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around the turn of the thirteenth century, says that Richard, ¬ghting hostile Cypriots en route to
the Holy Land, ˜forbore to seek worse Saracens™ than these enemies: (˜Peors Sarazins ne volt
guerre™): Paris, ed., L™Histoire de la guerre sainte.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 73
ment is given a moral or religious meaning. The bath shows the knight
cleansed from sin; the bed on which he rests ¬gures the bed he will earn in par-
adise, etc. The intent to praise knighthood and ¬t it into medieval Christian
society is obvious. The audience whom the author seems to be addressing is
clerical, as the following statement near the end of the manual indicates:
knights, whom everybody should honour . . . have us all to guard; and if it were not for
knighthood, our lordship would be of little worth, for they defend Holy Church, and
they uphold justice for us against those who would do us harm. . . . Our chalices would
be stolen from before us at the table of God, and nothing would ever stop it. But their
justice which defends us in their persons is decisive. The good would never be able to
endure if the wicked did not fear knights, and if there were only Saracens, Albigensians,
and Barbarians, and people of evil faith.

The clerical case for the necessity of knighthood and the justi¬cation of their
swords could scarcely be made more clearly.36

Clerical Strictures on Knightly Malitia
Clerics balanced approval of chivalry, as an ideal type with the most blistering
criticism of the ideals and practices of chivalry actually encountered in the
The peace movement, at work between the late tenth and twelfth centuries,
overlapped the gestational age of chivalry.37 Despite much debate, most histo-
rians think that the warriors of middling and lesser rank, the castellans (mas-
ters of forti¬cations), and their subordinate milites were the targets of much of
the legislation. Clerics wanted licit war to be limited to the higher authorities,
which meant that the bishops and abbots pinned their hopes for social order
on the great lords, at least in the absence of effective royal control (which to
them would have been preferable still).
In the speci¬c form known as the Truce of God (which sought, from the
second quarter of the eleventh century, to outlaw ¬ghting during times of
religious signi¬cance), the prohibition against ¬ghting was often relaxed in
favour of the lay authority considered licit by the churchmen. A count or duke
could thus licitly ¬ght against those engaged in acts of illicit violence. Not
surprisingly, at least in Normandy, Flanders, and Catalonia, the Peace of God
had, before the end of the eleventh century, become the Peace of the Count

Busby, ed., Ordene de chevalerie, tr., 174“5; French text, 117.

The debates over interpretations of the Peace of God are surveyed and sampled in Head and

Landes, eds, Peace of God. See also Duby, Chivalrous Society, 123“33; Cowdrey, ˜Peace and Truce™;
Jean Flori, Id©ologie du glaive, 135“57.
The Link with Clergie
or Duke; by the mid-twelfth century it had become the King™s Peace in
Some scholarship takes us beyond major peace councils to informal efforts,
which are no less signi¬cant for our themes. With the approval of the count,
the monks of the monastery of Lobbes in Flanders, for example, left their
house, ruined by war, to take the relics of their patron saint, Ursmer, on a tour
in 1060. Among the many miracles recorded by the monks on this tour, the
greatest was that the saint brought peace to the region in which interlocking
feuds were everywhere. At Strazeele, the writer noted, ˜some knights were so
hostile to each other that no mortal man could bring them to peace™. At
Lissewege, the problem centred on a young man named Robert who had a
large following of knights; he would not reconcile with his enemy. Pressed by
the monks and locals (including older knights, we should note), he and this
enemy lay prostrate before the saint for three hours. Robert gnashed his teeth,
groaned, turned alternately pale and red, clawed the ground and ate dirt in
sheer frustration with those who would rob him of revenge. Finally, the saint™s
reliquary dramatically spewed smoke and levitated: Robert pardoned his
enemy and peace was made.39
The solemn rigours of the canon law”some distance from smoking, levi-
tating reliquaries in a Flemish village”can likewise show us clerical doubts
and fears about the milites. Although, as we have seen, Gratian™s in¬‚uential
Decretum created safe canonical space for just warfare, he seems to have sensed
how hard it would be to make Christian charity the motivating force for ¬ght-
ing, how unlikely it would be for the knightly ranks of his day to give up such
sinful motives as private revenge or plentiful booty. Frederick Russell argues,
for example, that the prolix and pompous exhortations that Gratian and so
many later canonists addressed to the knights (against their ˜lust for doing
harm, cruelty of punishment, implacable and unsatis¬ed vehemence, savagery,
and lust for domination™) show deep fears on just these points. As Russell
writes, ˜Against the well-known greed, rapacity, and ferocity of the knightly
class of his time Gratian opposed the patristic portraits of the Christian soldier,
thereby striking at the core of knightly practice.™40 The canonists, with hope in
their hearts, praised the military virtues, in other words, but they recognized
and feared the military vices so evident in their world; and they spoke to that

Flori, Ideologie du glaive, 154; Head and Landes eds, Peace of God, 8. The capacity of royal gov-

ernment in England eliminated the need for this infusion of support.
Koziol, ˜The Making of Peace™, 250“1. Koziol notes that the castellans must have welcomed

the monks into their regions, hoping for some increment to their own prestige.
Russell, Just War, 61.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 75
Though crusading epitomized knightly lay piety, most knights for most of
their lives were not crusaders; the majority of their ¬ghting was done at home
against their fellow knights (or at least their enemies™ peasantry). Clerics con-
stantly drew the sharpest contrast between the ordinary conduct of knight-
hood and the special service of crusade.
Even Urban II, as he preached the crusade at Clermont in 1095, took this
approach, if we can at all trust later accounts of his famous crusade sermon. He
seems to have stressed the evils inherent in the knightly life and presented cru-
sading as a means of atonement. The chronicler Fulcher of Chartres pictures
Urban saying, ˜Now will those who once were robbers become Christi milites;
those who once fought brothers and relatives will justly ¬ght barbarians; those
who once were mercenaries for a few farthings will obtain eternal reward.™41
Baldric of Dol gives the pope an even more outspoken speech of condemna-
tion with a smaller escape hatch of virtue opened for the knights:
You are proud; you tear your brothers to pieces and ¬ght among yourselves. The bat-
tle that rends the ¬‚ock of the Redeemer is not the militia Christi. Holy church has
reserved knighthood for itself, for the defence of its people, but you pervert it in
wickedness . . . you oppressors of orphans and widows, you murderers, you temple-
de¬lers, you lawbreakers, who seek the rewards of rapacity from spilling Christian
blood. . . . If you wish to save your souls, either abandon the profession of arms or go
boldly forth as Christi milites and hasten to the defence of the Eastern church.42

Whether or not these are words actually spoken by Urban from his platform
at Clermont, they clearly establish the continuing clerical criticism of knight-
hood and the strait gate through which it had to pass to meet the approval of
If chroniclers wrote the pope™s words for him, their own words ¬‚owed in
the same vein. William of Tyre thought the crusaders needed the opportunity
to redeem themselves by pious work: their habit was to commit theft, arson,
rape, murder. William of Malmesbury agreed; he thought that the departure
of the milites as crusaders meant that Christians at home could now live in
Views from the knights™ ˜fellow warriors™ in the cloisters had long been fear-
ful and condemnatory about knightly practice, however much they liked to
imagine a brotherly parallel between knights and monks in theory. We have
already noted some expression of these monastic fears when we looked at
Orderic™s chronicle and Suger™s biography of Louis VI. To their witness we
should add that great voice of monasticism, Bernard de Clairvaux. If he sang

Quoted in Erdmann, Crusade, 339“40. Ibid., 340.
41 42

Quoted in Flori, L™Essor de la chevalerie, 199.
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the praises of the select company of Knights Templar, and of the larger body
of those who went on the Second Crusade, for ordinary knights”which of
course means the overwhelming majority of the knights of his day”St
Bernard could scarcely restrain his contempt.44 To these men, ˜¬ghting for the
devil™, go plain words of warning:
If you happen to be killed while you are seeking only to kill another, you die a mur-
derer. If you succeed, and by your will to overcome and to conquer you perchance kill
a man, you live a murderer. . . . What an unhappy victory”to have conquered a man
while yielding to vice, and to indulge in an empty glory at his fall when wrath and pride
have gotten the better of you!

Warming to his subject, Bernard heaps scorn on the combination of vanity and
violence in chivalry as it was practised all around him:
What then, O knights, is this monstrous error and what this unbearable urge which
bids you ¬ght with such pomp and labor, and all to no purpose except death and sin.
You cover your horses with silk, and plume your armor with I know not what sort of
rags; you paint your shields and your saddles; you adorn your bits and spurs with gold
and silver and precious stones, and then in all this glory you rush to your ruin with fear-
ful wrath and fearless folly.

Since most knights, he is convinced, are ¬ghting for the devil rather than for
God, he does not hesitate to call them ˜impious rogues, sacrilegious thieves,
murderers, perjurers and adulterers™. When they are converted to the new
knighthood of the Temple, there will be twofold joy: ˜A twofold joy and a
twofold bene¬t, since their countrymen are as glad to be rid of them as their
new comrades are to receive them. Both sides have pro¬ted from this
exchange, since the latter are strengthened and the former are now left in
peace.™45 On one occasion Bernard backed up his ideas with dramatic effects on
some knights who visited Clairvaux, but refused his entreaties to put down
their arms and give up tourneying for the Lenten season. After Bernard gave
them beer which he had blessed, they soon left the secular militia and became

The voice from the schools could be no less critical, or at least no less demand-
ing than that from the cloister. In writings such as his sermon ˜Ad Milites™ the
noted scholar Alain de Lille (d. 1203) wields a pen as effective and almost as
Grabois, ˜Militia and Malitia™. Cf. Buist-Thiele, ˜Bernard of Clairvaux™, 57“65. Leclercq notes

that Bernard™s purpose in his treatise was not simply to promote the Knights Templar, but ˜to ¬nd
expression for his own ideal of knighthood™: Monks and Love, 21.
Greenia, tr., Bernard of Clairvaux, 138, 131, 132, 143; Leclercq and Rochais, eds, Bernard of

Clairvaux, 219, 215, 216, 213.
Leclercq tells the story in Monks and Love, 89.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 77

sharply pointed as that of St Bernard.47 In one important sense his position is
more comprehensively tolerant than that of Bernard; he sees a valid knightly
role extending well beyond that of knight-monks as a special subset of cru-
saders. In an unusual reinterpretation of the famous image of two swords
(often used to refer to the powers of Church and State) he even suggests that
knights possess them both. They belt on the physical sword to secure tempo-
ral peace; the second sword, he says, is spiritual, an interior weapon by which
they can secure the peace of their own hearts.48
But he charges knighthood in general with terrible sins of omission and
commission. They should be devoted followers of the military saints; they
should defend their homeland and the Church their mother; they should ¬ght
her enemies boldly; they should protect widows and orphans. But how do
they act in fact? They show only the outward appearance of knighthood, not
realizing that these exterior signs are but ¬gures of the true knighthood within,
that which is nourished by the word of God in their breasts. Their knighthood
becomes utterly empty, only a shell. Thus, what they practise is not true
knightly service, but plundering; not militia, but rapina. In short, they become
thieves, devastating the poor. They avoid ¬ghting the enemies of Christ (out
of sloth or fear), but make fellow Christians the victims of their swords. In his
most telling phrase Alain denounces knights for sharpening their swords in the
viscera of their mother, the Church.49
His criticism of knightly pillaging and looting appears vividly in a story told
of knights from the region bursting into Alain™s theology classroom at
Montpellier. The knights (obviously motivated by intellectual curiosity and
some respect for the learning of clergie) demanded that he tell them what con-
stituted the highest degree of courtesy. An unruf¬‚ed Alain pronounced the
opinion that it lay in giving liberally and bene¬cently. Though the knights all
liked this answer, they could only have been less pleased as Alain turned the
tables with much didactic coolness and asked them what, correspondingly,
was the deepest degree of villainy (rusticitas). When the knights failed to agree
on an answer, he explained archly that it lay in living by looting the poor as
they did.50 Of course, no professor easily tolerates a rude invasion of his class-
room, but, as we have already seen, Alain gave similar views on the evils of

Patrologia Latina, 210, cols 185“7. Cf his ˜Sermo de cruce domini™”in d™Alverny, Alain de

Lille, 279“82”in which he insists that crusaders must perform their service in a spirit of penitence,
not anger, and must wear this penitence as an inward cross, parallelling in a more meaningful form
their exterior crusading cross. They must imitate the thief to Christ™s right on Calvary, not the
angry thief to his left. Was this thief imagery chosen purely by chance? For a general discussion of
Alain™s views on knighthood see Flori, L™Essor de chevalerie, 291“4.
˜Ad milites,™ Patrologia Latina 210, col. 186. Ibid.
48 49

Two versions of the story are quoted in d™Alverny, Alain de Lille, 16“17, n. 30.
The Link with Clergie
knighthood, from the uninterrupted quiet of his study, in his sermon ˜Ad
John of Salisbury is generally more accepting. Since he clothes knights in the
classical drapery of his self-conscious learning, his view allows for more talk of
the loyal service owed by milites to ˜the prince™ and to ˜the commonwealth™. He
wants his readers to know he is not hostile to military men or the military life.51
He tries to think of contemporary knights as the Roman soldiers he so admires
in his books on antiquity, ¬tted into a world properly directed by clergie. The
armed soldier, in fact, ˜no less than the spiritual one is limited by the require-
ments of of¬ce to religion and the worship of God, since he must faithfully and
according to God obey the prince and vigilantly serve the republic™. Given
such a military force, he announces his willingness to ˜undertake its defence
against whoever attacks it and will fully justify it on the authority of God™.52
He knows, though, that the world in which he lives is not the world of his
books. He would that the knights of his own day were a stalwart, ideal soldiery
selected by careful examination, disciplined in constant drill, and enlisted for
true public service. He is thus disappointed and critical on two levels. First, he
confronts the knights on their own ground, on the level of sheer professional-
ism: the knights of his day are simply not good enough at their tasks as war-
riors, not bold enough, not truly committed to their high and necessary
vocation. The Roman discipline is gone, he laments, largely because of effem-
inacy and luxury.53
But his second criticism is more pointed, even if John, ever cautious, gives
it less space. The wrong people hold the swords and use them in wrongful pur-
suits. Many of those who call themselves milites ˜are in reality no more soldiers
than men are priests and clerics whom the Church has never called into orders™.
He knows, from his books, what to call these men, ˜for in old writings those
who use arms outside the decree of law are called murderers and bandits.™
These untrue milites,
believe that the glory of their military service grows if the priesthood is humiliated, if
the authority of the Church becomes worthless, if they would so expand the kingdom
of man that the empire of God contracts, if they declare their own praises and ¬‚atter
and extol themselves by false eulogy. . . . Their courage manifests itself mainly if either
their weapons or their words pierce the clergy or the unarmed soldiers [i.e. the other
servants of the republic].

What follows draws on his Policraticus: see Webb, ed., Ioannis Saresberiensis and Nederman,

tr., Policraticus. The insistence that he appreciates the military appears at the opening of Book VI,
chapter v.
52 Policraticus, VI, chs viii and v.
53 Ibid., Book VI, ch. vi.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 79
Such men serve ˜rage or vanity or avarice or their own private will™ rather than
defending the Church and the poor, pacifying the land, and even giving their
lives, if needed.54 Though milites ideally offer their service to the republic and
the number is legion of those who when they offer their belt upon the altar for the pur-
pose of consecrating themselves to military service, their evil works seem to cry aloud
and proclaim that they have approached the altar with the intention of declaring war
against it and its ministers and even against God Himself who is worshipped there.

They are more like practitioners of malitia than members of the true militia.55
In such passages, John seems to step away from the classical backdrop that so
often formed the stage-set for his writing and to speak plainly about his own
Gerald of Wales, a bridge ¬gure connecting this world of scholarship with
the busy world of clerical administrators, often adopts the mores of the world
he describes in his historical writing. Yet even he can slip in telling critiques. If
he praises the knights from England and the Welsh Marches who invaded
Ireland in the reign of Henry II, he can note archly that their work were bet-
ter done if they
had paid due reverence to the church of Christ, not only by preserving its ancient rights
and privileges inviolate, but also by hallowing their new and sanguinary conquest, in
which so much blood had been shed, and which was stained by the slaughter of a chris-
tian people, by liberally contributing some portion of their spoils for religious use. But
. . . this has been the common failing of all our countrymen engaged in these wars from
their ¬rst coming over to the present day.56

Gerald™s contemporary, Etienne de Fougères, chaplain to Henry II and
bishop of Rennes (1168“78), was even more outspoken and pointed in the crit-
icisms. His Livre des manières, which excoriates all the divisions of society,
states that knights should provide justice, extinguish violence and plundering:
But most knights are usually lax about their duties,
So I hear complaints all day long (from those the knights should protect)
That little remains to them
That they can own or obtain (with surety).

The great eat and drink up the hard-won fruits of peasant labour, turning
chivalry into faithless debauchery. Though loyal knights can be saved in their
own order of society, the evil knights who will not cooperate with Holy

Ibid., VI, ch. viii. Ibid., chs ix and xiii; quotation from the close of chapter xiii.
54 55

Wright, tr., Historical Works, 266.
The Link with Clergie
Church, who joust and tourney and misuse the power of the sword given them
by God, should be stripped of sword and spurs and expelled.57
How did clerics respond to the important phenomenon of tournament? At
¬rst, clerical writers universally took a censorious view of this most character-
istic and popular sport of chivalry, fulminating against what St Bernard of
Clairvaux termed ˜those accursed tournaments™.58 Chronicle, chivalric biogra-
phy, and imaginative chivalric literature all show that participation in tourna-
ment was for knights the very af¬rmation of chevalerie. But in clerical eyes these
mock wars imperilled soul as well as body, encouraged pride, occasioned the
risk of homicide, and, in a more general sense, de¬‚ected martial energies bet-
ter spent on crusade. After the initial interdiction issued at the council of
Clermont in 1130, this condemnation would scarcely slacken in principle for
the better part of two centuries.
At the highest level churchmen gave ground slowly and only yielded to the
inevitable, ¬nally, in 1316, when Pope John XXII revoked the ban on tourna-
ments. Local ecclesiastical authorities had probably compromised much
sooner: in 1281 Pope Martin IV had commented with resignation that some-
times custom is stronger than law.59 He was thinking of tournaments, of
knightly custom, and papal law.
One eminent scholar has emphasized the general shift in clerical position
symbolized by the acceptance of tournament. Georges Duby has, in fact, sug-
gested that the clerical critique of chivalry emerged from an essentially monas-
tic Church and so became muted, or rather transmuted, after the crisis in
Western monasticism so evident by roughly the mid-twelfth century. The
more worldly clerks and canons who dominated the Church from the later
twelfth century were men more attuned to military activity and were even
more personally involved in it; they thus turned away from monastic hostility
to chivalry and created for knights ˜la nouvelle morale des guerriers™.60
The present chapter argues that both impulses, the hostile and the valoriz-
ing, were actually present in a clerical ideology of reform throughout the lifes-
pan of chivalry, and that they both appeared not only in the cloister, but in the
papal circle, in episcopal courts, and in the schools. Both impulses continued
through the undoubted twelfth-century transformations which took place in
monasticism and its role within the Church at large. The crucial valorizing role
Lodge, ed., Etienne de Fougères, ll. 537“676. Translation from Switten, ˜Chevalier™. Cf. Flori,

L™Essor de chevalerie, 315“19.
For what follows see Barker, Tournament, 139“51; Barber and Barker, Tournaments, 139“46;

Keen, Chivalry, 83“102. For St Bernard™s comment, see Bruno Scott James, tr., Bernard of
Clairvaux, letter 405.
Quoted in Langlois, Philippe III, 199.

Duby, ˜Guerre et soci©t©™. For overviews of this monastic change, see John van Engen, ˜Crisis

of Cenobitism™, and Leclercq, ˜Monastic Crisis™.
Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 81
of the Gregorians, who represent the ecclesiastical world moving beyond the
cloister, after all, stands on the early side of a mid-twelfth-century line, and the
continuing in¬‚uence of stringent Cistercian critics, the most powerful and
effective monastic force of their day, was written into such powerful works as
The Quest for the Holy Grail in the early thirteenth century, on the later side of
that line. Criticism was never simply monastic, as we have seen in looking at
the ideas of schoolmen such as Alain de Lille and John of Salisbury. Clerics and
intellectuals of the later twelfth and thirteenth centuries did not simply create
a new morale for knights; most of them also continued to condemn the chief
and characteristic knightly sport of tournament, and many of them set stan-
dards for ideal chivalry so high as to be almost unreachable by the generality
of knights.
But Duby™s argument serves as a highly useful reminder of an important
fact. If both valorization and criticism were structural elements of the clerical
stance on chivalry, over time both the tenor of the discussion and the relative
weights on the balance beam of clerical opinion shifted signi¬cantly. Stated in
its simplest form, knighthood became a given in high medieval society, an
accepted building block in the structure of civilization, imagined by Chr©tien
de Troyes, for example, to be as old as civilization itself. As chivalry came to
signify the identifying set of values of the nobility in society, it became an ordo
in clerical thought. The rhetorical vitriol attributed to Urban II and that of a
certainty written by St Bernard and Alain de Lille thus gave way to a more bal-
anced, steady stream of didactic, reformist exhortation. Not the rightful exis-
tence of chivalry, but its rightful practice came to be the issue. More in

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