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MEDIEVAL France was the veritable home of chivalry and the birthplace

of the chanson de geste, a body of texts especially concerned with

emerging institutions of governance.1 How this literature portrayed the relationship

of chivalry to Capetian royalty and to the reformed Church is thus

worth a close look.2

To sample this vast body of literature we can turn to a well-known division

suggested in a thirteenth-century poem.3 The entire corpus of chansons, this

text suggests, can be divided into three broad cycles, today generally known as

the Cycle of the King, the Cycle of William of Orange (or of Garin de

Monglane, his ancestor), and the Cycle of the Barons in Revolt.4 We will look

briefly at one example from each.

Though written in the twelfth century, each is set in the Carolingian era, the

monarch in each case being Charlemagne or his son Louis. Scholars have long

recognized that these twelfth-century poems reflect society and issues of their

time of composition, not those of the eighth- or ninth-century setting in

which the action takes place.5

1 See Chapter 2, footnote 3.

2 See Kay, Chansons de Geste; Calin, Old French Epic; Kaeuper, War, Justice, and Public Order,

315–25, and sources cited there; Flori, ‘L’Historien’; Boutet, ‘Chansons de geste’; Boutet and

Strubel, Littérature, politique et société, 39–68; Rossi, ‘Le duel judiciaire’; Hackett, ‘Girart de


3 As Rossi notes, in research on the role of kingship, family quarrels, and private wars, ‘le corpus

français des chansons de geste [est] en définitive peu exploité’: Essor et fortune, I, 264.

4 Yeandle, ed., Girard de Viane, ll. 11–80.

5 Writing of the Couronnement de Louis, Frappier notes that ‘La cérémonie dans la chapelle

d’Aix évoke le sacre de Louis VII à Reims en 1131 autant ou plus que l’événement de 813’: Chansons

de geste, II, 141. He suggests (p. 158) that the text creates a double reference, uniting the Capetian

present with memories of the Carolingian past. As Rossi says, ‘les personnages carolingiens et tout

un arsenal de stéréotypes narratifs sont utilisés pour narrer des événements pseudo-historiques

qui, en fait, renvoient à la réalité et aux problèmes du royaume capétien des XIIe et XIIIe siècles’:

Essor et fortune, I, 264.

The Song of Aspremont

The Song of Aspremont (Chanson d’Aspremont), an anonymous poem from the

Cycle of the King, probably written late in the twelfth century,6 tells the story

of an imagined pagan invasion of Italy in the time of Charlemagne. These

invaders are overcome only after horrific battles won by the Christian host

under Charlemagne, aided by Duke Girart of Burgundy.

The author constantly buttresses the justification, even the sacralization, of

the knightly role. In his mind, only one standard measures human conduct

and achievement. The young Roland and his friends, for example, embody the

noble urge to demonstrate their prowess on the battlefield. Though only boys,

they nearly kill the man set to keep them safely away from the combat, soundly

beat another set of men in order to obtain the warhorses they need, and cause

appreciative laughter when their tale is heard by seasoned warriors.7

Even the clerics, specialists in mediatory piety though they may be, must

show as much participation in chivalry as is possible, if they are truly to rank

in the author’s estimation. Archbishop Turpin, we learn, is not only a wellbred

man, and a dispenser of largesse, he also personally commands a large

host. He boasts proudly of being both a priest and a knight, and shows his

knightly qualities in the most accepted manner on the battlefield. When Pope

Milon wants a man to carry a piece of the true cross into battle, and encounters

refusals from two knights who think they serve better with hands free to

use their own knightly weapons, Turpin accepts the mission—on condition

that the pope bless his dual role.8 So much for Gregorianism.9

The pope himself leads a large contingent of knights in Charlemagne’s host,

sermonizes all in that host to fight mightily as penance for their sins, and

promises absolution without confession. In the crisis of the fight he pledges

his own willingness to die alongside the knights.10

The sacralization of knighthood, however, works most clearly because of

their role as proto-crusaders; through the hard strokes the knights give and

receive in action against the pagan foe, they merit the welcome that God prepares

for them in paradise. Adroitly avoiding the anachronism of crusaders

before there were crusades, the author pictures his Christian warriors placing

6 Unless otherwise stated, all quotations in this section are from Newth, ed., tr., Song of

Aspremont; Brandin, ed., Chanson d’Aspremont.

7 Laisse 77.

8 Laisses 420–3. Turpin later gives up the relic to use his own arms.

9 See Noble, ‘Anti-Clericalism’. He notes, p. 149, that ‘In these poems the clergy are of little

importance, particularly as an organized force. The church seems to have little authority as such,

although individual churchmen may be able to exercise some influence.’

10 Ll. 1614, 1700, 4271–311.

red crosses on their hauberks, ostensibly so that they can recognize each other

in the confusion of combat.11

The clerics cannot praise the knights too highly or give to them too generously

from their spiritual treasury or from ecclesiastical coffers. As the

Archbishop tells the Pope,

It is our duty to cherish all brave knights;

For when we clerics sit down to eat at night,

Or in God’s service sing matins at first light,

These men are fighting for our lands with their lives;

So Abbot Fromer here and you and I

Should empty all our coffers for their supplies;

Each one of us should give so much alike

They’ll honor us and serve us all the time.12

The pope is in full agreement. He pours forth assurances that the knights’ hard

service merits paradise, and guarantees the truth of his assertion with his own

hope of salvation:

Brave Christian knights, God keep you in his strength!

Well might you say that you are lucky men,

That in your lifetime you can your faith defend;

You who are born in sin and wickedness,

For which you all are damned and your souls dead,

By striking blows with blades of steel unchecked

Your sins will be absolved and your souls blessed;

There is no doubt of this—you have my pledge;

Rise up at once sweet Jesus to avenge!

You will be saved—or may I go to Hell!13

Some variant of this speech encourages the warriors time and again, whether

from the sermons and speeches of the pope on the battlefield,14 or from the lay

leaders, Charlemagne15 and Girart.16 The ghostly presence of famous military

saints on the battlefield drives the point home.17 Those who have already

earned paradise with their swords join in the work of those still fighting the

good fight.

The knights accept the explicit exchange stated outright more than once:

Christ died for them; they must be willing to die for him.18 They know the

reward. Richer, a knight asked to take a message seeking Charlemagne’s help,

Chanson de Geste and Reform 233

11 See especially laisses 213, 236, 244, 288. 12 Laisse 5.

13 Laisse 46. 14 E.g. laisses 244, 288, 455.

15 E.g. laisse 244. 16 E.g. laisses 213, 276.

17 Laisse 425. 18 See, for example, ll. 9380–1.

refuses. To leave the fighting, he objects, would be ‘to lose my soul for my

body’s protection’.19

Wearing the crusading cross, then, the knights can apparently do no wrong.

Yet the author knows the realities of the knightly life as lived day by day at

home. Negative tones intrude insistently and discordantly into his hymning of

‘Onward Christian Soldiers’.

Girart provides much of the negative evidence in his attitudes and actions.

At first, he plans to attack France while Charlemagne is warring with the

pagans. His wife thinks he should rather do penance with his sword and aid

the great king.20 Her view of his motivation, acquired in long years of married

observation, is telling:

You never were happy or felt any real mirth

If you weren’t killing people or causing hurt;

. . .

A century back you took me for your wife

And each day since you’ve spent committing crimes;

You’ve robbed and burned and plundered all the time.21

Though he accepts his wife’s advice to aid in the holy war, his own view of the

common, everyday fighting at home remains positive; it is just business as

usual, he says in a later speech to his men:

If my neighbour starts a quarrel with me,

With fire burns my land to cinders;

And I, his, on all sides;

If he steals my castles or keeps,

Then so it goes until we come to terms,

Or he puts me or I put him in prison.22

Girart never denies clerics their essential function, despite all their troublesome

strictures. He simply thumbs his nose at the high claims of Gregorianism

and lives in the old mental world of lay domination.

Sometimes his opposition is a bit more active, as when he tries to knife

Archbishop Turpin who has been sent, early in the story, to enlist his help in

the coming campaign. Turpin, no slouch at action with blades himself, avoids

the blow skilfully and warns Girart that Charlemagne will take vengeance and

that the pope will place all Burgundy under interdict. The duke’s reply is a clas-

19 ‘Se je pert l’ame por le cors espargnier’: l. 3949. 20 Laisse 81

21 Ll. 1478–80, 1483–5. Kay, Chansons de Geste, 46–8, 60–76, notes the role of women especially

in speaking a ‘counternarrative’ against some dominant ideals in the text.

22 Ll. 5012–17; my translation.

sic speech of lay independence: anti-Gregorianism combined with feudal

defiance of kingship:

Now if my memory’s clear,

There are three thrones chosen and set apart:

One is called Constantinople,

Rome is another, and this city makes three—

The fourth is Toulouse which is part of my heritage;

Across my own realm I have my own priests;

Never for baptisms or any Christian service

do we need the pope’s authority;

I’ll make a Pope myself, should I so please!

In all my possessions whatsoever

I hold not the value of one shelled egg

from any earthly man, but from the Lord God alone.

Your king will never be loved by me

Unless he is kneeling down at my feet!23

Although Turpin and Girart easily agree that all power comes from God,

the archbishop quickly stresses a different conception of the hierarchical mediation

of that power. In what we might safely take as the theme of reform in this

text, Turpin announces to Girart an inescapable fact: ‘You won’t be without a

lord for long.’ The importance of the announcement is underscored by Girart’s

reaction; ‘full of hate’, he threatens to break the archbishop’s neck if he does

not flee at once.24

In the programme of this text, then, a primary valorization of knightly violence

as idealized warfare against the enemies of the faith is in some measure

balanced by a message that urges restraint and a need for subjection to more

than local authority. The authority steadily praised is an ideal kingship,

sanctified (though not controlled) by ecclesiastics.

The point is clearly made in Girart’s first meeting with Charlemagne. The

duke realizes at once that the great king really is deserving of his loyalty and

respect; royauté and chevalerie meet in amity. As they converse, Turpin, here

representing the world of clergie, in need of knightly services, skilfully records

the scene with black ink on white parchment—while on horseback, no less.25

Several speeches on good kingship which appear later in the text seem

designed as much to advertise the merits of sound rule to the knightly audience

as to sermonize kings about their duties. Greeting Girart ‘in love and in

faith’, Charlemagne asks him why he is not a king. Girart answers that he had

Chanson de Geste and Reform 235

23 Ll. 1164–77; my translation.

24 For Turpin’s warning, see ll. 1187–8; for Girart’s reaction, ll. 1189–94; my translations.

25 Laisses 230–5.

not the worth nor the power (‘ne val tant ne n’en ai le pouoir’), and then delivers

a classic speech on good kingship:

The type of man who seeks a crown on earth,

Should look to God and in his faith be firm;

He should both honour and serve the Holy Church;

He should cast out bad laws and break their curse,

And champion good ones, and try to make them work;

He should help orphans and feed them from his purse,

Look after widows and their safety preserve.

The wicked man he should try to convert,

But none the less destroy if he grows worse;

He should keep by his side men of good birth,

For from their counsel he may find out and learn

The way to govern his own soul and self first;

To promise little and give much in return

Will move the heart of everyone he serves;

A wicked man who seeks his fellows’ hurt,

He who would try to steal another’s serf,

Who would rob churches, then violate and burn,

Oppress the poor and tread them in the dirt,

That sort of man should not for kingship yearn.

Once again, such sentiments are quickly covered with the highest ecclesiastical

blessing: ‘The Pontiff speaks: “You deserve to be heard; / He who seeks wisdom

may find it in your words;” ’26 Girart seems to have moved some distance

from his earlier casual view of quotidian violence and counterviolence at

home, coupled with a fierce determination not to yield so much as ‘one shelled

egg’ to anyone else claiming power and authority over him.

As if to underscore his reform, Girart repeats this speech almost verbatim

near the close of the chanson, as part of a longer speech of advice to his fatherin-

law, Florent, whom Charlemagne has named king of Apulia. To the earlier

list of wrongdoing to be punished by kings he now adds an explicit warning

about those who would usurp a neighbour’s fief to add to their own domain;

such men the king should banish for seven years as an example for the others.27

In a curious way the message delivered by Girart’s conversion to reformed

practice is heightened by his apostasy at the very end of the text. Suddenly, he

announces his adherence to his old views of utter independence of the clerical

hierarchy headed by the pope, and the emerging power of the state headed by

26 Ll. 7159–82.

27 The entire speech comes in ll. 11178–268; ll. 11229–54 largely reproduce the previous speech.

The author also strongly advises against putting peasants’ sons in high position.

the king; he explains that his cooperation and submission to any authority

beyond himself and short of God was only temporary. First, he denies the

claims of the Gregorian papacy:

I have my own clerks, wise enough and wealthy;

Never do they need nor seek the pope

for belief or authority

for baptisms or any Christian rite.

The claims of kingship are next denied:

Whatever’s mine, my wealth, my land, my might,

I’ll hold from no one except Lord God on High;

Ah, Charlemayn, the truth I will not hide;

In this campaign we have both won this time;

Your leadership therein I’ve recognized

And my own lips have called you Lord and Sire;

My name, at court, should never be reviled;

But all I’ve done I did for love of Christ;

I’m not your man nor faith to you do plight

Or ever shall all the days of my life.

As Girart proudly swings into his saddle and rides off, the French stare at each

other in bewilderment. Charlemagne indulges in one of his reveries, and then

‘between his teeth’ mutters a most royalist reflection: ‘If I may live a long life

ere I die, / The pride of one of us shall not survive.’28 Except for a closing summary

of the grand events he has recounted, and a prayer for God’s mercy, the

poet ends his chanson here.

He has spoken repeatedly, if somewhat ambivalently to the topics that have

shaped our enquiry. He has clearly shown the lively and continuing need for

the reform of chevalerie vis-à-vis clergie and royauté. Girart’s sudden affirmation

of old beliefs at the end of the story would surely have opened the way for spirited

discussion of these basic, thoroughly current questions in any audience.

The Crowning of Louis

The Crowning of Louis (Le Couronnement de Louis),29 probably written between

1131 and 1137, tells the story of the great work of William of Orange in saving

Rome from pagan invasion, in saving Louis, son of Charlemagne, from

Chanson de Geste and Reform 237

28 For all of these speeches, see ll. 11333–55; the translation of the anti-Gregorian passage is my

own; the others come from Newth, ed., tr., Song of Aspremont.

29 Unless otherwise stated, all quotations in this section are from Hoggan, tr., ‘Crowning of

Louis’; Langlois, ed., Couronnement de Louis.

rebellion, and finally in saving Rome again, this time from Guy of Germany.

As will be apparent, this text, too, speaks with great force to the issues that

concern us; it, too, bears witness to the shadows as well as to the light.30 The

reality of knightly motivation and action appears clearly, if indirectly, within

the interstices of the ideal portraits drawn. The author, we will see, has mixed

feelings about actual knightly behaviour as experienced in the world.

He can, for example, describe deeds of prowess with as loving a hand as ever

scratched pen on parchment. All serious issues in the story are solved by

knightly violence: the initial challenger to Louis’s kingly right is smashed by a

single blow of the fist (William remembering just in time to sheath his sword

and not spill blood in a church); the pagan threat to Rome is stopped in its

tracks when William takes on Corsolt, the unbelieving champion, and with a

great sword stroke sends the offender’s head, still encased in its helmet, flying

off his body; only his ceaseless warfare (and another personal combat, this

time with the traitor Acelin, son of Richard of Rouen) rescues Louis and props

up his kingship; yet another single combat signals the end of the German

attack on Rome near the poem’s end. These personal encounters are jewels of

prowess set within a gilded narrative of general warfare. No sense of inappropriateness

intrudes when William calls on God or the Virgin as sources for his

great prowess.

Yet there is worry, or at least an unblinkered realism, intertwined with the

praise. The glandular urge to violence surging just below the surface in the

warriors appears in both hero and villain; more than once they appear ‘mad

with rage’ when challenged or insulted.31 The author also knows that knightly

motivation included booty and revenge as well as pure faith and loyalty. At the

start of his combat with Corsolt, William not only prays one of his famous

prayers, filled with theological verities;32 he also eyes his enemy’s horse with

frank covetousness: ‘ “Holy Mary!” he exclaimed, “what a fine charger that is!

He would serve a worthy man so well that I must take care to spare him with

my weapons. May God who governs all things protect him and prevent me

from harming him with my sword!” ’ The poet adds approvingly, ‘Those were

not the words of a coward.’33 He likewise frankly describes William’s army living

by looting the countryside around Rome while they are on campaign

against Guy of Germany: ‘Count William led out the foragers into the sur-

30 For dating and general discussion, see Frappier, Chansons de geste, II, 51–186. On the uses of

violence in this violent text, see Combarieu, ‘La violence’, I, 126–52.

31 See, for example, laisses 44, 51.

32 Discussed by Frappier, Chansons de geste, 137–8, and Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox, ‘Le

chevalier à oraison’.

33 Laisse 21.

rounding district to spoil the countryside. They plundered the whole region,

so that the men of the army were well-off and well provided for.’34

Going beyond realism to message, the poet notes that in the course of his

warfare for King Louis, William attacked the town of Saint-Gilles one morning.

Winning an easy victory, he nevertheless ‘acted in a way pleasing to Jesus’,

the audience is told pointedly, ‘when he spared the church there from being

laid waste’.35

Even more pointed is a critical description of the knighthood of France with

whom William had to contend: ‘as long as he lived . . . the Frenchmen took to

rebelling again, making war against each other and acting like madmen, burning

down towns and laying waste the countryside. They would not restrain

themselves at all on Louis’ account.’36 When the acts of prowess leave the realm

of the mythic and come closer to home and to contemporary politics, the tone

clearly changes: trumpet-calls fade and talk of reform surges.

Much knightly independence with regard to the sphere of clergie, however,

receives at least tacit approval. Of course, there is the usual everyday anticlericalism.

37 Seeing no sign of vigour in his son Louis when he first offers him the

crown, Charlemagne exclaims, ‘Let us cut off all his hair and put him into this

monastery; he can pull the bell ropes and be the sacristan, so he will have a pittance

to keep him from beggary.’38 But more interesting is the ideal of religion

and the clerical role.

The most revealing scene comes early in the story, when the pope is trying

to persuade William to fight Corsolt. The pope must present both the most

powerful relic (the armbone of St Peter, plainly revealed without its usual gold

and silver casing) and the most powerfully attractive concessions before he

finally convinces William:

Look, here is St Peter, the guardian of souls; if you undertake this feat of arms today

on his account, my lord, then you may eat meat every single day for the rest of your life

and take as many wives as you have a mind to. You will never commit any sin however

wicked (so long as you avoid any act of treason) that will not be discounted, all the days

of your life, and you shall have your lodging in paradise, the place Our Lord keeps for

His best friends; St Gabriel himself will show you the way.

William can only gasp out his willingness to fight, and his thankfulness for

such terms: ‘Ah! God help us! . . . never was there a more generous-hearted

cleric! Now I will not fail, for any man alive or for any pagan however foul

or wicked, to go out and fight against these scoundrels’.39 In the fight that

follows, when William appears to be in danger of defeat, the pope actually

Chanson de Geste and Reform 239

34 Laisse 56. 35 Laisse 50. 36 Laisse 63.

37 See, in general, Noble, ‘Anti-Clericalism’, 149–58. 38 Laisse 8. 39 Laisse 18.

threatens St Peter: ‘What are you doing, then, St Peter? If he dies out there, it

will be unlucky for you: as long as I live and draw breath, there will never be

any mass sung in your church!’40

Saints’ relics were threatened and abused, especially in the earlier Middle

Ages, in order to secure some desired result.41 Yet in these remarkable passages

we can also see the clergy and the religion they more or less controlled in life

refashioned in chivalric literature to conform to an ideal knightly image. The

warrior champions of the more powerful God and his powerful saints will

overcome his enemies, the knights’ enemies, with sword and lance. The sacrality

of religion, protected by knighthood, blesses such chivalry and bends the

troublesome rules in payment for the knights’ hard service. The only unforgivable

sin set in a separate category by the pope, we should note, is treason.42

One other example of the knightly beau ideal of a cleric appears later in the

person of Walter, Abbot of St Martins, who has hidden away King Louis from

eighty traitorous canons and clerics. He gives William an account of their plot

and he suggests an unambiguous response: ‘Louis is to be disinherited this

very day unless God and you yourself are prepared to protect him. Take all

their heads, I beg you in God’s name! I take all the sin of desecrating a church

upon myself, for they are all traitors and renegades.’ Hearing this bold plea,

William laughs and utters a benediction: ‘Blessed be the hour that such a cleric

was nurtured!’43

Abbot Walter’s offer points to an important fact: he presumes that this desecration

is both necessary and sinful, requiring his heroic offer to take the sin

upon himself. In a similar way, William spends years fighting constantly for his

king, even on holy days:

for three whole years there was not a single day, however high and holy, that William

did not have his burnished helm laced on and his sword girt at his side, riding fully

armed on his charger. There was not a feastday when men should go to worship, not

even Christmas Day which should be set above all others, that he was not dressed in his

hauberk and armed. The knight suffered a great penance to support and to aid his


40 Laisse 27.

41 On humiliation and coercion of saints’ relics, see Geary, ‘L’Humiliation des saints’; idem,

Living with the Dead, 95–124; and Little, Benedictine Maledictions. By the thirteenth century the

practices described were under criticism and regulation.

42 ‘Se tant puez faire de traison te gardes’: l. 393.

43 Laisse 40. The idea of a cleric taking on a knight’s necessary sin is not limited to imaginative

literature. Joinville records the offer made to Louis IX (while both were in Muslim captivity). The

aged Patriarch of Jerusalem advises Louis to swear whatever his captors require and he will take

upon himself any sin involved. Wailly, ed., Joinville, 151–2.

44 Laisse 46.

This hard service, at once loyal and sinful, is undertaken as a penance.45 Clearly

there are duties a knight must rightly assume, even though the rules of clergie

will formally condemn him for it. In an ideal world, some right-minded cleric

would shoulder such sins himself and wipe the slate clean. The chansons de geste

create such a world.46

But they engage in reform of knighthood as well as in imaginative refashioning

of the clergy, and in this text one reform theme is stressed above all

others. Jean Frappier calls this text, with reason, the most political of the chansons

de geste.47 If chevalerie is the stalwart and essential defender of both clergie

and royauté, it must shape that role, however uncomfortable the fit, into the

sometimes cramping framework of sanctified, legitimate kingship. Chivalry

may like to imagine that it can take the clerics on its own terms; it may realize

with some degree of grouchiness that royal justice is not always what it should

be—‘wicked men have made justice a mask for covetousness and because of

bribery fair hearings are no longer given’, says the author48—but whatever the

problems, whatever the personal qualities of the current king, the working

principle of legitimate kingship is the essential key to an ordered society.

Valorization moves significantly in this direction in The Crowning of Louis.

William begins as a prototypical crusader, and he and his men receive the usual

assurances that the Almighty loves their work, that paradise awaits those killed

in it.49 With this aura of sanctity firmly established, however, William shifts

locations and enemies smoothly. He becomes the steady defender of royalty—

in France, against domestic enemies—through the next major section of the

text (as indeed he has been in one brief incident in its earliest laisses).

Legitimate, even holy warfare against the pagans, who are here presented as

men literally engaged in feud with God, has given way to legitimate and presumably

even holy warfare (or at least atoneable warfare) against Christians in

France. The glow of crusading sanctity remains, in other words, as William

shifts enemies to fight against the misguided men who have failed to see the

need for legitimate kingship. Later in the text William turns to sanctified war

against analogously misguided Germans who think they can capture Rome

and its bishop, before he returns to the necessary, if endless and even thankless,

task of defending French royalty.

Of course Louis himself launched William in this role by turning to him as

soon as he has been crowned. On that occasion he appealed to knighthood as

Chanson de Geste and Reform 241

45 Laisse 63.

46 In the Chanson d’Aspremont the pope says he will carry all the knights’ sins on his own back

as they travel to heaven, having been killed fighting for God: see Brandin, ed., Chanson

d’Aspremont, l. 5469.

47 Frappier, Chansons de geste, 51. 48 Laisse 4. 49 See, e.g., laisse 18.

the buttress of kingship: ‘My father says you are a fine knight, that there is no

greater warrior under the vault of heaven. I wish to entrust to you my lands

and my fiefs so that you may protect them for me, noble knight, until I can

bear arms myself.’50

The author also gives plain speeches in praise of this high mission to two

humbler truth-tellers, a pilgrim and a porter. The pilgrim brings William news

of the plot against King Louis and asks, rhetorically, ‘Ah! God help us! . . .

where have all the noble knights gone now, and the lineage of the bold Count

Aymeri? They are the ones who always supported their lord before.’51 For his

news and his declared willingness to help Louis if only he were able, William

rewards the man with ten ounces of gold.

William makes a knight of the second speaker, the porter who shortly after

the meeting with the pilgrim delivers almost the same speech. The porter is

explaining why he will not admit William and his men to Tours, thinking they

have only come to increase the forces of rebellion:

Ah! God help us! . . . where have all the valiant knights gone now and the lineage of the

warlike Aymeri who used to support their rightful lord so well? . . . There are too many

vile traitors in here already, I do not want to increase their numbers. . . . Would to the

glorious King of Heaven that the earth might give way under your feet and that Louis

were back in his fief! Then the world would be rid of evil men!52

Given Louis’s character and record, given that he is at this moment in the

story hiding timidly in a crypt of the cathedral, such confidence might seem

misplaced. It might seem even more misplaced after recalling the stirring lines

at the opening of the poem describing the ideal king for France:

The king who wears the golden crown of France must be an upright man and valiant

in his body. If there is any man who does him a wrong, he must leave him no peace in

plain or in forest until he has overpowered him or killed him. If he does not do this,

France loses her glory; then, history says, he was wrongfully crowned.53

The contrast with Louis could scarcely be more starkly drawn.

Yet this simple image of king as ideal warlord is only one side of the coin of

royalty struck in the text. The necessary role of legitimate kingship in securing

public order forms the other side. This power must be preserved and it must

be used positively. Charlemagne’s advice to his son (who is, like a Capetian, to

be crowned in the father’s lifetime) begins with the basic need for a moral life,

since no one can rule others if he cannot rule himself; but he quickly goes on

to a requirement that the king should justly regulate the feudal order of society,

acting fairly with regard to the granting of fiefs, and utterly destroying

50 Laisse 13. 51 Laisse 35. 52 Laisse 36. 53 Laisse 3.

proud rebels who will not accept his authority. On the one hand this means

justice even for the poor:

a king must strike down wrongs under his feet and trample on them and stamp them

out. Towards the poor man, you must humble yourself and, if he has a plea, it should

not vex you; rather you should help him and succour him and for love of God restore

him to his rights.

On the other hand, a king must stamp out prideful rebelliousness:

Towards the proud man, you must show yourself as fierce as a man-eating leopard and,

if he tries to make war on you, summon throughout France all the noble knights until

you have up to thirty thousand, have him besieged in his strongest fortress and all his

land laid waste and devastated. If you can capture him or have him delivered into your

hands, show him neither mercy nor pity but have all his limbs cut off or let him be burnt

in a fire or drowned in water.54

This advice set in the Carolingian era forms a striking parallel to contemporary

Capetian policy, to the ceaseless policing of the Île de France by Louis VI. This

historical King Louis would undoubtedly have loved to summon the thirty

thousand noble knights of the literary Louis to join him in besieging the

strongholds of such local tyrants as Thomas of Marle; he was forced to rely,

instead, on a much smaller collection of loyal local vassals and parish militia.

The ideological point of the text, however, its reforming message, could

scarcely be more plain: whatever the foibles of the current king, the institution

of kingship needs the support of ‘noble knights’ if right order is to be maintained

in a perilous world.

The corollary is, of course, that kings will rule with their vassals in mind and

with their vassals’ advice heeded in their courts. No low-born men need apply.

‘And another thing I want to tell you about that will be very important to you’,

Charlemagne adds to his message to Louis:

not to take a lowborn man as your counsellor, the son of a lord’s agent or of a bailiff.

These would betray their trust in a minute for money. Choose rather William, the

noble warrior, the son of proud Aymeri of Narbonne and brother of Bernard of

Brubant, the warrior; if these men are willing to support and aid you, you can completely

rely on their service.55

The formula is, in theory, straightforward: when the ideal king relies on the

ideal knight the kingdom prospers. The poet knows, of course, how the real

world turns, as the closing lines of the poem detail:

Chanson de Geste and Reform 243

54 Laisse 13. In a contemporary reference the poet warns that if this is not done the Normans

will be contemptuous and encouraged in their hostility.

55 Laisse 13.

Within a year [William] had dealt out such punishment to the rebels that fifteen counts

were forced to present themselves at court and do homage for their inheritance to Louis

who held command over France. . . . But when he was fully in power, he showed no

gratitude to William.

Raoul de Cambrai

The note of ambiguity echoing in the last line of this text will sound even more

discordantly in our third example of chanson de geste, Raoul de Cambrai, a poem

from the Cycle of the Barons in Revolt.56 Here is a wild story of kingly malfeasance

and knightly feud, with no veneer of crusading sanctity57 and with even

larger question marks left hanging in mid-air.

It is a poem with a history and architecture that are complex, even for a chanson

de geste. The first portion seems to have appeared in writing by the midtwelfth

century; it tells the story of the violent, prideful, heedless warrior

Raoul; and it apparently used the poetic technique of assonance rather than

rhyme. Somewhere in the early years of the reign of Philip II (1180–1223) this

original, assonanced epic was rhymed and expanded by a section with focus on

Bernier, Raoul’s vassal and eventual killer. This entire rewriting is known as

Raoul I. Towards the end of Philip’s reign, another addition appeared, in assonanced

form, carrying the story through more adventures, feuding, and battles

until ‘[t]here being no other male characters left, the story comes to an

end’.58 This early thirteenth-century section is known as Raoul II. We can draw

on the evidence of both sections, but will focus primarily on Raoul I, and

specifically on that section concerned with Raoul himself, since this was the

most widespread part of the text.

The characteristics of the society portrayed in Raoul I could have formed a

model for Hobbes’s state of nature. ‘The poem has a nightmarish quality,’ as

Sarah Kay, its most recent editor and translator, has observed, ‘arising both

from the horror of the events portrayed and from the ethical opacity of the narrative

as it pursues alternative perspectives through unstable characters and

competing narrative strands.’59 In this world, chivalry by and large means

prowess crowned with success, an obsession with honour defended by unbeatable

violence. The blood of characters boils regularly; they go mad with rage

56 Unless otherwise stated, all quotations in this section are from Kay, ed., tr., Raoul de

Cambrai. The brief description of the text which follows is based on her thorough introduction.

Cf. Calin, Old French Epic, passim; idem, ‘Raoul de Cambrai’; idem, Muse for Heroes, 37–56; Pauline

Matarasso, Recherches historiques.

57 The knights fight no pagans in Raoul I; in Raoul II, since some pagans are good, some bad,

the force of crusading valorization is likewise missing.

58 Kay, Raoul de Cambrai, lv. 59 Ibid., ix.

at intervals; they demand hostages to secure each agreement reached as a temporary

triumph over suspicious distrust. The tensions that inevitably arise

from the ragged intersections of the great forces of the age—kingship, lordship,

vassalage, religion, kin ties, vengeance—repeatedly produce the reciprocal

and bloody violence of single combat, feud, and battle.

The almost glandular impulse to violence shows up unforgettably near the

end of Raoul I when an unwise royal seneschal seats the feuding families side

by side at a Pentecost banquet. Guerri, uncle of Raoul (the latter by this time

dead and buried) is beside himself with rage and can barely be prevented from

carrying out his designs on his enemies with a huge steel knife. When he sees

the venison served, the cooked meat acts as a catalyst on his wrath and the hall

erupts in a brawl; the general violence is distilled into the standard single combat,

between Bernier and Gautier (Raoul’s nephew and heir). Even when these

heroes have hacked each other into disability, they seem ready to renew the

fight by crawling from their blood-stained beds, which have been thoughtlessly

placed so that the opponents can see and hear one another.60

Raoul himself, however, stands as the great embodiment of these issues, and

was in fact renowned in the Middle Ages in just that role. Long deprived of a

great fief that was rightfully his, and then wrongfully provided with a fief that

should go to another, he wars to recover withheld property and to avenge

impugned honour. He scorns a counsel of caution from his companion and

vassal Bernier, and from his mother Alice, and he specifically rejects her

pointed advice that his war must not destroy chapels and churches and slaughter

the poor.61 He insists ‘such war be unleashed on the Vermandois that

countless churches will be burned and destroyed’.62 His men soon put his

instructions into practical effect as they ‘cross over into the Vermandois, and

seize the livestock, reducing countless men to ruin. They set fire to the land—

the farms are ablaze.’63

In what became the most famous scene in the poem, Raoul attacks the town

of Origny, controlled by his enemies, and announces his plans for the church


Pitch my tent in the middle of the church and my packhorses will stand in its porches;

prepare my food in the crypts, my sparrow-hawk can perch on the gold crosses, and

prepare a magnificent bed for me to sleep in front of the altar; I will use the crucifix as

a back rest and my squires can make free with the nuns. I want to destroy the place


Chanson de Geste and Reform 245

60 Laisses CCXXIV–CCXXXIV. 61 Laisse LI.

62 Laisse LVIII. 63 Laisse LIX. 64 Laisse LX.

His ‘noble warriors’ are dutifully about to commit these multiple sacrileges

when they hear the church bells peal: ‘remembering God the Father of justice,

even the craziest of them felt compelled to show reverence’, and so they simply

camp outside the town.65

On discovering this disobedience, Raoul at first characteristically loses control

(‘fu molt demesurez’), but comes to see that the holy relics of the church

must not be destroyed. His uncle Guerri clinches the case with a frank assessment

of power: ‘If God takes against you, you won’t last long.’66 Raoul even

agrees to a truce with the nuns who serve the church, led by Marsent, Bernier’s

mother. Their meeting (as noted in Chapter 10) is a striking tableau of clergie

confronting chevalerie. The nuns process beyond the town walls, reciting the

holy office and carrying books, the symbols of their Latinate literacy and learning;

Marsent even holds ‘a book from the time of Solomon’.

Though Raoul agrees to a truce, a chance incident, involving what he takes

to be disrespect to three of his men, sparks his successful all-out attack and the

firing of the town: ‘Rooms are burning here and floors collapsing there, barrels

are catching fire, their hoops split, and children are burning to death in

horrible agony.’ The church, too, goes up in flames and all the nuns die; a distraught

Bernier sees Marsent lying in the flames, her priceless book symbolically

burning on her breast.67 His work for the day done, Raoul repairs to his

tent, dismounts from his great tawny warhorse, and is disarmed by barons

who love him, as the poet relates: ‘they unlace his green helmet ornamented

with pure gold, then they ungird his good steel sword, and take off his good

double hauberk from his back. . . . There was not such a fine knight in the

whole of France, nor one so fearless at arms.’68

Kay’s comment about moral opacity and multiple perspectives comes readily

to mind. Medieval writers who commented on Raoul saw in him the very

model of violent excess, of demesure, allowing modern readers to believe that

the poet intended to provoke just such reactions. The text is peppered, in fact,

with explicit statements against demesure. The author observes early in the

action that ‘an unbridled man (hom desreez) has great difficulty in surviving’.69

Ybert, giving his son Bernier advice, states the same theme: ‘I will be honest

with you: I can tell you the story of many men’s lives, and an arrogant man will

never succeed, whatever anyone may say.’70 Shortly thereafter, Count Eudes

makes the same point: ‘Barons . . . noble knights! A man without moderation

(sans mesure) is not worth a fig.’71

The idea of sheer war-weariness, moreover, joins moderation as a close ally

near the close of Raoul I. Bernier and Gautier, the current champions of the

65 Laisse LX. 66 Laisse LXII. 67 Laisses LXX–LXXIV.

68 Laisse LXXIV. 69 Laisse XXIV. 70 Laisse XC. 71 Laisse CIV.

feuding sides, have fought their single combat and, as we have already noted,

lie severely wounded. Though Gautier, blood boiling, is shouting defiance

from his bed, Bernier suddenly declares enough is enough; peace is the great

need; resistance to it is sin. Wounded, semi-naked, publicly prostrating himself

in the form of a cross before his enemy, Bernier offers his sword and a

pacific ultimatum: Gautier must either kill him or be reconciled. The blessings

of clergie descend on the offer as the Abbot of Saint-Germain comes into the

scene, loaded with sacred relics. A peace is, for the time, arranged.

Looking at such scenes as this, at the structure of the plot as a whole, and at

the explicit statements favouring mesure, we might easily decide that the ‘message’

of the text is clear. Yet we cannot be certain how everyone in the audience

heard and interpreted; nagging doubts and a sense of the need for

qualification remain. The message can scarcely be pacifism: a realignment of

the feuding families against the king and the enthusiastic firing of Paris, for

one thing, follow quickly on the heels of the reconciliation.

And in a more general way, fears of demesure and violence only slowly and

partially drag the heavy anchor of sheer, beloved prowess, the undiminished

commitment to honour defended with edged weapons. After Raoul dies on

the battlefield next to a slain opponent named John, the biggest knight in all

of France, the hearts are removed from the two bodies and laid out on a shield

to be examined; the result will be significant, for the heart was the seat of

prowess, the point of origin for the arteries which in Galenic theory carried the

animal vitality of the body. The giant John, it turns out, had the heart of a

child, while that of Raoul ‘was very much larger than that of a draught ox at

the plough’.72

The text thus shows some signs of ambivalence. The author wants mesure in

knights, wants them to learn not to burn churches, and certainly to avoid

burning nuns; he thinks there is a time to end wars, even if there is also a time

to initiate them. Yet through it all something of the ancient call to arms stirs

him, something of the grandeur in noble revenge seems satisfying, even it if

must inevitably, sadly, be achieved at great cost.73

This sense of complexity of view is reinforced by the absence of that

endorsement of royal power which so often appears as a theme in chanson de

geste. In this text, far from representing a needed regulator and peacemaker,

the king is ultimately at the root of the problems; he gives away Raoul’s fief to

a favourite and later gives Raoul the fief of the faithful royal vassal Herbert,

who has four sons. At the end of Raoul I the antagonistic families belatedly

Chanson de Geste and Reform 247

72 Laisse CLX.

73 Matarasso agrees: see Recherches historiques, 163–4. ‘Raoul est ce héros épique’, she writes. ‘Il

suit son étoile, l’étoile de grandeur, de la démesure, de la déchéance’ (p. 174).

recognize these facts and turn against the king. At that point, far from acting

as the divine agent for peace, Louis, the author tells us, was privately sorry that

the feuding families had come to an accord.74

One might argue, of course, that the problem is not kingship per se, but

kingship which is too weak to carry out its essential role. Yet there is here none

of the endorsement and knightly defence of kingship right or wrong that

appeared so strikingly in The Crowning of Louis; in that text Louis, after all, was

surely another weak king, another king making mistakes.

A sense of the lingering respect for the most unreformed species of chivalry

continues, moreover, when we turn to issues of religious ideas and clerical personnel.

Occasional traces of anticlericalism cause no surprise, of course, but

clerics generally stand in the background of this text (unless they are passive

victims), and religious ideas generally need to fit the framework of a most

worldly chivalry if they are to live. Religion works, if it works at all, at the exterior

level of power relationships negotiated with God, through formal acts and

words, not through interior motive or belief. Alice’s hasty curse on her son

when he refuses her advice works its terrible effects, despite her instant rush to

a church to pray for its nullification in accordance with her true intent. Once

the words are out, their effects follow, whatever her inner motivation. Ernaut,

desperate with fear as Raoul closes in for the kill on the battlefield, suddenly

sighs with relief when he hears the pursuing Raoul declare that even God and

his saints cannot stop his revenge: Ernaut knows such blasphemy will cancel

Raoul’s blows. Lady Alice thanks God heartily for the wounds Gautier has

inflicted on Bernier in their duel. Just before the battle in which Raoul dies,

the knights, in the absence of priests, commune themselves with three blades

of grass. Riding into the fray, ‘every good knight weeps for the pity of it and

vows to God that if he escapes alive he will never in his life commit a sin again

or, if he does, he will do penance for it’.75 The dying Aliaume makes his confession

to Gautier, who raises the prone man’s head and turns it to face the

east. Oaths are sworn on relics, the participating laymen thinking they require

no priestly link with divinity for the transaction.

Religion, in other words, means adding required pieties to an essential warrior

code, not changing that code in any significant way beyond what prudence

requires because of God’s superior power; religious ideas express

themselves through exteriorities, not by entering the heart or soul to work

basic changes within.

74 Laisse CCXLI. King Louis in this poem seems almost a generic king; as Matarasso says, he

is not any one in particular, but a ‘roi mannequin’, or even ‘une merionette’: see Recherches historiques,

153, 155.

75 Laisse CXX.

Thus the author of the first extant part of Raoul de Cambrai writes with certain

reform ideas in mind: he wants more knightly mesure, he urges immunity

for holy places and for clerics, who are essential at times, despite their inconvenience;

he knows that revenge and war can drag on until costs exceed worth.

Yet he keeps looking back over his shoulder into the imagined past with what

seems almost nostalgia for the great game of honourable violence played by

stout warriors largely following their own set of rules.76 The complex way in

which chivalry could simultaneously be problem and cure is writ large in the

portion of Raoul dating from the mid-to-late twelfth century.

Has the picture changed much by the time the continuation known as Raoul

II appeared a generation later, in roughly the second decade of the thirteenth

century? A study of the vocabulary identifying adult males suggests some

movement away from the starkly martial quality of Raoul I.77 Moreover, the

author of the continuation gives his characters more outright speeches in

favour of peace, conciliation, and forgiveness; these go beyond mere warweariness

to a sense of principle. At the very outset, Beatrice presses her

lovesuit by arguing that her marriage to Bernier will truly end the war between

their families, a result which comes to pass, at least for a time.78 The wise Doon

of Saint-Denis advises King Louis (who, granted, has just suffered a severe

reverse) to make peace with Bernier, to exchange prisoners ‘and be good

friends’. ‘ “God!” said the king, “what good advice that is.” ’79 In a moment of

crisis when one of Erchambaut’s men recognizes him, despite his careful disguise,

Bernier ‘adopts a conciliatory manner’ and promises to right an old

wrong done by his father.80 He is even more forgiving when he finally confronts

Guerri the Red as the guilty father-in-law who was so swiftly willing to

marry off Beatrice after hearing uncertain news of Bernier’s capture and possible

death.81 Mortally wounded by Guerri near the end of the continuation,

Bernier provides the greatest example of forgiveness: ‘Oh God our Father who

in his great mercy forgave Longinus his death, for that reason I believe I

should forgive him too. I pardon him—may God have mercy on me.’82

This sense of waxing piety may even be reinforced by the steady mention of

standard religious services; the protagonists are casually seen attending mass

and baptisms, going on pilgrimage.

Chanson de Geste and Reform 249

76 Owen makes a similar assessment of what an audience of a ‘live’ performance of the Song of

Roland might have thought: ‘glorying in Roland’s pursuit of his ideal and untouched by Oliver’s

more worldly wisdom’: ‘Aspects of Demesure’, 149.

77 Chevalier throughout this earlier text is primarily a technical term for a man prepared by a

specific military training for a particular mode of fighting; in the later text it appears with greater

proportional frequency than such terms as warrior, baron, and vassal; at the same time the adjective

preu gives some ground to cortois. See Kay, Raoul de Cambrai, xliii–xlv.

78 Laisses CCXIII–CCLV. 79 Laisse CCLXXXII. 80 Laisse CCCXIII.

81 Laisse CCCXXXIV. 82 Laisse CCCXXXVIII.

Yet we would be incautious to think this continuation slackens in its praise

of prowess or offers a transformed conception of knighthood.83 From the outset,

chivalry means deeds done on a battlefield; Beatrice loves Bernier because

of his prowess as well as his good looks, having heard him praised by Guerri

as one ‘who has performed so many feats of knighthood (qi avra faites tantes

chevaleries)’. When Bernier sheds tears over his wife’s capture and likely remarriage,

Guerri accuses him of womanly behaviour, and then tops off his criticism

with a précis of the standard knightly ethos: ‘No noble man should repine

so long as he is able to bear arms.’84 Bernier proves his skill at bearing arms tirelessly;

after severing the head of the invading pagan champion Auciber (in

order to secure his own freedom from the pagan King Corsuble), he marks his

victory by tying the head to the flowing tail of the dead man’s horse.85 In his

second period of service to the pagan king, Bernier is praised unambiguously

by Corsuble for showing his nobility through his great prowess: ‘My Christian

brother, you are everything a high-born nobleman should be. You and your

son can boast of being the best in Christendom at sustaining and surviving the

great feats of war.’86

Being a pagan is clearly no bar to being a good knight or recognizing high

knightly qualities in others. The pagans refer to themselves as knights without

objection from the author who himself speaks of them being dubbed knights,

and even suggests that in combat they ‘wheeled round in the French style’.87

They are not lacking in any of the warrior qualities, and despite a few pro

forma swipes at their gods, are viewed simply as a mixture of worthy and

unworthy men all of whom suffer an unfortunate religious identification. The

warrior virtues, in other words, seem determinative.88

In the continuation, clerics more often step from the periphery to centre

stage, yet by and large they remain thoroughly dominated by lay powers. A

clear case in point occurs when Louis, who has just ambushed Bernier and

Beatrice on the way from the church to their wedding feast, wants to marry off

the lady to a favourite. She appeals to the clergy present to do their duty and

prevent disgrace to Christianity. But ‘[g]reat and small all keep silent, for they

83 The poet’s constant recognition of the importance of booty to the knights provides a good

example of his unblinking view of war. See, for example, laisses CCLXI, CCLXV, CCLXXXII,

CCCXXII, CCCXXVIII. Likewise, the final war of Raoul II involves the same sort of devastation

as that which opened Raoul I: ‘They start fires, sack the towns, seize the livestock, and have it

herded into army quarters; the peasant ploughmen take flight’, laisse CCCXL. Serial ambushes set

up the early plot in Raoul II.

84 Laisses CCLI, CCLXXIX. 85 Laisse CCXCVII. 86 Laisse CCCXXIX.


88 The same point appears, of course, in the continued description of Guerri as a great knight,

despite his eagerness to kill clerics, despite what his daughter recognizes as ‘an element of treachery

in his nature’, laisse CCCXXXV.

are very afraid of strong King Louis’.89 Louis’s domination becomes physical

intimidation when he actually orders the marriage: ‘By the faith I owe St

Denis, if there is in all my land any archbishop, bishop, or consecrated abbot

who means to gainsay or prevent me, I’ll have him hacked limb from limb.’90

When Bernier and Guerri attack the open-air remarriage Louis is stagemanaging,

Guerri enthusiastically calls for death to all the participating clerics:

‘ “Forward!” said Guerri the Red; “So help me God, woe betide us if a single

one escapes alive—clerk or priest or consecrated abbot—rather than being

killed and hacked to pieces.” ’ A modicum of mesure appears, though, for the

knights simply attack the offending clerics with the shafts, not the blades, of

their lances.91

What of kingship in the continuation? Louis obviously causes endless problems

and shows weakness and villainy in Raoul II, as he did in Raoul I. He provokes

a war by denying Bernier the fief his father held; he is humiliatingly

unhorsed in that war, ‘for he was in the wrong—justice was not on his side’.92

He ambushes Bernier and his bride, as just noted; and, until stopped by his

wife, he was in process of sending the helpless Beatrice out into a ditch for the

sexual amusement of his eager squires.93

The formal statements about kingship in this portion of the poem, however,

look past the particular man to the office. In the midst of their battle against

Louis, Bernier suddenly calls out this principled view to his father:

In God’s name, sir, we are behaving foolishly. Can you deny that the king of France is

our overlord, whom I see here in mortal anguish? We may make peace again some

time, if he sees fit and Jesus grants it. If you take my advice, we should desist at once;

only if they attack us should we defend ourselves well.94

Beatrice gives the same line of advice to her two sons near the end of the poem:

Children . . . you must love each other, serve and respect your father, and protect the

king of France with all your power—for no one should act against him, and to do so is

to court disaster—upholding the crown and promoting its prestige. If you do as I tell

you, no one on earth can do you harm.95

An increased emphasis on kingship is obvious. Coming at the very time Philip

II was vigorously advancing the powers of the Capetian crown, it need cause

no surprise.96 Yet it is instructive to see that the ambiguities that made Raoul I

so fascinating and frustrating a text also remain, only slightly diminished, in

this continuation.

Chanson de Geste and Reform 251

89 Laisse CCLXXI. 90 Laisse CCLXXXI. 91 Laisse CCLXXXII.

92 Laisse CCLXIII. 93 Laisse CCLXXIV. 94 Ibid.

95 Laisse CCCXXXIII. 96 The work of Philip is examined in Baldwin, Philip Augustus.

Our three examples of chansons de geste, then, praise knighthood to the skies,

drawing on the timeless warrior ethos written into epic poetry in more than

one age, and fashioned here to the world of twelfth-century Europe. At one

level they love to praise noble men defending honour and taking revenge with

blood boiling, to picture sword strokes delivered in hot wrath.

But they worry; they urge some minimal restraints. Sometimes a sense that

war is endless, that, except for crusade, its cost is too high joins the sentiment,

expressed with a tenor of regret, that some diminution of heroism is actually


Gregorianism is scarcely acknowledged. Of course the sacramental rituals

intoned by the clerics are hardly to be denied, and even their rules and restrictions

are at least half heard; but the rights and duties of the knightly life make

their own claims. The truly fine among the tonsured appear as knights at heart

(since there can be but one standard) and will open doors, and finally the door

of paradise, to good warriors who have done their hard duty. Meanwhile, the

choice of clerics for lucrative and powerful positions on earth ought still to

remain, despite all the Church reformers’ arguments, safely in lay hands. The

proper agency of practical direction and restraint, if one there must be, is legitimate

kingship loyally supported by idealized knighthood. However troublesome

any particular king might be, the principle of kingship deserves reverence

and support. The reiterated insistence on this principle, of course, leads us to

doubt that it was universally taken for granted in the world, where some

degree of tension between chivalric autonomy and royal authority was equally

certain. A text like Raoul I can only reinforce such doubts.