Chivalry was the law by which noblemen lived in the Middle Ages. It is best exemplified in Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, where the knights’ loyalty to their kings is their binding force and also the impetus which drives them apart. The romances of the Middle Ages described the ideal traits of the hero: nobility, grace, magnanimity, manners. These are the traits which make up the rule of chivalry. Notable amongst the heroes of this literature, and evidenced in Scott’s portrait of Ivanhoe, is a distinct lack of character. The protagonists tend to be so chivalrous that they have no individual characteristics outside of the merely chivalrous. It is not Ivanhoe who comes across as the most sympathetic character in the novel, but rather Cedric or Rebecca or Rowena. Ivanhoe is a type rather than a three-dimensional figure. The Knights Templar were formerly seen as archetypically chivalrous and Scott’s portrayal of them as lecherous and money grabbing means that it is the Saxons who fit most closely to the chivalric code. The death of Bois-Guillbert shows us the difference between the proud and pious Ivanhoe and the lecherous Templar:

"Ivanhoe, extricating himself from his fallen horse, was soon on foot, hastening to mend his fortune with his sword; but his antagonist arose not. Wilfred, placing his foot on his breast, and the sword’s point to his throat, commanded him to yield him, or die on the spot. Bois-Guilbert returned no answer.

‘Slay him not, Sir Knight,’ cried the Grand Master, ‘unshriven and unabsolved—kill not body and soul! We allow him vanquished.’

He descended into the lists, and commanded them to unhelm the conquered champion. His eyes were closed—the dark red flush was still on his brow. As they looked on him in astonishment, the eyes opened—but they were fixed and glazed. The flush passed from his brow, and gave way to the pallid hue of death. Unscathed by the lance of his enemy, he had died a victim to the violence of his own contending passions.

‘This is indeed the judgment of God,’ said the Grand Master, looking upwards—‘Fiat voluntas tua!’"


The Church

The Church was much more powerful in England in the Middle Ages than it is today. With this power came a great deal of corruption. Friar Tuck is a "hedge-priest" – a priest who has been defrocked and now ministers to those who are outside the law in exchange for money. He is a drunk and a swindler, but essentially harmless and could be considered a good man. Prior Aymer, on the other hand, is ruthless in the extreme, treading on those underneath him in order to further his own position. There is an uneasy relationship between the Prior and the Knights Templar, who blame the Church for the loss of the Crusades. Scott pokes fun at the Catholic Church in passages such as the funeral rites of Aethelstane.

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