Chivalry Codified: A Survey of the Sources

When many think of a warrior code, the “Bushido”- or the Japanese “Way of the Warrior”- is the first thing to come to mind. The bushido is the Code of virtues that the ancient Samaria warrior was to keep. While the virtues of the Bushido were exemplified in the ancient legends of the Samaria, they were not codified as such until the generation after the Samaria warrior class was abolished in japan.

The author of the Bushido- as we have it today- was Tsunetomo Yamamoto, a Japanese educator and diplomat. He wrote “Bushido: The soul of Japan” in 1899, just decades after japan had abolished this warrior class. It can be reasonably assumed then, that he had a good grasp on the values of this warrior culture, as it came down to him.

Theodore Roosevelt was so impressed with Yamamoto’s “Bushido” that he purchased copies of the book for friends and family. And truly, it is a great Warrior Code. I will share its virtues here.

Bushido: The way of the Warrior
Rectitude (Justice)
Courage
Benevolence and Mercy
Politeness (Courtesy)
Honesty
Honor
Loyalty
Self Control

But there is more to this story that is almost never told. Tsunetomo Yamamoto, was a devout and outspoken Christian. Also, he was living in California when he wrote the “Bushido.” Further, his allusions to medieval European knights and their Chivalric code, and his biblical references, makes it clear that he was at least knowledgeable of the knightly Code of Chivalry, if not influenced by it. As we go further back in history and consider our subject, you too will see that the similarities are striking. In this light, it would be hard to read the codified Christian European knightly virtues without feeling certain that Yamamoto’s “way of the warrior” was, at least in part, influenced by his Christian faith and his knowledge of of the knightly chivalric code.

So now, we shall look more directly at the sources of our Chivalric Code. Various time periods and various regions or Europe had slight variations of the code, but as we will here discover, the themes are the consistant.

The Noble Habitus
Leon Goutlier, the great French historian, wrote in the second half of the 19th century that “The Noble Habitus” was the source of knightly chivalry, and asserted that it had been around for a very long time before Chivalry was codified in the 1000’s AD. As a convergence of Celtic Christian, Norse, and Tuetonic heroic values, this “Preudomme”- or “good wise man,” as the Noble Habitus is called- has likely been around in some form, since the days of the actual King Arthur of the 500’s AD after the Roman Empire pulled out of Britannia. Goutier refers to the Noble Habitus as the precursor to the codified Chivalry. Here it is as Goutier gives it to us in the late 1800’s

The Ancient Noble Habitus
Loyalty
Forbearance (Self Control)
Hardihood
Liberality
Davidic Ethic
Honor

The Song of Roland
While the Noble Habitus was the forerunner to the Chivalric Code, we find one of the earliest codified lists of knightly virtues recorded in “The Song of Roland.” Written about 1040AD, this epic poem tells the story of Roland, nephew of King Charlemagne, leading the Frank army against the Muslim invaders of Christian Spain. This war, and the great popularity of ‘The Song of Roland” helped the groundswell of the first crusades that followed shortly after these times.
As recorded in the epic Poem, here is the code of Chivalry of King Charlemagne’s Knights…

Chivalric Code in the Song of Roland
To fear God and maintain His Church
To serve the liege lord in valour and faith
To protect the weak and defenseless
To give succour to widows and orphans
To refrain from the wanton giving of offence
To live by honour and for glory
To despise pecuniary reward
To fight for the welfare of all
To obey those placed in authority
To guard the honour of fellow knights
To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit
To keep faith
At all times to speak the truth
To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun
To respect the honour of women
Never to refuse a challenge from an equal
Never to turn the back upon a foe

The Duke of Burgundy
In 1430, Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, founded an order of knights in celebration of his marriage to Isabella, Princess of Portugal. “The Order of the Golden Fleece” as it was named, was formed, as he himself described,

“for the reverence of God and the maintenance of our Christian Faith, and to honor and exalt the noble order of knighthood, and also …to do honor to old knights; …so that those who are at present still capable and strong of body and do each day the deeds pertaining to chivalry shall have cause to continue from good to better; and .. so that those knights and gentlemen who shall see worn the order … should honor those who wear it, and be encouraged to employ themselves in noble deeds…”.

This order continues to this present day, and includes such European nobility as the king of Spain, the king of Sweden, The king of Greece, The emperor of Japan, the King of Norway, Former President of France- Nicolas Sarkozy, and many many more.

When The Order of the Golden Fleece was founded, almost 600 years ago, the Duke of Burgundy created this code of knightly virtues .

The Order of the Golden Fleece
Faith
Charity
Justice
Sagacity
Prudence
Temperance
Resolution
Truth
Liberality
Diligence
Hope
Valour
King Arthur and The knights of the Round Table
While all know that the stories of King Arthur and his knights are legends, historians have also come to acknowledge universally- through archeology and historical research- that these legends are based on an actual king of Britannia named Arthur that lived in the 500’s AD, shortly after the Roman empire withdrew from Britannia. While tales may be exaggerated, or some perhaps even fabricated, this is the longest and most universally well-known lore in European History.
And the grandfather of all modern Arthurian books, poems, writings, movies etc, was “Le Morte D’Arthur.” While the stories of Arthur and his knights of the round table existed for almost 1,000 years before him, Sir Thomas Malory was the first to masterfully compile them into a single volume in 1485AD. In it he tells us that the knights of the table round were committed to living by
Honor,
Honesty,
Valor, and
Loyalty.
But what’s more, Sir Thomas Malory also gives us the Code of Conduct that king Arthur’s knights swore to. Every year on “Whitsunday”- or the “White Sunday” of the Feast of Pentecost- each of king Arthur’s knights would renew the following pledge, which has come to be known as, “The Pentecostal Oath.” This is significant, because we know today, from history, that the way the Celts celebrated the High Feast of Pentecost was one of the major things that separated them from the predominant western Roman form of Christianity.

The Pentecostal Oath
“The king stablished all his knights, and gave them that were of lands not rich, he gave them lands, and charged them:

-never to do outrageousity nor murder, and
-always to flee treason; also,
-by no mean to be cruel, but to
-give mercy unto him that asketh mercy, upon pain of forfeiture of their worship and lordship of King Arthur for evermore; and
-always to do ladies, damosels, and gentlewomen succor upon pain of death. Also, that
-no man take no battles in a wrongful quarrel for no law, ne for no world’s goods.

Unto this were all the knights sworn of the Table Round, both old and young. And every year were they sworn at the high feast of Pentecost.”

— Le Morte d’Arthur, Book III, Chapter XV

The Scriptural Foundation
I would be remiss to move forward from this discussion of ancient sources without discussing the “Beatitudes.” the “Gifts of the Spirit” and “The Armour of God” from the Holy Scriptures, as they certainly predate all of the above and without doubt had a great influence on them all.
For we cannot forget that Chivalry was born in a Christian Europe, in a time when there was no distinction between one’s faith and religious life, and their daily life.
As a Christian warrior ethos, we must acknowledge the obvious mother from which the above codes were birthed- The teachings of Jesus and his disciples.

The Beatitudes
Jesus himself, the founder of Christianity, gave us a list of eight virtues to be emulated in his Sermon on the Mount in about the year 29AD. They are called the “Beatitudes” because they each begin with a proclamation of Blessings- or “Beati” in the Latin Vulgate- to those who manifest these virtues in their lives. What follows is the list the founder of Christianity offers us.

The Beatitudes of Jesus
Blessed are the poor in spirit (not arrogant): for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Fruits of the Spirit
And again in the Scriptures, we find a list of nine virtues, called the “Fruit of the Spirit” as given by Paul the Apostle in his letter to the Galatians.

The Fruit of the Spirit
“But the fruit of the Spirit is
Love,
Joy,
Peace,
Longsuffering,
Gentleness,
Goodness,
Faith,
Meekness,
Temperance:
against such there is no law.” -Paul the Apostle, 49AD

The Armour of God
Finally, Also in his letter to the Galatains, Paul gives us another list of virtues for the Christian warrior in “The Armour of God”

The Armour of God
“Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having
your loins girt about with truth,
and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
And take the helmet of salvation,
and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”
-Paul the Apostle 49 AD
Where the Virtues of Chivalry Converge
As one reviews these variations of the knightly code of Chivalry and their biblical origins, it is easy to see that, while the verbiage used varies from order to order, the themes remain the same. After spending literally 3 years meditating on these various renditions, I have compiled a Chivalric Code- a list of 12 knightly virtues- each with a poem written in an ancient Celtic form, to convey the teachings of each virtue in an easily memorizable format. I want to stress here that I have not invented any of these virtues of the code here presented. Each of the twelve I present here is either expressly stated in many of these historical codes, or is derived multiple virtues listed in the sources given above. May it never be said that Jonathan Nathaniel Hayes created his own Chivalric Code. I would never be so presumptuous. I have merely condensed all the afore cited codes into one overarching code.
Following, then, is the culminating list of Knightly Virtues.

The Chivalric Code, for the Christian Warrior
1. Self-Control
2. Valor
3. Perseverance
4. Honesty
5. Submission
6. Loyalty
7. Honor
8. Discernment
9. Generosity
10. Love
11. Mercy
12. Justice

While it may be a bit tedious, Let us now look at each virtue now, briefly, and prove its worthiness to be in this code by its historical precedence so that we might confidently move into the body of this work.

1. Self-Control-
-Forbearance is one of the six virtues of the Noble Habitus.
-In the Song of Roland we are admonished to “refrain from giving offence,,,” and to “respect the honor of women.”
-Temperance is one of the twelve virtues of in the Code of the Golden Fleece
-The Pentecostal Oath admonishes us to “Never do outrageously or murder.”
-Self-Control is one of the eight virtues listed in the Bushido.
-Temperance is also one of the nince Fruits of the Spirit.

2. Valour
-In the Song of Roland we are admonished to ”Serve your liege lord in Valor” and “Never refuse the challenge of an equal” and “to never turn our back on a foe.”
-The Golden Fleece culminates its twelve virtues with “Valour.”
-The Bushido also lists Courage as one of its eight virtues.
-In the Beatitudes, Jesus blesses those who are courageous in the face of persecution

3. Perseverance
-The Noble Habitus lists Hardihood, or the ability to endure difficult conditions, as one of its list of six virtues.
-In the Song of Roland, a warrior is admonished to “Persevere to the end, in any enterprise begun”
-The Code of the Golden Fleece lists Diligence and Resolution as two of its twelve virtues.
-The Beatitudes admonishes us to pursue Righteousness with an inner hunger and thirst
-And longsuffering is one of the nine Fruits of the Spirit.
-The Armour of God tells us we can quench the fiery darts of the wicked, with the shield of faith.

4. Honesty
-The Song of Roland admonishes a warrior “To speak the truth at all times”
-The Golden Fleece Also lists truthfulness in its list of twelve knightly virtues.
-The Bushido also lists Honesty in its list eight virtues.
-In the Beatitudes, Jesus blesses those that are pure in heart.
-The Armour of God charges us to have our “Loins girt about with truth.”

5. Submission
-The Song of Roland admonishes us to “serve your Liege lord…” and “to obey those placed in authority”
-The Pentecostal Oath admonishes us to flee treason
-The Bushido too admonishes us to be polite and courteous.
-The Beatitudes admonish us to be meek.
-Meekness is also listed as one of the Fruits of the Spirit.

6. Loyalty
-Loyalty is the First in the list of the Noble Habitus
-The song of Roland admonishes us to protect the honor of our fellow knights
-The Bushido as well, lists loyalty as the seventh of its nine virtues of a warrior

7. Honor
-The Noble Habitus lists honor as the sixth virtue
-The Song of Roland Admonishes us to “Live by honor for glory” and to “despise pecuniary reward”
-The Pentecostal Oath admonishes us to never take a battle in a wrongful quarrel for the worlds goods”
-Honor is the sixth virtue in the Bushido as well.
-In the beatitudes the honorable are blessed as those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
-The Fruit of the Spirit lists honor as the virtue of “goodness”

8. Discernment
-The Noble Habitus addresses Discernment as the Davidic Ethic.
-The Song of Roland admonishes us to “eshew unfairness”
-The Golden Fleece lists Segacity- or discernment- as one of the twelve knightly virtues
-The Pentecostal Oath admonishes us to discern the right side of a battle and to not fight on the wrong side of a quarrel.
-In the Beatitudes, Jesus blesses those with the wisdom to be peacemakers
-The Armour of God tells us to take up the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God- that is quick, powerful, sharper than any earthy sword, able to cut the difference or discern between even the thoughts and intent of a man.

8. Generosity
-The Noble Habitus lists liberality as the fourth virtue of a Christian warrior
-The Song of Roland admonishes knights to give protection to widows and orphans
-The Golden Fleece, too, lists Liberality as one of its twelve knightly virtues.
-The Bushido lists benevolence as one of the virtues of the Samaria

10. Love
-Love is an underlying virtue that permeates so many of the virtues listed. It is found in the generosity and the countless mandates to care for others.
-The Song of Roland admonishes us to respect the honor of women.
-The Golden Fleece has love (the proper meaning of “charity” here as “liberality is also in that code) as its second listed virtue.
-Love is also the first named Fruit of the Spirit.

11. Mercy
-The Noble Habitus addresses mercy in the Davidic Ethic.
-The Pentecostal Oath admonishes us to “by no means be cruel but give mercy to those who asketh mercy”
-The bushido also addresses Mercy as one of its Samaria virtues.
-In The Beatitudes, Jesus blesses those who are merciful with mercy.
-We are instructed to have our feet shod with the gospel of peace, in the Armour of God.

12. Justice
-The Noble Habitus addresses justice within the definition of the Davidic Ethic
-The Song of Roland admonishes us to “fight for the welfare of all” and to “eschew unfairness, and meanness and deceit.”
-The Golden Fleece lists justice as the third knightly virtue.
-The Bushido also lists Justice as “Rectitude.”
-The Armour of God charges us to put on the “breastplate of righteousness”

The Davidic Ethic and the Virtue of religious Faith?
Let me conclude this section by making note of the virtues which are so blatant and obvious in all the above lists, that are intentionally absent from the list I present to you in this book.
Faith and service to God and His Church, are overtly named- in one form or another- in the Song of Roland, In the Golden Fleece, in the Beatitudes, and in the Armour of God.
Also prominent in all the codified virtues is the Davidic Ethic, which is to say, the Old Testament notion taken from the life and rule of King David, that was to be used as a paragon to those European kings of the Middle ages. The Davidic Ethic is the notion that those who have been placed in rulership have been placed there by God. However, the purpose of their divinely delegated power is to protect the defenseless and to care for those who are without means. The Davidic Ethic can be summed up in words of Saint James, the half-brother of Jesus,
“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

Fighting for those who cannot defend themselves, caring for those who cannot care for themselves, this is the Davidic Ethic. And it permeates The Noble Habitus, the Song of Roland, the Golden Fleece, The Pentecostal Oath, the Bushido, the Beatitudes, the Fruits of the Spirit and the Armour of God.

So why then have I left religious devotion and the Davidic ethic out of my Code of Chivalry? The answer, as you will discover in the heart of this work, is that I haven’t.
I see them as so fundamental and integral to each and every virtue listed, that I have addressed both Faith and the Davidic Ethic in every poem on every virtue of our Chivalric Code.
This will become clearer in our next section entitled “The Trichotomy of the Chivalrous Man”

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