The Knight’s Code

by Andrea Elizabeth

My daughter mentioned The Knight’s Code in one of her assignments today. I hadn’t heard it put that way, so I looked it up on Wikipedia, which took me to Chivalry, which comes from the term, horsemanship. This of course lead me to think of cowboys. Compare these codes, the first from

Léon Gautier in his La Chevalerie of 1883 bemoaned the “invasion of Breton romans” which replaced the pure military ethos of the crusades with Arthurian fiction and courtly adventures. Gautier tries to give a “popular summary” of what he proposes was the “ancient code of chivalry” of the 11th and 12th centuries, viz. the military ethos of the crusades which would evolve into the late medieval notion of chivalry. Gautier’s “commandments” are:

  1. Believe the Church’s teachings and observe all the Church’s directions.
  2. Defend the Church.
  3. Respect and defend all weaknesses.
  4. Love your country.
  5. Show no mercy to the Infidel. Do not hesitate to make war with them.
  6. Perform all your feudal duties as long as they do not conflict with the laws of God.
  7. Never lie or go back on one’s word.
  8. Be generous to everyone.
  9. Always and everywhere be right and good against evil and injustice.

And the second from Gene Autrey’s cowboy code

  1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
  2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
  3. He must always tell the truth.
  4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
  5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
  6. He must help people in distress.
  7. He must be a good worker.
  8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
  9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
  10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

The main difference is in tolerance. The knight isn’t, Gene Autrey’s cowboy is. I think that issue is very confused right now. Nowadays we shoot the shooter, or the beheader, of the infidel. Or we did till recently. Now we don’t shoot anyone, we just give guns to those who do.

Anyway, the origin of chivalry is western. In the east we had the Mongol warrior horsemen, in the mid-east, the Arab nomads, who influenced the indomitable Byzantine cataphracts. But it is a bit muddy because eastern and western Rome was united until the fall of western Rome, which was before the days of Charlemagne, where it technically began and then flourished during the Crusades. The cataphract article only relates to warfare. Combining that with a moral and ethical code seems to be a romanticizing thing to do. Before that, and in other places, who knows how horse soldiers acted?

Ironically, the latest conflicts between the remaining “gentlemen” on the Bachelorette seem to be about balancing the codes governing how to treat women, how to treat comrades, and how to treat rivals. They seem confused about it. Early on it was, this is war, but then they decided to be chums and wish each other good luck. The latest guy who got booted had been complaining bitterly about trying to act happy when other people got close to Andi. She seems to like the guy who is quiet with the others, and only prioritizes her. Still, she says she wants someone who is liked and gets along well with others. We’ll see how that goes. I think the others would have liked him better if he didn’t appear to be winning. Or maybe they would have if he seemed unaware of it. I think they’re secretly hoping that she secretly likes someone else instead.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about the Ukrainian Cossack Code:

“There was a cossack military court, which severely punished violence and stealing among compatriots, bringing women to the Sich [council], consumption of alcohol in periods of conflict, etc. There were also churches and schools, providing religious services and basic education. Principally, the Eastern Orthodox Church was preferred and was a part of the national identity.

In times of peace, Cossacks were engaged in their occupations, living with their families, studying strategy, languages and educating recruits. As opposed to other armies, Cossacks were free to choose their preferred weapon. Wealthy Cossacks preferred to wear heavy armour, while infantrymen preferred to wear simple clothes, although they also occasionally wore mail.”

So women were left out of this code. Interesting. I think there probably is more segregation in the east. Until the Soviets? I think I’ve written before about the Soviets advancing women’s rights, education, and birth control.

Also interesting: “The Cossacks’ strong historic allegiance to the Eastern Orthodox Church put them at odds with the Catholic-dominated Commonwealth. Tensions increased when Commonwealth policies turned from relative tolerance to suppression of the Orthodox church, making the Cossacks strongly anti-Catholic, which at the time was synonymous with anti-Polish.” So that’s the animosity with the Polish.