The Knightly Virutes
The following article was written by a member of the SCA, reflecting on his own personal reflection on what the knightly virtues are and how they translate to our modern understanding of what a knight is. I include it amoung the Rhiassan knightly resources because of its depth of insight and how much it aligns with our own ideas of knighthood.
The Knightly Virtues
Prologue: Over the centuries, the meaning of "the Knightly Virtues" has shifted and changed with the times, and in truth has never been codified in a fashion that was universally accepted. What is moral and correct in one era, may be of little consequence in another. Conversely, great importance may become attached to a concept which was thought to be unworthy of the nobility, in bygone days. Simply put, it is the greatest duty of a Knight to have integrity and honor for the time and place in which he lives. The Knightly Virtues, as listed below, are meant to inform those who would be Knights, now.
Prowess (Valor, Excellence): Strive for excellence in all endeavors expected of a Knight, especially martial, yet also otherwise. Embody strength which is used in the service of justice, rather than for personal aggrandizement and gain. Use your martial, intellectual, and moral strength to resist and defeat all forms of tyranny over the minds and bodies of all mankind. Remember that your mind will maintain strength longer than your body. Long after you pass, your declarations of word and stands for principle, if they are Knightly, will still have power to affect the course of events.
Justice (Temperance): Seek always to understand and follow the "right" path, unencumbered by bias or personal interests. Recognize that the sword of justice can be a terrible thing, so its use must be tempered by humanity and mercy. Seek wise counsel in determining that which is "right", while making clear that your acceptance of input will not abrogate your role as arbiter. Accept that your judgments will create both delight and anger. Yet, if the "right" you proclaim rings true, and you invoke it without bending to temptation for expediency, you will earn renown beyond measure. Learn the difference between enforcing the letter of the law, and living within its spirit.
Loyalty (Obedience, Faithfulness): Be known for unwavering commitment to the people and ideals you choose to live with, and have professed to others. There are many circumstances where compromise is expected. Loyalty is not among them. While your loyalty must never be blind, it also must never be for sale. Be prepared for people to condemn you for your loyalty, when they lack understanding for the basis of your faith. At times, you may stand alone, being loyal to what was, rather than what is. Your final loyalty to a person or cause may be this; to speak the truth to them, no matter how difficult that truth is for them to hear, most especially if they have done wrong.
Defense (Selflessness, Sacrifice): The ideal Knight swears to defend his liege, and all those who rightfully depend upon him. Always defend your nation, your family, and those whom you know are worthy of your shield. In choosing the role of the Knightly Defender, you acknowledge that your place is in harm's way, between threats and those you defend. Although this path may be hard, costly, and even seem bitter to others, the Knightly Defender accepts this as an honor, rather than an obligation. In such times, a Knight inspires all with his example and good nature, even his enemies.
Courage (Integrity, Honesty): Being a Knight often means choosing the more difficult path; often the personally expensive one. Be prepared to absorb losses in service of the precepts and people you champion. At the same time, a Knight must remember that stupidity and courage are cousins – pointless risk or sacrifice is not noble. Courage means taking the side of truth in all matters, rather than allowing for the expedient lie. Manifest your truth whenever possible, while remembering to temper justice with mercy. Be prepared, as the purest truths can bring grief. In living this, a Knight upholds the highest truths and surpasses the greatest tests of the human spirit. The Knight exhibits power, with integrity and control, while acknowledging his risks and dangers.
Faith (Perseverance, Wisdom): A Knight must have faith in his beliefs. Whatever the Knight's beliefs may be, they root the Knight with the strength of certainty, and give hope in the face of despair created by human failings. Faith, like Justice must never be blind, yet must persist without compromise. Yet, the Knight must not mistake stubbornness for Faith. Truly holding to this requires genuine internal reflection; taking time to carefully examine values, and why they are held. The Knight who blindly accepts a belief without examining its consequences does the same as blindly accepting orders which lead to certain destruction, without benefit, to him or those he defends. Wisdom informs Faith, and that which is learned to be untrue is set aside, without shame, in the face of new knowledge.
Humility (Morality): Value first the contributions of others, and give respect where it is due. Do not boast of your own accomplishments; if they are worthy, others will naturally do this for you. As much fun as it is to tell a good story, tell the deeds of others before your own, according them their own word-fame, rightfully earned through their virtuous deeds. Let your own actions be ethical, so they speak louder than your words. Let others see by your example, that the Knightly path is worthy of respect and emulation.
Largesse (Generosity, Kindness): Be generous, in so far as your resources reasonably allow. Be known as a giver of gifts, who expects nothing in return. Remember that your gifts are often more important to the receivers, when in the form of your actions and words, rather than material things. A kind word often lasts longer in a person's memory than any object. Consider that nothing belongs to you, that you are merely the custodian of what you possess, and giving freely will come easy for you.
Nobility (Charity): Live with dedication to the greatness of character, by holding to the virtues and duties of a Knight. Remember that these ideals can rarely be reached or maintained, and that it is the quality of striving towards them which ennobles your soul. Nobility influences others, by offering a compelling example of personal dedication to the most beautiful expressions of the human spirit. Be Charitable with yourself and others in your speech, your actions, and your intentions. Teach the Knightly path openly to any who seek your counsel, and encourage them to excel. Recognize that this can be easy in any given moment, but as with all of the Knightly Virtues, you will never be finished. In certain ways, living into his Nobility gives the Knight his greatest reward, for if he is successful, he will be surrounded by noble friends; a band of great strength against the forces of mediocrity, cynicism, cowardice and corruption. The Nobility of a true Knight creates other Knights out of those around him.
Franchise (Accountability): Seek to live these virtues as they were meant to be lived. Accept no compromises in your commitment. When you err, make amends in as public or powerful a fashion as that in which you made the error. Explain yourself in the simplest, most clear terms, and never make excuses. Own not only your own mistakes, but the mistakes of others when theirs resulted from yours. Maintain in all ways possible the appearance and station of a Knight. As you wish to live, you must live. You must comport yourself in the present as the person you wish to become in the next moment, hour, day, and year. Do not try to live this way, actually do so. Know that you, and those who serve in fealty to you, are a reflection upon your fellow Knights, and keep their honor safe with your own.
Epilogue: Do not restrict your exploration of these Knightly Virtues to a small world, or exempt some portion of your life. Do not display them only to those who you think deserve them from you. Instead, seek to infuse every aspect of your life, and all of your interactions, with these qualities. Remember that your expression of the Knightly Virtues is most powerful when it is easier to do something else, something lesser, and that living these Virtues creates a Knightly legacy. Should you succeed, in even a small measure, you will be remembered well for your quality, and indeed be worthy of the rank and station of a Knight. Let your renown and word-fame become your Knightly reputation on the lips of those who have met you, as well as those who never will.
This codification of Knightly Virtues is based on various sources and earlier writings by other authors (first among them, Brion R. Price); It has been modified and added to by Jade Dauser, Anthony Lynch and James Earley, known in the Society for Creative Anachronism as Duke Sir Jade of Starfall (KSCA), Duke Sir Uther Schieman der Hount (KSCA), and Duke Sir James Greyhelm (KSCA, respectively).