Kneeling Knight. Codex Manesse (c. 1340)

The Order of Chivalry

Chivalry is an informal and varying code of conduct that evolved over the 12th to 14th centuries or so. It was associated with the medieval Christian institution of knighthood; knights’ and gentlemen’s behaviors were governed by chivalrous social codes. Over time, its meaning in Europe has been refined to emphasize more general social and moral virtues. The code of chivalry, as it stood by the Late Middle Ages, was a moral system which combined a warrior ethos, knightly piety, and courtly manners (including deeply honoring women) to establish an archetype of prowess, honor and nobility.

Three medieval works summarize the thinking at the time:

  • The anonymous poem Ordene de chevalerie (The Order of Chivalry, around 1220), a fictional story of how Hugh II of Tiberias was captured, and agreed to show Saladin (1138–1193) — the supreme commander of the Islamic forces who wrested Jerusalem from the Crusaders — the ritual of Christian knighthood in exchange for his release.
  • The Livre de Chevalerie (The Book of Chivalry, early 1350’s) by Geoffroi de Charny (1300–1356) examines the qualities of knighthood, emphasizing prowess. Charny was himself regarded as one of the foremost knights of his day, and is the first historically documented owner of the Shroud of Turin.
  • The Libre del ordre de cavayleria (The Book of the Order of Chivalry, around 1275), by Ramon Llull (1232–1315), a polymath and Christian mystic from Majorca. Llull thought that knights should be chosen, trained, and ordained like priests. Llull’s book was the most popular of the three and became something of the handbook throughout much of Europe.

Ramon Llull

Ramon Llull (1232 – c. 1315/16) was born to a wealthy family in Barcelona, and became the chief administrator of the royal household there as well as a troubadour. However, in 1263 (aged 31), while writing a bawdy song for his lady-friend “he looked to his right and saw our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross, as if suspended in mid-air.” The vision occurred five times. Llull took the hint, sold all his possessions imitating Saint Francis of Assisi and set out on pilgrimages to various holy shrines, never to return to his family and profession. For the next nine years he engaged in study and contemplation in relative solitude, reading extensively in both Latin and Arabic, learning both Christian and Muslim theological and philosophical thought. (Llull had the novel idea that one should ‘convert the Islamic infidels’ by learning the Arabic language and culture and persuading them, instead of military force.)

Ramon Llull
Ramon Llull

Over the remainder of his life he wrote some 250 books on philosophy and theology. He also invented a philosophical system known as the Art, conceived as a type of universal logic to prove the truth of Christian doctrine. The Art consists of a set of general principles and combinatorial operations — considered by some to be a precursor to the branch of mathematics known as Combinatorics. Some computer scientists have also adopted Llull as something of founding father, claiming that his system of logic was the beginning of information science. Posthumously, in Catalonia he was revered as a saint, elsewhere condemned as a heretic, but beatified by Pope Pius IX in 1847.

Personal Application

In order to go on a Grail Quest (whatever that is for you), first you must master the basic skills. Every path has its practical skills: to be a writer you have to be able to read and write. To be a business person you have to understand basic arithmetic and accounting. To be a knight you have to know how to put on your armor, and use a sword and shield. But all these paths also have skills of the heart: Self-discipline. The ability to focus one’s attention for long periods of time. The ability to endure hardship without self-pity. And you will do better if you overcome your natural inclination to self-importance — in other words, humility. We need the chivalric virtues to have any chance of success on our Quest. They are the foundation upon which all else is built.

Llull’s The Book of the Order of Chivalry

The Hermit Knight

Llull opens his book with the story of a young squire about to be knighted, who loses his way in a forest and finds on an old, retired knight living as a hermit. The hermit knight imparts his wisdom to the squire. The full story can be found here.

The Virtues

In chapter 5, Llull metaphorically equates elements of the knight’s equipment to chivalric virtues.

The Knight's Virtues
Summa de virtutibus et vitiis, Guilelmus Peraldus c.1255-1265. Public Domain

The Knight’s Arms

1. Truth and the Knight’s Lance
Llull’s exposition can be found here.

2. Justice and the Knight’s Sword
Llull’s exposition can be found here.

3. Hope and the Knight’s Dagger
Llull’s exposition can be found here.

4. Courage & the Knight’s Mace
Llull’s exposition can be found here.

The Knight’s Armor

5. Humility and the Knight’s Chapel-de-fer

6. Obedience and the Knight’s Collar
Llull’s exposition can be found here.

The Knight’s Collar

7. Endurance and the Knight’s Pourpoint

8. Dignity and the Knight’s Shield

The Knight’s Horse

9. Perseverance & the Knight’s Spurs
Llull’s exposition can be found here.

10. Courtesy & the Horse’s Bit
Llull’s exposition can be found here.

11. Reason and the Horse’s Shaffron
Llull’s exposition can be found here.

12. Confidence and the Horse’s Saddle


Suggested Reading:

Crouch, David. The Birth of Nobility. Routledge, 2005. ISBN 978-0582369818. Amazon. The first third of the book concerns the history of chivalry.

Llull, Ramon. Fallows, Noel (trans.). The Book of the Order of Chivalry. Boydell Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1843838494. Amazon

Priani, Ernesto, “Ramon Llull”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Link. Includes an extensive description of Llull’s Art.

Image Credits

Ramon Llull: courtesy of Ricard Ackermann. URL

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