Medieval Noble Parents Gave Their Boys Counsels of Honor and Wisdom

April 30, 2020

Moral instruction cam also from the lips of all those who surrounded the youthful baron, and he assimilated them, with the injunctions as to politeness, deportment, and manners. A single word embodies all this elevated teaching—a word which is one of the most beautiful in our language, which means the same as chivalry and honor—we refer to courtesy.

It is then a lesson in courtesy which the professor is about to give us, and this lesson is inculcated on the youthful baron by the united voices of his father and his mother. One may readily imagine he hears the two semi-choruses of the Greek Tragedy.

“It is with God, my child, that we must begin,” the mother would say. “In the most momentous hours of your life, God will never desert you if you put your trust in him. Recall the beautiful story of Aiol. His father, Elie, was banished from France, disinherited, absolutely in poverty, and an invalid for forty years. He lived in a wretched kind of cabin with his wife Avisse, and his horse Marchegai. The roof was so low that the knight’s lance could not stand upright within it, and was placed outside (how sad!) exposed to rain and wind.

“The day at length arrived when Elie had to send his son into France to reconquer his ‘marches,’ and he could only give him a bent lance, an old shield, rusty armor, and four pence—yes, only four pence. But he addressed to him these noble words, which you should always bear in mind:—‘Fieux quant iceus fauront, Dieus est es cieus.’ And the child on his part would reply, “Si vos n’av’s avoir, Dieus a assés.’”*

“It would not be sufficient for you,” the father wold say, “to have confidence in God, if you have not justice on your side; but be assured, my son, that if you fight for God and for the right, you will conquer!”

“Above all things,” continued the mother, “be humble. Had you a hundred horses in your stables, and all the wealth of the world; were you the Constable of France, nothing would go well with you if pride effected a lodgment in your soul. The proud man loses in a day what it has caused him seven years to gain.”

“Be liberal, give largely; then give again, and still give. The more you give away, my son, the richer you will be. Whoever is avaricious is not a gentleman, and it is really sad to see princes living in such a dishonorable vice. They sully the title of royalty!

“Remember it is not enough to relieve the poor, the widow and the orphan; you must go further and embrace in all its widest scope the word largesse. The vileins in their proverb say that it is one’s true interest to be liberal: Ne fu pas fols cil qui dona premiers.

But it is not a question of interest which ought to guide you, and you are not a vilein. In the poem which a troubadour was singing to us yesterday, there was a verse which I retained in my memory to be my motto:—

‘En vos tresors mar remanra dernier.’

To portionless knights, to disinherited good men and true, distribute your wealth, rich furs, the vair and the grey—all! Do not consider; do not make promises—give!”

“As your father has spoken of knights, I will add that there is another tribute you should pay them, and that is respect! Whenever you see a good and true man, rise up in his presence and put yourself at once at his service. When you are on the road, salute everyone. In your words as in all your actions be always courteous, for civility costs little. Above all things do not jest and banter with the poor, and be humble in your dealings both with small and great. When you are a man’s guest show yourself of a smiling countenance and joyful mien. Cultivate the art of not hearing and seeing everything, and persuade yourself that they mean to behave kindly towards you.

“I need scarcely exhort you, my son, to avoid with horror that particular vice they call drunkenness. Eat well, but do not drink too much wine—‘on the lees.’ As for play, it is , alas, the source of many disputes; and that famous chess, of which they boasted so much, has cost the lives of many knights, as you are aware. It was because of a check that Galien slew the traitor Tibert; it was on account of a game of chess that the youthful Landri, in Doon de la Roche, smote the traitor Tomile.


León Gautier, Chivalry, trans. Henry Frith (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1891), 109–13.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 724




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