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powerful families for generations:
Devil take the nobleman”what a coward he must be”who runs to a woman for advice
when he ought to go off ¬ghting! Go and loll about in bedrooms and drink drinks to
fatten your belly, and think about eating and drinking, for you™re not ¬t to meddle with
anything else.11

Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part I, 65; Elspeth Kennedy, Lancelot do Lac, I, 157“8; Kibler, ed., tr.,

Chr©tien de Troyes, Lancelot, ll. 4583“684.
Kaeuper and Kennedy, Book of Chivalry, 95. We might note, of course, how much his view is

characteristically focused on women as the inspiration for the great virtue, prowess.
McDiarmid and Stevenson, eds., Barbour™s Bruce, bk. VIII, ll. 490“9.

Maxwell, tr., Scalacronica, 61“2.

See the ˜Legend of the Tree of Life™ section of The Quest of the Holy Grail, for example.

Kay, ed., tr., Raoul de Cambrai, laisse LIV. As Gold notes, Raoul is showing the demesure

that will cause so much trouble in this story. The Lady and the Virgin, 12“18.
Knights, Ladies, and Love 213
Chr©tien de Troyes would never give his characters such crude language, yet
he can tell us that changeable women have a hundred hearts, and says of the
lady Laudine:
but she had in her the same folly
that other women have:
nearly all of them are obstinate
and refuse to accept what they really want.12

The constant goal across the entire spectrum of views is to establish for
males the right way to understand and to relate to these creatures who seem so
different from themselves, standing outside the code of practising prowess in
the quest for honour. Pero Ni±o™s biographer, praising his hero™s temperance,
quickly slides into characterizing male/female differences: ˜he said that sharp
words should be left to women, whose vice and custom they were, and that
men would do better to come to blows, which are their virtue and calling; but
no man ever cared about coming to blows with him.™13
The honour involved is usually focused on the male. In the ˜Tale of Balain™,
when Balain suddenly decapitates the lady who has come to ask a favour of the
king, Arthur™s response is directed to his own honour: his complaint is that
Balain™s act has shamed him, tarnished his honour, violated the protection
offered by his court.14 In the Perlesvaus Lancelot enforces a marriage promise
on a knight who is trying to renege on his agreement; Lancelot threatens the
man with death, but speci¬cally states that he acts,
not so much for the maiden™s sake as to overcome the wickedness in you, lest it be an
object of reproach to other knights; for knights must keep a vow made to a lady or a
maiden and you claim to be a knight; and no knight should knowingly act wickedly.
And this is a greater wickedness than most, and whatever the maiden may say I will not
permit it; if you do not do as you promised, I will kill you lest it bring reproach upon

Modern scholars reading such evidence can observe not only the reform ideal
of knights keeping their word to ladies, but also the clear and exclusive focus
of concern on knighthood itself.
Perceval later encounters the unhappy couple, sees this knight reviling his
lady, and is told he can have lodging with them if he makes no criticisms. He
responds that ˜since she is yours you may do as you please with her, but in all
Kibler, ed., tr., Yvain, ll. 1644“8. 13 Evans, tr., The Unconquered Knight, 203.

Asher, tr., Merlin Continuation, chs 8, 10“13, 16“23; Paris and Uhlric, eds, Merlin, I, 212“25,

233“61, 276“80; II, 1“60 tell the story of Balain. Campbell has also translated these passages: see
Tale of Balain. Of course, honour is focused on the leading male even when another male is killed
in his presence, as Balain is when the invisible knight slays those under his protection.
15 Bryant, tr., Perlesvaus, 113; Nitze and Jenkins, eds, Perlesvaus, 172“3.
The Ambivalent Force of Chivalry
things one should keep one™s honour.™ This knight, who now forces his wife to
eat with the squires, away from high table, has become a leper. In a tourna-
ment Perceval wins the gold cup that is coveted by this knight and sends it to
the patient, long-suffering wife, whose views on knighthood we do not
In Raoul II, Bernier, who has been presumed dead, returns to ¬nd that his
wife Beatrice has”with the aid of a wondrous herb”prevented Erchambaut,
the new husband forced upon her, from consummating the marriage. ˜I have
managed him like this for a whole year™, Beatrice informs Bernier proudly.
˜When Bernier hears this he gives a heartfelt sigh and says in a whisper so that
no one can hear, “All honour to you Father of glory, that my wife has not
brought shame on me.” ™17
Geoffroi de Charny asks rhetorically:
Which one of two ladies should have the greater joy in her lover when they are both at
a feast in a great company and they are aware of each other™s situation? . . . Is it the one
who loves the good knight and she sees her lover come into the hall where all are at
table and she sees him honoured, saluted and celebrated by all manner of people and
brought to favourable attention before ladies and damsels, knights and squires, and she
observes the great renown and the glory attributed to him by everyone?

The second lady has nothing, Charny thinks, because her lover lacks the essen-
tial deeds of arms:
Ah God! what small comfort and solace is there for those ladies who see their lovers
held in such little honour, with no excuse except lack of will! How do such people dare
to love when they do not know nor do they want to know about the worthy deeds that
they should know about and ought to perform. . . .18

Sometimes, readers of chivalric literature will even encounter the view,
implicitly or explicitly, that knights are the only humans who truly count,
worth much more than any women. The Lord of the Fens says just this to
Hector in the Lancelot, as Hector is about to ¬ght on behalf of the man™s niece:
˜ “She is my niece,” said the lord of the Fens, “but don™t do it for that reason,
for God help me if I did not prefer her death to yours; more is lost in the death
of one worthy knight than in the death of all the maidens in a land.” ™19
Better known, but stating the same view, is King Arthur™s assessment of the
loss of Guinevere compared with the loss of the Round Table fellowship of

Bryant, tr., Perlesvaus, 258“62; Nitze and Jenkins, eds, Perlesvaus, 398“404.

Kay, ed., tr., Raoul de Cambrai, laisse 304.

Kaeuper and Kennedy, Book of Chivalry, 121.

Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part III, 215; Elspeth Kennedy, ed., Lancelot do Lac, I, 517; Sommer,

ed., Vulgate Version, III, 389.
Knights, Ladies, and Love 215
knights near the end of the Morte Darthur: ˜And much more I am soryar for
my good knyghtes losse than for the losse of my fayre quene; for quenys I
myght have inow, but such a felyship of good knyghtes shall never be togydirs
in no company.™20 A maiden whom Eric meets in the Merlin Continuation
makes a similar assessment; she is carrying a badly wounded knight over
whom she utters grieving words: ˜Oh, noble knight, how much better it
would have been if I, who am worth nothing and can do nothing, had been
killed in this misadventure, rather than you, who were so worthy and valiant
and true [preux et vaillans et loyaux].™21 Only a few pages earlier in this same text
Gaheriet, who has found his mother in bed with Lamorat, commits matricide,
but spares the adulterous knight, ˜because he seemed too handsome and
valiant, and he was disarmed, and if he laid a hand on an unarmed knight,
people would think him the worst and most cowardly knight™.22
Even clearer is the statement of the Grail companions (Galahad, Perceval,
and Bors) who ¬nd the tombs of at least sixty maidens who died giving the
basin of blood required by harsh custom to save the lady of a castle. Especially
upset to ¬nd stones marking tombs of twelve daughters of kings, ˜they said
that the people of this castle had upheld an evil custom and that the people of
the land had done great evil by enduring it so long, for many good men could
have sprung from these maidens™.23
Many texts thus try to convince knights that women really do count, that a
good knight will not abuse them and will keep his word sworn to them. Le Bel
Inconnu, for example, recognizes that many make a habit of deceiving women
and say this is no sin. The author assures his audience it is a great sin and more
than once warns that those who ill-use ladies will suffer for it.24

Male Bonding
Some scholars have even argued that the attraction between males in impor-
tant chivalric romances is more powerful than that between knight and lady.25
Those interested in psychological analyses might well think that some form of
special bond is created between knights by the common element of violence in

Vinaver, ed., Malory. Works, 685.

Asher, tr., Merlin Continuation (end.), 61; Bogdanow, ed., ˜Folie Lancelot™, 25.

Asher, ibid., 53; Bogdanow, ibid., 3. Though condemned by many others, Gaheriet™s weigh-

ing of the merits of his action remains of interest. Arthur and many worthy men soon decide that
they do not want Gaheriet to die for his deed since he is ˜a good and worthy knight [bon chevalier
et preux]™. Asher, ibid., 54; Bogdanow, ibid., 6.
Asher, tr., ˜Quest™, 239; Piel, ed., Demando, 306“7.

Fresco, ed., and Donagher, tr., Renaut de Bâg©, ll. 1243“64, 4927“8, 4848“50.

Frappier, ˜La mort Galehot™; Marcello-Nizia, ˜Amour courtois™. Duby makes the same case

for the biography of William Marshal: Guillaume le Mar©chal, 52“4.
The Ambivalent Force of Chivalry
their lives, perhaps especially by their violence against each other.26 In Marie
de France™s ˜Milun™, a father unhorsed by his son (neither recognizing his
opponent) declares:
I never once fell from my war-horse
because of a blow from another knight.
You knocked me down in a joust”
I could love you a great deal.27

Certainly the pattern of truly savage ¬ghting, respect, reconciliation, and great
affection between two knights is repeated often enough at least to raise ques-
tions about a process of bonding that would be a powerful element in under-
standing the primacy of prowess in chivalry.
Chr©tien provides an excellent case in point in the combat between Guivret
the Short and Erec in his Erec et Enide.28 When from his tower Guivret sees any
passing knight he rushes into armour and into combat; to him Erec represented
someone ˜with whom he wished to exhaust himself in combat, / or the other
would wear himself out / and declare himself defeated™. He rides full tilt at Erec,
his horse™s hoofs grinding pebbles like a mill working wheat and shooting so
many sparks the four feet seem to be on ¬re. Enide™s last-minute warning heard,
Erec meets his challenger in a classic encounter: broken shields, hauberks
ripped, spears lodged in entrails, horses and riders on the ground. Then the
sword play keeps them active from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, blades bit-
ing through chain armour to vulnerable ¬‚esh. One would have killed the other,
Chr©tien tells us, but for an accident; Guivret™s sword snaps on the rim of Erec™s
shield and he ¬‚ings away the useless remnant in disgust. He calls for mercy, but
hesitates to say he is defeated and must be threatened into the admission. As
soon as they exchange names, however, Guivret is delighted to learn how noble
Erec is, and ˜[e]ach of them kissed and embraced the other™:
Never from such a ¬erce battle
was there such a sweet parting,
for, moved by love and generosity,
each of them cut long, broad bands
from the tail of his shirt,
and they bound up each other™s wounds.

Lorenz writes of ˜the ingenious feat of transforming, by the comparatively simple means of

redirection and ritualization, a behavior pattern which not only in its prototype but even in its pre-
sent form is partly motivated by aggression, into a means of appeasement and further into a love
ceremony which forms a strong tie between those that participate in it. This means neither more
nor less than converting the mutually repelling effect of aggression into its opposite™: On
Aggression, 167. I owe this reference to Michelle Dowd.
Hanning and Ferrante, trs., Marie de France, 174; Rychner, ed., Marie de France, 140.

The following quotations all come from Carroll, ed., tr., Erec, ll. 3629“889.
Knights, Ladies, and Love 217
Since the shirt-tail could carry phallic meaning in medieval literature, a deter-
mined Freudian might read this scene as a symbolic end of the phallic aggres-
sion so evident in the previous several hundred lines of verse, and note its
conversion into mutual respect and love. The latter phenomenon is striking,
even if one hesitates over the former.
Other cases could make a similar point. The bond between Lancelot and
Galehot in the Lancelot do Lac, again based on prowess, represents an unusu-
ally high peak in the mountain ranges of knightly friendships. Indeed, in this
romance the tension emerges not out of the competing claims of prowess and
love, but rather, as Corin Corley writes, ˜between friendship with a compan-
ion in arms and love of a man for a woman™.29 Gretchen Mieszkowski has even
made an argument that, at least from Galehot™s perspective, this is a homo-
erotic relationship.30
Having seen Lancelot, in disguise, perform on the battle¬eld, Galehot,
Arthur, Guinevere, and Gawain discuss what each would give up ˜to have his
companionship forever™.31 Arthur would offer half his possessions. Gawain, in
turn, declares, ˜If God gives me the health I desire, I should wish there and
then to be the most beautiful damsel in the world, ¬t and well, on condition
that he loved me more than anything, as much as I loved him.™ ˜ “Indeed,” said
Galehot, “you have offered a good deal.” ™ The queen skilfully sidesteps the
issue, observing, ˜By the Lord, Sir Gawain has made every offer that a lady can
make, and no lady can offer more.™ Following a round of polite laughter,
Gawain tells Galehot that he must answer his own question. He swears, ˜As
God is my witness, I should change my great honour to shame, provided that
I could always be as sure of him as I should wish him to be of me.™ Gawain
praises this answer”stunning in the context of an honour society”as the
most generous, but he later warns Arthur that Galehot will take Lancelot
away, ˜for he is more jealous of him than a knight who has a beautiful young
lady™. When Arthur wants to keep Lancelot as his companion, Galehot issues
a passionate objection: ˜Ah! my lord . . . I came in your hour of need with all
my might, for I could not do more. And may God never be my witness, if I
could live without him: how could you take away my life?™ In order to be with
Lancelot, Galehot, a king who could have conquered Arthur, offers his own
services to Arthur as a simple retainer, ˜for I would rather be poor and content™,
he states, ˜than rich and unhappy™. He begs Arthur to accept his offer: ˜And

Corley, tr., Lancelot of the Lake, xii.

Mieszkowski, ˜Lancelot™s Galehot, Malory™s Lavain™; I am indebted to Professor Mieszkowski

for a copy of this article.
31 What follows comes from Corley, tr., Lancelot of the Lake, 303“4; Elspeth Kennedy, ed.,

Lancelot do Lac, I, 333“4.
The Ambivalent Force of Chivalry
you certainly ought to do so, both for his sake and for mine, for you should
know that all the love I have for you, I have because of him.™ Arthur takes him
into his entourage as companion, not as retainer, but at the end of the romance
Galehot sickens, fearing Lancelot will be taken away by love for Guinevere,
and dies of grief, upon hearing a false report of Lancelot™s death. We learn in
the Post-Vulgate Death of Arthur that Lancelot is ¬nally buried, by his own
instructions, in the same tomb with Galehot.32
The case is extreme, but the sentiment is scarcely unique. After a strenuous
¬ght that seems to last most of the day, Gawain and Morholt (in the Merlin
Continuation) engage in a classic act of bonding: ˜[T]hey went to kiss each
other at once and swore to each other that from that time on they would be
friends and loyal companions and that there would be no rancour between
them for anything that might have been.™33 A few days later Morholt says to
Gawain, as he is about to depart, healed of his wounds: ˜I never met a young
man I admired as much as I do you. Don™t think I say this idly. Because I love
you with such great love, I want to be a knight errant from now on, so that I
may better have your company and see you more often.™ When their adven-
tures part them, another scene of tears and declarations of love follows:
Morholt said to Sir Gawain, ˜Sir Gawain, remember the spring at the end of a year. so
that you come there on the day, for certainly I™ll be very impatient to see that day and
to be able to be in your company again. For know that I have never loved or admired
a knight as much as I do you.34

Though a romance of far lower aesthetic merit, the Chevalier du Papegau
once again supplements ideas found in greater works.35 Arthur, the Knight of
the Parrot, is attacked by a huge baron, the Knight-Giant; they ¬ght until
exhaustion and darkness force a halt (the bright, illuminating jewel on the
baron™s helmet having been cut away). The warriors try to get some rest lean-
ing against each other in the dark, but each is wary and they continually give
each other blows throughout the night. Daylight allows the full ¬ghting to
resume and to continue well into the day. Arthur ¬nally lands the decisive
blow which cuts off his opponent™s leg.
The sequel is fascinating. The Knight-Giant calls out, ˜My good lord, for
God™s sake, mercy! For you are surely one of the best knights in the world. For

Asher, tr., Death of Arthur, 310; Magne, ed., Demanda, II, 484.

Vinaver, ed., Malory. Works, 96, gives the same scene: ˜And therewith they toke of her helmys

and eyther kyssed other and there they swore togedyrs eythir to love other as brethirne. And sir
Marhaus prayde sir Gawayne to lodge with hym that nyght.™
Asher, tr., Merlin Continuation, 273“5; Roussineau, ed., Merlin, I, 378“85.

For what follows, see Vesce, tr., Knight of the Parrot, 46“53; Heuckenkamp, ed., Chevalier du

Papegau, 44“50.
Knights, Ladies, and Love 219
this reason, I pray you to please take the hauberk I am wearing.™ The hauberk,
unusually ¬ne, possibly even magical, must go to the man who had shown
such prowess. Near death, he gives Arthur a second gift, his store of wisdom
embodied in three unexceptional maxims his father had taught him. Finally,
he asks a willing Arthur to hear his confession, which he makes ˜and died right
there on the spot™. Once again, we are shown ferocious ¬ghting followed by
rapid reconciliation and the creation of a bond (however foreshortened in this
case) by the giving of the most precious gifts.

The Link with Prowess
However one reacts to issues of male bonding, so strong is the focus on
knighthood and knightly prowess that in some chivalric writing women can
only be de¬ned as those who are not knights, who do not win honour through
prowess. A striking case in point comes in Raoul de Cambrai, as Raoul is about
to burn the town of Origny. A procession of nuns comes out to dissuade him,
each one with her psalter in her hand, their leader, Marsent, carrying ˜an
ancient book held in reverence since the days of Solomon™. Clearly, we have
here a confrontation of clergie with chevalerie. Yet it is also a male and female
confrontation, for it is the female embodiment of clergie that we see. The self-
characterization attributed to these women is fascinating: ˜My lord Raoul,
would prayer persuade you to withdraw a little? We are nuns, by the saints of
Bavaria, and will never hold lance or standard, or cause anyone ever be laid to
rest through force of ours.™36 Though Marsent says they are nuns, would not
the description work equally well if she said simply that they were women?
The point is reinforced by repetition. Marsent speaks again to Raoul: ˜ “Sir
Raoul,” said Bernier™s mother, “we are not able to handle weapons. You can
easily slaughter and destroy us. I tell you truly, you will not see us wield lance
or shield in our defence.” ™37 The de¬ning fact about these women is that they
are non-knights. In a world in which knighthood was so signi¬cant, in a liter-
ature obsessed with knighthood, women must somehow be ¬tted into the
general scheme of things.
Given the importance of prowess in the defence of honour, prowess the
demi-god is likely to play a major role in most formulations of the ideal rela-
tionship between the sexes. Could the relationship be other than troublesome?
Would not considerable tension strain lives caught between the demands of
prowess and the demands of love? Many scholarly analyses have explored these
tensions, noting how hard it is for major ¬gures like Lancelot or Tristram to

Kay, ed., tr., Raoul de Cambrai, laisses 63, 65. Ibid., laisses 65“6.
36 37
The Ambivalent Force of Chivalry
¬nd a viable balance, how readily such tensions lead to tragic endings in
If tension arises when the desired woman is already married to one™s feudal
lord (as in the case of Lancelot), it even arises after the desired woman has been
won and the characteristic knightly freedom to wander and ¬ght, to play the
tournament circuit, is suddenly curtailed by the needed stability of married
life. Could a life of prowess be continued by the knight who settled into mar-
ried life? Chr©tien wrestles with the problem in more than one of his
romances. In Erec and Enide he states the problem concisely. After his marriage
to Enide,
Erec was so in love with her
that he cared no more for arms,
nor did he go to tournaments.
He no longer cared for tourneying;
he wanted to enjoy his wife™s company,
and he made her his lady and his mistress.38

Here Chr©tien answers the question enthusiastically and in positive terms.
Erec amply demonstrates his prowess, with Enide™s active support. Yvain, in
Chr©tien™s slightly later romance by that name, likewise proves his prowess
after marriage, against Gawain™s expressed doubts, and ¬nally against Gawain
in person. Married love must be saved from denigration, since it can be so
important a medium for love. The signi¬cance of prowess to love, of course,
remains fully evident in Chr©tien™s works.
Yet for many heroes of chivalry no marriage, no feudal complication
intrudes; the link between love and prowess is not presented as a wrenching
problem. As R. W. Hanning has concisely observed, a cycle is at work:
prowess inspires love and love inspires prowess.39 This cycle rolls through
nearly all of the chivalric literature traditionally classed as romance, and
appears in many chansons as well.40 Scholars have understandably found the
subject of romantic love more fascinating than prowess and have ¬lled sub-
stantial library shelves with books and articles in intricate witness. But we must
not forget the prowess; a two-cycle engine does not run on one cylinder.

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