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SHEER necessity as well as intellectual heritage gave the medieval Church

a tradition of ideas which opposed some but not all violence. The very survival

of Christian society was no mere abstraction for people with vivid memories

of the break-up of the Carolingian order, if not of the break-up of the

parent order of Rome. Continuing might of Islam, made so painfully evident

in the Holy Land, brought their memories and fears quite up to date.1 Even

within Christendom none could doubt that the evils inherent in an imperfect

world would require the use of armed force in their solution, as they always


These ever-present problems were redoubled by the interlocking set of

changes taking place so rapidly and to such significant effect in high medieval

Europe. All three apexes of our triangle of power relationships, clergie, royauté,

and chevalerie, were by the late eleventh and twelfth centuries coming into full

vigour and were taking on sharper intellectual focus. The Church was confronted

by the rise of knighthood, the emergence of a parent form of the

Western European State, and new socio-economic, urban, demographic patterns

in society (as noted in Chapter 1). Finding the right role for violence in

general and for knighthood in particular thus gave churchmen sleepless nights.

The context within which clerical ideas on violence took shape may thus be

as important as the ideas themselves, considered in the abstract. Despite the

intellectual precedents available, the actual situation in the world of the late

eleventh century seems dramatically new. The great heritage from the patristic

and Carolingian past, even Augustine’s ideas on just war, would have to find

1 Pagans of some sort frequently appear as the threat in chansons and even in works more traditionally

classed as romance.

2 The ultimate statement came from Honoré Bonet: ‘[I]t is no great marvel if in this world

there arise wars and battles, since they existed first in Heaven.’ He has in mind the rebel angels

who fought against God: see Coupland, ed., tr., Tree of Battles, 81. Bonet later notes (pp. 118–19)

that the world can never be at peace, since conflict is built into heavenly bodies, animals, and

humans, and argues that even if evil is done in war it is not in itself evil ‘but is good and virtuous’

(p. 125).

their proper fit in this brave new world of papal power, crusade, and canon

law. From this complex mix of theological ideas with the exigencies of sociopolitical

change emerged a range of ideologies with high praise for an ideal

knighthood at one end, bitter denunciation of the evils of knighthood at the


If over time more and more influential voices added their significant opinion

at the positive end of the scale, clerical views on chivalry were always

reform views, constantly mixing praise and denunciation to produce a society

in which the Church could live, and an armed force with which the Church

could work. With their bookish love of wordplay, the clerics perfectly captured

the stark endpoints on the scale of their thought by using two terms of opposite

tenor, differing in only one letter. Was chivalry, they liked to ask, the ideal

service of God—militia—or was it simply badness—malitia?

Clerical Praise for Knightly Militia

After the Gregorian Reform, led by a vigorous line of eleventh-century popes,

had notionally drawn the world of clergie out of the somewhat smothering

embrace of secular society, papal reformers found themselves confronted by

issues of violence in all of their starkness. Could the leadership of the Church

coerce enemies who opposed its realization of the will of God? Could the

pope, only now achieving effective authority even within the Church, declare

and direct war? Should churchmen personally bear arms in good causes? If

they could not participate directly, how could ecclesiastical leadership guide

the coercive power and violence of laymen?

Scholars generally hold that the Gregorians wrought significant changes in

ecclesiastical views on such questions; many even consider the reformers’

views, in particular those of Leo IX (1049–54) and Gregory VII (1073–85),

truly revolutionary in their willingness to consider violence and warfare in a

good cause not merely regrettable but even praiseworthy.3 Peter Damian and

Cardinal Humbert, chief counsellors of Gregory VII, argued against the use of

force even in defence of the faith or in the struggle with heretics.

Yet if both points of view continued to find defenders, Gregory is commonly

considered the principal single architect of subsequent medieval

Christian ideas of holy war. If soldier-saints had been canonized in earlier

3 As Brundage notes: ‘The really radical change in papal policy toward warfare . . . occurred

during the reign of that most warlike of pontiffs, pope Gregory VII. . . . It has been argued, with

considerable justice, that Gregory VII revolutionized the Christian view of warfare and that he

was the principal inventor of the holy war idea in medieval Christendom’: ‘Holy War’, 104. Cf.

Erdmann, Crusade; I. S. Robinson, ‘Gregory VII’; Cowdrey, ‘Genesis of the Crusades’.

times, this was usually despite their military calling; significantly, Gregory

considered some contemporary knights, such as Erlembald of Milan (‘martyred’

in the very physical struggle against clergy who resisted papal reform

measures), to be virtual saints because of their warring for right order in the

world. His letters crackle with martial terminology: ‘the warfare of Christ’,

‘the service of St Peter’, ‘the vassals of St Peter’. His enemies—St Peter’s enemies,

God’s enemies—have to be resisted, ‘even to blood’.4

At one point he chastised Abbot Hugh of Cluny for having dragged, or at

least received, Duke Hugh of Burgundy into the peace of the Cluniac order;

the abbot should rather, the pope wrote, have permitted the duke to remain in

the world to carry out his much-needed service of another sort, the legitimate

military function of a layman.5 At least briefly he tried to enlist the knighthood

of Europe in a grandiose campaign to overawe the old Norman enemies of the

papacy in Italy and then to march off triumphantly to Eastern lands. There

they could aid the Christians in Constantinople against the unbelievers and, in

the process, enforce Roman supremacy over the Eastern church.6

Even before his calls to arms in the famous struggle with the Emperor

Henry IV, calls which a hostile archbishop characterized as declaring war

against the whole world,7 Gregory VII found his enemies accusing him of

unheard-of uses of force. The accusations could only increase during that

struggle. The antipope Wibert of Ravenna, who pictured Gregory standing

abashed at the Last Judgement asked, rhetorically, what defence he could give

‘when the blood of the many slaughtered cries out against him, “Avenge our

blood, O Lord!” ’ Reporting the accusations circulating against Gregory,

Wenrich of Trier wrote to the pope:

They declare that . . . you incite to bloodshed secular men seeking pardon for their sins;

that murder, for whatever reason it is committed, is of small account; that the property

of St Peter must be defended by force; and to whomsoever dies in this defence you

promise freedom from all his sins, and you will render account for any man who does

not fear to kill a Christian in Christ’s name.8

One of these critics, Sigebert of Gembloux, presented the anti-Gregorian position

with even greater succinctness in a sharp rhetorical thrust:

Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 65

4 On military saints, see Cowdrey, ‘Genesis of the Crusades’, 20. I. S. Robinson comments on

Gregory’s military imagery: ‘Gregory VII’, 177. Brooke notes that ‘ “[b]lood” was a word often on

his lips’: Medieval Church and Society, 62.

5 Letter quoted in I. S. Robinson, ‘Gregory VII’, 190.

6 Cowdrey, ‘Gregory VII’s Crusading Plans’, 27–40; I. S. Robinson, ‘Gregory VII’.

7 Quoted in I. S. Robinson, ‘Gregory VII’, 174.

8 Ibid., 180, 183. For a general discussion, with many citations, see Erdmann, Crusade, 229–68.

[W]here does it come from, this novel authority by which sinners are offered freedom

from punishment for sins which they have committed, and licence to commit fresh

ones, without confession and penance? What a window of wickedness you have thus

opened up to mankind!9

Gregory and his supporters would, of course, deny and counter such

charges, but another feature of their ideology would have brought no denials

from their lips or pens. They pressed forward an effort to disarm the clergy as

a complement to directing the armed might of knighthood. The clerics might

rightly direct righteous war; they were not to participate, sword in hand.

Legislation in councils striving to reform the Church often aimed to take

weapons from the sacred hands of clerics no less than to remove women from

their eager arms. Apparently the former effort was much more successful than

the latter. In his account of the beginnings of the Gregorian movement, Orderic

Vitalis, for example, links the evil of clerical sexuality with the bearing of arms

by the clergy. He complains with practised monastic indignity that the clerks

could more readily be parted from their weapons than from their women. The

aftermath of the visit of Leo IX to Reims in 1049 made this result clear to him:

‘From that time the fatal custom [of clerics bearing arms] began to wither away

little by little. The priests were ready enough to give up bearing arms but even

now they are loath to part with their mistresses or to live chaste lives.’10

One of the most significant conductors for the high voltage of reforming

ideas was the emerging science of canon law. The positive Gregorian concept

of Christian warfare entered canon law through the writings of Bishop Anselm

of Lucca, papal legate in Lombardy and publicist for the Gregorian cause. By

1140 these ideas had then moved forward another and even longer step.

Combining Anselm’s ideas with those of the slightly later Ivo of Chartres, and

drawing heavily on the Church fathers (Augustine in particular), the monk

Gratian created an ecclesiastical law of war ‘as a particular species of violence’

in his influential Decretum, a work which later theologians and writers on the

canon law had always to take into account.11

In Causa 23 of this work, the first quaestio asks pointedly, ‘Is military service

a sin?’ Although here and elsewhere in his work Gratian quotes authorities

who would answer in the affirmative, his conclusion follows Augustine in

asserting that such service is not inherently sinful. In fact, truly just warfare was

not simply acceptable, it could be pleasing in the eyes of the Almighty. Well in

advance of enthusiastic writers of vernacular manuals on chivalry and of the

great chivalric chanson and romances, Gratian even proclaimed prowess a gift

9 Quoted in Housley, ‘Crusades Against Christians’, 19.

10 Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, III, 120–3.

11 Brundage, ‘Holy War’, 106; cf I. S. Robinson, ‘Gregory VII’, 184–90.

of God; such prowess exercised in just warfare became an instrument leading

to the blessed goal of peace. If the warriors had the right motives, if the war

was called by proper authority in order to right a wrong or injury, then all was

well. Gratian was especially concerned about proper authority, but his list of

such authorities, reflecting the situation in his world, seems to have been fairly

comprehensive: it did not absolutely exclude anyone ‘from the Emperor or

king down to the most lowly vassal’. Clerics were prohibited from direct participation

by bearing arms themselves, and even from directly ordering bloodshed;

but they could encourage others to defend right, correct wrongs, protect

the Church. God was, of course, the ultimate authority for violence, but his

Church could direct just war on his behalf.12

Canonists would work to fill in these broad outlines (and to confront the

myriad of questions Gratian left unanswered) for generations to come. For

our purposes, the window of opportunity opened for a clerical valorization of

knighthood is immediately obvious. The law of the Church, though with

many qualifications and caveats, accepted the need for knightly violence.

For all of its fears of the milites, the cloister, too, proved to be a source of ideas

valorizing emerging chivalry. A much-discussed parallel between knights on

the one hand and monks and hermits on the other provided one of the most

venerable means by which blessings descended upon knighthood. Churchmen

frequently asserted that knights and monks were both called to serve;

significantly, the Latin verb they used, militare, could mean to fight as well to

serve and, in fact, they easily considered the service of both knights and monks

a form of warfare against evil, in one dimension conducted in the spirit, in the

other in physical battle.13 All the milites Christi, monks and knights alike, in

other words, were warriors engaged one way or another in battle against evil,

even as Christ himself had been.14

In a scene of wonderful symbolic content, white-robed monks in The Quest

of the Holy Grail literally pull the knight errant Galahad into their religious

house to enjoy their hospitality; on his part, he recognizes them, the author

tells us, as brothers. In this same text the hermits who so prominently dispense

religious advice regularly put on ‘the armour of Holy Church’ or ‘the armour

of Our Lord’, when saying mass for the knights.15

Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 67

12 See the discussions in Russell, Just War, 55–85, and Chodorow, Christian Political Theory,

234–46. For Gratian’s text, see Richter, ed., Decretum Magistri Gratiani, I, 890–965.

13 As noted by Holdsworth, ‘Ideas and Reality’, 77.

14 This parallel is not confined to comparisons of monks and knights, though that is its usual

form. Clerics other than monks might feel the basic similarity of roles, as John of Salisbury notes:

Dickinson, ed., tr., Statesman’s Book, 190.

15 E.g. Matarasso, tr., Quest, 53, 86, 103; Pauphilet, ed., Queste, 26–7, 62, 81–2.

Orderic Vitalis draws upon the world of war to write of monks using ‘the

weapon of prayer (arma orationis)’. He can use the term martyr for knights

who suffer death on their crusade. When he pens the phrase ‘soldiers of Christ

(milites Christi)’ he sometimes means monks, sometimes crusading knights.16

Writing in praise of a man named Gerold, a pious clerk in the household of

the Earl of Chester, Orderic says:

[He] did his best to convert the men of the court to a better way of life by showing

them the examples of their forebears. He rightly condemned the worldly wantonness

that he saw in many and deplored the great negligence that most of them showed for

the worship of God. To great lords, simple knights, and noble boys alike he gave salutary

counsel; and he made a great collection of tales of the combats of holy knights,

drawn from the Old Testament and more recent records of Christian achievements, for

them to imitate. He told them vivid stories of the conflicts of Demetrius and George,

of Theodore and Sebastian, of the Theban legion and Maurice its leader, and of

Eustace, supreme commander of the army and his companions, who won the crown of

martyrdom in heaven. He also told them of the holy champion, William [of Orange],

who after long service in war renounced the world and fought gloriously for the Lord

under the monastic rule. And many profited from his exhortations, for he brought

them from the wide ocean of the world to the safe harbour of life under the Rule.17

Orderic presents a fascinating compromise here, suggesting, indirectly, the

validity of a knightly life in the world, so long as religion is not neglected and

the battles are fought for good causes, but ending conventionally with the ultimate

monastic solution: it would be better for the knights to become monks,

at least at the end of an active life in the world. Of course many knights in fact

heard this call, William Marshal only the most famous of them.18

In the writings of St Bernard, himself the son of a knight, these military

metaphors appear regularly. An Augustinian canon, who had given up his religious

vocation and returned to the world, was admonished in a letter from

Bernard: ‘Show yourself in the fight. If Christ recognizes you in battle he will

recognize you . . . on the Last Day.’ He wrote to Robert de Châtillon to return

to his ‘fellow-soldiers’ in the monastery at Clairvaux: ‘Arise, soldier of Christ,

I say arise! Shake off the dust and return to the battle.’ Bernard tells Robert he

is sleeping, while his house is invaded by armed men scaling the walls, pouring

in at every entrance.19

16 Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, III, bk. VI 260–1, 292–3, 298–9; V, bk. IX, 6–7, 52–7, bk.

X, 340–1.

17 Chibnall, Ecclesiastical History, III, bk. VI, 216–17.

18 Even Bertran de Born, famous warrior/poet, retired to a religious house he had patronized:

Paden et al., eds, Poems of the Troubadour, 24–6.

19 Quoted in Evans, Bernard of Clairvaux, 24.

Crusade was clearly another conduit for transmitting clerical valorization of

knightly violence.20 In the era of crusade, as Christian society was being

divided by clerical intellectuals into three distinct ‘orders’—those who pray,

those who fight, and those who work—knighthood became, in clerical minds,

an ordo. Knights became, that is, one of these divisions of society approved by

God, one of the orders within which one might achieve salvation.21

At a time when much cultural attention was likewise focused on penance

and the means of achieving salvation,22 when salvation may have appeared to

many almost as a treasure securely kept behind monastic walls, contemporaries

sensed the novelty of creating this new order not simply for laymen, but

specifically for knights, with all their enthusiasm for killing. In the early twelfth

century Guibert of Nogent, a monk and supporter of Gregorian ideals, wrote

that knights who wore the crusader’s cross could now find salvation without

taking the traditional path of giving up their way of life and entering a


God in our time has introduced the holy war so that the knighthood and the unstable

people, who shed each other’s blood in the way of pagans, might have a new way to

win salvation. They need not choose the life of a monk and abandon the world in accordance

with the vows of a rule, but can obtain God’s grace through their own profession,

in their accustomed freedom and secular dress.23

Otto of Freising, writing towards the middle of the twelfth century, thought

of crusaders in similar terms. At a time of senseless war at home,

some, for Christ’s sake, despising their own interests and considering that it was not for

naught that they were wearing the girdle of knighthood, set out for Jerusalem and

there, undertaking a new kind of warfare, so conducted themselves against the enemies

of the Cross of Christ that, continually bearing about in their bodies the death of the

cross, they appeared by their life and conversation to be not soldiers but monks.24

The special service of crusade thus covered the sins of the knights and could

pry open the doors of paradise itself. The troubadour Aimeric de Pégulhan

exults that knights ‘can obtain honour down here and joy in Paradise’ and

manage all this ‘without renouncing our rich garments, our station in life,

courtesy and all that pleases and charms’. He is wonderfully relieved that ‘[n]o

more is there need to be tonsured or shaved and lead a hard life in the most

Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 69

20 Convincing views in Keen, Chivalry, 44–63.

21 See Duby, Les Trois Ordres; Flori, L’Ideologie du glaive.

22 Cowdrey, ‘Genesis of the Crusades’, 21–4.

23 Quoted in Erdmann, Crusade, 336–7.

24 Otto of Freising, Chronica, in Hofmeister, ed., Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum, 320,

Mierow, tr., Two Cities, 414–15.

strict order if we can revenge the shame which the Turks have done us’.25 The

exchange is explicit and explicitly stated in some chansons: Christ died for the

knights, they must be willing to die for him.26

The most influential monastic voice speaking to knighthood as crusade

ideas gathered force was that of Bernard of Clairvaux, perhaps the most

influential churchman of the first half of the twelfth century. Bernard was willing

to recognize a role for the hermaphroditic fusion of monk and knight in a

special body of crusaders, the Order of the Knights Templar, for whom he

wrote ‘Praise of the New Knighthood’.27 His approval of this new knighthood,

‘unknown to ages gone by’, is fulsome, but specific: the order ‘ceaselessly

wages a twofold war both against flesh and blood and against a spiritual

army of evil in the heavens’. The Templars can, he assures them, fight secure in

their moral stature as God’s warriors:

The knight of Christ, I say, may strike with confidence and die yet more confidently,

for he serves Christ when he strikes, and serves himself when he falls. Neither does he

bear the sword in vain, for he is God’s minister, for the punishment of evildoers and for

the praise of the good. If he kills an evildoer, he is not a mankiller, but, if I may so put

it, a killer of evil [non homicidia, sed ut ita dixerim, malicidia].28

Bernard’s last phrase recalls the wordplay with militia and malitia of which he

and other clerics made such telling use; but here the game elevates his ideal

knights at the expense of their brothers among merely ‘worldly chivalry’.

Some years later he granted his blessing to an even larger subset of the

knightly (admittedly somewhat slowly at first) in his preaching of the Second

Crusade. At Vezelay in 1146, Bernard issued an eloquent call for crusaders,

using the ‘heavenly instrument’ of his voice to praise the work they would do,

even modifying on behalf of these knights his usual preference for the fight of

the monk, whose warfare for the good was spiritual and interior, not physical

and exterior. Contemporaries noted that his eloquence on behalf of crusading

warfare won the approval of God, as the many miracles that took place at

Vezeley witnessed. In the preaching campaign that followed, Bernard travelled

many miles through the Kingdom of France and the Empire.29

25 Quoted in Painter, French Chivalry, 87, and linked to Guibert’s statement, quoted above, by

Keen, Nobles, Knights, 3.

26 See, for example, ll. 9380–1 in Newth, ed., tr., Song of Aspremont and Brandin, ed., Chanson

d’Aspremont. For an example from romance, see Bryant, tr., Perlesvaus, 236; Nitze and Jenkins, eds,

Perlesvaus, I, 370.

27 In Greenia, tr., Bernard of Clairvaux, 127–67. For the Latin version, see Leclercq and Rochais,

eds, Bernard of Clairvaux, III, 213–39.

28 Greenia, Bernard of Clairvaux, 129, 134; Leclercq and Rochais, Bernard of Clairvaux, III, 214,


29 Berry, ed, tr., Odo of Deuil, 9–10, describes the scene at Vezeley. Riley-Smith provides a map

of St Bernard’s preaching tour: Atlas of the Crusades, 48. For the rather slow development of his

Finally we should note that clerics gradually became willing to transfer the

blessings they had long reserved for kingship to the ordo of knights, shifting

the heavy mantle of praise and high responsibility from one set of shoulders to

another. Jean Flori’s detailed studies of knighting ceremonies, of church ritual

and liturgy, of the legislation of church councils, and the ideas of clerical intellectuals

and popularizers, have skilfully illuminated this revealing change.30

The clerical tradition which had praised and legitimized the necessary societal

role of Christian Roman emperors, sub-Roman Germanic kings, Carolingian

emperors and their successors, came in the course of the High Middle Ages to

bless and praise the ideal role of knights. The knights were needed in hard

times. Like kings, and even in place of kings who were failing to fulfil their

function, they could defend the Church, keep the peace, protect the weak.

Idealistic reformers assigned knights particular responsibility for defending

widows and orphans.31 If originally and ultimately such responsibility rested

with God, it had devolved in turn upon the Jewish people, the Christian

Church, and then, more specifically and exclusively, Christian kingship. When

the power of post-Carolingian kings slipped over much of Europe, the knights

came to share this aspect of royal responsibility.

Over time this more generous view of knighthood not only predominated

but generalized to cover the entire order of the chivalrous. A form of sacralization—

even though it always carried significant qualifications—came to rest

on the knighthood which clerics so decidedly needed for all of the business of

life sadly requiring force. Descendants of the knights whose excesses were condemned

by the leaders of the peace movement (discussed below) heard their

praises sung as at least potentially blessed warriors. They could become the

‘knights of St Peter’ at the time of Gregory VII, or the ‘knights of Christ’ when

fighting under later crusade banners, whether the foe consisted of Muslims in

the Holy Land or heretics or declared papal enemies within Christendom.

Finally, the blessing spread from the select few to the generality of knights,

as knighthood began to be more or less equated with nobility over much of

Europe, as clerics attributed major aspects of royal power and responsibility to

the ordo of knights. Not just crusaders, but all knights could be saved within

this order if only they carried out their mission faithfully, listened to each sermonette

from their clerical betters, and heeded the warnings. The formula of

Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 71

enthusiasm for the crusade, and his efforts to explain its complete failure, see Evans, Bernard of

Clairvaux, 24–36.

30 Flori, L’Idéologie du glaive and L’Essor de chevalerie. Flori’s numerous articles appear in the bibliographies

to these books.

31 As Flori notes, however, ‘Le service de la Dame prime peu à peu sur celui de l’Eglise et la

“protection” plus flatteuse, de la pucelle l’emporte sur celle de la veuve et de l’orphelin. A l’idéologie

clérical se mêle l’idéologie profane’: L’Essor de chevalerie, 302.

willingness to die for Christ, who was willing to die for humanity, shifts easily—

chivalric literature shows us—to a willingness to die for the lord or king

who puts his body at risk for his men.32 This laicization and generalization of

crusade valorization is sometimes quite explicit. In the Lancelot do Lac and in

the Lancelot, the knight Pharian explains to his fellow vassals why they must

fight for their liege lords, the young Bors and Lionel:

if we die for them it will be to our honour in the world and to our renown as warriors,

because for the sake of rescuing his liege lord from death a man is duty-bound to put

his own life ungrudgingly at risk. If anyone then dies, he dies as sure of salvation as if

he were slain fighting the Saracens, the enemies of Our Lord Jesus Christ!33

Fighting for one’s lord has taken on the aura of fighting for the Lord. The

point is made even more broadly and strikingly later in the Lancelot. A former

knight, who leaves the religious life he has adopted to return to the world to

fight against an enemy troubling his son, argues this case in discussion with


is he who destroys life without justification not worse than a Saracen? If I went overseas

to fight against the destroyers of Christendom, it would be judged praiseworthy,

for I must do all in my power to avenge the death of Jesus Christ, since I am a Christian.

Therefore I’ll go to avenge my son, who is a Christian, and help him against those who

are in the place of the unbelievers.34

Such views had a long future.35

Clerics must have had their doubts about the logic as well as the behaviour

of the knights; but they had few alternatives. They crossed their fingers and

kept preaching their ideals, excepting from the blessings they bestowed on the

High Order of Chivalry only those (in theory a minority) who burned

churches, looted and raped the poor, and caused general mayhem through

unjust warfare.

The Order of Knighthood (Ordene de chevalerie, c. 1220) seems to sum up clerical

valorization. Evidently written by a cleric and possibly a priest, this manual

provides what its editor, Keith Busby, terms a mystico-religious meaning

for the ceremony by which a knight is made. Each step, each piece of equip-

32 See, for example, Pickens, tr., Story of Merlin, 291; Sommer, ed., Vulgate Version, II, 226–7.

33 Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part I, 32; Sommer, Vulgate Version, III, 60; Elspeth Kennedy, ed.,

Lancelot do Lac, I, 73.

34 Carroll, tr., Lancelot Part II, 199; Sommer, Vulgate Version, III, 359; Kennedy, Lancelot do

Lac, I, 476.

35 They also had a recent past. The account of the crusade of Richard the Lion-Heart, written

around the turn of the thirteenth century, says that Richard, fighting hostile Cypriots en route to

the Holy Land, ‘forbore to seek worse Saracens’ than these enemies: (‘Peors Sarazins ne volt

guerre’): Paris, ed., L’Histoire de la guerre sainte.

ment is given a moral or religious meaning. The bath shows the knight

cleansed from sin; the bed on which he rests figures the bed he will earn in paradise,

etc. The intent to praise knighthood and fit it into medieval Christian

society is obvious. The audience whom the author seems to be addressing is

clerical, as the following statement near the end of the manual indicates:

knights, whom everybody should honour . . . have us all to guard; and if it were not for

knighthood, our lordship would be of little worth, for they defend Holy Church, and

they uphold justice for us against those who would do us harm. . . . Our chalices would

be stolen from before us at the table of God, and nothing would ever stop it. But their

justice which defends us in their persons is decisive. The good would never be able to

endure if the wicked did not fear knights, and if there were only Saracens, Albigensians,

and Barbarians, and people of evil faith.

The clerical case for the necessity of knighthood and the justification of their

swords could scarcely be made more clearly.36

Clerical Strictures on Knightly Malitia

Clerics balanced approval of chivalry, as an ideal type with the most blistering

criticism of the ideals and practices of chivalry actually encountered in the


The peace movement, at work between the late tenth and twelfth centuries,

overlapped the gestational age of chivalry.37 Despite much debate, most historians

think that the warriors of middling and lesser rank, the castellans (masters

of fortifications), and their subordinate milites were the targets of much of

the legislation. Clerics wanted licit war to be limited to the higher authorities,

which meant that the bishops and abbots pinned their hopes for social order

on the great lords, at least in the absence of effective royal control (which to

them would have been preferable still).

In the specific form known as the Truce of God (which sought, from the

second quarter of the eleventh century, to outlaw fighting during times of

religious significance), the prohibition against fighting was often relaxed in

favour of the lay authority considered licit by the churchmen. A count or duke

could thus licitly fight against those engaged in acts of illicit violence. Not

surprisingly, at least in Normandy, Flanders, and Catalonia, the Peace of God

had, before the end of the eleventh century, become the Peace of the Count

Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 73

36 Busby, ed., Ordene de chevalerie, tr., 174–5; French text, 117.

37 The debates over interpretations of the Peace of God are surveyed and sampled in Head and

Landes, eds, Peace of God. See also Duby, Chivalrous Society, 123–33; Cowdrey, ‘Peace and Truce’;

Jean Flori, Idéologie du glaive, 135–57.

or Duke; by the mid-twelfth century it had become the King’s Peace in


Some scholarship takes us beyond major peace councils to informal efforts,

which are no less significant for our themes. With the approval of the count,

the monks of the monastery of Lobbes in Flanders, for example, left their

house, ruined by war, to take the relics of their patron saint, Ursmer, on a tour

in 1060. Among the many miracles recorded by the monks on this tour, the

greatest was that the saint brought peace to the region in which interlocking

feuds were everywhere. At Strazeele, the writer noted, ‘some knights were so

hostile to each other that no mortal man could bring them to peace’. At

Lissewege, the problem centred on a young man named Robert who had a

large following of knights; he would not reconcile with his enemy. Pressed by

the monks and locals (including older knights, we should note), he and this

enemy lay prostrate before the saint for three hours. Robert gnashed his teeth,

groaned, turned alternately pale and red, clawed the ground and ate dirt in

sheer frustration with those who would rob him of revenge. Finally, the saint’s

reliquary dramatically spewed smoke and levitated: Robert pardoned his

enemy and peace was made.39

The solemn rigours of the canon law—some distance from smoking, levitating

reliquaries in a Flemish village—can likewise show us clerical doubts

and fears about the milites. Although, as we have seen, Gratian’s influential

Decretum created safe canonical space for just warfare, he seems to have sensed

how hard it would be to make Christian charity the motivating force for fighting,

how unlikely it would be for the knightly ranks of his day to give up such

sinful motives as private revenge or plentiful booty. Frederick Russell argues,

for example, that the prolix and pompous exhortations that Gratian and so

many later canonists addressed to the knights (against their ‘lust for doing

harm, cruelty of punishment, implacable and unsatisfied vehemence, savagery,

and lust for domination’) show deep fears on just these points. As Russell

writes, ‘Against the well-known greed, rapacity, and ferocity of the knightly

class of his time Gratian opposed the patristic portraits of the Christian soldier,

thereby striking at the core of knightly practice.’40 The canonists, with hope in

their hearts, praised the military virtues, in other words, but they recognized

and feared the military vices so evident in their world; and they spoke to that


38 Flori, Ideologie du glaive, 154; Head and Landes eds, Peace of God, 8. The capacity of royal government

in England eliminated the need for this infusion of support.

39 Koziol, ‘The Making of Peace’, 250–1. Koziol notes that the castellans must have welcomed

the monks into their regions, hoping for some increment to their own prestige.

40 Russell, Just War, 61.

Though crusading epitomized knightly lay piety, most knights for most of

their lives were not crusaders; the majority of their fighting was done at home

against their fellow knights (or at least their enemies’ peasantry). Clerics constantly

drew the sharpest contrast between the ordinary conduct of knighthood

and the special service of crusade.

Even Urban II, as he preached the crusade at Clermont in 1095, took this

approach, if we can at all trust later accounts of his famous crusade sermon. He

seems to have stressed the evils inherent in the knightly life and presented crusading

as a means of atonement. The chronicler Fulcher of Chartres pictures

Urban saying, ‘Now will those who once were robbers become Christi milites;

those who once fought brothers and relatives will justly fight barbarians; those

who once were mercenaries for a few farthings will obtain eternal reward.’41

Baldric of Dol gives the pope an even more outspoken speech of condemnation

with a smaller escape hatch of virtue opened for the knights:

You are proud; you tear your brothers to pieces and fight among yourselves. The battle

that rends the flock of the Redeemer is not the militia Christi. Holy church has

reserved knighthood for itself, for the defence of its people, but you pervert it in

wickedness . . . you oppressors of orphans and widows, you murderers, you templedefilers,

you lawbreakers, who seek the rewards of rapacity from spilling Christian

blood. . . . If you wish to save your souls, either abandon the profession of arms or go

boldly forth as Christi milites and hasten to the defence of the Eastern church.42

Whether or not these are words actually spoken by Urban from his platform

at Clermont, they clearly establish the continuing clerical criticism of knighthood

and the strait gate through which it had to pass to meet the approval of


If chroniclers wrote the pope’s words for him, their own words flowed in

the same vein. William of Tyre thought the crusaders needed the opportunity

to redeem themselves by pious work: their habit was to commit theft, arson,

rape, murder. William of Malmesbury agreed; he thought that the departure

of the milites as crusaders meant that Christians at home could now live in


Views from the knights’ ‘fellow warriors’ in the cloisters had long been fearful

and condemnatory about knightly practice, however much they liked to

imagine a brotherly parallel between knights and monks in theory. We have

already noted some expression of these monastic fears when we looked at

Orderic’s chronicle and Suger’s biography of Louis VI. To their witness we

should add that great voice of monasticism, Bernard de Clairvaux. If he sang

Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 75

41 Quoted in Erdmann, Crusade, 339–40. 42 Ibid., 340.

43 Quoted in Flori, L’Essor de la chevalerie, 199.

the praises of the select company of Knights Templar, and of the larger body

of those who went on the Second Crusade, for ordinary knights—which of

course means the overwhelming majority of the knights of his day—St

Bernard could scarcely restrain his contempt.44 To these men, ‘fighting for the

devil’, go plain words of warning:

If you happen to be killed while you are seeking only to kill another, you die a murderer.

If you succeed, and by your will to overcome and to conquer you perchance kill

a man, you live a murderer. . . . What an unhappy victory—to have conquered a man

while yielding to vice, and to indulge in an empty glory at his fall when wrath and pride

have gotten the better of you!

Warming to his subject, Bernard heaps scorn on the combination of vanity and

violence in chivalry as it was practised all around him:

What then, O knights, is this monstrous error and what this unbearable urge which

bids you fight with such pomp and labor, and all to no purpose except death and sin.

You cover your horses with silk, and plume your armor with I know not what sort of

rags; you paint your shields and your saddles; you adorn your bits and spurs with gold

and silver and precious stones, and then in all this glory you rush to your ruin with fearful

wrath and fearless folly.

Since most knights, he is convinced, are fighting for the devil rather than for

God, he does not hesitate to call them ‘impious rogues, sacrilegious thieves,

murderers, perjurers and adulterers’. When they are converted to the new

knighthood of the Temple, there will be twofold joy: ‘A twofold joy and a

twofold benefit, since their countrymen are as glad to be rid of them as their

new comrades are to receive them. Both sides have profited from this

exchange, since the latter are strengthened and the former are now left in

peace.’45 On one occasion Bernard backed up his ideas with dramatic effects on

some knights who visited Clairvaux, but refused his entreaties to put down

their arms and give up tourneying for the Lenten season. After Bernard gave

them beer which he had blessed, they soon left the secular militia and became


The voice from the schools could be no less critical, or at least no less demanding

than that from the cloister. In writings such as his sermon ‘Ad Milites’ the

noted scholar Alain de Lille (d. 1203) wields a pen as effective and almost as

44 Grabois, ‘Militia and Malitia’. Cf. Buist-Thiele, ‘Bernard of Clairvaux’, 57–65. Leclercq notes

that Bernard’s purpose in his treatise was not simply to promote the Knights Templar, but ‘to find

expression for his own ideal of knighthood’: Monks and Love, 21.

45 Greenia, tr., Bernard of Clairvaux, 138, 131, 132, 143; Leclercq and Rochais, eds, Bernard of

Clairvaux, 219, 215, 216, 213.

46 Leclercq tells the story in Monks and Love, 89.

sharply pointed as that of St Bernard.47 In one important sense his position is

more comprehensively tolerant than that of Bernard; he sees a valid knightly

role extending well beyond that of knight-monks as a special subset of crusaders.

In an unusual reinterpretation of the famous image of two swords

(often used to refer to the powers of Church and State) he even suggests that

knights possess them both. They belt on the physical sword to secure temporal

peace; the second sword, he says, is spiritual, an interior weapon by which

they can secure the peace of their own hearts.48

But he charges knighthood in general with terrible sins of omission and

commission. They should be devoted followers of the military saints; they

should defend their homeland and the Church their mother; they should fight

her enemies boldly; they should protect widows and orphans. But how do

they act in fact? They show only the outward appearance of knighthood, not

realizing that these exterior signs are but figures of the true knighthood within,

that which is nourished by the word of God in their breasts. Their knighthood

becomes utterly empty, only a shell. Thus, what they practise is not true

knightly service, but plundering; not militia, but rapina. In short, they become

thieves, devastating the poor. They avoid fighting the enemies of Christ (out

of sloth or fear), but make fellow Christians the victims of their swords. In his

most telling phrase Alain denounces knights for sharpening their swords in the

viscera of their mother, the Church.49

His criticism of knightly pillaging and looting appears vividly in a story told

of knights from the region bursting into Alain’s theology classroom at

Montpellier. The knights (obviously motivated by intellectual curiosity and

some respect for the learning of clergie) demanded that he tell them what constituted

the highest degree of courtesy. An unruffled Alain pronounced the

opinion that it lay in giving liberally and beneficently. Though the knights all

liked this answer, they could only have been less pleased as Alain turned the

tables with much didactic coolness and asked them what, correspondingly,

was the deepest degree of villainy (rusticitas). When the knights failed to agree

on an answer, he explained archly that it lay in living by looting the poor as

they did.50 Of course, no professor easily tolerates a rude invasion of his classroom,

but, as we have already seen, Alain gave similar views on the evils of

Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 77

47 Patrologia Latina, 210, cols 185–7. Cf his ‘Sermo de cruce domini’—in d’Alverny, Alain de

Lille, 279–82—in which he insists that crusaders must perform their service in a spirit of penitence,

not anger, and must wear this penitence as an inward cross, parallelling in a more meaningful form

their exterior crusading cross. They must imitate the thief to Christ’s right on Calvary, not the

angry thief to his left. Was this thief imagery chosen purely by chance? For a general discussion of

Alain’s views on knighthood see Flori, L’Essor de chevalerie, 291–4.

48 ‘Ad milites,’ Patrologia Latina 210, col. 186. 49 Ibid.

50 Two versions of the story are quoted in d’Alverny, Alain de Lille, 16–17, n. 30.

knighthood, from the uninterrupted quiet of his study, in his sermon ‘Ad


John of Salisbury is generally more accepting. Since he clothes knights in the

classical drapery of his self-conscious learning, his view allows for more talk of

the loyal service owed by milites to ‘the prince’ and to ‘the commonwealth’. He

wants his readers to know he is not hostile to military men or the military life.51

He tries to think of contemporary knights as the Roman soldiers he so admires

in his books on antiquity, fitted into a world properly directed by clergie. The

armed soldier, in fact, ‘no less than the spiritual one is limited by the requirements

of office to religion and the worship of God, since he must faithfully and

according to God obey the prince and vigilantly serve the republic’. Given

such a military force, he announces his willingness to ‘undertake its defence

against whoever attacks it and will fully justify it on the authority of God’.52

He knows, though, that the world in which he lives is not the world of his

books. He would that the knights of his own day were a stalwart, ideal soldiery

selected by careful examination, disciplined in constant drill, and enlisted for

true public service. He is thus disappointed and critical on two levels. First, he

confronts the knights on their own ground, on the level of sheer professionalism:

the knights of his day are simply not good enough at their tasks as warriors,

not bold enough, not truly committed to their high and necessary

vocation. The Roman discipline is gone, he laments, largely because of effeminacy

and luxury.53

But his second criticism is more pointed, even if John, ever cautious, gives

it less space. The wrong people hold the swords and use them in wrongful pursuits.

Many of those who call themselves milites ‘are in reality no more soldiers

than men are priests and clerics whom the Church has never called into orders’.

He knows, from his books, what to call these men, ‘for in old writings those

who use arms outside the decree of law are called murderers and bandits.’

These untrue milites,

believe that the glory of their military service grows if the priesthood is humiliated, if

the authority of the Church becomes worthless, if they would so expand the kingdom

of man that the empire of God contracts, if they declare their own praises and flatter

and extol themselves by false eulogy. . . . Their courage manifests itself mainly if either

their weapons or their words pierce the clergy or the unarmed soldiers [i.e. the other

servants of the republic].

51 What follows draws on his Policraticus: see Webb, ed., Ioannis Saresberiensis and Nederman,

tr., Policraticus. The insistence that he appreciates the military appears at the opening of Book VI,

chapter v.

52 Policraticus, VI, chs viii and v.

53 Ibid., Book VI, ch. vi.

Such men serve ‘rage or vanity or avarice or their own private will’ rather than

defending the Church and the poor, pacifying the land, and even giving their

lives, if needed.54 Though milites ideally offer their service to the republic and


the number is legion of those who when they offer their belt upon the altar for the purpose

of consecrating themselves to military service, their evil works seem to cry aloud

and proclaim that they have approached the altar with the intention of declaring war

against it and its ministers and even against God Himself who is worshipped there.

They are more like practitioners of malitia than members of the true militia.55

In such passages, John seems to step away from the classical backdrop that so

often formed the stage-set for his writing and to speak plainly about his own


Gerald of Wales, a bridge figure connecting this world of scholarship with

the busy world of clerical administrators, often adopts the mores of the world

he describes in his historical writing. Yet even he can slip in telling critiques. If

he praises the knights from England and the Welsh Marches who invaded

Ireland in the reign of Henry II, he can note archly that their work were better

done if they

had paid due reverence to the church of Christ, not only by preserving its ancient rights

and privileges inviolate, but also by hallowing their new and sanguinary conquest, in

which so much blood had been shed, and which was stained by the slaughter of a christian

people, by liberally contributing some portion of their spoils for religious use. But

. . . this has been the common failing of all our countrymen engaged in these wars from

their first coming over to the present day.56

Gerald’s contemporary, Etienne de Fougères, chaplain to Henry II and

bishop of Rennes (1168–78), was even more outspoken and pointed in the criticisms.

His Livre des manières, which excoriates all the divisions of society,

states that knights should provide justice, extinguish violence and plundering:

But most knights are usually lax about their duties,

So I hear complaints all day long (from those the knights should protect)