Ramón Lull, from The Book of the Order of Chivalry

[Click on image to enlarge] The warrior class that Aelfric, writing in the early tenth century, designated as bellatores — fighting men — was not associated with any rule of life or code of conduct as were the monks under the rule of St. Benedict. Subsequently, the institution of feudalism organized this class into a hierarchical political and economic system based on land-ownership, wealth, and power. The king stood at the top, followed by great barons and lower degrees of nobles in a pyramid of mutual dependency, the lower ranks owing military service to their lords in return for the lands they held. In an idealized epic fashion, the Anglo-Norman chronicler Wace illustrates the dynamics of the system in the scene where King Arthur is challenged by ambassadors of the Roman emperor. In Wace one can already detect the beginnings of patterns of speech, ethical imperatives, and ideas about women and love that — theoretically at least — transcend rank and apply equally to all men who call themselves knights. In addition to military prowess, courage, and loyalty, these values became the themes of twelfth-century romances, which not only relate knightly adventures but try to define the nature of the military, moral, social, and amatory code that came to be called chivalry.

In the twelfth century, chivalry became the subject of treatises, the most famous of which was The Book of the Order of Chivalry, written ca. 1276 by Ramón Lull. Lull's father had been a companion of James of Aragon, who conquered the island of Majorca from the Moors. Lull followed his father in royal service, pursued a knightly career, and wrote love poetry in imitation of the troubadors. In 1263 he had a religious conversion and devoted the rest of his life to the conversion of Islam. He learned Latin and Arabic, taught at a Franciscan college, traveled widely, wrote voluminously, and in his eighties was stoned to death by Moslems he was trying to convert.

The Book of the Order of Chivalry provides a history and a theory of knighthood. The word "order" in the title implies that knighthood is in some repects like a monastic order and that the author is thinking of his book as a kind of "rule" like the Rule of Saint Benedict. A knight has "offices" to perform in the secular realm, and he should be schooled in them as a cleric is in spiritual offices. The dubbing of a knight is a ceremony of ordination like that of a priest; the knight's armor has symbolic significance like priestly vestments and like Sir Gawain's shield (NAEL 8, 1.175-76, lines 619–55). There were, in fact, religious orders of knights like the Knights of the Temple (Templars), but for Lull the order of chivalry remains a secular institution.

The Book of the Order of Chivalry, written in Catalan, enjoyed great success in French translations. In the fifteenth century, it was twice translated into English from French. One of the translators was William Caxton, who published it in 1484. Based on Caxton's edition, the present text preserves most of the vocabulary and syntax of the Middle English translation. However, the spelling and punctuation have been modernized, and for words not easily intelligible in context, modern equivalents have been substituted so as to minimize glosses.

Lull's treatise is framed by a fiction. A veteran knight who has become a hermit has gone to a meadow near a fountain where he does his daily penance. A squire, who has fallen asleep on his horse, strays into the meadow and wakes up when the horse drinks from the fountain. Catching sight of the hermit, he dismounts; each is surprised at the other's presence.

From Chapter 1. How the Good Hermit Devised to the Esquire the Rule & Order of Chivalry

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The knight, that knew that the squire would not speak first because that he would do him reverence, spoke first and said, "Fair friend what is your desire or intent and whither go ye; wherefore be ye come hither?" "Sire," said he, "The renown is spread by far countries that a king much wise and noble hath commanded a court general >> note 1 and will himself be made a new knight and after dub and make other new knights, foreign barons and native. And therefore I go to this Court for to be dubbed knight. But when I was asleep because of the travail that I have had of the great journeys that I have made, my palfrey went out of the right way and hath brought me unto this place." When the knight heard speak of knighthood and chivalry and remembered the order of the same and of that which appertaineth to a knight, he cast out a great sigh and entered in great thought, remembering the honor in which chivalry had been long maintained. In the meanwhile that the knight thus thought, the Squire demanded of him whereof he was so pensive.

And the knight answered to him, "Fair son, my thought is of the order of knighthood or chivalry and of the greatness in which a knight is held in maintaining the greatness of the honor of chivalry."

Then the squire prayed to the knight that he would say to him the order and the manner wherefore I ought the better honor and keep it in high worship as it ought to be after the ordinance of God.

"How, son," said the knight, "knowest thou not what is the rule and order of knighthood? And I marvel how thou darest demand chivalry or knighthood before thou know the order. For no knight may love the order, ne that which appertaineth to his order unless he can know the faults that he doth against the order of chivalry. Ne no knight ought to make any knights unless he himself know the order. For a disordinate knight is he that maketh a knight and cannot show the order to him ne the custom of chivalry."

In the meanwhile that the knight said these words to the squire that demanded chivalry without that he knew what thing was chivalry, the squire answered and said to the knight, "Sir, if it be your pleasure, I beseech you that ye will say and tell to me the order of chivalry. For well me seemeth and thinketh that I should learn it for the great desire that I have thereto. And after my power I shall pursue it if it please you to ensign, show, and teach me."

"Friend," said the knight, "the rule and order of chivalry is written in this little book that I hold here in my hands, in which I read and am busy sometimes to the end that it make me remember or think on the grace and bounty that God hath given and done to me in this world because I honored and maintained with all my power the order of chivalry. For all in like wise as chivalry giveth to a knight all that appertains to him, in like wise a knight ought to give all his forces to honor chivalry."

Then the knight delivered to the squire the little book. And when he had read therein, he understood that the knight only among a thousand persons is chosen worthy to have more noble office than all the thousand. >> note 2 And he had also understood by that little book the rule and order of chivalry. And then he remembered a little and after said, "Ah Sir, blessed be ye that have brought me in place and in time that I have knowledge of chivalry, which I have long time desired without that I knew the noblesse of the order ne the honor in which our Lord God hath set all them that been in the order of chivalry."

The knight said, "Fair son, I am an old man and feeble and may not therefore live much longer. And therefore this little book that is made for the devotion, loyalty, and the ordinance that a knight ought to have in holding his order, ye shall bear with you to the court whereas ye go unto and to show to all them that will be made knights. And when ye shall be new-dubbed knight and ye shall return into your country, come again to this place and let me have knowledge who they be that have been made new knights and shall have been obedient to the doctrine of chivalry." Then the knight gave to the squire his blessing, and he took leave of him and took the book much devoutly. And after mounted upon his palfrey and went forth hastily to the court. And when he was come, he presented the book much wisely and ordinately to the noble king, and furthermore he offered that every noble man that would be in the order of chivalry might have a copy of the said book to the end that he might see and learn the order of knighthood and chivalry.

The Second Chapter Is of the Beginning of Chivalry or Knighthood

When charity, royalty, truth, justice, and verity fail in the world, then beginneth cruelty, injury, disloyalty, and falseness. And therefore was error and trouble in the world in which God hath created man in intention that of the man he be known and loved, feared, served, and honored. At the beginning, when crime was come to the world, justice returned through fear to the honor in which she was wont to be. And therefore all the people was divided into thousands. And of each thousand was chosen a man most loyal, most strong, and of most noble courage and better taught and mannered than all the others. And after, it was inquired and searched what beast was most suitable, most fair, most courageous, and most strong to sustain travail and most able to serve man. And then was found that the horse was the most noble and the most suitable to serve the man. And because of that, among all the beasts man chose the horse and gave him to this same man that was so chosen among a thousand men. For after the horse which is called cheval in French is that man named chevalier, which is a knight in English. Thus to the most noble man was given the most noble beast. It behooveth after this that there should be chosen the most noble and most suitable arms such as been most noble and most suitable to battle. And these arms were given and appropriated for the knight.

Then, whoever will enter into the order of chivalry, he must think on the noble beginning of chivalry. *** Love and fear oppose hate and crime. And therefore it is necessary that the knight by noblesse of heart, and by noble custom and bounty, and by the honor so great and so high bestowed on him by his election, and by his horse and by his arms be loved and feared by the people. And that by love he restore charity and by fear restore verity and justice.

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Beware thou Squire that would enter into the order of chivalry what thou shalt do. For if thou be a knight, thou receivest honor and the servitude that must be had unto the friends of chivalry. For of so much as thou hast more noble beginning and hast more honor, of so much art thou more obliged and bound to be good and pleasing to God. And if thou be wicked thou art enemy of chivalry and art contrary to its commandments and honors.

Election, ne horse, ne armors suffice not yet to the high honor which belongeth to a knight, but it behooveth that there be given to him a squire and servant that he may take heed to his horse. And it behooveth also that the common people labor the lands for to bring fruits and goods whereof the knight and his beasts have their living. And that the knight rest and be at sojourn after his noblesse and disport upon his horse for to hunt or in other manner after that it shall please him, and that he have ease and delight in things of which his men have pain and travail. The clerks study in the doctrine and knowledge how they may be able to know God and love Him and his works to the end that they give doctrine to the common layfolk by good examples to know, love, serve, and honor our glorious Lord. For to the end that they may properly do these things, they follow and pursue the schools. Then thus as the clerks by honest life, by good example and knowledge have got order and office to incline the people to devotion and good life, all in like wise the knights by noblesse of heart and by force of arms maintain the order of chivalry and have the same order to the end that they incline the small people by fear, by the which the one fears to do wrong to the other. The science and school of the order of chivalry is that the knight make his son to learn in his youth to ride. For if he learn not in his youth, he shall never learn it in his old age. * * * And therefore every man that will come to knighthood must learn in his youth to carve at the table, to serve, to arm, and to dub a knight, for in like wise as a man will learn to sew for to be a tailor or a carpenter, he must have a master that can sew or saw. All in like wise it behooveth that a noble man that loveth the order of chivalry and will be a knight have first a master that is a knight. So much is high and honored the order of chivalry that to a squire ne suffiseth not only to keep horse and learn to serve a knight, and that he go with him to tourney s and battles, but it is needful that there be holden to him a school of the order of knighthood and that the science were written in books, and that the art were showed and read in such manner as other sciences been read, and that the sons of knights learn first the science that appertaineth to the order of chivalry, and after that they were squires they should ride through diverse countries with the knights, and if there were none error in the clerks and in the knights scarcely should there be any in other people. For by the clerks they should have devotion and love to God. And by the knights they should fear to do wrong, treason, and assault one another. Then, since the clerks have masters and doctrine and go to the schools for to learn, and there been so many sciences that they been written and ordained in doctrine, great wrong is done to the order of knighthood of this that it is not a science written and read in schools like as the other sciences. And therefore he that made this book beseecheth to the noble king and to all the noble company of noble knights that been in this court assembled in the honor of chivalry that of the wrong that is done to it may be amended and satisfaction done.

Of the Office that Appertaineth to a Knight

Office of a knight is the end and the beginning wherefore began the order of chivalry. Then if a knight use not his office, he is contrary to his order and to the beginning of chivalry. *** The office of a knight is to maintain and defend the holy catholic faith by which God the Father sent his Son into the world to take human flesh in the glorious Virgin, our Lady Saint Mary; and for to honor and multiply the faith, suffered in this world many travails, despites, and anguishous death. Then in like wise as our Lord God hath chosen the clerks for to maintain the holy catholic faith with scripture and reasons against the miscreaunts and unbelievers, in like wise God of glory hath chosen knights because that by force of arms they vanquish the miscreaunts, which daily labor for to destroy holy church, and such knights God holdeth them for his friends honored in the world and in that other when they keep and maintain the faith by the which we intend to be saved.

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The office of a knight is to maintain and defend his worldly or terrestrial lord, for a king ne no high baron hath no power to maintain righteousness in his men without aid and help. Then if any man do against the commandment of his king or prince, it behooves the knights aid their lord, which is but a man only as another is. * * * The office of a knight is to maintain the land, for because that the fear of the common people have of the knights, they labor and cultivate the earth for fear lest they should be destroyed.

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The office of a knight is to maintain and defend women, widows, and orphans, and men diseased and not powerful ne strong. For like as custom and reason is that the greatest and most might help the feeble and less, and that they have recourse to the great; right so is the order of chivalry, because she is great, honorable, and mighty, be in succor and in aid of them that been under him and less mighty and less honored than he is.

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The office of a knight is to have a castle and horse for to keep the ways and for to defend them that labor the lands and the earth. And they ought to have towns and cities for to hold right to the people, and for to assemble in a place men of many diverse crafts which been much necessary to the ordinance of this world to keep and maintain the life of man and of woman.

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The office of a knight is also to search for thieves, robbers, and other wicked folk, for to make them to be punished. For in like wise as the ax is made for to hew and destroy the evil trees, in like wise is the office of a knight established for to punish the trespassers and delinquents.

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In What Manner a Squire Ought to Be Received into the Order of Chivalry

At the beginning that a Squire ought to enter into the order of chivalry, it behooves him that he confess of his faults that he hath done against God. * * * And if he be clean out of sin, he ought to receive his savior. >> note 3 For to make and dub a knight it appertaineth the day of some great feast as Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide, or on such solemn days because by the honor of the feast assemble much people in that place where the squire ought to be dubbed a knight, and God ought to be adored and prayed that he give to him grace for to live well after the order of chivalry. The squire ought to fast the vigil of the same feast in honor of the saint of whom the feast is made that day, and he ought to go to the church for to pray God and ought to wake the night and be in his prayers and ought to hear the word of God and touching the faith of chivalry. For if he otherwise hear janglers and ribalds that speak of whoredom and of sin he should begin then to dishonor chivalry. On the morn after the feast in the which he hath been dubbed, it behooves him that he do a mass to be sung solemnly and the squire ought to come to fore the altar and offer to the priest which holdeth the place of our Lord to the honor of whom he must oblige and submit himself to keep the honor of chivalry with all his power.

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Of the Significance of the Arms of a Knight

As that with which the priest invests himself when he sings the mass hath some significance which concords to his office, and the office of priesthood and of chivalry have great concordance, therefore the order of chivalry requireth that all that which is needful to a knight as touching the use of his office have some significance by the which is signified the noblesse of chivalry and of its order.

Unto a knight is given a sword which is made in semblance of the cross for to signify how our Lord God vanquished on the cross the death of human lineage to the which he was judged for the sin of our first father Adam. All in like wise a knight ought to vanquish and destroy the enemies of the cross by the sword. For chivalry is to maintain justice, and therefore is the sword made cutting on both sides to signify that the knight ought with the sword maintain chivalry and justice.

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Epilogue

Here endeth the book of the order of chivalry which book is translated out of French into English at a request of a gentle and noble squire by me William Caxton dwelling at Westminster beside London in the most best wise that God hath suffered me and according to the copy that the said squire delivered to me, which book is not requisite for every common man to have, but to noble gentlemen that by their virtue intend to come and enter into the noble order of chivalry, the which in these late days hath been used according to this book heretofore written but forgotten, and the exercises of chivalry not used, honored, ne exercised as it hath been in ancient time at which time the noble acts of the knights of England that used chivalry were renowned through the universal world. * * * And thus this little book I present to my redoubted, natural, and most dread sovereign king Richard, >> note 4 king of England and of France, to the end that he command this book be had and read unto other young lords, knights, and gentlemen with this realm that the noble order of chivalry be hereafter better used and honored than it hath been in late days passed. And herein he shall do a noble and virtuous deed. And I shall pray almighty God for his long life and prosperous welfare, and that he may have victory of all his enemies and after this short and transitory life to have everlasting life in heaven whereas is joy and bliss, world without end. Amen.


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