A Knight’s Largesse

October 31, 2019

The virtue—the true chivalrous virtue—is liberality, and, to use the proper word, largesse. This beautiful term, largesse, is French as well as Christian, and it expresses a good deal in our language. Would you sum up the praise of a knight in “two words”? They say of him that he is courteous and wise, and larges pour donner. There is also in Corneille a line which equals this dissyllable in beauty—

“A hennor fere doit chascuns estre larges.”

One of the most striking examples of largesse is presented to us in this grand scene which an unknown poet has depicted at the commencement of the Chanson d’Aspremont. Naimes, who had nobly undertaken to speak to Charlemagne, firmly said to him—

“Do not be stingy in your expenditure, even though not a farthing may remain in your coffers. Give my property first, and distribute it chiefly amongst the poor knights, so that their wives may benefit by it. The old counsellor did not fail to point his moral, and exclaim—

“Tant en donez as grans et as munus

Que tuit s’en aillent de joie revestu.”

And the poet adds—

“Tiels i vint fix de povre vavasor

Qui au partir resemblera comtor.”

In fifty, in a hundred of our romances we find the same appeals, warm and impressive, to all poor knights. “Come, and you will be rich.” They came, and were enriched.

“Let all poor knights approach,” said Charles, on another occasion is this same romance of Aspremont; and there were distributed to them chargers and palfreys, furs and stuffs, sparrowhawks, falcons, gold and silver. “Let all those who have neither land nor tenure, go see Fouchier, my relative, and he will enrich the poorest amongst them.”

Guy de Lusignan, count of Tripoli.Thus spoke Don Fouque, a messenger from Girart de Roussillon, at the time when the great struggle was proceeding between himself and the emperor.

But there may be in this last suggestion some little cunning and diplomacy, and we prefer to stop before the spectacle of the hero of the first crusade, before the noble Baudoin, who, ere he departed for the Holy Land, had listended piously to his mother’s advise—

“Give freely!” and he did give so freely and to such an extent that he was one day obliged to go and request a loan from Tancred.

León Gautier, Chivalry, trans. Henry Frith (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1891), 70–1.

 

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