Knighthood in the Modern Age

My first question received under the “Ask Medieval” feature came from Gaharet and concerns how knighthood can be carried into the modern age.  To paraphrase, what are the essential features of knighthood and how might one be a modern knight?  The first quality of a knight is to be able to fight.  All other qualities of a knight surround the central fact of the knight being a warrior.  A knight may hesitate to strike a blow, but will not hit weakly when his hand is forced.  To that end in modern times, knowledge of how to shoot and martial arts are eminently desirable.  Next there comes keeping fit and healthy for action.  Thirdly, a knowledge of Historical European Martial Arts, though archaic, help in staying fit and better imagining what combat was like from a medieval knight’s perspective.

knights horses mountblade artwork medieval 1920x1200 wallpaper_www.wall321.com_97

The central virtue of the knight is courage.  The word courage derives from the French word for heart.  The knight must take care to keep his heart pure lest the taint of sin lead him to use force wantonly.  To which end, the virtues of faith, charity, chastity, honesty, magnanimity, obedience, loyalty, and good cheer are necessary.  To perfect his character still more, the knight ought to take on the mantle of meekness, not vaunting his own achievements but giving the glory to God.  The knight par excellence is a Christian gentleman.

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Ookami no Kuchi: How to Infuriate your Readers in 2 Chapters or Less

While browsing through my manga app, I ran across a manga titled Ookami no Kuchi: Wolfsmund.  At first, I was delighted to find that it was a manga based in 14th century Switzerland and that the artwork was quite brilliant.  However, it was disconcerting that it began with an execution of a Swiss freedom fighter; yet, stories that begin darkly often feature stronger struggles and make a happy ending more compelling.  So, I decided to read the first and then the second chapter.

Emperor Charlemagne Holding Sword

The first chapter was pretty grim.  A knight tried to smuggle the executed freedom fighter’s daughter across the border, because the tyrannical lord wished to execute his entire family.  Goaded by a claim I found on Baka Updates saying: “The author pulls no punches to show us just how brutal and inhuman the Middle Ages really were,” I must point out certain flaws in the manga on this point.  First off, it would be incredible for a medieval king to wish to wipe out a family’s womenfolk.  Most would not even make a serious attempt to kill all the men as long as they no longer posed a threat.  Exile and imprisonment were much preferred means of punishment until around the time of the Protestant Reformation, where the masses of people executed on both sides for heresy seems to have dulled people’s qualms about capital punishment.

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Anyway, the daughter disguises herself but she and the knight end up being discovered by the noble running a checkpoint known as Wolfsmund (Wolf’s maw).  The knight is killed by crossbowmen and the lady  executed on a chopping block.  Medievals never executed women unless they were found guilty of witchcraft.  The attitude of a 19th century American on the topic of hanging a woman differed not in the least with the attitude of a medieval man on the subject.  But, in this manga’s favor, I must note that the style of fighting employed by the knights, which uses the hilt and pommel as well as the blade, is very accurate–even if finishing one’s opponent off, which the lady’s knight was compelled to do, was not.

Knight and Lady

Anyway, having been depressed by these events, I pressed on to the next chapter, wherein it is revealed that the freedom fighters are making great progress in ousting the tyrant ruling over them.  A pair of lovers is separated because the woman, a very capable fighter herself, is given a mission to pass beyond Wolfsmund to transport back money from a Florentine bank.  Need I say that a woman traveling alone is unheard of in the Middle Ages?  Especially in the disguise of an old woman?  That’s a very easy way to arose suspicion!  Better would have been to disguise herself along with a compatriot as nuns.  As it turns out, the poor girl is discovered by a trick the nobleman plays on her and thrown into the dungeon.

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From which, she herself manages to escape, only to be cornered atop a wall and killed by a thrown sword.  Now, the broadsword, unlike the katana, was never intended to be thrown.  The weight is balanced too close at the hilt.  The first throw does hit the girl hilt first, which is the most likely way it would land; while the second pierces her back–a blow only possible through incredible good luck.  Then, her corpse is displayed on a wheel–I did not turn the next page to see exactly how they displayed her corpse, but it must not have been pleasant.  At any rate, though male enemies’ corpses were sometimes displayed and mutilated during the Middle Ages; I doubt that a woman’s corpse ever suffered the same fate.  Despite popular opinion, medievals were not barbarians, and I suspect such an action would have brought the censure of the Church.

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At this point, I got the picture that the manga would consist of failed attempts upon the gate and the cruelty inflicted on the trespassers by the nobleman in charge of it.  No enduring protagonist had emerged yet, with the exception of the female owner of an inn (women owning inns was probably not uncommon at the time), who seems unable to help the good guys.  And so, I put down this novel which concerned itself more with exploring human suffering than telling a good story.

The Awesome Charlemagne and A Short Hiatus

Well, dear readers, I must now prepare to go on vacation.  We leave at 4 AM first to visit my brother’s in Richmond.  The next day we travel to Sanibel and Captiva, Florida with the intention of staying there until July 1st or until we begin to feel sorry for leaving our cats.  The change of routine will do me well; however, this will cause a short period of inactivity here.  Nevertheless, I shall attempt to read some interesting works and to scribble some essays in my down time which will find their way to this blog after July 1st.  Yes, I’m an incorrigible bookworm, but this mode of being has some benefits.

The greatest bookworm of them all, Yomiko Readman!

For example, when Pliny the Younger’s guardian, Pliny the Elder, enthusiastically suggested that they go and see the eruption of Mount Vesuvius up close, Pliny the Younger replied that he would prefer to read a certain book.  Pliny the Elder no doubt chided his namesake concerning his lack of a spirit of adventure and scientific inquiry, but this turned out to be Pliny the Elder’s last scientific foray.

But now to begin my review of the Penguin edition of The Two Lives of Charlemagne by Einhard and Notker the Stammerer.  The latter’s life of Charlemagne is a string of anecdotes mocking worldly churchmen and poking fun at foolish nobles.  It provides a very personal character sketch of the ruler: one gets a picture of a hot tempered, wise, commonsense, and powerful monarch–both physically and regally–with a good sense of humor, which only makes me happier to account him as one of my ancestors.  (I must confess, dear readers, that probably half of you are as nearly related, so I shouldn’t feel too proud of this; but, it’s still nice knowing that one is somehow related to an emperor.)

Here are some examples of the anecdotes to which Notker treats the reader: Charlemagne gives a merchant free rein in order to trick a bishop known for buying silly trinkets and baubles.  The merchant, declaring to the bishop that he possesses a rare oriental creature, convinces him to buy a painted mouse for “a full measure of silver” (something over fifty pounds of silver, I suppose).  This same bishop later receives an edict from Charlemagne to the effect that he must preach a sermon on a certain feast day or else forfeit his see.  While the bishop realizes that he severely lacks rhetorical skill, he does not wish to relinquish his see.  So, he stands behind the pulpit as if to sermonize, then notices a certain person who, in order to conceal the redness of his scalp, has his head covered in church.  The bishop demands that the man be brought to him in bold tones.  Then, once the man is in arms’ reach, he snatches off the covering and solemnly declares to the congregation: “Lo and behold, you people!  This fool is red headed!”  Forthwith, he continues the mass.  When some of Charlemagne’s representatives reported this to him, the monarch is said to have been pleased by the bishop making some kind of effort to obey his edict.

This one stands as my favorite: the Greeks have a custom that the king is disgraced whenever a fellow diner looks through a pile of meat for a better cut.  One can only take whatever is on top.  While visiting this country, a clever knight of Charlemagne’s does so, and several Greeks demand that he be put to death for “disgracing” the king.  Charlemagne says he must do as they say, but he tells the knight that he may ask for one final boon.  The knight requests that all who have seen him do this have their eyes put out.  Charlemagne agrees to this strange request and is closely followed by the queen in declaring that he did not see him do this, swearing by God.  The end result is that all the Greeks and Franks at the table swear by God and the saints that they had not seen the knight do this, who is spared from capital punishment for lack of a witness.

Einhard, unlike Notker, actually lived during Charlemagne’s time as a close confidant of the emperor, admired for his learning and character.  His work is much more historical than Notker’s, and especially useful since he was present at all the events he chronicled.  He gives more details concerning Charlemagne’s wars and even provides us with a physical portrait of the emperor.  Though, it describes the emperor’s character in a matter of fact way, it is still almost as engrossing as Notker’s anecdotes.  So, this is a very good edition for those of you who both want the historical background of this man’s times and a more personal sketch of his character.

May you all also enjoy pleasant vacations and good books this summer!