Title page of a 19th century edition
of Le Morte d'Arthur

July 31

Sir Thomas Malory's
Morte d'Arthur published (1485)
"The Age of Chivalry"

It was on this date, July 31, 1485, that the source of the Arthurian legends as we know them today, eight romances known as Le Morte D'Arthur, was published in London.* The work was written by Sir Thomas Malory (c 1405-1471) and was published by the father of printing, William Caxton (1422?-1491). Malory is a mystery, but it seems he was himself a knight, and spent the last 20 years of his life in and out of prison for various crimes, such as extortion, robbery, poaching, and murder — hardly an exemplar of chivalry. He is claimed among the faithful by the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The chivalric code, according to
Chivalry by Léon Gautier (1891):

     I. Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches, and shalt observe all its directions.
     II. Thou shalt defend the Church.
     III. Thou shalt repect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
     IV. Thou shalt love the country in the which thou wast born.
     V. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
     VI. Thou shalt make war against the Infidel without cessation, and without mercy.
     VII. Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
     VIII. Thou shalt never lie, and shall remain faithful to thy pledged word.
     IX. Thou shalt be generous, and give largess to everyone.
     X. Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.

Malory completed his Morte D'Arthur while in prison, in 1469 or 1470. He died in 1471, so he never saw the first edition brought out by Caxton 14 years later. The Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table, as Malory originally called it, shows off the religious and chivalric ideas of an age gone by — at least as its author imagined them.

The Age of Chivalry, which has been relentlessly romanticized, presumably lasted from 1100 to 1400 in England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Chivalry in myth — especially as outlined by historian Léon Gautier in 1891 (see insert) — was a time of deep religious faith, respect for the weak, bravery in battle, veneration of women, generosity of spirit, truth and justice.

Chivalry in fact was invented in the 1600s by Jean Vulson de la Colombière and Claude-François Menestrier, genealogists and sycophants to the French court.** In fact, no contemporary chronicler mentions a knight-errant, the religious orders of knights (such as the Templars) never failed to become corrupt, and those who are touted as exemplars of chivalry — such as Richard the Lion-Heart and the Cid — were known to their contemporaries not as paragons of chivalry but as vicious and deceitful.

This may come as a revelation to those who think morality is on the decline in the world today, but the noble and knightly classes of both sexes were saturated with sexual vice and violence, brigandry and theft, and uncommon corruption. Serious scholars describe the "Age of Chivalry" as the worst period for morals in the history of civilization.† Of course, everyone went to church! So if the Age of Chivalry was the apotheosis of Christianity, gentle Jesus was a rascal.

* You can read the full text of Le Morte D'Arthur at this link.
** Vulson: Le vray théâtre d'honneur et de chevalerie ou le miroir héroique de la noblesse, 1648 ("The true theatre of honor and chivalry, or, the heroic mirror of nobility"); Menestrier: Histoire civile ou consulaire de la ville de Lyon, justifiée par chartres, titres, chroniques, manuscrits, autheurs anciens & modernes, & autres preuves, avec la carte de la ville, comme elle étoit il y a environ deux siécles, 1696 ("Civil history of the city of Lyon...").
† For conditions in Europe up to the 14th century, see the uncompleted General History of Civilization in Modern Europe by François Guizot, 1829-32 (tr. by William Hazlitt, 3 vol., 1846).
     For conditions in England, see the Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc, History of England, 4 vols., 1925; the Catholic historian John Lingard, History of England, 14 vols., 1823-31; Edward A. Freeman, Freeman's Historical Geography, edited by J.B. Bury, 1903; Henry Duff Traill's Social England, 4 vols., 1893-1898; The Cambridge Mediæval History, 7 vols., 1911-32.
     For France, see Achille Luchaire, Social France at the Time of Philip Augustus, Engl. trans., 1912; Ernest Lavisse, ed., Histoire de France depuis les origines jusqu'a la Révolution, 1901, vol. III.
     For Germany, see Wilhelm von Giesebrecht, Geschichte der deutschen Kaiserzeit, 6 vols., 1874-88; Albert Hauck, Kirchengeschichte Deutchlands, 5 vols., 1912; Rudolf Quanter, Die Sittlichkeitsverbrechen im Laufe der Jahrhunderte und ihre strafrechtliche Beurteilung, 1925; J. W. Thompson, Feudal Germany, 1928; H.A.L. Fisher Medieval Empire, 2 vols., 1898.
     For Italy, see John Addington Symonds, The Dantesque and Platonic Ideals of Love, 1893; Jakob Burckhardt, Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien (The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy), 1878; and Ferdinand Gregorovius, Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter (Story of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages), 1896-1906.
     Special studies of chivalry include Joseph Anglade, Le Troubadour Guiraut Riquier; Étude sur la decadence de l'ancienne poesie provençale, 1909-1910; Léon Gautier (1832-1897), Chivalry: The Everyday Life of the Medieval Knight, 1891; John Frederick Rowbotham, The Troubadours and Courts of Love, 1895.

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Ignatius of Loyola


Ignatius of Loyola (d. 1556) and the Jesuits

It was also on this date, July 31, 1556, that the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola, died in Rome. Born into the Basque nobility in 1491, Ignatius received little education, became a soldier, was maimed in battle, and found piety when the military refused him. He composed his Spiritual Exercises (c. 1521) while in seclusion.

Ignatius traveled on spiritual missions of such eccentricity that the Inquisition imprisoned him briefly in Spain in 1526. In Paris, he began to surround himself with a secret society of followers, but pretended to serve the poor in order to cultivate the rich. "Let us avoid all relations with women," Ignatius said, "except those of the highest rank." Although such reformers as there were within the Catholic Church wanted to suppress Orders, not increase them, through his soon-to-be notorious intrigue, Ignatius got his Society of Jesus recognized by the Pope in 1540 — expressly to fight heresy.

The Jesuits instead meddled in politics so despicably that they were expelled from country after country — banned in England in 1604, expelled from Russia in 1719, expelled from Spain, Parma, and the Two Sicilies in 1767. Before Clement XIV suppressed the Society in 1773, other popes condemned their practices (1710, 1715, 1742, and 1744). The Society was restored following the fall of Napoleon.

The chief Jesuit achievement to that time seems to have been inciting the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). In France, the Jesuit Father Manares "discovered" (that is, fabricated) a plot of the Huguenots, which prepared the way for the St. Bartholomew Massacre.

It is true that, as historian Joseph McCabe writes, "no Jesuit theologian ever explicitly wrote that the end justifies the means" — a charge first leveled in Pascal's Provincial Letters (1656). But the modus operandi of the Society of Jesus, and their "Jesuitry," has always been such, so it is immaterial whether Ignatius, or the Society of Jesus, ever publicly expressed the thought.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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