The Ordination of Knighthood

Memoranda by F. S. Ellis

[148]

MEMORANDA CONCERNING THE TWO PIECES HERE REPRINTED.

THE "Order of Chivalry" was translated by Caxton from the French original, of which there are many early manuscripts in existence.  That in the British Museum, Fr. Roy. 14 E.16, is beautifully written, and has at the head of the first column a well painted miniature representing the Hermit and the Squire in conference.  It forms part of a large folio volume which is said to have been made for Edward IVth.

A strange confusion has been made by various writers & bibliographers between this treatise and a charming little French poem of the 13th century, entitled "L'Ordene de Chevalerie."  This was first printed at Paris in 1759, by M. Barbazan, and again in the "Fabliaux et Contes," Paris, 1808, from the text found in the MS. volume 25462, fo.149-157, in the National Library at Paris, which is said by M. Ernest Langlois (La Chevalerie, par L. Gautier, p. 293) to be [149] an excellent one.  M. Langlois speaks of "L'Ordre de Chevalerie" as a prose rendering of the XIIIth century poem, and M. Gautier appears to have adopted this view, for while he gives a summary of the poem, he omits all mention of the prose work. 

To enable those who are interested in the matter to judge how far there is reason to suppose that the one work is drawn from the other, the poem is here reprinted from the text given in the "Fabliaux et Contes," 1808.  It will be seen that while it consists of only 510 lines, or about 2750 words, of which not more than half relate to the Ordering of Knighthood, the prose work consists of about 18000 words and is from beginning to end devoted to describing the duties of a Knight, the manner of his institution, & the symbolism of the ceremonies used on the occasion.  As the poem is ascribed to the 13th century, and the learned Director of the French National Library attributes the prose work to the 14th century, it might very well be that the author of the "Ordre de Chevalerie" was acquainted with the earlier work & might have been in some measure inspired by it.  But there can be little doubt that the symbolizing of the [150] ceremonies of Knighthood was a matter of common knowledge in the 13th and 14th centuries, or probably at a much earlier date, & is as little likely to have been originated by the author of the earlier work as by the compiler of the later one.  The French version of the "Ordre de Chevalerie" was not printed till 1504 and even then it did not appear as a treatise on Chivalry, but as a part of "Le Jeu des Eschez moralise," printed at Paris for A. Verard.  In 1510 it was printed at Lyons, but was then put forth as the work of Symphorien Champier, though it had been written a hundred years or more before he was born.  This tardy & obscure mode of publication is good evidence how entirely dead, by the end of the 15th century, was the spirit of Chivalry as understood by the writers of these books.  Caxton appears, from his eloquent appeal at the end of the treatise, to have been a belated lover of Chivalry, but his hope that the publication of this little book would give new life to it was evidently doomed to disappointment, for that no second edition of it was ever produced by him is of itself good proof that his appeal fell on deaf ears.  How little interest the [151] subject aroused is also shown by the fact that no other English typographer either of the 15th or 16th centuries was at the pains to reprint the book.

The interest that it has now as an historical document is considerable, and the wonder is that it has not been reprinted before this time in our own days.

F. S. E[llis].

[Colophon:]

THIS Ordination of Knighthood was printed by William Morris at the Kelmscott Press, Upper Mall, Hammersmith, in the Country of Middlesex; finished on the 24th day of February, 1893.

 

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