Re-Examining the Knightly Virtues – A Man at Arms’ Viewpoint

Four months ago, I wrote a cycle of ballades in honor of my good friend, Robert Downey’s elevation to the SCA Chivalry.  Originally a quest to write about the virtue of Franchise, it grew to a series of eight poems in the ballade format, a medieval form that was appropriate to the time-frame and location of Sir Robert’s persona.  It details a series of conversations between a Squire and the Duke, his Knight about the Squire’s path to the Chivalry, focusing on the virtues of Courage, Largesse, Noblesse, Courtesy, Humility, Prowess, and Franchise.

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Now, I’ve been in the SCA for a very long time, and I’ve got some experience with the Knightly Virtues, with varying degrees of success.  Courage and Largesse I’ve got.  Courtesy and Humility, well.  We all struggle. 

But when I wrote the poems, I was not a dependent.  I was not Mistress Amelie’s apprentice, and I was not Sir Thoma’s squire.  I became her apprentice a few weeks later, and became Sir Thomas’ man at arms at Pennsic 43.  

So now I read these poems and I have a different viewpoint.  As someone who has openly stated my desire to be worthy of peerage, poems about Knightly Virtues read differently, even when I wrote them.  And so as I reread them, I come back to the same conclusion I had before, only deeper:

It’s all about Franchise.

At Pennsic this year, I was pulled aside by someone who knew me Before, someone who meant well, and this person said to me, “Purple you’re a jerk, but you can’t change who you are.  Tell the truth.  Be yourself.”  And I sort of nodded and went along with it because, well, I was tired, and it was raining, and someone had given me a beer and I was tired.  And they meant well.   I truly believe that.

But I also believe that they’re wrong.  Because what they’re saying, essentially, is “be a jerk,” and I’ve worked real hard to stop being a jerk.  A lot of the time, I feel like I’m succeeding.  But Franchise.  It’s about Franchise.

The Franchise poem in the Virtues cycle is the seventh of eight, the eighth poem being the one where (SPOILERS) the Squire is called to be Knighted.  Originally, there was no eighth poem, and Franchise was the last.  That’s not because Franchise is the hardest virtue to write about (although it’s not easy).  That’s not because it was random selection.  

It’s because Franchise is the most important of the Knightly Virtues.

That’s my opinion, of course.  But look at it this way:

  • Courage is something you can learn.  Fear is not an obstacle to being brave.  
  • Largesse is something you do — give to the poor and those who need help, and in recognition of fealty.  
  • Noblesse is something you do — inspiring others to elevate themselves.  
  • Courtesy is something you do — being polite, forgiving others, offering kindness.  
  • Humility is something you do, praising the deeds of others (Knightly Humility is different from “normal” humility, and I could write a whole blog-post on it.)
  • Prowess… oh, Prowess.  Prowess is the foundation of Knighthood, but it is the one virtue you can get better at without ever getting better as a person.  Prowess the smallest and the largest of obstacles to Peerage.  But it’s something you can learn.

But not Franchise.  Franchise isn’t about doing something.  Franchise isn’t something you can learn.  Franchise is about being who you are.  But not the schlub you are when you take five or six years to get through college and end up with a 2.5 GPA.  Not the cubicle drone you are in your 9-5 job.  Franchise is about being the KNIGHTLY YOU.  It’s about being the best, most Chivalrous, Knightly You that you can be.  It’s about being the Knight you know you Are.

So that’s why it’s not enough for me to just be myself.  I have to be my Knightly self.  And that’s a better self than who I was Before.

A man can change his stars.  

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