The Duties of a Good Knight

Ideas about knighthood and chivalry were much discussed in medieval Europe, and we have several written works that offer guidance on the proper ways knights should behave when it comes to warfare. One such work is L'arbre des batailles (The Tree of Battles), written by Honoré Bonet. Bonet was a 14th century monk living in southeastern France, and he wrote this work for the French king. It offers a broad discussion of warfare and the laws of war, asking and then answering questions such as 'What people have of right safe conduct in time of war?' and 'Whether a serf can be compelled to follow war at the command of his lord?'. In the following section, Bonet explains the qualities of a good knight, as well as somethings a knight should never do:

And I tell you that the first and principal thing is that they should keep the oath which they have made to their lord to whom they belong, and to whom they have sworn and promised to do all that he shall command for the defence of his land, according to what is laid down by the laws. He is no true knight who, for fear of death, or of what might befall, fails to defend the land of his lord, but in truth he is a traitor and forsworn. A knight must be obedient to him who is acting in place of his lord as governor of the host, and if he is not obedient to him he is no good knight but is overbearing and insolent. And knights, especially those who are in the king's service, or in a lord's, should in thought and deed be occupied only with the practice of arms, and with campaigning for the honour of their lord, and for his peace, as says the law. They must always carry out the orders of him who takes the place and guards the interests of their lord, and if a knight acts contrary to such command he must lose his head.

Further, the laws say that a knight must not till the soil, or tend vines, or keep beasts, that is to say, be a shepherd, or be a matchmaker, or lawyer; otherwise he must lose knighthood and the privileges of a knight. And he should never, if he is a paid soldier, buy land or vineyards while he is in service, and what he does buy must belong to his lord. If you wish to know why this was so ordained, I tell you that it was that knights should have no cause to leave arms for desire of acquiring worldly riches.

A complete translation of The Tree of Battles was made by G.W. Coopland and published by Liverpool University Press in 1949.

Top Image: 15th-century manuscript of  The Tree of Battles, by Honoré Bonet

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