“Death Rather Than Dishonor” Is the Whole Code of Chivalry

August 1, 2019

Painting of St. Francis by Giovanni Da Milano

Ordena questo amore,” exclaims the Redeemer in one of the most beautiful canticles attributed to Saint Francis d’Assisi, and it is to Saint Francis himself that he addresses the astonishing words—“Moderate our love.” The Church said the same to the barbarous warriors of the ninth century. “Moderate your courage,” she said. They did moderate it, and their savagery by degrees became their prowess. We use the word designedly, and we may quote in relation to the subject these excellent proverbs. “In the result one recognizes the workman, in prowess the knight”; and, “No knight without prowess.” All other virtues follow hand in hand as the angels crowned with roses give their hands to the Elect in the Paradise of Fra Angelico.

First loyalty, then largesse, then moderation, and finally that perfection of civilized chivalry which we call courtesy. Honor crowns them all. “Death rather than dishonor”; the whole code of chivalry is contained in these four words, which, by the grace of God, have become a commonplace term with us. It is the grand saying of Hugh [Count of Vermandois], brother of the King of France, before Antioch: “Who does not prefer death to dishonor has no right in seignorie.” And throughout the Middle Ages this motto was preserved.

León Gautier, Chivalry, trans. Henry Frith (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1891), 23.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 685


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