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The 19th century was deeply influenced by the important changes in the fields of political and social life in Great Britain. The years of conventions in writing made the literature more intellectual but
with a lack of emotional expression though that was soon substituted by a stream of new ideas and
themes. In spite of the canons in the British literature, there were some authors mostly from the north
of the country, who returned back to the themes related to the past. Sir Walter Scott was one of those
who played a great part in the introduction of historical novels in the literary genre. Scott, known
mostly for his Waverley novels, turned back to old legends and history, and found his inspiration in
the period of King Richard, the Lion Heart. Scott´s novel Ivanhoe has been extraordinary, for the author combined in it elements of historical reality, Romanticism and fiction arranged in a very interesting way.
We would like to present a closer historical background of chivalry and the chivalric code, their influence upon the literary genres during the historical periods, and finally we would like to present,
how Scott depicted the concepts of the traditional chivalric code based on the knightly duties towards
King, what is also a part of my Diploma thesis together with the depiction of the knightly duties towards God and Damsel, that came into conflict with the emotions and attitudes of the characters presented in the novel Ivanhoe.
1. Chivalry and Knighthood
The first ideas dealing with the term chivalry came from texts in the early part of the Middle Ages,
where it was presented as a group of horsemen equipped with heavy arms. Later, the ideas related to
its different but still important position influencing both religious and secular worlds.
Keen presents that: “Chivalry cannot be divorced from the martial world of the mounted warrior:
it cannot be divorced from the aristocracy because knights commonly were men of high lineage: and
from the middle of the twelfth century on it very frequently carries ethical or religious overtones.”
(Keen in Strickland, 1996, pg. 19)
Since the 16th century chivalry and knighthood have transformed into the ceremonial and honorific
institutions which were based under different conditions and represented mostly prestige and distinction in comparison to those of the earlier periods, which had been deserved during wars or after service.
Digby introduces one of the modern definitions of chivalry: “Chivalry is only a name for that
general spirit or state of mind which disposes men to heroic actions, and keeps them conversant with
all that is beautiful and sublime in the intellectual and moral world.” (Digby in Barber, 1980, pg.
Predecessors of knights can be traced back centuries. Many nations in Europe, such as the Scandinavians or some of the Germanic tribes, possessed warriors whose qualities on the battle field and
their services to their lords were highly appreciated and honoured. Flori comments that the Germanic
tribes had already been well known for their emphasizing the warriors´ values, rituals of initiation and
swearing oaths to leaders of tribes, even though maintaining some raw barbaric features, their structure was similar to those sworn in the later periods.
The periods, beginning with the establishment Duchy of Normandy had a great impact upon the
development of chivalry and knighthood in the Western Europe, especially in France and England. As
an example can serve William the Conquerors victory in England for his Norman knights, who were
already professional soldiers. Later many of them, yet as a part of the feudal system for their military
service to their lord were rewarded in the form of a piece of land, and replaced the Anglo-Saxon nobility, most of which had been killed in the Battle of Hastings.
During the Elizabethan age, chivalry became “a powerful ideology, capable of reconciling various
social contradictions. The aristocracy was still strong but its position was greatly altered.” (McCoy
in Hamilton, 1980, pg. 391) The idea of feudalism had already gone, but the image and symbol of the
medieval knighthood remained in the form of ceremonies, rituals and official orders, whose importance was more political rather than military. The changes on the social and political fields caused
the importance of the code of chivalry to become more symbolic.
Wars and battles were quite expensive business, so most of the nobility tried to avoid them. A real
fight meant a high risk for everyone included in it with focus on their possible material, human and
economical losses. Most of the wars were based on the besieging of cities, castles, fortresses and the
necessity for control over the lands, or plundering raids. (Flori, 2008) To become a master of this
military art took a lot of time, but there were only a few events, with exception of wars and battles,
where knights could test their mastery and abilities of their fighting skills on horseback – tournaments. Those hastiludes, or military games, enabled “military training and practice to knights”.
(Barker, 2003, pg. 43)
The number of men and weapons in one place represented a high risk of outbreak of such an event
into rebellion against the Crown. Richard I permitted the tournaments in 1194, but under the condition
that they would take place only in five places in England. His decision was based on his observation
“that French knights were more skilled and better trained through having frequented the sport than
inferior English knights.”(Barker, 2003, pg. 17)
The development of the ecclesiastical ideology had a deep influence on the shaping of chivalry and
knighthood. As a means of remission was already mentioned the pilgrimage to various parts of the
Christian world, but the most appreciated was the one to the Holy Land. Previously peaceful men
without arms looking for absolution on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem turned into a knights fully armed
looking for his absolution through killing the oppressors of the faith. Tyerman presents those men as
the crusaders, or the men signed by cross as a symbol of their bound, who “swore a vow to go to fight
the enemies of the church, in the Holy Land or elsewhere”, as he continues: “Once the cross had been
received, the crusader became, like the pilgrim, immune from various secular liabilities and enjoyed
the spiritual privilege of full remission of confessed sins.” (Tyerrman, 1988, pg. 2)
It may seem that the crusades were ideal for fulfilment of the military profession of knights, but
principles of the crusades and crusaders were far from the ideals of secular knighthood ethics, material and social desires often condemned by the Church.
The lower influence of the Church also caused in England the lower interest of the Englishmen in
the first crusades, for the policy of the English kings was to precede the possible leaving of their best
knights. But much information about the knights who earned prestige, fame and a fortune during the
crusades in the Holy Land attracted attention of some of the English-Norman noblemen who then paid
more attention to the situation in the East rather than that one at home. That was the case of Richard
I, The Lion Heart, who joined the Third Crusade and left the country in the hands of appointed regents. His participation in the Crusade lead to the situation that he fully utilized all available sources
in England to support his knights and army.
The general idea, that monks were predetermined to fight in the name of God with just peaceful
prayers and fasting in the silence of monasteries, was soon substituted by another idea that monks
should use swords instead of peaceful means in the name of God as a form of support to the Christian
Hugo de Payens from Champagne decided to establish the religious order of knights. Their first
residence was in the Temple of Solomon on Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The knights “Templars”
vowed to engage their lives to poverty, purity, obedience and prayers.
The order became official after the approval of the Council in Troyes in 1129, even though the first
traces of their activities come from the times of the First crusade. It could be considered as the first
order founded for the defence of the Christendom whose main mission was the protection the other
Christian pilgrims, and also to inform Christians in Western Europe about the situation in the East
with the aim to get some aid and support for their brothers. Accumulation of the possessions and the
growth of the Order´s independence during its existence became a thorn in the side of some European
kings. They became a target of royal and religious persecutions, especially after accusing them of
heresy and witchcraft by King Philip IV in 1307.
Traditions and rituals serving as a proof of manhood have been known for ages in almost every society and culture in the world. Only after successfully passed young men could become hunters or
warriors. The development of the society brought the development of those traditions and rituals as
well. The ceremony of dubbing to knighthood became one of them. At the beginning it had only secular character and included mainly the nobility, but the growth of the power of the Church gave it a
more sacred character.
On the other hand the introduction of the Christian morality and ethics combined with the traditional rules lead to the remodelling of the chivalric ideology of knights. The influence of the church
and the secular nobility caused existence of a wide range of versions of that system. Various historical
sources present the codes, which accented honour, respect, and loyalty to the brotherhood and to the
lord or the country. On the other hand, they focused on values appreciated in the religious world.
There was no officially accepted version of the code of chivalry, that lead to many versions being
created, based on the principles adjusted to the needs of individual orders. The chivalric code is defined by Fletcher as “a quasi-legal social code which supplies a rudimentary jurisprudence, a customary from whose spirit is courtesy, or better grace.” (Fletcher in Hamilton, 1990, pg. 392) Gaultier
concluded the basics of the code into the ten “Commandments” . Thou shalt believe all that the
Church teaches, and shalt observe all its directions. Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them. IV. Thou shalt love the country in the which thou wast born VI.
Thou shalt make war against the Infidel without cessation, and without mercy. VIII. Thou shalt never
lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word. . X. Thou shalt be everywhere and always the
champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.“ (Gaultier in McClintock, 2003, pg.
2. Chivalry in the English Literature
History, culture and traditions of the tribes living in the British Isles have influenced the content of
the early literary works. Records of such historical events were often supported with picturesque descriptions of the heroic deeds of individuals, mostly leaders of the tribes. Their authors, who were
anonymous at the beginning, drew inspirations from the sagas, myths or legends from Scandinavia or
from the stories introduced through the oral tradition directly on the Isles.
The Old-English epic poem Beowulf as one of the most imminent literary works from the AngloSaxon pre-medieval period that had been found on the British Isles, its main character and his way of
life could be considered as the example of the pre-knight warrior with the code of ethics, comitatus,
which was typical for the Scandinavian culture, it was a vow that represented a bond between him and
his co-warriors, and which could be seen also later in the medieval principles of chivalry.
The Anglo-Norman forms of the chanson de geste worked with more distinctive features and reminded the historical narrative. The first recorded chansons dated back to the period before the end of
the eleventh and the beginning of the twelfth centuries. One of the best known, The Song of Roland,
was originally a French poem written around the 11th century. The Song of Roland, as the poem included and introduced early definitions and descriptions of the chivalric behaviour. Out of other epical poems, this one concerned also with a hero´s moral dilemmas of personal honour in accordance
with the service to the lord. The reaction and acting of the protagonists in certain situations became an
inspirational guide how the knights should or should not behave in order to avoid such situations. The
medieval noble society found some inspiration in the moral content of the work, its code of manners
and behaviour were later known in form of the code of chivalry.
The favourite chansons de geste soon became less satisfactory for the readers of that period. Such
a situation headed towards the formation of the literary genre, romance, for which the chansons became an important springboard. Some authors, for example Saunders, present the importance of romance, which became a link between the traditional epic poetry of the past and the following genre of
novel. (Saunders in O´Neill, 2010)
Scott specifies the ideas,” that those high tales, in which the virtues of generosity, bravery, devotion to mistress, and zeal for the Catholic religion, were carried to the highest perfection in the character of the hero, united with the scenes passing around them, were of the utmost importance in affecting the atmosphere of that age.” (Scott, Essays on Chivalry, Romance, and the Drama, 1834, pg.
Scott points out that “the valour of the hero was often stained by acts of cruelty, or freaks of rash
desperation; his courtesy and munificence became solemn foppery and wild profusion; his love to his
lady often demanded and received a requital inconsistent with the honour of the object; and those
who tried to find their attachment on the purest and most delicate metaphysical principles, carried on
their actual intercourse with a licence altogether inconsistent with their sublime pretensions,” for that
kind of questionable manners showed also the other side of the so “idealised” chivalry and knighthood. (Scott, Essays on Chivalry, Romance, and the Drama pg. 172)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is considered to be a typical representative of this genre of romance. The story presents in its four ´fitts´, four cycles, the basic points of the chivalric ethics influenced by Christianity that focused on the tempting of the hero´s obedience and loyalty to God, to
King and to Lady with all the consequences having resulted from that.
The earlier romances introduced a more positive view on the chivalry and knighthood, but the sociopolitical situation of the 15th century slowly lead towards decline of the institution of chivalry which
was transferred into literature as well. In his collection of eight books “Malory created, or gave new
personality to, some of the most striking characters to be found in all English literature: King Arthur
himself, the tragic hero; Launcelot, the noblest knight in the world, torn by a conflict of loyalties
which must result in his destruction of all he loves best; Sir Gawain, vengeful and treacherous but
steadfast in loyalty to his king; Queen Guinevere, emblem of courtly courtesy, generous but also
fierce in jealousy; and many more.“ (Gardner,CliffsNotes web site.)
His original depiction of the complexity of the human character had been fascinating especially in
the case of the ideals of the chivalry as King Arthur and his brave knights. Previously admired and
glorified knights and heroes in the ballads and romances also showed their darker side in Mallory´s
work. The romances from the end of the 15th century introduced a different view on the institution of
chivalry, on observance of its ethical code and principles. Even though they mediated the events and
characters of the distant past, they reflected the changes of society in which their authors lived.
Almost at the end of the 18th century appeared genres of Gothic novel and Historical novel, which
returned to and took into account some of characteristic features of medieval romance. Scott in his
Introduction to Castle of Otrando presents Walpole´s attempt “to draw such a picture of domestic life
and manners, during the feudal times, as might actually have existed.” (Scott in Walpole, 1811, pg.
xvii) The novel introduced the return to the traditions of nobility accustomed in the medieval times.
Walpole´s passion for the Gothic style provided that the previously known traditional rules of chivalry
that had been presented in the genre of romance, appeared, but the knighthood and chivalric manners
were observed from a different aspect, when the author took out only some important details serving
for completing the final image and atmosphere of the novel.
The historical novel introduced the real historical characters during the fictional events or vice versa the fictional characters during the real historical events. Fleishman supports this idea and defines
the Historical novel in the way that: “When life is seen in the context of history, we have a novel;
when the novel´s characters live in the same world with historical persons, we have a historical novel.” (Fleishman in Hamnett, 2011, pg. 35)
Sir Walter Scott is regarded to be the father of the modern novel. The historical romantic novel
Ivanhoe has become one of his most famous works and still has its important place among other great
works in British literature. For Scott the writing of historical novel of this character meant a great
change that came after his popular works which had been dealing with “Scottish manners, Scottish
dialect, and Scottish characters”, of which the readers might have been replete. (Brown, 1979, pg.
174) It was his first historical novel, the setting of which was not situated in Scotland but in 12th century England. Therefore his knowledge about the places, historical events or characters that had been
mentioned in the novel was based mostly on gathered theoretical base. Scott himself presented in his
Dedicatory Epistle the problems that had occurred during his writing.
Scott´s detailed work with the settings and characters presenting various sides of the chivalric culture of the medieval England increased the rank of the novel. Sroka emphasizes Scott´s writing for his
“ heroes are not ideal; the maiden´s rescue is due more to a chance than to valour; the titular hero
marries second, less attractive heroine; and new social order falls far short of a wish-fulfilment ideal.” (Sroka, The Function and Form: Ivanhoe as Romance, 1979) Besides that, chivalry and its ethical codes seemed that they had a key role in the development of the plot and on the actions of some
characters during the novel.
Scott used the actions of the characters, whose performances were against the traditional code of
chivalry and religious canons, or who misused some individual points of those rules in order to
achieve personal advantages or satisfying own passions as it had happened also in other previously
mentioned literary works dealing with the topic of chivalry.
3. The Knights and Their Duty to Lord and the Land
Gaultier´s quote, “Thou shalt love the country in the which thou wast born,” gives us some clue
how the bonds with the land have influenced the potency of completing the duties towards the king
and the kingdom (Gaultier in McClintock, 2003, pg. viii).
Athelstane as the descendant of the Saxon royal lineage could demand his rights to the English
throne in case of the failure of the Normans, so he is the person in who Cedric pins his hopes on. According to Cedric´s plans Athelstane is willing to marry Rowena considering his duty towards the
Saxon nation that is so important to Cedric. On the other hand he is quite inactive in the fight for his
rights belonging to him as the Saxon heir in order to get the English throne, even though he shares a
similar opinion about the Normans as Cedric did. It seems that he is satisfied with the state of affairs,
for as the Saxon noble he still owns quite a large property even during the reign of the Norman king
and his brother. His passivity is interrupted for a while after the moment when the Disinherited Knight
chooses Rowena for the Queen of Love and Beauty for the rest of the tournament at Ashby and he
feels that his image has been offended by some unknown stranger. The reason of being touched and
embarrassed in front of the audience completely overcomes his weak feeling of duty to his nation, and
surprisingly, is followed by his choice to be a part of the team of Champions, the Normans, the source
of the suffering for his nation, against his own countrymen during the meleé. His attitude towards the
duties, for example a defence of the Saxon honour so expected from him by Cedric, seems very perfunctory, for he does nothing unless it would be related to his own renown. Even though he possesses
some characteristics of a good Saxon knight, he is not very interested in direct clashes as well as in
the position of the leader, and his experience at Torquilstone just convinces him in that being a thane
for Richard, may have seemed like a betrayal or poltroonery is in fact much more convenient for him,
so he does not hesitate and swore his loyalty as a thane to King Richard at the first opportunity
Prince John, as one of a few characters in the novel is based on the real historical figure, comes
from the Norman royal lineage. In the novel, his character is a direct example of the conscious violence of his duty towards the Kingdom and his King, for he misuses the absence of his brother and
prepares conditions to gain the throne. The fact that Richard might be somewhere between the Holy
Land and England does not help John´s weak administration of the Kingdom caused by the vices of
his character and the lack of money that forces him to cooperate with people, he generally hates but
needs - the group of Jewish merchants and money lenders. He has no choice and also has to lean on
the collaboration with the knights, nobles and clergy who support his ambitions as his mercenaries or
his advisors. He secures their services through various rewards and promises, some of them in form of
properties that previously belonged to the knights serving under King Richard I in the Holy Land.
Yet, intension of their loyalty to him is in proportion to the amount of money they can get, and how
far King Richard I is from England. As soon as King Richard´s name starts to appear among the Norman nobles, Prince John loses their support. Despite of all this evil being caused by his decisions and
orders, he is not punished at all, moreover, the reaction of his King and brother might seem surprising- no punishment.
Out of many knights around Prince John, Brian de Bois-Guilbert is the most complicated character
according to definition of his duties towards his lords. According to Flori and his description of the
Templars, de Bois-Guilbert as the member of the Order of Temple ought to be faithful to his vows and
live his life in poverty, purity, obedience and prayers. (Flori, 2008)
As a Knight Templar, who used to fight against the Muslims in the Holy Land, he should be subordinated and absolutely loyal only to God, his Grand Master, his brethren, and to the Lord of the
land, in this case to Prince John. But the question of his credibility is introduced, and in fact undermined, after Palmer, a disguised Ivanhoe, accuses him of breaking his vow to fight and protect the
Holy Sepulchre:”´... but when those who are under oath to recover the holy city, are found travelling
at such a distance from the scene of their duties, can you wonder that a peaceful peasant like me
should decline the task which they have abandoned? “(Scott, Ivanhoe, 1986, pg. 29). Templar does
not consider Prince John as a ruler worthy of loyalty, though he stands behind him because of a secure
income and similar attitude towards the Saxons and other “lower” nations. If we focus on his loyalty
to the Order of Temple, it is seriously examined through his desires that overcome him when he becomes obsessed with Rebecca, and he is willing to give up all his knightly and religious vows that
bind him to the Order and his Grand Master as his lord just for one Jewish woman. So in the Templar´s case, his emotions play an important role influencing his attitude to completing any of his duties
and proving his loyalty.
The character of King Richard I has almost the sacred significance for the English history and literature. Therefore Scott´s idea to emphasize two faces of this hero - King Richard, the famous knight
and king fighting in the Holy Land, who is captured during his return to England by the Austrian
archduke; and King Richard who is disguised as the Black Knight or “the Black Sluggard”, both introduced in the novel, present new points in the view on him as the representative of the chivalric
manners and duties towards his people and kingdom. He represents the spirit of the knighthood and
life based on the codes of chivalry, for he is fighting far from home in the name of God and his country, but he has still influence on the thoughts of the people in England. On the other hand, the question
of his loyalty and responsibility to his kingdom is split for he seems to prefer his leave and action in
the Holy Land:”´ ... had Richard of the Lion's Heart been wise enough to have taken a fool's advice,
he might have staid at home with his merry Englishmen, and left the recovery of Jerusalem to those
same Knights who had most to do with the loss of it,´“ (Scott, Ivanhoe, 1986, pg. 53), Moreover, his
treatment of the Normans who have been plotting and fighting against him, is strange, for Richard,
maybe protecting his image of a generous king, punishes them minimally. His acting evokes the idea,
as if he indirectly confirmed the superiority of the Norman nation and their conspiracy was just a kind
of childish disobedience.
In the novel, Richard presents also his other part of his character, when he takes advantage of his
secret escape and returns to England disguised as the Black Knight. He has the chance to avoid the
obligations of the king for a while. So he tries to enjoy his freedom among his subjects, but where he
has to face the consequences of his absence and the problems caused by the reign of his brother. He,
still respecting the code of chivalry, is not afraid to join the battle or to help anyone who is in need,
but his knightly behaviour is suppressed for a while by the fact that he is also only a human, who
wants to enjoy a simple life instead of proving his idealised renown through heroic deeds in the name
of God or his kingdom. Scott introduced a romanticised reflection of Richard´s relationship to his
kingdom. However, he took into consideration also the historical records which presented Richard as
the king that had spent only a few months in the British Isles and the rest of his reign in battles, crusades or tournaments all over Europe and the Middle East. Lauber presents that Scott smartly employed the facts in to his account, for he gave King Richard a chance to realise the value of all his
subjects in the novel that makes him more likeable to the readers, but as the Scottish author, he had
also a courage to criticise indirectly the lack of Richard´s presence on the English throne. (Lauber,
While the feelings of duty towards their lords and country in the case of the characters above could
be easily distinguished according to their origin and personal reasons, the case of Wilfred of Ivanhoe
is slightly different. He, even born as a Saxon noble, is a representative of the new generation of the
Anglo-Normans. His admiration of the Norman, King Richard I, for his courage and knightly manners
lead him to complete his duties as one of his knights, so he follows the King to the Holy Land even at
a cost of his filial disobedience. After his return to England his character is deeply influenced by that
experience, though his opinion of the Saxons and the Normans still depends more on the behaviour
and deeds of individuals rather than their nationality, so he is able to remain loyal to those that are
loyal to King Richard, England, and of course the Saxons, who are also in the Richard´s service. Scott
presents a very important break in Ivanhoe´s earlier image of his king, whom he saw fighting and was
loyal to during the time spent in the Holy Land. Nevertheless, the image differs from the new one,
formed after his meeting with Richard in Sherwood Forest. Now, it is Ivanhoe the one who hesitates
about his duties and loyalty while seeing the king´s attitudes to his duties towards his kingdom. In fact
he admits that his king is not so ideal as he had thought.
Scott presents the changes in Ivanhoe caused by facing the contrast of reality and idolatry devoted
to the notion of Coeur de Lion, though the feeling of his duty towards the man, whose name had became a legend in English history and the history of the Middle East in spite of that remained.
In conclusion, Scott presented various characters of knights in his novel, whose actions and behaviour should have been subordinated to the code of chivalry as well as to the duties to their lords and
the land arising from it. However, he pointed to the fragility of the institution of the chivalry quite
realistically, for many of his characters were overcome with motivation, such as greed, fear, lust or
charm of a beautiful lady, that were stronger than any feeling of duty to their lord or their land.
The institution of chivalry together with its ethical codes played an important role in the formation
of the European aristocracy as the ruling class; therefore, it had an impact on the other parts of society. The chivalric code, as the system of ethical principles, representing a kind of moral guide for the
knights and nobility, meant a mid-step between the barbaric pre-medieval period and more sophisticated period that set in at the end of the Middle Ages and influenced also the following centuries.
There is no wonder, that such exalted ideals and people who abided by them, became often inspirations of many literary works. Yet, many authors presented not only the ideal side of the chivalric
manners, but they depicted the opposite side which was of more realistic and believable character.
We came to conclusion that Sir Walter Scott, while writing Ivanhoe, was heavily influenced by the
historical records about the medieval period as well as by the idealized knightly manners present in
the older literary genres, and he applied them to some extent in the novel. Moreover, he introduced
the element of fragility of the idea covered in code of chivalry which he emphasised through the contrasting struggle of emotions, attitudes and the duties of his characters. It was clear, that the depth of
the portrayed conflicts of emotions and duties was influenced by the literary tradition of Romanticism,
so the novel offered a more authentic and affective story focusing on the characters, situated in the
historical setting that supplemented the final effect on the readers and was one of the reasons leading
to success of the novel.
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