically, but with
something like a sense of mission, to enforce a conception of peace that
stemmed from a developing royal prerogative as well as a sense of duty rooted,
ď¬nally, in the will of God.
Some scholars ď¬nd no tension at all, denying that kings could have much
effect on issues of public order, or even took them seriously. Of course, no
medieval government could truly supervise justice and guarantee public order
throughout the realm, nor, for that matter, could any other government for a
long time thereafter. Fears about governmental inability on this score have
even surfaced in the contemporary world. Yet an essential dimension of the
problem of public order drops from sight if we neglect the obvious royal
impulse on both sides of the Channel to read sovereignty in no small measure
in terms of the control of warlike violence, or at least to insist on a royal role
in its direction and channelling. Whatever their success rate, whatever the
complications of their own complicity, kings surely tried to effect a royal
monopoly over licit violence, and the attempt is an undeniably important fact
in early European history. Their work as sovereigns was complicated by two
signiď¬cant facts: kings, too, were knights and generally believed in a code that
enshrined violence; and they needed the knights as part of their administra-
tions and as a key element in their military force.
Yet the sense of responsibility for public order and the drive for sovereignty
were real enough and brought royal encroachment on the independence of
knights, especially those inclined to engage in heroic violence.8 In the biogra-
phy of William Marshal the author moans that, in his day, chivalry has been
imprisoned; the life of the knight errant, he charges, has been reduced to that
of the litigant in courts.9
Even when desired and accepted, royal justice could be partial and
imperfect. Caution is especially strong in earlier French works, as effective
kingship is just emerging. The king, who in many a chanson reigns even when
he does not effectively rule, creates endless problems by unwise and immoral
See Strayer, Medieval Origins and Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order.
The anthropologist Julian Pitt-Rivers catches the ambiguity nicely by noting that â˜while the
sovereign is the âfount of honourâ in one sense, he is also the enemy of honour in another, since
he claims to arbitrate in regard to itâ™: â˜Honour and Social Statusâ™, 30.
Meyer, ed., Histoire, ll. 2686â“92.
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distribution of ď¬efs; his foolishness sets up the seemingly endless cycles of vio-
lence in Raoul de Cambrai, for example.10 Arthur himself sometimes needs
reminding of his royal role in the maintenance of justice. In the crisis of his
quarrel with Galehaut, the Wise Man tells Arthur he must truly give the just-
ice God entrusted to him with the dominion he holds. Later in this same
romance we ď¬nd a chastened Arthur dutifully holding admirable courts of law:
â˜as soon as the case was heard, the right had to be upheldâ™.11
Even when impartial, royal justice could intrude on knightly honour
defended by prowess. More than one knight ď¬nds himself charged with mur-
der in a case of killing he considers fully justiď¬ed and honourable. Even the
poor but honourable knight whom Robin Hood helps in the Geste of Robyn
Hood was impoverished as a result of defending his son in court after the young
man had killed another knight and a squire in a tournament.12
An even more revealing case appears when Guinevereâ™s father, King
Leodagan, â˜who was a good ruler and lawgiverâ™, condemns the knight
Bertelay. Though Bertelay had slain another knight, it was only after follow-
ing the proper formsâ”breaking faith with the man and openly threatening
him with death.13 Asked about the killing,
[Bertelay] answered that he would indeed defend himself against anyone who called
him a criminal: â˜I do not say I did not kill him, but I did break faith with him ď¬rst. . . .
So, as I see it, a man should harm his deadly enemy in all the ways he canâ”after he has
broken faith with him.â™
The defence is, of course, that of Ganelon in the Chanson de Roland of perhaps
a century earlier: taking revenge against an enemy openly is no crime against a
king. What have kings to do with this anyway? Charlemagneâ™s answer in the
great epic, validated by a trial by combat which reveals the will of God, empha-
sizes public good over private revenge and leads to Ganelonâ™s terrible death as
a traitor.14 King Leodaganâ™s position, though milder, would have pleased
Charlemagne; the king told Bertelay â˜that he was mistaken, âbut if you had
come to me and brought suit against him, I would not have ruled against you;
then you could have taken vengeance. But you did not ď¬nd me worthy enough
to seek justice from me.â â™ Bertelayâ™s reply assures personal loyalty but asserts
private right: â˜ âSir,â he said, âsay what you will, but I have never done you any
Kay, ed., tr., Raoul de Cambrai. Any of the chansons in the Cycle of Rebel Barons could make
the point, as could many from the Cycle of William of Orange.
See Carroll tr., Lancelot Part II, 120â“1, 150â“1; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, III, 217â“20, 271.
See the Geste of Robyn Hood, Fytte One, stanzas 52â“3 in Knight and Ohlgren, eds, Robin Hood.
The following is drawn from Pickens, tr., Story of Merlin, 339â“41; Sommer, Vulgate Version,
Brault, ed., tr., Chanson de Roland, laisses 270â“91.
Chevalerie and RoyautĂ© 97
wrong, nor will I ever, God willing.â â™ But King Leodaganâ™s court, made up
for this case of King Arthur, King Ban, King Bors, and seven distinguished
knights, orders Bertelay to be disinherited and exiled. King Ban, speaking for
the court, states the key to their decision: â˜The reason is that he took it upon
himself to judge the knight he killed, and at night, but justice was not his to
mete out.â™ Bertelay goes off into exile, accompanied by â˜a most handsome fol-
lowing of knights to whom he had many times given ď¬ne gifts, for he had been
a good and strong knightâ™.15
Other leading characters are occasionally drafted to speak out on behalf of a
recourse to the courts. Though the false Guinevere episode puts her in peril,
the true queen upholds the ideal monarchical role regarding justice, even
against her own immediate interests. When Galehaut offers to solve all her
problems by taking the false queen by force, Guinevere stoutly speaks up for a
system of justice administered in the courts and against violent self-help: â˜I will
not, please God, allow that. I donâ™t seek to be defended against her accusation
by anything but the law, and I wonâ™t ever, please God, be tempted by sinful
means but will wholly accept the kingâ™s judgement.â™16
Even Lancelot informs a knight whom he encounters that it is not right for
one knight to pass judgement on another single-handedly; he should prove his
case in a court.17 The principle is interesting, and runs directly counter to
Ramon Llullâ™s assertion that good knights should simply eliminate the bad.18
Of course Lancelot gives advice he does not follow himself, for he marks the
trail of his adventures with the broken bodies of evildoers.
Early in the Merlin Continuation (much concerned with â˜ď¬rstsâ™, with the ori-
gins of chivalric customs) a squire asks Arthur to take vengeance for his lord,
killed in what the king calls the ď¬rst of â˜these trials of one knight against
anotherâ™. The squire tells Arthur that as king, by Godâ™s grace, he has sworn to
right â˜the misdeeds that anyoneâ”a knight or any other personâ”did in the
landâ™. Arthur goes in person to confront the killer, who turns out to be
Pellinor. Before the inevitable joust, Arthur and Pellinor assert contradictory
views about individual right and royal responsibility: â˜Sir knight, who told
you to keep the passage of this forest in such a way that no knight, native or
Cf. Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part III, 263 and Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, ed., IV, 46,
where Bertelayâ™s hatred is connected with his role in the False Guenevere episode. In Lancelot Part
I King Bors of Gaunes, who disinherited Pharian because of such a death, is called â˜of all men one
of the most bent on justiceâ™: Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part I, 10; Sommer, Vulgate Version, III, 17.
Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part III, 264; Sommer, Vulgate Version, IV, 48.
Rosenberg, Lancelot Part I, 91; Sommer, Vulgate Version, III, 172; Elspeth Kennedy, ed.,
Lancelot do Lac, I, 222.
Byles, ed., Book of the Ordre of Chyvalry, 27â“30, 49. Llull thought of knights as governors
themselves, and gave little attention to any mechanisms by which their own excesses or crimes
might be checked.
The Link with RoyautĂ©
foreign, may take the way through the forest but he must joust with you?â™ If
Arthur has raised the fundamental question of licit violence, Pellinor, address-
ing Arthur as a knight, asserts a knightâ™s right: â˜Sir knight . . . I gave myself
leave to do this, without authority or grace from anyone else.â™ Arthur will not
accept such a sense of private right: â˜You have done a great wrong . . . in that
you didnâ™t obtain leave at least from the lord of the land. I command you on
his behalf to remove your tent from here and never again be so bold as to
undertake such a thing.â™19
The tension emerges openly again when Lancelot proposes to make kings of
Hector, Bors, and Lionel in the victorious aftermath of the war against the
usurper Claudas. Bors will have none of it, and explains why:
What is this, my lord, that you wish to do? Truly if I wanted to receive the honor of
kingship, you should not permit it, for as soon as I have a kingdom, Iâ™ll be obligated to
give up all knighthood, whether I wish to or not, and Iâ™d have more honor as a land-
less man but a good knight than as a rich king who had given up knighthood. And what
I say concerning myself, I say about your brother Hector, for it will be a mortal sin if,
from the ranks of prowess and great knighthood where he now is, you remove him so
that he may become king.20
The worlds of kingship and of pure knightly prowess obviously seem incom-
More than a century later, these issues likewise bothered HonorĂ© Bonet. In
his Tree of Battles, sent to Charles VI in 1387, he takes the royalist line:
a person other than a prince cannot order general war. The reason for this is that no
man should, or may, bear arms without the license of the prince. And another reason
is that a man cannot take upon himself to do justice on another who has wronged him,
but the prince must do justice between these men. But nowadays every man wishes to
have the right of making war, even simple knights, and by the law this cannot be.21
Capetian Kingship and Chivalry
If the relationship of royautĂ© and chevalerie was everywhere complex and
ambivalent, it was not everywhere the same. Monarchy, in England and
France in particular, followed different timetables, and these differences
shaped the interaction between kingship and chivalry in each realm. Baldly
stated, precocious growth characterized the English State; the French state
(the model for most other realms) developed more slowly.22 It is worth mak-
Asher, tr., Merlin Continuation, 175, 179; Roussineau, ed., Merlin, I, 28, 41â“2.
Carroll, tr., Lancelot Part VI, 319; Micha, ed., Lancelot, VI, 169â“70.
Coupland, ed., tr., Tree of Battles, 129.
This theme is developed in Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order.
Chevalerie and RoyautĂ© 99
ing two separate examinations: we will look just at the Capetians here, then,
in Chapter 6, at the Plantagenets.
At one level, it is true, the ideology of kingship as formally expressed in trea-
tises and colourful ceremony would show broad similarities over much of high
medieval Europe. On questions of controlling and channelling warlike vio-
lence, kings of France and their cousins in England shared a substratum of
ideas from earlier medieval centuries; they formally linked regality with a just-
ice impartially dispensed at all levels, and with the assurance of the sort of
order within the realm that would allow the peaceful practice of Christianity.
They came to view some violence as an affront to their sovereignty.
The similarities in oaths and responses spoken by the kings of England and
France in their coronation ceremonies, for example, or the general agreement
of ideas about the royal role expressed by ecclesiastical writers, easily demon-
strate this fact.23 Generic forms of coronation oath even appear in chivalric lit-
erature. In The Story of Merlin, for example, Arthur, recognized as king after he
has repeatedly drawn the sword from the stone, is told by the archbishop:
if you are willing to swear and promise all the saints that you will safeguard the rights
of Holy Church, keep lawful order and peace in the land, give help to the defenseless
as best you can, and uphold all rights, feudal obligations, and lawful rule, then step for-
ward and take the sword with which Our Lord has shown that you are His elect.
Weeping with joy, Arthur asks for Godâ™s help in providing â˜the strength and
the might to do what is right and to uphold all the things that you have told
me and I have heardâ™.24
Promises which eventually hardened into formal coronation oaths show
these basic ideas in Capetian France. Three traditional precepts bound the new
king: to â˜preserve through all time true peace for the church of God and all
Christian people, to forbid rapine and iniquities of all sorts, and to enforce
equity and mercy in all judgementsâ™.25
Ideas even more closely focused on public order came from the gradual
royal cooption of the peace movement. Although the pax dei, the Peace of
God, originally looked to the greater lords to secure a measure of peace which
weak kings were unable to manage, as effective Capetian power grew in the
twelfth century the movement became the kingâ™s peace, pax regis.26 Within this
overall peace movement the effort to establish speciď¬c times of truce, a treuga
These themes can be followed with much proď¬t in Flori, Lâ™IdĂ©ologie du glaive, especially
Pickens, tr., Story of Merlin, 216; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, II, 88.
Quoting from Baldwin, Philip Augustus, pp. 375; see his discussion of the coronation
promises and oaths, 374â“5, and the many sources cited there.
Grabois, â˜TrĂŞve de Dieuâ™.
The Link with RoyautĂ©
dei when all ď¬ghting was prohibited, may have been particularly signiď¬cant. As
Head and Landes suggest,
over the course of the twelfth century, the Truce of God was inexorably co-opted by
secular authorities and became part of the emerging constitutional order of governance
and peacekeeping. By the mid-twelfth century in France the Peace of God had become
the Kingâ™s Peace.27
That the kings of England, by contrast, did not need the buttress of the peace
movement reinforces the importance of cross-Channel differences. The work
of kings of France had to be different, constrained as it was by different cir-
cumstances, especially the size and growth of the realm, the slow emergence of
a hierarchy of courts and appeals, and the crucial factor of timing.
Ideology, in short, does not simply equate with actual capacity; beyond
royal ideology, abstractly expressed, lies another important layer of operative
ideas: justiď¬cations that royal ofď¬cials gave for measures actually taken, day-to-
day assertions found not only in coronation oaths or treatises but in the work-
ing documents of busy administrations. At this level the differences between
English and French kingship retain signiď¬cance and demand attention.
The ordinance or testament of 1190, which Philip II had drawn up before
departure on crusade, speaks in its preface in bold terms of public utility, and
states that the kingly ofď¬ce consists in securing his subjectsâ™ well-being. The
document that follows this preamble outlines active measures: the baillis
(regional ofď¬cials) are to set aside one day a month to hold assizes at which
they would receive appeals, and give prompt justice. Yet one clause establishes
a formal procedure in case anyone made war against Philipâ™s son, the young
king, while the crusade lasted.28 Clearly, this signiď¬cant document embodies a
sense of justice as a key function of regality; just as clearly, the reality and legit-
imacy of noble war within the realm, and even war against royalty itself, had
to be recognized.
Louis IX (St Louis), half a century later, greatly strengthened the royal
stance against violence within the realm. Perhaps he affected opinion most by
his general unhappiness with â˜privateâ™ war and duel and by his preference for
peace, at least for peace among Christians. For each of his speciď¬c measures the
exact timing, mechanisms, and generality within the realm remains uncertain;
but at least within the royal domain the evidence suggests a serious pro-
Head and Landes, eds, Peace of God, 8.
Ordonnances, I, 18. See the discussion in Baldwin, Philip Augustus, 137â“44. The difference
between the statement about war against the young king in France and the closing of the Magna
Carta (which licenses war against King John in case of non-compliance with the Charter) is that
in England such war was formally illicit and was royally licensed by the Charter in this exceptional
case; in France such war was not formally illicit and was simply expected.
Chevalerie and RoyautĂ© 101
gramme: Louis prohibited trial by battle in both â˜civilâ™ and â˜criminalâ™ cases; he
instituted the â˜quarantaine le roiâ™ (a forty-day truce in private wars during
which relatives of the combatants could have a chance to choose not to involve
themselves); he restricted tournaments, and even prohibited private war itself
and the carrying of offensive weapons. On the other hand, that he sometimes
demolished castles belonging to lords under sentence of his court is a matter
The great reform ordinance of 1256 announced that his ofď¬cials were to do
justice to rich and poor alike and declared that they must preserve good laws.
Louis probably believed in these principles, which could all too easily be dis-
missed. Joinvilleâ™s story of the good king sitting beneath an oak at Vincennes,
dispensing justice, is famous; but he also twice tells the story of the king
listening intently to a friarâ™s sermon and never forgetting its message: the only
kingdoms lost to their kings were those in which justice was ignored. In a let-
ter to his son, the future Philip III, these same themes reappear.30
Though he was a strenuous knight himself, so that Joinville could open his
biography by saying he will tell of Louisâ™s â˜great deeds of chivalry (de ses granz
chevaleries)â™, the king also revealed signiď¬cant reservations about the devoted
elevation of prowess, a key element of knighthood. Joinville once heard him
state that a great distance stands between the man of prowess and the worthy
man: â˜il a grant difference entre preu home et preudomeâ™.31 Behind the kingâ™s play
on words lies the serious point that prowess cannot reign untempered and
alone, the very point so often made in works of literature.
The last Capetians, Philip IV and his sons, advanced the programme of St
Louis in a series of well-documented court decisions and ordonnonces, which
announced that the kingâ™s war must take precedence over all other warlike vio-
lence; while he fought his enemies, no private wars, judicial duels, or tourna-
ments were to be tolerated.32 The special relationship of royalty to warlike
violence could scarcely be more clearly drawn: the king would lead war abroad
and regulate itâ”in all its manifestationsâ”within the realm. In fact, these late
Capetian kings claimed rights to regulate warlike violence even in peacetime.
As Philip IV announced in a 1292 ordinance: â˜[T]hroughout the entire realm
of France, [cases involving] breaking the peace, carrying arms . . . generally
Ordonnances, I, 56â“8, 84, 86. See discussion and sources cited in Jordan, Louis IX, 140, 203â“4;
Ducoudray, Origines du Parlement, 329â“32; Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order, 214â“15, 231â“5.
Cf. Wailly, ed., Historie de Saint Louis, 55, where a castle of a robber baron is pulled down by Louis
on his way to take ship for the crusade.
Wailly, Histoire de Saint Louis, 24, 25, 288â“9, 308â“9. In Louis IX, passim, Jordan has argued
that in his great reform initiatives Louis was eliminating wrongs in his governance that had turned
divine blessing away from his central crusading mission.
Wailly, Histoire de Saint Louis, 235.
E.g. Ordonnances I, 328â“9, 342â“5, 390, 421â“2, 492â“3, 538â“9, 562, 643, 655â“6, 701â“2.
The Link with RoyautĂ©
belong wholly to the lord king, by reason of his superiority, even in places
where other lords hold high justice.â™33
Whenever needed, French kings could draw upon an arsenal of legal mea-
sures: they could provide royal safeguards (sauveguardes) to particular reli-
gious houses or individuals, they could impose assured truces (asseurements)
on quarreling parties, grant the royal panonceaux (signs of the kingâ™s protec-
tion) to be afď¬xed almost anywhere, on houses, ships, even gallows.34 In their
day-by-day work the royal courts continued, in theory, to provide swift and
impartial justice to great and small, the most basic royal service in the interests
of peace within the realm.35
Did the French crown really act on the ideas expressed so often in its legal
and administrative documents? Ordonnances announced in the most uncom-
promising language may not, to be sure, have covered the entire realm, and
were often violated where they did in theory apply; but the direction of the
working royal ideology and royal efforts at actual enforcement can scarcely be
denied. No reader of the records of the highest French court, the Parlement of
Paris, can doubt that the crown prosecuted knights for assault and murder,
theft and pillage, breaking of truces, and private war.36 No reader of French
chivalric literature can doubt the knightsâ™ sensitivity to the intrusion.
The Balance Sheet
For all the tensions, chivalric literature in France never seriously challenged the
existence of kingship. Some epics in their frustration, it is true, may edge close
to the idea of doing without the troublesome fact of kings. The Charroi de
NĂ®mes (in the cycle of twelfth-century chansons about William of Orange) at
one point imagines that this great knight angrily tells King Louis that he could
kill all of Louisâ™ men and even kill Louis himself. A little later in this same chan-
son William pointedly reminds the king that he had himself placed the crown