by Allen Leddon
“Chivalry is dead.” I’ve heard that a thousand times. I’ve said it myself. You’ve probably said it, too. But thinking about it, I’ve realized that what people generally mean is “Courtesy isn’t what it used to be.” That’s a statement I can agree with. But then I still read Emily Post’s “Blue Book”, wear hats, and know enough to take them off in elevators and in the presence of ladies (defined as any woman at least 14 years old who haven’t proven that they are not ladies). In any event, that is a discussion for another time.
Chivalry is not dead. It is my contention that wherever an individual is willing to put their life, their fortune or their sacred honor on the line for someone else, Chivalry lives.
My wife and I operate a program called “Chivalry for Children” or C4C for short. We take this program into schools, libraries, public and special events, anywhere where there are children gathered, or adults, too for that matter, who might listen to what we have to say. We always go wherever we are asked, with-in reason. And we do not demand payment. We ask for gas money when we go out of town, and seldom go beyond 250 miles from Wichita, Kansas, our home, and of course, donations are always welcome. But payment is not required. We have taught for Schools, public libraries, Science-fiction and fan conventions, but most often, at Renaissance Faires.
That’s where it all began: at the Newman University Renaissance Faire in 1996. We were both long time participants (volunteers) at the NURF, and had, in the last couple of years become paid performers as a part of the Royal Court. When the couple who had been serving as King and Queen were required by his employer, to spend a year in California, the University asked us to come up with a way to impart some historical content to our younger patrons, and to find a way to make the “knighting” of the kids something more than a “gimme”.
So we began to put together a class about knights and knighthood that would be required before a child would be eligible to receive the accolade at our faire.
That initial class received so many positive comments that we began looking into the possibility of expanding the class, and to providing it to worthy organizations outside of the Newman Faire.
First we had to decide what our purpose was in presenting C4C to kids outside the faire context.
Ultimately, after hours and days of discussion, both between us and with friends and acquaintances whose opinions we valued, our answer was this: To provide kids in the modern world with examples and role models that would allow them to make better choices in their lives, and to set the potential for them to choose to live lives of service rather than lives of selfishness.
It is so easy, in today’s world, for children to fixate upon people like Tupac Chanur, or O. J. Simpson, or Charles Manson and choose to be rude, uncivilized, or self-serving. We hope to provide them with examples of more acceptable role models from history or literature and how act in chivalrous or courteous ways.
We do our presentations in costume. Usually in Arthurian or Renaissance costume, but we can do it in other clothing as requested by the sponsoring organization. We’ve performed in “Star Trek” costumes and in “Star Wars” costumes and even in clothing modeled after the “Lord of the Rings.”
When we are able to do so, we do the best we can to create a world apart for the children, using period music, periods props, and even a reproduction 15th century pavilion. This heightens the emotional impact for the kids and helps sustain the attention span of our target audience, which is notably short. The program is laced with archetypes to make the point with greater clarity and emphasis.
We also include moments of levity and silliness, to hold the attention of our audience. It does not bother me to make a little bit of a fool of myself in order to educate the children.
The program is interactive. We make real efforts to include the children in the program, even asking them for their own examples of chivalry or of the specific virtues of a knight. This can be educational for us. As an example, in one presentation at a Tolkien fan convention, we asked the kids for an example of perseverance. The answer we got back was “the Ringwraiths”. It was, of course, a technically correct answer. We now include the concept that even the bad guys have virtues. “If the German soldiers in World War II hadn’t been brave and loyal, winning the war against the Nazis would have been easy.”
The presentation can be broken down into several sections: The first is The Introduction, where we talk about what makes a knight and if knights still exist in modern America. The next is The Virtues where we talk about the seven virtues we have chosen to be essential to knighthood and talk to them about people or characters who exhibited those virtues. The Symbols of knighthood is where we show the children items which exemplify knighthood and explain why they are emblematic of chivalry and what it means to the knight to wear those items. And finally, The Accolade, where each candidate is brought forward, and asked, by name, to affirm his or her commitment to one of the seven virtues of knighthood. They are then dubbed “in the name of the Land, the People, and the Spirit of the Land” and given a scroll and a ring and a bracelet with the initial letters of each virtue to remind them of what they have seen.
The portion of the program which was most difficult to compose was The Virtues.
We elected to go with seven virtues for the archetypal nature of the number seven: Seven Virtues; Seven Deadly Sins; Seven Day of the Week and so on. And it’s a small enough number to work with. The thirty-one virtues of a knight would have been impossible.
The virtues we chose are Honesty, Loyalty, Perseverance, Charity, Humility, Courtesy and Courage. With the exception of Courage, which is in the place of honor at the end, the other virtues may change order based on which of our presenters are available and the order has no intention of establishing precedence.
There are many other virtues that may have been chosen, but which were not included for various reasons. We tried to avoid concepts like “honor” because of their amorphous nature and that the state of being “honorable” would imply one or more of the other virtues. In other words we tried to make the individual virtues, ones which could not be broken down any further into subsequent virtues; to make them each as singular or “cellular” as possible. The exception to this rule is Courtesy. Everyone we included in our discussion thought than the concepts in Courtesy were important to chivalric behavior, but we were unable to arrive at a single virtue, which would encompass the behavior we wished to include. We did not include “faith” because, although it was included in many historical lists of chivalric virtues, we were afraid that, in today’s world it would imply a requirement to choose one faith over another. It is our belief that a Muslim may be as chivalrous as a Christian, or a Daoist, or a Hindu, or an agnostic. Chivalry, we believe, is a commitment to service. A belief in the Divine may make adherence to a chivalric code easier, but it is not essential.
In presenting the C4C program each virtue is accompanied by a story about a person or literary figure exemplifying that concept. The example may change depending on the apparent average age of participants, or the setting of presentation, or the requests of the sponsoring organization. Some that we may use are Aladdin and Abu giving away their bread in Disney’s “Aladdin”, a Franciscan Monk of our acquaintance whose generosity was notable, Robert the Bruce or Winston Churchill for perseverance, Ghandi or Lancelot for humility, Penelope or Hachico the Dog for Loyalty. Almost always we use Audie Murphy, the most decorated US serviceman in World War II for courage.
We stress that courage is not the absence of fear. Fear is normal and essential to preserving one’s own life. Courage, we tell the children is doing what must be done, even when you are afraid. Murphy’s quote that “…the man who says he isn’t afraid on the field of battle is a fool or a liar…” is perfect for that concept.
Others have argued that different virtues are more important, but we teach the kids that courage is the basis of all the other great virtues: If you haven’t the courage to tell the truth when a lie would be easier, you will be a liar. If you haven’t the courage to stand by your friends when others tell you they are not worthy, you will be a traitor. If you haven’t got the courage to be polite when telling someone off would be more fun, you will be rude. If you are afraid to give to those who have less when you have little, you will be a miser. If you haven’t got the courage to try again after you have failed, you will be a quitter.
The Chivalry for Children program is non-denominational non-sectarian, gender neutral, and as inclusive as we can be. We believe that chivalry is all about service and self-sacrifice. A woman can be a knight as well as a man, in the truest sense of the word. Knighthood does not recognize race or party or national origin. A child starving in Mogadishu is as deserving as a child starving in Chicago. A man in need in San Francisco is as worthy of help as a man in Shanghai. A person rendering aid in London is every bit as much a knight as one in Sao Paulo.
These are the things, the ideas and concepts that we try to explain to children, generally in 45 minutes to an hour. If the reports of parents and teachers can be relied on, the C4C program has been remarkably successful in this quest.
My wife, Christine, and I, and our other presenters: G. Dalton, S. Howe, K. Broughton, R. Gheesling, R. and R. Krause, A. Dawson. R. Schroeder, C. Bell, and S. Henderson have been presenting the program for over ten years, some longer, other for less time. But in all those years, there has never been a class where I didn’t feel we had touched the lives of, at least one child in. And if that’s all we do, that is enough.
Over the years we have been aided and abetted by a wide variety of individuals and groups, including: the RAOMA Foundation, The Order of the Grail, Templar History.com, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Mr. Gordon Napier, and Mr. Stephen Dafoe. We would like to take this opportunity to thank them, one and all.
For more information visit their Facebook page.