“There was a country in which it happened that there lived a wise Knight who had long maintained the Order of Chivalry and who, by the strength and nobility of his great courage and wisdom, had ventured his body in various wars, jousts and tournaments. Because he thought in his heart that he would not live much longer — as one who, by the course of nature, had long been near his end — he chose a hermitage for himself. For age had weakened the natural strength within him so that he no longer had any power nor strength to wield arms as he was accustomed to do. Therefore, he left all his inheritance and riches to his children and made his dwelling place in a great forest abundantly provided with water, large trees and fruit-bearing bushes of various kinds.“
Thus starts the “Book of the Order of Chivalry”. The basic premise of the first chapter is the story of a knight who has become old and who decides to become a hermit and spend the rest of his life in contemplation. This fable is fiction, but it does have certain parallels to the life of the author of the book: Ramon Llull.
Llull was not a knight, but a medieval Catalan writer, philosopher, logician, and theologian, a Renaissance Man a few centuries before the Renaissance. Today, he is best remembered as one of the first writers in the Catalan language and one of the first writers of novels in Europe.
This short description, however does not give justice to the wide range of the man and his interests. His significance and story surpasses mere words and enters the world of legend, for he left a powerful, but controversial legacy that has remained influential throughout the ages.
The life of Ramon Llull
Ramon Llull’s real life story begins in the High Middle Ages, during the times of the Reconquista. He was born in 1232 on the island of Mallorca into a family of Catalonian colonists. After the conquest of the island from the Muslims, many Christian families from the mainland began moving there. Llull’s family was one of them, immigrating to the island from Barcelona.
At the beginning of his adult life, Llull spent some time as the chief administrator of the royal household, but also as a troubadour, a wandering poet. He was married and had a family, but also spent a lot of his time chasing other women. He was a real ladies man, who composed poems and songs in order to win their hearts.
However one day, he had an epiphany. He supposedly saw visions of Jesus Christ. After that day, Llull swore to change his life, and become a real man going his own way. He abandoned his wife and family, stopped chasing other women, and became a Franciscan monk, spending the next 9 years in solitude. Ramon Llull chose the path of a hermit, just like the protagonist of the first chapter of his book on chivalry.
Knighthood and chivalry
Unlike the protagonist of his story, Llull never became a knight, and did not even strive to become a knight. However he saw the importance of the order of knighthood. For Llull, knights formed the backbone of society. They were the ones who were supposed to ensure law and order among people. The knight was a warrior, scholar and commander, and chivalry was his code of conduct.
They had a special purpose in life and had to be prepared to fit the part. The description in the book gives a forceful commentary on knights and their roles. They are almost superheroes, the select few with a mission and duty to hold society from falling apart. Out of the mystical past the order of knighthood and chivalry arose:
“When charity, loyalty, integrity, justice and truth grew weak in the world, then there began cruelty, injury, disloyalty and falseness. Thus error and trouble came into the very world where God had planned for man to know, love, serve, fear and honor Him. Fortunately, however, no sooner had laxness in enforcing the law first arisen than fear in turn caused justice to be restored to the honor in which she was formerly held. Therefore, all the people were divided by thousands. Out of each thousand there was chosen a man more notable than all the rest for his loyalty, his strength, his noble courage, his breeding and his manners.“
That man, one out of a thousand, became a knight, sworn to protect the weak and become a pillar of his community. For Llull, the knights were examples of moral virtues that served as inspirations for others. They not only protected the society through the force of arms, but through their personal conduct served as moral icons to be emulated.
“The exceptional nature of his courage has caused a Knight to be picked out from among all other men, who are beneath him in service. Therefore, exceptional habits and upbringing are also appropriate to a Knight. For extraordinary bravery may not achieve the high honor of chivalry without selection also based on virtues and good habits. Thus it behooves a Knight to be well-stocked with good habits and manners. Every Knight ought to know the seven virtues which are the source and root of all good habits and are the path to everlasting heavenly glory. Of these seven virtues, three are called “theological” or “divine” while the remaining four are “cardinal.” The “theological” ones are faith, hope and charity. The “cardinal” ones are justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude.“
Knights had to not only take care to work their bodies and their outward skills, but they also needed to work their minds and spirits:
“If the practice of knighthood were, in fact, more a matter of physical strength than of inward resolve, the Order of Chivalry would be concerned much more with the body than with the soul. And if that were so, the body would be more excellent than the soul, but that is obviously false. Thus inner courage cannot, when it is functioning properly, ever be vanquished or overcome by any mere man.“