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Universiteit Gent
Academiejaar 2006-2007
“an example to them who account
themselves the flower of knighthood”
An analysis of the concept of chivalry
as applied to Sir Walter Scott’s The Talisman
Promotor: Prof. Dr. M. Demoor aaaaaaaaaaaa
Verhandeling voorgelegd aan de
Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte
voor het behalen van de graad van
licentiaat in de Taal- en Letterkunde:
Germaanse talen
I would like to express my gratitude to
Prof. Marysa Demoor, for helping me
to find a fitting subject, for her
suggestions concerning the structure of
this dissertation and for her general
guidance. I would also like to thank
Prof. Erik Kooper whose lectures on
Middle English proved to be a
welcome inspiration.
Further thanks should go to my parents
and brother, my girlfriend Sofie and
her parents, and everyone else for their
unfailing support and patience.
Introduction ................................................................................................................ 1
PART I – Chivalry: the theoretical conept................................................................. 5
1. The concept of chivalry.......................................................................................... 6
1.1. A problematic notion....................................................................................... 6
1.2. Sword, cross and table..................................................................................... 7
1.2.1. The sword................................................................................................. 7
1.2.2. The cross ................................................................................................ 13
1.2.3. The table................................................................................................. 16
1.3. Scott’s outlook on chivalry ........................................................................... 20
1.4. The decline of chivalry.................................................................................. 22
1.5. The status of chivalry .................................................................................... 25
1.6. Conclusion..................................................................................................... 27
PART II – Analysis of Sir Walter Scott’s The Talisman ......................................... 28
2. A chivalric disequilibrium.................................................................................... 29
2.1. Introduction ................................................................................................... 29
2.2. The Third Crusade......................................................................................... 30
2.3. The virtuous Crusaders?................................................................................ 31
2.3.1. King Richard I........................................................................................ 31
2.3.2. Sir Kenneth............................................................................................. 36
2.3.3. The Crusading princes............................................................................ 39
2.4. The noble Saladin.......................................................................................... 44
2.5. A lack of unity, the undoing of the Crusaders .............................................. 47
2.6. Conclusion..................................................................................................... 50
3. Chivalry and the role of religion .......................................................................... 52
3.1. Introduction ................................................................................................... 52
3.2. The chivalric perspective .............................................................................. 52
3.2.1. The Crusaders......................................................................................... 53
3.2.2. Saladin.................................................................................................... 57
3.3. Light and Dark .............................................................................................. 58
4. The female fortress............................................................................................... 60
4.1. Introduction ................................................................................................... 60
4.2. Edith and courtly love ................................................................................... 60
4.3. Dull days in the Crusader camp .................................................................... 63
4.4. Cultural differences ....................................................................................... 64
5. The Crusade as a “rencontre de civilisations” ..................................................... 67
5.1. Introduction ................................................................................................... 67
5.2. Differences between the Crusaders and the Saracens ................................... 67
5.3. External and internal cultural references....................................................... 70
5.3.1. Blacks ..................................................................................................... 70
5.3.2. The Crusader camp: internal differences and stereotypes...................... 71
5.3.3. From Achilles to Satan........................................................................... 72
5.4. The multicultural Diamond of the Desert ..................................................... 73
5.5. A metaphorical view ..................................................................................... 75
Conclusion................................................................................................................ 78
Bibliography............................................................................................................. 82
A quick look at Sir Walter Scott’s bibliography suffices to see that he is a prolific
writer. In addition to a number of poems and short stories, he wrote about thirty
novels. One of the main reasons of Scott’s obsession with writing is to be found in
the enormous amounts of money he wanted to invest in the expansion of his estate
in Abbotsford1. Indeed, in order to ensure the financial means would keep up with
the costs of his ever-growing spendthrift, he drastically increased the production of
fiction2. However, this was insufficient to avert financial problems3. Fortunately, he
was a lot more successful at writing than at managing his financial affairs. The
production of novel after novel, all of which sold incredibly well4, lay at the basis of
his nickname ‘The Wizard of the North’5.
However, a marked contrast to Scott’s success in his own days6 is the fact
that “few read Scott today”7. Nowadays, Scott’s oeuvre can be divided into two
categories; a small selection of novels that are still popular, such as Waverley and
Ivanhoe, and a large number of works that are a lot less known, such as The
Talisman, the novel which will be the object of discussion in this dissertation. The
discrepancy of popularity is also visible in the amount of secondary literature on the
different novels. Since “The Talisman is one of the least read [novels]”8, the number
of publications about this novel is very small.
My personal interest in history in general and in life in the Middle Ages in
particular led me to Sir Walter Scott and the selection of The Talisman is based on
two considerations. First of all, the Crusades can be found in the higher regions of
my list of fascinations with the Middle Ages; thus, The Talisman’s setting during
John Sutherland, The life of Walter Scott: a critical biography, Oxford: Blackwell, 1995. pp.154157 and p.203.
Sutherland, The life of Walter Scott, p.254.
Sutherland, The life of Walter Scott, p.292.
Serge Heirbrant, Componenten en compositie van de historische roman: een comparatistische en
genologische benadering, Leuven : Garant, 1995. p.129.
Heirbrant, Componenten en compositie van de historische roman, p.117.
Scott lived from 1771 until 1832. G.A. Kohnstamm and H.C. Cassee, Het Cultureel Woordenboek.
Encyclopedie van de algemene ontwikkeling, Amsterdam: Anthos, 19997. p.204.
Sutherland, The life of Walter Scott, p.196.
Margaret Bruzelius, ““The King of England… Loved to Look upon A MAN”: Melancholy and
Masculinity in Scott’s Talisman.” Modern Language Quarterly 62:1 (2001): 19-41. [Online version
via MLA] p.39.
the Third Crusade was perfect. Secondly, I also tried to find a novel of which every
word had not yet been turned and twisted in every possible direction. As said
before, this is indeed the case with The Talisman. When one takes into account
these two motivations, it is not surprising that The Talisman was selected in
function of an analysis of the concept of chivalry9. It will become clear later on that
chivalry is a multi-layered concept. In brief, it describes the different aspects of life
as a knight and his function in society. Scott demonstrated a profound interest in the
concept of chivalry; in 1818 he wrote an essay on this subject for inclusion in the
Encyclopaedia Britannica10.
Scott’s fascination with history started when he was still a boy. Scott had
many health problems during his life11 and as a child he was sent to Sandyknowe to
spend some time with his aunt, since conditions of living were much better there
than in the cramped house in unhealthy Edinburgh12. The importance of his
prolonged stays in Sandyknowe is twofold. First of all, he became acquainted with
storytelling; indeed, the main activity that kept young Walter occupied, was
listening to stories about historical events13. Secondly, his aunt taught him to read14.
As such, the art of producing tales about the past was already known to the young
Scott, who was of course to evolve into a hugely successful author of historical
The notion ‘historical novel’ poses a problem; the term ‘historical’ seems to
link it to the science of history, whereas its status as a ‘novel’ implies that it is
indeed a work of fiction. The vast number of publications on this subject indicates
that the historical novel is a complicated affair. Indeed, Serge Heirbrant notes that
“no unanimity exists at all concerning the relation between the historical novel and
historiography”15. Although Scott did not invent the genre, he certainly played an
important role in defining it16. However, the nature of the historical novel is at
present not the main concern. One final remark concerns the question to which type
The term chivalry is derived from French; la chevalerie is the collective term used to refer to les
chevaliers (knights) in general. Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.301.
Sutherland, The life of Walter Scott, p.179.
Sutherland, The life of Walter Scott, p.11.
Sutherland, The life of Walter Scott, p.12.
Sutherland, The life of Walter Scott, pp.12-14.
Sutherland, The life of Walter Scott, p.14.
Heirbrant, Componenten en compositie van de historische roman, p.70. (my translation)
Heirbrant, Componenten en compositie van de historische roman, p.54.
of historical novel The Talisman belongs. Heirbrant places it in the group
containing novels which feature historical figures (such as Richard I and Saladin in
the case of The Talisman) in fictional scenes (most of the storyline of The
The Talisman was first published in 182518. Together with The Betrothed it
was “published […] as Tales of the Crusaders”19. The latter title was, however,
rather misleading20 for the storyline of The Betrothed “never left Wales”21. Luckily,
The Talisman compensated the lack of crusading action in The Betrothed. Critics
reacted with mixed feelings; The Talisman had many fine qualities but it was clear
that the novel was not quite up there with earlier novels like Waverley22. However,
the main quality of The Talisman is that it is “perhaps the first novel is [sic] English
to portray Muslims in a positive light”23.
As has been briefly mentioned, the focus of this dissertation will be on the
way in which Scott applied the concept of chivalry in The Talisman. In order to
carry out this analysis, it is necessary to examine that concept in more detail, for it
encompasses multiple dimensions; I will divide the concept into what I will call the
three pillars of chivalry, being the military, religious and social aspects. This will be
done in the theoretical part, chapter one. Part of this first chapter will be devoted to
the analysis of Scott’s view on chivalry as he described it in the aforementioned
‘Essay on Chivalry’. The practical analysis will be done in the second part, which
consists of chapters two through five. The aim of the second chapter is to provide an
analysis of the main characters, both Christian and Muslim, and to find out who is
the most chivalric one. Religious and social dimensions will be dealt with in
chapters three and four. The third chapter discusses the relation between religion
and chivalry including the evaluation of the depiction of Muslim culture in the
novel, which, as has been pointed out, is one of the main assets of The Talisman.
The analysis of the social pillar of chivalry will mainly concentrate on the depiction
Heirbrant, Componenten en compositie van de historische roman, p.43.
Paul Barnaby, “The Talisman (Tales of the Crusaders)”, 27/04/2007, Walter Scott Digital Archive.
<> (20/07/2007).
Barnaby, “The Talisman”, Walter Scott Digital Archive.
Sutherland, The life of Walter Scott, p.277.
Sutherland, The life of Walter Scott, p.297.
An overview of the reception of The Talisman can be found in the Walter Scott Digital Archive.
Barnaby, “The Talisman”, Walter Scott Digital Archive.
Barnaby, “The Talisman”, Walter Scott Digital Archive.
of women in the novel, as well as on their roles in both Western and Eastern
society. The fifth and final chapter will broaden the intercultural comparison to a
general comparison between the Crusaders and the Saracens, while also discussing
a number of influences from other cultures. A discussion of animal imagery as a
means of cultural reference will round off both this chapter and the discussion of
The Talisman.
1. The concept of chivalry
1.1. A problematic notion
While for most people the word ‘chivalry’ evokes images of armoured knights
fighting to win the grace of their love interests24, there is obviously more to it than
just that. The notion ‘chivalry’ is a complex and problematic notion for a number of
reasons. Firstly, chivalry is not a static concept. A typically medieval concept, it
evolves just like the world in which chivalry has its place. The term is used most
frequently from the eleventh until the fifteenth century but, as James Ross Sweeney
notes in The Dictionary of the Middle Ages, comparing eleventh century chivalry to
the thirteenth or fifteenth century equivalent clearly shows that evolution in the
medieval world has left its mark on the concept of chivalry25. Secondly, chivalry
encompasses multiple dimensions; it is active in the military, social and religious
field26. What is more, many examples are not confined to just one of the three
fields. The concept of the crusade, which is a typically medieval phenomenon, is a
prime example. First of all, there was the impact on society, with many knights and
often the king and his entourage leaving the country. The military and religious
aspects are obvious; the goal of the crusades was primarily religious in nature, the
most important being the liberation of Jerusalem. The way in which the objectives
were to be completed was of a military nature. A third problem concerns the status
of chivalry; is it to be considered a real way of life or just an ideal promoted in
medieval – and later – literature? Fourthly, not only does the concept differ
horizontally – i.e. in the course of time – but vertically as well; chivalry affects the
poor medieval peasant in a different way27 than it does the knight.
Maurice Keen has called chivalry “an evocative word, conjuring up images in the mind – of the
knight fully armed, perhaps with the crusaders’ red cross sewn upon his surcoat; of martial
adventures in strange lands; of castles with tall towers and of the fair women who dwelt in them.”
Maurice Keen, Chivalry, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984. p.1
Joseph R. Strayer et al., Dictionary of the Middle Ages, New York: Scribner, 1982-2004, p.301.
Henceforth referred to as Dictionary of the Middle Ages.
This corresponds to the tripartite description by The Catholic Encyclopedia in its entry on
chivalry. Charles Moeller, “Chivalry”, in The Catholic Encyclopedia, ed. by Kevin Knight. <http:// > (02/04/2007), henceforth referred to as Catholic
That is, if, as we will try to find out, it affects the lowest class at all.
The aim of this chapter is to delve deeper into the nature of this complex
concept and to come up with a workable description with which Scott’s The
Talisman will then be analyzed. After attempting to cover the main aspects of
medievalism, a section will be dedicated to Scott’s own view on chivalry, as
described in his Essay on Chivalry, written for the Encyclopaedia Britannica in
1.2. Sword, cross and table
The structure of this paragraph is as follows: each of the three main aspects of
medieval society – and more precisely its chivalric nature – will be analyzed in turn.
This is the most effective way to discuss the evolutions within each of the three
domains29. The three objects mentioned in the title refer to the three fields of study:
the sword stands for the military aspect, the cross represents the religious field and
the table has been chosen as a reference to society.
1.2.1. The sword Impact of chivalry on the knight
The knight’s task, according to the traditional model, consisted of fighting for and
protecting the other classes30. In stark contrast to modern times war was considered
an entirely normal affair, a state of peace being very exceptional31. The original
meaning of the word chivalry has its roots in this kind of society: chivalry, in its
oldest sense, refers to a group of knights32. As such, the image of chivalry as one
figuring knights in battle corresponds to its most essential meaning. Specific
attitudes towards women, for instance, were not yet the order of the day. In the
course of time, however, the class of knights became more self-conscious and
Walter Scott, “Essay on Chivalry” in The Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott. Paris:
Baudry’s European Library, 1838, p.195-262.
Of course, sometimes overlaps between different categories may occur, in which case links to the
other domain(s) in question will be established.
This scheme is often used in education, stating that in medieval society with its three classes, the
knight fights, the clergy prays and the peasants labour, each class for the two other classes
Richard Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, London: Sphere Books, 1974. p.202
Dale H. Hoiberg and Theodore Pappas (eds), The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago:
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2005, volume III, p.249 (henceforth: Encyclopaedia Britannica); and
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.301.
awareness grew that they held an important and indeed exemplary position in
society33. Subsequently, rules and prescriptions of how knights should behave came
into being34. The meaning of the word chivalry thus evolves from its basic meaning
to “the worthy action or behavior of a knight on the battlefield or elsewhere”35.
Whereas the battlefield is clearly reminiscent of the original view on chivalry, the
‘elsewhere’ can be seen as referring to the next major function of chivalry, where it
becomes synonymous with courtesy36. An important theme that comes to the fore is
that of the woman. Although this will be discussed in more detail later on, it is
already worth pointing out that the emergence of this ‘trend’ of courteous behaviour
towards women coincides with the appearance of the lady in literature37.
The question that should be answered first, though, is that of the nature of
the knight. Who was ‘the knight’, what was his life like? Knights were elite
members of society; they were aristocratic not only because of their lineage but
because of their worth as well38. Wealth constituted an important factor in the
knight’s life39. Costs ranged from armour40 to horses41 and other persons, i.e.
attendants42 and, in a number of cases, lesser nobles who had found a patron in the
knight in question43. However, chivalrous behaviour, while closely linked to
knighthood, was not restricted to the class of knights. Chivalrous behaviour in the
non-material sense – i.e. requiring lots of money like in the aforementioned
examples – could be exercised by other individuals as well and could even lead to
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.301.
Numerous lists containing ideals of knightly behaviour have been published. See for instance:
Richard W. Kaeuper, “Chivalry and the ‘Civilizing Process”, in Violence in medieval society, ed. by
Richard W. Kaeuper, Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2000, p.31 and Juliet Vale, “Violence and the
Tournament”, in Violence in medieval society, ed. by Richard W. Kaeuper, Woodbridge: Boydell
Press, 2000 p.154.
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.301.
Encyclopaedia Britannica, p.249.
This is indeed a novelty in 12th century English literature. In Anglo-Saxon times the woman was
typically ‘invisible’ in the background. Erik Kooper, Middle English, lecture format.
Keen, Chivalry, p.16-17.
The fear of impoverishment was a popular theme during the Middle Ages. This is also reflected in
literature. Adequate examples can be found in the Middle English stories of Sir Cleges and Sir
Launfal. Kooper, Middle English.
Catholic Encyclopedia.
Catholic Encyclopedia.
Catholic Encyclopedia.
Kooper, Middle English.
being knighted44. There existed indeed a second type of knight, which consisted of
those people who had not been born a knight but had performed a great deed and
were subsequently dubbed a knight. An often recurring example can be found in
leaders in war who had displayed a lot of courage and were rewarded with
knighthood. The tournament
While from a modern perspective the image of knights competing in tournaments
may seem like nothing more than yet another activity the upper-class indulged in
when they had nothing else on their hands, there is a lot more to it than appears at
first glance. The tournament was characterized by a number of important social
functions. As will be exemplified later on, Scott was aware of the important place
the tournament occupied in knightly life and included a (special kind of) tournament
in The Talisman.
The tournament’s basic form differed from the one-on-one horseback fights
that have become so stereotypical. The main event of the original tournaments
consisted of the mêlée or group encounter, with one-on-one combat on horseback as
an additional but minor part45. The nature of these early encounters was also rather
different from the late medieval ones; rules were almost non-existent and especially
in mêlée battles “[t]he line could […] be thin between mock war and the real
thing”46. Early tournaments did not take place within strictly confined areas like the
later jousts did; instead, the two groups the participants were divided into could use
enormous amounts of land for their ‘hobby’. Not only were there no or only vague
boundaries, referees and judges were absent from the tournament as well. This only
changed well into the thirteenth century47. Unsurprisingly, many a knight met his
end partaking in these aggressive forms of entertainment48. Despite these
frightening side-effects – from a modern perspective anyway – and the
condemnation by the Church, the mêlée maintained its immense popularity. From
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.151. The example given here contains the anecdote of
someone who was “knighted at the end of his chivalric career”.
Juliet Vale, “Violence and the Tournament”, p.145
Keen, Chivalry, p.85.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.167
Apart from the many ‘regular’ knights, the list of casualties also contains many important figures,
such as earls and counts. Keen, Chivalry, p.87.
Maurice Keen’s list of explanations for this popularity, three should be mentioned
here. Firstly, the nature of the mêlée, with its aggressive group attacks, was a perfect
training for war situations49. Secondly, already in those days the financial aspect
formed a great attraction to the participants50; after all, as has been remarked before,
knights both wanted and had to be wealthy. A third important reason had to do with
the fact that the patrons, who acted as the tournaments’ sponsors, often provided
support for literature as well51. In other words these patrons could enhance their
popularity by means of literary approval of the patrons themselves and/or the
tournaments organized by them.
The joust was of a very different nature. Not only was it not such a brutal
form of fight as the mêlée, it also took place in quite distinct circumstances. Jousts
were held within confined areas, called the lists, and normally surrounded by stands
and boxes for the spectators52. These much more confined spaces, which became
the norm around 122553, aided in making tournaments a much more civilized event
as opposed to the mêlée, where the almost non-existent boundaries did not enable a
thorough degree of control. Jousting required millimetre-perfect hits to successfully
unhorse one’s competitor54, which was not the case for the more brute mêlée.
Another difference between the two disciplines was that the mêlée provided the
possibility to exercise combat strategies, which was not possible for jousting
tournaments. Since the lance, which was the primary weapon for the joust, was not
very important on the real battlefield55, “a skilful jouster was not necessarily a
skilful warrior”56. The joust was thus a lot less linked to the actual battlefield than
the mêlée was, and provided much more of a diversion from ‘everyday’ battle
situations. An important role in the jousting tournament was played by the lady, and
this subject will be elaborated on in more detail later on. Finally, the popularity of
the tournament can also be measured from the numerous orders devoted exclusively
to tournaments57.
Keen, Chivalry, p.88.
Keen, Chivalry, p.88-89.
Keen, Chivalry, p.90.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.168.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.168.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.169.
As soon as they shattered, they were rendered useless. Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.169.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.169.
Keen, Chivalry, pp.186-187.
10 War
Not only did the knight occupy an elite position within society, the same was true
on the battlefield as well. First of all, the knight usually had the advantage of being
a member of the cavalry – hence the tournaments exercised on horseback – which
provided the knight with a more secure position than on foot58. Secondly, the
knight’s armour protected the wearer against many attacks which were deadly for
normal troops. Finally, in the event a knight got overpowered, he was only rarely
killed59. In most cases the knight was taken captive and ransoms were asked in
return for the knight60. The biggest threats to the knight’s life were those that could
affect any person: illness and diseases61. A second danger was also to be found in
the medical sector: medieval surgery62 – which would be completely unworthy of
that name nowadays. Knowledge of the human body and the functions of the
different organs was limited and led to risky operation techniques.
On the battlefield, the knight was supposed to be a beacon of chivalrous
behaviour for the other warriors. However, knights and ordinary soldiers wanted to
ensure that they were compensated for the expenses they had had to make. This was
particularly troublesome in campaigns involving mercenaries. Just like regular
knights, mercenaries had to purchase their weapons themselves63. This was a rather
costly affair and, not contented with merely winning back that sum of money, a
little profit was more than welcome. The resources they turned to in order to
achieve this were of a questionable nature. After being disbanded when the battle
was over, their weapons were more than once used to set out on a pillaging
journey64. However, not only mercenaries were tempted to indulge in this sort of
detestable behaviour; sometimes entire armies had to be restrained from plunder65.
Whether by plundering or paying ransoms, “[c]hivalry became a question of
Keen, Chivalry, p.218.
An important exception was the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302, in which the Flemish forces
killed every French knight they could lay their hands on. Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.198.
Keen, Chivalry, p.220.
Keen, Chivalry, p.222.
Keen, Chivalry, p.223.
Keen, Chivalry, p.229.
Keen, Chivalry, p.229.
This was especially the case with sieges. Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.204.
business”66. Barber even describes chivalry as a “layer of high idealism”67 covering
the real atrocities of war. A special kind of war: the Crusades
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia “[t]he Crusades introduced the golden age
of chivalry”68. The Crusades being primarily religiously inspired, such a quote
could be expected from a work like the Catholic Encyclopedia, and there is a
certain degree of truth in it; the Crusades were one of the defining (series of) events
of the Middle Ages. For now, the main focus of attention will be the non-religious
motivations behind the Crusades; the religious motivations of these enterprises will
be discussed in the next paragraph. Apart from being religious expeditions, the
Crusades were meant to be showcases for the values of chivalry. But, as Thomas F.
Madden stresses, they remained wars, “so it would be a mistake to characterize
them as nothing but piety and good intentions”69. The religious aspect is precisely
what differentiates the Crusades from classical chivalry, which, originally, was not
influenced by religion70. Knights who took part in the Crusades had, besides the
common goal, a number of personal interests as well. Contrary to what might be
expected, money was not one of them. In fact, the whole organization in all its
aspects required a copious amount of money from the participants. Instead, an
important value was found in the form of penitence for a sinful life71. However,
looting still occurred frequently during the Crusades; here as well it was difficult to
keep the soldiers from attempting to enrich themselves72. During the Crusades,
tournaments were organized for the knights; the idea behind this was twofold: apart
from being a good “outlet […] in a society [of] restraints”73, it also ensured that the
knights were kept well-trained for emergency situations like surprise attacks.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.205.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.210.
Catholic Encyclopedia.
Thomas F. Madden, The Real History of the Crusades, 15/08/2005 <
issues/Real-History-of-Crusades-by-Thomas-Madden.cfm> (06/06/2007).
Keen, The Knight and Chivalry, p.43.
Madden, The Real History of the Crusades.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.204.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.161.
A few exceptions aside – such as the completion of the First Crusade – the
overriding legacy of the Crusades is not the military one. Religiously and socially
their importance was much larger, as will become clear in the next paragraphs.
1.2.2. The cross
As has been shown before, the original ideas behind the concept of chivalry had
nothing to do with religion. However, from the tenth century onwards “the church
sought to refashion and civilize the brutal bloodletting of an emerging knightly
class”74. Regulations were developed to counter this trend. One of the most
important ones was known as the truce of God and stipulated that hostile activities
were not allowed on certain days75. In practice, however, the rule was often
violated; a striking example can be found in the fact that, during the First Crusade,
the attack on Constantinople took place on Holy Thursday76.
Tournaments were also frowned upon by the Church. Apparently
“tournaments encourage[d] all seven of the deadly sins”77 and were blamed for
maintaining a “cult of violence”78. When measuring the popularity of the
tournament, however, it becomes clear that not many knights saw a conflict
between the tournament and the Church79.
Over time, though, the Church “became more tolerant of war”80. The
ceremony of the dubbing of a knight, which had so far been entirely secular in
nature, received a full religious makeover. The original, secular ceremonies featured
symbolic procedures, such as the blessing of the sword81, which, together with a
religious vow, bound the knight to the Church82. Without a shadow of a doubt, the
clearest example of the less hostile attitude of the Church towards war is to be
found in the Crusades, which were launched with a religious goal. The appeal to the
knights in Europe to join the First Crusade turned the pope into a “summoner of
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.302.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.215
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.215.
Keen, Chivalry, p.95.
Keen, Chivalry, p.96.
Keen, Chivalry, p.98.
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.302.
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.302.
Catholic Encyclopedia
armies”83. The objectives the First Crusade hoped to fulfil consisted of coming to
the rescue of the Christians in the Eastern territories as well as liberating the Holy
Sepulchre in Jerusalem but not, contrary to popular belief, the conversion of
Muslims84. In fact, Muslims were tolerated in the areas conquered by the Crusaders;
they “were generally allowed to retain their property and livelihood, and always
their religion”85. The Christian element within chivalry led to a new type of knight:
the knight (in service) of Christ86. According to Sweeney “the virtues of the
Christian knight consisted of fidelity, piety, and service to God”87. These values
corresponded to the ideals sweeping through the Crusader ranks on their way to
The synthesis of the military and religious dimensions led to a spectacular
new phenomenon from the twelfth century onwards. To ensure the safety of
pilgrims travelling to and in Jerusalem, religious orders were founded which
consisted of knights-cum-monks88. Apart from a number of – smaller – national
orders, there were three major orders: the Hospitallers, the Knights Templar, and
the Teutonic Knights. Our focus here is on the Knights Templar, since this is the
most prominent order in The Talisman. As was also the case with the other orders,
the Knights Templar had been founded to help fellow Christians, which they indeed
did – as long as these fellow Christians were not members of the Hospitallers, for
there existed a great rivalry between these two orders89. Since the military orders
were to act as the “strong right arm”90 of the Church, the latter had to bestow upon
the orders enough elbow room. However, especially the order of the Knights
Templar became incredibly wealthy. This formed a stark contrast to the original
intention, which stated that they would live an ascetic life91. Their wealth originated
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.217. Only in the thirteenth century was there an unsuccessful
attempt at conversion by the Franciscans: compare Madden, The Real History of the Crusades.
Madden, The Real History of the Crusades.
Madden, The Real History of the Crusades.
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.302.
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.302.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.227.
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.304.
Keen, Chivalry, p.49.
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.303.
not only from gifts92 but also from “banking and money-lending”93 practices.
Remarkably, these are the same activities that the Jews were well-known for too.
This did not go down too well with the Church, but others were displeased with the
order’s huge growth in wealth, property, and members as well as their
independence94. Because the orders felt that they did not have to obey secular
authorities, they often opposed or disobeyed royal orders95. This was an important
reason why the French king Philip IV was among the many rulers who hated the
orders, and more specifically the Knights Templar. He started a large-scale
persecution of the Knights Templar and forced pope Clement V, who was not much
more than a pawn of the French king, to abolish the order96. Templars who had not
been killed mostly joined the other orders97. The abolishment of the Templars
combined with the unsuccessful later Crusades led to the success of a new kind of
order, namely the secular orders98.
The influence of religion affected not only the orders; Christian values
entered the chivalrous behaviour of ‘ordinary’ knights as well, resulting in an
“interpenetration of Christian and secular values”99. This sometimes resulted in
remarkable combinations, such as the aforementioned organization of tournaments
during the Crusades, despite the explicit disapproval of the Church. As has been
said, the main reason for knights to join the Crusades was not a financial one;
feelings of community and penitence were more important factors. Closely linked to
the latter factor was the fact that crusading knights would receive a full pardon100,
which was, to the believing knights, a most welcome reward considering the usually
sinful way of life of the aristocratic knights.
One of these gifts, a house on the site of the Temple of Solomon, resulted in the order being called
the Knights Templar. Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.304.
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.304.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, pp.230-235.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.235.
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.304.
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p.304-305.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.303.
Keen, Chivalry, p.57.
See for instance Pope Innocent III’s call to join the fifth Crusade. Ken Pennington, “The Crusades
of Pope Innocent III”. <>
1.2.3. The table
The reason why the table has been chosen as the symbol to represent social life is
that large feasts, such as banquets – which self-evidently involved the use of tables
– were among the most prominent examples of social interaction with people other
than military in nature. An important demographic group which has so far remained
all but left out of this discourse is that of the women. Of women and courtly love
The role of the woman or lady is not to be underestimated, though. Barber even
claims that “chivalry and the worship of fair ladies are so intimately bound up as to
become almost indistinguishable”101. Indeed, the concept of courtly love is another
important characteristic of medieval society, or at least its literature.
As we have seen, the woman remained in the background up to and
including the eleventh century, at least in the Western tradition. Consequently, the
subject of love did not feature on the ‘to do’ list of early medieval writers. This
changes around the end of the eleventh century102. The origin of this new position
of the woman is a rather mysterious one. Several authors note that there was no
earlier or contemporary culture from which this new development was derived103.
There was, however, a change in attitude towards women as maintained by the
Church. In the first centuries of its existence, the Catholic Church “was strongly
biased against women”104. However, the worship of Mary formed a first step
towards a more positive view. Although “as individuals [they] were highly
regarded”105, in general the literature retained its anti-feminist character106.
Consequently the influence of the Church did not represent a major step in the new
attitude towards women and the new subject of courtly love.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.71.
Michael Delahoyde, “Courtly love”. <>
See for instance; Debora B. Schwartz, Backgrounds to Romance: “Courtly love”
< engl513/courtly/courtly.htm> (01/07/2007); and Delahoyde,
“Courtly love”.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.73.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.73.
Delahoyde, Courtly love.
Roman literature and culture did not contribute much either; although love
themes occur, they are of a completely different kind than courtly love. Michael
Delahoyde lists a number of examples. The love between Dido and Aeneas, for
instance, “always reads like eros – hot lust”107 whereas Ovid’s Ars Amatoria is an
ironic108 “take-off on more serious [love] manuals”109. In other words, the
appearance of courtly love was not an immediate evolution; therefore its roots have
to be sought not long before the first expression of courtly love. Indeed, there is a
general consensus that the situation in southern France was the immediate cause110.
Due to the increasing importance of court life, women finally received more
attention than before. The emergence of courtly love can be linked to this in a
number of ways. The twelfth century was less characterized by war than the
previous ones111, which meant that the main focus of literature shifted from the
battlefield to the knight in non-violent surroundings, that is to say, either his own
house or castle, or that of his lord or king. In times of peace up to one third of the
time was spent at the court of the knight’s lord or king112. As head of the household,
the woman held a prominent place, yet out of reach to the knight113. This formed the
basis of the aspect of longing so typical of courtly love literature.
The court was also the place where this literature was recited. Because of the
predominantly female audience poets had to adjust their subject matter in order to
come up with something that would be interesting for women114. Debora B.
Schwartz explains that, consequently, “[t]he narratives still concern the deeds of
brave warriors, but the Middle English knight (unlike the Old English thane) is
motivated by love for his lady.”115
The road to success for the courtly lover was a very long one – sometimes
even endless, for success was certainly not attained every time. Although written in
a comic style, Michael Delahoyde’s description of the process captures its essence
Delahoyde, Courtly love.
Delahoyde, Courtly love.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.72.
Compare: Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.73-74; Delahoyde, Courtly love; and Schwartz,
Backgrounds to Romance.
Kooper, Middle English.
Kooper, Middle English.
Kooper, Middle English.
Schwartz, Backgrounds to Romance.
Schwartz, Backgrounds to Romance.
well. It is an adaptation of the famous work The Art of Courtly Love116, written by
Andreas Capellanus117 in the late twelfth century. Debora Schwartz, however,
remarks that this work is already in itself “a satire mocking the conventions of
courtly love”118. During the first stages – which could take up quite some time – the
lady was not even aware of the fact that a knight had developed a special interest in
her119. When the lady finally did find out about the knight’s intentions, and
providing the latter behaved courteously, she then presented him with small
rewards, ranging from a first smile to a girdle120. After a long time and many
efforts, the knight was – hopefully – able to reap the rewards. As the Middle
English examples indicate, the ideal of courtly love expanded beyond the borders of
the troubadour and trouvère culture and reached the other side of the Channel – as
well as Germany (at that time known as the Holy Roman Empire) and Italy. The secular orders
As has been briefly pointed out, the downfall of the religiously inspired orders
meant the time had come for the secular orders to shine. These were very different
in nature. Perhaps the most famous example is the Order of the Garter, although it is
a rather exceptional example; whereas most orders were relatively short-lived, the
Order of the Garter has been in existence for more than 600 years now121. The
description of a secular order as “a skilful interweaving of politics and chivalry”122
adequately describes its nature – that is, in the case of the large orders. The example
of the Order of the Garter embodies this perfectly. It was a small and exclusive
order which “combined with its main purpose, the furtherance of chivalry, those of
The original Latin title, De Amore, did not include the courtly aspect. Compare: Capellanus,
< authors/andreas/de_amore.html> (01/07/2007).
He was also known as André le Chapelain. Encyplopaedia Britannica.
Schwartz, Backgrounds to Romance.
See for instance The Knight’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales. Arcite and Palamon, both locked
up in a tower, fall in love with Emelye, whom they can see through the window. Emelye is
completely unaware of the two brothers’ interest. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Knight’s Tale, ed. by L. D.
(01/07/2007). ll.1074-1077.
Delahoyde, Courtly love. A good example here can be found in Sir Gawain and the Green
Knight, in which Gawain is given a girdle. However, in this case it is the lady who is trying to seduce
the knight.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.306.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.305.
religion and charity”123. Maurice Keen confirms this view, stating that both secular
virtue and “contact with the church”124 are important aspects of the secular orders.
The Order of the Garter was highly influential, and through their tactic of including
important persons from non-English territories, the Order attempted to expand the
network of nations friendly to the English cause125. Jealousy between orders of this
calibre was not uncommon, as the foundation of the Order of the Star in France
showed. Whereas the Order of the Garter prided itself on the limited number of 26
members, the Order of the Star wanted to express splendour by having hundreds of
Not all the orders, however, were as important as the ones in the examples
cited above; also, most of them did not have political goals. Some of the orders had
as their main occupation sport and play, or courtly love127. This becomes especially
clear in Keen’s description of the three different types of lay confraternities128. As
this is not our main concern, this distinction will not be discussed elaborately. One
important aspect, though, concerns the fact that, regardless of the type of secular
order or lay confraternity – for some of the lesser confraternities were indeed rather
crude in nature129, great or small, long-lasting or short-lived130 – they “were [all]
geared to a single, central end, the celebration of martial prowess”131. Despite these
forms of community feelings the knight remained primarily an individual with a
personal goal, namely the achievement of honour both for himself and for the
woman he had chosen as the object of his devotion.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.305.
Keen, Chivalry, p.177.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.305.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.304-306.
Keen, Chivalry, p.186. Indeed the influence of literature is an important one, as the focus on
courtly love already suggests. See Keen, Chivalry, p.194.
The term ‘lay confraternity’ has been chosen to stress the difference with the primarily religiously
inspired orders. Keen, Chivalry, p.180.
Keen, Chivalry, p.197.
Some orders disappeared after long periods of inactivity, others included in their statutes that they
would exist for a limited time only, such as jousting brotherhoods or Turniergesellschaften.
However, these statutes could be renewed to increase the lifespan of the confraternity in question.
Keen, Chivalry, p.186-187.
Keen, Chivalry, p.198.
1.3. Scott’s outlook on chivalry
As said before, Scott’s Essay on Chivalry provides an interesting – and extensive –
view of what the notion of chivalry meant to him132. Scott always prided himself on
being well-informed; in this case that seems to be completely true. Most of what has
been discussed so far in this chapter can also be found in Scott’s article. It is
therefore not my intention to discuss every last detail; instead, the discussion will
concentrate on those aspects which have either remained unmentioned – sometimes
because they only appear in Scott’s article – or which are truly characteristic of the
way in which he defined chivalry.
Scott distinguishes between “the primitive sense”133, with which he refers to
“cavalry, or a body of soldiers serving on horseback”134, and “the peculiar meaning
given to the word in modern Europe”135. In addition to the aspects of chivalry we
have already discussed, Scott emphasizes a number of additional elements.
Throughout the essay he stresses the darker facets and side-effects of chivalry as
well. Two considerable dangers mentioned by Scott are the following: first of all, in
his discussion of the values of “generosity, gallantry, and an unblemished
reputation”136 he remarks that “in actual practice, every institution becomes
deteriorated and degraded”137. As will become clear later on, this critical view is
also to be found in The Talisman, especially in the characters of Montserrat and the
Grand Master of the Templars. A second point concerns the later development of
the religious influence on chivalry. In practice, Scott argues, these are conflicting
forces; indeed “religion [acted] not as a check upon the horrors and crimes of war,
but as itself its most proper and legitimate cause”138. According to Scott, this is the
disgrace of the Great Age of Discovery; the merciless killing of non-Christians in
the New World was, Scott reckons, a direct consequence of these conflicting
interests139. Whereas the medieval ideas and ideals of chivalry were indeed
Scott himself absolutely loved soldiering and even formed his own cavalry troop. See Sutherland,
The life of Walter Scott, p.61 and pp.66-67.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.195.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.195.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.195.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.199.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.199.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.203.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.203.
praiseworthy, they were sadly often not reflected in practice, where they tended “to
degenerate into a ferocious propensity to bigotry, persecution, and intolerance”140.
Although Scott writes that religious motivation is the most important
influence on the knight, the subject of courtly love is described much more
elaborately than that of religion. He finds the origins of the devotion to women with
“the northern tribes”141, who, despite always being and having been depicted as
unmannered, almost beast-like warrior troops, were very advanced when it came to
attitudes towards women142. The courteous and respectful behaviour that was
maintained in the exchange of social contacts between the sexes allowed for a very
different society than those in which women became “willing, and accommodating
slaves of the voluptuousness of the other sex”143 and men “first indifferent, then
harsh and brutal, to the unfortunate slaves of their pleasures”144. The Scandinavian
Sagas contain many examples of the devotion of a man to his chosen woman; the
high position of the Scandinavian woman was not just material from stories and
fairytales: women were indeed highly regarded there145. The transposition of these
attitudes onto medieval society can thus explain the popularity of events such as
tournaments, where, as we have seen, the honour of a lady was often the main prize
and was even more of a motivation to perform well than the knight’s own glory146.
Scott’s view on the importance of women is summed up nicely in the following
passage – notwithstanding the small tinge of dramatic exaggeration.
Without such an empress of his heart, a knight […] was a ship without a rudder, a
horse without a bridle, a sword without a hilt; a being, in short, devoid of the ruling
guidance and intelligence, which ought to inspire his bravery, and direct his
It may be clear from this description as well as from the passage on the process of
courtly love – which corresponds essentially with what has been said before as well
as with the discussion of courtly love in The Talisman – that Scott was an advocate
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.205.
These consist of the Germans and the Scandinavians. Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.205.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, pp.205-207.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.205.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.205.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.207.
That is, the two are obviously connected, but the knight’s main concern was to do well for the
lady; personal glory only came after that.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.208-209.
of these high ideals. Stories which mocked these ideals or celebrated their opposites
did not escape Scott’s blame. The Canterbury Tales, known to most people for the
fabliau stories, were deemed “improper to recite”148.
Having ensured he worked hard enough for both God and his lady, the
knight could finally upgrade his own honour and glory – but, again, this was already
partially achieved while devoting himself to his lady. In Scott’s article as well this
mainly comes down to a – very detailed – description of the different forms of
tournaments. Tournaments allowed the knights both to gain and display their
honour. Another way to display honour was by guarding a passageway, such as a
bridge, letting people pass only if they acknowledged the honour of the knight and
the beauty of his lady; if they did not, a personal fight would ensue149. There existed
of course also a different kind of glory, namely notoriety. Bands of medieval
highwaymen were often led by knights, who “pretended that in their lawless license
they only exercised the rights of Chivalry, which permitted […] its votaries to make
war without any authority but their own”150.
One of the reasons why Scott attached so much importance to the rules of
chivalric behaviour is because “from the wild and overstrained courtesies of
Chivalry has been derived our present system of manners”151. This concludes the
discussion of Scott’s description of the nature of chivalry. A few other aspects are
touched upon by Scott, but they do not fall into the scope of the subject we are
concerned with here. Any useful small details left out here will be mentioned under
the appropriate heading in Part II, which contains the analysis of The Talisman.
1.4. The decline of chivalry
The title of this paragraph is a problematic one; Maurice Keen believes it would be
better to speak of a change in nature rather than of a decline152. Either way the fact
remains that chivalry, as we have seen in our discussion, ceased to exist at some
point. Indeed, this did not happen overnight. Ferguson even writes about the Indian
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.216.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.219. Variants of this topos are to this day a popular way of
representing –sometimes mockingly – the Middle Ages.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.243.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.220.
Keen, Chivalry, p.238.
summer of chivalry, which took place in early sixteenth century Tudor England153.
The list of causes of decline – or ‘change in nature’ – is long and varied.
A good starting point can be found in our initial stereotypical image of
chivalry, namely that of the knight in full armour. New weapons and strategies were
introduced onto the battlefield of the late Middle Ages, the most important being
without a shadow of a doubt the use of gunpowder. The use of (primitive) guns and
cannon caused an evolution that was the exact opposite of the evolutions during the
preceding centuries. The increasing power and effectiveness of weapons had
brought about the need for body armour that became ever thicker154. Guns and
cannon, however, were strong enough to penetrate the armour, rendering it entirely
useless against these forms of attack. The spreading of these weapons thus caused
the armour to disappear almost completely, and in the rare cases it was retained, it
only had limited functions155. A second consequence was that the lance, one of the
most important symbols of the knight, disappeared almost completely from the
battlefield as well156. A third military reason lay in the type of army that was used in
battle. At the end of the Middle Ages standing armies had started to replace the
traditional army157. This had a number of consequences. The king had a more
manageable army at his disposal158, whereas knights, “arriving and departing from
the host at pleasure […] and engaging in frequent brawls with each other, rather
weakened than aided the cause they professed to support”159. The flipside of a
permanent army was of course that it required a lot of money, which had to come
from – sometimes very harsh – taxations160.
The change in spirit that caused the end of chivalry can also be traced in
literature. The most famous and influential work from the period marking the
decline of chivalry161 is of course Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The image of Don
Quixote fighting windmills because he believes they are giants forms a direct attack
Arthur B. Ferguson, The Indian Summer of English Chivalry: Studies in the Decline and
Transformation of Chivalric Idealism, Durham: Duke University Press, 1960. See also Keen,
Chivalry, p.238.
Keen, Chivalry, p.243.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.252.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.252.
Keen, Chivalry, p.240-241; Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.252-253.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.253.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.252.
Keen, Chivalry, p.243.
This period is to be situated around 1500-1600. Keen, Chivalry, p.238.
on the chivalric concept and ideals in general and on the unrealistic protagonists of
medieval romances in particular162. Sancho Panza, on the other hand, remains
realistic and perceives everything like it is163. However, Don Quixote is more than
just an ironic take on chivalry, for “[if Cervantes] began by satirising the mere
formulae of chivalry, he ends by hinting at alternative views of life”164. The days of
the great chivalric romances having been long gone, their place was taken by a new
genre, which was typical of the modern Europe of the Renaissance: the novella.
Initially a specialty developed in the great Italian cities, the novella “has little
sympathy for either knight or bourgeois”165. These stories also spread much more
quickly than the romances a few ages earlier. Indeed, the invention of printing
techniques allowed for a wide distribution of materials166.
Political reasons also played a role in the decline. In this context Scott refers
to the nature of the large-scale national conflicts, being in the case of England the
Wars of the Roses167. Whereas in conflicts between different nations the spirit of
chivalry was normally well respected, this was, according to Scott, not true for
conflicts within one country’s boundaries; these wars “were of a nature so bitter and
rancorous, as was utterly inconsistent with the courtesy, fair play, and gentleness,
proper to Chivalry”168. Political and religious matters met each other in the decline
of the Crusade. Keen lists a number of reasons for this decline. The later Crusades
produced few or no results, which caused the enthusiasm of the participants to
diminish169. Then, from the end of the fifteenth century onwards, the great
expeditions moved beyond the boundaries of the Old World; the Americas, India
and Africa mainly replaced the Holy City as the main destination170. Finally, the
great religious conflicts of the sixteenth century saw Christians fighting amongst
themselves171, rather than travelling to Jerusalem as a united force.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.322-323.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.323.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.324.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.332.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.334.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.254.
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.254.
Keen, Chivalry, p.251.
Keen, Chivalry, p.251.
Keen, Chivalry, p.251.
A final main cause can be found amongst the social evolutions of
knighthood and nobility. The hereditary nature of later knighthood meant that
“knighthood could be bestowed on an infant, who could not have deserved the
honour, or be capable of discharging its duties”172. Finally, the purely knightly class
became smaller and smaller when the rich trading merchants arrived on the scene.
The latter were in general a lot wealthier than the knights, who had to spend much
of their money on items related to their status as a knight. Intermarrying was usually
seen as the best solution, combining the knight’s title with the merchant’s wealth173.
Knights were no longer the (only) leading class in society; the wealth of the
merchants in the emerging cities enabled the latter to become very powerful as well.
1.5. The status of chivalry
The aim of this paragraph is to briefly look at the status of the notion of ‘chivalry’.
We have now analyzed its main aspects but the question as to its real impact on
society remains. In this context the influence of literature was of major importance,
for several reasons. First of all, lives and adventures of knights were often written
down by clerks174, which in a way removed the facts beyond the boundaries of
reality. Ironically, this can also be said of Walter Scott himself; the biography
written by J.G. Lockhart, his son-in-law, has often been criticized for the
embellishment of certain aspects of Scott’s life175.
For the most part, chivalrous societies did not have idealistic goals.
Influenced by literature, romance and lustre were added and everything became
glamorized in order to conform to the ideals of chivalry176. The influence of
literature was perhaps the most important influence on both the conception and the
nature of the chivalric orders177.
The nature of chivalry was already during its own days a problematic one.
Early fifteenth century writer Alain Chartrier attacked the knights for their
Scott, Essay on Chivalry, p.249.
Kooper, Middle English.
Together with the monks who worked as copyists they were among the few groups of people who
knew how to write.
This remark recurs, for instance, throughout Sutherland’s The life of Walter Scott.
Keen, Chivalry, p.190.
Keen, Chivalry, p.194.
behaviour and way of living. The criticism concerning the life of ease and the
acquisition of wealth through war are but the tip of the iceberg in his works178. All
the aspects of central importance to knightly life are attacked; even the knight’s
behaviour as a warrior is heavily criticized. The problem is the respect between
knights of different nations, for “a knight’s job is to fight his country’s foe, not
fraternise with them”179. Literature was heavily criticized for its lack of realism, and
courtly love underwent the same treatment180. The reason for this is clear; in the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the main yardstick for criticism was realism181,
and it was exactly in this department that courtly love was lacking, for “courtly love
bears no relation to what actually goes on”182.
Finally, chivalry had nothing at all to do with the common people. The
courteous behaviour knights maintained towards women and fellow knights was
certainly not reflected in the treatment of serfs.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.329.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.329.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.331.
The novella or short story (literally something like ‘news item’) satisfied the demand for realism.
The best example of the new realistic story can be found in the genre that has already briefly been
mentioned, namely the fabliau, which was definitely the most down-to-earth of all genres.
Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, p.331.
1.6. Conclusion
Whether seen as a list of commendable ideals or just plain unrealistic nonsense, the
fact remains that chivalry is a multi-facetted notion. In his primary function the
knight served as a warrior. Aristocratic in nature, he was very powerful, owing
obedience to only two higher levels on the medieval pyramid of society, namely the
King, as the earthly representative of God, and possibly, higher nobles, such as
earls. When not on the battlefield, the knight was often found at the royal court and
there as well, special rules and prescriptions had to be followed, the most wellknown of which were the rules of conduct towards women. The inclusion of
religion in knightly life provided the knight with an additional employer; he was
now in the service of both the king and God or Christ183. The combination of war
and religion introduced a typically medieval phenomenon: the Crusade. This is
reflected in the novel which is the object of our discussion; the backdrop against
which the story of The Talisman unfolds is provided by a series of events from the
Third Crusade184. The foundation of the great orders of chivalry was a consequence
of this; they had to safeguard the routes to Jerusalem and help pilgrims en route.
Another reason why these orders are of importance is the discrepancy between their
vows of abstinence and the luxurious life they harboured in reality. This is again a
nice example of the problematic status of chivalry, with its conflict between ideals
and reality. It is clear from Scott’s Essay on Chivalry that he approves of the high
ideals of chivalry185; as such, it will be interesting to see how they are incorporated
in The Talisman.
In this function the knight was called miles Christi, a knight of Christ. Dictionary of the Middle
Ages, p.302.
The call for the Third Crusade was launched by Pope Gregory VIII in 1187; the main part of the
Crusade itself lasted mainly from 1189 until 1192. Compare Ellis L. Knox, “The Third Crusade”.
<> (01/07/2007).
He obviously regrets the way in which they sometimes appeared in reality.
2. A chivalric disequilibrium186
2.1. Introduction
The aim of this second chapter is to measure the level of chivalry present in each of
The Talisman’s main characters. A short introduction to the causes and main events
of the Third Crusade, which, as has been said in the previous chapter, provides the
backdrop of Scott’s novel, will serve as a useful basis to understand its relevance in
history. After that, the main focus will be on the main characters. Our first port of
call will be the camp of the Crusaders, traditionally seen – at least in Western
society – as very chivalric in nature. In the second part of this chapter, the figure of
Saladin, seen as the embodiment of the oppressor of the Holy Land, will be the
subject of thorough analysis. Scott’s contrast between both parties can then be
compared to the traditional view which portrays the Crusaders as virtuous and
chivalric in nature, while the representatives of the East are usually seen to be the
exact opposite; this analysis will conclude this chapter.
The structure of each character analysis is as follows. As a first step, Scott’s
representation of the character in question will be compared to the real-life
equivalent187. This can already give important clues as to what has been changed by
the author, thus clarifying, partly or completely, his vision on the values that the
particular character stands for in the novel. Indeed, the second step will be to look at
the fictionalized representation of these characters, and to assess them in terms of
chivalrous behaviour, providing textual materials to prove the point. In many cases
comparisons can be made between the way in which characters describe themselves
and how they are seen by the narrator and/or other characters. Two elements that
have been left out are Scott’s view on religion in The Talisman and the discussion
of attitudes towards women in general and courtly love in particular. These topics
will be dealt with in chapters three and four respectively.
Contrary to the word ‘chivalrous’, which refers to polite and honourable behaviour in general, the
term ‘chivalric’ is used to indicate values connected to chivalry in the medieval sense.
The historical account of the characters will be limited to major and relevant elements; it does not
fit within the scope of this dissertation, nor is it our aim, to provide an extensive account of the lives
of these characters.
2.2. The Third Crusade
It is not the aim of this paragraph to provide an exhaustive overview of every single
participant and event of the Third Crusade. Other, specialized works can do this
more adequately than would be possible here. Furthermore, the events described in
The Talisman are mostly fictional. What this paragraph does aim at is to briefly
discuss a number of elements that are relevant for the analysis of Scott’s novel188.
The direct cause of the Third Crusade was the fall of a number of Eastern
cities, Jerusalem being the most important one189. The new pope, Gregory VIII190,
launched the call to liberate Jerusalem in 1187. As said earlier, the main part of the
Crusade lasted from 1189 until 1192191. As in Scott’s novel, the two main leaders
were Philip II, King of France, and especially Richard I, King of England. Further
historical characters also making an appearance in the novel include Archduke
Leopold of Austria, Conrad of Montferrat192 and Henry of Champagne – although
the latter is barely mentioned in the novel. The Muslim armies were led by Saladin,
the other great figure of the Third Crusade. As in The Talisman, Richard and
Saladin are generally seen as the figureheads of the Third Crusade193. The Third
Crusade did not achieve its goal; Jerusalem was not recaptured. However, as
befitted his generosity, Saladin drew up a treaty which allowed Christian pilgrims to
journey to the Holy Sepulchre. Again, this is only a very selective and summary
overview presenting the major characters. Not only are the actions in The Talisman
mostly fictional, the story could not have taken place in the period suggested in the
novel. It is suggested that the events take place not long before the establishment of
the treaty; by that time, however, Philip had long departed for France again.
The main source for this overview is the excellent article from The On-line Reference Book for
Medieval Studies. Ellis L. Knox, “The Third Crusade”. <
thirdcru.html> (01/07/2007).
At least from a religious point of view, for, indeed, the primary goal of the Third Crusade was the
liberation of the Holy City of Jerusalem. Knox, “The Third Crusade”.
Legend has it that his predecessor, Urban III, died upon hearing the news of the fall of Jerusalem.
However, the news reached Rome only after Urban III’s death. Raymund Webster and Carol
Kerstner, “Pope Urban III”, in The Catholic Encyclopedia, ed. by Kevin Knight.
<> (24/06/2007).
An earlier attempt by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa had stranded when the
latter drowned. Ellis L. Knox, “The Third Crusade”.
He is known as Conrade of Montserrat in The Talisman.
Paul Crawford, “Crusades. Crusades and Counter-Crusades”. <
religion/crusades/counter_crusade.html> (24/05/2007).
2.3. The virtuous Crusaders?
The traditional view on the concept of the Crusades, in the West at least, consists of
the polarization between the Western Crusaders and the Eastern occupiers, the
former fighting (usually) for the conquest and liberation of Jerusalem, thus creating
a safe route for Christians to travel to the Holy Sepulchre. The view which sees the
Crusaders as fighting for a noble cause and Muslims as aggressive occupiers stems
from the cultural hegemony of the West over the East194. However, the distinction
between both cultures is not the main concern here; instead, the focus lies on the
representation and evaluation of the values characteristic of chivalry. In other
words, the difference between the Crusaders and the Saracens will – at least at this
point – not be discussed as a cultural phenomenon; instead it will serve to illustrate
Scott’s preoccupation with showing different forms of appearance – both positive
and negative – of the concept of chivalry in itself.
2.3.1. King Richard I
Although in theory the different national armies which together formed the forces of
the Crusades and their respective leaders were supposed to be seen as equals,
Richard I was and still is generally seen as what might be termed the most equal of
the Christian leaders. This privileged position did not go down very well with the
other leaders of the Crusades195. In his own days Richard was seen as a courageous
and strong monarch, and to this day these characteristics still form the basis of most
people’s image of Richard196. However, Richard also had his weaknesses197. These
have been especially stressed from the seventeenth century onwards. Until the late
Middle Ages courage and feats of arms were seen as the main criteria on which to
Edward Said, Orientalism, Harmondsworth: Penguin books, 1995. pp.7-9.
Ralph V. Turner and Richard R. Heiser, The reign of Richard Lionheart : ruler of the Angevin
empire, 1189-99, London: Longman, 2000. p.130.
Turner, The reign of Richard Lionheart, pp.1-2. Richard’s courageous nature was the reason he
received the epithet of ‘the Lion-hearted’.
One of Richard’s most shocking decisions was to execute almost 3,000 prisoners after the siege
of Acre, because Saladin did not meet the conditions that had been agreed upon. Compare Kenneth
P. Czech., “Third Crusade: Siege of Acre”. <
3028006.html?page=3&c=y> (26/06/2007).
found the evaluation of a monarch198. However, these values started to lose their
pre-eminence in the 1600s and
[b]y the end of the nineteenth century, scholars, having become preoccupied with
‘nation-building’ and ‘administrative kingship’, had demoted Richard Lionheart to
the category of bad rulers.199
Thus, in the seventeenth century, the image of a violent and uncaring Richard
caused his star to fade. However, Turner and Heiser put things in perspective; in
their opinion, Richard should not be condemned for the reasons we have just
mentioned, for that would be an anachronism200. War was an essential and
unavoidable component of the medieval monarch’s functions, “and Richard could
hardly have ignored [the] threat to his continental possessions or [the] menace to the
Holy Land”201. In other words, the contradicting evaluation of Richard’s fulfilling
his role as a monarch stems from the discrepancy between medieval and more
recent societies.
One of the first character traits Scott ascribes to his fictional version of King
Richard is that of courage, which, as we have seen, is in accordance with the image
that is generally seen as representative of Richard. However, during a considerable
amount of time the English monarch is confined to bed due to “one of those slow
and wasting fevers peculiar to Asia”202. Nevertheless, he continues to be described
as courageous. In itself courage is a positive value, but combined with Richard’s
self-declared weakness – his ambition203 – it forms the basis for the friction and
jealousy maintained by the other leaders towards Richard. However, on multiple
occasions, Richard is described as a jealous person as well. The following example
is a good illustration of his jealousy. Since his illness does not permit him to leave
his sickbed, Richard is no longer able to participate in the meetings of the council,
at which the leaders of the Crusade regularly confer. Thus, his leading role has to be
temporarily taken over by someone else. Unable to reconcile himself with this idea,
he vehemently declines every candidature to replace him, out of pure jealousy and
Turner, The reign of Richard Lionheart, p.3.
Turner, The reign of Richard Lionheart, p.3.
Turner, The reign of Richard Lionheart, p.242.
Turner, The reign of Richard Lionheart, pp.242-243.
Walter Scott, The Talisman, London: Frowde, 1905. p.89.
Scott, The Talisman, p.100.
defence of his own honour204. Richard’s obsession with honour and glory is another
element that helps in depicting him as a medieval man aware of chivalric attitudes.
However, this too can form the basis of conflicts, especially in those cases where
Richard’s search for his own glory is at the expense of the unity of the Crusaders.
This is illustrated in one of the defining actions in the novel, namely the theft of the
English banner. Placed at a higher point than the banners of the other nations, it was
both a showcase for Richard’s – and England’s – honour and a cause of jealousy
from the point of view of the other monarchs. Indeed, when some time before the
theft of the banner the Austrian Archduke places his own banner next to Richard’s,
the latter pulls Austria’s banner from the ground and firmly places his foot on it205.
On a number of occasions Richard expresses his wish and repeats his vow to
carry on with the Crusade, condemning the other leaders who all “seek [their] own
ends”206. However, despite Richard’s intentions, he too seeks his own ends, namely
the augmentation of both his own honour and glory and, consequently, that of
England. His will to improve England’s glory is also proof that he did care for his
home country, which is also clear from the passage in which Richard receives a
letter describing the situation in England and upon reading that Albion is in a state
of uproar and rebellion, he is deeply touched and much saddened by this news207.
However, this is again partly undercut by the addition that these “incidents [were]
mortifying to his pride”208. In other words, his own reputation is still his main
concern. A further passage can be seen as either defending or condemning Richard;
when the hermit of Engaddi predicts that Richard will die soon, the former adds that
he will be buried
without the tears of a people, exhausted by thy ceaseless wars, to lament thee,
without having extended the knowledge of thy subjects, without having done aught
to enlarge their happiness.
Scott, The Talisman, p.97.
Scott, The Talisman, p.186.
Scott, The Talisman, p.272.
Scott, The Talisman, p.313. During Richard’s absence, England, then ruled by Richard’s brother
Count – and later King – John, was not a very desirable place to live. Conflicts between John, Count
Geoffrey Plantagenet and bishop Longchamp, deplorable living conditions for the lower classes,
imposed by the nobility, and the subsequent rebellion proved a heavy burden on and severe test of
England’s unity. See also Turner, The reign of Richard Lionheart, pp.110-140.
Scott, The Talisman, p.313. (my italics)
Scott, The Talisman, p.277.
Richard’s reply is that at least he will have died neither without renown nor without
the lament of his love, Queen Berengaria210. This can indeed be seen as an
indication that he is not really concerned with what his people in England would
think of him; however, it is unlikely when the importance he attaches to honour and
glory is taken into account. This second interpretation is also confirmed by the fact
that Richard sees his reply as “lamentations”211; they (are an attempt to) make up
for the possible loss of honour in England.
However, Richard is not constantly described in negative terms. While he is
indeed depicted as an inferior ruler in comparison to Saladin, he generally appears
as a man struggling with himself and his own values. Richard’s character is shaped
by a lot of conflicting values, which appear under a number of guises. The most
important one concerns the general cause of the Crusade. Richard expresses his
wish to remain united with the other Christian princes212, which is indeed a
necessity if the Crusade is to succeed, and makes this clear to the other leaders
during a remarkable speech upon his recovery. He admits his “rash errors”213 but
convincingly argues that through most of his actions prior to the time span
described in the novel, it was not personal glory that he wished to achieve; instead,
his actions served the Crusade as a whole. An example Richard provides is that
if I have, in the hurry of march or battle, assumed a command over the soldiers of
others, such have been ever treated as my own, when my wealth purchased the
provision and medicines which their own sovereigns could not procure.214
In this instance Richard’s eloquence enables his being placed in a positive light by
the other monarchs again. However, eloquence can in this case be perceived as the
shrewd and thus negative capability to talk oneself out of awkward situations by
diverting the other participants’ attention to Richard’s positive accomplishments. In
the end, Richard is still after personal glory for, no matter what he says, had the
Third Crusade succeeded, Richard would certainly have been remembered as its
Scott, The Talisman, p.277.
Scott, The Talisman, p.277.
Scott, The Talisman, p.275.
Scott, The Talisman, p.294.
Scott, The Talisman, p.294-295.
Richard is thus condemned by his allies because of his “uncurbed
haughtiness”215. On a number of occasions, however, Richard is seen to sincerely
set aside his personal pride. The first instance is when Richard comes to terms with
the French monarch and proffers his hand. Here Richard is described as “humble
and reconciling”216. A second remarkable event occurs during the Crusader troops’
saluting of the new English banner. When Philip climbs the small mount on which
Richard and the banner are situated, Richard descends a number of steps so that the
two monarchs meet in the middle, thus indicating their equality217.
The examples illustrating Richard’s obsession with his own honour and
glory clearly outnumber the instances where he gives up his own stubbornness. He
tries to keep the different parties united but only to help the Crusade succeed in its
goals. If it were not for that, he would love to get rid of the French and Austrians218.
He does have his good sides too; he is not evil-hearted, which clearly sets him apart
from the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, for instance. On the one hand
Richard is a man characterized by pride, luxury, and bloodthirstiness219, on the
other – as Sir Kenneth recognizes – “when unmoved by his heady passions, [he] is
liberal, generous, and truly noble”220. Despite Richard’s obvious flaws, the narrator
as well still refers to him as “the good King Richard”221. He also possesses a
number of refined chivalric qualities, such as his passion for music and poetry222
and the sincere love towards his wife, which was not a common sight in the Middle
Ages, when most royal marriages solely served political and territorial ends. In both
cases, however, these qualities fall just short of “equall[ing] his appetite for warlike
fame”223. This appetite casts a shadow over Richard’s qualities; these, however, are
specifically mentioned as well and aid in moderating the way in which Richard
should be perceived. In terms of chivalry, the essential role of the character of
Richard is to draw the boundary between the intrinsically positive characteristic of
Scott, The Talisman, p.87.
Scott, The Talisman, p.290.
Scott, The Talisman, p.363.
Scott, The Talisman, p.147.
Scott, The Talisman, p.280.
Scott, The Talisman, p.382.
Scott, The Talisman, p.303.
However, this can again be reversed by saying that his praise of the minstrel Blondel might –
partly or completely – originate in the expectation that, in return, the minstrel would depict King
Richard as a refined and sophisticated person.
Scott, The Talisman, p.396.
honour, and the consequences of that characteristic becoming too dominant in
comparison to other essential chivalric characteristics.
2.3.2. Sir Kenneth
Towards the end of Scott’s novel, Sir Kenneth of the Couching Leopard224 is
revealed to be David, Earl of Huntingdon, Prince Royal of Scotland. There was
indeed a historical David, Earl of Huntingdon, who was given the earldom of
Huntingdon by King Richard I225, but this historical Prince David was not a member
of the Third Crusade. This leaves Scott with a lot of freedom in constructing the
fictional David, or Sir Kenneth, who is David’s ‘alter ego’ until the revelation of his
real identity at the very end of the novel.
The novel opens with a scene describing a solitary knight on horseback,
trudging through an endless desert landscape, soon to meet Saladin in disguise.
Despite Richard’s fame in battle, it is Sir Kenneth who immediately sets a masterly
example of skill in mounted battle, eventually defeating Sheerkohf – Saladin’s alter
ego – in “a mêlée in the way of proof of valour”226. Indeed, valour and honour,
important chivalric values as they are, occupy a central place in Sir Kenneth’s life
as well. Contrary to Richard, Sir Kenneth does not allow these specific values to
overpower other key aspects of the ideal chivalric knight’s behaviour.
In fact, at one crucial point he even completely forgets his military honour;
he is lured to the ladies’ tent and abandons his duty of guarding the English banner
after the aforementioned action by the Archduke of Austria. The banner is stolen
during his absence and together with England and Richard, the Scottish knight is
dishonoured by this failure, only narrowly escaping execution for treason. This
contrasts strongly with the two instances in which he is able to achieve honour,
namely during the opening battle already mentioned, and during the judicial duel
near the end. In all three passages, the image of the lance is of special importance,
representing the value of honour. Two elements may serve to prove this point.
The Couching – or Couchant – Leopard’s motto is “I sleep, wake me not.” [Scott, The Talisman,
p.3.] In a joking reference, Scott describes how, already during the first night of Sir Kenneth’s stay
in the grotto of Engaddi, the knight is awoken by the hermit. In the ensuing event Sir Kenneth
catches a glimpse of his loved Lady Edith. [Scott, The Talisman, p.74.]
Turner, The reign of Richard Lionheart, p.108. This is probably how Scott got the idea to include
the character of David in the novel.
Scott, The Talisman, p.124.
Firstly, as we have seen, the lance was the weapon of the tournament, in which
honour, for the knight himself and/or his lady, was the central motive. Secondly, the
analysis of the three scenes mentioned proves this point. During the first battle, in
which Sir Kenneth is described as brandishing his lance, he emerges as the victor227.
The lance is also the means with which Sir Kenneth manages to restore his honour,
winning the judicial duel by unhorsing Conrade of Montserrat228. While still
carrying out his duty of guarding the banner, the Scottish knight is again described
as being in possession of his lance229. When he is lured from his post, he does not
take his weapon with him. When he returns, after the banner has been stolen, the
description of the scene does not include the lance anymore230; it has disappeared
together with the value it stands for – Sir Kenneth’s honour. Sir Kenneth is clearly
devastated by this “breach of military discipline”231; he even sheds bitter tears and
is ashamed to be found by El Hakim232 in such a “womanlike expression of
sorrow”233. He would even like to change places with his dying dog, which was
wounded while fulfilling his duty234. Indeed, already before the theft of the banner
does he indicate that his honour is dearer to him than his life235. Later on, when Sir
Kenneth returns to the camp in the disguise of Zohauk, a mute black slave, he is
seen to have learnt his lesson; he is presented with a visit to Edith236, who
recognizes him but, however much Sir Kenneth longs to speak with her, he remains
silent and thus lives up to the honour that had at this point been granted to ‘Zohauk’
by King Richard.
Apart from that capital mistake, Sir Kenneth is represented as a knight
excelling in the values of chivalry. His bravery saves Richard’s life on two
occasions; he is a proficient and successful warrior as well as a devoted lover and a
At the end of the story, Saladin once more explicitly compliments Sir Kenneth for his honourable
victory. Scott, The Talisman, p.455.
Scott, The Talisman, p.440.
Scott, The Talisman, p.198.
Scott, The Talisman, p.219.
Scott, The Talisman, p.206. Although the English baron Lord de Vaux had started to believe
otherwise, Sir Kenneth’s treason confirms the former’s view that Scots are “ever fair and false”.
Scott, The Talisman, p.121. See also p.235.
El Hakim, the physician, is Saladin’s second disguise. It is in this role that he cures the ailing
King Richard.
Scott, The Talisman, p.220.
Scott, The Talisman, p.222.
Scott, The Talisman, p.201.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.386-387.
faithful Christian237. Whereas knights usually made their rank apparent by indulging
in luxury, this is not the case with Sir Kenneth. This is even more remarkable when
one considers that in reality he is a prince.
Another positive example of un-princely behaviour concerns Sir Kenneth’s
acceptance of the death penalty for abandoning his post. In such a situation, most
princes would reveal their true identity. Sir Kenneth, however, had sworn to himself
to keep his rank secret until the end of the Crusade238. Thus his honour towards
himself is perfectly maintained after his condemnation to death. Indeed, had he not
been rescued by the disguised Saladin, he would undoubtedly have died, for we
have seen Sir Kenneth will prefer honour to his own life. The revelation of his true
identity – that of David, Earl of Huntingdon, Prince Royal of Scotland239 – occurs
before the end of the Crusade, but only because Richard finds out who Sir Kenneth
really is; as such Sir Kenneth does not go back on his promise.
Throughout the story, Sir Kenneth is described as a most virtuous and
chivalric person. Despite the fact that “his slender stock of money had melted
away”240, he does not resort to the detestable practice of ransoming, or indeed,
plainly stealing from Palestinian inhabitants. This single fact already places him
above the bulk of the Crusaders, who do engage in such “ordinary modes”241.
Indeed Sir Kenneth displays a “spirit of chivalry which [is] still pure from all selfish
alloy – generous, [and] devoted”242.
The disguise as Zohauk allows Sir Kenneth to enter the society of chivalry
again, after his figurative fall. Two aspects of this are worth concentrating on. First
of all, it shows that one’s loss of honour is not necessarily a definitive one. Sir
Kenneth is ultimately able to regain his lost honour. It is on purpose that I do not
speak of ‘loss of chivalry’ here, for the Scot’s mistake does not render him any less
chivalrous in other fields. He remains loyal to Edith, despite the fact that, if she was
not already from the start243, she is now completely out of his reach. Also, he
remains unshaken in his Christian belief, despite El Hakim’s many efforts to
As announced, these topics will be discussed in the following chapters.
Scott, The Talisman, p.444.
We will see later on that Scott’s keeping the reader in the dark on the matter of Sir Kenneth’s real
identity is the cause of a number of inconsistencies in the novel.
Scott, The Talisman, p.5.
Scott, The Talisman, p.5.
Scott, The Talisman, p.196.
This is at least what Scott wants us to believe; again, see the section on inconsistencies further on.
persuade him to become a Muslim244. Again, the fact that he does not defect from
the Crusaders but instead accepts his punishment illustrates that, morally, he is still
a chivalrous person. Secondly, the development from Zohauk to Sir Kenneth
exemplifies how his chivalrous nature propels him from the low position of a black
slave into his reawakening as a glorious knight – and, further still, a royal prince.
Scott’s point concerning Sir Kenneth’s behaviour seems to emphasize the
possibility of redemption. The Scottish knight is without doubt a valorous knight
but does indeed fail in executing his task of guarding the banner. However, he does
not abandon his chivalric outlook on life and is able to make a grand return within
the ranks of chivalry. His mistake is a real eye-opener to himself and, indeed, upon
his second assignment, he seems to have learnt his lesson and to have grown in the
spirit of chivalry. He may even have perfected himself.
2.3.3. The Crusading princes
Whereas Sir Kenneth and – to a lesser extent – King Richard can be considered
sufficiently skilled to pass the imaginary test of chivalry – in which the Scot would
clearly surpass the English king – the other leaders of the Crusade ‘help’ to tip the
balance in the opposite direction. Only Philip, the King of France, can be
considered an exception here. He is the only leader who does not try to break the
bonds between the different nations. Philip is indeed seen as a wise man, even by
Richard, which is no common feat to admit if one takes into account the almost
standardized medieval opposition between these two nations. On more than one
occasion it is thanks to Philip and his negotiating skill that the union of the different
Crusading parties is ultimately maintained. The most important example is Philip’s
fruitful attempt to re-establish order between Richard and Archduke Leopold after
the latter’s action of planting his banner next to England’s. When Philip arrives on
the scene, both Richard and Leopold revert to a more befitting attitude in terms of
chivalric behaviour; it is clear that they do not want to lose face in Philip’s
presence245. Admittedly, Philip – like all other Crusaders in the novel – is not
perfect. His main shortcoming is his jealousy vis-à-vis King Richard. Whenever
Scott, The Talisman, pp.223-224.
Scott, The Talisman, p.188.
Philip’s jealousy is described, he erects a façade to hide his true feelings. However,
this can be seen as a central function of a ruler246; in the aforementioned scene in
which Philip accepts Richard’s proffered hand, he downplays his own feelings as
“the jealous king of France”247 in order to reunite the different camps. Significantly,
when the Grand Master voices the concern that Richard’s haughtiness is certainly
not favourable to the cause of the Crusade and the spirit of its participants, a
“murmur of assent […] followed it [and] showed plainly that almost all who were
present acquiesced in the justice of the accusation”248. Importantly, it is said that
almost everyone agreed; bearing in mind Philip’s rational way of thinking, his
exclusion from this group seems very likely. Indeed, despite the fact that the
Crusade “was enforced upon him by the Church, and by the unanimous wish of his
nobility”249 he works hard to keep the expedition together. King Philip acutely
realises the importance of diplomacy, the value which can be seen to be central in
fashioning his character.
Leopold, the Austrian Archduke, delivers a severe blow to the unity of the
Crusaders; his dishonouring of the English banner leads to the conflict between
England and the other nations. Of course, tensions between the different parties
already existed, but Leopold’s action causes it to surface in a violent way. However,
Leopold cannot be considered an intrinsically evil person. In fact, Leopold “did not
wish to breed dissension in the army of the Cross”250. Like the other leaders
discussed so far, Leopold wishes the Crusade to be a success, and thus lends his full
support – at least initially. However, Leopold can be seen as a flawed person in
terms of chivalric behaviour for a number of reasons. A first – and by now
unsurprising – character trait is Leopold’s jealousy, which partly originates in a
feeling of inferiority in comparison with Philip and, especially, Richard; they are
kings whereas Leopold is ‘merely’ a duke. This is the main reason he plants his
banner next to that of England. This action also shows that Leopold is certainly not
lacking in courage; the narrator even states that there are “no braver men than the
Philip is indeed depicted as “a politician rather than a warrior”. Scott, The Talisman, p.188.
Scott, The Talisman, p.289.
Scott, The Talisman, p.293.
Scott, The Talisman, p.188.
Scott, The Talisman, p.178.
Germans”251. However, the courage displayed by the Archduke in this instance is
mainly the result of his use of alcohol, which is clearly seen to raise his spirits252.
Indeed, already in the first scene with the Archduke, the cliché of Austro-German
culture is confirmed; Leopold is seen enjoying a copious meal accompanied by
large amounts of wine253. A further cause of the Archduke’s decision concerning
the banner has to do with the fact that he is highly impressionable – in this case it is
Conrade of Montserrat who manipulates the Archduke254. In each case where
Leopold wants his pride to shine, he fails miserably; the planting of the banner ends
up as a complete disaster255, and the stubborn refusal to accept Richard’s offer of
reconciliation does not yield the desired result either256. Leopold is also the first
leader to announce to the council his intention to abandon the Crusade257. Whereas
Sir Kenneth’s pattern of chivalry starts at a high level, takes a deep fall, and
ultimately returns to the original level, Leopold’s pattern is purely a downward
curve, starting at a fairly respectable level – although clearly not on the same level
as Sir Kenneth’s – but then declines due to a number of decisions conflicting with
the ideals of chivalry, ultimately leading him to express his wish to leave the
‘showcase of chivalry’ that the Crusade should have been. He is not able to start
anew; he keeps making mistakes. As such, the Archduke is shown to be a character
displaying a lack of insight and perseverance.
Conrade of Montserrat is to be found lower still on the chivalric ladder.
While the initial description shows Conrade as a person possessing both qualities
and deficiencies, the latter are of a more serious nature than the former: he is
described as handsome as well as “sagacious in council, gay and gallant”258 yet “he
was generally accused of versatility, of a narrow and selfish ambition, of a desire to
extend his own principality, […] and of seeking his own interest”259. Indeed, his
avarice is the main reason why he hopes the Crusade will fail, for “he desires not
Scott, The Talisman, p.186.
Scott, The Talisman, p.170.
Scott, The Talisman, p.170. The representation of the different cultures will be the subject of
closer inspection in Chapter 5.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.171-179.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.186-187.
Scott, The Talisman, p.292.
Scott, The Talisman, p.376.
Scott, The Talisman, p.148.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.148-149.
the restitution of Jerusalem, but rather prefers being master of a portion of its
fragments”260. However, while Conrade is indeed “proud, ambitious, [and]
unscrupulous”261, he is “not cruel by nature”262. Furthermore, he is also represented
as a God-fearing person; the resounding of the cry throughout the camp to
“[r]emember the Holy Sepulchre”263 really startles him, and makes him uncertain
about the plan to sow discord in the Crusaders’ camp. This doubt still lends him an
air of humanity. Before the judicial duel Conrade is seen to have a bleak outlook on
his chances, and when he takes the oath before mounting he knows he is
committing “impious mockery”264. After losing the duel he confesses that he was
the one responsible for the theft of the banner and again asks for a confessor265.
Conrade is indeed not a cruel person; instead, he exhibits a general weakness.
Nevertheless, his honesty in the end and his will to co-operate leave room for
possible redemption. In marked contrast to his cowardly theft of the banner, which
happened at night, Conrade even exhibits a glimmer of courage; he is willing to
reveal the dark plots that threaten the Crusade despite the fact that, in doing so, it
might endanger his own life.
Redemption is certainly no option for Giles Amaury, Grand Master of the
Knights Templar. Contrary to all the other leaders of the Crusade he does not
possess a single humane, let alone chivalric, value. This is also reflected in his
physical appearance; he is depicted as a “tall, thin and war-worn man”266. His
questionable behaviour, which is certainly at odds with the values Christianity
stands for, will be further discussed in chapter three; here the focus will be on his
chivalric qualities – or indeed, the lack thereof. We have seen that Leopold’s
decision to plant his own banner next to England’s was not entirely his own
decision – Conrade’s influence played a crucial role. Arguably Conrade finds
himself in the same situation. It is the Grand Master who convinces Conrade to
carry on with the plan. The Grand Masters’s memorable words with which he
manages to eliminate Conrade’s doubts and win him over are the following: “Yet
Scott, The Talisman, pp.159-160.
Scott, The Talisman, p.166.
Scott, The Talisman, p.166.
Scott, The Talisman, p.166.
Scott, The Talisman, p.438.
Scott, The Talisman, p.440.
Scott, The Talisman, p.148.
and but […] are words for fools: wise men neither hesitate nor retract – they resolve
and they execute.”267 The plan itself is of the most cowardly level imaginable: the
Grand Master’s intention is to let a prisoner escape, allow him to kill his own page
– the Grand Master wanted to get rid of him anyway – and let him assassinate the
king. This clearly illustrates the moral difference between Conrade and the Grand
Master; the plan of the former is innocent in the sense that no one is to be physically
harmed, whereas the Grand Master’s plan comes down to regicide. In comparison to
the Grand Master, Conrade is almost a saint. The scene of the judicial duel forms
the climax of the Grand Master’s dreadful behaviour. He chases away the hermit of
Engaddi while he is taking Conrade’s confession and sends the latter to battle in the
hope that he will meet his end there, so that he will never be able to reveal the
Grand Master’s sinister plans. This is also his motive for eventually killing the
wounded Conrade. Like his plan to kill Richard, this final deed is steeped in
cowardice and secrecy. The Templar’s own death at the hands of Saladin later on
marks the end of this character who was the living embodiment of all negative
values connected to the ideal of chivalry. Indeed, the Grand Master is chivalry’s
complete antagonist.
Although not a leader of a Crusading party, one final character deserves
some more attention, namely the English baron Lord de Vaux. His central virtue is
without any doubt his prowess268. Throughout the novel Lord de Vaux is described
as a capable knight and a good man, who does in fact nothing wrong but does not
display any other good qualities either. He is certainly no courtier and is not very
refined; the English baron is well aware of this, hence his exclamation that “[he]
can neither use many words, nor [does he] delight in listening to them”269. He
would, however, do anything for his lord, including offering his own life if it could
save Richard’s. This is apparent from his concern and distrust vis-à-vis the figure of
El Hakim, especially since they are in “a land where the art of poisoning is as
general as that of cooking”270. His bluntness also shines through in the
aforementioned quotation regarding the false nature of Scots. However, the
character of Sir Kenneth somewhat changes his ideas on this matter. Indeed, when
Scott, The Talisman, p.299.
Scott, The Talisman, p.91.
Scott, The Talisman, p.152.
Scott, The Talisman, p.111.
Sir Kenneth is sentenced to death, Lord de Vaux exhausts all – indirect – means to
convince the Scot to ask Richard for mercy. De Vaux is genuinely convinced that
Sir Kenneth is neither a coward nor a traitor271. His lack of refinement is also clear
from his reaction to the presence of the apparently famous minstrel Blondel –
although he does manage to produce a well-conceived witty remark at this point272.
Lord de Vaux is a good man and a representative of chivalry, but only in the
military sense273; the other, more refined associations are clearly lacking.
2.4. The noble Saladin
Whereas no Crusader is depicted as displaying perfectly chivalric behaviour, it is
difficult to find any flaw in the character of Saladin. Indeed Saladin is portrayed as
being superior to King Richard. Already his physical appearance suggests that he is
of a different stature – both literally and figuratively – when compared to the
Crusaders; he is thin and slender274, whereas most Crusaders are of the huge and
bulky type275. However, whereas Saladin’s military tactics and insight are very
proficient – exemplified by the way in which he is able to outwit the evil and hostile
Templars patrolling the desert276 – he is nevertheless somewhat less skilled when it
comes to fighting on horseback: in his initial encounter with Sir Kenneth, Saladin is
rather easily defeated277. He is also seen to tell a lie on two occasions, but this
cannot be considered ‘un-chivalric’ behaviour; in both cases he lies about his skills
as a physician, claiming he “can but use human means”278. This is in fact a wise
statement rather than one which should be condemned, for the Grand Master is
present as well. It would indeed be foolish to explain the true nature of his healing
skills, which lies in the talisman mentioned in the novel’s title, in the presence of a
man as dangerous and unscrupulous as the Grand Master.
Scott, The Talisman, p.241.
Scott, The Talisman, p.393.
This includes his faithfulness to King Richard.
Scott, The Talisman, p.19.
See, for instance, the descriptions of Sir Kenneth, King Richard, Lord de Vaux, the Archbishop of
Tyre, and the Grand Master of the Knights Templar. Scott, The Talisman, pp.17-18, p.419, p.92,
p.129, and p.148 respectively.
Scott, The Talisman, p.341.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.8-9.
Scott, The Talisman, p.151.
Indeed, through all the virtues he displays, the figure of Saladin himself is
the reason why the East is presented as superior to the Europeans. Again, this will
be discussed later on, for at present Saladin’s chivalric behaviour is our main
concern. Apart from the extremely prejudiced Grand Master, whose disgust with
Muslims does not allow him to see any good in the character of Saladin, the
Crusading princes describe Saladin, in all three guises, in laudatory terms, except
for his – at least in the eyes of the Crusaders – regrettable choice of religion, which
cannot but make him the enemy of the Crusade. Thus Saladin is seen as “a generous
and valiant enemy”279 and even, in King Richard’s words, as “an example to them
who account themselves the flower of knighthood”280.
Saladin’s most remarkable and admirable quality is his apparently
inexhaustible generosity. This is especially apparent in his guise as the physician El
Hakim. His actions are remarkable for two reasons; first of all, he ventures into the
enemy’s camp and, although disguised, he remains the leader of the Saracens, and
as such puts this vital function at stake. Secondly, he does not enter the camp to
wreak havoc amongst his enemies; instead, he saves two lives, namely that of Sir
Kenneth’s servant281 and, crucially, King Richard’s282. Any other enemy would no
doubt seize such an opportunity to put and end to the life of so powerful an enemy,
whereas Saladin actually puts an end to his enemy’s illness283. At first sight it may
seem simple to provide a cure for the illness; the magical talisman does all the
work. Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that things are not so
simple; as explained on the very last page of the novel, the transferral of the
talisman to other persons causes a decline of the talisman’s powers284. In other
words, the talisman derives its power from the person who uses it, and the fact that
the talisman never produced any cure as powerful as when Saladin applied it285, is
Scott, The Talisman, p.109.
Scott, The Talisman, p.180.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.132-134.
El Hakim remarks that curing a king does not differ in any way from curing a beggar. Scott, The
Talisman, p.134.
This generosity apparently characterized the historical Saladin as well; during one battle, “[w]hen
Richard’s horse was killed out from under him, Saladin sent two to replace it, saying that it was not
fit for so gallant a foe not to have a mount”. Knox, “The Third Crusade”.
Scott, The Talisman, p.458.
Scott, The Talisman, p.458.
an indication of the extreme virtuousness of the Saracen286. Saladin’s curing of
Richard can be contrasted to the Grand Master’s attempt to kill the English king.
This contrast is reflected in the eyes of both characters; Saladin’s “[gleam] with
unusual lustre”287 whereas the Grand Master has a “slow yet penetrating eye, and a
brow on which a thousand dark intrigues had stamped a portion of their
Not only does Saladin restore the health of both Sir Kenneth’s servant and
the King of England, he also does everything that is in his power in order to rescue
Sir Kenneth from certain death after his failure to guard the banner – and succeeds,
after an elaborate appeal to Richard289. What is more, El Hakim – or Saladin – even
aids Sir Kenneth in regaining his lost honour by disguising the latter as the slave
Zohauk. In this disguise Sir Kenneth can appear before King Richard again and –
after the judicial duel – ultimately succeeds in recovering his lost valour. Whereas
the Grand Master violates numerous laws in executing his evil plans, Saladin bends
the law in order to achieve virtuous results, like saving Sir Kenneth from being
Saladin is also a very considerate host. This becomes clear for the first time
when the dishonoured Sir Kenneth290, after a day’s travelling in the company of the
disguised Saladin and his troop, wakes up after a refreshing night and finds himself
in the most luxurious surroundings imaginable291. This is especially remarkable
when one considers that at this point Sir Kenneth is technically a slave – although
he is never treated as one by Saladin. Indeed, the contrast between this situation and
his living conditions in the Crusader camp, where he was very poorly lodged, is
striking. The treatment Sir Kenneth receives from Saladin also serves a potential
religious conversion, as will become clear in the next chapter. The reception of the
small troop of Crusaders before the judicial duel is another scene confirming
Saladin’s reputation as a generous host292. The sheer richness of the banquet offered
This also explains why the talisman would lose its powers if Saladin “exchange[d] its virtues
either for gold or diamonds.” Scott, The Talisman, p.180.
Scott, The Talisman, p.115.
Scott, The Talisman, p.148.
Scott, The Talisman, p.269.
He must still be called ‘Sir’ for Richard’s judgement states that the Scottish knight may “die
undegraded”. Scott, The Talisman, p.240.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.347-348.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.415-426.
to the Crusaders once again illustrates Saladin’s sincere hospitality. Saladin also
insists on presenting Conrade of Montserrat and his troop with an equally splendid
welcoming, not out of sympathy, obviously, but for the augmentation of his good
name293. The fact that wine is served again demonstrates Saladin’s concern about
the well-being of his guests; Muslims are not allowed to drink wine, but that does
not stop Saladin from offering it to his Christian guests294. The reason why Saladin
eventually kills the Grand Master is, surprisingly as it may seem, exactly this same
care about his good name as a host295. Worryingly, “the marks of the slaughter
[were] concealed with such ready dexterity as showed that the case was not […]
Saladin’s behaviour can thus only be described as exuding chivalry to the
highest degree. He is described as a noble, wise, refined, and exceptionally virtuous
person, which is far more than can be said of any Crusader.
2.5. A lack of unity, the undoing of the Crusaders
The Crusaders’ multitude of characters, each one of them with their own ideas,
stands in total contrast to the absence of any form of such plurality on the part of the
Saracens. One or two small – though not unimportant, as will become clear later on
– exceptions aside, the only Saracen who receives a voice is Saladin himself;
consequently, he is charged with representing the whole Eastern culture on his own.
This decision by Scott can be assumed to stem from the fact that one of the
historical Saladin’s great achievements was the unification of the Eastern tribes297.
This renders Scott’s decision an understandable one. On the other hand,
simplifications like the one presented here inherently neglect the cultural diversity
which continues to exist; the unification of the different tribes did not eradicate
cultural diversity. However, this distinction between plurality and unity – or
Scott, The Talisman, p.424.
Scott, The Talisman, p.424.
Using a clever ploy the Grand Master is revealed as the murderer of Conrade, and seconds before
the cup from which Saladin has just drunk reaches the Templar’s lips, the latter is decapitated by
Saladin. Had he allowed the Grand Master to drink from that same cup, the bond between host and
guest would have prevented Saladin from harming the Grand Master. Scott, The Talisman, pp.454455.
Scott, The Talisman, p.455.
Paul Crawford, “Crusades. Crusades and Counter-Crusades”. <
religion/crusades/counter_crusade.html> (24/05/2007).
singularity – does fulfil a useful function when it comes to the comparison of
chivalry on a larger scale than the personal sphere, to which our analysis has so far
been restricted. Whereas plurality or diversity can seriously enrich societies on the
cultural level, this is – according to Scott at least – not the case in the realm of
The rules of chivalry were, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, welldefined and had as one of their main aims the stability as well as the refinement and
sophistication of (the top levels of) society. A determining aspect of almost every
single branch of chivalry, during banquets as well as on the battlefield, was the
importance of courteous behaviour towards others. In this field the Saracens can be
seen as clearly superior. The argument298 that the difference between the Crusaders’
plurality – read: discord – and the Saracens’ unity stems from the difference in
terms of government between the East and the West, between the united Muslim
world under Saladin’s rule and Europe’s many different nations299, each with their
own interests, can in my opinion be dismissed; originally, the East was as much of a
patchwork of different ethnic groups as Europe. However, contrary to the different
European nations involved in the Crusade, the different Eastern tribes were able to
set aside their personal interests and to unite themselves under Saladin’s banner;
this fact can be seen as the reason why Saladin is the only Saracen300 with a fully
developed personality. The failure of the Western nations to unite under one banner,
in this case Richard’s, is the central reason for the failure of the Crusade as a whole.
In the novel the different leaders are seen to be continuously rowing and plotting
conspiracies rather than taking concrete actions concerning the further
developments of the expedition. Despite the fact that they all are wearing the
cross301, they are as far from being united as they are from home.
Instead of forming a unity with King Richard, the other leaders incessantly
unite against the English monarch302. And instead of condemning Archduke
Leopold’s action of planting his banner next to England’s, the other leaders actually
See the conversation about state structure between Conrade of Montserrat and the Grand Master
of the Knights Templar. Scott, The Talisman, p.159.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.159-162. This was even more the case in medieval Europe, with its many
counties, marquisates, kingdoms, and so on.
Two small exceptions will be discussed later on.
Scott, The Talisman, p.108. A red cross was stitched onto the capes of the participants of a
Scott, The Talisman, p.170.
applaud him for accomplishing something about which they could only dream 303.
The Crusade is referred to as an “undertaking wholly irrational”304 and this is
reflected in the minds of the leaders –they lack the capabilities and the will to
reason rationally, i.e. to take decisions with the eventual goal of the Crusade in
mind, rather than their self-importance. It is true that the failure to come to a
powerful union is hindered to a large extent by evil intentions, especially by the
Grand Master. On the other hand, the actions of the latter can also be seen as
originating in an earlier failure to have the different parties come together.
On a number of occasions a temporal fusion seems to take place. This is for
instance the case when the hermit of Engaddi is preaching to an assembled troop of
Crusaders from all the different nations305. Significantly, there are no leaders
present to express antagonising feelings. This is one of the very few examples of a
genuine, heart-felt unification. On most occasions, however, it is only appearance.
After the aforementioned speech by Richard, his glowing enthusiasm affects first
the other leaders and then spreads to the whole camp306. However, this feeling
“soon faded in the bosom of most and never had an existence in that of others”307.
After Conrade of Montserrat fails to achieve the result he had expected after the
Archduke of Austria’s act of planting the Austrian banner next to England’s,
Conrade is blamed by the Grand Master for having merely “unloosed the bonds”308
between the different nations, adding that they “may again be fastened”309.
However, apart from the temporary success after Richard’s speech, the bonds do
remain unloosed. When Richard dishonours Austria’s banner by placing his foot on
it, he is attacked by an earl but – after Sir Kenneth has deflected the attack with his
shield310 – the King, in an incredible demonstration of his powers hurls away the
attacker311. At this point, peace returns to the camp, but only because of fear for
King Richard, and fear is never a good counsellor. Internalized, the strife continues
to exist. As is often the case, the good things, in this case the fragile union, are soon
Scott, The Talisman, p.185.
Scott, The Talisman, p.189.
Scott, The Talisman, p.282.
Scott, The Talisman, p.296.
Scott, The Talisman, p.297.
Scott, The Talisman, p.194.
Scott, The Talisman, p.194.
Scott, The Talisman, p.186.
Scott, The Talisman, p.187.
lost, whereas the incidents with the banner and the accusation of Conrade continue
to linger on in everybody’s mind312. Worse still, the appeal to Saladin to find a
location to organize the judicial duel indeed reveals “to [the] enemy the unhappy
spirit of discord which we [i.e. the Crusaders] would willingly hide from even
ourselves, were it possible”313.
Whereas the Crusaders form an incoherent mix of dissimilar interests and
values, the Saracens are presented as a perfect amalgam with one main interest.
Thus, the Crusaders’ many nationalities and leaders stand in marked contrast to
Saladin, the single leader of the united Muslim tribes. However, two other persons
are singled out from the Eastern unity. The first is Hassan, “story-teller and poet by
profession”314. His function in the story is merely to reinforce the opinion that
Saladin is a refined person, who, like his Western counterpart Richard, appreciates
the fine arts. The second character, El Hadgi, is more problematic. In Saladin’s
camp he behaves perfectly, and he is seen to be abstemious from wine. However,
during his earlier visit to the Christian camp he is seen to be drinking wine, thus
neglecting the Islamic prohibition on this matter315. El Hadgi’s function is not easy
to define; however, there are a couple of probable explanations regarding his
behaviour. First of all, El Hadgi could serve to indicate that complete perfection can
never be reached; the apparent perfection of the Saracens is undone by this –
admittedly minor – shortcoming. Of course, this does not alter the fact that, in terms
of chivalry, the Saracens are seen to be far superior to the Crusaders. Alternatively,
El Hadgi may also remind us of the fact that virtuous behaviour requires constant
effort as well as a strong character if one is not to stray from the ideals one wishes
to live up to.
2.6. Conclusion
The conclusion of our investigation into the nature and guises of chivalry in The
Talisman is in fact a straightforward one. Whereas the Saracens, notwithstanding
the character of El Hadgi, exhibit the concept of chivalry to the utmost perfection,
Scott, The Talisman, p.194 and p.369.
Scott, The Talisman, p.374. The Crusaders are of course unaware of the fact that at this point
Saladin is already aware of this discord having entered the Crusader camp in the disguise of El
Scott, The Talisman, p.335.
Scott, The Talisman, p.408.
this cannot be said about the Crusaders. The individual members are shown to
possess chivalric qualities of a varying level. Richard and especially Sir Kenneth
undeniably display chivalric qualities of a reasonably high level. However, they
also have a number of lesser and greater flaws, which make them pale before
Saladin. Considering that they are the most chivalric members among the
Crusaders, it is self-evident that, from a chivalric point of view, the other Crusaders
are even less of a match for Saladin than Richard and Sir Kenneth.
On the level of the community the Saracens easily outshine the Crusaders as
well. To a certain extent chivalry was indeed individualistic, but its aim to provide
prescriptions for an orderly society indicates that consideration for others was a
necessary component of chivalry as well. It is in this field that, in always being
preoccupied with their personal and national interests rather than with the common
goal, the Crusaders fail miserably. By uniting themselves behind the figure of
Saladin, the different Eastern tribes give up all internal discord in favour of the
common cause, which is to stop the advancing Crusaders and defeat them. In the
absence of such unity, the Crusaders are indeed handicapped, more so than by their
limitation in numbers, and military victory is bound to remain elusive.
3. Chivalry and the role of religion
3.1. Introduction
In our overview of the concept of chivalry, the impact of religion was the second
pillar. The aim of this chapter, therefore, is to analyze the role of religion and the
degree to which it influences the chivalric behaviour of the various characters. This
is particularly interesting when one takes the background of the novel’s events into
consideration; the motivation of the Crusade is mainly religious in origin316, the
goal in this case being the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre as well as the well-being
of pilgrims en route to Jerusalem. Although the main focus will be on the way in
which religion affects the spirit of chivalry, an additional paragraph has to be
devoted to the comparison between Christians and Muslims, this time not as
different views on the religious influence on chivalry, but as distinctive religions.
The article on The Talisman from the Walter Scott Digital Archive stresses the
novel’s importance as “the first novel is [sic] English to portray Muslims in a
positive light”317.
3.2. The chivalric perspective
As said before, this paragraph will concentrate on the connection between religion
and the concept of chivalry, in the sense of an opposition between different
gradations of chivalric behaviour in terms of religion. In order to maintain a clear
overview, the same structure as in the previous chapter will be applied,
concentrating on the Crusaders first and then comparing the results to the Saracen
In theory the extensive military force serves only to achieve the religious goals; in reality, of
course, military power was often abused by directing it against innocent civilians and by pillaging
entire villages and cities in the process. Compare: Scott, The Talisman, p.5.
Paul Barnaby, “The Talisman (Tales of the Crusaders)”, 27/04/2007, Walter Scott Digital
Archive. <> (20/07/2007).
3.2.1. The Crusaders The laymen
All the major leaders from the Crusader camp are Christians, which is unsurprising,
considering the religious motive of the expedition318. Here we will analyze the most
important examples. Already on the first pages, Sir Kenneth is described as a
religious man with “devout thoughts as his best companion”319. Inside the chapel at
Engaddi, he is allowed to witness what is apparently a fragment of the cross on
which Christ died320. Sir Kenneth behaves in a very reverential way and the fact that
he is allowed to witness so important a relic is necessarily proof of his being a good
Christian. Just like in the previous chapter, however, Sir Kenneth is not entirely
perfect, although it has to be said that his flaws are scarce and minor in nature.
As we have seen, Conrade of Montserrat is in se a religious person as well,
only do his actions not always apply the ideals of his religion to his own life. He
realizes that he is involved in the plan to kill Richard, and, admittedly, he is aware
of the fact that this is a particularly heinous crime; however, he does not abandon
the plan, despite the fact that he is clearly remembered of the gravity of the deed321.
Furthermore, at one particular moment he is seen to make an utterance that is not
just un-Christian in nature but even anti-Christian; displeased with the – temporary
– revival of the chivalric spirit after King Richard’s speech to the assembled council
and outraged by the – incorrect – prospect of the marriage of Richard’s kinswoman
Edith to Saladin he swears “by Mahound and Termagaunt, for Christian oaths are
out of fasion”322. Only once more do we see him occupied with matters of a
religious nature, namely before the final judicial duel, at which point he realizes that
he will lose the battle, since the “trial by combat is an appeal to the justice of
Of course, the expansion of national honour as well as the hope of enrichment sometimes played
a role as well in the Crusades. The latter perspective often attracted many a knight who hoped to
return a rich man. However, as we have seen, chances of achieving this were small. To other,
adventurous knights, the main attraction consisted of the grand scale of these expeditions.
Scott, The Talisman, p.5.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.68-69.
As we have seen, he believes the cry “Remember the Holy Sepulchre” to be a bad omen, and he
even realizes he “[has] raised the devil with a vengeance”. Scott, The Talisman, p.166.
Scott, The Talisman, p.297.
God”323, and bearing his guilt in mind, Conrade realizes he cannot possibly emerge
A final interesting character with a remarkable vision on the relation
between religion and chivalry324, is Edith. She is what might be termed a ‘stubborn
Christian’ in the sense that she refuses to see any virtues in anyone who is not a
Christian. Sir Kenneth is not shaken in his belief either, but his close contact with
Saladin in his different disguises opens his eyes to the fact that a one-sided – in this
case negative – view does not produce an accurate image of Saladin’s religion. In
Edith’s opinion, however, anything which or anyone who is not Christian is not
good, period. This can clearly be seen during her audience with Zohauk, Sir
Kenneth’s alter ego as a Nubian slave. The thing she most regrets about Sir
Kenneth’s disguise as Zohauk is the loss of his religion, and the fact that he is no
longer a Christian knight325. When Sir Kenneth fails to reply – since he is not
allowed to fall out of his role as a mute slave, he has no other choice – she realizes
that she cannot treat him like a Christian anymore and, disgusted, leaves the
The imperfection of the relationship between religion and chivalry can also
be found in minute details. King Richard’s mentioning that “the German boar [i.e.
Leopold] breakfasts ere he hears mass”327 should not be dismissed as a trivial
anecdote; it shows a genuine religious disrespect in the sense that the Archduke’s
primary concern is the earthly and bodily satisfaction that results from having
breakfast instead of the spiritual satisfaction which Holy Mass is supposed to bring
about328. The clergy
A minor but interesting character is the Archbishop of Tyre. While he is described
as a “sagacious and reverend prelate”329, he is also described to represent “that
Scott, The Talisman, p.429.
Notwithstanding, ‘chivalric behaviour’ was usually not a character ascribed to women.
Scott, The Talisman, p.388. Despite Sir Kenneth’s disguise, Edith immediately recognizes him.
Scott, The Talisman, p.388.
Scott, The Talisman, p.271.
The term ‘breakfast’ originally refers to the fact that only after attending Holy Mass early in the
morning was the ‘fast’ to be ‘broken’. Kooper, Middle English.
Scott, The Talisman, p.283.
acuteness of intelligence which distinguishes the Roman Catholic clergy”330.
Furthermore, when he is requested to witness the effectiveness of El Hakim’s
healing powers, he reluctantly enters Sir Kenneth’s “wretched hut”331 and when the
recovered squire asks to be blessed, the Archbishop grants his request, but without
approaching him. The Archbishop obviously does not want to risk his own physical
well-being by approaching the squire and providing him with spiritual wellbeing332.
The most interesting cleric is without doubt the hermit of Engaddi. He is
certainly not perfect either; a long time before he became the hermit of Engaddi he
dishonoured a nun who consequently committed suicide. However, he is certainly
not a bad character throughout. Although he does attack the disguised Saladin when
he approaches the hermit’s grotto with Sir Kenneth, he is nevertheless seen to be
hospitable, allowing Saladin to spend the night in his dwelling. Being a penitent
hermit, his grotto is obviously far less splendid and comfortable than Saladin’s
camp at the end of the novel. He is regarded as a wise man and even enjoys
Saladin’s protection, the latter having decreed that no one is allowed to harm the
hermit333. He is also the confessor of both Sir Kenneth334 and Conrade of
Montserrat before the trial by combat. When he is interrupted in the latter occasion
by the Grand Master, the hermit condemns the Templar for his evil influence on
Conrade. However, the hermit is not a perfect Christian either, as his past makes
clear335. This is the reason why he often uses the penitential device in his house336.
When Sir Kenneth and Saladin are in the hermit’s grotto, the latter reads in the stars
that someone who is in his presence at that moment will become a powerful
Christian ally of King Richard337. Obviously everyone believes the prophecy is
about Saladin, but it turns out to be about Sir Kenneth, in reality Prince David, who,
Scott, The Talisman, p.127.
Scott, The Talisman, p.129.
Scott, The Talisman, p.133.
Scott, The Talisman, p.59.
This is the second time the hermit functions as Sir Kenneth’s confessor, the first time being prior
to Sir Kenneth’s planned execution. Scott, The Talisman, pp.259-260.
The hermit used to be a noble knight, Alberick Mortemar, whose love was sent to a convent.
Alberick became a cleric in that same convent and eventually dishonoured the lady, who committed
suicide afterwards. She is buried in the hermit’s dwelling place in Engaddi. Scott, The Talisman,
See for instance: Scott, The Talisman, p.86.
Scott, The Talisman, p.447.
by marrying Edith, Richard’s kinswoman, indeed reconciles Richard with a mighty
foe, namely the Scots338. This plotline, involving the Hermit’s use of astrology, is
another example of the hermit’s imperfect religious behaviour. Astrology, the aim
of which is to acquire knowledge about the future, was seriously frowned upon by
the Church. The doctrine of the Church states that only God himself possesses the
power to know the future, and humans do not339. Consequently, the hermit’s
prediction was meant to fail from the start, as a sort of punishment for the use of a
heathen practice. The Grand Master of the Templars340
The Talisman contains many descriptions which put the Templars in an
unfavourable light341 and the Grand Master himself seems to come straight out of
hell. Drawing up the list containing the Grand Master’s crimes and traitorous
behaviour would in itself suffice to conclude that he clearly does not live like a
virtuous Christian. In many instances he is completely at odds with the values he is
supposed to be representing. King Richard describes him as “a worse Pagan than
[Saladin] – an idolater – a devil-worshipper – a necromancer – who practices crimes
the most dark and unnatural”342. The Grand Master’s un-Christian behaviour is not
only apparent from his physical crimes but also from a number of remarkable
utterances during religiously inspired events. At the end of a speech later on,
everyone says “amen” in reply, except for the Grand Master343. Not only is he
dishonourable by not pronouncing the word, on top of that he uses this moment to
talk to Conrade about the despicable conspiracy against the Crusade, itself a
religious undertaking. The Grand Master is thus seen to be acting against
Christendom. With the addition of the murder of Conrade, the Grand Master’s
portrait is anything but commendable.
Scott, The Talisman, p.448.
Kooper, Middle English.
As we have seen in Chapter 1, the Templars, just like the other military orders, originally served
the Church by protecting pilgrims to Jerusalem and by providing them with a place to stay at night.
However, the orders’ increasing power and wealth meant that they were strong enough to act as
independent institutions, owing obedience neither to the Church nor to secular rulers. For this reason,
the discussion of the Grand Master of the Templars has been added as a separate paragraph, fitting
into neither of the previous paragraphs.
See for instance Scott, The Talisman, p.284, pp.340-341, and p.364.
Scott, The Talisman, p.99.
Scott, The Talisman, p.375.
3.2.2. Saladin
Saladin is presented as a true believer. During the return to his camp Saladin and his
followers interrupt their journey to go to prayer344. Even Sir Kenneth “could not
help respecting the sincerity of their […] zeal and [he was] stimulated by their
fervour to apply supplications to Heaven”345. Moreover, not only does Saladin
behave in the way a Muslim should, he also perfectly executes most of the Seven
Works of Mercy346, which are originally Christian ideals. After a long day’s travel
with Sir Kenneth as his ‘slave’, Saladin provides Sir Kenneth with food and drink,
provides him with clothes, and comes to visit him347 – at this point Sir Kenneth is
indeed as a prisoner. He is also seen to be genuinely hospitable, as his reception of
the Crusaders demonstrates. Also, he not only visits the sick but even cures Sir
Kenneth’s squire348 and King Richard349. The fact that he is not seen to bury the
dead can be explained by the lack of dead people; the Grand Master is only
described to be taken away350 and it is not clear what will happen to his body. Next
to the Seven Corporal Works he also exercises most of the Seven Spiritual Works.
He tries to convert Sir Kenneth351, who is ignorant from Saladin’s point of view.
His counsel to Sir Kenneth even allows the latter to completely regain his lost
honour. When Sir Kenneth casts a melancholy view on the Crusader camp after
being forced to leave it, Saladin immediately comforts him352. He forgives his
enemy, and, as has been said before, even signs a treaty that allows Christian
pilgrims to travel to Jerusalem in safety. The Grand Master’s death illustrates that
Scott, The Talisman, pp.337-338.
Scott, The Talisman, p.338. This quotation has been stripped of all the terms carrying a
connotation of Saladin’s religion, since this will be the subject of the next paragraph. The original
meaning has been retained, though.
There are two lists, namely the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy and the Seven Spiritual Works of
Mercy. The Corporal Works, written down in the Bible, are to (1) feed the hungry, (2) give drink to
the thirsty, (3) welcome the stranger, (4) clothe the naked, (5) visit the sick, (6) visit the prisoner, and
(7) bury the dead. The Spiritual Works are to (1) teach the ignorant, (2) counsel the needy, (3)
chastise the sinful, (4) comfort the sorrowful, (5) forgive enemies, (6) suffer tribulation, and (7) to
pray for all fervently. “Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Corporal Works of Mercy”, 20/12/2001,
University of Leeds. <> (14/07/2007).
Scott, The Talisman, pp.347-349.
Scott, The Talisman, p.115ff.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.153-154.
Scott, The Talisman, p.455.
This is another fine quality of Saladin; it is said that he does not force anyone who does not want
to be converted. Scott, The Talisman, p.351.
Scott, The Talisman, p.334.
he chastises the sinful. At no point does he appear to truly be the victim of
tribulation; consequently, he cannot suffer it. Finally, his praying is seen not only in
the aforementioned situation during his journey, he is also reported to pray for the
restoration of Richard’s health353. Paradoxically, while the prophecy leads everyone
to believe that Saladin will eventually become a Christian, he already possesses
more Christian virtues than any Crusader. However, Saladin remains a convinced
and devoted Muslim.
3.3. Light and Dark
So far we have been concerned with the extent to which the different
characters practise their religion. However, this is not the only quality that sets apart
the Crusaders and the Saracens; they also adhere to different religions. It has
already been remarked that Scott puts Muslims in a favourable light
Recurring throughout the novel is what I consider to be an interesting
contrast which refers to the difference between Christians and Muslims in terms of
light and dark. Obviously, every character believes his proper religion to be the true
light and the other’s to be in the dark. When the hermit wakes Sir Kenneth at night,
the former says that “[Saladin] sleeps in darkness”354. An example which nicely
illustrates the different perception of light and dark is El Hakim’s advice to Sir
Kenneth to “[o]pen thine eyes to the light” – for Sir Kenneth Christianity is “the
light”. On another occasion El Hakim calls Christianity a “blinded superstition”355.
Clothes also play an important role in this respect; in his description of clothes, the
narrator implicitly makes clear which religion he truly believes to be the most
virtuous one. Thus, when the Crusaders get to see Saladin in his real guise for the
first time, he is completely dressed in white356, i.e. representing light. A Christian
example can be found in the vigil at the chapel of Engaddi; the women who “were
not yet bound […] by [Christian] vows”357 are wearing white veils – representing
light – whereas the “professed nuns”358 are seen to be wearing black veils –
At this point El Hakim still has to arrive on the scene.
Scott, The Talisman, p.66.
Scott, The Talisman, p.116. [my italics]
Scott, The Talisman, p.416.
Scott, The Talisman, p.71.
Scott, The Talisman, p.71.
representing darkness. Significantly, all of these Christian women are veiled, thus
keeping the light out359. The contrast of light and dark is also used to refer to intrareligious differences. Thus, the Grand Master’s men are referred to as “the dark
Templars”360; their evilness can even be measured from the fact that their skin has
turned dark. The hermit compares the Grand Master to “iron stanchions, which
neither receive light themselves nor communicate it to anyone”361; this contrasts
with his self-representation as a “latticed window, [through which] the divine light
passes to avail others”362. However, the hermit also considers himself to be “the
blind man who holds a torch to others, though it yields no light to himself”363. The
fact that the outcome of the hermit’s prophecy does not correspond to the hermit’s
interpretation thereof evokes Saladin’s implicitly condemning reaction that
astrology is a “[s]trange and mysterious science, which […] darkens the place
which it pretends to illuminate”364. Finally, El Hakim’s positive and tolerant
assertion that “[t]he sun of Allah […] shines on the Nazarene as well as on the true
believer”365 contrasts strongly with the Grand Master’s subsequent intolerant
address of El Hakim as a “slave of darkness”366.
Of course, the colours of this type of clothing first and foremost serve to indicate a ritualistic
Scott, The Talisman, p.363.
Scott, The Talisman, p.435.
Scott, The Talisman, p.435.
Scott, The Talisman, p.275.
Scott, The Talisman, p.449.
Scott, The Talisman, p.150.
Scott, The Talisman, p.150.
4. The female fortress
4.1. Introduction
In this chapter, the women in The Talisman finally come to the fore. First of all, we
will have a closer look at Scott’s representation of the typically medieval
phenomenon of courtly love. The two other paragraphs will then deal with aspects
that are closely linked to the concept of the Crusade. Although the Crusades were
indeed an overtly male affair, Scott does include a number of women in his novel
and inquires extensively into the way in which they experienced the Crusades.
Finally, the cultural opposition between the Western Crusaders and the Eastern
Saracens provides an interesting insight into the different views on women and their
4.2. Edith and courtly love
The process of courtly love367 between Edith and Sir Kenneth is an important
subplot of the novel. However, Scott’s decision not to reveal Sir Kenneth’s true
identity until the very end of the novel is the cause of a number of inconsistencies in
his description of the courtly love process. On multiple occasions, Sir Kenneth
expresses his sadness about the fact that the Lady Edith “moved in a circle which
his rank of knighthood permitted him indeed to approach, but not to mingle
with”368. Since Sir Kenneth is in reality Prince David, it is difficult to imagine that
these were really his thoughts; surely he must have known that, as a prince, the
prospect of successfully courting Edith was indeed a realistic one. This small matter
aside, Scott provides a well-informed and very detailed account of the process of
courtly love369. The initial description provides an overview of the first steps in the
process, prior to the Third Crusade. The reader is informed that Sir Kenneth is a
successful jouster and that the fact that he dedicates his victories to her and praises
As we have seen in chapter 1, courtly love can indeed be called a process, containing many steps
before success could finally be achieved.
Scott, The Talisman, p.76. See also Scott, The Talisman, p.352.
It is so detailed that the narrator assumes many readers will find it tedious. Scott, The Talisman,
her extensively has made Edith realise that Sir Kenneth shows a particular interest
in her370.
As has been remarked in the previous chapter, Sir Kenneth meets Edith in
the chapel of Engaddi. Although she is almost completely hidden from view by the
robes and veil she is wearing, Sir Kenneth nevertheless manages to identify her; he
immediately recognizes her ring371. It is during this scene that an important step in
the long process of courtly love is taken; during the procession, Edith drops a
couple of rosebuds at Sir Kenneth’s feet372. Small tokens of attention like these
rosebuds reveal to the knight that his lady is aware of the knight’s special interest
and approves of it373. Thus Sir Kenneth is encouraged to continue showing his
admiration in the future. Sir Kenneth is seen to attach a great deal of importance to
the rosebuds; much further in the story, “[t]he rosebuds, withered as they were,
were still treasured […] nearest to his heart”374. Except for the meeting of Sir
Kenneth and Edith at the very end of the novel, they always meet in unusual
circumstances. After the meeting in the chapel a long time passes before Sir
Kenneth gets to see Edith again – indeed, a major part of the process of courtly love
consisted of waiting375. The next meeting takes place during the night of the banner
theft. In this scene the aforementioned ring plays an important role. First of all, it is
the means with which Sir Kenneth is persuaded to follow the dwarf Nectabanus to
the ladies’ tent376. However, the role of Nectabanus is an important one as well; the
sneaky dwarf tells Sir Kenneth that “[e]very minute thou tarriest is a crime against
thy allegiance”377. Furthermore, he explains to the knight that Sir Kenneth’s
decision will turn the latter into either a “traitor or [a] true man to this royal
lady”378. As has been explained in detail, Sir Kenneth’s eventual decision to
proceed to the ladies’ tent enables Conrade to steal the banner, thus also
dishonouring Sir Kenneth, who was supposed to guard the standard. However, Sir
Scott, The Talisman, pp.75-77.
Scott, The Talisman, p.74.
Scott, The Talisman, p.73.
Kooper, Middle English and Delahoyde, “Courtly love”.
Scott, The Talisman, p.202.
Delahoyde, “Courtly love”.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.202-204.
Scott, The Talisman, p.201.
Scott, The Talisman, p.201.
Kenneth’s unorthodox meeting379 with Edith is again highly significant. Not only
does Nectabanus hand Edith’s ring to Sir Kenneth, the latter also gets to speak to
Edith in person for the very first time380. However, there is also a negative side to
the scene; at this point the flag is stolen from Sir Kenneth’s abandoned post which
causes the latter to lose his honour for the first time381. Logically, Sir Kenneth
wishes to return the ring to Edith, for, having been deprived of his honour, he is no
longer worthy to hold on to the ring and to approach her anymore. However, she
wants him to keep it382. This is an important decision, for it implies that the process
of courtly love is not broken off. The third meeting features Sir Kenneth in the
disguise of the Nubian slave; however, Edith immediately recognizes him383 – just
like Sir Kenneth recognized her in the chapel; thus they are seen to be connected.
This time Sir Kenneth – or Zohauk – is very careful not to do anything out of
character384, for that would result in a new – and probably irrevocable – loss of
honour. While Sir Kenneth’s refusal to talk to Edith does not yield an immediately
positive result385, it does pay off in the long run – and that is exactly what the
process of courtly love is all about. Sir Kenneth’s decision not to speak convinces
King Richard of the knight’s virtuousness386 and ultimately leads to the complete
restoration of Sir Kenneth’s honour and his marriage to Edith387 – again proving the
point that courtly love is a long and complicated process which requires careful
judgment and which can be completely destroyed by one hasty decision.
A certain degree of insight into a couple’s life after the successful
completion of the process of courtly love is offered by the description of the
He is more or less forced to sneak into the tent, and, while hiding, he is able to hear the entire
conversation between the ladies. Only after a long while are they aware of Sir Kenneth’s presence,
and they all run away, except for Edith. Scott, The Talisman, pp.205-214.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.215-216.
The second time Sir Kenneth loses his honour is, of course, immediately afterwards, when the
banner turns out to be gone.
Scott, The Talisman, p.216.
Scott, The Talisman, p.385.
Sir Kenneth constantly reminds himself of the fact that Zohauk is supposed to be mute. Scott, The
Talisman, pp.385-387.
Edith angrily stamps out of the room. Scott, The Talisman, p.388.
Indeed, at this point King Richard already had a strong suspicion that Zohauk was in reality Sir
Kenneth. Scott, The Talisman, p.446.
Scott, The Talisman, p.458. The revelation that Sir Kenneth is in reality Prince David of Scotland
is of central importance; his real identity is indeed a prerequisite for marrying Edith, who would
“never wed either infidel or obscure adventurer” Scott, The Talisman, p.430.
relationship between – the recently wedded388 – King Richard and Queen
Berengaria, who are, remarkably, seen to genuinely love each other389. Their
characters are described as somewhat different; Richard’s appreciation of the
minstrel Blondel de Nesle reveals his preference for cultural activities whereas
Berengaria “felt herself not to be his match in intellect”390, preferring a more downto-earth form of amusement not always “entirely befitting her own dignity”391.
4.3. Dull days in the Crusader camp
Scott represents the situation of the women in the Crusader camp as being far from
enviable. Every single day they have to fight against boredom392 – at least, during
the period of truce which serves as the novel’s setting. The only occasion on which
a serious form of entertainment is described to take place, is when Blondel de Nesle
arrives in the camp of the Crusaders. In accordance with her slightly less intellectual
nature, Queen Berengaria sees the minstrel’s song only as a welcome pastime, while
the more sophisticated Edith is seen to sincerely appreciate the minstrel’s excellent
application of this fine art393.
Apart from that there is very little to do. Furthermore, they can only very
rarely come into the open; for the major part of the novel, they are restricted to their
tent in the Crusader camp394, to the veiled litters395 in which they are taken to the
location where the judicial duel takes place or to the stands next to the lists of the
duel, which are also designed to block any view of the ladies396. To lift Berengaria’s
spirits, her ladies often resort to “trick[s], or piece[s] of mischief, practised upon
each other”397. Although Edith probably reverts to this pastime “to pass away those
Scott, The Talisman, p.245.
Scott, The Talisman, p.244 and pp.258-259.However, it has already been remarked that, for
members of the higher classes and royalty, genuine emotional love was only seldom one of the
motivations to decide to marry someone. Richard and Berengaria’s marriage combines both
personal affections, namely their love, and political motivations – Berengaria is the daughter of the
King of Navarre: Scott, The Talisman, p.243.
Scott, The Talisman, p.244.
Scott, The Talisman, p.244.
Scott, The Talisman, p.210 and p.244.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.395-396.
Hence the title of this chapter.
Scott, The Talisman, p.414.
Scott, The Talisman, p.433.
Scott, The Talisman, p.244.
unpleasant hours”398, she is never seen to be actually indulging in any of these
games. At first, the description of the wager between Edith and Queen Berengaria
about Sir Kenneth’s integrity suggests otherwise. However, it turns out that “it was
[Berengaria] who proposed such a wager, and took the ring from [Edith’s]
finger”399. In other words, Edith is forced into accepting the wager. Sir Kenneth
abandons his post and Queen Berengaria wins the bet. Edith’s subsequent reaction
can be explained in three ways: first of all, the fact that she loses a bet she did in
fact not wish to enter into is already a small cause of annoyance. Secondly, she is
extremely upset by the fact that Berengaria’s “light frolic”400 has brought Sir
Kenneth “into a fault, and perhaps to disgrace and punishment”401. The final and
most important reason of her anger and distress is the fact that Berengaria has used
Edith to lure Sir Kenneth from his post402. In doing so, she has appropriated Edith’s
good name and her reputation – this shows that the importance of and concern about
one’s honour and reputation is not an exclusively male concern in chivalric society.
This prank, however, demonstrates a weakness not in Edith’s character, but in
Queen Berengaria’s, for it is indeed a rather vengeful jest at the expense of Edith.
Unable to surpass or even equal Edith intellectually, Berengaria resorts to what she
is best at: playing tricks on people. Although Berengaria is described as surpassing
Edith in pure beauty, the “childish petulance and wilfulness of manner”403 of the
former are the main reason she appears slightly inferior to Edith’s combination of
‘beauty and brains’.
4.4. Cultural differences
An interesting aspect of Scott’s representation of Saladin as a representative of
Islam concerns the Muslim’s view on women, their role in society, and the way in
which they should be treated. In this respect, the first meeting between Sir Kenneth
and Saladin’s alter ego Sheerkohf is already a very significant one. The metaphor
clarifying the cultural differences on this matter is the diamond in Saladin’s ring. Sir
Scott, The Talisman, p.244.
Scott, The Talisman, p.210.
Scott, The Talisman, p.211.
Scott, The Talisman, p.212.
Scott, The Talisman, p.211.
Scott, The Talisman, p.243.
Kenneth argues that “the love which a true knight binds on one only, fair and
faithful, is the gem entire”404; should the diamond be splintered into many pieces,
however, the different pieces – representing the many women inherent to polygamy
– would be far less valuable in comparison405. Saladin’s view on this matter is
entirely different; he says that
[his] ring […] would lose half its beauty were not the signet encircled and enchased
with these lesser brilliants, which grace it and set it off. The central diamond is man,
firm and entire, his value depending on himself alone; and this circle of lesser jewels
are women, borrowing his lustre, which he deals out to them as best suits his pleasure
or his convenience. Take the central stone from the signet, and the diamond itself
remains as valuable as ever, while the lesser gems are comparatively of little value.406
This speech obviously indicates an important difference in both cultures’ attitudes
towards women. To readers with a Western point of view on this matter Saladin’s
speech may lead to a feeling of indignation. However, since Saladin turns out to be
by far the most virtuous character in the novel, David Daiches rightly claims that
“Moslem civilisation emerges as clearly superior to Christian”407. Furthermore, at
no point in the novel does Saladin treat any woman – or man, for that matter408 –
with disrespect. Indeed, his call to the Saracens to be “[observant] of [the] Oriental
reverence to the fair sex”409 proves that the Saracens are not disrespectful towards
women and that they can indeed be treated with respect; no one even dares to raise
his head and look at the Christian ladies – but then again the presence of “[f]ifty
guards of Saladin’s seraglio […] with naked sabres”410 might also play a role.
Finally, just like Sir Kenneth disapproves of Saladin’s view on the role of
women, the latter in turn expresses his dislike of the concept of courtly love. When
Sir Kenneth hears El Hakim speak of Queen Berengaria in a style he deems
inappropriate, the knight reminds the physician that “[he speaks] of the wife of
Richard of England, of whom men think not and speak not as a woman to be won,
but as a Queen to be revered”411. This evokes a scornful reaction from El Hakim,
Scott, The Talisman, p.23.
Scott, The Talisman, p.24.
Scott, The Talisman, p.24.
David Daiches, “Sir Walter Scott and History”, Etudes Anglaises 24 (1971), 458-477. p.474.
As pointed out in chapter two, he is hospitable even to the false Conrade and the almost demonic
Grand Master.
Scott, The Talisman, p.433.
Scott, The Talisman, p.433.
Scott, The Talisman, p.353.
who claims he “had forgotten your superstitious veneration for the sex, which you
consider rather fit to be wondered at and worshipped than wooed and possessed”412.
A second and final example sees Saladin expressing his aversion of the importance
of rank in the concept of courtly love; when Richard explains that Sir Kenneth
cannot marry Edith because the Scot is “of too mean lineage to mix with the blood
of Plantagenet”413, Saladin replies that according to “[the] poets of the Eastern
countries […] a valiant camel-driver is worthy to kiss the lip of a fair queen, when a
cowardly prince is not worthy to salute the hem of her garment”414. This is indeed a
critical remark about the nature of courtly love.
Scott, The Talisman, p.352.
Scott, The Talisman, p.424. At this point it is not yet clear that Sir Kenneth is in fact the Scottish
Prince David.
Scott, The Talisman, p.424.
5. The Crusade as a “rencontre de civilisations”415
5.1. Introduction
In this final chapter the focus will be on an interesting side-effect of the grand
expression of chivalry that is the Crusade; as has been said before, part of the
uniqueness of the Crusade is the contact between the Crusaders from Frangistan416
and the Muslims East of the Mediterranean Sea. A number of aspects that have been
discussed up to this point confirm this; see, for instance, the different view on
women in the previous chapter. However, there are many more instances in which
different cultures are compared. Apart from the Western culture of the Crusaders
and that of the Saracens, Scott also includes elements from other cultures in his
5.2. Differences between the Crusaders and the Saracens
Many differences between these two cultures can be found throughout the novel. A
first field in which considerable differences can be noticed is the military. Whereas
the armour worn by the Saracens is very light, that of the Europeans is extremely
heavy417. This results in completely different styles of fighting418; the Saracens
prefer lightning-quick operations whereas the weight of the Westerners’ armour
renders them a lot less mobile. However, the upside is that the strong armour
obviously provides a better protection against attacks. The novel also touches on the
culture-specific aspect of fighting styles; towards the end, Richard and Saladin meet
and they both try to impress the other with their skills419. In line with the brute force
Originally, the title of this chapter was ‘Different cultures, different views’. However, on 11 July,
the French television programme La Carte aux Trésors (France3) devoted some attention to the
Crusades and stressed the Crusade’s importance as a “rencontre de civilisations”. Furthermore, it is
also a nicer title – in my opinion at least.
Scott, The Talisman, p.125.
Scott, The Talisman, p.3. As we have seen, this fact has to do with the evolution of warfare; the
development of more powerful weapons required the armour to become stronger as well.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.6-10.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.419-422.
of the heavily armoured Crusaders, Richard severs an iron bar with an incredible
blow420 whereas Saladin’s fighting skills are subtler though no less impressive421.
Another contrast can be found in the way in which everyday life is
organized in both cultures. The top level, the structure of the state, is discussed by
Conrade of Montserrat, who complains to the Grand Master about the organization
of the Western states. In Conrade’s opinion the whole “internal chain of feudal
dependence”422 with its complicated structure of vassalage is too strong a restriction
of the power of the state’s ruler423. We have seen earlier that Conrade’s motivation
to leave the Crusade is that he had sooner acquire a piece of land to rule himself
than to see the Crusade achieve its goal, leaving Conrade with empty hands424. Had
Conrade succeeded in acquiring any Eastern territory, it would have been organized
according to “the Eastern form of government: a pure and simple monarchy [,
which] should consist but of king and subjects”425.
Other elements may seem trivial but do in fact tell a lot about the evaluation
of a culture in its entirety. For example, the fact that the new slave who attends to
the ladies is a mute of Eastern descent426 leads Queen Berengaria to consider the
Eastern ladies to be lucky, since they are “attended by those before whom they may
say anything, yet who can report nothing”427. This utterance is then followed by
severe criticism of the situation in the camp of the Westerners, where “a bird of the
air will carry the matter”428.
On another occasion, however, the Saracens are described to be acting like
savages. When King Richard’s party arrive at the location of the judicial duel, the
Saracens who await them first display their horseman skills and then they appear to
launch an attack on the small Crusader troop, accompanied by loud shrieks and the
firing of arrows429. However, the arrows turn out to be headless430 and the whole
scene is intended solely to welcome the Crusaders. When King Richard realizes
Scott, The Talisman, pp.419-420.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.421-422.
Scott, The Talisman, p.159.
Scott, The Talisman, p.159.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.159-160.
Scott, The Talisman, p.159.
Of course, the slave is really Sir Kenneth in disguise.
Scott, The Talisman, p.384.
Scott, The Talisman, p.384.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.413-415.
Scott, The Talisman, p.414.
this, he describes the whole performance as “a wild welcome, after their savage
fashion”431. However, this is the only time in the novel that the word ‘savage’ is
used to describe the Saracens. The fact that this whole spectacle, “though designed
to express welcome, had a doubtful appearance in the eyes of the Europeans”432
stresses the importance of perception. Indeed, the evaluation of events such as this
performance is inevitably connected with the way in which they are perceived in
different cultures; the Saracens consider this form of welcoming guests normal,
whereas it strikes the Crusaders as wild and savage. Another example of perception
can be found in the physical description of Sheerkohf; according to the narrator
Saladin’s first alter ego
might perhaps have been termed eminently beautiful, but for the narrowness of his
forehead, and something of too much thinness and sharpness of feature, or at least
what might have seemed such in a European estimate of beauty.433
This description clearly indicates that the representation and evaluation of
Sheerkohf are based on Western perceptions and criteria.
However, there are not only differences but also similarities between both
cultures. A great example is provided at the very end of the novel’s second chapter;
after spending the whole time talking about differences in clothing, food and drink,
and religion, they decide to “speak on themes which belong to youthful warriors –
upon battles, upon beautiful women, upon sharp swords, and upon bright
armour”434. More than just intercultural values, they are represented as values of a
universal character. A final example illustrates the intercultural exchange of values
to the extreme extent of intermixing; more specifically the passage in question
refers to the frequent marriages of Islamic men and Christian women in Moorish
Scott, The Talisman, p.414.
Scott, The Talisman, p.415.
Scott, The Talisman, p.20. (my italics)
Scott, The Talisman, p.29.
Scott, The Talisman, p.226.
5.3. External and internal cultural references
5.3.1. Blacks
Apart from the comparison of European and Eastern cultures, there are a number of
references to other cultures as well. Blacks, for instance, occupy an interesting part
in the novel. Their main function is to attend to high ranking characters; thus, black
slaves are seen guarding the Christian ladies’ tent436 or serving King Richard, as in
the case of Zohauk. The latter is described as “nobly formed, and his commanding
features […] showed nothing of negro descent”437. This is of course logical when
we bear in mind that Zohauk is really Sir Kenneth in disguise. Furthermore, in that
same description it is already suggested that “there is more in him than seems”438;
first of all, Zohauk is wearing “a doublet of dressed leopard’s skin”439, which is a
clear reference to Sir Kenneth’s soubriquet, the Couchant – or Couching – Leopard.
Even clearer is the presence of a large dog, which, admittedly, has been disguised as
well, but obviously retains the same shape and stature as Roswal, Sir Kenneth’s
This depiction differs greatly from the way in which the other – that is to
say, real – blacks are described. When Sir Henry de Neville, one of King Richard’s
vassals, announces to Queen Berengaria that a newly arrived Nubian slave will soon
be attending to the ladies, Berengaria asks Sir Henry whether the Nubian is “a [real]
negro, […] with black skin, a head curled like a ram’s, a flat nose, and blubber
lips”441. Further on, a number of blacks are referred to as “those hideous negroes
[with] misshapen forms”442. Finally, King Richard refers to them as “black
cattle”443. While nowadays such descriptions come across as shocking, one has to
keep in mind that they were written almost two hundred years ago. This fact is an
interesting deviation from the rest of the discussion of Scott’s use of chivalry;
Scott, The Talisman, p.428.
Scott, The Talisman, p.310.
Scott, The Talisman, p.324.
Scott, The Talisman, p.310.
Scott, The Talisman, p.310.
Scott, The Talisman, p.383.
Scott, The Talisman, p.416.
Scott, The Talisman, p.428.
whereas in every other aspect of the analysis the difference is between the Middle
Ages on the one hand and Scott’s time up to the early twenty-first century on the
other, the view on blacks unites the Middle Ages and Scott’s time and forms an
opposition to the present-day situation.
5.3.2. The Crusader camp: internal differences and stereotypes
The Crusade not only enabled the meeting of Crusaders and Muslims, but also that
of the different nations which the Crusade brought together. Logically, a number of
differences come to the fore; in The Talisman these are illustrated on more than one
occasion by the use of stereotypical representations and clichés. For example,
whereas Austria is first described as a “noble country”444, its inhabitants, referred to
as “the Germans, […] had retained withal no slight tinge of their barbarism”445.
Furthermore, we are told that
[t]he practices and principles of chivalry were not carried to such a nice pitch
amongst them as amongst the French and English knights, nor were they strict
observers of the prescribed rules of society, which among those nations were
supposed to express the height of civilisation.446
We have seen before that the Archduke regrets his inferiority to Richard and Philip
several times. This inferiority is thus not only caused by the difference in title –
Leopold as an Archduke against two Kings – but also, more visibly, by the lack of
refinement. This last element is clearly demonstrated in the description of the
banquet attended by Conrade447. A central element hinting at the lack of refinement
is to be found in the large number of jesters and minstrels, who “were more noisy
and intrusive than they were permitted to be in better-regulated society” 448. Another
related cliché is the Archduke’s excessive use of wine during the banquets; Richard
blames “the drunken fool”449 for “show[ing] his shame to all Christendom”450.
However, a positive stereotype is mentioned as well; when Richard splinters
Austria’s banner, the English monarch asks if “[there is] a knight among your
Scott, The Talisman, p.169.
Scott, The Talisman, p.172.
Scott, The Talisman, p.172.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.172-173.
Scott, The Talisman, p.172.
Scott, The Talisman, p.181.
Scott, The Talisman, p.181.
Teutonic chivalry [who] dare impeach my deed”451. A number of knights indeed
“accepted the King of England’s defiance”452 for it is said that “there are no braver
men than the Germans”453.
Yet another example of the use of stereotype can be found in the
characterization of the Venetians. More specifically the avarice of mercantile
Venice is condemned by Richard; he angrily exclaims that “[the] Venetians would
sell the sepulchre [i.e. the Holy Sepulchre] itself”454.
5.3.3. From Achilles to Satan
A final type of intercultural characterization can be found in the depiction of a
number of characters as mythological and religious figures. It is said that because of
the “[possession] of many of those royal qualities for which he was termed by his
subjects the August, Philip might be termed the Ulysses […] of the Crusade”455
whereas “Richard was undoubtedly the Achilles”456. A possible explanation for the
latter comparison is the following: during the Trojan War the Greek hero Achilles
distinguished himself as a valiant warrior; however, when an arrow hit him in the
vulnerable part of his body – the heel457 – he died458 and was thus unable to achieve
his goal, the fall of Troy. Similarly, Richard is a valiant warrior; however, he also
possesses an Achilles heel, namely his pride and honour. When his pride is affected
– first by the dishonouring of the English standard and then by the theft of the flag –
this causes great tension among the Crusaders and, as we have seen, the inability to
form a durable unity also results in the eventual failure to achieve the initial goal, in
this case the liberation of Jerusalem. Later on, after a minor misunderstanding
Scott, The Talisman, p.186.
Scott, The Talisman, p.186.
Scott, The Talisman, p.186.
Scott, The Talisman, p.426.
Scott, The Talisman, p.188.
Scott, The Talisman, p.188.
As a baby, Achilles had been submerged in the River Styx, which rendered him invulnerable.
However, he had been held by the heel, which thus became his only vulnerable spot. Eric M.
Moormann and Wilfried Uitterhoeve, Van Achilles tot Zeus. De klassieke mythologie in de kunst.
Amsterdam/Nijmegen: Maarten Muntinga/SUN, 19973, p.11.
Moormann and Uitterhoeve, Van Achilles tot Zeus, p.18.
between Richard and Berengaria, the former is compared to “Hercules[,]
reconciling himself, after a quarrel, to his wife Dejanira”459.
A number of religious characterizations can also be found in the novel. After
Sir Kenneth discovers that the banner of England has disappeared, he is visited by
El Hakim. When Sir Kenneth tells him about his being enticed into abandoning his
post and visiting the ladies’ tent, the physician replies that “man [hath] ever fallen
[so], even since the days of Sultan Adam”460. Thus Sir Kenneth’s mistake is
compared to the Fall; indeed, both Adam and Sir Kenneth disobey an order from
above because of a woman. A second comparison is again made by El Hakim. After
Richard’s decision to have Sir Kenneth executed, the physician asks the English
monarch to show mercy. When Richard refuses, El Hakim reminds Richard of the
fact that “though thou canst slay thousands, thou canst not restore one man to
health”461 and says that “[k]ings have the power of Satan to torment, sages that of
Allah to heal”462. As a final warning, he adds that Richard should “beware how thou
hinderest the good to humanity which thou canst not thyself render”463; this once
again proves El Hakim’s – read: Saladin’s – superiority to Richard.
5.4. The multicultural Diamond of the Desert
The Diamond of the Desert, an oasis, is a highly symbolic location in the novel.
Margaret Bruzelius, for instance, has analyzed this oasis in terms of masculinity and
androgyny464. Our focus, however, will remain on the cultural aspect. The oasis is
visited three times in the novel; the first time is after the initial fight between Sir
Kenneth and Sheerkohf, the next after Sir Kenneth has had to leave the Crusader
camp, and finally, it is the location where the judicial duel takes place.
Significantly, on all three occasions, both Crusaders and Saracens are present at the
Scott, The Talisman, p.255.
Scott, The Talisman, p.223.
Scott, The Talisman, p.268. El Hakim refers to the fact that he can restore health.
Scott, The Talisman, p.268.
Scott, The Talisman, p.268.
Margaret Bruzelius, ““The King of England… Loved to Look upon A MAN”: Melancholy and
Masculinity in Scott’s Talisman.” Modern Language Quarterly 62:1 (2001): 19-41. [Online version
via MLA].
oasis. This contrasts with the Crusader camp, which is, unsurprisingly, the exclusive
domain of the Crusaders465. The central function of the oasis as a meeting place
between both cultures is stressed by its location; the Diamond of the Desert was
located in a central position, “at an equal distance betwixt the Christian and Saracen
camps”466. Furthermore, I believe that the oasis can be seen as a symbol of the truce
that was maintained during the events in The Talisman. Sir Kenneth and
Sheerkohf’s combat takes place in the desert; however, as soon as they negotiate a
truce, they move to the oasis467. The desert thus represents the turmoil of the
Crusade’s battlefields, symbolized by the miniature fight between Sir Kenneth and
Sheerkohf, whereas the oasis represents the truce which is at that point maintained
between the Crusaders and the Saracens or between Sir Kenneth and Sheerkohf in
the miniature version.
The multicultural – or intercultural – evolution of the three scenes in the
oasis is the following. In the first scene in the oasis Sir Kenneth and Saladin468,
disguised as Sheerkohf, merely talk about the various cultural differences469. On the
second occasion, the cultural differences become physically visible; when Sir
Kenneth wakes up the day after leaving the Crusader camp in the company of
Saladin, the latter this time disguised as El Hakim, he actually experiences the
Saracen way of living. He is struck by the way the tent has been furnished and by
the clothes he is provided with470. At the time of the third visit, the oasis has been
transformed into a magnificent camp in the Eastern fashion; also, the lists for the
judicial duel have been constructed. This again shows the interaction between the
cultures of the East (the tent camp) and the West (the lists). The oasis thus enables a
“rencontre” between the different cultures.
The character of El Hakim provides a brief intrusion of this exclusiveness.
Scott, The Talisman, p.409.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.12-13.
An interesting detail is that every scene in the oasis shows Saladin in a different disguise: first
Sheerkohf, then El Hakim, and finally his undisguised self.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.13-29.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.348-350.
5.5. A metaphorical view
An interesting way in which Scott describes the various cultural differences is by
means of animal metaphors. The image of the English monarch as a lion is by far
the most recurrent one. In the novel the lion is seen to represent both positive and
negative values. A positive connotation can already be found in Richard’s epithet
‘the lion-hearted’, which reflects his enormous courage471. When he has to stay in
bed because of his illness, Richard feels like a lion in a cage472. Likewise, he is seen
to “[pace] the tent, like the lion, who, after violent irritation, is said to take that
method of cooling the distemperature of his blood”473. After Richard sentences Sir
Kenneth to death, Berengaria is convinced that she will be able to undo Richard’s
decision for “even the heart of a lion is made of flesh, not of stone”474. Since
Richard is described as a lion, this would imply that Berengaria is seen as a lioness
and indeed there is a description in which she is seen as “a young lioness, who is
unconscious of the weight of her own paws when laid on those whom she sports
with”475. The fact that Richard can – temporarily – reunite the Crusaders after the
theft of the banner leads the Grand Master to compare Richard to “a lion [bursting]
through a spider’s web”476. Later on Lord de Vaux reminds Richard that the latter is
“the Lion, whom all men acknowledge the king of brutes”477. In a number of
examples the lion is compared to other animals; the former is then usually presented
as the stronger of the two. When Sir Kenneth admits he has seen the ladies in the
chapel of Engaddi, Richard says that the “[l]eopard [should] beware tempting the
lion’s paw”478. The Archduke’s motivation to place his banner next to England’s is
also explained in terms of animal imagery; Leopold acknowledges that Richard is
the lion, the king of the land, but he sees himself as the eagle, the king of the air479.
This leads him to conclude they are of equal rank. However, Richard is not the only
Scott, The Talisman, p.296.
Scott, The Talisman, p.90.
Scott, The Talisman, p.355.
Scott, The Talisman, p.212.
Scott, The Talisman, p.244.
Scott, The Talisman, p.297.
Scott, The Talisman, p.426.
Scott, The Talisman, p.146.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.178-179.
character to be compared to a lion480. The Grand Master, as the representative of the
whole Order of the Knights Templar, is also compared to a lion when Conrade
reminds the Templar leader of “the motto of thy order – Feriatur Leo”481. Not only
the lion provides a means for comparison with Richard; he describes himself both
as “the master stag [of] the herd”482 and “the falcon [charged with] the guidance of
the phalanx”483, thus referring to his leading role in the Crusade. The final
comparison of Richard to an animal is less benevolent in nature, as may be clear
from the call of Leopold’s followers to “[c]ut the island mastiff to pieces”484.
Since Sir Kenneth is – or pretends to be – the Knight of the Couching
Leopard, it is not surprising that the main animal he is compared to is the leopard485.
As we have seen, Sir Kenneth is not degraded after his failure to guard the banner.
As such, he retains his name as Knight of the Couching Leopard. As has been said
before, this is also stressed in his appearance as the black slave Zohauk, who is
indeed dressed in a leopard’s skin. Interestingly, an attentive reading shows that the
revelation of the fact that Zohauk is in reality Sir Kenneth is already anticipated
long beforehand. After Sir Kenneth leaves the Crusader camp with El Hakim, the
latter reveals that he is the same person as Sheerkohf, stating that “men are not
always what they seem”486. Indeed, at this point the whole Crusader camp sees Sir
Kenneth as a traitor, whereas the Scot considers himself “to be a true though an
erring knight”487. Likewise, Zohauk looks like a slave, but closer inspection reveals
that he is really Sir Kenneth.
Sir Kenneth’s dog Roswal also plays an important role in comparing people.
Roswal is described as “a large stag greyhound, nobler […] than those even which
guarded King Richard”488. Indeed the representation of both Sir Kenneth and King
Richard as discussed thus far allows us to transpose the qualities of these dogs onto
A final example of Richard as a lion can be found on p.286.
Scott, The Talisman, p.375. [original italics] In his novel Ivanhoe Scott elaborates on ‘Leo
Feriatur’. “In the ordinances of the Knights of the Temple, this phrase is repeated in a variety of
forms, and occurs in almost every chapter as if it were a signal-word of the Order”. Walter Scott,
Ivanhoe, chapter 35 <>
Scott, The Talisman, p.97.
Scott, The Talisman, p.97.
Scott, The Talisman, p.187.
cf. supra: the example mentioning “the lion’s paw”.
Scott, The Talisman, p.350.
Scott, The Talisman, p.350.
Scott, The Talisman, p.114.
their owners; indeed, it has already been argued many times that Sir Kenneth is
considered to be more virtuous than King Richard. However, Roswal is also used to
severely criticize the nature of the Crusaders and of man in general. When Sir
Kenneth returns to his now ‘bannerless’ post, he finds the dying Roswal. The
comparison Sir Kenneth makes between the dog and himself puts the knight in a
negative light; Roswal has remained true and loyal while Sir Kenneth has not. Since
Sir Kenneth considers “[a] dog who dies in discharging his duty [to be] better than a
man who survives the desertion of it”489 he concludes that Roswal is “too noble a
possession to be retained”490. Secondly, when Roswal succeeds in exposing
Conrade as the one who stole the banner, Roswal’s nature – and of dogs in general
– is praised for having “a share of man’s intelligence, but no share of man’s
falsehood”491. Subsequently, almost one and a half pages in the novel are devoted to
the main characters’ acclaim of the nature of dogs492.
However, not only the Crusaders are compared to animals. We have already
seen the comparison between Black slaves and “black cattle”493. Furthermore,
Saladin is compared to an animal as well; in three instances he is referred to as a
lion – just like King Richard’s dominant metaphor. First of all, Sheerkohf is known
as “the Lion of the Mountain”494. Secondly, when the “natural foe”495 with whom
Richard would be united turns out to be the Scottish Prince David instead of the
Eastern Soldan Saladin, the latter states that “a wild-cat in a chamber is more to be
dreaded than a lion in a distant desert”496. Finally, when the dwarf Nectabanus
repeats the words which the Grand Master pronounced at the moment he killed
Conrade, the latter “started, like a steed who sees a lion under a bush beside the
pathway”497. This ruse to expose Conrade’s murderer was devised by Saladin;
therefore he can be compared to the lion lying in ambush.
Scott, The Talisman, p.222.
Scott, The Talisman, p.222.
Scott, The Talisman, p.371.
Scott, The Talisman, pp.371-372.
Scott, The Talisman, p.428.
Scott, The Talisman, p.32.
Scott, The Talisman, p.447.
Scott, The Talisman, p.449. (my italics)
Scott, The Talisman, p.452.
The analysis of Sir Walter Scott’s The Talisman should have made clear that his
application of the concept of chivalry is just as many-sided as the concept itself. In
chapter one the three pillars which support the concept of chivalry were the object
of discussion. Most people associate chivalry with fighting knights in full armour.
Although this stereotypical image does not do justice to the richness of the concept
of chivalry, the fact remains that fighting was indeed a knight’s primary function.
Typically medieval concepts such as the tournament and the Crusade, both of which
feature in The Talisman, have been analyzed in this context. Religion originally had
nothing to do with chivalry. This changed in the tenth century, when the Church
wished to change the violent attitudes of the knightly class. However, this intention
had a contrary effect; the Church’s new tolerant position towards violence
culminated in the organization of the Crusades. The main stress of the social aspect
lay on the position of women and the ideal of courtly love. The analysis of Scott’s
article on chivalry mostly confirmed the findings of the preceding discussion.
The second chapter marked the start of the analysis of The Talisman and
concentrated on the novel’s main characters. The chivalric qualities in the Crusader
camp in general are of a questionable level. King Richard I and especially Sir
Kenneth of the Couching Leopard possess a number of chivalric virtues, but they
both make a number of – sometimes grave – mistakes as well. All the other
Christian leaders of the Crusade are less skilled in the virtues of chivalry; the Grand
Master can even be seen as the complete antagonist of the chivalric spirit. The
Saracen leader, Saladin, stands in total contrast to the Crusaders; he embodies the
ideals of the concept of chivalry perfectly, even risking his own life to save that of
Richard, his enemy. In this chapter, the opposition between the Crusaders and the
Saracens, represented by Saladin, lay not in the cultural or religious differences;
instead, the Crusaders and the Saracens are metaphors that reveal the two sides of
the chivalric medal; the account of the Crusaders shows the consequences of the
violation of the ideals of chivalry, namely failure to achieve one’s goal – in the case
of the Crusaders, the liberation of Jerusalem – loss of honour, strife and jealousy,
and even worse: the Grand Master’s murder plot. All the Christian leaders compete
with each other to acquire fame; however, their lack of unity prevents them from
achieving this. On the other hand, living up to the ideals of chivalry brings about a
good reputation; the decision of the different Saracen tribes to unite behind Saladin
results in a positive view of the Saracens as a whole.
The religious aspect of chivalry was discussed in chapter three. Once again a
large discrepancy could be found between the Crusaders and the Saracens. The
Crusaders produced middling to poor results in this domain. The Grand Master is
once again the absolute nadir; instead of propagating the Christian values – after all,
he is the Grand Master of the Templars – he turns out be an unscrupulous
conspirator with a knack for murdering. Saladin, on the other hand, observes all
prescriptions of his religion and embodies its positive values. An interesting
element in the representation of Christianity and Islam lies in the comparison
between light and dark. In line with the behaviour of the main characters, Muslims
are generally depicted in terms of light, Christians mainly in terms of darkness, but
with a few bright spots; after all, apart from the Grand Master all characters possess
a number of positive religious values.
The fourth chapter focused mainly on The Talisman’s women and the way
in which they and their roles are depicted in the novel. The first point of analysis
was the typically medieval concept of courtly love as applied to the relationship
between Sir Kenneth and Edith Plantagenet. Scott’s grasp of this subject is clear
from his portrayal of the many steps and the cautiousness that characterize courtly
love. However, the other aspects of the lives of The Talisman’s women are a lot less
exciting; in fact, they are almost bored to death because of the lack of pastimes
available to them. Indeed, the world of the Crusade is represented as an essentially
male stronghold in which women were poorly lodged. Finally, Scott’s depiction of
the difference between the Europeans’ and the Saracens’ view on women is
summed up nicely by Saladin’s remark that he “had forgotten your [the Europeans’]
superstitious veneration for the sex, which you consider rather fit to be wondered at
and worshipped than wooed and possessed”498.
Cultural differences were elaborated upon in the fifth and final chapter. A lot
of such differences can be found throughout the novel, ranging from small matters,
like the difference in armour used by the Saracens and the Crusaders, to important
Scott, The Talisman, p.352.
issues, like the comparison of state structures in both cultures. However, it is
important to remark that perception plays an important role when comparing two
cultures. A good example is the fact that to the Europeans the spectacular manner in
which they are welcomed by the Saracens seems like “a wild welcome, after their
savage fashion”499; for the Saracens, however, this is business as usual. Other
cultures, such as Africans, feature in The Talisman as well. A final means of
comparing European culture to its Eastern equivalent is the use of animal imagery.
Throughout The Talisman Scott uses animals to describe both individual characters
and cultures.
My conclusion is that Scott’s evaluation of the concept of chivalry is a
positive one. Saladin is by far the most chivalric character in the entire novel. The
praise he receives from all the other characters indicates that he is a virtuous
character. Indeed, Saladin lives up to the ideals of the concept of chivalry in a
perfect way. However, he stands in marked contrast to the Crusaders; while the
latter are supposed to represent the ideals of chivalry as well, no one does.
Admittedly, some are far better than others, but in the end they all fail. This also
explains the title of this dissertation. King Richard considers El Hakim – read:
Saladin – to be far more chivalric than “those who account themselves the flower of
knighthood”500, i.e. the leaders of the Crusade. Furthermore, an attentive reading of
Scott’s ‘Essay on Chivalry’ reveals his appreciation of the concept of chivalry, but
only when all of its ideals are taken into account and put into practice. This is in my
opinion precisely Scott’s point in The Talisman; he adopts a positive stance towards
chivalry as a set of ideals, all of which should be put into practice, but at the same
time he seriously condemns the excesses and abuses which are the result of the –
intentional or accidental – failure to live up to the ideals.
The focus of my analysis was on the medieval aspect of The Talisman.
Personally, I see two interesting ways to complement this analysis. The first fully
retains the medieval aspect of the novel. I believe it would be both interesting and
rewarding to compare this nineteenth century novel to a number of medieval
romances. An especially interesting topic, in my opinion at least, would be the
Scott, The Talisman, p.414.
Scott, The Talisman, p.180.
comparison between Saladin and characters like the Green Knight501. At first sight,
the difference between these two characters could not be any bigger; however, an
interesting point could be the fact that both Saladin and the Green Knight draw the
attention of the main hero – Sir Kenneth and Sir Gawain – to the latter’s –
unintentional – failure to live in a perfect chivalrous manner. More importantly,
both Saladin and the Green Knight provide the main hero with both the insight and
the means to start with a clean slate.
A second possible approach would be to see The Talisman not as a novel
about times long gone by, but about Scott’s own day. The suggestion of a
comparison between Scott’s representation of medieval chivalry, as analyzed in this
dissertation, and early nineteenth century politics and codes of behaviour has also
been made by Sutherland, who hints at the usefulness of such a future investigation,
applying The Talisman’s differences between “Saracen and Christian [to those
between] Whig and Tory”502.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, <>
Sutherland, The life of Walter Scott, p.280.
Primary literature
~chaucer/special/authors/andreas/de_amore.html> (01/07/2007).
Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Knight’s Tale, ed. by L. D. Benson, 22/01/2006.
<> (01/07/2007).
Scott, Walter, The Talisman, London: Frowde, 1905.
Scott, Walter, Ivanhoe, <>
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, <
greenfrm.htm> (20/07/2007).
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Barber, Richard, The Knight and Chivalry, London: Sphere Books, 1974.
Barnaby, Paul, “The Talisman (Tales of the Crusaders)”, 27/04/2007, Walter Scott
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Crawford, Paul, “Crusades. Crusades and Counter-Crusades”. < counter_crusade.html> (24/05/2007).
Czech, Kenneth P., “Third Crusade: Siege of Acre”. <
magazines/military_history/3028006.html?page=3&c=y> (26/06/2007).
Daiches, David, “Sir Walter Scott and History”, Etudes Anglais 24 (1971): 458477.
medieval/love.html> (01/07/2007).
Ferguson, Athur B., The Indian Summer of English Chivalry: Studies in the Decline
and Transformation of Chivalric Idealism, Durham: Duke University Press, 1960.
Ferris, Ina, The achievement of literary authority: gender, history and the Waverley
novels, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991.
Hoiberg, Dale H. and Theodore Pappas (eds), The New Encyclopaedia Britannica,
Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2005.
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