Page images

The statement would have been much more correct if the writers who make this assertion had said, that the vices of himself and his court, and the disorders of his government, made all good men feel that ur. gent necessity for such an extraordinary institution in England, which had already produced it in other lands. It would seem certain that some enterprises did take place in the reign of Rufus, which might bear the name of knight-errantry—that is to say, that certain noble and well-disposed knights did undertake the defence of persons oppressed, in whom they had no other interest than that which arose from the generous spirit of chivalry.

It very soon happened, however, that the spirit which led men to seek out and to succour the feeble and the wronged, was lost in those qualities which had at first been mere adjuncts to the chivalrous character. The valour, which in the origin of the institution, had been subservient to the humanity; the thirst of enterprise, which at one time was prompted by the desire of doing good; the habit of wandering, which had been acquired in the search for objects of generous deliverance; all soon became the handmaids to other less noble feelings and purposes not quite so pure. Valour required honour and renown for its reward, and that renown became the object : enterprise turned her views towards ambition, avarice, and superstition; the habit of wandering was gratified in tournaments, passages of arms and distant expeditions ; and all these

changes had taken place at the time when Richard was dubbed a knight by the hand of the King of France.

Still chivalry was a generous and a softening institution; and the ceremonies which were observed when it was bestowed, the exhortations addressed to the young knight, and the oaths that he was required to take, were all so many bonds and shackles upon the vehemence of human passions, and upon the vices of a barbarous age. The ceremony was a solemn, as well as a joyous one; it required preparation, and was accompanied with various religious rites in various countries. According to the customs of some lands, indeed, the preparations were severe; long fasts, nights passed in prayer, penances, absolution and the sacrament, as well as the watching of the knightly arms, were almost always demanded of the young aspirant to chivalry. Many of these acts were undoubtedly symbolical ; the watching of arms has been supposed to typify christian wakefulness; and the bath, which was also often prescribed, was intended to represent the purifying of the mind and heart.

When all these preparations had been gone through, the ceremony itself took place. The time chosen was generally during some great festival, or upon some extraordinary occasion, such as an approaching battle, some great enterprise, or some victory gained. This, however, was not always the case; and a squire who was worthy of knighthood,



could almost always obtain it, either from the to whom he had attached himself, or from some other knight, if his lord refused to confer that honour upon him. It was necessary, indeed, for him to prove that his claim was justified; and in order not to violate that modesty which was inculcated as one of the first chivalrous duties, few persons ever demanded to be dubbed without being perfectly capable of proving their right to that distinction. On the contrary, indeed, it often happened that gentlemen who had distinguished themselves by high feats of arms more than once declined the honour when offered, alleging their own unworthiness. Let us suppose, however, the young aspirant willing and eager to buckle on his knightly spurs; let us suppose that he has prepared himself, by fasting, watching, prayer, confession, penance, absolution and the sacrament; let us suppose that he has listened to the exhortations from the pulpit, which were generally addressed to persons about to be received into the order of knighthood; and let us proceed at once to the ceremony itself. The day being come, which was generally, as we have said, on some occasion when the city was full of the nobles of the land; all the friends and relations of the candidate went to seek the squire about to be knighted, and brought him in procession to the church. Very often, if his rank was high, almost all the noble knights and gentlemen of the city, with the bishop himself, each covered in the vest

ments of his order, the knights in their coats of arms, the bishop in his stole, conducted the aspirant to the cathedral, where the ceremony was to be performed ; and then, all taking their places, high mass was celebrated by the prelate. At the conclusion of the service, the novice, with his sword suspended from his neck, approached the high altar, and either delivering the sword to the bishop, or placing it on the altar, waited, in a humble attitude, while the prelate solemnly consecrated the weapon. He then listened to the bishop's exhortation in regard to the duties of the high station to which he was about to be elevated, and the difficulty of fulfilling them worthily.

To show what the nature of this exhortation was, it may be as well to describe exactly the ceremony, as it was performed in favour of William of Hainault, Count of Ostrevant, in regard to which we possess more complete records than respecting any other occasion of the kind. The father of the young nobleman, the famous William Count of Hainault, led his son to the cathedral of Valenciennes, accompanied by two English bishops and the Earl of Huntingdon, sent by the King of England to do him honour, by four princes of the country, called the Peers of Hainault, and by a number of other noblemen and clergymen, all clad in their canonical vestments and coats of arms. The day chosen was All Saints'-day, and the procession was received at the door of the great Church

of St. John, by the Bishop of Cambray, supported by two bishops and four mitred abbots, all in their pontifical robes, and surrounded by a multitude of priests, canons, and monks. After the mass, which was celebrated by the Bishop of Cambray, the famous John of Hainault took his nephew by the hand, and led him to the Bishop, beseeching him to accomplish the wishes of the young prince, who demanded to be made a knight. The Bishop then turned to the Count, and said, “He who wishes to be a knight must have great qualities; he must be of noble birth, * bountiful in giving, high in courage, strong in danger, secret in council, patient in difficulties, powerful against his enemies, prudent in all his deeds. He must also swear to keep the following rules. To undertake nothing without having heard mass fasting: to spare neither his blood nor his life for the catholic faith, and for the defence of the church ; to give aid to all widows and orphans; to undertake no war without a legitimate cause; to favour no injustice, but to protect the innocent and oppressed; to be humble in all things; to defend the property of his people; to deny no right to his sovereign, and to live irreproachably before God and man. If you will, Oh William Count of Ostrevant, keep these rules, you will acquire great honour in this world, and in the end life eternal.”

Having thus spoken, the Bishop took the young Count's joined hands in his, and placing them on a

* This point was by no means indispensable.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »