Chaucer The Knyght

Chaucer’s Knyght #

As the highest order of the social ladder, Knights were expected to provide a good example. Knighthoods were awarded for gallantry and bravery in battle and were not hereditary. They ranked below the nobility.

Since ancient times the perception of warriors has been glamourised and glorified. Images of soldiers are meant to inspire confidence and reassurance in their efficacy. The projected image is one of strength, order and decorum. The top echelons present a formal image. Parading with polished boots, shiny buttons and spick and span uniforms imbue the perception of discipline and control.

The reality is generally more prosaic, as Wilfred Owen portrays in Dulce Et Decorum:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod.

Chaucer’s “parfit gentil knight” may be a genuine portrayal or a somewhat ironically depiction. Loyalty to his king and dedicated to the ideal of courtly love (which in practice usually meant serial adultery), was the desired model, but it was seldom realised outside the Arthurian legends. (Mungo MacCallum)

From what we now know about the deportment of Knights in the various Crusades, should make us vary of accepting at face value any publicly projected image that does not square with grounded reality.

And at a Knyght than wol I first bigynne.
A Knyght ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To riden out, he loved chivalrie,
Trouthe and honóur, fredom and curteisie.
Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre,
And thereto hadde he riden, no man ferre,
As wel in cristendom as in hethenesse,
And evere honóured for his worthynesse.
At Alisaundre he was whan it was wonne; (Alexandria)
Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne
Aboven alle nacions in Pruce. (Prussia)
In Lettow hadde he reysed and in Ruce,— (Lithuania, Russia)
No cristen man so ofte of his degree.
In Gernade at the seege eek hadde he be (Grenada)
Of Algezir, and riden in Belmarye. (Algecira Benmarin Morocco)
At Lyeys was he, and at Satalye, (Armenia /Turkey)
Whan they were wonne; and in the Grete See (Mediterranean)
At many a noble armee hadde he be. At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,
And foughten for oure feith at Tramyssene (Tirmcen Algeria)
In lyste thries, and ay slayn his foo.
This ilke worthy knyght hadde been also
Somtyme with the lord of Palatye (Balat, Turkey)
Agayn another hethen in Turkye;
And evermoore he hadde a sovereyn prys.
And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
And of his port as meeke as is a mayde.
He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde,
In al his lyf, unto no maner wight.
He was a verray, parfit, gentil knyght.

But for to tellen yow of his array,
His hors weren goode, but he was nat gay;
Of fustian he wered a gypon (Rough cotton) blouse
Al bismótered with his habergeon; (stained coat of mail)
For he was late y-come from his viage,
And wente for to doon his pilgrymage.

With hym ther was his sone, a yong Squiér,

Full of profusive praise, Chaucer insists of giving us the full picture in flesh and blood in his usual genial manner, by also showing us their actions, words and dress.

The Knight’s Tale #

The Knight’s Tale, is a chivalric romance was based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s Teseida, and though it was not originally written as part of the Canterbury collection, Chaucer adapted it to fit the character of the Knight.

In the tale the cousins Palamon and Arcite both fall in love with Emelye, sister of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, who is married to their captor Theseus. A tournament is held in which the two rivals compete for Emelye’s hand. Although Arcite wins, he is thrown from his horse and dies. After a period of mourning, Palamon and Emelye marry.

The ignoble history of Knighthoods #

Extracted from Mungo MacCallum 31 Mar 2014 The Monthly

After invading Saxon England in 1066, William the Bastard, (the Conqueror) as he was known (an appellation some have also applied to his Australian imitator), needed something to do with his victorious army commanders, so he invented the concept of chivalry, which merely meant that those rich enough to own and maintain horses were entitled to be regarded as a kind of junior nobility. Not, of course, ranking with the big landowners, but in a class above the peasantry.

This was supposed to confer upon them responsibilities as well as rights, but of course it did not work out that way; untrammelled power seldom does. Most of those who failed to grab some land of their own became effectively men of the road - highwaymen above the law, who lived by rape and pillage, talents they brought to perfection during the crusades.

Over time the knights, like the rest of society, became gradually civilised since the title, unlike that of the real nobility, was not hereditary, and it could be, and was, bestowed at will to loyal followers of the king as a reward and bribe for services. Its advantage was that it gave the recipient kudos and precedence, standing him out from the mob. Its value was one of pure snobbery, and so it remains pretty much up to now in present-day England.

As the monarch’s power declined, awarding honours became the plaything of the politicians, who unashamedly used them to solicit party funds. Inevitably, as England gained an empire, it spread to the colonies; English aristocrats were seen as natural leaders, both as administrators and also as military commanders, often with predictably disastrous results. In Australia, with few aberrations, the colonial and later state governors were drawn from their junior ranks for some half a century after Australia became nominally independent.

And the idea caught on in the so-called classless society. Not only did Australian politicians gratefully accept knighthoods conferred by the mother country, with increasing independence they began to recommend their own supporters and followers for a similar honour - conferred by the palace, of course.

In 1975 Gough Whitlam effectively dumped imperial honours in favour of the Order of Australia, and although Malcolm Fraser briefly revived knighthoods within the new order, Bob Hawke dumped them - it was thought forever. Even the ultra-monarchist conservative John Howard recognised them as an anachronism. But now, some 30 years later, they are to be restored in all their irrelevant pomposity.

And it provided Abbott not only with a distraction, but a useful wedge; one of the first recipients is to be the mother-in-law of the leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten, who has joined the general chorus of derision emanating not only from the left, but from some of Abbott’s own team, who are not happy about having this latest brainstorm anointing Prince Phillip, being inflicted on them without warning or debate. The retiring Governor-General Quentin Bryce, fresh from proclaiming her republican sympathies, is to become a dame, and her incoming successor Peter Cosgrove a knight. According to Abbott, the ennoblement is to go with the job from now on.

In 2015 Lynton Crosby, using every underhanded trick in the book, delivered one of the greatest electoral surprises of recent times to David Cameron. His tactics have been used by the Australian Liberal Party, the Brexit Campaign and many other devious methods to thwart the will of the people.

For his efforts, Crosby, was paid more than 4 million by the British Conservative party, knighted for “services to the British Public” and named Australian of the Year. Astonishing! And they wonder why we are cynical and drowning in a sea of distrust, thoroughly disillusioned bordering on despair.

Michael Flynn, a member of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, said:

“I welcome this appointment because it will drive the honours system into deeper disrepute. The more it is abused, the more people will come to regard it as at best arbitrary, and at worst corrupt.”

The Labour MP John Mann said giving a knighthood to Crosby was “degrading” to the honours system and “an insult to the country’s heroes”.

How will the recent awards to Tony Abbott and Brownwyn Bishop be accepted.

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office. ~Aesop, Greek slave & fable author

“We murder black people in custody and anoint the perpetrators with knighthoods Apologies to Aesop

Aristotle wrote “Dignity consists not in possessing honors, but in the consciousness that we deserve them”

“It is better to deserve and not have honours than to have them and not deserve them”. Mark Twain