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 Amazon.com 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.