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The An Tir Handbook, 3rd Edition, May XXXIII/1998

Customs, Etiquette, and Playing the Game

Chivalry & Honor

Chivalry and the S.C.A.

A Personal View
by Sir Edward Ross, KSCA, OL, OP, Baron Montengarde

Is Chivalry dead? In order to answer this, we need to understand what chivalry is. In period, Chivalry Ė that is to say the "Code of Chivalry" Ė is somewhat different from what we in the S.C.A. practice. The French scholar Leon Gautier, a noted medieval historian, set out what he called the 10 commandments governing the conduct of a Knight. They are as follows:

  1. Unswerving belief in the Church and obedience to her teachings.
  2. A willingness to defend the church
  3. Respect and pity for all weaknesses and steadfastness in defending them.
  4. Love of country
  5. Refusal to retreat before the enemy
  6. Unceasing and merciless war against the infidel
  7. Strict obedience to the feudal overlord, so long as these duties did not conflict with the duty to God.
  8. Loyalty to truth and to the pledged word
  9. Generosity in giving
  10. Championship of the right and the good, against the forces of evil.

As you can see from his list, a significant part of the code of chivalry is based in the Christian (Catholic) religious beliefs. As far as the S.C.A. is concerned, we prefer to leave out all reference to religion in the day-to-day functions of our little world. Therefore, our use of the Chivalry is somewhat more succinct than Gautierís.

I personally prefer Lord Tennysonís definition of chivalry, "Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow Christ and the King," with the reference to Christ being dropped. Given that we leave all references to religion out of the S.C.A., what then are we left with? If we look at what would be left of Gautierís list and apply those points to the S.C.A. we will find what, I think, is a good "Code of Chivalry" for us all to follow.

"Respect and Pity for All Weakness, and Steadfastness in Defending Them." This statement stands on its own for the most part. It would, therefore, be unchivalric to shy away from someone who has a mental or physical disability. Defending weakness includes defending them against our own prejudice. Weakness also includes not understanding the way things are done. One small act in helping a new person can be the one thing that keeps that person around.

"Love of Country." A love of the group you belong to, be it your Shire, Barony, Principality, and/or Kingdom, and loyalty to that group, will make it a much better place for everyone. The more people who work together on a project, the better that project will become. Politics in the S.C.A. which are counter-productive to the health of a group are a breach of the Love of Country.

"Refusal to Retreat Before the Enemy" This is true on the field of battle as well as off. On the field the enemy is obvious. Off the field however, the enemy, I think, is any attitude or idea that is not in keeping with the interests of the Society, such as drinking from a can at a feast or not wearing a period garment at an event. I believe this would even extend to include fighting against a change in the rules of the game if the change is not, in your mind, going to better the Society. In that case, oneís chivalric duty would be to fight constructively against such a change.

"Unceasing and Merciless War Against the Infidel." An infidel is one who is a non-believer, in this case a non-believer in the goals of the Society. Everyone has their own idea of what the S.C.A. is all about, but there are two things that we should all have in common: a desire to re-enact the Middle Ages safely and a desire to have fun doing so. I think the people who forget either one of these objectives are infidels. One effective way of making war on infidels is to be the best possible example you can be of the ideals of the Society, both to newcomers and to established members.

"Strict Obedience to the Feudal Overlord." As simple as paying full respect to the Crown or doing as your Knight or Master asks (Hear that, Squires!). We should all remember that we are playing at re-enacting the Middle Ages. We should keep that in mind when we are at an event, the Crowns of a Kingdom are exactly that and should be treated as is Their due.

"Loyalty to the Truth and to the Pledged Word." Common sense would suggest to us that this is obvious, but Iím sure we all know of someone whose definition of the truth is not that of everyone else. Likewise I know of people who are still waiting for promised (and sometimes paid-for) works some seven years after the agreed-upon arrival date. It is better to turn down a job than not to complete one.

"Generosity in Giving." Giving of oneís time, kindness or even a helpful hand, without the expectation of anything in return, is the key to giving generously. Even a small act of generosity by one individual can be the catalyst for change in all who witness the action. Helping to carry something for a fellow person, whether or not they seem in need, can quite often be reciprocated by that person to another and so on.

"Championship of the Good vs. Evil." Good versus Evil sounds over-done, but alas it says it all. If only we could get together to decide what was good (or constructive) and what was evil (or destructive), we might all be better off (i.e. the Board versus the society-at-large-member or not).

The statement "I hold my sword by my heart and use the strength given me to defend what I know to be right," and that attitude this creates, has caused a lot of trouble over the years. But that is what Period Chivalry was based on. In our Society, we are recreating the better parts of the Middle Ages and we are all in this together. If our attitude is to be cooperative with and tolerant toward others, we will have won the hardest part of our struggle to keep a common dream alive. We are all giving from our very souls to make this a place we can all be happy in. To help someone, without expecting anything in return, even if it is not convenient, is my definition of Chivalry.


by Lao Khatun, Duchess of An Tir

From Latin, honor or honos, official dignity, repute, esteem.
High estimation, reverence, veneration, homage.
Integrity, noble appearance, reputation.
Behavior that is ethical, virtuous, moral, honest.
A sense of what is right, just and true.
Laws of Honor: rules established for honorable conduct among gentlemen, formerly recognized and rigidly enforced through public opinion.


A lot of meaning for such a simple word.

For me, honor is an attitude, a definition of oneís character. It is a code of behavior which is ethical and above question. It is what we teach our children about the difference between right and wrong. Honor embodies the ideal that we should treat our lessers as equals, our equals as superiors, and our superiors with great reverence. In my mind it is not the same as chivalry (popularly defined as honorable conduct upon the field), or courtesy (defined as honorable conduct in non-combative activities). Honor is the ideal that acts of chivalry and courtesy spring from. Honor knows no boundaries.

People speak of honor as though it is a medieval concept, and that it applies to the world that we create for ourselves in the Current Middle Ages. I believe that the concept is much older than the periods we recreate, and far more pervasive. Unlike a "persona," honor is not a facade. It is not a noble appearance that we adopt to compliment our garb, only to be packed away again when the event is over. Honor and its corresponding conduct should not be a random act, but a consistent part of what we are.

An honorable person treats other people and their ideas with dignity and respect, regardless of whether they have earned our respect or not. An honorable person gives others the benefit of doubt, and does not brand them with a title that they donít deserve. If people have earned our respect, we should tell them so, with no words minced. If people lose our respect, we should try to influence them by setting the better example, rather than treating the offending behavior with similar offense.

It is hard to "walk the talk." It is tempting to throw trash back into the camp from which it came, rather than to dispose of it quietly and properly. It is easier to pass rumors on in the guise of conversation, rather than to track down the source or give equal attention to both sides of the story. It is easier to dismiss the Crown and Their Word as Law because you disagree with it, rather than to support the concept as best as you can; just like it is easier to complain about modern legislation rather than to work with your congressman. It is especially difficult when the "Law of Honor" varies in its definition from one person to the next. How can honorable conduct be recognized and enforced through public opinion, when your opinion or definition may not coincide with mine?

I think that Mr. Webster left out an important word when he wrote his definition: tolerance. I wrote an article a few years back, at a time when I was questioning my involvement in the Society. I set a credo for myself which I try my very best to adhere to, that it may guide my actions in both the medieval and modern societies of which I am a member. I donít always achieve it, but it is a goal I strive for:

"I intend to take responsibility for my actions, rather than be irresponsible by not acting;
to speak up when things are not right, rather than grumbling to my friends later;
to uphold the institution of the Crown, because I have born that burden;
to work with groups that share my vision, rather than working against those that donít;
to inspire those that have become disillusioned, because they have done the same for me;
to treat others with respect regardless of whether or not they have earned it,
because I am not their judge.
These are my intentions. What are yours?"

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