The word chivalry has meant at different times a good many different things-from heavy cavalry to giving a woman a seat in a train. But if we want to understand chivalry as an ideal distinct from other ideals - if we want to isolate that particular conception of the man comme il faut* which was the special contribution of the Middle Ages to our culture - we cannot do better than turn to the words addressed to the greatest of all imaginary knights in Malory's Morte Daurthur.

"Thou wert the meekest man", says Sir Ector to the dead Launcelot. "Thou wert the meekest man that ever ate in hall among ladies; and thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest."

The important thing about this ideal is, of course, the double demand it makes on human nature. The knight is a man of blood and iron, a man familiar with the sight of smashed faces and ragged stumps of lopped-off limbs; he is also a demure, almost a maidenlike, guest in hall, a gentle, modest, unobtrusive man. He is not a compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness; he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth. When Launcelot heard himself pronounced the best knight in the world, "he wept as he had been a child that had been beaten."

-- The Necessity of Chivalry, in Present Concerns: Essays by C.S. Lewis,
edited by Walter Hooper, page 13
* comme il faut : according with custom or propriety; being in accord with conventions or accepted standards; proper.

Albion's Code of Chivalry

Prowess: To seek excellence in all endeavors expected of a knight, seeking strength for the service of justice, rather than personal aggrandizement.

Justice: Seek always the path of "right," unencumbered by bias or personal interest. Recognize that the sword of justice can be a terrible thing, so it must be tempered by humanity and mercy.

Loyalty: Be known for unwavering commitment to the people and ideals you choose to live by.

Defense: The ideal knight was sworn by oath to defend his liege lord and those who depended upon him. Seek always to defend your nation, your family, and those whom you believe worthy of your loyalty.

Courage: Being a knight often means choosing the more difficult path, the personally expensive one. Be prepared to make personal sacrifices in service of precepts and people you value. At the same time, a knight should seek the wisdom to recognize that ignorance and courage are cousins. Courage also means taking the side of truth in all matters, rather than seeking the expedient lie. Seek the truth wherever possible, but remember to temper justice with mercy, or the pure truth can bring grief.

Faith: A knight must have faith in his beliefs, for faith roots him and gives hope against the despair that human failings create.

Humility: Value first the contributions of others; do not boast of your own accomplishments. Tell the deeds of others before your own, according them the renown rightfully earned through virtuous deeds.

Largesse: Be generous in so far as your resources will allow; largesse used in this way counters gluttony.

Nobility: Seek great stature of character by holding to the virtues and duties of a knight, realizing that though the ideals cannot be reached, the quality of striving towards them ennobles the spirit, growing the character. Nobility can also influence others, offering a compelling example of what can be done in the service of rightness.

Franchise: Seek to emulate everything here as sincerely as possible, not for the reason of personal gain, but because it is right. Do not restrict your exploration to a small world, but seek to infuse every aspect of your life with these qualities. Should you succeed in even a tiny measure, then you will be well remembered for your quality and virtue.


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