« AnteriorContinuar »
We are glad to observe, from the opening chapter, a disposition in Mr. Mills to relieve our Anglo-Saxon ancestors from the idle reproach with which it has lately become fashionable to degrade their national character, as if it had been altogether coarse and unimaginative, and destitute of a chivalric spirit. We think, however, he might have insisted, more decidedly and at large than he has done, upon the traces of chivalric customs, and the influence of chivalric principles in England, before the Norman conquest.
The next chapter, on the Education of the Knight, is a beautiful picture of chivalric manners, and introduces us at once into the interior of the baronial hall. Every feudal lord had his court, to which he drew the sons and daughters of the poorer knighthood of his domain; and his castle was also frequented by the children of men of equal rank with himself. For (such was the modesty and courtesy of chivalry) each knight had generally some brother in arms, whom he thought better fitted than himself to adorn his children with noble accomplishments. The knightly education generally commenced about the age of seven or eight years.
The duties of the boy for the first seven years of his service were chiefly personal. If sometimes the harsh principles of feudal subordination gave rise to such service, it oftener proceeded from the friendly relations of life; and as in the latter case it was voluntary, there was no loss of honourable consideration in performing it. The dignity of obedience, that principle which blends the various shades of social life, and which had its origin in the patriarchal manners of early Europe, was now fostered in the castles of feudal nobility. The light-footed youth attended the lord and his lady in the hall, and followed them in all their exercises of war and pleasure; and it was considered unknightly for a cavalier to wound a page in battle. He also acquired the rudiments of those incongruous subjects, religion, love, and war, so strangely blended in chivalry; and generally the intellectual and moral education of the boy was given by the ladies of the
From the lips of the ladies the gentle page learned both his catechism and the art of love, and as the religion of the day was full of symbols, and addressed to the senses, so the other feature of his devotion was not to be nourished by abstract contemplation alone. He was directed to regard some one lady of the court as the type of his heart's future mistress; she was the centre of all his hopes and wishes; to her he was obedient, faithful, and
The military exercises of the page were not many, but they were not neglected. He was taught to leap over trenches, to wield the lance, to sustain the shield, to engage in mimic combat, and to imitate in his walk the measured tread of the Dd 3
soldier. Thus passed the first few years of initiation; and then the candidate for chivalry adopted his next title, — that of armiger, scutifer, escuyer, or squire. But though these words denoted military attendance, yet his personal domestic service continued for some time. He prepared the refection in the morning, and then betook himself to his chivalric exercises. At dinner he, as well as the pages, furnished forth and attended at the table, and presented to his lord and his guests the water wherewith they washed their hands before and after the repast. The knight and the squire never sat at the same table, nor was the relation of father and son allowed to destroy the principle of chivalric subordination. Thus, in the days of Edward III., the young English squire carved "before his fader" at the table; and about the same time Froissart records that the sewers and cup-bearers of the Count de Foix were his sons.
The squire cup-bearer was often as fine and spirited a charac ter as his knight. Once, when Edward the Black Prince was sojourning in Bourdeaux, he entertained in his chamber many of his English lords. A squire brought wine into the room, and the Prince, after he had drank, sent the cup to Sir John Chandos, selecting him as the first in honour, because he was constable of Acquitain. The knight drank, and by his command the squire bore the cup to the Earl of Oxenford, a vain, weak man, who, unworthy of greatness, was ever seeking for those poor trifles which noble knights overlooked and scorned. Feeling his dignity offended that he had not been treated according to his rank, he refused the cup, and with mocking gesture desired the squire to carry it to his master, Sir John Chandos. " Why so?" replied the youth: "he hath drank already, therefore drink you, since he hath offered it to you. If you will not drink, by Saint George, I will cast the wine in your face." The Earl, judging from the stern and dogged manner of the squire that this was no idle threat, quietly set the cup to his mouth.
After dinner the squires prepared the chess-tables or arranged the hall for minstrelsy and dancing. They participated in all these amusements; and herein the difference between the squire and the mere domestic servant was shown. In strictness of propriety the squire's dress ought to have been brown, or any of those dark colours which our ancestors used to call "sad." But the gay spirit of youth was loth to observe this rule.
"Embroudered was he, as it were a mede,
Alle ful of freshe floures, white and rede."
His dress was never of the fine texture, nor so highly ornamented as that of the knight. The squires often made the beds of their lords, and the service of the day was concluded by their presenting them with the vin du coucher.'
The most honorable squire-the senior in years of the youthful train was he who was attached to the person of his lord, attended him to the field, and displayed his banner in the mêlée.
But whatever were the class of duties to which the candidate for chivalry was attached, he never forgot that he was also the squire of dames. During his course of a valet he had been taught to play with love, and as years advanced, nature became his tutor. Since the knights were bound by oath to defend the feebler sex, so the principle was felt in all its force and spirit by him who aspired to chivalric honours. Hence proceeded the qualities of kindness, gentleness, and courtesy. The minstrels in the castle harped of love as well as of war, and from them (for all young men had not, like Sir Ipomydon, clerks for their tutors) the squire learnt to express his passion in verse. This was an important feature of chivalric education; for among the courtesies of love, the present of books from knights to ladies was not forgotten, and it more often happened than monkish austerity approved of, that a volume, bound in sacred guise, contained, not a series of hymns to the Virgin Mary, but a variety of amatory effusions to a terrestrial mistress. Love was mixed in the mind of the young squire with images of war, and he, therefore, thought that his mistress, like honour, could only be gained through difficulties and dangers; and from this feeling proceeded the romance of his passion. But while no obstacle, except the maiden's disinclination, was in his way, he sang, he danced, he played on musical instruments, and practised all the arts common to all ages and nations to win the fair. In Chaucer, we have a delightful picture of the manners of the squire:
"Singing he was or floyting all the day,
He was as fresh as is the month of May.
Just and eke dance, and well pourtraie and write;
Martial exercises were blended with his anxieties of love: the attack of the quintain with his lance, feats of strength and activity, and skill in horsemanship.
"Wel could he sit on horse and fair ride,”
is Chaucer's praise of his young squire. He went on military expeditions, too; for though but twenty years old, he had "Sometime been in chevauchée,
In Flanders, in Artois, and in Picardy;"
and love was also the inspirer of his chivalry; for he
"Bore him well as of so little space,
Finally, religion had her share of honor in the mind of the squire; for it was the priest who blessed his sword, and it was at the altar that he received it.
Such was the education which prepared the aspirant in chivalry for the dearest object of his ambition, the honor of knighthood. The ceremonies of his inauguration into this dignity Mr. Mills has described much at length: first, the bath, the vigil of arms in a church, and the tonsure which figuratively marked the consecration of his martial servitude to God; next the priestly blessing poured upon his blade, and his own oaths to defend the church and assault the wicked, to ́guard and honor woman, to succour and protect the weak, and to shed the last drop of his blood in behalf of his brethren in arms; then, his homage, kneeling and with clasped hands, to his lord, his arming by the ladies, and the slight blow with the sword, or accolade, from his lord, which sealed his knighthood; and, lastly, his flowing largess to the heralds and miustrels who proclaimed his honor. It was only when the eve of deadly encounter, or the well foughten battle-field at its close, was the scene of knightly inauguration, that these ceremonies, all but the accolade, yielded to the sterner interest or pressing necessity of the occasion.
The next chapter is on the Equipment of the Knight. We entirely agree with Mr. Mills that never was military costume more splendid and graceful than in the days which are emphatically called "the days of the shield and lance." Modern warfare can present nothing comparable with the bright and glittering scene of a goodly company of gentle knights, pricking on the plain with nodding plumes, emblazoned shields, gorgeous banners, and silken pennons streaming in the wind, and the scarf, that beautiful token of lady-love, crossing the strong and polished steel cuirass.' Our author has described the picture in vivid colors; and he has thrown imaginative beauty even into armorial details which have usually been consigned only to the laborious dulness of small antiquarians.
Mr. Mills gives a spirited delineation of the chivalrie character.' We think that the military virtues of knighthood were deficient in two respects: in patriotism, and in the implicit obedience of soldiership. The genius of chivalry was altogether personal: its adventurous spirit made the tent the only country of the errant chevalier, and had a strong tendency to estrange him from that best duty of defending his native land. Mr. Mills reluctantly admits that his virtues were not necessarily patriotic. It is apparent, too, that the independence and equality which knighthood asserted must have broken the thread of subordination. That it had this
effect is evident, from the preference which we find princes constantly evincing for mercenary and stipendiary troops. Pure knighthood was, in truth, a republic of arms, in which the first principle was a perfect equality of companionship.
The every-day life of the knight' is too interesting a part of the chivalric character to be passed over in silence; and here Mr. Mills shall speak again for himself.
These military and moral qualities of knighthood were sustained and nourished by all the circumstances of chivalric life, even those of a peaceful nature. Hunting and falconry, the amusements of the cavalier, were images of war, and he threw over them a grace beyond the power of mere baronial rank. Dames and maidens accompanied him to the sport of hawking, when the merry bugles sounded to field; and it was the pleasing care of every gallant knight to attend on his damsel, and on her bird which was so gallantly bedight; to let the falcon loose at the proper moment, to animate it by his cries, to take from its talons the prey it had seized, to return with it triumphantly to his lady, and, placing the hood on its eyes, to set it again on her hand.'
To play the game of chess, to hear the minstrel's lays, and read romances, were the principal amusements of the knight when the season and the weather did not permit hawking and hunting. A true knight was a chess-player, and the game was played in every country of chivalry; for as the chivalric states of midland Europe obtained a knowledge of it from the Scandinavians, so the southern states acquired it from the Arabs.
"When they had dined, as I
The minstrel's lay, the poetry of the Troubadour, the romance of the learned clerk, all spoke of war and love, of the duties and sports of chivalry. Every baronial knight had his gay troop of minstrels that accompanied him to the field, and afterward chaunted in his hall, whether in their own or another's verse, the martial deeds which had renowned his house. A branch of the minstrelsy art consisted of reciting tales; and such persons as practised it were called Jesters.'
Minstrels played on various musical instruments during dinner, and chaunted or recited their verses and tales afterwards both in the hall and in the chamber to which the barons and knights retired for amusement.
A minstrel's lay generally accompanied the wine and spices which concluded the entertainment. Kings and queens had their trains of songsters, and partly from humour and partly from contempt, the head of the band was called King of the Minstrels. But men of the first quality, particularly the younger sons and brothers of great houses, followed the profession of minstrelsy,