Medieval Europe was a rough place. The ruling aristocracy didn’t get its position at the top of the heap by virtue of its social graces. It got there by fighting… killing… and conquering. The Grimaldi clan, for example, scrambled into Monaco disguised as monks… then, threw off their robes, slaughtered the people in charge, and took over. A thousand years later, they were able to bring a rich American actress into the family and brighten the place up.
The first of the Merovingian kings of France, such as it was at the time, was Clovis – a barbarian. Clovis won the Battle of Soissons in 486 and the famous Vase of Soissons, a holy vessel from the church, fell into his hands. The Bishop of Reims sent an envoy to try to get it back. Clovis agreed, though he was not yet Christian himself. But the barbarians had their own codes – which included dividing up the spoils of war. So outraged was one of Clovis’s soldiers, at having to give up the vase, that he whacked it with his battle axe and broke it. Clovis was not one to forgive and forget. A year later, reviewing his army, he saw the soldier, grabbed his battle axe, the same one that had crushed the vase, and slew him with it.
Clovis later was baptized. The barbarian chiefs and captains followed his lead. Then, they developed new codes – including chivalry.
“Chivalry might be called the baptism of Feudalism,” says Chesterton. “It was an attempt to bring the justice and even the logic of the Catholic creed into a military system which already existed.”
And from chivalry came the idea of romantic love… and St. Valentine’s Day.
Until next week,
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