(This is the written form of a speech I gave for the American Heritage Girls. It is based off of J. Aaron Gruben's Chivalry book, which you can find here: http://nmgrubens.com/chivalry )
“Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre,
Mod sceal þe mare þe ure maegen lytlað.”
(“Courage must be the firmer heart the bolder
Spirit the greater as our strength lessens.”)
-Battle of Maldon
Chivalry means more than a man giving up his seat for a lady, or even a shining knight on a white horse. Chivalry is a way of living. It is continually laying down your wants for those around you. It is being strong when you feel the weakest. It is loving God so much every breath is used to serve Him and His people. It is a practical form of living out your theme verse for this weekend, thou shalt love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Chivalry is codefied Christian servanthood.
What does that mean exactly? Today we are going to break that sentence up into the ten “commandments” of Chivalry. A man named Gautier compiled the chivalry created over the ages into these ten laws, and a man named J. Aaron Gruben took Gautier’s and adapted them for our times. This talk tonight is a brief introduction to a book written by Mr. Gruben that I hope you will find for your own studies. We are delving into a deep topic, one that I hope will begin to permeate your life and give you strength everyday. Because a woman has to be strong to do what God intended her for, especially in this day and age. We are needed, ladies. We are needed more in our culture today than in many a past age. Let’s begin, and I’ll try to tell you why.
Commandment 1: “You shall believe and obey the Bible and devote yourself wholly to Christ.”
The year is 625. Northern England is a place of pagan rituals, of dark warriors laying waste to the lands, squabbling for power and greed. Not long before, all of England was like this, the rule of might held sway, people lived in darkness, and died in darkness, with no hope in sight. But then the missionaries came. Two priests arrived from Rome, and a light leapt into the dark. It took root in Kent, one of the many independent kingdoms that made up England at that time. Christianity began to bloom in the heart of the warrior kings. Now, in 625, a pagan king named Edwin asked for the hand of a princess from Kent. Her name was Athelburh. Daughter of kings, a woman of Christ, she knew what it was like in Edwin’s kingdom of Northumbria, and she knew something most people seem to have given up today. A woman has an influence like no one else. A woman can change the world, if she sets her mind to it. Athelburh made a clause in the marriage contract; Edwin must be baptized into the Christian faith, and Athelburh must be allowed to bring her priest, Paulinious, with her to Northumbria. Edwin gladly agreed, became a Christian, and the daughter of kings became a mother of kings, and a shaper of a continent. The light spread from queen Athelburh. By the time she was an old woman, monasteries (think Christian schools, solid churches, places of learning and places to worship), were scattered all through the North of England and moving on. A woman she helped to rear, Hild, her step-daughter, became Abbess of Whitbey, renowned for her godly wisdom and goodness, a woman kings came to for council. It was Hild who found Caedmon, a lowly Shepard, and helped to preserve his poetic psalm to God, one of the earliest poems we have in the English language. In just a few years, the light of hope had spread so far even the shepherds were praising the God who made everything.
This is the prerequisite to chivalry. You can’t live out any of the other commandments if you miss this. You must love Christ. You must be a true Christian, someone who is so wholly devoted to Christ you are willing to stand up to your peers, your father, your husband, to anyone in your life and hold out the gospel. You must cling to the cross so hard nothing can shake you from it, so hard Christ goes with you everywhere you set your foot. But don’t miss the first bit of this commandment; you must believe the Bible. Many people in the early Middle Ages held to a sort of mix of Christian and pagan ideas. As things shifted, it gradually became socially “right” to have some Christianity in your life, and people began to mix their old ways with the new, without understanding what the gospel really said. This is where people like Hild, the Abbess of Whitbey were so crucial, and where you must be firm. There is real truth. What you believe matters, all of what you believe. You can’t take the parts of Christianity you like and throw out the rest, which is what people throughout all ages try to do. You have to know the whole truth. You have to know your Bible. If you want to be a world changer like Athelburh, you have to know what you believe.
Study. Be diligent in your daily devotions, in your church going, in your Wednesday night studies. Take notes in church. Memorize as much scripture as you can every day. Know Who the Savior is, what the cross means for you, learn more of Christ every day and so fall deeper in love with Him. This is the first commandment of Chivalry.
Commandment 2: “You shall defend the church.”
“718. In this year Ingeld, the broher of Ine, passed away, and their sisters were Cwenburh and Cuthburh; and that Cuthburh founded the monastic community at Wimborne:” – The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
The two sisters aren’t mentioned anywhere but in this; they helped to found the abbey. All over the old stories, the ladies are the ones named who are pushing the church forward, founding the abbeys, stepping in to shelter the monks with their favor, or placing their wards in the cloisters to learn. Don’t misunderstand, men did these things too. But the ladies are especially mentioned. Let me say it again, we have an influence. And we also tend to have a vision. This isn’t saying men never look to the future! But we are the childbearers, and often (especially in history) the child-rearers, and when you have a baby in your arms, you start thinking about what the world is going to look like in twenty years. This isn’t an accident, folks. This isn’t a result of chance making us the ones biologically able to bear children. God did this. We are made to help build the future. Building up the church is a large part of this commandment. We are to be the hands and feet of God, helping to plant churches, and to keep the churches strong.
Defend her from heresy. Again, know what you believe and hold to it with your whole heart. Defend her from being torn down by backbiters and talebearers. Be careful of your words, sisters! Gossiping can do more damage to the church than a maniac with a loaded gun.
This is as good a place as any to mention something that might not sit well with you; we are not knights. Ladies are not meant to be warriors. Ok, well, let me rephrase that. Ladies knew how to fight and many a woman defended their homeland and their people when the fellas weren’t around (more on that later). But our primary purpose is not to take an active part in wars. However, this commandment is about defending the church. Through much of medieval history that wasn’t figurative. Pagan hoards broke against the Christian shields for years, and years, and years. Today we are still seeing real physical threats against the church, and not only in foreign countries. We defer the wars to our men. But defense is different. Defending ourselves and others is something we should all be able to do, immediately, if the situation calls for it. I pray you will never need it, but learn how to defend yourself, maybe even talk to your parents about taking a self defense course. Christ commands His people to be loving; but not helpless. Which brings us to the next commandment.
Commandment 3: “You shall be gentle to those weaker than you, and become their selfless defender wherever you find them.”
When your little brother interrupts your reading for the tenth time, asking for a drink of water, what’s your response? Your first inclination is probably to snap and send him away. But that’s not the chivalric way. We are to prefer others to ourselves. Especially those weaker, those younger, those who need us. It’s easy to imagine yourself as the gallant rescuer, defending your little siblings from an attacker. It’s a much harder thing to walk everyday beside them and continually be courteous and kind. But this is what is demanded of us by chivalry. We are to set an example of selfless gentleness.
For us, a very large part of this commandment is to act like a lady. Remember what I mentioned earlier, that we are to defer the wars to our men? That isn’t a weakness on our part. It is a gentle, right way of pushing our menfolk to be who God made them to be. And here, in this commandment, is where we really start taking an active part in chivalry specifically by being women. Pause for just a moment and picture a world where the ladies still expect men to treat them with courtesy. The call goes out for dinner; the lady pauses at the door, waiting till the man gets the idea and opens it. She waits for him to help her with her chair, and offers a smile and a thank you instead of a huff of annoyance. This isn’t make believe, and it isn’t pointless! Just a few years ago, this was the world where we lived. And it formed men who leapt to the defense of any who needed it, and ladies who were strong and held the breach behind the men. Now, I get it sister, there is a part of us that balks when it comes to letting the men up front in this commandment. It takes patience, and a deep, deep inner strength to let a man be a man. Especially in our society of hyper feminism and gender confusion! But a lot of that confusion (dare I say all of it?) would disappear if ladies started acting like ladies again. If we hold up a standard to the men around us, and expect them to be knightly, they start to get the idea. Especially for those of you who have brothers, remember this rule for their sakes! You are their main training ground for the type of man they will become. Let them get the doors. Teach the younger ones to be polite, to be courteous. It forms so much more than proper manners. It forms the mindset of a knight. You are forming a mindset in them. Every day you live in the same house, you are teaching them something about womanhood. Will it be the Brunhilda kind of womanhood, who managed to kill almost every knight in her kingdom? Or will it be the Athelburh womanhood, a lady who forged new paths for Christ’s love to go out, and changed a whole kingdom by being a woman?
Ok, that being dealt with, there is also a real part of defense that falls to us. We need to know how to defend ourselves and others. In every age its needed, but more and more in today’s world, you should know things such as how to beat off an attacker, how to get out of a locked trunk, what danger signs to watch for, how to fire a gun safely. There are too many practical ways to prepare for this commandment for me to list them all here. But one of the main ones is simple; situational awareness. Don’t be paranoid, but do be informed, and be aware. When you walk into a large gathering like this, locate the exits. Think through what you would do if an armed attacker charged in. When you walk in and out of the grocery store, don’t be staring at your book the whole time, keep aware of what is happening around you. This is the best defense we have, for ourselves, our younger siblings, even our parents. If we know what to watch for, and we’re doing our job, we might be able to spot a possible dangerous situation before it becomes dangerous.
Commandment 4: “You shall love your country.”
Alfred the Great: it was at least partially love of his country that had him continually take up a stand and fight back the Danes.
We are privileged today. Our country is built on the foundations laid by great people, all the way back to King Alfred and before. (He was a lawmaker as well as a warrior and scholar). America is a country we can be proud of, and respect. This is a country where we can live free, to worship and serve our God as best as we can. It isn’t perfect. And that’s a large part of this commandment; we should be willing to spend our time and energy to try and keep our country free and following God’s laws. Especially in America, where the average citizen can make a difference.
The Bible tells us we are to give our country what is due her, for God is the One Who has placed our rulers in power. The sword wielded by the government, from president down to your local police officer, is a legitimate rule, and we should be model citizens. In a practical way that means: not mocking our leaders; taking time to volunteer at a local rally or election; obeying the laws, and showing respect for those in a position of authority.
But, there is something we need to remember when looking at this commandment. While we are in this world, we are not of it. We are strangers and pilgrims here, and our real country is still unseen by our eyes. We are citizens of a heavenly kingdom. And that trumps anything that may happen in this world. Set your first love on heaven, your real country, and keep that goal always in mind. When your vision is set on heaven, all the worldly pursuits and dirty laundry of the world fades, while the good things that last for eternity take on a special luster. Keep the vision of our heavenly home always burning in front of you. Do that, and you will be better at practically serving and loving your country here, too.
Commandment 5: “You shall not recoil before the enemy.”
“Fiery Joanna” of Flanders who was embroiled in the contest for Britteny succession in the 1300s. At one point in the war when her husband, John of Montfort, was jailed by the enemy, Joanna stayed at the castle when it would have been easy to slip off, and personally led the defense against the besiegers, culminating in her riding forth in a sneak attack/sally with her knights into the enemy camp that had been left undefended, and burning it all.
The enemy line charges across the ground straight toward him. The noise of two-thousand feet pounding into the ground, hoarse screams of battle from every throat, armor and weapons clanking, it all rolls over him as they come closer and closer. HIs heart pounds inside, and he stumbles back a step.
That’s what’s mean by recoiling before the enemy. That instant where a heart quails and feet shuffle back instead of ahead. This is about courage. Courage isn’t about keeping your heart from pounding, it’s about keeping your feet moving the right direction. A brave soul is the one that walks toward their fear. Bravery is essential for chivalry. As J. Aaron Gruben points out in his book, “Without courageous adherents, the code of chivalry is just words.” You can say whatever you want. But if you don’ have the courage to back it up when challenged, it means nothing. You may not have to stand up to a mounted knight in this day and age. But every day requires courage. Sometimes just getting out of bed takes courage. When someone asks us why we wear a cross necklace, it takes courage to give the full answer instead of a polite dodge. It takes fortitude and perseverance to be good everyday, even when we don’t feel like it.
Fortitude is absolutely necessary to chivalric courage. You can’t expect to be brave in a trying situation if you haven’t practiced it everyday. To press on doing the job your given, whether it’s learning school subjects (even the ones that don’t interest you), chores around the house, whatever it might be. You are responsible for how you act in each situation, and God says “rejoice” in that task. That takes fortitude. It takes perseverance and that unique kind of courage to keep on keeping on serving God.
Another part of chivalric courage could be called hardihood. We must be strong to be chivalric. It is the kind of strength of the superhero that just keeps getting up again no matter how many times he’s knocked down. We all need this, especially in our spiritual life.
Commandment 6: “You shall make ceaseless war against the enemies of Truth, and relentlessly work to take the gates of hell by storm.”
Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, who kept her castle when her hubby was off in the crusades. https://amedievalwomanscompanion.com/adela-of-normandy/
The original sixth commandment is about crusading. I know this can be a touchy subject today. Newsflash, it was a touchy subject back in the eleventh and twelfth centuries too. I don’t really have time to go into it right now, all I’ll do is state through reading and study, I believe at least the early crusades were largely a matter of the Christian West taking a long-standing defensive war to the offense, in the hopes of ending it. If you want more details, come see me afterwards or better yet find Mr. Gruben’s books. What is certainly true is that the crusades produced an astounding amount of courageous people, willing to sacrifice their lives for an ideal. Considering the mortality rate of the First Crusade (and that those who signed up knew their chance of getting home), it’s absurd to talk about their desire for wealth and fame. Two in three people died on that crusade. Most never came home at all, much less came home rich. What the crusader signed up for was simple; serve God by protecting His oppressed church and driving back a pagan people. Ladies didn’t take up the cross of the crusader. But many did travel with the army, helping serve the food, setup the camp, care for the wounded, hundreds of things to support the army. And many more bid their fellows farewell knowing it was almost impossible they would ever see him again. For the highborn lady, it was a little more complicated to send your man off to the crusades, as we saw when we looked at Adela. She ran the whole estate, defended it, and while busy with all that helped to rebuild the honor of her husband. We may not be the primary warriors in a war. But we hold the world the men are fighting for, and fight behind them to keep it intact and healthy. It’s a poor thing for a warrior to come home victorious and find ashes and ruin. But it gives courage, and a peace of mind that allows heroic actions, when a man knows his wife and daughters are strong enough to take care of things, and to take care of him. We don’t “sit and home and do nothing” while the men fight. We keep our world alive, while strengthening their arms, like Aaron holding up Moses’ rod over the battlefield. It is a big thing to hold someone’s world in your hands. Don’t squander it by wishing for “fulfillment,” in a nebulous something that will not bring you joy or peace. This isn’t just for a married woman either, daughters, sisters, aunts, even friends can have this influence.
For us today, especially in this country, we don’t have to take up the sword or bazooka to follow this commandment, and for most of us, we don’t have to send our men off with bravery either. Ideals are under fire everywhere in America. The truth has been under attack so long most people no longer acknowledge its existence. Womanhood has been under attack so long very few recognize what it’s supposed to look like. When we stand up as the women God made us to be, holding up His truth, people notice. And they don’t tend to make it easy for us. We are called to be hope-spreaders, like Athelburh to the North of England, and one of the best ways to do that is to stand steady in a rocking world. Be a woman of God, standing on His truths. People notice the difference. People notice the strength. People notice the beauty and the peace that radiates from that kind of woman. Then be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you. They may not ask nicely. It might be an insult, an accusation, a furry of anger spouting back at you. But a chivalric woman will know the truth, love it, and have the courage and hardihood to stand up for that truth.
Sometimes we are called to take a more active part in protecting the truth. If the church is falling into heresy, or a friend being swallowed by a sinful lifestyle, we are called upon to speak up.
In America we can take an active part in the fights going on everyday for the truth. We can help man a booth at a fair, or canvas a neighborhood for a pro-life organization, or go sharing the gospel door-to-door. There are too many possibilities to name here. The point of this commandment is to remind you that you are to be active in the fight. Don’t just be brave inside, and never say anything. Don’t just sit at home behind your book. Take the gates of hell by storm. Get out there and change the world; God made you able to do just that.
Commandment 7: “You shall faithfully perform your duties and honor all of your commitments.”
“If courage is the backbone of Chivalry, faithfulness is Chivalry’s lifeblood.” -J. Aaron Gruben
Dependable. That’s this commandment summed up in one word, and it’s a big deal. Think of some antonyms of dependable. Ok, now stop and think; do you want any of those to be a description of your character? Be dependable. When you say you’re going to be somewhere, be there. When a friend calls asking for help, you go. When a little sibling needs you for the umpteenth time that day, you sit your book down and help, because you are to be a steady, dependable, rock-strong lady, that everyone knows can be relied upon to do what’s right.
That’s the key. Know what’s right. Do what’s right. Never back down from God’s truth. Know God’s standard, and don’t just think about it as your parents’ truths. Make it your own. This is a major part of that dependability of character, you need to be dependable in the right things. You want to be known as a reliable, God-fearing woman. And you can be, even now. It doesn’t matter how old you are the Bible says even a child is known by their actions, and it’s true. You are making a name for yourself right now.
There are always times when we don’t want to finish a job. Sometimes it’s a big task, sometimes it’s just an everyday grind that we don’t want to do again. But we are to be women people can rely on to do the job. I want to be rock steady in a heaving world. I want to be known as a truth-speaker, and someone who will be there when I say I’ll be there. It’s not always easy. Just the everyday commitments can wear you down horribly. But remember, there are days when doing a sink full of dishes can become a major defeat for Satan. We are not just flesh and bone, ladies. Spiritual battles rage around us everyday, and what we do with the flesh and bone matters for all eternity.
Now, guys can run the house too. But for most of us, it’s the women that really keep the house a home, and do most of the little things that involve the home-keeping and child-rearing. It can be monotonous! The dishes, the laundry, the siblings fighting, it never ends! Just the normal daily routine around the house takes a woman of character. I know it because I’ve done it forever, and now I’m blessed with a house of my own. It takes work, gals, and it takes fortitude, and it takes a resolution to be dependable, and a woman of our word. We have to have these ingrained in us to make us good at our jobs. To be the strong standard-bearers, holding up the truth to a heaving world, we need these character qualities ingrained inside us, so deep they run in our blood. Start now.
Commandment 8: “You shall be trustworthy and keep your word.”
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, how it was one little concealment, that he didn’t hand over the girdle when asked what he acquired that day, that broke his chivalry. Gawain is the paradigm of chivalry, the best and noblest man in Camelot. In the story, he makes one mistake, and forever wears a scar and a green girdle to remind him of it. https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/gawain/
Be a woman of your word.
Ok, done, next one! No, actually stop and consider how big of a part of chivalry this is. Can you imagine a good knight as a liar? As unfaithful? The honorable ladies in the stories, the ones the men look up to and listen to, are the ones who are strong in their gentleness. We’ll meet a few in the last commanded, but just think for a moment about Una and Guinevere. Both are famous, both held a kingdom in their hands. One was faithful and kept her word and held up the standard of God’s truth through devious, evil plots against her. The other had everything in the world, including a whole kingdom who looked to her for how to behave and what standards to follow; and she threw it all away when she broke her faith with Arthur in going after Lancelot. Being a woman of your word matters. It’s not just about your choices. Everyday, your life intertwines with others, some just brushing past them in the grocery store, others you live with. What you do affects them. Break your word even once, and you fall from your position as a trustworthy person. Can you repair the relationship again? Probably. But it’s going to take time, and perseverance, and a habit of keeping your word, and faithfully doing what you said you would do.
These two commandments, almost more than any of the others, need to become a habit. Dependability, truthfulness, these are character qualities. If you break your word once, it’s broken. Make a resolution, right now, to be a woman of your word.
Commandment 9: “You shall be generous, and give largesse to everyone.”
King Wenceslas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wenceslaus_I,_Duke_of_Bohemia
How many of you have heard the word “Largess” before? In the olden days, when a squire gained his knighthood, part of the ceremony was for him to give gifts, especially to the poor. It was a matter of honor to be able to give generously. Most castles hired an “almoner” whose whole job was to give gifts and aide to the poor in the fife. The woman of the castle was often directly involved in this largess, and it was a very desirable character quality, an outward sign that marked you as a chivalric, honorable person. Was it a social norm at the time? Yes. But was that the only reason largess was practiced? No, I don’t believe so.
Generosity is commanded of us in scripture, again and again. We are not only to be the defender of the weak and vulnerable, we are to be the helpers and the aiders of those who need it. God gives us everything, even His own Son. He tells us to give to others, partially in order to show with our deeds His love. We need to make a habit of this.
You may be thinking, “I don’t have a regular income, I’m too young for this commandment.” What about your time? How do you spend that? Time is a commodity. Each of us has a certain allotment from God each day, how do you spend yours? Do you help others when they need it? Or just squander your time on yourself, hoarding it away like a miser? Another thing to remember, it’s never too early to learn how to handle what finances you do have. Talk to your parents about keeping a budget. Maybe you can help with the shopping, and learn how to budget out the money that’s spent. We all have something. Using what we have with care allows us to start to save, and to begin to eke out extra to give to those who need it.
Commandment 10: “You shall be everywhere and always the champion of the right and the good against injustice and evil.”
Una and the story of the Red-Crosse Knight https://www.gradesaver.com/the-faerie-queene/study-guide/summary-book-1--holiness
Ah, you might be thinking to yourself, she’s finally getting to the point. You would be right about one thing, this is what people think of when they hear the word “chivalry.” The knight errant on the white horse, riding through the country seeking out ways to help the undefended and defeat the evil. But nine other commandments come before this one, backing it up. This is the capstone, but the others are what it rests upon.
Everywhere we go, this stalwart, truth-loving, strength should radiate from us. That doesn’t mean we go around looking for a fight, certainly not. But it means we’re ready for anything we may find on our path. We are to be prepared to champion the right and good, no matter where we find it, no matter how hard it is. This is what we are called to. It isn’t easy, but it’s beautiful. I’ve talked about how we aren’t knights, and that’s true. We are the standard bearers. We hold up the banner of God’s truth to the whole world, and the battle rages around us. A standard-bearer is noble, brave, honored, not necessarily meant to fight but prepared and steady if needed, and if he went down the whole army quivered. We hold the standard of following God with bravery and honor, of sticking to the chivalric code, to everyone around us. Let us never waver in our monumental task.
Ladies, if you are this kind of a woman, what a difference you can make! It’s hard to stand up to the world and be different. And this is very different, to be a woman who holds out the real truth, and doesn’t bend to the standards of the world. To be willing to fight against injustice and evil, without falling prey to the lies spouted in our culture, it’s a big deal. But someone has to fill this place, and you are telling people something, right now. When we reach the high middle ages, we get to Arthur and the round table, to the era Spencer and others write about. The stories we find there are what people think of when they hear “chivalry.” The knights on their chargers, champions of right. But in almost every story, who does the tale revolve around? The woman. It’s the lady who stands at the pivotal point of most of the old tales. Not all, certainly, but the majority of them. There are the good women, like Una and Lynette, who council and even scold the knights into doing their best. There are the women who use their wiles to beat down the knights’ defenses, like the woman who goes after Gawain in “Sir Gawain and the Green knight.” It was a woman who charmed and cajoled and lied to get him to fall. Morgana Le Fey is the archetype of evil in the Arthurian stories, and I don’t think it’s an accident that she’s a woman. Guinevere, when she falls the whole country disintegrates around her, and Arthur dies; his death isn’t a result of her grinding chivalry’s standard under her foot, but in a literary way, it is Guinevere’s betrayal that marks the end of Camelot. That is no accident.
Ladies, we have an influence. You have an influence.
The women we meet in the Middle Ages are not primarily warriors, though they could often use a sword. (If they are warriors, they are pagans who tend to end up burning on pyres.) They are strong in their gentleness, hardy in their homes, deferring to their men for the battles but deferring to no one in their standards. They are the standard-bearers, the ones who make or break the story by how they influence the men. Yes, the guys fight the battles. But they fight and love according to what the ladies encourage them to. We must be strong. Learn how to defend others. Learn what’s true, and stick to it no matter what.
We have an influence. It isn’t optional, and it isn’t only a girlfriend or wife. Daughters, sisters, aunts, friends, all of us steer those around us in one direction or another, to be slack-kneeded, uncaring slobs out mostly for their own enjoyment of life. Or, to be strong Christian warriors who will hold the breech against anything. We are the standard-bearers. We hold up the standard, and in a large part, society rises or falls according to how we hold it. Live like a lady who inspires and creates Christian knights. Live according to the code of chivalry, and you will be a world changer. You will be a hope-spreader. A light-bringer. Make a commitment right now to be chivalrous woman. And keep that promise.