Monday, April 14, 2014

Thoughts on the Chivalric Virtues

The Following are my personal views, and beliefs, and are not necessarily indicative of how things really are.
Chivalry: There are nearly as many versions of the Code of Chivalry as there were orders—perhaps even practitioners.  Some of the virtues, the ones I will be addressing, are Prowess, Loyalty, Largesse, Courtesy, Truth, Temperance, Justice, Faith, Courage, Honor.  My goal is to discuss the place of the various virtues in the SCA, and how the various ideals relate to each other.


              Prowess has always been important to the Chivalric ideal.  It is a way to gain renown, status, and even a means of support (by means of the ransoms gained with prowess).  Prowess is typically measured by skill in various forms of combat; whatever the current fashion is. 
              While you cannot particularly support yourself in the SCA by means of your prowess (unless you’re smart about it, like Sir Gemini with his school, or various craftsmen who sell their wares) the other two are quite common.  Renown is fairly simple—if you are known as a good fighter then people will talk about it and eventually you will become known for being able to defeat (or skewer) your opponents.  Likewise, status may be gained in the form of winning a crown tournament or earning a knighthood.
              However, unlike in period, I think that Prowess can be more than “just” fighting (I suppose you could gain fame and renown by being a famous armourer or poet.).  You can also gain renown by means of becoming skilled at various arts; or, on the service side—perhaps by your skill at herding assorted sizes of cats…  It is, however, a bit more difficult to gain status by means of arts or service—there are just less options (Barony of the Far East withstanding). 


              Like Prowess, Loyalty is fairly straight forwarded.  Loyalty to your King and Country (or your direct feudal overlord).  There is also the loyalty to your friends and self.
              I do not see too much of a difference, on the whole, between loyalty in period and in the SCA.   However, whilst in period your loyalty would likely be directed at your overlord (being who you actually swore any oaths to), I feel we may have more levels to be loyal towards.  Poor way of putting it, I’m sure—but for instance, I’ve paid homage at all three levels (Baronial, Principality, and Kingdom), plus the more personal loyalty towards my peers and household (i.e. friends); compare that to the medieval knight, who may never meet his king.



              Largesse is generosity.  The giving of alms to the needy without expecting anything in return is well known—however it could also be considered generous to be merciful to a defeated opponent (not killing them, or returning a knight’s ransomed armour so that he might continue in a tourney).  The importance of giving largesse, as a noble, can partially be seen in that you might carry a richly decorated “alms purse” specifically for that purpose.  In earlier periods especially, largesse and loyalty were intertwined—a chief was expected to give generously to his fighters in return for their loyalty.
              In the Society, Largesse may often be seen in the gifts to the officers or children by sitting royals.  Other places that largesse can be applied is after fighting a particularly “worthy” (by whatever measure you prefer--entertaining being my preference) opponent, to give them a small gift.  It would also be considered largesse to give generously of your time (as many of us do), serving at events.


              Courtesy is usually considered politeness or courtly manners—how you generally behave, in other words.  Personally, I prefer another version—a French word which translates as courtliness--that also covers things that a noble should know that are not fighting related—the ability to dance, play chess, entertain the ladies, etc.
              This is a major part of the SCA, and something which is very heavily encouraged in our hopefully courtly graces, the carrying of things for ladies, and of course, the non-fighting skills of a noble.  Perhaps my favourite quote (allegedly from period, but I cannot remember where I read it) was along the lines of (lady) “If you cannot dance, or play a game of chess, then go hang yourself in the closet with your amour until the next war.”  I’m sure I butchered the quote, but I think you get the idea.
              Courtesy ties heavily in with honor, and being an honourable and courteous opponent, for instance.  Not attacking an opponent unequal to the attack because they’re disarmed, completely and hopelessly open (especially if you’re in a multiple on one scenario (I’m thinking of one fight in particular that I experienced this in)—or offering single combat in that case), on the ground, etc. 


              Again, deceptively straight forwarded.  Truth is, and was, at the simplest, not telling falsehoods—I’m not sure how to go any further with that.  Interestingly, the word truth is related to loyalty and faithfulness.  It occurs to me that humility could also be taken as being truthful with yourself.


              Temperance is the trait of restraining yourself from going overboard.  Humility, for instance, is tempering your pride and vanity by not showing off, not bragging, not reaching above your station (wearing clothing that you really cannot afford, for instance) and being who you are.  Mercy and forgiveness are tempering your anger.
              In the case of humility, it could be displayed in combat by being a “good winner” (not gloating in victory) or a “good loser” (and congratulating your opponent on their victory).  Many people, when they think of Temperance, think of alcohol—specifically, the not getting completely smashed even though it would be quite easy to do so.
              Again, relating to humility, is it’s tempering pride—which I have actually also seen as a chivalric virtue.  That is, the natural pride in one’s self, abilities, etcetera.  This could be considered being truthful with yourself, as well.



              Justice is trickier—however, it could be defined as upholding the laws equally, for all, or doing what is right without bias.  Obviously, laws and what is right can vary according to person and place.
              I’m not sure how it applies to the SCA, beyond the above.  It is quite related to temperance, since it takes temperance to step back and apply justice objectively.



              Historically, much of faith was, of course, religion.  However it can also be applied to trusting a person as well—including yourself (pride could be considered having faith in yourself and your abilities).
              In the Society, while the religious aspect of faith is personal (and doesn’t particularly apply to the SCA as a whole), the others do (hmmm—faith that your helmet won’t fail when somebody plays T-ball with your head, or that your opponent in rapier will not actually harm you).


              Historically, in combat you could not really have prowess without the courage to risk your life in the attempt to gain it (prowess).  As such, it goes hand in hand with the virtue of Prowess.  Courage could be defined as having the strength to confront various forms of negativity (like pain or death, as well as the mental equivalents).
              While being defeated in combat does not have the dire consequences it did before (thankfully), it can still take courage to get out there and face the hot fighter, standing up for your values, etcetera.[1]  Courage can be applied to many of other virtues, such as justice, faith, and temperance.


              I look at honor as being how you and your behavior are viewed by others.  In the Society, as in period, an honourable fighter is generally considered one who behaves with a certain courtesy on the field (and off), perhaps one who accepts and will fight duels.
              Looking into the OED, honour can also be used in a similar way as prowess, with honour being gained or lost by deeds and skill.  It may also be something similar to your dignity as a noble.  There is also the usage along the likes of paying honour to ladies, where it is used in a manner similar to respect.
              This last is as common as any of the virtues in the SCA—in every tournament, usually in every round, you pay honour/respects to the royals, your lady (who’s honour you fight for), and your opponent—in effect promising that you will fight with honor and courtesy.

by Tiarna Bránn mac Finnchad

[1] hauling some ladies baskets, or trying….
© John Frey, 2004. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material.   May not be reproduced, in part or full.

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