Thursday, August 9, 2007
The best thing about feudal Europe was that within the tiny ruling class, you were basically rewarded for being a sociopath. If you were good at torturing people or killing them in grisly ways for no good reason, your serfs were most likely working their asses off, and you were beloved by your King for your loyalty.
Knights are remembered today as noble men sitting on white horses in shining armor, pining away for the woman that they love, but can never have. Reality is much more interesting, and I relish the image of a scarred, hardcore soldier shielding his vitals with plates of hot metal, carrying a bloody spiked mace he just used to bash in the skull of someone who insulted him... good times.
Knights used to pass the time between horrifying wars by charging at each other on horseback and trying to kill their opponent with an enormous spear. This was "sport" to them, and the best case scenario for the loser was getting violently knocked to the ground after your shield splintered into pieces. If the winner was feeling generous, he would likely not dismount his own horse and cut your head off with a sword. Although, depending on how much of a sociopath he was, he might anyway, just for fun. And chances are, if he was good at winning jousts, he had some violent and unhealthy tendencies. So why joust, you ask, if losing was so lethal?
For the opportunity to knock someone off a charging horse, and then cut their head off with a sword. That was winning the Lottery and the SuperBowl, if you were a knight.
From time to time, knights would go on "Crusades", which was the glorious excuse to travel south, get some sun, and slay heretics. They would pull on their chainmail, throw on a white tabard with a big blood-red cross, and proceed to kill anyone not dressed the same. These were the salad days for men who liked to carry swords.
The knight of fiction is kind of an effete character, with brightly colored plumes on his helm and a maiden's silken kerchief tucked in his guantlet, garlands of flowers around the neck of his steed, and a heart filled with courtly love and sonnets. The knight of history would fuck this guy up.
Knights were bred to smash other heavily armored people and cut them open, training from childhood to crush their enemies with no mercy. They served tyrant kings whose priorities were collecting taxes, taking their neighbors' land, and torturing traitors. Preferably a mix of all three at once. The favorite knights were the ones who could kill a few peasants that held back their taxes, kill some knights from the next kingdom over, and drag some enemy nobility into the dungeon. If they could do all this, train their squire to do the same thing, and feel a twang of regional pride in their hearts all at the same time, they would be rewarded with land and titles.
When I think of knights, I think of men wearing chainmail and dirty cloaks, sitting on top of an angry horse, covered in blood, and holding a severed head in one hand, and an axe in the other. He's waiting for his king to tell him how to defile the bodies of the men he's just slain. This knight is much loved by his king, and in many, many generations, his descendants will be wearing designer leather chaps, snorting heroin, and paying lots of duetschmarks to see two dudes poop on each other in the back of some club in Berlin.
The modern world sucks.
But knights were AWESOME!