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of servile status; and they were enthusiastic practitioners of the local violence
and warfare Count Charles was committed to stamping out. Galbert tells us
that Bertulf had ˜armed his kinsmen for strife and discord; and he found ene-
mies for them to ¬ght in order to make it known to everyone that he and his
nephews were so powerful and strong that no one in the realm could resist
them or prevail against them™. The pillaged country folk (under cover of
darkness) appealed to the count, who took vigorous measures, but he
was then brutally murdered, on Bertulf™s orders, before he could act deci-
Page after page of Galbert™s narrative records the waves and counterwaves
of violence that washed over Flanders as contenders fought for the prize of
rule, as private quarrels found outlet in the general strife, as merchants were
plundered or ¬‚ed in the nick of time. ˜Now in truth,™ he lamented, ˜the whole
land was so torn by dangers, by ravaging, arson, treachery, and deceit that no
honest man could live in security.™33 Like our monastic historians, Galbert is
no paci¬st, no uncompromising opponent of all violence. Revenge for the
murdered count, attacks on his enemies, and, in fact, all violence in a cause he
approves receive his full approbation.
Several weeks into his grim story Galbert paused to re¬‚ect on the site of the
crime, the church of Saint-Donatian. For him it remained a symbol of what
the count who had been murdered there had once meant to Flanders:

Ross, tr., Murder, 82“3; Rider, ed., De multro, 5, 7.

Ross, Murder, 116, 102“5; Rider, De multro, 33, 35; 21“33.

Ross, Murder, 291; Rider, De multro, 155.
Public Order and the Knights 19
˜in the splendor of its beauty like the throne of the realm; in the midst of the fatherland
it called for safety and justice everywhere in the land through security and peace, right
and laws™.34

At the end of his account Galbert is left puzzling over how he might ¬nd the
dispensation of God in the complex and violent actions of men.

Context: Socio-Economic and Institutional Change
Con¬dence in the evidence provided by our three witnesses increases when we
review two features of the general environment within which they lived and
worked. The very pace and consequences of change in the Central Middle
Ages forced basic questions about order into the forefront of the thinking and
acting of all those in any position of awareness or responsibility, and led to the
creation of important institutions. An age vibrant with as much change as
noted historians ¬nd in these centuries would necessarily devote a good deal
of energy to securing order, reducing disruptive violence, and ¬nding ways of
resolving disputes. If even calmer times yield such a channelling of energies,
the need could only be greater when one social, economic, political, and reli-
gious catalyst after another was actively at work speeding the rate of reaction.
The exact measurement of demographic growth (to take an obvious and
important example) is likely to continue to elude scholars, but the fact of a
signi¬cant increase in population commands general agreement.35 Historians
have fought even longer over theories of the nature of urban origins, but the
fact of a signi¬cant urbanization of Europe in this period stands beyond dis-
pute.36 That this phenomenon rested on an economic transformation likewise
seems established, though the details are again a matter of contention.37
By the year 1000, moreover, people over a wide stretch of Europe faced the
necessity of political reconstruction almost from the ground up. The order
tentatively set in place by the family of Charlemagne had fractured time and
again into increasingly localized units, which constituted the only political
units retaining anything like effective governing power and what might
pass for loyalty or at least acquiescence from those governed.38 By the age
of Orderic, Suger, and Galbert, as we have seen, the work of political

Ross, tr., Murder, 167; Rider, ed., De multro, 86.

Overviews, with many sources cited, in Pounds, Economic History, ch. 3, and Fossier, Enfance

de l™Europe, I, 87“287.
Surveyed in Ennen, The Medieval Town.

Duby, Early Growth of the European Economy; Fossier, Enfance de l™Europe.

Analysis of the scholarship written during the last half century on all aspects of the

Carolingian world appears in Sullivan, ˜The Carolingian Age™.
Issues and Approaches
reconstruction was well under way in northwestern Europe; in another gen-
eration or two it would be considerably advanced.39
Growth in political frameworks relied of necessity on supportive public
opinion, or at least on the good will of those levels of society whose opinion
counted. Measures to secure public order, in other words, could scarcely have
been imposed simply from the top down, without the foundation of fairly
widespread support, generated by real concern about basic questions of order.
Both the reforming Church and the emerging State took on increasingly insti-
tutionalized form during the High Middle Ages, and in the process consider-
ably expanded their role as guarantors of acceptable levels of order. Clearly,
large numbers of the people whose opinion mattered in this society had some
investment in peace and order and often backed institutions of government
that might help achieve these goals.40
On the early edge of this period the Church, despairing of kings who no
longer seemed able to play this role, tried to secure a minimal level of peace
through its own councils, generating what historians have long termed the
Peace Movement, beginning in the late tenth century.41
The movement for reform in the Church which began in the late eleventh
century led, among its many signi¬cant results, to an increased emphasis on
effective papal administration; a growing network of courts and system of
appeals brought papal judicial in¬‚uence across the Alps; the canon law and a
framework of ecclesiastical courts grew both in strength and outreach into
society; a system of taxation siphoned off some portion of the wealth of ¬eld
and town to fund”always inadequately though, it seemed to clerical
of¬cials”the growth of ecclesiastical administration at all levels. The sheer
volume of documentation produced at the centre in Rome, if plotted on a
graph, rises inexorably.42
At about the same time the growing power of kingship and the equally dra-
matic extension of its social role have led historians to analyse the medieval ori-
gins of the modern state as an outstanding feature of high medieval society.43

See Hallam, Capetian France; Reynolds, Kingdoms and Communities; Strayer, Medieval

Origins; Baldwin, Philip Augustus. England, as so often, proves to be a special case, building on
Anglo-Saxon foundations: see James Campbell, ˜Re¬‚ections on the English Government™;
Chibnall, Anglo-Norman England .
One of the arguments in Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order.

Some of the recent scholarship, and the contentions and debates it entails, appear in Head

and Landes, eds, The Peace of God.
Southern, Western Society and the Church; Morris, The Papal Monarchy; I. S. Robinson, The

Papacy; see the graph in Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record, 44. The ideological stance of
the post-Gregorian ecclesiastical hierarchy with regard to violence, sancti¬ed and otherwise, will
concern us later.
See especially Strayer, Medieval Origins. Cf. the wide-ranging essays in Gouron and

Rigaudiere, eds, Renaissance du pouvoir legislatif .
Public Order and the Knights 21
The growth of the English state makes the case most plainly. By their very
bulk, increasing year after year, records from the English royal lawcourts
preserved in the Public Record Of¬ce, London, dramatically document the
growth of business; they show us the willingness, even the eagerness, of
people to bring their cases before the king™s justices, however much they
complained about the partiality, delay, and expense that seem the perennial
accompaniments of centralized justice in all ages that know them. The ˜regis-
ters of writs™, in which working attorneys and litigious monasteries collected
the standard formulas of the royal writs that initiated legal action on the civil
side, ¬lled ten or twelve pages with the styles of 50 or 60 writs in the early thir-
teenth century; they grew to 120 writs by the last quarter of that century and
to 890 writs by the ¬rst quarter of the following century.44 On the criminal
side, the English crown by the 1170s required local grand juries to name before
its circuit justices all those suspected of murder, larceny, harbouring criminals,
forgery, and arson. As Alan Harding has cogently argued, the demands of the
crown and the press of business thrust by litigants upon these circuit justices
across the twelfth and thirteenth centuries ¬nally exhausted the legal work-
horse of the general eyre by overuse.45
In both England and France litigants could bring a case into a royal court by
making the signi¬cant charge that an enemy had wronged them by illicit vio-
lence: the formula in England stated the wrong was done ˜by force and arms
and against the king™s peace™; one analogous French formula charged the
wrongdoer had acted ˜by force, violence and by the power of arms™.46 Royal
interest and activity in criminal jurisdiction increased suf¬ciently in France for
the central law court, the Parlement, to open a separate criminal register in
Even the briefest sampling of the evidence, then, shows the concern over
disruptive violence and the support which allowed major institutions to
increase their roles in an age of widespread growth. In other words, all the evi-
dence we have examined thus far seems congruent: from our three witnesses
(and many others we could summon to the stand from the following cen-
turies), from the social and economic setting around them, from the institu-
tions their contemporaries were busily creating.

Harding, Law Courts of Medieval England, 77. Ibid, 86“7.
44 45

Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order, 158, citing sources.

Strayer, Philip the Fair, 208“36.
Issues and Approaches

Evidence from Chivalric Literature
One ¬nal source of evidence shows perceptions of order and violence: the vast
body of chivalric literature.48 Even a brief, initial sampling can reveal patterns
of thought, for these texts drew on the continuous experience of daily life, on
collective memories and imagination. Since we can never recover all this par-
ticular experience in detail, it is all the more important that we take into
account the powerful cumulative traces of experience in literature. Examining
this literature puts us in touch with a vast store of relevant human experience;
moreover, it obviously attempts to shape attitudes. No simple mirror re¬‚ect-
ing society, it is itself an active social force, identifying basic issues, asking
probing questions, sometimes suggesting constructive change.
Almost without fail these works give prominence to acts of disruptive vio-
lence and problems of control. Complexity characterizes the point of view:
even more than in the histories we have already sampled, attitudes about vio-
lence come strongly mixed. Belief in the right kind of violence carried out vig-
orously by the right people is a cornerstone of this literature. Yet aggression
and the disruptive potentiality of violence is a serious issue for these writers no
less than for the historians. This signi¬cant fact has seldom been analysed.
What troubles these writers (echoing our three historians) is not usually vio-
lence in the abstract, nor war simply conceived as one sovereign or even one
seigneur marshalling his forces against another. Rather, the issue is how to
carry on daily living with enough security and peacefulness to make civilized
life possible; the world seems almost Hobbesian, with violence carried out on
any scale possible to achieve any end desired.
In confronting such issues, a writer sometimes creates an image of unusual
power and vividness, conveying across the centuries the elemental fear created
by knightly violence. The author of the Perlesvaus (written in the early years of
the thirteenth century) produces just such an image in the huge knights in
black armour who appear more than once in the pages of his romance.49 We

The issues involved in using this literature are discussed in the second section of Chapter 2.

The several quotations that follow come from Bryant, tr., Perlesvaus, 144, 176“8, 221; for the

original French, see Nitze and Jenkins, eds, Perlesvaus, 222“3; 274“8; 344. The earliest appearance
of these knights, or some men very much like them, comes near the opening of the romance when
King Arthur ¬ghts a black knight with a ¬‚aming lance at the Chapel of St Augustine. Mysterious
knights appear on the scene to hack this knight into fragments after Arthur defeats him; they sim-
ilarly cut apart one of their company who failed to kill or capture Arthur. This company is not,
however, described as being black, nor carrying ¬‚aming weaponry. Bryant, Perlesvaus, 27“30;
Nitze and Jenkins, Perlesvaus, 38“40. Black knights on black horses appear again, issuing from the
Castle of the Black Hermit, later identi¬ed as Hell. Bryant, Perlesvaus, 37, 73, Nitze and Jenkins,
Perlesvaus, 55, 109. The black knights are later identi¬ed as spirits of those who died ˜sanz repen-
tance™ or as ˜ungodly demons™. Nitze and Jenkins, Perlesvaus, 222, 345.
Public Order and the Knights 23
¬rst see these dread ¬gures through the eyes of Perceval™s sister when she
comes to the Perilous Cemetery:
As the maiden peered around the graveyard from where she stood among the tombs,
she saw that it was surrounded by knights, all black, with burning, ¬‚aming lances, and
they came at each other with such a din and tumult that it seemed as though the whole
forest were crumbling. Many wielded swords as red as ¬‚ame, and were attacking one
another and hewing off hands and feet and noses and heads and faces; the sound of
their blows was great indeed.

Later in the story, when Arthur, Lancelot, and Gawain journey on a Grail pil-
grimage, they ¬nd themselves in the midst of a dense forest without the
accommodation that usually appears in such stories as if on cue. After sending
a squire up a tree to try to discover some sign of civilized life and hospitality in
the engul¬ng darkness, they move towards an open ¬re he has sighted in the
distance. The ¬re is burning inexplicably, they ¬nd, in the ruined courtyard of
a forti¬ed but deserted manor house.
When they send the squire in search of food for the horses, he returns in
utter terror, having in the dark stumbled into a chamber ¬lled with fragments
of butchered knights™ bodies. Suddenly a maiden appears in the courtyard,
bearing on her shoulders half a dead man, the latest addition to the grisly col-
lection the squire discovered within. For her sins against knighthood this
unfortunate maiden has had to ˜carry to that chamber all the knights who were
killed in this forest and guard them here at the manor, all alone without com-
pany™. She warns the Round Table companions against a fearsome band of
knights who will come at night, ˜black they are, and foul and terrible, and no-
one knows where they come from. They ¬ght one another furiously, and the
combat is long.™ On her advice, Lancelot draws a circle all around the house
with his sword”just in time, for the demon knights
came galloping through the forest, at such a furious speed that it sounded as though
the forest were being uprooted. Then they rode into the manor, clutching blazing
¬rebrands which they hurled at one another; into the house they rode, ¬ghting, and
made as if to approach the knights, but they could not go near them, and had to aim
the ¬rebrands at the king and his company from a distance.

Though the maiden warns Lancelot not to step outside the protective magic
of his circle, with characteristic valour he attacks the knights. Inspired by his
example, Arthur and Gawain join in; swords swing, sparks and hot coals ¬‚y,
the evil is defeated. As the swords of the heroes cut through them, ˜they
screamed like demons and the whole forest resounded, and as they fell to the
ground and could endure no more, both they and their horses turned to ¬lth
and ashes, and black demons rose from their bodies in the form of crows™.
Issues and Approaches
With hardly a moment™s rest Arthur, Lancelot, and Gawain confront another
band, ˜even blacker men, bearing blazing lances wrapped in ¬‚ames, and many
were carrying the bodies of knights whom they had killed in the forest™.
Flinging down the bodies, they demand of the maiden that she deal with them
as with all the others. She refuses, declaring her penance done. They attack the
three companions, seeking revenge for their defeated fellows and the combat
is terrible until a bell (which we later learn is sounded by a hermit saying mass)
rings out in the forest and they ¬‚ee suddenly.
Towards the end of the story, shapes that are apparently these same demon
knights put in a ¬nal, chilling appearance. Lancelot at the Perilous Chapel
˜came to the door of the chapel, and there in the graveyard he thought he saw
huge and terrible knights mounted on horseback, ready for combat, and they
seemed to be staring at him, watching him™. Though these astonishing and ter-
rifying images could be ¬tted into the elaborate religious symbolism in this
romance (which has generated much interesting scholarship), this imagery
works in another dimension as well.50 The ˜dark side of the force™ of knight-
hood (to borrow the familiar language of the popular Star Wars ¬lms) could
scarcely be rendered more powerfully than in the portrayal of these demon
knights lurking in the forest shadows or suddenly emerging to hack at each
other and at the innocent with their ¬‚aming weaponry.51
Their appearance in the Perlesvaus takes on even more force when we con-
sider that the author seems to be drawing the raw material of his images from
a folkloristic tradition known as ˜la Mesnie Hellequin™, or Herlequin™s Hunt, a
wild nocturnal ride by a hunting party or armed host across the countryside.52
The use of such images in this romance calls to mind ˜one of the most unfor-
gettable passages in the Ecclesiastical History™ of Orderic,53 thus linking, once
again, our chronicles with imaginative literary sources.
Orderic tells us the story given to him in person by Walchelin, a priest who
claimed to have witnessed the fearful procession on the ¬rst night of January

See Carman, ˜Symbolism of the Perlesvaus™; Kelly, A Structural Study, 91“194, with many cita-

tions to earlier studies. Kelly sees this text as addressed primarily to lay males as an encouragement
to them to conduct their chivalry in accordance with divine will. The preoccupation of the text
with almost macabre violence and cruelty seems to him a re¬‚ection of actual issues in this society
(20“3, 95, 158“61, 171“8). Saly, ˜Perceval-Perlesvaus™, emphasizes the role of lignage and vengeance
in Perceval™s quest.
Writers on fantasy have noted that accounts like this test social truths and reveal the ˜dark

side™ of the dominant order in society: Jackson, Fantasy, 4, 15.
Sain©an, ˜La Mesnie Hellequin™, shows how widespread the tradition was in medieval

Europe, the image of nocturnal army being older, the image of hunt being more widespread; Lot,
˜La Mesnie Hellequin™. Both are cited in Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, IV, xxxviii“xl, where
she discusses this phenomenon and the available scholarship.
Chibnall, Ecclesiastical History, IV, xxxix“xl; the following quotations appear in the text, pp.

Public Order and the Knights 25
1091, while returning from a visit to a sick parishioner. Hearing them
approach, Walchelin mistook the noise to mean a troublesome contemporary
force, the household troops of Robert of Bellême (Orderic™s bête noire), on
their way to the siege of Courcy, and feared being ˜shamefully robbed™. His ini-
tial fear is useful evidence in itself.
What happened was yet more terrifying, however, for he saw pass before
him in the clear moonlight not an army of mortals, but four troops of tor-
mented spirits: ¬rst commoners on foot, then women riding sidesaddle, then
a great troop of clergy and monks, all groaning under torments. The last
troop was ˜a great army of knights, in which no colour was visible save black-
ness and ¬‚ickering ¬re. All rode upon huge horses, fully armed as if they were
galloping to battle and carrying jet-black standards.™ Wanting proof that he
had actually seen ˜Herlechin™s rabble™. Walchelin foolishly tried to seize one
of the coal-black horses, which easily galloped off. His yet more foolish
second attempt provoked an attack by four of the demon knights. Orderic
assures us that he saw the scar on the priest™s throat caused by the
knight™s grasp, ˜burning him like ¬re™. One of the knights proved to be the
cleric™s dead brother, who spared Walchelin, told him of the torments
the ghostly knights suffer, and begged for his priestly prayers as his hope for

I have endured severe punishment for the great sins with which I am heavily burdened.
The arms which we bear are red-hot, and offend us with an appalling stench, weighing
us down with intolerable weight, and burning with everlasting ¬re. Up to now I have
suffered unspeakable torture from those punishments. But when you were ordained in
England and sang your ¬rst Mass for the faithful departed your father Ralph escaped
from his punishments and my shield, which caused me great pain, fell from me. As you
see I still carry this sword, but I look in faith for release from this burden within the

Walchelin noticed what seemed to him ˜a mass of blood like a human head™
around his brother™s heels where his knightly spurs would attach. It is not
blood, he learns, but ¬re, burning and weighing down the knight as if he were
carrying the Mont Saint-Michel. His brother explains: ˜Because I used bright,
sharp spurs in my eager haste to shed blood I am justly condemned to carry
this enormous load on my heels, which is such an intolerable burden that I
cannot convey to anyone the extent of my sufferings.™ The knight™s message is
clear: ˜Living men should constantly have these things in mind.™ It seems likely
that the author of the Perlesvaus, a century later, had them much in mind. Both
he and Orderic testify vividly to a fear of knightly violence at the deepest level
of human psychology.
Issues and Approaches
Another image of similar vividness and power is much better known. The inci-
dent of a ˜dolorous stroke™ with frightful consequences to whole kingdoms
appears in more than one romance, often in connection with the theme of
wasteland. As portrayed in the story of Balain, contained within the Post-
Vulgate Merlin Continuation (written probably soon after 1240),54 the dolor-
ous stroke gives us particularly useful evidence of fears generated by knightly
violence and the devastation it caused.
This story is all the more powerful for being a part of a major structural con-
trast built into this widely read cycle of romances. The contrast is embodied in
two knights. Both possess undoubted and praised prowess; but the results of
their knighthood could scarcely be more different. Balain, source of misery
and misfortune, is set opposite Galahad, bringer of joy and release; the
Unfortunate Knight stands on one side, the Good Knight on the other. Balain
brings into being the oppressive ˜adventures™ of the Grail when he wounds
King Pellehan; Galahad lifts this curse when he cures him. In a society accus-
tomed to thinking about Fall and Redemption, it seems signi¬cant that Balain
is compared to Eve, Perceval to Christ.
The story of Balain™s misadventures is compelling. Doggedly pursued by an
invisible knight who repeatedly kills his companions without warning, Balain
¬nally ¬nds the man in conveniently visible form at the castle where King
Pellehan is holding court. Wasting no time, Balain kills his enemy with a
sword stroke, splitting the man from his head down through his chest. King
Pellehan is even more outraged at this act of vengeance in his court that was
Arthur when Balain had similarly killed a lady in his presence. In his hot wrath
the king attacks Balain with a great pole and breaks the knight™s sword. A wild
chase through the castle ensues, with Balain searching in desperation for any
weapon to resist the pursuing king.
Disregarding an unearthly voice warning him not to enter so holy a place,
Balain rushes into a marvellous and sweet-smelling room containing a silver
table upon which stands a gold and silver vessel. A lance suspended miracu-
lously in mid-air, point down, is poised over this vessel. Ignoring another
voice of warning, Balain seizes the lance just in time to thrust it through both
thighs of King Pellehan, who falls to the ¬‚oor grievously wounded. Although

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