XXIV

TRANSFORMATION OF THE NOBILITY INTO A LEGAL CLASS

1 THE INHERITANCE OF KNIGHTHOOD AND NOBILITY

ABOUT 1119, the Order of the Temple was founded for the protection of the settlements in the Holy Land. It consisted of two categories of fighting-men, distinguished from each other by their dress, their arms and their rank. In the higher category were the ‘knights’; in the lower, the ordinary ‘serjeants’—white mantles contrasted with brown. There can be no doubt that from the first the contrast corresponded to a difference of social origin among the recruits. Nevertheless, the earliest Rule, drawn up in 1130, does not contain any precise provisions on this subject. What might be called the consensus of opinion evidently decided into which of the two grades a man was to be admitted. A little more than a century later (c. 1250) the second Rule, by contrast, displays an uncompromising legalism. To be entitled to wear the white mantle, it was first of all necessary that the candidate should have been knighted before his entry into the Order. But even that was not enough. He had to be in addition ‘a knight’s son or a descendant of knights on his father’s side’; in other words, as it is expressed in another passage, he had to be a ‘nobleman’ (gentilhomme). For, as the Rule again prescribes, it is only on this condition that a man ‘must and can’ receive knighthood. This is not all. What happens if a newcomer chooses to conceal his knightly rank and slip in among the serjeants? Once the truth is known, he is to be put in irons.1 Even among the soldier-monks in this mid-thirteenth century, pride of class, which regarded any voluntary forfeiture of rank as a crime, counted for more than Christian humility. Between 1130 and about 1250, therefore, an important development had taken place: the right to be made a knight had been transformed into a hereditary privilege.

In the countries where the legislative tradition had never been lost, or had lapsed and been revived, the new law was defined by various edicts.

1 For the old rule, see G. Schnürer, Die ursprüngliche Templerregel, 1903. For a French text of the rule: H. de Curzon, La règle du Temple (Soc. de l’hist. de France), c. 431; 445; 446; 448. For similar provisions among the Hospitallers, in the general chapter of 19th September, 1262, Delaville Le Roulx, Cartulaire général, III, p. 47, c. 19.

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