Part II- Medieval Noble Parents Gave Their Boys Counsels of Honor and Wisdom

May 7, 2020


“But traitors were not the only people to suffer from this terrible game. The charming Bandouinet, the nephew of Ogier the Dane, succumbed the blows of the son of Charlemagne who was armed with a chess board; and in the same manner died the nephew of the great emperor, the poor Bertolais, smitten down by Renaud de Montauban. Those who did not lose their lives in this accursed game often lost their money at it, and even their horses. Beware of chess!

“But, my son, you must beware of some people more than the game of chess—and they are the vileins. You must never have any intercourse with them, but be particularly cautious not to make them your counselors and friends. Never confide to them a secret, nor give them any function, nor permit them to approach you. Ah, we are spectators now of sad sights which disgust me greatly. And never think of conferring on a vilein the holy order of chivalry. I tell you, the Sacrament was not intended for him. I tell you that it would be a scandal, and, what is more, a danger! Such people, naturally, have not nobleness of heart; they are not noble, save on the surface, and they are capable of any felony.

“Girat of Roussillon was sufficiently attached to the son of a vilein to make him his seneschal and his counselor, and even bestowed on him a rich farm and good land. He was well punished for it, for it was this wretch, the same Richier, who delivered Roussillon to his most deadly enemies. No, no, a vilein—whatever you may make him—will remain a vilein still, and his brain is so dense that no good will ever enter into it. In brief, a gentleman should only live with gentlemen who are his peers, and it is only in such intercourse that one finds good.

“A true baron should not compromise himself, he ought not to associate with a man who is not a baron like himself; and I cannot admit—yes, I will even go so far as that—I cannot admit that a valet should seat himself at table with his master. A little pride is not unbecoming a knight, and that is a lesson, my son, which you will do well to meditate upon.

“There is, nevertheless, something which you may learn from vileins. These are the proverbs which they use incessantly, and which our poets quote so fully to our bachelors (knights). They contain a course of knowledge which the old men themselves may turn to profitable account. You are very young still, my son, but already very anxious to have adventures and to quit the maternal nest. Well, then, remember this proverb—

‘The bird that wishes to fly before it can sustain itself falls to the ground.’

“Young people talk too much. Remember that a ‘Wise silence is better than foolish talking.’

“Young people love danger. Tell yourself that some prudence is right and necessary; and that

‘He who would warm himself burns himself sometimes.’

“Beware of traitors and of those dangerous companions whom your father has just indicated to your attention and to your contempt. Do not blindly rush into the lion’s mouth, or—to quote our vileins again—

‘Do not imitate the lamb that plays with the wolf.’

“Beware even of your neighbors themselves, as the proverb says—

‘He who has a bad neighbor often has a bad morning’

and persuade yourself that there are traitors everywhere. From treason no one can guard himself. Do not permit yourself to accept fine promises from the first comer. It is better to have one thing in hand of your own than four in the bush: and do not attach too much importance to the recognition of those who call themselves your best friends, for—

‘Once a man is dead and buried he is forgotten.’

“If ever you become poor, remember that all the flatterers will very quickly turn their backs upon you, and it is well known that

‘The poor man is in bad odor;’

and poverty is the more detestable as it changes the heart of man and makes him do very much mischief (lui fait faire maint méchef).

“After Providence, depend on no one but yourself, and do not forget that “who stag hunts, stag finds.’ But be sure remember that you come of a good stock, and as the vileins say in one of their picturesque proverbs—

‘The son of a cat ought to catch mice.’

“Imitate your father in all things, and you will do well.”

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. 725


* These words were repeated almost exactly by the young Ameri when he proposed to the emperor to capture Narbonne—“You are as poor as proud,” said Charlemagne. “Poor!” he replied. “Is not God in Heaven above all?”



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