“In medieval times, contrary to popular belief, most knights were bandits, mercenaries, lawless brigands, skinners, highwaymen, and thieves. The supposed chivalry of Charlemagne and Roland had as much to do with the majority of medieval knights as the historical Jesus with the temporal riches and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, or any church for that matter. Generally accompanied by their immoral entourage of servants, priests, and whores, they went from tourney to tourney like a touring rock and roll band, sports team, or gang of South Sea pirates. Court to court, skirmish to skirmish, rape to rape. Fighting as the noble’s substitution for work.”
– Tod Wodicka
That image of knighthood is factual.
Few conformed to the image we have been conditioned to think of when we think of the knights of old – King Arthur and his Round Table for instance – for the most part, most historians tell us, knights were in fact soldiers of fortune, hired “guns”, thugs, that enforced the edicts (taxes, etc.) of the lords they served (and from whom they were paid to do so) upon the peasants. Not noble, not honoring the vows they took when anointed and dubbed a knight.
When so named, dubbed a knight, after years – from about six to twenty-one years of age, learning in an all-male environment (they were removed from their mothers), how to think and behave righteously (by the church), and how to be masters of the art of combat, and taking an oath to personal honor, sexual purity, and the defense of the downtrodden – most found it experientially impracticable; for all the hype and it’s worthy ideals, it simply wasn’t profitable – to be a knight was monetarily costly, what with needing weapons, armor, steeds (more than one) and retainers (pages, etc.) that they needed and had to pay for (including upkeep). They needed the income. In wartime, these costs were covered by the lords or king they fought under, but in times of peace they were on their own – little more than highwaymen – or if lucky managed to hire themselves out to the highest bidder and did what was required to survive in the field they’d chosen (or had been assigned to them), a warrior.
Like the lyrics of Merle Travis’ song, Sixteen Tons (popularized by Tennessee Ernie Ford), “ Saint Peter don’t call me ‘cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store.”
So much for history. Except what was originally meant to be a knight. A true knight had a code of honor, to do what was morally and ethically right and to do no harm; a knight had a mission, to protect the innocent and to right wrongs; a knight respected and fought to uphold the dignity of women; a knight did what was just and fair; a knight self-sacrificed his own wants for the needs for those less fortunate; a knight passed these virtues down to the upcoming generation.
Characteristics wanting in our leaders (as the White Knights we hoped they’d be, as we wish they were).
Be they clergy, politicians (Congress people, in particular), Supreme Court justices, or President of the United States.
It is our wish, our will, that they embody and practice the same requirements of a knight of old – to be honorable (your word is your bond), to do what is right, to be morally upstanding, to see to the needs of those less fortunate than yourself, and to leave the world a better place than you found it.
The nexus of this post is the book, Raising A Modern-Day Knight, by Robert Lewis. Admittedly, it is heavily based on Christian scripture. But you shouldn’t dismiss it merely for that reason – its precepts can be found in almost any religion. Even if you don’t hold to any religious doctrine, I challenge you to find fault with it’s basic premise. Which is, a boy needs a man in his life, to observe and learn from what it means to be a man.
A real man, one that embodies the classical meaning of knighthood.
When I think of what that means, I think of two of actor John Wayne’s movies, The Cowboys and The Quiet Man. I’m not a great fan of him, but these are two of his best; the first in how he influences a group of boys of a naive and tender pre- and post- adolescent age, introducing them into what it means to be a real man; and the second on how he treats the woman he loves, and then learns what true love means and how a real man acts with a woman.
I tried to do that to my two sons. You’ll have to ask them if I succeeded. I’m trying my best with my three grandsons. Time will tell. As well as my three grandgirls. Will they see me as a “real man”? An example they look to (in addition to their dad)?
So, be you father, step-dad, uncle or grandfather, or really close family friend…if there is a boy in your life…step up and be a man. Be his knight in shining armor. Show him the path to real manhood.
Not the self-centered, selfish gang-like “us against them” crap, or the not-helpful “find your own path and good luck to you”; rather, show him how best he can be and at the same time helping others to be their best.
And by doing so, also showing the girls and women in your life what a real man is.
Even if your armor could use a little burnishing and your sword a little sharpening – at least show that you’re fighting the good fight.
Show them what it means to be a knight.