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.

From there to here

The last time I spoke with my grandfather, John Richard Price Gabourel, was Thanksgiving of 1987. He lay in a hospital bed in San Francisco, his body wracked with cancer, and my father placed the call from our Portland home. My wife and I had just announced our engagement and I wanted to give him the news. Although he was barely able to communicate, I do like to believe he could still understand. He passed away a few days later to go on what he called “The greatest adventure of them all.”

He was a wonderful memory keeper and a king of tall tales. Despite his lack of education, his friends referred to him as “the expert on everything” for he could talk like he kissed the Blarney stone. With his passing a tremendous treasure of family artifacts passed on to my father, who was already an avid genealogist. Among the collection was an 1879 book penned by my great-great grandaunt, Harriet Gabourel, titled The Knight and the Dragon: A Legend of the Hougue Bie De Hambie, in the Island of Jersey.

After I moved home from university, my father showed me the book just after he had finished reading it. It was my great grandfather’s copy, a gift from his Auntie Harriet. I thought it an absolutely brilliant title and imagined it was some adventurous tale where the climax was a battle between a brave knight and a dangerous fire-breathing dragon. “Not so,” said my father, who then went on to describe a story of jealousy, betrayal and murder. At the time I figured sometime someday I would read Harriet’s story, but for the time being I had to work, get my wife through graduate school and raise my newborn son, Joshua Dustan.

Then it happened… a parent’s worst possible nightmare… my son died of SIDS at age three months eight days. Unless you have been through it, you cannot and do not want to know such pain. Every day I thank God for the strength of my extended family. Their support allowed us to survive the ensuing year.

That is when writing became an outlet for me. Pen, paper, and keyboard allowed me to escape into a daydream world of my creation. I found I had a small gift for poetry, I enjoyed writing essays (something I completely eschewed as a student), and the dream of writing a novel distracted me from my daily pain. Eventually I found an idea I liked and wrote my first manuscript. It was a short, satirical story, and I thought it quite clever. However, the literary industry did not find it so clever, so it remains an unfinished, unpublished project.

My own father passed away early in 2002, and the increasing demands of my family pushed aside my thoughts of being a novelist. I promised my father I would take up the mantle of the family historian, I was coaching my daughter’s soccer team, and my wife and I were active sports parents. My literary focus turned to the researching and writing my family history, and that culminated in the 2009 publication of The House of Gabourel.

Part of my research was to read both of Harriet Gabourel’s 19th century novels, Suzanne de L’Orme (later published as True to Her Faith) and The Knight and the Dragon. I immediately saw the tremendous potential of the legend of La Hougue Bie, but was unhappy with Harriet’s title, a title I had been enamored with for two decades. It had little to do with the heart of the story, that being the arc of the widow, the treacherous servant, and his conscience. Ultimately, as the story came together, I settled on the title The Knight and the Serpent, for it implies a dual meaning and is better suited to the overall story, yet still tips its hat to its inspiration.

Remembering the sting of literary rejection from years past and happy with the process of self-publishing The House of Gabourel, I decided to publish The Knight and the Serpent on my own. So far so good…

Happy Reading,

John