The Vocation of Knighthood

November 7, 2019

The first quality which was desirable, and was exacted from a candidate for Chivalry, was “to have the vocation.” This term is rather ambiguous in a study of Middle Age literature; but we must excuse it and take it as it stands. When the valet was brought up in the paternal castle or in the palace of another baron, such a “vocation” was only natural. Everything contributed to entertain and to excite the youth. There were the interminable chants of the troubadours after the long dinners, and the reading of the roughly illuminated old romances. There were the historical events embroidered upon the tapestries in the old castles, or painted on the large chimneys. The nobleman devoted to the chase and war kept our damoiseau continually in practice. In fact, he lived amid surroundings which only admitted of his becoming a Churchman or a knight, and we find him most frequently preferring the helmet to the tonsure.

But there were “vocations” which had a less favorable conjunction. Some “infant,” nobly born of unknown parents, was thrown by circumstances into the family of some common persons who regarded him as common as themselves and brought him up as a tradesman. A Montmorency educated by a grocer! Ah, it was beautiful to see the development of the chivalrous vocation in the youth. The young noble from his earliest days detests business, money, petty calculations and economies, and all the tricks of the trade. The meanness of it annoys him, he reddens with shame, his heart beats, and he proclaims himself a knight.

León Gautier, Chivalry, trans. Henry Frith (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1891), 176–7.

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