Lecture No. 23 – July 2015


Knights and Chivalry

Jim Russell, Lecturer
Jim Russell, Lecturer

[dropcaps] I [/dropcaps] grew up along the shore of Lake Ontario. The weather there was not always conducive to outdoor play and, therefore, I, as an only child, had to rely on myself for entertainment on many a cold and wet day during most of the year. I soon discovered the wonderful world of the printed word and became engrossed in books. This was in the days before my family, and many others, had a television set.

My early heroes became Robin Hood and the merry men of Sherwood Forest closely followed by King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. There is little evidence that either of these characters ever really existed, and the stories of their heroic deeds are probably based on medieval folk stories designed to entertain both rich and poor before the invention of the printing press.


Those facts were of little importance to a young boy of less than 10 years of age. These heroes were as real then as Superman, Batman and Spider Man are today to children of a similar age. The interest in these early heroes has resulted in a continued interest in this period of human history.

I find it interesting that when “Knighthood was in Flower,” you could identify a person’s social standing by observing the clothes they were wearing. Obviously, the type of fabric was a significant clue. But beyond that, there were more subtle clues. I learned not too long ago during a visit to Scarborough Fair that a lady who could afford a maid to help her dress would have the ties of her dress in the back. If the ties were in front, it was a clue that she could not afford a servant.

As a member of the First Degree team, I am reminded of this interest each time the Grand Knight instructs the candidates [highlight] “as in the days of our fathers, when knighthood was the strong pillar of Church and the State.” [/highlight] This follows closely on the lesson given by the Deputy Grand Knight in which he tells the candidates that the basic principal of our order has its roots in chivalry. So, what is this “chivalry,” and how closely do we adhere to the “chivalry” our forefathers observed?

There was no written code for the knights of the Middle Ages. It has been argued that “chivalry” was the invention of various writers whose works were the romantic stories of those ages. Both we and our children have been given a similar code of conduct in the stories of Superman, Batman, Spider Man, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, etc.

Léon Gautier. Émile Théodore Léon Gautier (8 August 1832-25 August 1897) was a French literary historian.

In 1883, Leon Gautier compiled a list of 10 rules of chivalry based on the stories from the 10th through 13th centuries:

1. Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches, and thou shalt observe all its directions (Believe the Church’s teachings and observe all the Church’s directions).

2. Thou shalt defend the Church (Defend the Church).

3. Thou shalt respect all weaknesses and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them (Respect and defend all weaknesses).

4. Thou shalt love the country in which thou wast born (Love your country).

5. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.

6. Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation and without mercy (Show no mercy to the infidel. Do not hesitate to make war with them).

7. Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God (Perform all your feudal duties as long as they do not conflict with the laws of God).

8. Thou shalt never lie and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word (Never lie or go back on one’s word).

9. Thou shalt be generous and give largesse to everyone (Be generous to everyone).

10. Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil (Always and everywhere be right and good against evil and injustice).

chivalryGautier based his study on sources existing in the 10th through 13th centuries. Gautier printed his list in 1883. In doing so, he gives an insight as to one of the interests of society about the time when our organization was founded in 1882 and incorporated as the Knights of Columbus.

Our four principles can be easily found in Gautier’s rules. Charity, rules 3 and 9 – care for the weak and be generous; Unity, rules 1 and 2 – our common faith unites us; Fraternity, although no specific rule speaks of brotherhood, they all call us to recognize our common beliefs and interests; and Patriotism, rules 4 and 5 – love of country and defend her at all costs.

As today’s Knights, we are called to be charitable, giving generously to the weak, the poor and those in need. We are united in our common faith and are called to defend both the church and the state against all enemies. We are called to be brothers in arms against the enemies of the church, to be honest with each other and to keep our pledge of secrecy regarding our rituals. And we are bound to love our country and to defend her against all enemies.

The ideals that guide us today are the same as those that guided our founders 125 years ago and the same that they believed were based on a code of conduct about 800 years before their time.