A Brief Origin of Chivalry

Chivalry, a derivation of the French word, cavalier, and similar to the Jersiais word, c’valyi, both of which translate to ‘horseman’, may ultimately find its origins in the collapse of the Carolingian empire in the ninth century. Following the death of Charles the Bald in 877AD, the remains of the empire crumbled beneath waves of Norse attacks and internal strife. The feudal society existing in the region degraded into chaotic violence as lords and knights waged merciless private wars amongst themselves.

To the Catholic Church’s credit, in the name of God they attempted to persuade violent and lawless lords to temper their brutality. In 989AD Archbishop Gunald of Bordeaux brought his bishops together in a synod at Charroux where they crafted the ‘Peace of God’ decree. The decree essentially stated that any person who robs the church, robs or makes war on the poor, or attacks clergy will be excommunicated and cursed until the offender makes amends. Excommunication was a substantial loss of status for lordly men, especially during a time when Europe was becoming heavily Christianized. The clergy would promote great gatherings of nobles where they were bid to swear oaths of peace on the relics of saints. The knight now had a Christian code of conduct he was under some pressure to follow.

In 1010AD King Robert the Pious of France, descendant of Rollo and cousin to Duke Richard the Good of Normandy, proclaimed the ‘Peace of God’, giving the heavenly decree an earthly enforcer. To break with God was to break with the king. France would be the birthplace of chivalry, and its reigning generation of French nobles would be the men who spread it to the rest of the world where it would be refined and expanded into the stuff of legend.

In writing the Night and the Serpent, I spent a great deal of time mulling over what era between the 11th and 14th centuries to place my characters. The days of Robert the Devil were the most natural fit so, to coincide with the advent of chivalry, I gave my anti-hero, Gaspard, the birth year of 1010AD.

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