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Siege of Troie or Thebes.' "What do ye now,' says Caxton in 'The Order of Chivalry,' 'but go to the baynes and playe atte dyse ? . ... Leve this, leve it, and rede the noble volumes of Saynt Graal, of Lancelot, of Galaad, of Trystram, of Perseforest, of Percyval, of Gawayn, and many mo. Ther shalle ye see manhode, curtosye, and gentylnesse.'
We are accustomed nowadays to look upon chivalry merely as a knightly institution which had to do solely with tournaments, banquets, knight-errantry, and the rescuing of encastled maidens. The modern acceptance of the term omits all those gentle qualities of mind which go to make the true chivalric disposition. We associate chivalry with 'fair play' combined with 'manliness'; and humility has no part in it. Indeed it never enters into our mind that it was a system of humanyte, curtosye, and gentylnesse.' More, it was a religion deeply ingrained in the hearts of men, a religion which spread through all grades of society, and one which consisted in the beatifying of the noblest qualities of human nature; and it has left an indelible mark upon our national character. Chivalry is not dead today as thoughtless people so often exclaim; it will never die so long as our national characteristics endure, though to-day it passes under a different name. 'Sport' we call it now, and we pride ourselves in being 'sporting' even in the hour of death-witness the countless instances brought about by the late great war.
Bertrand du Guesclin, one of the greatest and most fearless exponents of the chivalric spirit, and the Black Prince's most redoubtable enemy, fell at last into the hands of the English. One day at Bordeaux the Prince summoned him from his prison, and asked him how he fared. “Par may foy, monseigneur,' replied Bertrand, ‘il m'ennuye de n'entendre que le chant des Souris de Bourdeaux ; je voudrois bien ouyr les Rossignols de nostre pais'; but he added that he loved honour better than aught else and never had anything brought him more glory than his prison, seeing that, as all the other prisoners had been ransomed, he was kept there only through fear of his prowess. The Prince of Wales, touched in his honour (or rather pride) at du Guesclin's words, agreed to liberate Bertrand upon payment of seventy thousand florins of gold. But what was more extraordinary in this adventure,' says a French chronicler, ‘was that the Princess of Wales gave him thirty thousand, and Sir John Chandos, who had taken him prisoner, took upon himself to pay what was wanting to make the sum complete.' 'Sporting,' was it not ? Truly we are a marvellous race, and it is not to be wondered that other nations, from whom this spirit has long passed away, despair of ever being able to understand us.
England has always been the home of chivalry. La Colombière in his 'Vray Théatre d'Honneur et de Chevalerie ou le Miroir Heroique de la Noblesse' remarks that the greatest number of the old romances have been more particularly employed in celebrating the valour of the knights of this kingdom than that of any other ; because, in fact, they have always loved such exercises in an especial manner. “The city of London,' writes Francisco de Moraes in the Palmerin de Inglaterra,''contained in those days all, or the greater part, of the chivalry of the world. In Perceforest a damozel says to his companion
Sire chevalier, I will gladly parley with you because you come from Great Britain ; it is a country which I love well, for there habitually (coustumierement) is the finest chivalry in the world; c'est le pays au monde, si comme je croy, le plus remply des bas et joyeulx passetemps pour toutes gentilles pucelles et jeunes bacheliers qui pretendent a honneur de chevalerie.'
The entire cycle of legends which has the Holy Grail for its centre is concerned with Britain and Britain alone. Caerleon and Winchester, Tintagel and Glastonbury, these are the chief stages in this great romance of perfect knighthood; and whether related by a scribe of Hainault in the thirteenth century or sung by a Welsh bard before the Norman Conquest or praised at the court at Paris by the favourite
troubadour of Philip Augustus, it is all one as regards the setting and the chief characters.
Whether for goodly men or for chivalrous deeds, for courtesy or for honour,' wrote the Norman chronicler Wace in the middle of the twelfth century, 'in Arthur's day England bore the flower from all the lands near by, yea from every other land whereof we know. The poorest peasant in his smock was a more courteous and valiant gentleman than was a belted knight beyond the sea.'
There is a pleasing story which relates how Robert Bruce, marching with his army in the mountains of Ireland, heard a woman crying during one of the halts. He inquired immediately what was the matter, and was told that it was a camp-follower, a poor laundress, who was taken in child-bed ; and as it was impossible to take her with them, she bemoaned her fate in being left behind to die. The king replied that he is no man who will not pity a woman then. He ordered that a tent should be pitched for her immediately, and that she should be attended at once by the other women; and there he tarried his host until she had been delivered and could be carried along with them. This,' says the Chronicler, 'was a full great courtesy.' Chivalry? In the very highest sense of the word.
We must be careful lest, losing sight of the many attributes of chivalry, we incline towards the erroneous view that it was confined entirely to the upper classes. That the manuscript volumes of the romantic tales which were so eagerly purchased and treasured by the educated classes could never possibly come into the hands of the rude illiterate peasants is a fallacious argument. Scanty indeed would be our folk-lore had it all been transmitted graphically. Chaucer bears evidence of the widespread popularity of these heroic tales in his day;
‘Alexaundres storie is so commune
That every wight that hath discrecioune
Hath herde somewhat or al of his fortune.' The incidents of these immortal tales were as well known to the humblest as to the highest in the land. We have abundant evidence of their popularity when recounted in front of the fire in hostel or homestead. Even so late as Milton's day it was the custom to recount knightly adventures and fairy tales about the evening fireside. When
the live-long daylight fail
Where throngs of Knights and Barons bold,
Rain influence, and judge the prise, until at length