[ocr errors]

War was their passion, and their manners partook of the fierce spirit of the times. Even the ladies were fond of war, and sometimes engaged in it. We read of one who was so skilful in knightly exercises, that she was styled, in masculine phrase, Le bel Cavalier. Two Norman ladies quarrelled, Eloisa and Isabella. Each roused her friendly knights to espouse her cause, and plundered and burned the other's possessions. They were both spirited, loquàcious, and beautiful, and governed their husbands; but they differed in temper. Eloisa was cunning and per. suasive, fierce and parsimonious. Isabella was liberal and courageous, good-humored, merry, and convivial. She rode among the knights, armed like them, and was as dexterous as the rest in the use of her weapons.

The knights travelled with their squires or armorbearers, and pages. Their state-parade was to march with their shields uncovered, their spears elevated, and a banner before them. If a knight came to a camp with his shield on his neck, and his lance in his hand, it was deemed an act of defiance, for which, if attack. ed, he had no redress. The shields were highly ornamented with gold and brilliant colors ; and some knights placed on them the portrait of their favorite lady. It was the fashion for newly made knights to travel to other countries, to prove their prowess at tournaments against foreign knights. Great chieftains appointed tournaments on purpose that knights might come both to learn and show their martial powers. In great national emergencies, kings invited knights to their courts by profuse liberality. They were the disciplined and effective soldiery of the day. They were



the only portion of the military that was completely armed ; and their skill and power in the use of their weapons

made their exertions the common means of victory

Knight-errantry was a profession brought into existence by the turbulent and disorderly state of Europe in the Middle Ages. At the close of the eleventh century, that quarter of the world exhibited the political anomaly, of countries with governments that were nominally monarchical, infested by a host of petty sovereigns in every part, who were despotic in the territories they occupied, and who acknowledged in the king little else than a titular superiority, and the right of receiving, for a few weeks in the year, their military attendance. These petty sovereigns were the lords or barons, who shared the landed property of the kingdoms. As they had originally acquired their property by the sword, they were obliged to preserve it by the

They were perpetually striving to dispossess each other by violence ; and this singular state of aristocratical society made chivalry and knighterrantry both popular and necessary.

Estates are now held by written muniments, and their peaceable possession is guarded and guarantied by law, easily enforced by the whole executive

power of the country. But, in those times, when they were often conferred by the gift of a horn or an arrow,

and the monarch had but feeble means to enforce right, or to punish wrong, it is obvious that possession was the great evidence of title ; and he that had strength sufficient to wrest lands from another usually kept his acquisition till superior violence forced it from him. In

same means.

this state of society, the services of knights were everyo where wanted by the great proprietors of estates, as well to defend their ancient possessions as to enable the more ambitious to obtain others. Knights, therefore, were perpetually errant, or travelling about in quest of adventures or employment; some for the pleasure of the expedition, and some for its expected profits. They often met with the oppressed or unsuccessful, and they cheerfully undertook to redress those wrongs

which the laws were too feeble to remedy; and for redressing which, honor, plunder, or rich gifts be. came their usual compensation.

The petty chieftains of that age were often notorious robbers, plunderers, and cut-throats. Their castles were

so many dens of banditti. It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the violent spirit of those times. William Rufus permitted his young knights and squires to amuse themselves by plundering the estates of the country people with impunity. A great baron of that period not only laid all the churches near him under contribution, but he also put his own wife into prison and in fetters, to compel her to give up her property. He carried a naked sword under his cloak, and, when the humor seized him, he stabbed, with shouts of laughter, the first person he met. His possessions he daily aug. mented by the most infamous robberies, and such was his power, and the terror he excited, that this monster was admired and venerated. Robert de Belesme was a noted character, of this sort. He took delight in seeing his captives perish; he amused himself with thrusting out the eyes of children with his thumb, and impaling men and women, 6. The bishops them

[ocr errors]

selves,” says a contemporary writer, “ I blush to say it, yet not all, but many, bound in iron and completely furnished with arms, were accustomed to mount warhorses with the annoyers of their country, to share their prey ; to expose to bonds and torture the knights whom they took in the chance of war, or whom they met full of money; and, while they themselves were the head and cause of so much wickedness and enormity, they ascribed it to their knights.”

It is true, that most of these ministers of cruelty died violently, as “ those who live by the sword must perish by the sword.” But while such habits lasted, the institution or practice of knight-errantry was an advantage to the community. Unquestionably, many knights-errant considered the benefit of an exploit rather than its morality ; but, while society was in this state of military chaos, there were so many wrongs to redress, that their exertions could not fail to be often on the side of right. There were always tyrant barons to be conquered, captives to be released, ladies to be assisted, and the castles of caitiffs, that defied law, to be taken ; and therefore a knight-errant, with a moderate portion of true chivalry and religious feeling, could easily contrive to unite his interest with his conscience, and relieve, with profit as well as credit to himself, the brave and injured. Knight-errantry, in fact, became a popular and lucrative profession. Till the increasing power of the kings had pervaded every part of the country, and compelled the great to respect the voice of law, and to feel the punishment of offended justice, no class of people could be more valued and useful than these knight adventurers. after a

[ocr errors]

time, the improvement of society having diminished their utility, the institution of knight-errantry disappeared with the evils which it had contributed to re


In illustration of the general spirit and manners of chivalry, as exhibited in that portion of Europe most abounding in romantic exploits, we present the following narrative.

On the first day of the year 1434, while the Spanish court was holding its festivities at Medina del Campo, a noble knight, named Sueno de Quiñones, presented himself before the king, John the Second, with a train of nine cavaliers gallantly arrayed, whose lofty demeanour and armorial ensigns showed that they prided themselves on the perfect purity of their Christian de. scent. The king smiled graciously on the strangers, and, learning from his attendants that they had come to court in order to solicit his patronage, he waved his hand in sign of permission for them to speak. A herald, whom they had brought with them, stepped in front, and in the name of Sueno de Quiñones spoke thus : “ It is just and reasonable, that any one, who has been so long in imprisonment as I have been, should desire his liberty, and, as your vassal and subject, I appear before

I you to state that I have been long bound in service to a noble lady; and, as is well known through heralds, not only in this country, but through foreign lands, every Thursday I am obliged to wear a chain of iron around my neck. But, with the aid of the Apostle James, I have discovered a means of liberation. I and my nine noble friends propose, during the fifteen days that precede and the fifteen days that follow the festival of that

« VorigeDoorgaan »