“In the old days the Knights were the real Scouts and their rules were very much like the Scout Law which we have now. The Knights considered their honor their most sacred possession. They would not do a dishonorable thing, such as telling a lie or stealing. They would rather die than do it. They were always ready to fight and to be killed in upholding their king, or their religion, or their honor. Each Knight had a small following of a squire and some men-at-arms, just as our Patrol Leader has his Second (or Assistant) and four or five Scouts. … You Scouts cannot do better than follow the example of the Knights.”
So said Robert Baden-Powell in the book that started the Scouting Movement, Scouting for Boys. In this book the Knights are held up as the ideal of Chivalry that Scouts should strive for. Chivalry was given very high importance by the founder of the Scouting Movement. In essence, Baden-Powell said that us Scouts should be modern-day Knights.
But that was one hundred years ago. These days, not only are many declaring that Chivalry is dead, histories are being written that many times portray the Knights in a much darker light than that in which our forefathers saw them. If you read some ‘histories’, you would think that Knights were in reality nothing but robbers and bullies. And you will hear that the chivalrous attitude of our forefathers was ‘unenlightened’ and degrading to women.
So where does that leave us Scouts now? Are we leftovers from the evolution of society who are destined to be eventually forgotten? Or should we continue to adapt with the times and call chivalry a thing of the past? I profoundly disagree. I believe that chivalry isn’t just a part of the history of Scouting, I believe that chivalry is integral to the ideal of Scouting and is, in fact, a Scout Keystone. What does this look like? I hope to answer this question in this post as a continuation of the series:
Keystones of a Scout: The 10 Virtues that Make a Scout, which I introduced: here. Previously in this series, I talked about Endurance, Self-Discipline, Exploration, Observation, Initiative, Deduction, and Ingenuity.
Each of these are traits or virtues that I have shown to have been with Scouting from the beginning, and each of these traits are necessary for a Scout to do what he should do and to carry out his Oath that he swore as a Scout.
What is Chivalry anyway?
It is a monumental challenge to give a short, accurate definition of what chivalry is. Chivalry is one of those words that people have argued over the meaning for many, many years. The dictionary definition just doesn’t cut it. Even searching through much historical Scouting literature has failed to give me a short, concrete definition.
Instead, the definition of Chivalry is given in little bits and pieces. Some hints are given in descriptions of where Chivalry came from. Some hints are given in illustrations of what Chivalrous Scouts do. So, after studying this for some time now, I have come to the conclusion that Chivalry isn’t something you can sum up in a few sentences. It is a broad concept, a set of ideals.
In order to understand where Chivalry came from and what it means to us today, I think it is appropriate to try to see it through the eyes of the founders of Scouting. To that end, I’m going to present to you some of the descriptions of Chivalry I found in my research among the old documents of Scouting.
Chivalry Through the Eyes of the Past
“The laws of the knights were these:
- Be Always Ready, with your armor on, except when you are taking your rest at night.
- At whatever you are working try to win honor and a name for honesty.
- Defend the poor and weak.
- Help them that cannot defend themselves.
- Do nothing to hurt or offend anyone else.
- Be prepared to fight in the defense of their country.
- Work for honor rather than profit.
- Never break your promise.
- Maintain the honor of your country with your life.
- Rather die honest than live shamelessly.
- Chivalry requires that youth should be trained to perform the most laborious and humble offices with cheerfulness and grace; and to do good unto others.
These are the first rules with which the old knights started, and from which the Scout Law of today comes.
A knight (or Scout) is at all times a gentleman. So many people seem to think that a gentleman must have lots of money. Money does not make a gentleman. A gentleman is anyone who carries out the rules of chivalry of the knights. ” ~ Baden-Powell
“The true type of manliness was defined for us long ago by the knights of old in their Code of Chivalry. There they laid it down that the true man was he who was strong in body and brave in spirit, whose honor was beyond reproach, who was ready at all times to help the weak, the women and children, whose devotion to his religion was such that he was willing to fight and give his life for it. ” ~ Baden-Powell
At this point I’d like to address some objections that might be raised. These days, you will hear all the time people who claim that this historic vision of Chivalry is degrading to women. This comes from the fact that an integral part of Chivalry is how one conducts himself towards women and children, as Baden-Powell mentions in the quote above.
These people claim that those who believe in Chivalry group women and children together in this ‘weaker group’ and must be treated specially as if they were handicapped in some way. This is far from the truth! The concept of Chivalry towards women came from respect, not derision. Often in history, especially during the time during and before the middle ages, women were often mistreated and considered inferior.
Knights considered this aspect of the culture shameful and resolved that as part of the code of chivalry they would treat women with respect and dignity. And they resolved to protect them from those who would want to do them harm. More recently, small gestures like opening doors for women or giving them preference in seating are modern extensions of this desire to respect women.
This is an admirable thing, and though it seems to be becoming more and more unpopular to be Chivalrous in dealing with women, I will continue to do so. It seems that it is up to us Scouts in the modern time to set higher standards of treating women, just as it was up to the Knights to do so in the past.
“Not my job” is usually the camouflage under which a coward endeavors to conceal his want of chivalry. But for a man anything that can be helpful to anyone is his job. … If he can lend a hand to a woman who is down, or help a young fellow who is trying to keep up and clean, then he can do a great good through his chivalry. And, more-over, he can be of service to others by the very example he sets of leading a clean, upright life, and by showing that he is not ashamed of so doing. ” ~ Baden-Powell
“You Scouts cannot do better than follow the example of the Knights.
One great point about them was that every day they had to do a Good Turn to somebody, and that is one of our rules.
When you get up in the morning, remember that you have to do a Good Turn for someone during the day. Tie a knot in your handkerchief or neckerchief to remind yourself of it.
If you should ever find that you had forgotten to do your daily Good Turn, you must do two the next day. Remember that by your Scout Promise you are on your honor to do it. But do not think that Scouts need do only one Good Turn a day. They must do one, but if they can do fifty, so much the better.
A Good Turn need only be a very small one. It is a Good Turn even if it is only putting a coin into a poor-box, or helping an old woman to cross the street, or making room on a seat for someone, or giving water to a thirsty horse, or removing a bit of banana skin off the pavement. But one must be done every day, and it only counts when you do not accept any reward in return. ” ~ Baden-Powell
“A Scout is courteous: Yes, this is one of the difficult ones. Whenever I ask a Scout what it means to be courteous, he nearly always answers: ‘To be polite.’ That is only half of it. Courtesy is the way you think, as well as the way you act. Courtesy means paying proper respect to those who should receive it from you. … Courtesy is really chivalry. You will have read in Scouting for Boys and in other places of the standards of the knights of old and they were red-blooded men all right. Anybody who could ride about all day encased in a tin can on top of a cart horse was pretty tough, but it was the way they thought and acted that was their chivalry. They went about trying to help people who needed help. We are past the days of giants; dragons and ogres. It is a pity really, because they were noticeable. Our giants are not quite so obvious – giving your seat up to a woman, helping a child across the road, going out of your way to carry somebody’s parcel – not quite so exciting as having a crack at a fire-eating dragon, but much more helpful!
To imagine that being rude shows you are a man is one of the silliest ideas that ever was, and if Scouts do nothing else in this world but bring back some courtesy and thoughtfulness into it, then we shall be entirely justified, because courtesy is the oil that makes the wheels of civilization go round. There is not nearly enough of that sort of oil about in the world at the moment. ~ John Thurman
Here John Thurman deals with the concept of the Chivalrous Knight in a slightly humorous, but very effective way. The Knights of the past weren’t always chivalrous, and an honest study of history will show that to be the case, just as they didn’t really fight ogres and fire-breathing dragons. What they did, however, is establish a concept of chivalry, making it an ideal to strive for.
Just because many of them fell short of the mark and sometimes did some bad things, that doesn’t mean that we can discount the concept and ideal of manliness that they codified as Chivalry. To err is human, as the saying goes, and once we understand that, we can look past the faults of the Knights of the past, and appreciate and admire the great things they did. We can still find inspiration in the Knights of history and be encouraged as we in turn try to live up to the high and noble ideals they wrote down.
“Chivalry, like other points of character, must be developed by thought and practice, but when gained it puts a man on a new footing and a higher one with himself and with the world. ” ~ Baden-Powell
So, in summary, Chivalry is a set of standards or ideals of true manliness. And, far from being outdated, these standards are just as real and just as applicable today as they were in the past. As Scouts, it is our duty to strive to live up to these standards in our everyday lives. Scouting isn’t just about a set of mental and physical skills, it is also about character. This is what makes Chivalry a Scout Keystone.
Chivalry can be developed by taking these principles of character and applying them to not only the big things in life, but the little things as well. The Scout slogan, “Do a good turn daily” is one of the best ways to put Chivalry into practice in your everyday life. I challenge you to take this good turn seriously and not let a day go by in which you have not consciously performed at least one good turn. This will strengthen your character and help you to form the habit of being chivalrous.
Thanks for reading this post! Do you have any comments, thoughts, or questions? I’d love to hear them! What do you think is the role of chivalry in the modern world? Please share it in a comment!
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Thanks again! Scout on, my friends!