Highlights from The Book of Chivalry of Sir Geoffroi de Charny (14th century)
Transcribed by by Sir Vitus Litold Von Atzinger



Advice on Conduct Toward Friends and Enemies

There is a supreme rule of conduct required in these good men-at-arms as the above-mentioned men of worth inform us: they should be humble among their friends, proud and bold against their foes, tender and merciful toward those who need assistance, cruel avengers against their enemies, pleasant and amiable with all others, for the men of worth tell you that you should not converse at any length nor hold speech with your enemies, for you should bear in mind that they do not speak to you for your own good but to draw out of you what they can use to do you the most harm. You should be generous in giving where the gift will be best used and as careful as you can that you let your enemies have nothing that is yours. Love and serve your friends, exert yourself with all your strength against your foes. You should plan your enterprises cautiously and you should carry them out boldly. Therefore the said men of worth tell you that no one should fall into despair from cowardice nor be too confident from great daring, for falling into great despair can make a man lose his position and his honor, and trusting too much in his daring can make a man lose his life foolishly; but when one is engaged in an armed enterprise, one should dread vile cowardice more than death. Take care not to be so greedy as to take what belongs to others without good cause. And be sure that, as you value yourself, you do not let anything of yours be taken from you. Speak of the achievements of others but not of your own, and do not be envious of others. Above all, avoid quarrels, for a quarrel with ones equal is dangerous, a quarrel with someone of higher rank is madness, and a quarrel with someone of lower in rank is a vile thing, but a quarrel with a fool or a drunkard is an even viler thing. The aforesaid men of worth also tell you to refrain from saying unpleasant things and to make sure that what you say is of some profit rather than merely courteous. And make sure that you do not praise your own conduct nor criticize too much that of others. Do not desire to take away another's honor, but, above all else, safeguard your own. Be sure that you do not despise poor men or those of lesser rank than you, for there are many poor men who are of greater worth than the rich. Take care not to talk too much, for in talking too much you are sure to say something foolish; for example, the foolish cannot hold their peace, and the wise know how to hold their peace until it is time to speak. And be careful not to be too guileless, for the man who knows nothing, neither of good nor of evil, is blind and unseeing in his heart, nor can he give himself or others good counsel, for when one blind man tries to lead another, he himself will fall first into the ditch and then drag the other in after him.

Those Unworthy to be Men-At-Arms-

And for those men who take up arms, but are not men-at-arms, nor is it right that they should be because of their very dishonest and disordered behavior under these arms, it is these men who want to wage war without good reason, who seize other people without warning and without any good cause and rob and steal from them, wound and kill them. Those who use arms in this dishonorable way behave like cowards and traitors, nor would they dare to bear arms in any other way. They attack anyone, taking booty, prisoners and other valuables, if they find them and without justification. There are some who want to believe that they themselves would never commit such wicked deeds, but they have them done by their own men. There are others who say that they themselves would never engage in such evil works, but they receive those who commit such ill deeds and support them and like them and value them the better for it. Hence it is often said that he does mischief enough who helps mischief. Indeed all such people who are thus doers or consenters or receivers in relation to such deeds are not worthy to live or to be in the company of men of worth; for they have no regard for themselves- how could they hold others in regard? They have no desire to live a valiant and good life: how could they advise others to do so? They do not care whether people speak well of them: how could they speak well of others? They have no desire to perform deeds which will bring them worthy benefits: how could they achieve this for others? They are not willing to act in a way that will bring them honor: how are they going to honor others? They all lack power of judgment: how could they behave reasonably to others? It could be said that such wicked men who practice arms in so many evil ways are characterized by four very bad forms off ill-doing. The first is that of robbery on the highway, treacherously stealing and for no good reason. The second is to murder others in a bad cause. The third is to commit a treacherous deed by seizing, plundering and robbing others without any challenge and without any wrongdoing on the part of the persons attacked. And the fourth is to take from the churches the wealth through which our Lord is served and to harm those persons who are ordained to perform such a noble office as to serve God, and by such evil deeds this noble service will not be carried out. Thus, they could be held to be nothing more than bad Christians. And cursed be those persons who devote their lives to committing such evil deeds in order to acquire dishonorable ill fame! And indeed any lords who have such men under their control and have knowledge of their ill doings are no longer worthy to live if they do not inflict such punishment on them that would persuade anyone else who might have a desire for wrongdoing to draw back. And it is not greatly to be wondered at that such people should subject themselves to the great physical trials of enduring great hardships and exertions throughout night, of riding night and day, of sleeping little and having poor food and drink, of being often in fear of peril, at the mercy of all kinds of hazards, all this only to lose their lives and their honor and to damn their souls forever? It means a great penance for them in this world and an even greater in the next for all eternity.

The Heavy Responsibilities Of Men Of Rank And Prowess-

I say therefore that one should honor the great lords and those of middle rank in whom this prowess is to be found. Ah God! What an honorable and weighty burden to bear! And he who bears such a burden should fear lest it fall, for with great effort and endurance, in fearful danger and with great diligence, for a long time stretching over a number of years, he has devoted himself to bearing this responsibility on his shoulders, and in one brief moment he may fall and lose everything, if God does not grant him the wisdom and good judgment to know how to keep it safe. So it must seem to everyone that such people should strive with the utmost diligence to ensure that they suffer no reproach against themselves nor against the bounties God has bestowed upon them. And when men of such condition are in the good company of other people, they are held in higher regard than the rest. Then men prefer to listen to them above all others, for they can talk of great, important and honorable affairs, and it seems to everyone that they should and can speak of such matters. Thus they are closely observed as examples of good manners and behavior, whether they are in the company of great lords who hold them in high regard or in the company of ladies and damsels who also hold them in high regard; and they are questioned about their situation, way of life, and conduct. It is not, therefore, the only virtue of those who bear arms that they carry weapons and perform feats of arms; but, in addition to this, it is necessary that in all the respects mentioned above, in no way can anything dishonorable be perceived nor said concerning them; for there will be much greater talk and notoriety about their shortcomings than there would be concerning someone without such a great reputation. And one should take pleasure in hearing about, listening to, and recounting the good deeds, the great feats, and the admirable utterances of such people who are thus striving to achieve, have achieved, and have perfected themselves in such knightly qualities, both those who have now departed from this world and those who are still living. We therefore learn from the good knights and men-at-arms whose great achievements and honorable deeds of prowess and of valor have been related, described and told above and which they have accomplished through suffering great hardship, making strenuous efforts, and enduring fearful physical perils and the loss of friends whose deaths they have witnessed in many great battles in which hey have taken part; these experiences have often filled their hearts with great distress and strong emotion. If anyone might want to give an account of their lives, hard as they have been and still are, for the benefit of those who wish to take up this honorable vocation, their adventures would be too long to record. However, I want to say a little about the advice they have to give us according to what they themselves recommend to young men who desire to seek such an honorable life, who love and fear God and His might, and because of this love and fear will beware of and refrain from evil deeds. In addition, the above-mentioned good men-at-arms teach that those who want to achieve this honor should not set their minds on the pleasures of the palate, neither on very good wine nor on delicious food, for these delights are very out of place at a time that they are not to be had nor to be found at will, as is usually the case for those who wish to seek such honor, and desire for such things makes it more difficult to for them to endure, and their hearts and bodies find it less easy to bare the lean fare in food and drink that the quest for such honor requires. A man will be reluctant to risk death who has not learned this, and also a man is reluctant to abstain from such pleasures of eating and drinking who has become accustomed to them. One should take no pleasure in such delights; do not concern yourself with being knowledgeable about good dishes and fine sauces nor spend too much time deciding which wines are the best, and you will live more at ease. But if it so happens that you find good food and drink, partake of them gladly and sufficiently but not to excess, for men of worth say that one should not live in order to eat, but one should eat in order to live, for no one should eat so much that he is too full, nor drink so much that he is drunk. And one should do all these things in moderation and so live without too much discomfort. And you have heard it said many times that the young men who are maintained in the great courts of powerful men make little effort to seek out these great trials, for when they have dipped their fingers in the sauce of the court, and eaten the choice morsels, they may be reluctant to give this up. Thus one should not grow sluggish in this way, for the man who for his greedy gullet fails to make a name for himself, should have all those teeth pulled out, one by one, which do him so much damage as to lose him the high honor he might have acquired in his youth. Ah! Old age, you should indeed be disconsolate when you find yourself in the body of one, of whatever rank he may be, who could have achieved so much in his youth, but has done nothing, in relation to what he can and should do according to his rank.
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A Good Man-At-Arms Should Not Pamper His Body-

Having examined all of these different ways of loving, the aforementioned men of worth tell you that you must in no way indulge in too great fondness for pampering your body, for love of that is the worst kind of love there is. But instead direct your love towards the preservation of your soul and of your honor, which last longer than does the body, which dies just as soon, whether it be fat or lean. Too great a desire to cosset the body is against all good. In the first place, if you have this bad tendency for being excessively fond of cosseting this wretched body in your youth, you will want to go to sleep early and wake up late, and if your long hours of sleep are interrupted, you will suffer greatly from this, and the longer you sleep the less time you will have to acquire knowledge and to learn something of value. And this life of long sleeping will stand in the way of those who want to achieve high honor, for they have often to go to sleep late and rise early, and they have accustomed themselves to doing so, and this helps them to achieve physical fitness and honor. The pampering of these wretched bodies also requires white sheets and soft beds, and if these are sometimes lacking, such men's backs and ribs ache so much that they can do nothing all day. And these good beds encourage rest and an abundance of sleep, which prevents them from hearing much that would be of profit to them. The contrary is true of those who seek honor, for more often than not they have poor beds and many a time they sleep without beds at all and with their clothes on; and this rest and repose is quite enough for them, for they would not want it otherwise for the great profit and honor they expect to have from it. And in addition, to sustain these wretched men's bodies, which have little time to live, they have to be provided with the best food and wine that are to be found, and require to eat at the right time, or otherwise they will be in too great distress because of the great delight they take in such things. And because of this gluttony, they dread the hardship of associated with deeds of arms. And indeed such delights are rejected by those who go in search of this high honor, for they have no regard for and do not indulge in such pleasures, but drink and eat whatever small amount they find and are quite satisfied; they do so gladly and joyfully for the sake of the honor which brings them such a great reward; and the men of worth accept the benefits and the honors which God has bestowed and continues to bestow on them instead of on the miserable wretches who, as they see, receive nothing. Hence we can learn from the above-mentioned men of worth that it is not good just to live, but to live in a good way. Furthermore those wretched men have to be sustained and pampered so that in winter they are wrapped in furs and warmly clad and live in warm houses, and in summer are lightly clad and live in cool houses or in the coldest vaults, otherwise they cannot survive because of their decadent habits.

Those Who Are Too Ingenious and Over Subtle-

And there are those whom some consider to be wise, but they put all their intelligence and concentrated effort into such cunning schemes that their great subtlety sometimes turns them aside from reaching a true, loyal and sensible conclusion, so that these subtle people are out of step in all undertakings. Like those who leave the good main road to follow minor paths and then get lost, in the same way, through their great subtlety they fail to act according to natural good sense, and therefore they will not profit fully from their natural intelligence through setting their mind to such great subtlety.

Those Who Have Courage and Skill But Are Thoughtless-

Now it is time to speak of those good men-at-arms who are held to be valiant, of whom there are some who are skilled in handling weapons, brave, adept but their way of pursuing a career in arms is always such that when they are in action, they do not consider the benefit or advantage for their friends or the harm done to their enemies, but, without giving or taking advice, they spur forward in a disorderly way and perform personally many feats of arms. This is often more to their disadvantage than to their advantage, but they achieve many striking deeds of arms, and in this way take part in many good battles without attempting to contribute in any other way, but they cannot be reproached in relation to the honor earned through bravery; and these men, who have seen so many great days of combat and made such a fine contribution by their physical exploits, should indeed be called worthy, although as for being worthy in the truest sense, it would be possible to do better.