Freemasonry is

Never do outrageousity nor murder, and always to flee treason; also, by no mean to be cruel, but to give mercy unto him that asketh mercy, upon pain of forfeiture of their worship and lordship of King Arthur for evermore; and always to do ladies, damosels, and gentlewomen succor upon pain of death. Also, that no man take no battles in a wrongful quarrel for no law, nor for no world’s goods.

Unto this oath were all the knights sworn of the Table Round, both old and young. And every year were they sworn at the high feast of Pentecost. (Le Morte d’Arthur, Book III, Chapter XV – Sir Thomas Malory – Pentecostal Oath)

Most readers of this article have grown up with the romantic tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, of Lancelot, Gawain, Guinevere and Excalibur. Tales that depict a code of chivalry brought to life in literary works, films and theatre; a code based on honour, honesty, valour and loyalty.

Much of this fantasy stems from Sir Thomas Malory’s book Le Morte d’Arthur (The Death of Arthur) published in 1485 and is one of the best known of Arthurian literature. It depicts King Arthur, also called Arthur or Arthur of Pendragon, as a legendary British leader who led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. However, there is little factual evidence to support the existence of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and many historians believe the Arthurian legend is based on folklore and literary invention.

Whilst the Chivalric Code depicted in Malory’s book may be legend, there is no doubt a code of chivalry did prevail with the medieval Knights. The epic French Poem The Song of Roland written around 1040, describes the 8th century Knights and the battles fought by the Emperor Charlemagne. The poem includes vows which required the Knight to – ‘fear god and his church; serve the liege lord in valour and faith; protect the weak and defenceless; live by honour and for glory; respect the honour of women.’

Chivalry The Courtier of Count BaldefsarThe Book of the Courtier, a translation of Il Cortegiano by Baldassare Castiglione, was one of the most influential ‘courtesy books’ of the sixteenth century.A code of chivalry existed in England prior to the legend of Arthur’s Knights and was formalised by King Edward lll (1312–77), King of England and Lord of Ireland from 1327 until his death. Apart from his military success and the resto­ ration of royal authority during his reign, Edward is noted for establishing a sense of community amongst his subjects through the creation of the Most Noble Order of the Garter in 1348.

The Order of the Garter was drawn up to include the King, the Prince of Wales and 12 knight companions. Initially, appointments were limited to the aristocracy but today are chosen from various backgrounds in recognition of their public service.

The spiritual home of the Order is St George’s Chapel, Windsor, built between 1475 and 1528. In addition to its role as a place of worship, the Chapel has witnessed Royal weddings, christenings and burials. When Prince Harry married Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, on 19 May 2018, he retraced the steps of his mother, Princess Diana at his christening.

Today, the Order includes the Queen, who is Sovereign of the Garter, several senior members of the Royal Family, and twenty-four knights chosen in recognition of their work. Knights of the Garter are chosen personally by the Sovereign to honour those who have held public office, contributed in a particular way to national life or personally served the Sovereign.

Improvements in education brought a change in chivalry codes. In his book History – Middle Ages the author Simon Newman, states: ‘In the late middle ages, the wealthy merchant class began to be educated on chivalry and the ideals of the knights. This led to publication of the courtesy book which was a guide for gentlemen on how to behave. This indicates men’s values and ideals after the medieval era were shaped by the chivalric culture.’

Courtesy books contained instructions for gentlemen and ladies on how to behave in the presence of royalty or gentlemen of higher station; on how to meet and greet and on table manners. Instructions on table manners included:

  • Keep your hands and nails clean.
  • Keep your knife clean and sharp.
  • Cut meat into small pieces and don’t hack it into great gobbets.
  • Cut bread with your knife, and don’t tear it in great hunks.
  • Never put the meat into the salt cellar. Keeping the salt cellar clean is very important. You should take a little salt on the tip of clean knife and put it on your food. Never put spilled, dirty salt back in the cellar.
  • Don’t leave your spoon in the dish when you are done with your pottage. Don’t overfill the spoon and definitely don’t spill it on the cloth! Don’t slurp your soup.
  • Keep the cloth as clean as possible.
  • The French sources recommend that when you are given a drink, either drink it all or throw it away. English sources seem to indicate it is rude to drink the whole thing.
  • Empty and wipe your mouth before drinking.
  • Don’t throw your bones on the floor. Put them in a voiding bowl (so much for the Charles Laughton version of Henry VIII).
  • If food is dropped on the floor pick it up but don’t eat it.
  • Don’t stroke cats and dogs at the table.
  • Don’t stuff your mouth, pick your teeth, make rude noises, scratch your­ self, blow on your food, spit in the washing basin or across the table, spit food into your dish, talk with your mouth full, or fall asleep at the table.

Is Chivalry still alive and well in modern-day society? Megan Harris writing for the Chronicle believes it is, but in a different form. In an article published on 12 February 2016, she writes: ‘In today’s society you often hear women complaining that chivalry is dead. But the art of being a gentleman is not as simple and well defined as it used to be.’

Chivalry Ring the BellCompany Shocked at a Lady Getting up to Ring the Bell, by caricaturist James Gillray commented on standards of social etiquette even in 1805.The article goes on to say: ‘being chivalrous no longer strictly means opening doors, pulling out chairs, helping a woman with her coat and buying flowers for no reason. These traditional stereo­ types are now outdated and chivalry has evolved to reflect modern-day values.’

‘Having good manners, being polite, considerate, making an effort with your partner’s family and keeping the house clean are the new rules of being a gentleman.’

‘These days women are more independent and capable of doing things themselves. Maybe in gaining that independence, men thought they didn’t need to be traditionally chivalrous anymore.’

Mark Hall, Gentleman Creation Officer for Socked.co.uk, said: ‘men’s standards have slipped so far over recent years that any offer of chivalry from a gentleman knocks a woman off guard and is viewed with outright suspicion.’

The view that women today are more capable of doing things themselves is supported by The Telegraph survey on 14 January 2013 and titled ‘Traditional Acts of Chivalry Frowned Upon as Suspicious.’ The survey found most women are striving for independence and do not expect token acts of kind­ ness like giving up a seat on a packed bus or carrying shopping bags.

A survey by an online service, which helps men to dress well and offers free tips on etiquette, revealed just how much women rejected chivalrous behaviour.

The survey results indicated:

  • 82% of women said they would prefer to pay for their dinner on a first date.
  • 52% would happily pay for the entire bill on a first date.
  • 89% said they would not take up the offer from a man to carry their bag.
  • 78% would not accept a coat from a man on a cold day.
  • Only 34% of women expect men to open doors for them.
  • 8% said they would take up the offer of a seat if a man offered. In London, this figure was only 2 per cent.

The survey also had some surprising answers:

  • 41% of women agreed men should be able to wear dresses.
  • 98% would like to be bought flowers, but only 32% had actually received flowers in the past twelve months.

In a paper published under the banner of The Order of the Temple of Solomon and titled ‘Chivalry Upholding Values as Pillars of Civilisation’ it is

stated: ‘Very much like the “lost history” which the Templar Order brings back to the modern world, the principles of Chivalry and traditional values have also been largely forgotten in the conscious­ ness and culture of modern society, and need to be restored. It is the responsibility of all Templar Knights and Dames to represent chivalric values in their own lives and professional activities, leading by example, to promote and advance those principles for the benefit of world civilisation.

‘A concise understanding of Chivalry and chivalric values is also essential to defining the activities of the Templar Order, which its Knights and Dames pursue in real-world practice. Meaningful activities reflecting the values of Chivalry are perhaps the most important and tangible characteristic of the Order.’

Bibliography:

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Encyclopedia Britannica
  3. Medieval Chronicles
  4. Medieval Life and Times
  5. The Daily Telegraph – ‘Chivalry’s oldest honour, the Order of the Garter, was born on the dance floor 670 years ago’, Marie Hogg, Staff Writer
  6. History – Middle Ages – Simon Newman
  7. Chronicle – Megan Harris – 12 February 2016
  8. The Telegraph - 14 Jan 2013 ‘Traditional Acts of Chivalry Frowned Upon as Suspicious.’
  9. The Order of the Temple of Solomon – ‘Chivalry Upholding Values as Pillars of Civilisation’.

Article extracted from Freemason magazine, December 2018, pages 10 to 12.

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