Chivalry and the Feminist Movement

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Jun 15, 2015, 3:45:32 PM6/15/15

October 25th is the feast of Saints Crispin and
Crispinian, who were French shoemakers beheaded in Soissons in A.D. 287,
during the persecutions of Diocletian. On this day in A.D. 1415 the English King Henry V defeated the French at the battle of Agincourt. And on this day in the year 1854 Lord Cardigan lead the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava in the Crimea.
So from talk of early Christian martyrs, a medieval
battle and 19th century British cavalry, we come to discuss the word
"Chivalry", which Cassell's Dictionary says means "The knightly system of the
Middle Ages; ideal qualities which inspired it, nobleness and gallantry of
spirit, courtesy, respect for and defence of the weak; gallantry, devotion to the service of women." Chivalry comes from the French and for knight,
"chevalier" and from the Latin "caballarius", a horseman. But in the days when
life was "dull brutish and short" a knight was simply a mounted warrior. This
was a matter of consequence - owning a horse in the olden day was like owning an aeroplane today. In ancient Rome the knightly class were called "equites", from "equus", a horse. But originally a knight had no tradition, of courtesy -
probably he was merely a mounted bully. How did the word "chevalier", a knight, come to be associated with more civilised behaviour?
I believe "chivalry" began to acquire its modern meaning in the Middle Ages in the Langue d 'oc, that part of France south of the River Loire. The troubadours were perhaps the greatest influence which formed a new. and altruistic outlook for knightly society.
Troubadours are defined in Pears' Cyclopaedia as "lyric poets" who flourished from the 11th to the end of the 13th centuries,
chiefly in Provence and the north of Italy. They were often knightly amateurs,
and cultivated a lyrical poetry intricate in metre and rhyme and usually of a
romantic amatory strain. They did much to cultivate the romantic sentiment in
days when society was somewhat barbaric and helped considerably in the formation of the unwritten codes of honour which served to mitigate the rudeness of medieval days. The word "troubadour" comes from the French 'trouver" - to find, invent, and later to compose verse.
Troubadours became the pop stars of courtly life. Perhaps their immense appeal came from their novelty.
Previously minstrels had entertained with music, song and poetry, but the
troubadours plucked at the heartstrings of their audience with a new vision of
the feminine ideal. Instead of ladies being described as desirable property,
like Helen of Troy, they were presented as individuals of worth.

I imagine that the troubadours found that the person whom they had to please
above all others was the lady of the court. In the new atmosphere of Provence,
ladies ruled society, so instead of flattering the chief of the tribe, the
troubadour laid himself out to entertain the milder sex. Instead of battle
sagas, songs of etiquette, wit and love were composed. The ideal dame was
extolled as worthier of attainment than anything else. The troubadours may seem
to us to have gone overboard, but they had to get a new idea across to a very
simple audience.

In "LYRICS OF THE TROUBADOURS AND TROUVERES" Original Texts, with Translations and Introductions by Frederick Goldin (Anchor Press/Doubleday, New York 1973), the author states that the trouveres were poets of northern France, who wrote in French, not Provencal. The first troubadour whose songs are extant was Guillaume, 7th Count of Poitiers and 9th Duke of Aquitaine, the lord of an immense realm. Of his work, Goldin writes:
"Ovid, in The Art of Love, gives advice that at
first hearing sounds a lot like what we have here... Ovid bases every hope
and strategy on the leis de con ("All women can be caught, " I, 269-274); and on that basis advises the lover to win the favour
of whoever is close to the lady ( specifically, her handmaid: I,351 ff), to avoid speaking roughly (II, 167), and to be obedient to the lady's caprices (II, 197-232; 529-534). That sort of thing: recommended for every man on the make. But the behaviour that Guillaume describes is more than a strategy for some lone lover, it is the established and definite behaviour of a social class: it is the defining visible form of courtly life. The lover has to love like a courtly man, and the setting is now so essential to his love, as the only means of its expression, that his unsuccess in love necessarily implies his failure as a courtly man. Love has become the enactment of courtliness: the way a man loves is the surest sign of his identity as a courtly man... Now therefore, when he praises his song, it is not the boast of some phallic master anxious to impress his comrades, but rather a claim to courtliness; he points to the certifying beauty of his song as proof of his right to belong to this great and mighty- class - a class that now seeks
to justify its privileged station as an ethical reward." (pp.
Here is a famous story from the vida, or supposed biography, of a lord of the Gironde believed to have gone on crusade in A.D. 1147. "Jaufre Rudel of Blaye was a most noble man, the prince of Blaye; and he fell in love with the countess of Tripoli, without seeing her, for the good that he heard of her from the pilgrims who came from Antioch; and he made many songs about her, with good melodies and simple words. And from the desire to see her he took the cross and put out to sea; and illness seized him on the boat and he was taken as a dead man to an inn in Tripoli. And it was made known to the countess, and she came to him, by his bed, and took him in her arms; and he knew that she was the countess, and he recovered his hearing and the sense of smell;
and praised God and thanked Him that he sustained his life until he might see
her. And that day he died in her arms, and she had him buried with great honour in the house of the Templars. And then, on that day, she became a nun, because of the grief that she had from his death." (pp.100-101)

Conon de Bethune (c. 1150-1219 or 1220) was one of the first trouveres to
compose in the style of the troubadours. He was related to the first French
Emperor of Constantinople. Baudouin IX. Conon was in the 3rd Crusade (1189-1193) and was a principal figure in the 4th Crusade from 1200, from which time he was called on repeatedly to conduct important political and military negotiations.
He was Seneschal and then regent of Constantinople, where he died.
"As truly as she of whom I sing
is worth more than all the good women there are,
and I love her more than anything in the world, so God give me her love
without failing me, for my desire is so great, and my longing - how great God
knows. As a sick man longs for health, I long to have her and her love.
I know now, no being can be worth as much as this lady I have so often sung about, for now I have seen her and her beauty and know she is so great I must be outrageous and crazy to love so high - higher than I need to. And yet many a
poor knight is borne to great honour by a noble heart.
Before this love surprised me I knew how to give counsel to others. And even now I am good for
advice in another's game and do not know how to play my own. I am like one who
sees all the moves in chess and teaches others very well, and when he sits down
to play loses all his skill and cannot save himself from mate.
Alas, full of grief I cannot manage by singing to make my lady see my torment, nor am I bold
enough to dare tell her what I suffer face to face: nor do I dare speak in her
presence, I can't. When I am elsewhere, with someone else, then I speak, but
delight in it so little the pleasure I get amounts to vexation.
Still I think up ways to tell her, without offense, of the great pain I suffer For I adore her and want her so much, when I am with her I don't have the nerve to tell her what I have in mind. It goes with me as with a champion who has long practiced fighting in arms, and when he comes, to strike some blows, into the field, can't remember what you do with lance or shield." (pp. 353-7).
Alas, Love, what hard leave
I must take from the best lady
a man ever loved and served.
May God in his goodness lead me back to her
as surely as I part
from her in grief.
Alas, what have I said? I do not part from her at all.
If my body goes to serve our Lord,
my heart remains all in her power.
For him I go sighing into Syria,
for I must not fail my Creator.
Whoever fails Him in this need for help -
do not doubt he shall fail in a greater need.
Let the great ones and the little ones
know that there is the place for the great chivalric deed,
where one wins Paradise and honour
and praise and the love of his beloved.
God! we have long been brave in idleness, now we shall see who is brave in deed; we
shall go to avenge the burning shame which ought to make us all angry and
ashamed; for in our time the Holy Place is lost where God suffered death in
agony for us; if now we let our enemies remain, our life will be forever more a
life of shame.
Whoever does not want a life of misery here,
let him go die joyfully for God,
for the taste of such a death is sweet and good,
for which one wins the precious kingdom.
No, not a single one of them will die into death,
but all will be born into glorious life.
Whoever comes back will be full of
happiness; honour to the end of his day will be his wife."
(pp. 339-341).
Thus troubadours became the poets of the
new notion of courtly love. When we read translations of their poems, the
virtues ascribed to their beloved damsels may seem to us exaggerated. So also
may the very restrained behaviour of the knights, who humbly adored their ladies from afar, grateful if their loved one condescended to speak to
In these romances years might pass while gentlemen
proved their devotion by their constant attention to their lady, receiving from her in return merely civility. Noble dames were represented as proud, demanding remarkable exploits from their admirers, or the most painful sacrifices. Thus, in order to reach Queen Guinevere, Sir Launcelot is obliged to cross a stream on the sharp edge of a gigantic sword-bridge which cuts his hands and feet. Another of his romances is called "Le Chevalier de la Charette", or "The Knight of the Cart", in which he loses his horse and has to ride in a farmcart. We might think nothing of this, but imagine a class-conscious medieval gentleman passing a chateau driven by a peasant in his cart, to be jeered at by all the women from the walls and windows. As he is a true knight, Sir Launcelot endures their
mockery patiently.
Reading medieval romances today, we are
apt to be impatient at the slow pace of the story, and the diffidence of hero or heroine. We should remember that when first presented to people who lived the dull tedium of the Middle Ages, a romance was novel, glamorous and
Bertran de Born (b. ca. 1140) was one of the minor
noblemen whose fortunes depended entirely on war ... He
expresses the viewpoint of the lower nobility, of the hired fighting hands
whose gentle birth could not always be proved.
Bertran had his own castle,
though he had earlier shared it with a brother whom he eventually managed to
drive out... It was the interests and the aspirations of this inferior segment of courtly society, according to Erich Kohler, that formed the ethical and the
sociological basis of the courtly love lyric. The relations in the love song
reflect the social structure in which these aspiring young men wanted to find a
dignified place. And the song, in representing true courtliness as an ethical
condition that transcended all material distinctions, was thus intended to
legitimize the position of these newcomers and to foster their integration into
that privileged society. (pp.. 224-225).
As society evolved,
horizons were enlarged and eventually the Spaniard, Miguel de Cervantes (A.D.
1547-1616) in his great satire "Don Quixote", made fun of an old knight who
doted on the troubadour tales. Cervantes implied that romance like "Amadis de
Gaul", which meant so much to Dee Quixote, belonged to a bygone
But let us return to our theme - Chivalry and the Feminine
Movement. There were other influences in the Langue d'oc working for the
emancipation of women, beside the troubadour. The south of France in the 11th
century has been described as the most prosperous and civilised society in
Europe at that time. Was this because it was a centre for a gnostic heresy which
seems to have travelled there from the East? We know Catharism was present in
northern Italy, brought by Dualists from Bulgaria, who were called
Our knowledge of the Cathari is limited, because all
their manuscripts were destroyed during the two crusades against them. Remember
that as far as orthodox historians are concerned, the only records we have of
Catharism are those written by the "Holy" Inquisition. Imagine if you wished to
study Theosophy, and all you had to go on were records on Theosophists kept by
the Gestapo!
For an impression of Cathar beliefs, I turn to a
book called "The Great Heresy" by the late Dr. Arthur Guirdam, an English
physician and hospital superintendent. In some of his books Dr. Guirdam claimed
to recall his previous life as a Cathar, in which he knew as friends a number of contemporary English people who also remembered their shared former existence during the Albigensian crusades.
Arthur Guirdam wrote that the
Cathars or Albigenses believed:
- in reincarnation, vegetarianism and non-violence
- in Dualism (that is, in two gods - Jehovah, who was the Devil who created the world, and in
the god of Jesus.)
- that this world is evil

They rejected the doctrine of Grace, the Eucharist and other
Cathars (also known as Albigenses after the town of
Albi. one of their strongholds) were divided into croyants or ordinary believers and parfaits (masculine) and parfaites (feminine), who practised absolute chastity and were the priests and priestesses. ( I think the priestesses were the important factor in the spread of enlightenment in Provence.) It is commonly
believed that the Cathars had a special version of St. John's Gospel.
Corinthians I was also of particular relevance to them.
According to Arthur Guirdam, Pythagoras, Plato, Epictetus, Democritus, the Gnostics (especially Origen), the Essenes, the Neoplatonists and members of the Alexandrian School, Basilides and Valentinus were to some degree Dualists like the Cathars. Mithraism was Dualist and was practised in the caves of the Ariege in the Langue d'oc, which later became Cathar centres. "There is a tendency for the different forms of Dualism to inherit each others' places of worship. This is because Dualism is concerned with the emanatory capacity of men, places and atmospheres, and recognises an ambience which has been favourable to it in the
Manes in 3rd century Persia preached three classic
principles of Catharism, and was flayed. Manicheism spread to India, Mongolia,
North Africa and Europe and was persecuted. (St. Augustine was a Manichean
converted to Christianity). Paulicians in Asia Minor were the next Dualists, but were very warlike and settled in Macedonia (now Bulgaria) because they were a problem to their rulers. They were the forerunners of the Bogomils of the 9th
century, who were possibly dissenting monks of the Orthodox Church. But Dualism is never truly nationalist, because to it all power and all government are evil...
Count Raymond VI of Toulouse was favourable to the
Cathars, and the nobility were anticlerical, literate and tolerant. Until A.D.
1209, the year of the great crusade, 30% of the parfaits and parfaites were of
noble birth. The bourgeoisie were elected as Consuls to a city council, and
Toulouse had a citizen army. The Cathars trained workers in leather,
paper-making and the textile trade.
In southern France and the North of Italy there lived a more tolerant society, in which women were
treated more as equals than elsewhere. In this favourable climate civilisation
reached its highest point at that time. When we seek the cause of this
manifestation of tolerance, the Cathar influence is the first obvious
possibility. The rest of Europe was held down by the oppressive Roman Catholic
clergy, who had powers of life and death. Amongst the freer people of Provence
there was open anticlericalism (which has remained a feature of the French and
Italians ever since.)
Much of the troubadours' popularity was due to their expression of people's resentment at the greed,
hypocrisy and tyranny of so many of the clerics. Here is an example of the hypocrisy of a poet
who became a bishop:
Folquet de Marseille (d. December 25,
1231) son of a Genoese merchant, began composing around 1180 and was in several courts in southern France and in the Kingdom of Aragon; in his songs he praises
Alfonso II, Raimon Berenger and Richard Lion-Heart, among
"Lord God, born of the Virgin
Mary to heal us of death and restore our
and destroy Hell, which was in the Devil's
you who were hung on the cross
and crowned with thorns and
given gall to drink,
Lord, these good people
cry to you for mercy;
may your pity
forgive them their sins.
Amen. God, so be it.
Night passes, day comes,
the heaven is calm and bright, the dawn does not
hold back, it rises fair and full."
Sometimes around the turn of the century Folquet entered a monastery. He became the Bishop of Toulouse in
1205, in which office he was very cruel during the Albigensian Crusade, sending hundreds of people to their deaths, according to a contemporary poem, which calls him the Antichrist, (pp. 277-79).
Peire Cardenal (c. 1180-1278) was born in Puy-en-Velay of a noble family. His chief patrons were
Raimon VI and Raimon VII, counts of Toulouse. The cruelty and hypocrisy of the
Albigensian Crusade, which had caused great destruction in his region, was the
impetus for many of his bitterest satires.
"Clerics pretend to be shepherds,
but they are the killers; the likeness of sanctity is on them when you see them
in their habit, and it puts me in mind that Master Ysengrim, one day, wanted to
get into a sheepfold, and because he feared the dogs he put on the skin of a
sheep with which he tricked them all. Then he gobbled and glutted as much as he
"Buzzards and vultures do not smell out stinking flesh as fast as
clerics and preachers smell out the rich. They circle around
him, at once, like friends, and as soon as sickness strikes him
down they get him to make a little donation,
and his own family gets nothing." (pp. 285,291,301).
Many joined the Cathars, and many nominal Catholics preferred a religion in which the members
were free, because the priests and priestesses still followed Christ's
commandments in humility. In contrast to the tithes grudgingly given to the
Roman Catholic church, the Cathar church was always abundantly supplied with all that it needed by donations from grateful people.
To this happy country came the Devil in the form of a zealous Spanish monk, Dominic de Guzman
(1170-1221), to preach against heresy. It is ironic to record that Dominic's
mother, a scion of the illustrious Guzman family, dreamt: before her son was
born that she had given birth to a dog bearing a lighted torch which was setting the world on fire When his preaching was ineffective, Dominic said that "if words failed the sword would follow." He is known to us as "Saint" Dominic and he kept his word. He founded :the Black Friars and the "Holy' Inquisition. "The punishment for being a heretic was death by burning. All the possessions of a person convicted of... heresy were forfeited. Where an individual did not appear to answer a charge ... by the Inquisition he was assumed guilty. Anybody endeavouring to help a heretic; was liable to the same punishments ordered for heresy itself. It was enough to have been seen in the company of a heretic to be convicted ... Even to have been in the company of Cathars, unknowingly and in childhood, was regarded as indictable. To have shared a meal in a house with company one did not know to be Cathar was also punishable. The Inquisitors relied largely on the work of informers. The victim was not allowed to know the names of the individuals who had denounced him. Though its exponents were sincere in their conviction that they were working for Christ and administering the law, the real success of the Inquisition was that it developed into a systematised instrument of terror unequalled in human history. Over a huge area those innocent of heresy were as liable to suffer as those addicted to it. What it aimed at doing was to create an atmosphere in which Catharism simplv could
not live.
In A.D. 1244 the last Cathar stronghold, Montsegur, surrendered. The garrison was allowed to march out, but 200 parfaits were burnt. It is said that four escaped with the "Treasure of the Cathars",
but we don't know what that was.
To sum up: Chivalry and the Feminine Movement seem to have developed together in favourable social conditions.
Amongst the tolerant, anticlerical people of the south of France chivalry and
female emancipation proceeded to grow, and I believe as a result Provence became the richest land in Christendom. Talbot Mundy taught that affluence comes to those who are conscious of wisdom. In "I SAY SUNRISE" (Andrew Dakers, London 1948) he wrote "Wisdom is in no way whatever dependent upon money nor
conditioned by it... Belief in the power of money can cause nothing but
catastrophe -" whereas "affluence is the ceaseless, endless flowing of the
consciousness of Wisdom." (p. 145)
"I invite you to discover... one instance in which a single step of social progress has been ... bought with
money ... Consider whether it was money or men and women who did the work." (p.
Catharism, a Dualist form of Christianity declared
heresy by the Roman Catholic Church, seems to have been the reason for the
tolerant attitude of the people of the Langue d'oc. Cathari did not oppress the people as did the Roman clergy.
Catholic fury at the presence of heretics, and their growing wealth and popularity, and the envy of the nobles of the Langue d'oui to the north, brought two crusades which were,alas, successful in killing most of the Cathari. The inhuman methods employed by the "Holy" Inquisition so terrorised the population that even the memory of
Catharism was erased. As a result of all this Christian endeavour, the country
became so impoverished that it has never recovered.
So Chivalry and Feminism flourish in the absence of oppression. Whether Catharism is a more evolved religion than orthodox Christianity I cannot say, but the
Cathari themselves seem to have been more evolved than their
I see a wave of social reform obliterated by the
backlash of ignorant oppressors after, say, A.D. 1244. Then we have to wait
until the 18th century for the Age of Reason and the French Revolution to bring the next wave of enlightenment. There was a counterwave against it, with the
triumph of Metternich and those who tried to bring back oppression after 1815.
The 19th and 20th centuries brought a slow, bitter struggle for social reform,
which may be said to have culminated in the economic perception of Lord Keynes
(1883-1946) who saved the finances of the British Empire at Bretton Woods in
1945. Now we experience the backwash once more - the generation of economists
who learnt from John Maynard Keynes to protect society from ruthless capitalists has passed away. Now we have irresponsible monetarists like Milton Friedman, and the "Greed is Good" school of "Economic Rationalists". These well-heeled
gentlemen tell us that we must leave everything to "market forces" - notice that as our government follows this advice, we have higher unemployment than ever
I read that it is proposed to introduce rickshaws
into Sydney. Would you like your children to be forced to drive rickshaws for
foreign tourists ? At the same time as we are economically oppressed by
governments that never have any money for schools or hospitals, but endless
provision for STAR WARS, notice that there is a world-wide attack against women.
America now has an anti-feminist Supreme Court judge to beat all. Soon abortion
will again be illegal in the United States.
Will we live to see the tide of human history sweep back, irresistibly bringing reform? All around the world Gaia consciousness is spreading. Chivalry and the Feminine
Movement are working for the next advance.

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