XXIII

CHIVALRY

1 DUBBING TO KNIGHTHOOD

FROM the second half of the eleventh century, various texts, soon to become more numerous, begin to mention that here and there a ceremony has taken place for the purpose of ‘making a knight’. The ritual consisted of several acts. To the candidate, who as a rule was scarcely more than a boy, an older knight first of all handed over the arms symbolic of his future status; in particular, he girded on his sword.1 Then, almost invariably, this sponsor administered a heavy blow with the flat of his hand on the young man’s neck or cheek—the paumée or colée, as the French documents term it. Was it a test of strength? Or was it—as was held by some rather late medieval interpreters—a method of making an impression on the memory, so that, in the words of Ramon Lull, the young man would remember his ‘promise’ for the rest of his life? The poems do indeed often show the hero trying not to give way under this rude buffet—the only one, as a chronicler remarks, which a knight must always receive and not return;2 on the other hand, as we have seen, a box on the ear was one of the commonest methods, sanctioned by the legal customs of the time, of ensuring the recollection of certain legal acts—though it is true that it was inflicted on the witnesses and not on the parties themselves. But a very different and much less purely rational meaning seems at first to have attached to the gesture of ‘dubbing’ (the word was derived from an old Germanic verb meaning ‘to strike’), originally considered so essential to the making of a knight that the term came to be used habitually to describe the whole ceremony. The contact thus established between the hand of the one who struck the blow and the body of the one who received it transmitted a sort of impulse—in exactly the same way as the blow bestowed by the bishop on the clerk whom he is ordaining priest. The ceremony often ended with an athletic display. The new knight leapt on his horse and proceeded to transfix or demolish with a stroke of his lance a suit of armour attached to a post; this was known as the quintaine.

1 See Plate X.

2 Raimon Lull, Libro de la orden de Caballeria, ed. J.R. de Luanco, Barcelona, R. Academia de Buenos Letras, 1901, IV, 11. English translation: The Book of the Ordre of Chivalry trans. and printed by W. Caxton, ed. Byles, 1926 (Early English Text Society).

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