The Legacy of Ramon Lull

There are three secular ‘knightly handbooks’ that have come down to us from the Middle Ages. The Ordene de Chevalerie (available in Chronique #5) is anonymous, dating from the 12th century. The third, written by the 14th century French knight Geoffrey de Charnay, is actually a collection of three works. The second is Ramon Lull’s Book of Knighthood and Chivalry, an extraordinarily popular work first written in Catalan, subsequently translated into a myriad of languages. We at the Chivalry Bookshelf has translated the Middle English version into modern English to make it more accessible to the modern reader on the five-hundredth anniversary of the Caxton version release; it is our mission to bring all three together into a single book of ‘knightly handbooks’ featuring side-by-side translations. For now, the Book of Knighthood and Chivalry is available in a monograph edition.

Ramon Lull started life as a knight, a fun-loving Spanish knight who was equally at home wooing the ladies as on the tourney field or at war; apparently he was accomplished in all three, earning high renown amongst his peers. One evening, Ramon awoke to a vision of Christ that changed his life forever. He took up Orders, becoming a monk, and spent the rest of his life attempting to convert the ‘heathen’ and in devoted writings. He wrote on many subjects from love to war to alchemy to religion. His life was long; past his centennial he was finally stoned to death attempting to bring Christianity to a small Moslem village.

The Book of Knighthood and Chivalry describes the progress of a young squire who, on his way to be knighted, falls asleep on his pony. The pony strays into the path, where he is found by hermit; an old knight who has renounced the world. Upon speaking with the squire, he is astonished to discover that the squire knows nothing of what is expected of a knight, but seeks the accolade nonetheless. The hermit decides to instruct the squire in the ways of chivalry, and the Book of Knighthood and Chivalry was born.

I found the original Middle English a bit much for casual reading, and so I translated it into Modern English, working both from an existing transcribed translation and from a facsimile of the Caxton version. It is a fascinating journey into what knighthood meant to knights of the late 13th and early 14th centuries; I recommend it highly. Below you will find an excerpt:

In What Manner A Squire Ought to be Received into the Order of Chivalry

"At the beginning, it behooves a squire entering the order of chivalry to confess of his difficulties that he has done against God and ought to receive chivalry with the intention that in the same he should serve our lord God, who is glorious. And if he is cleansed of sin he ought to receive his savior, for to make and to adoube a knight it should be the day of some great feast; Christmas, Easter, Whitsontide or some solemn days; because by the honor of the feast assemble many people in the place where the squire ought to be adoubed knight, and God ought to be adored and prayed to that he give the squire grace to learn well thereafter the order of chivalry…

"…On that same day it behooves him to make a great feast and to give gifts and great dinners; to joust and to sport and to do other things that pertain to the order of chivalry. To give to kings of arms and to heralds as it is accustomed of ancient; and the lord who made the new knight ought to give the new knight a present or gift also; and the new knight ought to give to him and to others that same day, for who so receives so great a gift as is the order of chivalry honors not his order if he gives not after the power that he has to give. All these things and many others I will not now recount because of shortness of time…."

This is but a sample of single page of this exhaustive 92pp work. Set in the same type as the Book of the Tournament, the book is both a curiosity and a useful textbook of squires and knights who aspire to better themselves through the discipline that is knighthood. For more period resources, subscribe to Chronique: The Journal of Chivalry—the single resource for students of knighthood and tournament re-enactors.

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