Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chivalry - It Isn't Good Manners

  Many of us have at least elements of European Medieval culture in our game worlds. This makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons. But just like how Chinaland, Japanland, Egyptland, Vikingland, and MayincatecLand in campaigns are often muddled, so too Europeland can be a little - off. So let's talk about the Real World, Chivalry, Courtesy, and your campaign.

  In the Complete Paladin's Handbook it describes a paladin encountering a rude barkeep. The barkeep insults the paladin and, finally, spits in the paladin's face. The paladin simply wipes his face and leaves. This is meant to exemplify a paladins courtesy.

  A very common mistake in the modern world is to think 'chivalry' and 'courtesy' are synonyms. They aren't.
"Chivalry: Bravery in war; warfare as an art; a body of armed men. Those qualities expected of a noble knight."
  As opposed to,
"Courtesy: The showing of politeness in one's attitude and behavior towards others"
  These are different things, obviously. So when I hear a woman state something like,
  "I was carrying a heavy bag and none of the men standing around helped me; chivalry is dead!"
  I reply,
  "No, courtesy is. Unless someone there was of noble birth and trained as a warrior chivalry had nothing to do with it."

  Chivalry was (and technically still is) a code of behavior very purposefully designed to channel the energies of highly-trained, highly motivated, heavily-armed professional killers into protecting the weak and innocent. It is not about tipping your cap or wearing cologne.

  The actual elements of chivalry are pretty well documented. They are;

  • Defense of the Holy, Catholic Church
  • Defense of the weak, the poor, the helpless, and women
  • Obedience to you lord and your king
  • Honor in the pursuit of Duty
  • To exemplify the seven knightly virtues-
  1. Courage
  2. Temperance
  3. Prudence
  4. Justice
  5. Faith
  6. Hope
  7. Charity


  The seven knightly virtues look an awful lot like the elements of the code of Bushido, don't they? Of course they do, they both have the same goal. Feudal Japan and Feudal Euope were both hard,violent places and both knights and samurai were the toughest, best-trained professional warriors of their respective culures. Both chivalry and bushido are meant to channel the incredible power of these classes into being forces for good. European knights can be thought of as samurai with better horses and better armor.
  So, here is a question. Imagine if that barkeep in the Paladin's Handbook had spit on a samurai? Do you think the samurai would have just walked away? Did you know that the code of Bushido specifically mentions 'courtesy' while the code of chivalry doesn't?

  Let's back up a bit. Another element of chivalry is the simple fact that those who were part of chivalry were at least nominally nobles. This means that in a very real sense commoners cannot be chivalrous. it also means that knights had and expected certain privileges in society and also had different norms of behavior. A knight might very well never curse, especially in public; if he were to do so it would probably harm his reputation a great deal. A commoner, however, might very not face the same, or even any, repercussions for coarse language [thus the phrase 'not worth a tinker's damn' - tinkers were low-class people and known for coarse language]. Other habits expected of nobles, such as dress and such, were different from those of the lower classes and since they were related to attending at a noble's court, these are very directly courtesy ['courtesy' means literally 'how you would act at a noble's court'].
  It is very easy how chivalry came to be confused with courtesy even though they are very different. The fact that the chansons de geste, the romance novels and emo music of their day, confuse many with their fictions about courtly love, etc. But this does not mean that courtesy is chivalry nor that courtesy trumps chivalry.

  Let's look again at the barkeep and the paladin but through the lens of actual chivalry. Let us listen in on the paladin's thoughts.
"A commoner being rude in speech? To be expected from an uneducated lout; perhaps a coin for this unfortunate person will sweeten his mood? No? Ah, well, I shall-
This cur spit upon me?!  That is an offense to my honor!"
  At that point he would probably have his squire thrash the barkeep. If he were alone he would do so and if the barkeep struck back, well....  The barkeep might face prison. If the barkeep took up a weapon he might very well die.

  Here is a quick comparison of chivalry vs. courtesy.
  - Leading a lance charge against overwhelming odds with a smile on your face? Chivalry.
  - Holding a chair out so a lady may sit? Courtesy.
  - Being polite to others when speaking? Courtesy.
  -Allowing others to insult or strike you with impunity? Neither.