Thursday, February 26, 2015

“What it is to be a knight”

“There is no other beast that so befits a knight as a good horse.” 


Cover of El Vitorial (The Unconquered Knight), from the Biblioteca Nacional de España.
 
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When the Spanish knight Sir Pero Niño went to war, he was accompanied by Gutierre Díez de Games, a childhood friend. In the 1430s, Games began to write a chronicle of Niño’s life, The Unconquered Knight, a book that became key in the literature of medieval Castile.

In addition to the story of Niño’s deeds, it includes careful descriptions of the code of conduct of the era. Here is an excerpt about knighthood, translated by Joan Evans. In Spanish, a knight is a caballero – a man on a horse (caballo) – but having a horse is not enough.

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Now it is fitting that I should tell what it is to be a knight: whence comes this name of knight; what manner of a man a knight should be to have a right to be called a knight; and what profit the good knight is to the country wherein he lives.

I tell you that men call “knight” the man who, of custom, rides upon a horse. He who, of custom, rides another mount, is no knight; but he who rides upon a horse is not for that reason a knight; he is only rightly called a knight who makes it his calling. Knights have not been chosen to ride an ass or mule; they have not been taken from among feeble or timid or cowardly souls, but from among men who are strong and full of energy, bold and without fear: and for this reason there is no other beast that so befits a knight as a good horse.

Thus have horses been found in the thick of battle that have shown themselves as loyal to their masters as if they had been men. There are horses who are so strong, fiery, swift, and faithful that a brave man, mounted on a good horse, may do more in an hour of fighting than ten or mayhap a hundred could have done afoot.

For this reason do men rightly call him “knight.”

What is required of a good knight? That he should be noble. What means “noble” and “nobility?” That the heart should be governed by the virtues. By what virtues? By the four I have already named. [Justice, prudence, fortitude, and temperance.] These four virtues are sisters and so bound up one with the other that he who has one, has all, and he who lacks one, lacks the others also.

So the virtuous knight should be wary and prudent, right in the doing of justice, continent and temperate, enduring and courageous; and withal he must have great faith in God, hope at His glory, that he may attain the reward for the good that he has done, and finally he must have charity and the love of his neighbor.

What profit is a good knight? I tell you that through good knights is the king and the kingdom honored, protected, feared, and defended. I tell you that the king, when he sends forth a good knight with an army and entrusts him with a great emprise, on sea or on land, has in him a pledge of victory. I tell you that without good knights, the king is like a man who has neither feet nor hands.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Chapter 77 [part 1 of 2]

How Queen Sardamira sent a message to Sir Florestan, telling him that because he had defeated her knights and left them injured, she wished him to guard her as far as Miraflores Castle, where she was going to speak with Oriana; and what happened there. 

[Statue of Beatriz Galindo (1465-1535) in Madrid. She served as a professor at the University of Salamanca before she became tutor to the children of Queen Isabella. Because of her proficiency in Latin, she was nicknamed La Latina, and the neighborhood in Madrid where she lived is still called La Latina. Photo by Tamorlan.]
 

 
So, as you have heard, Sir Grumedan was speaking with Queen Sardamira, who was happy to hear about the journey the Emperor had made back when he called himself Patin. He had been traveling for her love, since he had loved her dearly and had gone to Great Britain hoping to win her love by testing himself against the fine knights there. But he had never told her about what had happened to him with Amadis, and she laughed a lot inwardly over how he had kept it from her.

Sir Grumedan told her:

“My lady, give me the message ye would be most pleased to have sent to Sir Florestan.”

She thought a bit and said:

“Sir Grumedan, you can see that my knights are badly injured and can no longer guard me or themselves, and they ought to stay behind for their health. Given how the knights of this land are, I would wish that Sir Florestan were my guard along with you.”

He said:

“I tell you, my lady, that Sir Florestan is so courteous that a lady or damsel could ask nothing from him that he would not do, and even more for you, for ye are a great lady to whom he must make amends for his error.”

“I am very pleased by what ye say,” she said, “and if ye give me someone to guide this damsel, I shall send her with my message.”

He gave her four squires, and the Queen sent the damsel who had received the horses with a letter of credentials, and told her privately what to say. She mounted her palfrey and with the squires she hurried on her way. When she arrived at the hermitage, she found Sir Florestan, who was speaking with the hermit, and she dismounted. Since she had not veiled her face, he recognized her immediately and received her very well.

She told him:

“My lord, there was a time today when I did not wish to look for you because I thought things would happen differently between you and our knights.”

“My good lady,” he said, “it was their fault, for they asked me to do what I could not refuse without shame. But tell me if your lady the Queen is going to lodge tonight where I left her.”

The damsel said:

“My lord, the Queen sends you her greetings. Take this letter I bring from her.”

He looked at it and said:

“My lady, tell me the order she sent with you, and I shall fulfill it.”

“It would not be unreasonable to do so,” she said. “In fact, it is to your honor and courtesy as a good knight, and I tell you I was ordered to say that the knights who guarded her were left in such a poor state by you that they cannot serve her. And since this trouble is caused by you, she wishes you to guard her until she reaches Miraflores, where she is going to see Oriana.”

“I am very gratified to your lady, for I hold it as a great honor and gift to be able to serve her. Let us leave here at such a time that we arrive at her tent at dawn.”

“In the name of God,” the lady said. “And now I say that ye are well known to Sir Grumedan, who told the Queen that ye would give the answer that ye did.”

The damsel was very taken by the fine words and great discretion of Sir Florestan, and by how he was handsome and debonair, and in every way he seemed like a high-born man, which he was. There they supped together and spoke about many things until well into the night. When it was time to sleep, they made a lodging for the damsel in the hermitage, and Sir Florestan went beneath the trees with his squires and slept that night very peacefully after the day’s labors. But when it was time, the squires awoke him, and he armed himself and brought the lady and the rest of the company with him as he rode, arriving at the tents early in the morning.

The damsel went to the Queen, and Sir Florestan to Sir Grumedan’s tent, who had already risen and was speaking with his knights, and he was about to hear Mass. When he saw Sir Florestan, he was delighted, and they embraced each other with pleasure and immediately went to the Queen’s tent.

Sir Grumedan told him:

“My lord, the Queen wishes you to guard her, and you should, for she is a very noble lady. And it seems to me that she made no bad exchange to lose her knights and win you,” he said laughing.

“May God help me,” Sir Florestan said, “I very much wish to put myself in her service in whatever may please her, especially doing it in your company, since I have not seen you for so long.”

“My lord, God knows how much it pleases me to see you,” he said. “Tell me what ye did with the shields that ye took from here.”

“I sent them last night with my squire to Firm Island and to your friend Sir Gandales, so he can put them where they may be seen by everyone who comes there, and the Romans will know where they are if they wish to come and try to take them.”

“If they do,” Sir Grumedan said, “the island will be well supplied with their shields and weapons.”

So they spoke as they came to where the Queen was, who knew they were coming. Sir Florestan came before her and wished to kiss her hands, but she would not let him and put her hand on the sleeve of his coat of mail as a sign of welcome, and told him:

“Sir Florestan, I am very thankful that ye have come and for the effort ye wish to make in my service. In that way ye have made amends for the injury ye did to my knights, and it is right to forgive you.”

“My good lady,” he said, “it is no effort or labor to serve you. Instead, I am very sorry if I gave you any affront, and I accept this as a great honor and kindness. And I ask ye to order me to do whatever else may be in your service, my lady, and as your knight and servant I shall fulfill it with my deepest devotion.”

The Queen asked Sir Grumedan if everything was ready for travel. He replied:

“My lady, ye may go whenever ye wish, and I shall have these injured knights taken to a town near here where they shall be cared for until they are well. Given their injuries, they cannot travel with us until they are healthy.”

“So shall it be,” she said.

Then they brought the Queen a palfrey white as snow with a fine saddle marvelously decorated with gold, as were the reins. She was dressed in fine clothing with pearls and expensive stones around her neck, which added to her great beauty. Her ladies and damsels, finely attired, immediately mounted, and with Sir Florestan taking the Queen’s horse by the reins, they took the road to Miraflores.

I tell you that Oriana already knew they were coming, which weighed on her, for there was nothing worse in the world for her than to hear speak of the Emperor of Rome, and she knew for certain that the Queen came for no other reason. But she was very pleased that Sir Florestan was coming when she learned that he was traveling with her, because she could ask him for news about Amadis and express her grievances to him about her father the King.

Although she was very upset, she ordered the house be decorated beautifully with fine estrados to receive them, and she wore her best clothing, as did Mabilia and her other damsels.

When Queen Sardamira entered the palace where Oriana was, Sir Florestan and Grumedan escorted her. She impressed Oriana, who thought that if it were not for what she was seeking, she would be very pleased to have her with her. The Queen approached and knelt before Oriana and wished to kiss her hands, but she pulled her up and told her that she was a queen and lady, and herself a poor damsel whose sins had brought her harm.

Then Mabilia and the other damsels greeted her, showing great pleasure to meet the Queen. But Oriana could not, for she had never felt pleasure since the Romans had arrived at her father’s court. But I tell you that she was very delighted with Sir Florestan and Sir Grumedan, for her heart found some rest with them.

All the women sat on an estrado, and Oriana had Sir Florestan and Sir Grumedan sit facing her, and after she had spoken a while with the Queen, she turned to Sir Florestan and said:

“My good friend, it has been a long time since I saw you, and I am sorry for that since I love you dearly, as do all who know you. And great is the loss of you and Amadis and your friends to Great Britain because you used to set right great wrongs and grievances here. May those who caused your estrangement from my father be damned, and if ye were all here together as before, an unfortunate woman, now sadly awaiting to be disinherited and be brought close to death, could have hope for remedy. And if ye were here, you would speak for her and come to her defense as ye have always done, for ye would never forsake those who need your help in their time of troubles. But such as been the ill fortune of she of whom I speak that nothing awaits her but death.”

As she said this, she wept bitterly, and for two reasons: The first because if her father were to deliver her to the Romans, she planned to throw herself into the sea. The other, because of her loneliness for Amadis, whom Sir Florestan reminded her of as he sat before her, looking so much like him.

Sir Florestan, who was very clever, understood that she was speaking about herself, and said:

“My good lady, God in His mercy brings help to those in great troubles, and my lady, place your hope in Him to bring you counsel for your trouble. And of what ye say of Amadis, my lord brother whom I deeply long to see, if in some places they lack his help, in others those who need it find it. Believe, my lady, that he is well and in his free will, traveling in foreign lands doing wondrous feats at arms and helping those who have been done ill, for God has placed his excellence in the world above all others He caused to be born.”

Queen Sardamira, who was near them and heard every word, said:

“Oh, may God keep Amadis from falling into the hands of the Emperor, who despises him mortally. I can only feel sorrow for his hatred at him for being so esteemed, and at you, Sir Florestan, who is his brother.”

“My lady,” he said, “many others love him and wish him well and honor.”

“And I tell you,” the Queen said, “that from what I know, there is no man whom the Emperor hates as much as him, except for a knight who lodged for a time in the court of King Tafinor of Bohemia when the Emperor’s men went to war with him. That knight of whom I speak killed Sir Garadan in battle, who was the best knight in the entire lineage of the Emperor and in the entire dominion of Rome besides Salustanquidio, the very honorable prince sent on orders of the Emperor to your father for your wedding.

“And that knight of whom I speak, the day after he had killed Sir Garadan, through his great skill at arms he killed another eleven knights of the Emperor, among the best in all Rome. And with these two battles that I speak of, that knight brought to an end the Emperor’s war against the King of Bohemia, who otherwise would have had no expectation but to lose all his kingdom. So it was a good day when such a noble knight came to his court to solve all his ills.”

Then Queen Sardamira explained in detail the reasons behind the battles, and how the war was won to the honor and advantage of King Tafinor, just as this book has told. After she was done, Sir Florestan said:

“My good lady, do you know the name of this knight to whom all these things happened to increase his honor?”

“Yes,” the Queen said. “They call him the Knight of the Green Sword or the Knight of the Dwarf, and he answers to either of those names. But everyone knows those are not his real names. He carries a grand sword in a green sheath, and a dwarf accompanies him, so those names come from that. And as with the squire who accompanies him, the dwarf never parts from his side.”

When Sir Florestan heard this description, he was joyful and believed that it was in fact his brother Amadis. Oriana and Mabilia also believed that. Sir Florestan, after some thought, decided that when he left King Lisuarte’s court, he would go look for him. And Oriana, who was dying to speak privately with Mabilia, said to the Queen:

“My good lady, ye have come from far away and must need to relax, and it would be good if ye were to rest in these fine room that ye have here.”

“So it shall be done,” she said, “since ye wish it, my lady.”

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Chapter 76 [part 3 of 3]

[How Sir Grumedan and Queen Sardamira came to know the knight was Sir Florestan, brother of Amadis.]


[A late 15th century parade shield from Flanders or Burgundy depicting an image of courtly love: “vous ou la mort” (you or death). At the British Museum.]
 


Sir Grumedan said to Sir Florestan:

“My lord, if ye please, tell us your name, for such a fine man as yourself should not go unknown.”

He replied:

“My lord Sir Grumedan, I pray it does not trouble you if I do not say, because due to the discourtesy I did to that lovely Queen for no reason, I do not wish her to know it, and I feel very guilty, although she and her ladies are more guilty. Their great beauty was the cause for my error, for it left me dazzled. And I beg you, my lord Sir Grumedan, that ye seek their forgiveness in exchange for whatever amends I might be able to make, and that ye send me their answer to the round hermitage near here, which is where I shall lodge today.”

Sir Grumedan told him:

“I shall do all in my power to do as ye wish, and I shall send my squire with the response. I think that the answer he shall bring you will be good, as ye deserve.”

The knight from Firm Island told him:

“I ask you, my lord Sir Grumedan, that if ye know any news about Amadis, please tell me.”

And Sir Grumedan, who deeply loved he whom he had been asked about, had tears come to his eyes from longing for him, and said:

“May God help me, good knight, from the time he left Gaul and his father King Perion’s house, I have heard no news at all about him, and I would be delighted to learn anything and tell it to you and to all his friends.”

“I well believe this,” Sir Florestan said, “due to your good will and the great loyalty within you, my lord. If all men were like that, immoderation and disloyalty would find noplace here to lodge, and they would be forced from this world. May God be with you, and I shall go to the hermitage, where I shall wait for the word your squire brings.”

“May ye go with God,” Sir Grumedan said.

He went to the tents, and Sir Florestan to where his squires were. He ordered the horses he had won be brought to the tents, and the peach-colored horse be given to Sir Grumedan on his behalf because it seemed especially fine, and the other four be given to the damsel who had spoken to him to do with as she pleased, and to say that they were sent by Sir Florestan.

Sir Grumedan was very happy with the horse for having belonged to the Romans, and even more to know that the knight had been Sir Florestan, whom he deeply loved and appreciated.

The squires gave the other horses to the damsel and told her:

“My lady damsel, that knight to whom ye spoke derisively today, praising your Romans, sends you these horses to do with as ye please, and asks ye to take them as proof of the truth of the words he said.”

“I am deeply grateful,” she said, “and truly, he won them with great honor and nobility, but I would be even more pleased if he had left his horse here than to receive these four.”

“That may well be,” said one of the squires, “but whoever would win his horse would have to have better knights than the ones who tried to take it from him here.”

The damsel said:

“Do not be surprised if I prefer the honor of those knights than honor from one whose name I do not even know. But however that may be, he has sent me a beautiful gift, and I am sorry to have said something to such a good man that made him angry. I shall make amends however he may ask.”

With that the squires returned to their lord, who waited for them, and told him what had happened, which pleased him. He ordered them to take the Romans’ shields and went to the round hermitage to wait there for word from Sir Grumedan. The hermitage was on the road straight to Firm Island, and he had no desire to go to the court of King Lisuarte. Instead, he wished to go talk to Sir Gandales, who governed the island, to ask him if he had any news about his brother and to deliver the shields.

But I tell ye that Sir Grumedan immediately went before Queen Sardamira and very humbly told her what Sir Florestan had asked him to say, and he told her his name. The Queen listened very carefully and said:

“Would this Sir Florestan be the son of King Perion and the Countess of Selandia?”

“He is, my lady, just as ye say, and I think he is one of the most courageous and courteous knights in the world.”

“I do not know how things have gone for him,” she said, “but I tell you, Sir Grumedan, that the sons of the Marquis of Ancona speak very highly of his great skill at arms, and his fine deeds, and how he is wise and prudent. And this ought to be believed, for they were his companions in the great wars in Rome, where Sir Florestan spent three years when he was a young knight. But of his skill they do not dare speak in front of the Emperor, who disdains him and does not wish to hear him spoken well of.”

“Do ye know,” Sir Grumedan said, “why the Emperor disdains him?”

“Yes,” the Queen said, “because of his brother Amadis, with whom the Emperor is aggrieved because Amadis got to Firm Island first and passed the tests that Patin expected to win. This is why he despises him, because Amadis deprived him of the honor and praise that he meant to gain.”

Sir Grumedan smiled over that and said:

“Truly, my lady, he has no reason to be aggrieved. Instead, I believe that he ought to love him for this because he saved him from the greatest dishonor he could have had, as happened to many other knights who tested their great skill at arms there and could not win. The winner could only be he whom God had raised above all others in the world in strength and every other thing a good knight ought to have. But believe me, my lady, that there is another reason why the Emperor ought to despise him.”

The Queen said:

“By the faith ye owe to God, Sir Grumedan, tell me.”

“My lady,” he said, “I shall tell you, but do not become angered by it.”

Laughing, she told him:

“Whatever it is, I wish to hear it.”

“In the name of God,” he said. Then he told her what had happened to the Emperor with Amadis in the forest one night when the Emperor rode praising love and Amadis rode lamenting it, and everything they said to each other, and how the fight between them was, just as ye have heard in the second book.* The Queen was very taken by the story and had him tell it three times, and said:

“May God help me, Sir Grumedan, from what ye say, it is easy to understand why this knight can serve love when he is happy with it, and do the opposite when love runs contrary. Yet it seems to me this small cause was not enough to create disdain between the Emperor and Amadis.”

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*In Chapters 46 and 47.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Four medieval firsts

Inventions we still use today. 


Detail of Visit of the Angel by Master Bertram, from the Buxtehude Altar, Hamburg, 1400-1410. Notice that the Virgin, who is knitting, wears a dress with tight set-in sleeves while the child wears an older-style robe, with buttons.
 
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Knitting seems to have begun around 1000 A.D. in Egypt. Evidence of the first knitting in Europe comes from Moorish Spain in 1275, and it quickly spread around the continent. Central heating was still centuries away, so warm clothing mattered.

In about 1280, the first eyeglasses for reading came into use in Italy, but no one knows who invented them. Although they were useful for monks and scholars, there wasn’t much to read, so they didn’t take off until the printing press made books more available in the late 1400s – and soon Amadis of Gaul had become the Europe’s first best-seller.

Around 1330, the set-in sleeve came into use in Europe, discovered by some brave little tailor. The top of this kind of sleeve is rounded and set into a round armhole, and it’s the way most clothing is made today. Previously, sleeves were straight, often cut at the same time as the garment in a T-shape. This new kind of sleeve allowed both the bodice and sleeve to be fitted more closely, which created a fashion revolution because, at the same time, buttons and buttonholes came into wide use. Combined with the new sleeve design, they allowed garments to be tailored to fit snug to the body. Suddenly clothing got much sexier.

In 1402, Jean de Béthencourt led an expedition to conquer the Canary Islands for the King of Castile. A small yellow-green finch there had an amazingly beautiful song, and the natives had the custom of keeping the birds in cages to enjoy their singing. He brought the birds back to the royal courts of Spain and France. Soon the canary caught on and has since been bred into a variety of colors. They’re still popular pets here in Spain, and it’s common to hear one singing on a balcony as you walk down the street.

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