Friday, October 19, 2012
"Knights were meant to be virtuous..." So said said one of my students in the fourth-year chivalry seminar. He was commenting on a question I asked the class to answer. How did crusading affect the way warriors were viewed?
So far we have not really been talking about what most people call "Knights". I think that before 1100, we have to be careful to say that we are seeing soldiers/men who provide military service (milites) or horsemen (chevaliers) or henchmen (knechts/knights) or military dependents (vassals). But the knights who represent the idea of chivalry to us, the knights of the medieval romances, or Walter Scott, I don't think they've come down the pike yet. Did great lords identify themselves as knights? In most regions, very rarely.
These armed horsemen were not expected as far as I can tell to be exemplars of individual virtue. Their virtue was a simple evaluation of whether they were rapacious and murderous, or not. And with the preaching of the crusade, whether they were fighting in a good cause against outsiders, or beating up on their Christian brothers at home. The armed horsemen were evaluated as part of a group that might be contributing to the public good or running wild breaking the peace.
As we move into the 12th century, however, we will see the poets devoting a lot of energy to the virtues and vices of individual knights, fictional ones by and large, but distinct individuals nonetheless.
Image: from a website promoting virtue.