Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
The Character of the True Knight
By William Caxton (c. 1415–1491)
From The Game and Play of Chess

THE KNIGHT ought to be made all armed upon an apt horse, in such wise that he have an helmet on his head, and a spear in his right hand, and covered with his shield; a sword and a mace on his left side; clad with an hauberk and plates before his breast; leg harness on his legs; spurs on his heels, on his hands his gauntlets. His horse well broken and taught, and apt to battle, and covered with his arms. When the knights be made they be bayned 1 or bathed. That is the sign that they should lead a new life and new manners, also they wake all the night in prayers and orisons unto God that He will give them grace that they may get that thing that they may not get by nature. The king or prince girdeth about them a sword, in sign that they should abide and keep him of whom they take their dispences 2 and dignity.
  Also a knight ought to be wise, liberal, true, strong, and full of mercy and pity, and keeper of the people and of the law, and right as chivalry passeth other in virtue, in dignity, in honour, and in reverence, right so ought he to surmount all other in virtue; for honour is nothing else but to do reverence to another person for the good and virtuous disposition that is in him. A noble knight ought to be wise and proved before he be made knight, it behoveth him that he had long time used the war and arms; that he may be expert and wise for to govern others. For sith that a knight is captain of a battle, the life of them that shall be under him lieth in his hand, and therefore behoveth him to be wise and well advised. For sometimes art, craft, and engine 3 is more worth than strength or hardiness of a man that is not proved in arms, for otherwhile it happeth that when the prince of the battle affyeth 4 and trusteth in his hardiness and strength, and will not use wisdom and engine for to run upon his enemies, he is vanquished and his people slain. Therefore saith the philosopher that no man should choose young people to be captains and governors, forasmuch as there is no certainty in their wisdom. Alexander of Macedon vanquished and conquered Egypt, Judæa, Chaldee, Africa, and Assyria unto the marches of Bragmans 5 more by the counsel of old men than by the strength of the young men. We read in the history of Rome that there was a knight, which had to name Malechete, that was so wise and true that when the emperor Theodosius was dead, he made mortal war against his brother germane which was named Gyldo or Guy, forasmuch as this said Guy would be lord of Africa without leave and will of the senators; and this said Guy had slain the two sons of his brother Malechete, and did much torment unto the Christian people, and afore that he should come into the field against his brother Guyon, he went to an isle of Capayre 6 and led with him all the Christian men that had been sent thither in exile, and made them all to pray with him by the space of three days and three nights. For he had great affiance and trust in the prayers and orisons of good folk and specially that no man might counsel nor help but God. And three days before he should fight, Saint Ambrose, which was dead a little before, appeared to him, and shewed him by revelation the time and hour that he should have victory. And forsomuch as he had been three days and three nights in orisons and prayers, and that he was assured for to have victory, he fought with five thousand men against his brother that had in his company four score thousand men; and by God’s help he had victory. And when the barbarians that were come to help Guy saw the discomfiture they fled away. And Guy fled also into Africa by ship. And when he was there arrived, he was soon after strangled. These two knights of whom I speak were two brethren germane, which were sent into Africa for to defend the commonweal.  2
  In likewise Judas Maccabæus, Jonathas and Simon his brethren, put themselves in the mercy and guard of our lord God, and against the enemies of the law of God, with little people in regard of the multitude that were against them, and had also victory. The knights ought to be true to their princes, for he that is not true loseth the name of a knight. Unto a prince truth is the greatest precious stone when it is meddled 7 with justice. Paul, the histographier of the Lombards, rehearseth that there was a knight named Enulphus, and was of the city of Pavia, that was so true and faithful to his lord and king named Patharick that he put him in peril of death for him. For it happened that Grimald Duke of Buneventayns, 8 of whom we have touched before in the chapter of the queen, did do slay Godibert which was king of the Lombards by the hand of Goribert duke of Tarent, which was descended of the crown of Lombardy. And this Grimald was made king of Lombardy in his place, and after this put and banished out of the country this Patharick which was brother unto the king Godibert, that for fear and dread fled into Hungary. And then this knight Enulphus did so much that he got the peace again of his lord Patharick against the king Grimald, and that he had license to come out of Hungary where he was always in peril, and so he came and cried him mercy. And the king Grimald gave him leave to dwell and to live honestly in his country, always foreseen that he took not upon him and named himself king, how well he was king by right. This done, a little while after, the king that believed evil tongues, thought in himself how he might bring this Patharick unto the death; and all this knew well the knight Enulphus, which came the same night with his squire for to visit his lord, and made his squire to unclothe him and to lie in the bed of his lord, and made his lord to rise and clothe him with the clothes of his squire, and in this wise brought him out, brawling and beating him as his servant, by them that were assigned to keep the house of Patharick that he should not escape. Which supposed that it had been his squire that he entreated so outrageously, and so he brought him unto his house which joined with the walls of the town. And at midnight, when all men were asleep, he let adown his master by a cord. Which took an horse out of the pasture, and fled unto the city of Aast, 9 and there came to the king of France. And when it came unto the morn, it was found that Enulphus and his squire had deceived the king and the watchmen, whom the king commanded should be brought tofore him, and demanded of them the manner how he was escaped, and they told him the truth. Then the king demanded his council of what death they had deserved to die that had so done and wrought against the will of him. Some said that they should be hanged and some said they should be flayed, and others said that they should be beheaded. Then said the king; By that Lord that made me, they be not worthy to die, but for to have much worship and honour, for they have been true to their lord. Wherefore the king gave them great laud and honour for their feat. And after it happened that the proper squire and servant of Godibert slew the traitor Goribald, that by treason had slain his lord at a feast of Saint John in his city of Tarent, whereof he was lord and duke. Thus ought the knights to love together, and each to put his life in adventure for other; for so be they the stronger and the more doubted, like as were the noble knights Joab and Abysay that fought against the Syrians and Ammonites and were so true, that one to that other, that they vanquished their enemies, and were so joined together, that if the Syrians were stronger than that one of them, that other helped him. We read that Damon and Phisias 10 were so right perfect friends together, that when Dionysius which was king of Sicily had judged one to death for his trespass in the city of Syracuse, whom he would have executed, he desired grace and leave to go into his country for to dispose and ordain his testament. And his fellow pledged him and was surety for him upon his head that he should come again, whereof they that heard and saw this, held him for a fool and blamed him. And he said always that he repented him nothing at all, for he knew well the truth of his fellow. And when the day came and the hour that execution should be done, his fellow came and presented himself before the judge, and discharged his fellow that was pledge for him. Whereof the king was greatly abashed, and for the great trouth 11 that was found in him, he pardoned him, and prayed them both that they would receive him as their great friend and fellow. Lo here the virtues of love, that a man ought not to doubt the death for his friend. Lo what it is to do for a friend, and to lead a life debonnair, 12 and to be without cruelty; to love and not to hate, which causeth to do good against evil; and to turn pain into benefit and to quench cruelty.  3
  The very true love of the common weal and profit nowadays is seldom found. Where shalt thou find a man in these days that will expose himself for the worship and honour of his friend, or for the common weal. Seldom or never shall he be found. Also the knights should be large and liberal, for when a knight hath regard unto his singular profit by his covetousness, he despoileth his people. For when the soldiers see that they put them in peril, and their master will not pay them their wages liberally, but intendeth to his own proper gain and profit, then, when the enemies come, they turn soon their backs and flee oftentimes. And thus it happeth by him that intendeth more to get money than victory, that his avarice is ofttimes cause of his confusion. Then let every knight take heed to be liberal, in such wise that he ween not nor suppose that his scarcity 13 be to him a great winning or gain. And for this cause he be the less loved of his people, and that his adversary withdraw to him them by large giving. For ofttime battle is advanced more for getting of silver than by the force and strength of men. For men see all day that such things as may not be achieved by force of nature be gotten and achieved by force of money. And forsomuch it behoveth to see well to that when the time of battle cometh, that he borrow not nor make no taillage. 14 For no man may be rich that leaveth his own, hoping to get and take of others. Then alway all their gain and winning ought to be common among them except their arms. For in like wise as the victory is common, so should the despoil and booty be common unto them. And therefore David, that gentle knight in the first book of Kings in the last chapter, made a law: that he that abode behind by malady or sickness in the tents should have as much part of the booty as he that had been in the battle. And for the love of this law he was made afterward King of Israel. Alexander of Macedon came in a time like a simple knight unto the court of Porus, King of Ind, for to espy the estate of the king and of the knights of the court. And the king received him right worshipfully, and demanded of him many things of Alexander and of his constancy and strength, nothing weening that he had been Alexander, but Antigone one of his knights. And after he had him to dinner; and when they had served Alexander in vessel of gold and silver with diverse meats, after that he had eaten such as pleased him, he voided the meat and took the vessel and held it to himself and put it in his bosom or sleeves. Whereof he was accused unto the king. After dinner then the king called him and demanded him wherefore he had taken his vessel, and he answered: Sir King, my lord, I pray thee to understand and take heed thyself and also thy knights. I have heard much of thy great highness, and that thou art more mighty and puissant in chivalry and in dispences 15 than is Alexander, and therefore I am come to thee, a poor knight, which am named Antigone, for to serve thee. Then it is the custom in the court of Alexander that what thing a knight is served with, all is his, meat and vessel and cup. And therefore I had supposed that this custom had been kept in thy court, for thou art richer than he. When the knights heard this, anon they left Porus, and went to serve Alexander, and thus he drew to him the hearts of them by gifts, which afterward slew Porus that was King of Ind, and they made Alexander king thereof. Therefore remember, knight, alway that with a closed and shut purse shalt thou never have victory. Ovid saith that he that taketh gifts, he is glad therewith, for they win with gifts the hearts of the gods and of men.  4
Note 1. bayned.  The French baigner. [back]
Note 2. dispences = grants to maintain their estate. [back]
Note 3. engine = talent (ingenium). [back]
Note 4. affyeth = confides. [back]
Note 5. Bragmans = Brahmins. To denote India generally. [back]
Note 6. Capayre.  Probably Capri. [back]
Note 7. meddled = mixed, joined. [back]
Note 8. Buneventayns = Benevento. [back]
Note 9. Aast = Aosta. [back]
Note 10. Phisias = Phintias. [back]
Note 11. trouth = trustworthiness. [back]
Note 12. debonnair.  Not so much in its later sense of joyous and graceful, but rather inspired by gentleness and kindliness. [back]
Note 13. scarcity = parsimony. [back]
Note 14. taillage = levying of tribute. [back]
Note 15. dispences = grants and favours. [back]

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.