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knightly life and practice was understood or tactfully overlooked; more”
¬nally, by the fourteenth century, even tournament”was overlooked or for-

The Church and Governing Power
˜Enforcement of the law™, as Richard M. Fraher notes, ˜stands with diplomacy,
defense, and taxation as one of the functions which modern observers associ-
ate with the state.™61 In a famous passage, F. W. Maitland pointed to clear sim-
ilarities between the medieval Church and our contemporary idea of a state:
The medieval church was a state. Convenience may forbid us to call it a state very often,
but we ought to do so from time to time, for we can frame no acceptable de¬nition of
a state which would not comprehend the church. What has it not that a state should
have? It has laws, lawgivers, law courts, lawyers. It uses physical force to compel men

Fraher, ˜Theoretical Justi¬cation™, 579.
The Link with Clergie
to obey its laws. It keeps prisons. In the thirteenth century, though with squeamish
phrases, it pronounces sentence of death.62

In fact, as it dealt with the chivalrous, the institutional Church lacked one char-
acteristic feature of a state which is crucial for our analysis. Although clerics
had articulated an ideology concerning chivalry and order, although (as
Maitland states so elegantly) they possessed an elaborate system of courts,
codes, and practitioners of law, they lacked direct means of enforcing these
ideas or even these laws.63
The clerical hierarchy was not in any position, in other words, to use phys-
ical force to compel knights to obey its laws or to follow its more general
guidelines about licit and illicit violence. The paradoxical constitution of the
medieval Church comes sharply into focus on just such a point.64 In the broad-
est conception, of course, Christian society and the Church were coterminous;
the knights were the armed force of the church, the armed force within the
Church. In the more hierarchical and strictly clerical conception of the
Church, so in¬‚uential following the Gregorian reform, however, the knights
represented a somewhat more alien force, one with ideas and standards of an
independent nature; they constituted a force, moreover, with weapons which
were thoroughly physical”the only such force after the disarming of the
clergy, which had been another great goal of church reformers.
For peace, for right order in the world, churchmen turned from long-accus-
tomed habit to the upper reaches of the hierarchy of lay powers, to kings above
all, and to great lords. A colourful case in point appears in the early twelfth-
century efforts of Louis VI against the castle of Cr©cy belonging to Thomas of
Marle, the warlord who was so disliked, as we have seen, by Abbot Suger and
characterized by Guibert of Nogent as ˜the proudest and most wicked of men™.
Having called upon the king to destroy the power of this man, the prelates
gave the king™s forces their most enthusiastic blessing. Guibert tells us that
the archbishop and the bishops, going up on high platforms, united the crowd, gave
them their instructions for the affair, absolved them from their sins, and ordered them as
an act of penitence in full assurance of the salvation of their souls to attack that castle.65

The blessing is important; but the point to note is that the armed force relied
upon was royal.
In England the reality and continuity of royal power made a peace move-

Maitland, Roman Canon Law, 100.

Useful discussions in Rodes, Ecclesiastical Administration, 99, and Helmholz, ˜Crime™.
64 See discussions in Strayer, ˜State and Religion™, and Southern, Western Society, 19, and

Smalley ˜Capetian France™, 63.
65 Quoted and discussed in Benton, Self and Society, 204“5.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 83
ment virtually unnecessary; and, in what was becoming France, such a con-
vergence of the concern for public order and a belief in holy war directed by
the Church faded gradually but signi¬cantly before the advance of Capetian
royal power.
In the south, Norman Housley notes, the fusion of clerical activism with the
peace movement went from strength to strength, ˜because of the absence of
such [lay] authority, coupled with the alarming spread of mercenary violence
and, later, heresy™. But ˜[i]n northern France, the incorporation of crusading
ideas into peace-enforcement had no long term future because of the rapidity
with which Capetian authority was growing™.66
Thus no coercive ecclesiastical role regarding violence developed in north-
western Europe. By the thirteenth century ecclesiastical authorities so gener-
ally relied on ˜the secular arm™ that in England a speci¬c royal writ offered a
regular means by which clerics secured the coercion of those offenders who
ignored even sentences of excommunication; the spiritual sentence was
enforced, in effect, by the king™s of¬cer, the sheriff, when the chancery sent
him the writ de excommunicato capiendo ordering him to arrest the resisting
excommunicate.67 Relying on this writ is not the act of a competing form of
state, whatever the sophistication of its laws, however signi¬cant its treasure-
store of ideas.
The same point appears in the famous thirteenth-century French legal trea-
tise, The Customs of the Beauvaisis, by Philippe de Beaumanoir. He insists that
lay of¬cials must use the secular arm to protect Holy Church, and he says why:
˜For the spiritual sword would not be much feared by wrong doers if they did
not believe that the temporal sword would get involved; this in spite of the fact
that the spiritual sword is incomparably more to be feared™.68 Evidently, eccle-
siastics recognized that the coercive force exercised by lay government was, in
fact, much more effective than spiritual censures in France, as it was in
Of course this recognition on the part of ecclesiastical authorities was not
some lamentable or reprehensible failure on their part. The Church had for
many centuries placed hope and con¬dence in Christian Roman emperors
and, later, pious kings or at least great Christian lords. If Gregorian radicals
had brie¬‚y considered taking the task in hand personally, even they, and cer-
tainly their successors”while they continued to assert their leadership of
Christian society”knew that for tasks involving coercion, physical force, and
blood, they had to work through the power of kingship (sometimes in the

Housley, ˜Crusades Against Christians™, 25. Logan, Excommunication.
66 67

Akehurst, tr., Coutumes de Beauvaisis, 29“30; Salmon, ed., Philippe de Beaumanoir, I, 39. The

¬nal statement is wonderfully theoretical in view of the plain words with which he begins.
The Link with Clergie
hands of great lords), and ¬nally the power of knights themselves. These lay
powers were at once necessary and dangerous, worthy of sacralization and in
need of constant correction.

The Force of Ideas
Was the clerical ideology of reform absorbed by the knights themselves; in
other words, was this external ideology to any signi¬cant degree internalized
by knights, who (as we have already noted) displayed a high degree of inde-
pendence of thought? Academics inclined to believe in the force of ideas”
especially scholars who rely primarily on the evidence of idealizing texts”are
likely to utter statements of hope in approaching this dif¬cult issue. The
medieval world knew much violence, to be sure, but at least clerical ideas set
the terms of the discourse and began to make a difference, to civilize the bru-
tal warriors, and help them make their world a better place. Along with John
of Salisbury, some scholars tend to link advancing civilization and restraint
with the admixture of classical and clerical ideas in chivalric culture.
Scholars who have spent years among court records and chronicles, on the
other hand, are less likely to think the knights stepped, transformed, out of the
soft hues of pre-Raphaelite paintings; the most hard-boiled are more likely to
argue that clerical efforts in fact”however unintentionally”pulled the
thinnest veil of decency over knightly behaviour that often went on largely as
before. In such a view, knights simply absorbed and laicized the clerical val-
orization of all the violence they carried on with such enthusiasm, while ¬lter-
ing out most of the criticism.
The dif¬culty, of course, lies not only in ¬nding suf¬cient evidence but in
calibrating a standard for judging the effectiveness of reform ideas in the
world. How could we know in how many instances knights refrained from
burning a church or pillaging an opponent™s peasantry out of a fear and love of
God inculcated by clerical instruction on ideal chivalry?
Some evidence is suggestive. We might recall that Orderic Vitalis thought it
highly commendable and worthy of mention that Richer of Laigle hesitated to
attack peasants whom he had already plundered and who had prostrated them-
selves before a roadside cruci¬x in terror. Such unusual restraint, praised so
highly (˜something that deserves to be remembered forever™) at least indirectly
suggests what was a common view of early twelfth-century Norman knights.69
A passage in the contemporary Crowning of Louis pointedly reminded its audi-
ence that Jesus liked knights who spared churches from the torch, a theme that

Chibnall, ed., tr., Ecclesiastical History, VI, 250“1.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 85
might have special meaning for John Marshal (father of the more famous
William), whose face had been dis¬gured by molten lead dripping from the
roof of an abbey church burned by one of his enemies during the twelfth-cen-
tury period of civil war in England.70
Major characters in chivalric literature occasionally speak out in a surpris-
ingly self-critical vein. In the prose romances of the early thirteenth century
Queen Guinevere, Lancelot, and Galehaut confess fascinating and revealing
doubts about the moral solidity of chivalric life as they live it. The queen, in
conversation with Lancelot, says that it is ˜too bad Our Lord pays no heed to
our courtly ways, and a person whom the world sees as good is wicked to
God™. A little earlier, Galehaut, learning from a dream that his death may be
close, decides to amend his life. He admits: ˜I have committed many wrongs
in my life, destroying cities, killing people, dispossessing and banishing
people.™71 This confession comes from a man continually praised as an exem-
plar of all excellent chivalric qualities.
If such evidence is problematic and at best suggestive, other evidence is
indisputable. Wars without clerical sanction continued throughout the
Middle Ages and subjected ˜non-combatants™ to the entire scale of violence
available, especially to the indiscriminate force of ¬re.
It seems equally important that clerics themselves were not satis¬ed with the
reception and internalization of their ideas by knights; even crusaders suffered
bitter criticisms from disappointed ecclesiastical enthusiasts. Certainly, the
knights showed no great inclination to listen to clerical condemnations of their
characteristic sport of tournament. In a letter to Abbot Suger, St Bernard com-
plained in bitter tones:
The men who have returned from the Crusade have arranged to hold again those
accursed tournaments after Easter, and the lord Henry, son of the count, and the lord
Robert, brother of the king, have agreed regardless of all law to attack and slay each
other. Notice with what sort of dispositions they must have taken the road to Jerusalem
when they return in this frame of mind!72

Nor did knights accept clerical claims regarding the dubbing ceremony. To
control these ceremonies would obviously win the clerics an excellent oppor-
tunity for inculcating their ideas of true chivalry at one of the more signi¬cant
moments in a knight™s life. An ecclesiastical strand is undeniably present in the
historical and literary accounts of dubbing ceremonies. Yet, as Maurice Keen
has argued convincingly, the Church, which managed to establish its role in
Hoggan, tr., ˜Crowning of Louis™, 43; Langlois, ed., Couronnement de Louis, 64. The John

Marshal incident is discussed by Crouch, William Marshal, 13; John lost one of his eyes.
Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part III, 275, 254, Micha, ed., Lancelot, I, 152, 61.

Bruno Scott James, tr., Bernard of Clairvaux, letter 405.
The Link with Clergie
the coronation ceremony, achieved much less success when it came to the dub-
bing of knights.73 In fact, dubbing to knighthood looks very much like a clas-
sic example of independent lay piety, an appropriation or laicizing of the
clerical entry into knightly practice; once again, knights more readily took on
religious legitimation than the element of sacerdotal control intended from
the sphere of clergie.
None of these estimates needs to be read judgementally, of course. If
medieval churchmen did not cut through the Gordian knot binding violence
and religion, neither have thoughtful people before or since”at least not to gen-
eral satisfaction. Nor must we take up the ecclesiastical scales of judgement on
knighthood in this matter. Knights surely did not passively absorb restraining
and improving clerical ideas and then fail deplorably to reach the high standards.
They had ideas of their own, as we have seen, even ideas along religious lines.
They considered themselves competent judges as to which clerical ideas about
chivalry they would accept and may not even have wished to accord their lives
with many others. Our task is not to award or withhold good behaviour points
for knights, but to recognize how selectively they absorbed clerical ideology.
Their particular form of lay piety probably gave knights the con¬dence that
God understood them and appreciated their hard service, even if further trans-
actions were necessary to secure formal approval via his touchy worldly repre-
sentatives”likely to be their brothers, sisters, and cousins who had entered the
clergy. Valorization of holy war, of course, spread easily at a time when any
war could, with minimal effort or sophistry, be considered holy.74 But the sim-
pler truth could be that knights needed very little valorization of their warfare
by clerics at all, though undoubtedly they would prefer to have it.
Their hard lives and their good service covered most of the tab for their
morally risky violence. If their hands were bloody, was it not because”as even
the clerics recognized”some blood had to be spilled in a world spoiled by sin?
Whether loyally smiting the king™s enemies or merely troubling their neigh-
bours, whether they fought before or after a crusade, they were doing what
they had to do in the con¬dence that they could settle any accounts with the
fussy clerics through donations or deathbed contrition, even deathbed con-
version to the religious life. ˜In crude terms™, Emma Mason writes, ˜they tried
to buy off the consequences of their aggression by offering a share of the loot
to those whose prayers would hopefully resolve their dilemma.™75 Christopher
Holdsworth makes a similar observation: ˜Standards were held up, but at the

See the discussion in Keen, Chivalry, 64“82. See Russell, Just War.
73 74

Mason, ˜Timeo Barones™, 67. Mason continues, ˜Such a naive attitude cannot, however, be

contrasted with any superior spirituality of the cloister, for religious houses were all too ready to
cooperate in this cycle.™
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 87
last one lot of soldiers would take the others in, provided they received an ade-
quate payment.™76 This certainly was the view of the Anglo-Norman knight
Rodolf Pinellus, when his violent way of life was criticized by Abbot Herluin
of Westminster; only after he had had his ¬ll of worldly pleasure and was tired
of ¬ghting, he coolly told the abbot, would he give it up to become a monk.77
Likewise, Gerald of Wales tells us that the Anglo-Norman invaders of Ireland
were great men; but they had failed to give enough in payments to the Church
to offset their slaughters.78
William Marshal in the early thirteenth century and Geoffroi de Charny in
the mid-fourteenth century took what probably seems to us a less crude view,
but they both showed the same spirit of lay independence when the matter in
question was the knightly right to ¬ght, to take pleasure in the display of
prowess and the winning of honour and pro¬t. William™s ¬‚attering biography,
primarily a study of war and, secondarily, of the quasi-war of tournament,
shows no evident qualms about warfare; instead, one comment after another
reveals an easy assumption of the knightly right to violence in causes any
knight would consider right.79 His unceasing piety hardly keeps Charny, sim-
ilarly, from paeans of praise for prowess and assertions of the religious charac-
ter of the knightly life per se. Charny is especially sure that the sheer suffering
endured by knights in their demanding calling wins them favour with God.80
In fact, we must remember that ideological in¬‚uence ¬‚owed both ways
between clergie and chevalerie, or at least that churchmen found it necessary and
sometimes even congenial to accept more of the self-estimate of the knightly
role than strict clerical ideology would suggest. In his sermon delivered at
William Marshal™s funeral, for example, the Archbishop of Canterbury waxed
eloquent about the ˜¬nest knight in the world™ in language not very different
from that used to praise the Marshal at the French royal court. The Templar
sent shortly before William™s death to receive him into the order had
announced unambiguously that, as the greatest knight in the world, possessed
of the most prowess, ˜sens™, and loyalty, Marshal could be sure that God would
receive him.81

Holdsworth, ˜Ideas and Reality™, 78. See his further comment on pp. 76“7: ˜The work of a

knight, the work of Christ, the work of a monk, were all inextricably linked because they seemed
varieties of battle.™
Vita Herluini, in J. A. Robinson, Gilbert Crispin, 94“5.

Wright, ed., tr., Historical Works, 266. Orderic would undoubtedly not have appreciated this stark

formulation, yet in praising the benefactors of his own house he tells us that a former knight, Arnold
(now one of the monks), travelled as far as Apulia and Calabria ˜to ask for support for his church from
the loot acquired by his kinsmen in Italy™: Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, IV, bk. VIII, 142“3.
Gillingham, ˜War and Chivalry™. Kaeuper and Kennedy, Book of Chivalry, 176“7.
79 80

Meyer, ed., Histoire, II, ll. 18387“406, 19072“165.
The Link with Clergie
Such unquali¬ed praise is easily understandable. Men who have acted
largely in the world brought great honour and legitimacy to a way of life with
which they were closely identi¬ed, or which, as in William™s case, they per-
soni¬ed. The need for knighthood was undeniable; churchmen knew that
knighthood could be the armed force of God. When that force acted heroically
on the battle¬eld (even if not in strict accord with clerical standards) or when
it acted bene¬cently in a court, giving gifts to religious foundations, the con-
cept of an ordo of knighthood was available as a vehicle for thought. It was
likely to loom much larger in both lay and clerical minds than the formal
quali¬cations and particular strictures attached to the idea.
W E have seen that clerical theory accepted violence for right causes and
not for wrong”a distinction that is tricky to make at the best of times,
and especially so in an imperfect world. Kings and royal administrators, no less
than their counterparts in the clerical hierarchy, had mixed feelings about basic
issues of war, violence, and rightful authority. They had two goals: to move in
the direction of a working monopoly”or at least a royal supervision”of war-
like violence within their realm, and to maintain vigorous leadership of the
violence exported beyond the realm in the form of organized war. These royal
goals inevitably entailed a complex pattern of cooperation and conflict
between emerging kingship and emerging chivalry. Like powerful bar mag-
nets turning at different speeds in close proximity, chivalry and kingship now
drew each other together, now forced each other apart.
Yet on either side of the Channel”or at least within spheres dominated by
the Capetians and the Plantagenets”kingship was rooted in specific historical
circumstances and gathered its strengths and capacities on differing timeta-
bles. These important differences, as well as many shared characteristics, shape
the chapters of Part Three. Common features, particularly well illustrated in
French chivalric literature, appear in Chapter 5, which only begins to sketch
out differences between Capetian and Plantagenet political culture. Chapter 6
takes up the case of chivalry and English kingship, emphasizing differences. As
so often, the particularities of English political and social circumstances repay
separate, close investigation.

Royal Stance on War and Violence
Powerful images of the fellowship of Arthur and his companions gathered at
the Round Table point us towards the genuine shared interests of kings and
knights. Yet this Arthurian literature, with its d©nouement of destructive
con¬‚ict, likewise suggests tensions and contradictions between royalty and
chivalry. This chapter examines both lines of force.
By right and duty kings were assumed to work to secure basic order in soci-
ety. Even though they might prove ineffectual or even troublesome in that
role, they settled disputes, were supposed to protect property, and promoted
honour; they operated a legal system of courts and of¬cials that knights clearly
found useful.
Chivalric literature openly endorses this royal role in law and justice.1 A wise
man-at-arms in the Lancelot do Lac provides a classic statement of the right and
responsibility of royalty: ˜[E]veryone would be disinherited and ruined if King
Arthur were overthrown,™ he says, ˜because the stability of all of us is his con-
cern.™2 The Story of Merlin, takes the same line, asserting that able kings secure
order. The text relates that rebellions against Arthur™s father, Uther
Pendragon, had increased with the king™s age and weakness.3 The Lancelot
makes a similar point: the land was sorely troubled by disorders, while Arthur
was imprisoned by the False Guinevere: ˜Now seeing their land without a mas-
ter, the barons began to war with one another, though this was unbearable to
the worthy and noble among them who sought only the general good.™4 On
his quest in The Marvels of Rigomer, Lancelot enters a land he learns is rife with

In addition to the texts cited below, see two fascinating discussions: Elspeth Kennedy on

issues of royalty, chivalry, lineage, and prowess in the Lancelot do Lac in ˜Quest for Identity™, and
Roussineau on the Perceforest, chivalry, and the founding of the order of the Garter by Edward III
in ˜Ethique chevaleresque™.
Elspeth Kennedy, ed., Lancelot do Lac, I, 35. The same sentiment is repeated in the cyclic ver-

sion of the Lancelot story: Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part I, 17; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, II, 31.
Sommer, Vulgate Version, II, 77.

Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part III, 265: Sommer, Vulgate Version, IV, 51.
The Link with Royaut©
terror and con¬‚ict because of weak governance. The message is doubled when
he is told that he should travel in a neighbouring land ruled well by a power-
ful king who is also a brave and noble knight who hangs robbers enthusiasti-
The king as ideal fount of justice can blend with the king as ideal patron of
chivalry. The Romance of Silence imagines this ideal partnership as its story
Once upon a time Evan was king of England.
He maintained peace in his land;
with the sole exception of King Arthur,
there never was his equal
in the land of the English.
His rules were not just idle talk. . . .
He upheld justice in his realm;
his people were no criminals.
He maintained chivalry
and sustained young warriors
by gifts, not empty promises.6

If they shared some ideals about peace and justice, kings and knights also
shared war. Persistently, on both sides of the Channel, rulers and those who
clustered around them acted on bellicose impulses, to which the political and
military history of the period stands as plain witness. War involved the king as
knight, with his knights. Of course it was never as simple as this. War also
involved money, ships, mercenaries, and specialist engineers for the inevitable,
grinding sieges; moreover, it did not closely involve all of the king™s knights.
At the level of basic patterns of thought, however, royaut© and chevalerie agreed

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