If you have ever seen A Knight’s Tale, the 2001 epic starring the late Heath ledger (above) as Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein you will probably say yes. Although being loosely thread on the historical figure, the film is mainly based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale” taken from his Canterbury Tales. It does however portray the character as a virtuous young Knight of Chivalry as Ulrich was so prominently renowned for. But can we truly believe the big screens depiction of some of our most favourite warriors of all time. Was Balian of Ibelin (Orlando Bloom) in Kingdom of Heaven really so honourable? Was William Wallace (Mel Gibson) in Braveheart really so brave? What about the famous King Author, portrayed most recently by Clive Owen really so heroic? Perhaps, but are all Knights of the medieval ages really as just as the movie’s make them out to be or are they just the stuff of fairy tales.
Speaking on Knights Eustace Deschamps said “He should be humble of heart and always work, and follow Deeds of Chivalry; be loyal in war and travel greatly; He should frequent tourneys and joust for his Lady Love; He must keep honor with all, So that he cannot be held to blame. No cowardice should be found in his doings, Above all, he should uphold the weak, and thus should a Knight rule himself.” A heartfelt sentiment, speaking on a Knights true valour, but do such knights exists off the big screen. We have already mentioned Ulrich, who was a famous jouster in the 13thcentury and a bit of a hit with the ladies to say the least, but he also wrote many works about how Knights may lead more virtuous lives. Another such man is Geoffroi de Charny the most notable French Knight of his generation. Having fought in many battles and being captured and ransomed twice by the English in the 14th Century, it still didn’t break his resolve. He was one of the founding members of the Order of the Star and was chosen to carry the Oriflamme, the hugely celebrated war banner of France. He died heroically still holding it. But before his death he wrote the Book of Chivalry which is considered the standard book on Knighthood. He did so in an attempt to renew and reform French Knighthood.
It just goes to show that both men were worried about the dipping perception of Knights at that time, so much so they were willing to write books to tell other Knights how it should be done. So it really does make us question the modern day stereotypes of a Knight? Were they really men of prestige and prowess, loyalty and chivalry like we had previously thought? Well as we know a large part of a Knight’s life and training is focused around war. Their purpose is to fight heroically, to the death if need be and to defend the weak. But a huge part of War is pillage and plunder and with that comes stealing, rape and murder. It would be ignorant to say no Knight would be caught doing such an act, because let’s face it, you would be a liar. But it’s true many Knights have forsaken their vows and many have chosen to abuse their positions and pry off the weak. Many are greedy and just aspire to have wealth, power and land. However stealing a line from Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the world isn’t split between Knights and bad people, we all have both light and dark inside of us, it is ultimately the path that we choose to follow that shows our true worth and I for one agree. I don’t for one second believe that Ulrich and Geoffroi didn’t do things in their life that they didn’t regret. But they found the true worth of what it was to be a Just Knight and they shared their vision with the world.
There is another type of Knight though, the Mercenary Knight. On first thought’s one would presume they are the type of Knight that would conduct to the horrors of war that we have discussed above. After all they are in it for the money, they serve no one they have no loyalty. But let me tell you, this is far from the truth as John Hawkwood will prove. An English Knight of commendable ability, initially gained his experience fighting in France, but due to the peace treaty in 1360 was forced to expand his career elsewhere. Joining the mercenary band known as the White Company he served Florentine until his death. An able warrior and an adapt leader of men. He was praised for his service and his loyalties and is one of the most notable mercenaries of all time. If this still does not convince you then I urge you to meet Richard Longwood, the protagonist in the debut novel “Mercenary” by Ross Connor. Like Hawkwood, Charny and Ulrich, Longwood is a man of honor, virtue and chivalry. If you like you’re Knights like the heroes in the films on their glamorous chargers, encased in gleaming armour, brandishing sword, lance and shield. Then this is the perfect book for you.
It is true not all Knights are just. In fact the ones that are you will find are very few and far between. Yet, the point is they still existed, shining bright as a glimmer of hope in a world of chaos and destruction. They were talismans, heroes and legends and their stories are well worth telling. So did the films get it right? Yes they did, even if they are somewhat exaggerated. But as far as I’m concerned, please, keep them coming. If they are anything like “Mercenary” then I can’t wait to see them.