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Near the end of the romance another lay Pentecost combines with a remark-
able Eucharist. Galahad, Perceval, and Bors, the three elite companions on the
quest (soon joined somewhat awkwardly by nine knights to make up the
required apostolic twelve), are seated in the castle of Corbenic. The sky dark-
ens, the stormy wind makes a great hot rush through the hall and the Grail
appears. The companions, ˜their faces wet with tears of awe and love™, see
Christ appear from the Grail, miraculously to offer them the heavenly food of
his own body. They soon hear the voice of the Lord telling them:
you resemble my apostles. For just as they ate with me at the Last Supper, now you will
eat with me now at the table of the Holy Grail. . . . Just as I dispersed them through-
out the world to preach the true law, so too will I disperse your group, some here,
others there.60

Religious valorization of this intensity comes from texts which walk the bor-
der”only as thick as a penstroke”between the pious and the unthinkable.
The essential actors in this drama are God and his knights. Christ himself par-
ticipates not only as sacri¬ce but as of¬ciating agent, assisted by Josephus who
dramatically descends into the scene from heaven, seated on a throne carried
by four angels. This son of Joseph of Arimathea is here called (in full disregard
of sacred priestly history) the ¬rst bishop. Josephus conducts at least the con-
secration of the host (drawn from the Grail) into which Christ descends from
above in the form of a shining child who becomes a mature human form.

Burns, tr., Quest, 5“8; Matarasso, tr., Quest, 36“45; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, VI, 7“14.

Ibid., 36“7; 100“1; 56“7. Ibid., 84“5; 273“7; 189“91.
59 60
Knights and Piety 57
Josephus places this consecrated host in the Grail, kisses Galahad, and van-
ishes. Christ himself emerges from the Grail to give each knight present ˜his
Lay independence hovers about this wondrous scene. If a quasi-priest
of¬ciates here, he is surely an unusual specimen. He has, for one thing, been
dead for three centuries, as the marvelling knights recognize when he descends
from heaven. Moreover an inscription on his brow informs the knights that he
was ˜consecrated by our Lord in Sarras, in the spiritual palace™. Josephus is
decidedly not one of the clerics recognized by the priestly tradition in which
the authority of God came to Peter and subsequently, by the laying on of
hands, to each bishop and priest across the centuries. Even if he descends
clothed in bishops robes, holding a crozier, wearing a mitre, Josephus is a
¬gure created by knightly lay piety to begin a ritual which ends with the
appearance of Christ to feed his best knights with his own body from his own
The Quest of the Holy Grail is far from a simple valorization of knighthood,
whatever the striking parallels with sacred myth it creates for chivalry. Yet the
degree to which such a work praised an idealized knighthood is fascinating and
informative. Powerful ideas crackled like high voltage alternating current
along lines connecting chevalerie and clergie. If, as we will see, the pattern pro-
posed for knighthood in a text like this soared beyond actual knights, the
sacralization of their idealized work, replete with concessions to their sense of
independence, remains important.62

Knights and Hermits
The spectacular Grail scene at Corbenic is a culminating experience, the apoth-
eosis of an imagined spiritual quest. Lay assertion of independence from cler-
ical authority appears much more regularly in the prominence of hermits in all
chivalric literature, particularly in the romances. Hermits are clearly the chival-
ric cleric of choice. In the forests which are the setting for adventure, hermits
seem to have established their dwellings at convenient intervals of one day™s
ride in order to accommodate knights errant who lodge with them regularly.
They are ¬gures of wisdom as well as keepers of plain hostelries for the

For the consecration of Josephus, see Chase, tr., History of the Holy Grail, 25“8; Sommer, ed.,

Vulgate Version I, 30“6. Here, Josephus is termed ˜sovereign bishop™ over his sheep, is dressed in
all the ˜things a bishop should have™, is attended by angels, and is anointed and consecrated by God
˜in the way a bishop should be™. He wears a mitre, holds a crozier, has a ring on his hand. He per-
forms the ¬rst mass. Later he ordains priests and bishops. Chase, ibid., 49; Sommer, ibid., 78.
62 Clerical ideas of reform are discussed in Chapter 4, further discussion of the The Quest

appears in Chapter 12.
The Link with Clergie
chivalrous; a knight can ¬nd an explanation for his recent adventures or his
troublesome dreams and a sure guide for his future conduct, as well as a bed,
and at least barley bread and water.
Hermits are ubiquitous in chivalric literature. A hermit starts Yvain on his
road to recovery after madness in Chr©tien™s Yvain;63 another speaks the key
advice to Perceval on Good Friday in his Perceval.64 Scores of hermits nourish
and direct the knights throughout The Quest of the Holy Grail. In fact, hermits
will play a key religious role in romance for the next several centuries.65 And not
only in romance. The spoken advice that becomes Llull™s important manual on
chivalry, we must remember, likewise comes from an old hermit who is instruct-
ing a candidate for knighthood. The chronicler Orderic Vitalis pictures a hermit
foreseeing the future at the request of Queen Matilda, consort of William the
Conqueror. His elaborate vision could come from the pages of The Quest.66
To realize why this knightly preference for hermits is signi¬cant to the lay
piety of chivalry we need to understand the kind of ¬gure hermits represent.
Two key facts seem to stand at the heart of an answer. First, both as we ¬nd
them in medieval society and as they were represented in chivalric literature,
hermits were closely integrated with the world around them; they were part of
lay society. In England hermits were sometimes expected to take on such mun-
dane functions as hospitality, chapel tending, work on roads and bridges, as
well as the spiritual counselling and advice to laypeople we might expect.67 In
literature they appear as especially attuned and sympathetic to knighthood, and
often have come from the same social milieu as knights, indeed have often been
knights themselves until age and waning capacity closed a chivalric career.
A second characteristic is of equal importance. Hermits were, in Angus
Kennedy™s words, ˜not opposed to but rather on the outskirts of the ecclesias-
tical hierarchy proper™.68 The combination is perfect for making them ideal
purveyors of religion to the practitioners of chivalry. With thoughts of lay
independence and suspicions of clerical aggrandizement in their heads,
knights could readily appreciate the somewhat marginal position of pious
hermits within the ranks of the clergy.69
Kibler, ed., tr., Yvain, ll. 2831“90.

Bryant, tr., Perceval, 67“70; Roach, ed., Perceval, ll. 6217“517. The didactic role plays on

unabated through the continuations to this latter romance.
Angus Kennedy provides an especially helpful overview: ˜The Hermit™s Role™. Cf. Frappier,

˜Le Graal™.
Chibnall ed., tr., Ecclesiastical History, III, 104“9.

Ann Warren, ˜Self-Exclusion and Outsidership in Medieval Society: The English Medieval

Hermit™, paper read at the University of Rochester, 1991.
Angus Kennedy, ˜The Hermit™s Role™, 83.

If Henrietta Leyser is correct, the hermits in the world at the time chivalric romances were

being written were already forming institutions and had moved some distance from the more soli-
tary life pictured in these texts: see Hermits and the New Monasticism.
Knights and Piety 59
Benedictine monks and some clerics understandably took offence at the her-
mits™ claims and their criticisms of older monastic forms; they sometimes
directed sarcastic attacks at what they considered anarchic, orderless, headless
(i.e. leaderless) hermits.70 Their scorn and criticism, of course, make the same
point as the knightly endorsement, from an opposing direction: these men are
outsiders, not fully citizens of the world of clergie. Not all hermits were, in fact,
priests, and even those who were priests seemed more engaged in the life of
the laity and less entrenched in clergie than their fellows in monastery, parish
church, or episcopal court. As Jean Becquet wrote, if Western eremiticism was
clearly clerical, it was also lay, ¬nding its recruits among laymen as well as
monastics, and combining them in ˜a perfect symbiosis™. He notes that the
master of one of the prominent eremitical orders in mid-twelfth-century
France, the order of Grandmont, was Pierre Bernard, a former knight who had
only recently become a priest.71 Some scholars are not sure that all hermits had
even received the licence from the bishop theoretically necessary for entering
the eremitical life.72
In fact, there is always a faint scent of the protest movement lingering about
hermits. Jean Leclercq notes that in the eleventh and twelfth century they rep-
resented something of a movement or reaction, especially against contempo-
rary monasticism; Angus Kennedy argues that by the fourteenth century
hermits in literary works took on the role of critics of the Church of their day.73
In short, hermits combined a maximum of recognized piety and involvement
in the life of the laity with a minimal possession or exercise of ecclesiastical
authority; to this potent brew they added a dash of criticism of the church
Their undoubted piety was buttressed by the asceticism that always regis-
tered as authentic piety in medieval consciousness. This very asceticism
showed the heroic character of the hermits, a quality which, of course, struck
a responsive chord in knights; each group undertook its characteristic adven-
tures and put the body in peril for a higher goal. Knightly recognition and
approval of this asceticism appears regularly in chivalric literature. A hermit in
the Perlesvaus, we learn, has not stepped outside his hermitage for forty years.74
Llull™s hermit patently shows his holy life in his worn clothing, worn body,

See the examples in Leclercq, ˜Le poème de Payen Bolotin™; this article discusses and prints

a twelfth-century satire directed against hermits. See also Flori, L™Essor de chevalerie, 262“3, citing
Geroh of Reichersberg.
Becquet, ˜L™Ér©mitisme™.

G. G. Meersseman, commenting on Becquet™s paper in L™Eremitismo in Occidente, 207;

Becquet™s agreement appears at ibid., 209.
Ibid., 210, 594; Angus Kennedy, ˜The Hermit™s Role™, 76“82.

Bryant, tr., Perlesvaus, 75; Nitze and Jenkins, eds, Perlesvaus, 112.
The Link with Clergie
many tears. In the ˜¬rst Continuation™ of the Perceval, a hermit keeps a vow of
silence through each night, visited by a helpful angel.75 Ascetic discipline wins
for the hermits particularly clear and direct channels to God and his angels.
Through this ef¬cient access to divine power hermits can foretell the future,
explain the past, heal the injured.76 The Mort Artu even explains Gawain™s mys-
terious increase of prowess at noon by the fact of his baptism by a holy hermit
at that hour.77 In the Perlesvaus, Lancelot receives from a hermit the tempting
offer to take upon himself Lancelot™s sin with the queen. The gesture is noble,
but Lancelot declines, con¬dent that God will understand.78
Such powers are all the more attractive to knights when the hermits have
actually known the chivalric life and come from the proper social class. The
continuation of Chr©tien™s Perceval by Gerbert shows us a band of twelve her-
mits led by a hermit king, all former knights.79 Lancelot and Yvain stop at a
hermitage in the Lancelot and ¬nd ˜two good men, one who was a priest and
another who had been a knight and was the uncle of the two knights™ guide™.80
The hermit who gives Lancelot useful information early in the Lancelot ˜was
very old and had been a knight, one of the handsomest in the world. He had
turned to religion in his prime, when he had lost within one year all twelve of
his sons.™81 A hermit in the Perlesvaus had been a knight in King Uther™s house-
hold for forty years and then a hermit for another thirty years.82 Time and
again romance authors show us hermits who have long been knights and who
can thus speak to other knights on a level plane of social equality and shared
vocation.83 A hermit whom Yvain meets (in the Lancelot) had been a knight
errant even before Arthur was crowned: ˜And I™d have been a member of the
Round Table, but I refused to join because of a knight member for whom I
bore a mortal hatred, and whose arms I later cut off. So after he was crowned,
King Arthur disinherited me.™84
One hermit after another is presented as a former knight. In the Lancelot do
Lac, to pick an example almost at random, we meet a hermit who had in his
previous profession been one of the ¬nest knights in the world.85 The hermits

˜¬rst Continuation™ in Bryant, Perceval, 152.

Many examples in Angus Kennedy, ˜Portrayal of the Hermit-Saint™.

Cable, tr., Death of King Arthur, 181; Frappier, ed., La Mort, 173. Cf. the highly effective

prayers of Perceval™s hermit uncle in Roach, ed., Didot Perceval, 180.
Bryant, tr., Perlesvaus, 110“11; Nitze and Jenkins, eds, Perlesvaus, 168.

Bryant, Perceval, 239“43; Williams and Oswald, eds, Gerbert de Montreuil, I, ll. 8906“10153.

Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part III, 301; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, IV, 110.

Rosenberg, Lancelot Part III, 86; Sommer, Vulgate Version, III, 163.

Bryant, Perlesvaus, 41; Nitze and Jenkins, Perlesvaus, I, 60“1.

Many examples in Angus Kennedy, ˜Portrayal of the Hermit-Saint™.

Kibler, tr., Lancelot Part V, 174; Micha, ed., Lancelot, IV, 248.

Corley, tr., Lancelot of the Lake, 139; Elspeth Kennedy, Lancelot do Lac, 209.
Knights and Piety 61
who are so thick on the ground in The Quest of the Holy Grail likewise prove
often to have been knights; the hermit who hears Lancelot™s confession in this
text at least has a brother who is a knight and who can be called upon for the
essential horse and armour Lancelot has lost.86 In the Perlesvaus a hermit does
one better and keeps a stable of warhorses ready for use by worthy knights in
need; this is the sort of cleric a chivalrous audience could really appreciate.87
Some of the hermits never quite block out the trumpet calls of their former
calling. One who keeps arms to ¬ght against robbers and villains appears in the
Perlesvaus and later in that romance hermits enthusiastically join with Perceval
in battle.88 It is more common, of course, for hermits to consider that warfare
continues in their new lives but takes a different form; in singing their masses,
they are often said to wear ˜the armor of Our Lord™.89
The link becomes even stronger when we note how many heroes themselves
end their lives as hermits. Perceval becomes a hermit at the end of The Quest of
the Holy Grail; Lancelot, Bleoberis, Gir¬‚et, Hector (as well as the Archbishop
of Canterbury) are all hermits in the closing pages of the Mort Artu and, again,
in Malory™s great book.90 William of Orange, who has retired from knight-
hood to become a rather unhappy monk in William in the Monastery, hears the
voice of God telling him in a dream to leave that community and become a
Some hermits even reverse the usual pattern and turn to the greatest knights
for advice or even spiritual intercession. In the Perlesvaus, for example, a hermit
takes counsel of Perceval because of his good life, and another asks Galahad (in
The Quest of the Holy Grail) to intercede with God for him.92 The projection of
knightly lay independence in chivalric literature could scarcely be clearer.
Did this portrayal of hermits and the elaboration of mythology and learning
really mean anything to a knight setting out on a countryside campaign or

Knights become hermits, see Matarasso, tr., Quest, 138, 209; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version,

VI, 86, 142; the hermit™s brother and Lancelot™s equipment, see Matarasso, ibid., 94; Sommer,
ibid., 51.
87 Bryant, tr., Perlesvaus, 236; Nitze and Jenkins, eds, Perlesvaus, I, 367. The Post-Vulgate Quest

for the Holy Grail notes that in the good old days the kingdom was full of hermits, many of them
former knights. The custom was to bear arms for thirty or forty years and then go off into moun-
tainous solitude where they ˜performed pennance for their sins and sensuality™: Asher, tr., Quest,
177; Bogdanow, ed., Version Post-Vulgate, 302.
Bryant, Perlesvaus, 108, 168“71; Nitze and Jenkins, Perlesvaus, I, 164“5, 262“8.

e.g. Matarasso, Quest, 86, 103; Sommer, Vulgate Version, VI, 45, 59.

Matarasso, Quest, 284; Sommer, Vulgate Version, 198“9; Cable, tr., Death of King Arthur,

226, 231“2; Frappier, ed., La Mort, 227, 232“5; Vinaver, ed., Malory. Works, 722.
Ferrante, ed., tr., Guillaume d™Orange, 304“5; Cloetta, ed., Deux redactions, laisse 30.

Bryant, Perlesvaus, 264; Nitze and Jenkins, Perlesvaus, I, 407 ; Matarasso, Quest, 256;

Sommer, Vulgate Version, VI, 176. A priest asks Bors for his prayers when the knight comes before
the Holy Grail and an abbot also asks for his prayers. Matarasso, ibid., 180, 199; Sommer, ibid.,
120, 134.
The Link with Clergie
even on a crusade? Would any particular knight care about an some imagined
hermit™s advice, about Joseph of Arimathea, the shield of Lancelot, or the mir-
acles of Galahad?
Knights need not have been primarily men of ideals to have ideals that mat-
tered to them. If chivalric literature presents critiques and hopes for the reform
of chivalry, it also reveals a good deal of the basic religious attitudes commonly
held by knights. Their piety may have been thoroughly formal and from a
modern, ideal perspective may look distressingly devoid of deep spirituality;
but it need not have been less real for all that, nor less a guide to their conduct.
These attitudes constitute a form of lay piety that was eminently practical. The
knights wanted to be pious, orthodox Christians; they also insisted on a val-
orization of their profession of arms which would link them, ¬nally, with
divine order. Ideas that carried such weight mattered to them.

S H E E R necessity as well as intellectual heritage gave the medieval Church
a tradition of ideas which opposed some but not all violence. The very sur-
vival of Christian society was no mere abstraction for people with vivid mem-
ories of the break-up of the Carolingian order, if not of the break-up of the
parent order of Rome. Continuing might of Islam, made so painfully evident
in the Holy Land, brought their memories and fears quite up to date.1 Even
within Christendom none could doubt that the evils inherent in an imperfect
world would require the use of armed force in their solution, as they always
These ever-present problems were redoubled by the interlocking set of
changes taking place so rapidly and to such signi¬cant effect in high medieval
Europe. All three apexes of our triangle of power relationships, clergie, royaut©,
and chevalerie, were by the late eleventh and twelfth centuries coming into full
vigour and were taking on sharper intellectual focus. The Church was con-
fronted by the rise of knighthood, the emergence of a parent form of the
Western European State, and new socio-economic, urban, demographic pat-
terns in society (as noted in Chapter 1). Finding the right role for violence in
general and for knighthood in particular thus gave churchmen sleepless nights.
The context within which clerical ideas on violence took shape may thus be
as important as the ideas themselves, considered in the abstract. Despite the
intellectual precedents available, the actual situation in the world of the late
eleventh century seems dramatically new. The great heritage from the patristic
and Carolingian past, even Augustine™s ideas on just war, would have to ¬nd

Pagans of some sort frequently appear as the threat in chansons and even in works more tradi-

tionally classed as romance.
The ultimate statement came from Honor© Bonet: ˜[I]t is no great marvel if in this world

there arise wars and battles, since they existed ¬rst in Heaven.™ He has in mind the rebel angels
who fought against God: see Coupland, ed., tr., Tree of Battles, 81. Bonet later notes (pp. 118“19)
that the world can never be at peace, since con¬‚ict is built into heavenly bodies, animals, and
humans, and argues that even if evil is done in war it is not in itself evil ˜but is good and virtuous™
(p. 125).
The Link with Clergie
their proper ¬t in this brave new world of papal power, crusade, and canon
law. From this complex mix of theological ideas with the exigencies of socio-
political change emerged a range of ideologies with high praise for an ideal
knighthood at one end, bitter denunciation of the evils of knighthood at the
If over time more and more in¬‚uential voices added their signi¬cant opin-
ion at the positive end of the scale, clerical views on chivalry were always
reform views, constantly mixing praise and denunciation to produce a society
in which the Church could live, and an armed force with which the Church
could work. With their bookish love of wordplay, the clerics perfectly captured
the stark endpoints on the scale of their thought by using two terms of oppo-
site tenor, differing in only one letter. Was chivalry, they liked to ask, the ideal
service of God”militia”or was it simply badness”malitia?

Clerical Praise for Knightly Militia
After the Gregorian Reform, led by a vigorous line of eleventh-century popes,
had notionally drawn the world of clergie out of the somewhat smothering
embrace of secular society, papal reformers found themselves confronted by
issues of violence in all of their starkness. Could the leadership of the Church
coerce enemies who opposed its realization of the will of God? Could the
pope, only now achieving effective authority even within the Church, declare
and direct war? Should churchmen personally bear arms in good causes? If
they could not participate directly, how could ecclesiastical leadership guide
the coercive power and violence of laymen?
Scholars generally hold that the Gregorians wrought signi¬cant changes in
ecclesiastical views on such questions; many even consider the reformers™
views, in particular those of Leo IX (1049“54) and Gregory VII (1073“85),
truly revolutionary in their willingness to consider violence and warfare in a
good cause not merely regrettable but even praiseworthy.3 Peter Damian and
Cardinal Humbert, chief counsellors of Gregory VII, argued against the use of
force even in defence of the faith or in the struggle with heretics.
Yet if both points of view continued to ¬nd defenders, Gregory is com-
monly considered the principal single architect of subsequent medieval
Christian ideas of holy war. If soldier-saints had been canonized in earlier

As Brundage notes: ˜The really radical change in papal policy toward warfare . . . occurred

during the reign of that most warlike of pontiffs, pope Gregory VII. . . . It has been argued, with

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