Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Knights in Shining Armor

When I was twelve years old, I discovered a beautifully illustrated book on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  It was written for children, and it made chivalry come alive to me.  The sword Excalibur, which could only be pulled free of the rock by someone with a pure heart, came free in the hands of young Arthur. He wielded it with righteousness, and there was not a drop of blood to be seen in the death of dragons and monsters he killed.

Arthur never even was scraped or dirtied in his many battles, but stood in immaculate clothing to receive the thanks of the villagers and their fair maidens. It did not cross my young and literal mind that it was unrealistic, to say the least. In my vision of Arthur and his knights, their world was colorful and shiny, full of flowers and smiling peasants.

Fast forward fifty-five years. Reading about the knights in my family tree, I can picture them in England in 1066 to 1300.  They had to be strong and resolute, for enforcing the will of the king and his barons was noisy, bloody, and sweaty hard work. After a battle they needed a drink, a bath, and probably a bandage - or at least some comfrey salve for their bruises.

Although I no longer think of knights in shining armor the way I did at twelve, I still consider it exciting to find them in my family tree. They were warriors, a band of brothers, who had each others backs in battle. Between battles, they trained to sharpen their skills as if their lives depended on it - which they just might in the next conflict. Some of them were mercenary soldiers who fought for pay - and loot. But many were sworn to loyalty with a particular baron, and went with their lord when the king called upon him for service.

It seems a great many of "my" knights are from forts on the border with Wales or Scotland. While the rest of the country might be enjoying peace, those border lords and their households experienced nearly continuous fighting, defending the border. Even among strong and resolute men, those knights had a reputation for skill and courage. Not pristine characters out of a book, but flesh and blood men who wore their scars proudly, my knights in armor still epitomize courage, strength and honor.

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