Time to Kill Off Chivalry

A few days ago I wrote about the Necessity of Chivalry. That was C.S. Lewis talking about the ideal of turning brutal warriors into men who care about the world and people in it. That was medieval chivalry.

Now I’m thinking about killing off chivalry. Modern chivalry. The modern stuff is different from the medieval stuff.

Paul Sturtevant has an article that highlights the differences. Medieval chivalry was an attempt “to impose a culture of restraint on what often was a group of aristocratic thugs with something to prove.”

“Our contemporary ideology of “chivalry” can be traced to the explosion of medievalism in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century popular culture. Knighthood and chivalry became coupled with gentlemanly behaviour and the sexual politics of the day, and these values were expressed in neo-medieval art, novels, architecture and, eventually, film.”

Modern chivalry “has been pared back only to encompass a type of politeness consciously performed by men within heterosexual relationships.”

For most moderns, chivalry is “simply performed politeness.” Some people think it’s an important elegance. Some think it reflects a Victorian sexual ideology that damages relationships. You decide; just remember it’s not what our ancestors meant by the word chivalry.

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The age of chivalry is gone. — That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.” — Edmund Burke (1790)

Necessity of Chivalry

“C.S. Lewis is the ideal persuader for the half-convinced, for the good man who would like to be a Christian but finds his intellect getting in the way.” (New York Times Book Review)

Today is Good Friday. I wanted to do something “Christian”. I didn’t expect to end up with C. S. Lewis.

As a birthright Episcopalian I think of Lewis as one of us. I’m always a little surprised when other denominations fall in love with him, seemingly unaware he’s not one of their own. Then, at the same time, I’m not comfortable with him myself. His audiences read him as if his bland moralisms support their theological positions.

One of us. Not to be trusted.

But then I remembered this essay, which I’ve always enjoyed. Lewis not making any rigorous academic arguments here. Let’s not pretend he is. He’s contemplating one of the contributions of medieval European culture to our modern world.

That is, the idea that a man should be both strong and gentle.

Let this be a Good Friday meditation. Even with our glowing chivalrous tradition, we live in a world where the rich hold the reins of government and use their power to oppress the poor—and Christians cheer them on. So, let the altars be draped in black today and let us mourn the death of our ideas.


Fighting Snails

If you’ve ever wondered why so many medieval manuscripts have drawings of knights fighting snails. 

I won’t give it away. And the comments are as good as the video. Here’s a sample:

  • The answer is simple, in medieval times giant snails were a real menace but thankfully the brave Knights of Europe wiped them all out for us.
  • Knights were the athletes superstars of the time. Monks were the academics. Maybe the nerds were mocking the jocks?
  • There is an explenation: The knights were french

Holy Grail, Holy Fraud

Honestly, nothing makiies me crazy quite like supposedly serious genealogists taking data straight from books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail and others of that ilk that should be just entertainment. I often think I should take on a systematic study and create a website devoted to the subject. Not going to happen, so I’m happy to find this article by Jason Colavito.

The claim that the Knights Templar are the secret guardians of the Holy Grail, identified as the Holy Bloodline formed by the children of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, is of very recent vintage, but due to its promotion in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code (2003) and on TV shows like America Unearthed (2012-present), the idea, first proposed in 1982, has become an industry, gradually subsuming other medieval “mysteries” of equally dubious provenance, particularly the claim that a Scottish noble named Henry Sinclair discovered America in 1398. There is not one single authentic medieval document that (a) confirms a Holy Bloodline of Jesus, (b) links Henry Sinclair to the Knights Templar, or (c) documents any voyage by Henry Sinclair to anywhere outside of Europe. How the myth formed is an astonishing story on its own.

Related Post

  • Swanstrom, Justin. “Holy Grail.” Swan Knight <yellacatranch.com>, Jan. 1, 2000. Retrieved Oct. 29, 2019.

Revised to update link.

Religious and Military Order of the Knights of Malta

The Royal Black Association of the Ancient, Exalted, Illustrious Religious and Military Order of the Knights of Malta was a Scottish chivalric association. It was closely associated in the beginning with Orange Order, although frequently at odds with it. It seems originally to have been synonymous with various “Black” organizations that evolved into the Royal Black Institution by 1846, but was perhaps only one of a number of them.

In the color symbolism popular at the time, the color black symbolized Protestantism, orange symbolized adherence to the House of Orange, and blue symbolized Freemasonry. The color symbolism can become confusing. The name Royal Black Association is intended to convey they are a Protestant association. Originally, membership was restricted to those who were also members of the Orange Order.

Members of the Black Association of the Knights of Malta believed they were authentic knights of the medieval Hospitaller Order of St. John in a continuous and unbroken tradition but the evidence is sketchy.

During and after the Reformation the Order lost Protestant members through both expulsion and disaffection. The Order’s property was confiscated in England (1540) and Scotland (1564). Yet, even after the dissolution in Scotland there are references to preceptors of the Hospital of Scotland (William Schaw in 1589; William Schaw and John Boswell of Auchinleck in 1600; and a member of the Hay family called George or Gilbert in 1642). The Order is said to have been introduced to Ireland in 1643 for the protection of Protestants who had escaped a Catholic massacre in 1641 (Cyclopædia of Fraternities, 274).

The implication here is the Scottish knights in the 18th century were heirs of the Hospitallers though the Priory of Torpichen, which had been dissolved in 1564 but apparently lingered on until 1642 or 1643. This was the theory circulated in the late 1800s, but it is now generally rejected. There is no mention of this group between 1643 and perhaps 1797 or 1820. The gap is too long to be credible.

The earliest evidence asserted for the modern Order is a Royal Black Warrant said to have been signed on 16th September 1797. However, the earliest record of this 1797 warrant is an entry dated 1820. These “Black Knights” were allied to the Orange order. To become a member, a man had to be first an Orangeman. One reason often given for the absence of early records is these records were perhaps maintained and carelessly kept by the Orange Order.

These knights came to be called the Royal Black Association of the Religious and Military Order, Knights of Malta. In 1807 HRH Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland was elected Grand Master in separate elections by both the Orange and Black organizations, but then resigned in 1820 following a parliamentary inquiry. He became King of Hanover in 1837.

The patronage of a royal prince gave an aura of legitimacy, but it seems likely they were originally a quasi-Masonic organization who accepted Chevalier Ramsay’s assertion the Scottish Hospitallers survived the dissolution of the Order in 1564 by entering Freemasonry (Andrew Michael Ramsay, Discourse (1737).

Another theory is that the Scottish Hospitallers originated through what has been called the Temple-Malta Order. The evidences are scattered. From 1705 to 1723, Philippe, duc d’Orléans was Grand Master of revived Templar order (Ordre du Temple). They are said to have been joined by Hospitaller Knights exiled to France from Malta for engaging in Masonic activities. In 1743 a formal organization was formed that became known as the Temple-Malta order. This organization might have been exported to Scotland as part of the French policy of de-stabilizing Britain by promoting the Jacobite cause leading up to the Jacobite Uprising of 1745, when Charles Edward Stuart (the Young Pretender) is said to have himself been made Grand Master of another revived Templar order. It is, however, difficult, although perhaps not impossible, to understand how a Catholic order in 1745 turned into a anti-Catholic order by 1797.

The Scottish order established branches in Canada (1829), England (1842), Australia (1868), and the United States (1874). These branches gave rise to dozens of splinter groups of varying character, some as nobiliary associations, some as confraternities, and some as simple fraternal orders.

Earliest Evidence

“The Magnanimous and Invincible Order of Royal Blackmens Association” of Lodge No. _ , held in _________, having commenced on 16th September, in the year 1797, for the preservation of our Glorious King and Constitution.

We, the Right Worshipful the Grand Master, Deputy Master, Deputy Grand Master, and Grand Pursuivant, and the rest of the Grand Officers of this Noble Order meet for the sole and only purpose of relieving our distressed and oppressed loyal Protestant Brethren around the Globe, this being our Warrant. Given under our hand and seal.

Long live our Glorious King and the Memory of our Glorious Deliverer, William III.

Signed –

  • Joseph Tineman, Grand Master – 16th September 1797
  • Benjamin Goodman, Deputy Grand Master – 17-09-1797
  • Thos. Tinley, Grand Pursuivant – 17-09-1797
  • Daniel Maulang, H.P. – 17-09-1797
  • George Dobson, D.H.P. – 17-09-1797
  • John Ladd, G.S. – 17-09-1797
  • Alfred La Grues, D.G.S. – 17-09-1797

Locus Sigili.

Grand Masters

  • 1797 Joseph Tineman​ (Ireland)
  • 1807 Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland
  • 1820 William Leedom (Provincial Grand Master, Ireland)
  • 1827 William Freeman (Provincial Grand Master, Ireland)
  • 1831 George Donaldson (Provincial Grand Master, Scotland)
  • 1840 Robert Blair (Provincial Grand Master, Scotland)
  • 1850 William Dixon (Provincial Grand Master, Scotland)
  • 1853 William Dixon (Grand Master)
  • 1855 Samuel Robertson
  • 1860 Henry Marshall
  • 1866 Hans Newell
  • 1869 George McLeod
  • 1890 Thomas Macklin
  • 1897 William G. Ingram
  • 1915 Louis G. Pierson


The early history of the Order is considerably confused, with different writers interpreting the history in different ways, often to make a favorable case for their branch of the Order.

Note: This text originally prepared as the Overview for a Geni project. Revised May 3, 2020 to repair links.

Knights of St. John & Malta

The Knights of St. John and Malta was a Canadian and U.S. chivalric association. Originally a branch of Religious and Military Order of the Knights of Malta in Scotland, it was chartered as an independent organization in 1875 it was chartered as an independent organization under the name Supreme Grand Black Encampment of North America. The name of the organization was changed to Knights of St. John and Malta in 1880.

Members of the Black Association of the Knights of Malta believed they were authentic knights of the medieval Hospitaller Order of St. John in a continuous and unbroken tradition. The implication was that they were heirs though the Priory of Torpichen, although this theory is now generally rejected. Another theory is that they originated through a mixing of Scottish men with French Hospitaller knights in the 18th century.

In 1928 the Order merged with one of its Canadian break-away groups as well as a California group that claimed to have been part of the historic Spanish Order to become the Sovereign Order of St. John and Malta. In 1965 King Peter II of Yugoslavia became patron of the order.

Grand Masters

  • 1874 Robert E. A. Land
  • 1906 Joseph G. Burrows
  • 1910 Edmund B. Collett
  • 1911 William Buckett
  • 1925 John J. Sheridan
  • 1928 Arthur T. Lamson


Note: This text originally prepared as the Overview for a Geni project. Revised May 3, 2020 to repair links.

Company of Saint John

The Company of Saint John is a chivalric confraternity founded in 1914 as Rock Island Commandery (Illinois) as a local chapter of the Knights of St. John and Malta, an order that claimed to be a branch of the historic Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. The original patron was St. George, the patron saint of Rock Island.

The organizer and first Commander was George W. Place (1914-1958), whose father is said to have been a member of the St. John order in Bay City (Michigan). He was succeeded as Commander by his son C. A. Place (1958-2000), who was succeeded by his son Justin Swanström (2000- ).

After the death of Chevalier Place in 2000, the commandery was re-named and re-organized as the Company of St. John. Other changes included:

  • The patron was changed to St. John the Baptist, the traditional patron of the Hospitaller Order.
  • The office of Commander was changed to Master.
  • The ranks of Knight of Saint John (KSJ) and Lady of Saint John (LSJ) were changed to Companion of St. John (CSJ).

As a further part of the reforms the company was amalgamated with two of its affiliated organizations:

  • Company of Saint Bede, an academic confraternity of historians and those charged with historical preservation, education, and scholarship. The company was founded in 1976 under the patronage of St. Bede, patron saint of historians and Father of English History.
  • Noble Company of the Swan, a chivalric confraternity founded in 1971 under the patronage of St. Michael, patron saint of knights.

The arms of the Company of Saint John are the arms of the Place family with the addition of a Maltese cross: Azure a Maltese cross Argent and on a chief Argent three chaplets of roses Gules.

Holy Grail

Medieval Romance

During the Middle Ages, at the height of knighthood, the Search for the Holy Grail became the literary symbol of the knightly quest. This literature, known collectively as the Grail Romances, were stories about individual knights who devoted their lives to finding the Holy Grail. Foremost among these knights were Parzifal and his son Lohengrin.The first of these romances was Le Roman de Percival or Le Conte del Graal, composed in the late 12th century by the French poet Chrétien de Troyes. Another was Robert de Boron’s Roman de l’Estoire dou Saint Graal. The third was an anonymous romance, Perlesvaus. Finally, there was Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival.

Boron’s was the first romance to say explicitly that the Grail was the cup used at the Last Supper, while Perlesvaus implies that the Grail was actually several different things. Wolfram von Eschenbach goes further, asserting that Parzifal and Lohengrin belonged to a Grail Family, hereditary guardians of the Holy Grail, descended from Joseph of Arimathea.

According to Wolfram, the Grail family was descended from a man named Laziliez and his parents Mazadan and Terdelaschoye. Exotic names of this type were common in medieval literature. Some scholars have suggested that Laziliez was a corruption of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany, while Mazadan might have been a corruption of Masada, the last stronghold of the Jews who rebelled against Rome in 68 CE. Terdelaschoye came from the French Terre de la Choix (”Chosen Land”). It is possible, then, that these particular names are allegorical.

Modern Nonsense

There is currently an active market in Europe and America for taking the medieval myths further. In Holy Blood, Holy Grail(1982), Hugh Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln developed their theory that the Holy Grail was not the cup used at the Last Supper, but the Holy Bloodline of a family descended from Jesus himself. Dan Brown has developed the same idea in fictional form in The DaVinci Code (2003).

These writers speculate that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus, and that the two of them had a son. In some medieval stories Mary Magdalene was identified with Mary of Bethany, and in others she was said to have accompanied Joseph of Arimathea to Marseilles after Jesus’ crucifixion. In Baigent’s extension of the medieval story, Mary Magdalene brought her son to Marseilles as well. Supposedly, that son became the ancestor of certain European royal families, notably the Merovingians, who were the earliest royal family of the Franks, forerunners of the French. In support of this theory, Baigent et al. offer an alternative etymology for San Graal (the Holy Grail); they call it the Sang Real (the Blood Royal). They also ornament their theory with many authentic medieval legends. For example, Godfroi de Bouillon, the 11th century Crusader ruler of Jerusalem, was said by his contemporaries to have been the son or grandson of Lohengrin, even though he lived some 600 years later, even assuming that there was an historical Lohengrin.

Nevertheless, the meat of Holy Blood, Holy Grail rests on the forged Lobineau genealogies, and the monomania of Pierre Plantard, a Frenchman who in the early 1960s sought to prove that he is a descendant of the Merovingians though Dagobert II, an obscure 7th century dynast who is not known to have left descendants. Moreover, there is no evidence of a secret Priory of Sion that has worked through the centuries to promote the rule of these soi disant descendants of Jesus, nor is there evidence that the Roman Catholic church has sought though the centuries to exterminate them.

Despite the dubious material used by Baigent et al., the royal families of modern Europe, and a great many noble families, are in fact descended from the Merovingians, as are many ordinary people in northern and western Europe and the Americas.

Damsel of the Sanct Grael
“The Damsel of the Sanct Grael”
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

Competing Claims

There are many vessels claimed to be the the actual cup used at the Last Supper:

  • The Cup of Antioch is a glass crater of middle-eastern glass, brought back from the Crusades. Sometime in the Middle Ages it was fitted with a leather case.
  • The city of Genoa in Italy had an emerald vessel, claimed in a 16th chronicle to be the “Saint Grail.” Napoléon took the cup to France, where it was discovered to be green glass.
  • There is a blue-glass bowl discovered Glastonbury in the 19th century and claimed by its finder to be the Holy Grail. Glastonbury is said to have been the home of King Arthur. The bowl is now at the Chalice Gardens in Glastonbury.
  • The Vernon family Hawkstone Manor has a Roman alabaster cup, claimed to be the Grail.
  • Valencia Cathedral in Spain has a stone chalice.
  • There is also a “grail” in Russia.

Some possible Grails have been discredited:

  • The Antioch Chalice (not to be confused with the Cup of Antioch), now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was suggested as a possible candidate in the 1930s, but has now been dated several centuries too late.
  • Nanteos Cup owned by the Powell family of Nanteos, Wales was reputed in the 19th century to have healing powers. It has been identified as a 14th-century mazer.
Antioch Chalice
Antioch Chalice (Source: Wikipedia)

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Revised to repair formatting and add links.


The Arrival of Lohengrin in Antwerp by August von Heckel, Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria
The Arrival of Lohengrin in Antwerp by August von Heckel, Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria

The original Knight of the Swan was Lohengrin.

LOHENGRIN (lō’en-grin), the hero of an old High German poem, written in the end of the 13th century. He was the son of Parzival, and a knight of the Grail. At King Arthur’s command he was taken by a swan through the air to Mainz, where he fought for Elsa, daughter of the Duke of Brabant, overthrew her persecutor, and married the lady. Then he accompanied the emperor to fight against the Hungarians, and subsequently warred against the Saracens. On his return home to Cologne, Elsa, contrary to his prohibition, persisted in asking him about his origin. After being asked a third time he told her, but was at the same time carried away by the swan back to the Grail. Rückert’s edition (1857) of the poem is the best. The poem is a continuation of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. Wagner made it the subject of his great opera, “Lohengrin” (1848).

Collier’s New Encyclopedia, 1921.

There are many medieval versions of the Swan Knight story. Here’s one I particularly like:

“In the year 711 lived Beatrice only daughter of Dietrich, Duke of Cleves, at her castle of Nymwegen. One bright day she sat at her window looking down the Rhine, when she saw a swan drawing a boat by a gold chain. In this vessel was Helias. He came ashore, won her heart, became Duke of Cleves, and lived happily with her for many years. One thing alone interfered with her happiness: she knew not whence her husband came, and he had strictly forbidden her to ask. But once she broke his command, and asked him whence he had come to her. Then he gave his children his sword, his horn, and his ring, bidding them never separate or lose these legacies, and entering the boat which returned for him, he vanished for ever.”

For more, see “Knight of the Swan” in Curious Myths of the Middle Ages by Sabine Baring-Gould.