May 04, 2012
And occasionally a box of chocolates.
Launcelot du Lac. El Cid. Alanna the Lioness. Madmartigan. Richard Cour de Lion. Joan d'Arc. Dame Diana Rigg. Sir Paul McCartney. Sir Mick Jagger. Sir Elton John.
Knights all of them.
Though the modern Knights have it better.
They're not encumbered by pounds of shining armor. Rattling around drafty castles. Expected to do battle. Throwing a designer cape, centuries before dry cleaning, over a mud puddle.
Where did all this derring-do start?
"King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" were oral stories dating back to the 1100s.
Camelot may have been in Wales, Cornwall or Somerset, but no one knows for certain if it existed at all.
Sir Thomas Malory in the 15th century and Alfred Tennyson's "Idylls of the King" in the 19th century kept the legend alive.
But knights were real enough.
You were usually born into it. You'd have to learn manners, basic skills, what it meant to be a warrior.
Not all were on board.
Mark Twain blamed Knighthood for most of the ills of the world.
He singled out Sir Walter Scott, in particular, and "Ivanhoe," for the "romanticization of battle," claiming it even influenced the South's decision to fight the Civil War.
"A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" was Twain's revenge, where the main character repeatedly utters "great Scott" to make fun of Sir Walter.
Twain might have been jealous he wasn't "Sir Mark."
Chivalry, of course, is not just deferring to women.
As historian Barbara Tuchman put it, chivalry is so much more:
"More than a code of manners in war and love, it was a moral system, governing the whole of life..."
Maybe that's why the knight's 12 chivalric virtues, set down by the Duke of Burgundy in the 14th century, have stayed with us.
Faith, charity, justice, sagacity, prudence, temperance, resolution, truth, liberality, diligence, hope and valor.
As needed now, as they've ever been.