Historical Reprints History History of Chivalry

History of Chivalry

History of Chivalry
Catalog # SKU3680
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 2.00 lbs
Author Name Charles Mills
ISBN 10: 0000000000
ISBN 13: 0000000000000


History of Chivalry

2 Volume Set

Knighthood and its Times

Charles Mills

There is little to charm the imagination in the first ages of Chivalry. No plumed steeds, no warrior bearing on his crested helm the favour of his lady bright, graced those early times. All was rudeness and gloom. But the subject is not altogether without interest, as it must ever be curious to mark the causes and the first appearances in conduct of any widely spread system of opinions.

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The martial force of the people who occupied northern and central Europe in the time of the Romans, was chiefly composed of infantry; but afterwards a great though imperceptible change took place, and, during all the long period which forms, in historic phrase, the middle ages, cavalry was the strongest arm of military power. Terms, expressive of this martial array, were sought for in its distinguishing circumstances. Among the ruins of the Latin language, caballus signified a horse, caballarius a horseman, and caballicare, to ride; and from these words all the languages that were formed on a Latin basis, derived their phrases descriptive of military duties on horseback.

In all languages of Teutonic origin, the same circumstance was expressed by words literally signifying service. The German knight, the Saxon cnight, are synonymous to the French cavalier, the Italian cavaliere, and the Spanish caballero. The word rider also designated the same person, preceded by, or standing without, the word knight.

Military and Moral Chivalry.

In the kingdoms which sprang from the ruins of the Roman empire, every king, baron, and person of estate was a knight; and therefore the whole face of Europe was overspread with cavalry. Considered in this aspect, the knighthood and the feudalism of Europe were synonymous and coexistent. But there was a chivalry within this chivalry; a moral and personal knighthood; not the well-ordered assemblage of the instruments of ambition, but a military barrier against oppression and tyranny, a corrective of feudal despotism and injustice. Something like this description of knighthood may be said to have existed in all ages and countries. Its generousness may be paralleled in Homeric times, and vice has never reigned entirely without control. But the chivalry, the gallant and Christian chivalry of Europe, was purer and brighter than any preceding condition of society; for it established woman in her just rank in the moral world, and many of its principles of action proceeded from a divine source, which the classical ancients could not boast of.

Origin of Chivalry.

Usages of the Germans.

Election of Soldiers.


Some of the rules and maxims of chivalry had their origin in that state of society in which the feudal system arose; and regarded particularly in a military light, we find chivalry a part of the earliest condition of a considerable part of the European world. The bearing of arms was never a matter of mere private choice. Among the Germans, it rested with the state to declare a man qualified to serve his country in arms. In an assembly of the chiefs of his nation, his father, or a near relation, presented a shield and a javelin to a young and approved candidate for martial honours, who from that moment was considered as a member of the commonwealth, and ranked as a citizen. In northern as well as in central Europe, both in Scandinavia and Germany, the same principle was observed; and a young man at the age of fifteen became an independent agent, by receiving a sword, a buckler, and a lance, at some public meeting.

The spirit of clanship, or fraternity, which ran through the chivalry of the middle ages, is of the remotest antiquity. It existed in Germany, in Scandinavia, and also in Gaul. In all these countries, every young man, when adorned with his military weapons, entered the train of some chief; but he was rather his companion than his follower; for, however numerous were the steps and distinctions of service, a noble spirit of equality ran through them all. These generous youths formed the bulwark of their leader in war, and were his ornament in peace. This spirit of companionship shewed itself in all its power and beauty in the field. It was disgraceful for a prince to be surpassed in valour by his companions; their military deeds were to be heroic, but the lustre of them was never to dim the brightness of his own fame. The chief fought for victory, the followers fought for their chief. The defence of the leader in battle, to die with him rather than to leave him, were, in the minds of the military fathers of Europe, obvious and necessary corollaries of these principles. The spirit of companionship burnt more fiercely in remote ages, than in times commonly called chivalric; for if, by the chance of war, a person was thrown into the hands of an enemy, his military companions would surrender themselves prisoners, thinking it disgraceful to live in security and indolence, when their chief and associate was in misery.

And to bring the matter home to English readers, it may be mentioned, that in the history of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, many instances are recorded where vassals refused to survive their lord. Cyneheard, brother of the deposed king Sigebyrcht, slew the usurper Cynewulf; and though he offered freedom to the attendants of the slain, yet they all preferred death to submission to a new lord, and they died in a vain and wild endeavour to revenge him. Immediately afterwards fortune frowned on Cyneheard, and his eighty-four companions, save one, were slain, though liberty had been offered to them; but declaring that their generosity was not inferior to the generosity of the attendants of Cynewulf, they perished in a hopeless battle.

Dignity of obedience.

The feeling which, in chivalric times, became designated as the dignity of obedience, may be traced in these circumstances, but it is more clearly shewn in a singular record of the domestic manners of ancient Europe; for we learn from Athenæus, in his treatise of the suppers of the Celts, that it was the custom of the Gaulish youths to stand behind the seats, and to attend upon their fathers during the principal daily meal.

Here we see the germ, if not of the duties of the squire to the knight, yet of the feeling which suggested their performance. The beautiful subordination of chivalry had its origin in the domestic relations of life; obedience became virtuous when nature sanctioned it, and there could be no loss of personal consideration in a youth performing services which his own father had performed, and which, as years and circumstances advanced, would be rendered to himself. Gallantry.

The gallantry of knighthood, that quality which distinguishes, and distinguishes so much to its advantage, the modern from the ancient world, was not created by any chivalric institution. We know indeed that it was cradled in the same sentiments which nursed the other principles of chivalry, but its birth is lost in the remoteness of ages; and I would rather dwell in my ignorance of the precise period of its antiquity, than think with Plutarch that the feeling arose from a judicious opinion delivered by some women on occasion of a particular dispute between a few of the Celtic tribes.

It was in truth the virtue of the sex, and not any occasional or accidental opinion, that raised them to their high and respectful consideration. The Roman historian marked it as a peculiarity among the Germans, that marriage was considered by them as a sacred institution15, and that a man confined himself to the society of one wife.

The mind of Tacitus was filled with respect for the virtuous though unpolished people of the north; and, reverting his eyes to Rome, the describer of manners becomes the indignant satirist, and he exclaims, that no one in Germany dares to ridicule the holy ordinance of marriage, or to call an infringement of its laws a compliance with the manners of the age.

In earlier times, when the Cimbri invaded Italy, and were worsted by Marius, the female Teutonic captives wished to be placed among the vestal virgins, binding themselves to perpetual chastity, but the Romans could not admire or sympathize with such lofty-mindedness, and the women had recourse to death, the last sad refuge of their virtue. Strabo picturesquely describes venerable and hoary-headed prophetesses seated at the council of the Cimbri, dressed in long linen vestments of shining white. They were not only embassadresses, but were often entrusted with the charge of governing kingdoms.

The courage of the knight of chivalry was inspired by the lady of his affections, a feature of character clearly deducible from the practice among the German nations, of women mingling in the field of battle with their armed brothers, fathers, and husbands. Women were always regarded as incentives to valour, and when warring with a nation of different manners, the German general could congratulate his soldiers on having motives to courage, which the enemy did not possess.

The warrior of the north, like the hero of chivalry, hoped for female smiles from his skill in athletic and martial exercises; and we may take the anecdote as an instance of the general manners of European antiquity, that the chief anxiety of a Danish champion, who had lost his chin and one of his cheeks by a single stroke of a sword, was, how he should be received by the Danish maidens, when his personal features had been thus dreadfully marred.-"The Danish girls will not now willingly or easily give me kisses, if I should perhaps return home," was his complaint.

Harald the Valiant was one of the most eminent adventurers of his age. He had slain mighty men; and after sweeping the seas of the north as a conqueror, he descended to the Mediterranean, and the shores of Africa. But a greater power now opposed him, and he was taken prisoner, and detained for some time at Constantinople. He endeavoured to beguile his gloomy solitude by song; but his muse gave him no joy, for he complains that the reputation he had acquired by so many hazardous exploits, by his skill in single combat, riding, swimming, gliding along the ice, darting, rowing, and guiding a ship through the rocks, had not been able to make any impression on Elissiff, or Elizabeth, the beautiful daughter of Yarilas, king of Russia.

720 pages in 2 volumes - 7 x 8½ softcover

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