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Bulfinch's Mythology: The Age of Chivalry

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Author Topic: Bulfinch's Mythology: The Age of Chivalry  (Read 615 times)
Jana Chand-Medlock
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« Reply #15 on: October 27, 2009, 12:55:01 am »

instrumentality must have been of the rudest description. The force
whose legitimate purpose was to redress wrongs, might easily be
perverted to inflict them. Accordingly, we find in the romances,
which, however fabulous in facts, are true as pictures of manners,
that a knightly castle was often a terror to the surrounding
country; that its dungeons were full of oppressed knights and
ladies, waiting for some champion to appear to set them free, or to be
ransomed with money; that hosts of idle retainers were ever at hand to
enforce their lord's behests, regardless of law and justice; and
that the rights of the unarmed multitude were of no account. This
contrariety of fact and theory in regard to chivalry will account
for the opposite impressions which exist in men's minds respecting it.
While it has been the theme of the most fervid eulogium on the one
part, it has been as eagerly denounced on the other. On a cool
estimate, we cannot but see reason to congratulate ourselves that it
has given way in modern times to the reign of law, and that the
civil magistrate, if less picturesque, has taken the place of the
mailed champion.
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Jana Chand-Medlock
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« Reply #16 on: October 27, 2009, 12:55:25 am »


The preparatory education of candidates for knighthood was long
and arduous. At seven years of age the noble children were usually
removed from their father's house to the court or castle of their
future patron, and placed under the care of a governor, who taught
them the first articles of religion, and respect and reverence for
their lords and superiors, and initiated them in the ceremonies of a
court, They were called pages, valets or varlets, and their office was
to carve, to wait at table, and to perform other menial services which
were not then considered humiliating. In their leisure hours they
learned to dance and play on the harp, were instructed in the
mysteries of woods and rivers, that is, in hunting, falconry, and
fishing, and in wrestling, tilting with spears, and performing other
military exercises on horseback. At fourteen the page became an
esquire, and began a course of severer and more laborious exercises.
To vault on a horse in heavy armor; to run, to scale walls, and spring
over ditches, under the same encumbrance; to wrestle, to wield the
battle-axe for a length of time, without raising the visor or taking
breath; to perform with grace all the evolutions of horsemanship,-
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Jana Chand-Medlock
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Posts: 115

« Reply #17 on: October 27, 2009, 12:55:38 am »

were necessary preliminaries to the reception of knighthood, which was
usually conferred at twenty-one years of age, when the young man's
education was supposed to be completed. In the meantime, the
esquires were no less assiduously engaged in acquiring all those
refinements of civility which formed what was in that age called
courtesy. The same castle in which they received their education was
usually thronged with young persons of the other sex, and the page was
encouraged, at a very early age, to select some lady of the court as
the mistress of his heart, to whom he was taught to refer all his
sentiments, words, and actions. The service of his mistress was the
glory and occupation of a knight, and her smiles, bestowed at once
by affection and gratitude, were held out as the recompense of his
well-directed valor. Religion united its influence with those of
loyalty and love, and the order of knighthood, endowed with all the
sanctity and religious awe that attended the priesthood, became an
object of ambition to the greatest sovereigns.
The ceremonies of initiation were peculiarly solemn. After
undergoing a severe fast, and spending whole nights in prayer, the
candidate confessed, and received the sacrament. He then clothed
himself in snow-white garments, and repaired to the church, or the
hall, where the ceremony was to take place, bearing a knightly sword
suspended from his neck, which the officiating priest took and
blessed, and then returned to him. The candidate then, with folded
arms, knelt before the presiding knight, who, after some questions
about his motives and purposes in requesting admission, administered
to him the oaths, and granted his request. Some of the knights
present, sometimes even ladies and damsels, handed to him in
succession the spurs, the coat of mail, the hauberk, the armlet and
gauntlet, and lastly he girded on the sword. He then knelt again
before the president, who, rising from his seat, gave him the
"accolade," which consisted of three strokes, with the flat of a
sword, on the shoulder or neck of the candidate, accompanied by the
words: "In the name of God, of St. Michael, and St. George, I make
thee a knight; be valiant, courteous, and loyal!" Then he received his
helmet, his shield, and spear; and thus the investiture ended.
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Jana Chand-Medlock
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« Reply #18 on: October 27, 2009, 12:55:50 am »


The other classes of which society was composed were, first,
freemen, owners of small portions of land, independent, though they
sometimes voluntarily became the vassals of their more opulent
neighbors, whose power was necessary for their protection. The other
two classes, which were much the most numerous, were either serfs or
villains, both of which were slaves.
The serfs were in the lowest state of slavery. All the fruits of
their labor belonged to the master whose land they tilled, and by whom
they were fed and clothed.
The villains were less degraded. Their situation seems to have
resembled that of the Russian peasants at this day; Like the serfs,
they were attached to the soil, and were transferred with it by
purchase; but they paid only a fixed rent to the landlord, and had a
right to dispose of any surplus that might arise from their industry.
The term clerk was of very extensive import. It comprehended,
originally, such persons only as belonged to the clergy, or clerical
order, among whom, however, might be found a multitude of married
persons, artisans or others. But in process of time a much wider
rule was established; every one that could read being accounted a
clerk, or clericus, and allowed the "benefit of clergy," that is,
exemption from capital and some other forms of punishment, in case
of crime.
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Jana Chand-Medlock
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Posts: 115

« Reply #19 on: October 27, 2009, 12:56:02 am »


The splendid pageant of a tournament between knights, its gaudy
accessories and trappings, and its chivalrous regulations,
originated in France. Tournaments were repeatedly condemned by the
Church, probably on account of the quarrels they led to, and the often
fatal results. The "joust," or "just," was different from the
tournament. In these, knights fought with their lances, and their
object was to unhorse their antagonists; while the tournaments were
intended for a display of skill and address in evolutions, and with
various weapons, and greater courtesy was observed in the regulations.
By these it was forbidden to wound the horse, or to use the point of
the sword, or to strike a knight after he had raised his visor, or
unlaced his helmet. The ladies encouraged their knights in these
exercises; they bestowed prizes, and the conqueror's feats were the
theme of romance and song. The stands overlooking the ground, of
course, were varied in the shapes of towers, terraces, galleries,
and pensile gardens, magnificently decorated with tapestry, pavilions,
and banners. Every combatant proclaimed the name of the lady whose
servant d'amour he was. He was wont to look up to the stand, and
strengthen his courage by the sight of the bright eyes that were
raining their influence on him from above. The. knights also carried
favors, consisting of scarfs, veils, sleeves, bracelets, clasps,- in
short, some piece of female habiliment,- attached to their helmets,
shields, or armor. If, during the combat, any of these appendages were
dropped or lost, the fair donor would at times send her knight new
ones, especially if pleased with his exertions.
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Jana Chand-Medlock
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« Reply #20 on: October 27, 2009, 12:56:13 am »


Mail armor, of which the hauberk is a species, and which derived its
name from maille, a French word for mesh, was of two kinds, plate or
scale mail, and chain mail. It was originally used for the
protection of the body only, reaching no lower than the knees. It
was shaped like a carter's frock, and bound round the waist by a
girdle. Gloves and hose of mail were afterwards added, and a hood,
which, when necessary, was drawn over the head, leaving the face alone
uncovered. To protect the skin from the impression of the iron network
of the chain mail, a quilted lining was employed, which, however,
was insufficient, and the bath was used to efface the marks of the
The hauberk was a complete covering of double chain mail. Some
hauberks opened before, like a modern coat; others were closed like
a shirt.
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Jana Chand-Medlock
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« Reply #21 on: October 27, 2009, 12:56:26 am »

iron links, each link having others REPLACEed into it, the whole
exhibiting a kind of network, of which (in some instances at least)
the meshes were circular, with each link separately riveted.
The hauberk was proof against the most violent blow of a sword;
but the point of a lance might pass through the meshes, or drive the
iron into the flesh. To guard against this, a thick and well-stuffed
doublet was worn underneath, under which was commonly added an iron
breastplate. Hence the expression "to pierce both plate and mail,"
so common in the earlier poets.
Mail armor continued in general use till about the year 1300, when
it was gradually supplanted by plate armor, or suits consisting of
pieces or plates of solid iron, adapted to the different parts of
the body.
Shields were generally made of wood, covered with leather, or some
similar substance. To secure them, in some sort, from being cut
through by the sword, they were surrounded with a hoop of metal.
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Jana Chand-Medlock
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« Reply #22 on: October 27, 2009, 12:56:38 am »


The helmet was composed of two parts: the headpiece, which was
strengthened within by several circles of iron; and the visor,
which, as the name implies, was a sort of grating to see through, so
contrived as, by sliding in a groove, or turning on a pivot, to be
raised or lowered at pleasure. Some helmets had a further
improvement called a bever, from the Italian bevere, to drink. The
ventayle, or "air-passage," is another name for this.
To secure the helmet from the possibility of falling, or of being
struck off, it was tied by several laces to the meshes of the hauberk;
consequently, when a knight was overthrown, it was necessary to undo
these laces before he could be put to death; though this was sometimes
effected by lifting up the skirt of the hauberk, and stabbing him in
the belly. The instrument of death was a small dagger, worn on the
right side.
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Jana Chand-Medlock
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« Reply #23 on: October 27, 2009, 12:56:52 am »


In ages when there were no books, when noblemen and princes
themselves could not read, history or tradition was monopolized by the
story-tellers. They inherited, generation after generation, the
wondrous tales of their predecessors, which they retailed to the
public with such additions of their own as their acquired
information supplied them with. Anachronisms became of course very
common, and errors of geography, of locality, of manners, equally
so. Spurious genealogies were invented, in which Arthur and his
knights, and Charlemagne and his paladins, were made to derive their
descent from AEneas, Hector, or some other of the Trojan heroes.
With regard to the derivation of the word Romance, we trace it to
the fact that the dialects which were formed in Western Europe, from
the admixture of Latin with the native languages, took the name of
Langue Romaine. The French language was divided into two dialects. The
river Loire was their common boundary. In the provinces to the south
of that river the affirmative, yes, was expressed by the word oc; in
the north it was called oil (oui); and hence Dante has named the
southern language langue d'oc, and the northern langue d'oil. The
latter, which was carried into England by the Normans, and is the
origin of the present French, may be called the French Romane; and the
former the Provencal, or Provencial Romane, because it was spoken by
the people of Provence and Languedoc, southern provinces of France.
These dialects were soon distinguished by very opposite
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Jana Chand-Medlock
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« Reply #24 on: October 27, 2009, 12:57:14 am »

characters. A soft and enervating climate, a spirit of commerce
encouraged by an easy communication with other maritime nations, the
influx of wealth, and a more settled government, may have tended to
polish and soften the diction of the Provencials, whose poets, under
the name of Troubadours, were the masters of the Italians, and
particularly of Petrarch. Their favorite pieces were Sirventes
(satirical pieces), love-songs, and Tensons, which last were a sort of
dialogue in verse between two poets, who questioned each other on some
refined points of love's casuistry. It seems the Provencials were so
completely absorbed in these delicate questions as to neglect and
despise the composition of fabulous histories of adventure and
knighthood, which they left in a great measure to the poets of the
northern part of the kingdom, called Trouveurs.
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Jana Chand-Medlock
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« Reply #25 on: October 27, 2009, 12:57:32 am »

At a time when chivalry excited universal admiration, and when all
the efforts of that chivalry were directed against the enemies of
religion, it was natural that literature should receive the same
impulse, and that history and fable should be ransacked to furnish
examples of courage and piety that might excite increased emulation.
Arthur and Charlemagne were the two heroes selected for this
purpose. Arthur's pretensions were that he was a brave, though not
always a successful warrior; he had withstood with great resolution
the arms of the infidels, that is to say, of the Saxons, and his
memory was held in the highest estimation by his countrymen, the
Britons, who carried with them into Wales, and into the kindred
country of Armorica, or Brittany, the memory of his exploits, which
their national vanity insensibly exaggerated, till the little prince
of the Silures (South Wales) was magnified into the conqueror of
England, of Gaul, and of the greater part of Europe. His genealogy was
gradually carried up to an imaginary Brutus, and to the period of
the Trojan war, and a sort of chronicle was composed in the Welsh,
or Armorican language, which, under the pompous title of the History
of the Kings of Britain, was translated into Latin by Geoffrey of
Monmouth, about the year 1150. The Welsh critics consider the material
of the work to have been an older history, written by St. Talian,
Bishop of St. Asaph, in the seventh century.
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Jana Chand-Medlock
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Posts: 115

« Reply #26 on: October 27, 2009, 12:57:53 am »

As to Charlemagne, though his real merits were sufficient to
secure his immortality, it was impossible that his holy wars against
the Saracens should not become a favorite topic for fiction.
Accordingly, the fabulous history of these wars was written,
probably towards the close of the eleventh century, by a monk, who,
thinking it would add dignity to his work to embellish it with a
contemporary name, boldly ascribed it to Turpin, who was Archbishop of
Rheims about the year 773.
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Jana Chand-Medlock
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« Reply #27 on: October 27, 2009, 12:58:10 am »

These fabulous chronicles were for a while imprisoned in languages
of local only or of professional access. Both Turpin and Geoffrey
might indeed be read by ecclesiastics, the sole Latin scholars of
those times, and Geoffrey's British original would contribute to the
gratification of Welshmen; but neither could become extensively
popular till translated into some language of general and familiar
use. The Anglo-Saxon was at that time used only by a conquered and
enslaved nation; the Spanish and Italian languages were not yet
formed; the Norman French alone was spoken and understood by the
nobility in the greater part of Europe, and therefore was a proper
vehicle for the new mode of composition.
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Jana Chand-Medlock
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Posts: 115

« Reply #28 on: October 27, 2009, 12:59:06 am »

That language was fashionable in England before the Conquest, and
became, after that event, the only language used at the court of
London. As the various conquests of the Normans, and the
enthusiastic valor of that extraordinary people, had familiarized
the minds of men with the most marvellous events, their poets
eagerly seized the fabulous legends of Arthur and Charlemagne,
translated them into the language of the day, and soon produced a
variety of imitations. The adventures attributed to these monarchs,
and to their distinguished warriors, together with those of many other
traditionary or imaginary heroes, composed by degrees that
formidable body of marvellous histories which, from the dialect in
which the most ancient of them were written, were called Romances.
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Jana Chand-Medlock
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« Reply #29 on: October 27, 2009, 12:59:16 am »


The earliest form in which romances appear is that of a rude kind of
verse. In this form it is supposed they were sung or recited at the
feasts of princes and knights in their baronial halls. The following
specimen of the language and style of Robert de Beauvais, who
flourished in 1257, is from Sir Walter Scott's Introduction to the
Romance of Sir Tristram:

"Ne voil pas emmi dire,
Ici diverse la matyere,
Entre ceus qui solent cunter,
E de la cunte Tristran parler."

"I will not say too much about it,
So diverse is the matter,
Among those who are in the habit of telling
And relating the story of Tristran."
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