The Five Alls


I was just reading from Chivalry by Léon Gautier. The work is about a century old, and is a basic tome on the subject of Chivalry. Contemporary historians attack the work, in spite of the scholarly reputation of the author, because, they say, it relies too heavily upon medieval literary sources and does not provide a complete and accurate historical analysis.

On the other hand, the work is thoroughly Catholic, and whatever may be its limitations, it certainly is not the product of skepticism. While it may be a bit idealistic, in this case I don’t think it can hurt. Chivalry has always been an ideal, difficult to achieve, a Holy Grail always just beyond our grasp.

In any case, it is well to note that the Ten Commandments of the Medieval Knight is a codification of the Chivalrous ideal that was compiled by Gautier in this wonderful book. The work is out of print, but you might find it in an search.

The title of this post, as the photograph illustrates, is the Five Alls. I read about it in Gautier’s book. For some reason, pubs in England are often named the Five Alls Inn or the Five Alls Pub, etc. I have not been able to find the origin of the usage, but the signs on these pubs indicate the meaning. The soldier says, “I fight for all,” and the bishop, “I pray for all. The King (centrally located) says, “I rule for all,” while the lawyer (God help us) says, “I plead for all.” The last of the poor souls, John Bull (the proverbial Englishman) says, “I pay for all.”

Gautier speaks in passing (actually in a note) of this quaint custom, relating it to the French practice of creating similar designs representing priest, soldier and laborer, saying “I pray for France, I defend her, I support her.” This calls to mind the basic structure of medieval society: oratores, bellatores, laborares, those who pray (monks), those who fight (knights), and those who work (farmers).

I have pointed out time and again that the Knight must be both a man of prayer and action. All men should be so. Monks and Friars are more men of prayer than of action, and Knights are more men of action than of prayer, but prayer and action have to go together.

But what about the laborer? In fact most men do more working than they do fighting. Both fighting and working are action, and while it certainly is more exciting to think of oneself as a knight than it is as a worker, the value of persevering toil cannot be underestimated. Hence the french saying, “I support her.” A father is a provider. The Father is the God of Providence. But it is never easy. Wasn’t that Adam’s curse, to toil with little fruit? Keep your hands to the plow.

In the English sign, aside from the Knight, the chivalrous ideal is also represented by the king, who says, “I rule for all.” Notice that he does not say, “I rule over all.” In fact, all of the “Alls” say that they do what they do for All, hence the Five Alls. Chivalry is not about me, it is about God and the common good. The King is a good king. Power does not corrupt when the ruler is chivalrous, that is, when he is a saint. Still, I wonder if perhaps the pub owner is kidding us.

But what are we to say about the lawyer? Hmmm. Now I know the pub owner is kidding.

A barber gave a haircut to a priest one day. The priest tried to pay for the haircut, but the barber refused, saying, “you do God’s work.” The next morning the barber found a dozen bibles at the door to his shop.

A policeman came to the barber for a haircut, and again the barber refused payment, saying, “you protect the public.” The next morning the barber found a dozen doughnuts at the door to his shop.

A lawyer came to the barber for a haircut, and again the barber refused payment, saying, “you serve the justice system.” The next morning the barber found a dozen lawyers waiting for a free haircut

“I plead for all,” indeed. Actually, believe it or not, there are some good lawyers. (To be fair, one of the founding members of the Knights of Lepanto is a good lawyer.) I just enjoy making lawyers the whipping boys. Too many of them.

The kicker of the Five Alls is John Bull, Everyman, who says, “I pay for all.” The pub owners, being John Bulls themselves and seeing all sorts of clientele, must have known the score. Everyman never gets credit for anything, yet he carries the weight of the world everyday. He does not fight for all. He does not pray for all. He does no rule for all, or plead for all. But he does pay for all the soldiers, priests, kings and especially lawyers.

So Everyman gets his say on the Inkeeper’s sign. A bit of irony and a quixotic play on sham chivalry, worthy of Cervantes.

Our knights are not noble by birth. They are not kings, and only aspire to be noble by virtue, that is, by chivalry. So they may say in the end: I pray for all, I fight for all, and I pay for all. Too bad that the idealism of Gautier remains too often the allusive Holy Grail.

The “price” of our redemption is the Blood of Christ. The cost of our “all” is not too precious compared to that.


11 thoughts on “The Five Alls

  1. Actually quickbeamoffangorn is right. There were religious orders established specifically for the purpose of freeing captives, such as the Mercedarians.

    I often think a new military order should be founded, not to bare arms but to engage in both the works of mercy, such as the Order of Hospital and Mercy, and to fight for the independence of the Church and the good of the family through public policy and law.

    It is so hard for married men with kids to dedicate themselves entirely to the political and legal work that needs to be done to protect life and the family and to address the disintegration of culture.

  2. Father,
    I think I already know your answer, do you think that we married men with children can change our society through our children? I know that is a blanketed statement, let me explain.
    You say we as married men, and fathers have so precious little time to fight the fight outside the home while concerning ourselves inside the home, that perhaps we can wield the sword for Jesus through our children. Meaning, as we raise our kids, all be it through God’s will, we can perhaps found a new order? If we show our children what we were blind to see, either through arrogance or neglect, we can once again claim the world for rule of Christ the King. Not so much concerning ourselves for what is going on now in today’s society but looking towards the future.
    My son (2 yrs) called me up today to tell me he knows the entire Our Father, he was so proud of himself, as I was of him. How do we as fathers nurture this innocence and wield it for God in a day and age that is Godless, and attacking the family?
    Should we not buy into the lie, that our kids must get married and be able o surpass us in “education”, and “finance”, in order for us to feel that we have achieved the “American Dream”? Should we try to “detour” or sons and daughters towards the religious life? Is this all meddling in God’s will?

  3. Father Angelo I agree with you on the role of married men. However, I don’t believe it was so different in earlier times. My grandfather worked 16 hour days with Sunday off(this was pre-fair labor laws & the 40 hour work week). Lesiure time or how much one is entitled to is as much a problem as anything.

    I took my youngest son to stations of the cross Friday and when we got back I read on the net about the Chaldean bishop who was kidnapped and three were killed during the stations of the cross. I told him to never take for granted the freedom to express our faith. In some countries it’s comes at a very high price.

    Given the climate today with Islam the Mercedarians may will need many followers and financial support.

  4. quickbeamoffangorn ,

    I agree with you, and my point was not to suggest that it is more difficult today for fathers to find time than in previous generations.

    Today the battles are more critical and sectarian. The fight for human life and for marriage are driven from the other side by huge money, and often the advocates and lobbyists for the culture of death seem to have unlimited time to dedicate to this fight.

    I know, for example in Hartford the advocates for same-sex marriage seem to live down at the State House. They have the inside tract and seemingly unlimited resources. We so often loose these battles merely by attrition.

    This is why I suggested a new kind of “military” order. The Knights Templar were so effective because they had both religious and military discipline, and all their energy could be focused on the defense of the Church.

    I am not sure about the form it should take, but what we need are, for example, hot shot lawyers who have nothing but time and monetary resources to do whatever it takes to win these battles.

  5. I’ve just finished a book on the history of pub signs but could not find an explanation for how this name originated. Depending on the whim of the signwriter though, there could be a sixth character in the devil – I take all.

    Once source I looked at claims that “alls” are the drips from the beer tap collected and resold but I doubt landlords would have advertised the fact!

    Elaine Saunders
    Author: A Book About Pub Names

  6. Elaine,

    Thanks for input. As for the origin of the Five Alls, I surmise that the common man could only make his shot count in the public square if it was in the form an oblique reference to his gripe. Pub signs would be the perfect medium. That’s only a wild guess, of course.

    Sounds like a great book.

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