A Look at Chivalry Today
Santee writer wants to resurrect Middle Ages code of chivalry
By Sandi Dolbee, RELIGION & ETHICS EDITOR
Reprint excerpted from the San Diego Union Tribune, June 5, 2003 edition
Scott Farrell would like to bring back the Middle Ages. Or at least a part of it. The part about chivalry.
The 38-year-old Santee writer is the creator of Shining Armor Enterprises and a program called Chivalry Today, which includes a Web site (www.ChivalryToday.com) and seminars on “a reawakening of the code of chivalry” to improve our behavior. He’s also working on a book about how chivalry can be used to infuse ethics into the 21st century.
Farrell, who over the last two decades has become a self-taught aficionado on the subject, envisions a society in which knights are not only pieces of a chess board, the thought of round tables conjures up more than images of a pizza joint, and noble conduct isn’t something to joust about.
“What I want to try to portray is that the ideals of chivalry can be brought to light today and not just enshrined in the past,” says Farrell, who with his goatee and dark locks looks as if he could step right into King Arthur’s castle.
He’s distilled the code of chivalry into seven “knightly virtues” – courage, justice, generosity, mercy, faith, nobility and hope. Practice those virtues, he says, and anyone can be a knight in shining armor.
Farrell’s love affair with chivalry began in 1981, when he was a junior at Valhalla High School in El Cajon and a representative from the Society for Creative Anachronism came to speak to his class. The international society is dedicated to studying and re-creating the European Middle Ages, complete with costumes, weapons and the re-enactment of military campaigns of that era.
What attracted him was “that sense of competition and adventure combined with a sense of respect and ethics,” he says.
The more he read stories of the knights and their chivalry, the more he decided that this was a “heroic code” worthy of emulation. “Knights were always so gallant and yet never weak. They were kind and merciful, but never taken advantage of.”
The Down Side
Despite Farrell’s enthusiasm, the history of knighthood comes with some not-so-knightly baggage.
After all, it was the Middle Ages that brought us the Crusades and Inquisition, neither of which were exactly models of ethical behavior. And knights themselves were pretty much white Christian men who were part of a caste system that also left much to be desired.
Peter Arnade, an associate professor of history at California State University San Marcos, suggests that those smitten with that era are dabbling in revisionist history.
“They romanticize the period. They don’t want to understand the period as it unfolded,” he says.
Chivalry got started in southern France in the 11th and 12th centuries with a movement known as “courtly love,” according to Arnade, with romantic poetry and songs that straddled the language of religion and love. Out of this evolved a code of ethics and honor for military people.
“The historians’ take on this is that chivalry mostly is a fiction,” Arnade says. “It was a feel-good movement among the military to make them feel like they were doing something other than smashing people’s brains out, which is what they were doing.
“When somebody says they want to revive chivalry, I think what they mean by that is the person has taken the romantic fiction of chivalry and said, ‘This is an honorable code of courtesy, of manners, and shouldn’t we all have more manners?’ To which I would reply, ‘yes,’ but I would go looking somewhere else for my code of manners.”
Farrell is aware of the naysayers … His version of chivalry wouldn’t be limited by gender, race, religion or economic status. “Everyone,” as he puts it, “is worthy of chivalrous behavior.”
He’s also aware that today’s skepticism and suspicion might make would-be recipients-in-distress a bit dubious of a chivalrous helping hand. How would you react if a stranger volunteered to carry that laptop computer hanging from your shoulder or offered you a ride on a dark and stormy night?
But adjustments can be made, he insists, like offering your cell phone to a person in need of assistance, rather than a ride.
Farrell has seen how chivalrous conduct rubs off on people in his re-enactment group. Instead of winning at any cost, he says, they become aware that the people they are competing against today may be teammates tomorrow.
Step into his East County tract home and it’s a little like visiting a medieval museum. Reproductions of axes, helmets, spears and tapestries from the era decorate the rooms. He also has two suits of armor.
Alas, for him, chivalry is definitely not dead. It’s just in need of some dusting off and some convincing that this 21st century America could learn something from a code of conduct – romanticized or not – from 12th century Europe.
“For me,” he says, “chivalry is embodied in someone who recognizes that courage and strength are different from aggression or personal achievement.”
© 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.