Militia and Malitia: The Bernardine Vision of Chivalry

saint-bernard-of-clairvauxMilitia and Malitia: The Bernardine Vision of Chivalry

Areyh Grabois

The Second Crusade and the Cistercians: New York (1992)

In his treatise, De laude novae militiae,l Bernard of Clairvaux distinguished between the Templars and the entire secular knighthood. The first deserved the epithet militia, while the others received the pejorative classification malitia.2 His praise of the “new knighthood” emphasized that its members were the sole knights to behave according to the principles of Vita perfecta, both of the chivalric ideals and of the monastic orders. Moreover, their dedication to a perpetual war against the Muslims and to the defense of the Holy Land was considered by the abbot of Clairvaux to be both the real expression of chivalric ideals, and an achievement of the Gregorian ideas of milites Christi.3 Against this sense of the term militia, the lay knights not only did not deserve to be milites, but, because of their behavior, clothes and hairstyles, which expressed the sins of vanity and luxury,4 represented malitia, or malice.


However, one may legitimately question whether this distinction between “religious” and “secular” chivalry reflected Bernard’s vision of knighthood. Was he condemning the entire system of chivalry as “malicious”? Or, did he develop this dichotomy in order to emphasize the distinction between “good” and “evil” knights on the ground of qualitative criteria, connected with the implementation of moral principles of conduct proper to the ethical ideals of chivalry as they prevailed at the time? By the formulation of such questions, it is possible. to perceive a gap between the practical goals that brought Bernard to the elaboration of this treatise and a broader vision of chivalry.5

It must be remembered that Bernard, who had been worried by the serious crisis the small company led by Hugh of Payns faced during the first decade after its foundation in 1118, decided, in the spirit of the rule he drafted for the Order, both to comfort them and to help them to recruit new members. Thus, his Praise of the new knighthood was written as a propaganda mani–festo, aiming at the exaltation of Templar virtues and at the “conversion” of the European knights, who were invited to join the new Order in the Holy land.6 His approach was similar to that undertaken in his appeal to the European knighthood urging their participation in the Second Crusade.

Certainly, there had been a clear distinction between the “religious” and lay chivalry. The adaptation of monastic ideas by the military orders during the twelfth century, both in the Holy Land and in Spain, led to the emergence of a symbiosis of monasticism and knighthood, previously characterized by Sidney Painter as “religious chivalry”.7 Thus, the basic distinction between “good” and “bad” knights was the result of the long-term evolution of the lay group of warriors, and had no relationship to the establishment of the military orders.

This process resulted in the transformation of warriors into a social class, characterized by its own ethical norms of behavior, education, and patterns of culture. It was achieved at the beginning of the twelfth century with the awakening of the consciousness of its superiority within Western society.8 Thus, the violent juvenes of the eleventh and beginning of the twelfth centuries 9 were the same wandering knights as the contemporaries of Wil–liam Marshal; as such, they might qualify for Bernard’s malitia. However, the differing perceptions of the term “malice” in the mind of succeeding generations brought about a change in chivalric ideals, to the point that the approach to the juvenes, considered a social calamity until the first quarter of the twelfth century, was entirely opposite to the attitude towards the wandering knights of the second half of the same century.

Among the various factors in this evolution, the qualitative distinction between the “good” and “evil” knights, as expressed by contemporary sources,10 played an important role in the crystallization of public opinion to the transformation of the behavioral norms of these knights. Undoubtedly, such definitions represent the attitude of their authors, all of whom were monks. But they also reflect their implantation among lay society as an outcome of its structure and of “chivalric” education.11 Among the factors considered, the ideas of the Peace and Truce of God played a cardinal role in this distinction, particularly because they became part of the values acquired by the new generation of knights. Accordingly, the question of whether Bernard of Clairvaux invented the distinction formulated in his treatise or used notions already widespread, and adapted them to the Templars, bears special interest. Had it only been an expression of monastic ideas, the distinction between militia and malitia might be qualified as a Bernardine vision of chivalry, related to his spirituality and sociopolitical ideas.12 In such a case, this distinction might be accepted as another expression of the ideas, later formulated in his crusade propaganda. Thus the notion of pax christiana has to be connected both with his crusading ideology, and with his vision of celestial Jerusalem as implemented in the cloister (hic est Hierosolyma),13 reframing Augustinian and Anselmian views.

Contrary to any hypothesis which might confine the ideas of peace to the cloisters, the sources reveal that since the middle of the eleventh century such a dichotomic approach to chivalry had largely been spread by public opinion. While the movement of the Peace and Truce of God did not bring about the abolition of wars and violence, it did succeed in implanting in Western society opprobrious feelings against gangs of warriors, condemned as dis–turbers of the public peace and as enemies of the social order.14 Such feeling implied the need for justification of military activities, emphasizing their defensive character as the sole reason for their legitimization. Accordingly, the “good” knights were those who fought in order to protect the churches, the poor and the oppressed. The sources consequently insist on the military activities of their heroes, who, as genuine knights, responded to the appeals of ecclesiastical authorities who were fighting for the freedom of the Church. Moreover, the defensive nature of these wars has been emphasized by attributing responsibility for them to the adversary, an aggressor and offender against peace. Thus, even though wars were considered to be illegitimate in terms of the peace movement, they might have become “just wars” under particular circumstances,15 at least for those who were qualified as “good” knights.

The expressions of the new approach to chivalry are emphasized in the chronicle of Raoul Glaber. One of the wars recounted, namely the conflict between the counts of Blois and Anjou in 1044 over the lordship of the city of Tours, represents an excellent example of this qualitative distinction. Raoul blamed the Blois party, castigating them as aggressors and trouble– makers, while the Angevin milites, whose manners in no way differed from those of their adversaries, are represented as champions of the faith, as defenders of the good “cause”, fighting in order to free the Abbey of St. Martin which was “oppressed by the tyrant of Blois”.16 In terms of the social stratification of the period, it also reflects the transformation of the mass of warriors, the bellatores, into milites 17 and, to no lesser degree, the impact of the peace movement, legitimating the “just war” conducted against “troublemakers”. The same distinction appears in the next generation, as the chroniclers of the Norman conquest of England especially bear witness. They classified William the Conqueror’s army as that of “good” knights, who left aside their own interests in order to respond to the duke’s call, intending to punish the “evil” Harold and his followers, to restore the “good order” of Edward’s times and, particularly, to fight for the faith and the reform of the English church.18

While the main characteristics of the qualitative distinction among the knighthood had been formulated during the second half of the eleventh century, its crystallization belongs to the reign of King Louis VI of France (1108-37), St. Bernard’s contemporary. The monarch’s efforts to pacify and restructure his kingdom have been considered by public opinion to be a constant struggle between the forces of order and peace led by the king and supported by the Church, and the malicious elements, which included those who broke up the social order, the offenders of the peace, among them those who had been convicted for violating the Truce of God. Writers, therefore, such as the authors of the Chronicle of Morigny, or Suger of Saint Denis, the king’s biographer, had no difficulty applying against the “malicious” the stereotypical expressions of previous generations, classifying the king’s enemies as troublemakers, as oppressors of the Church, the poor and the weak, and even as being impious.19 On the other hand, Louis’ image as a just and equitable monarch, whose sole concern used to be the punishment of “evil”, fighting in order to impose peace in his kingdom, caused him to be represented as the major agent of public peace and the chief executive of the legislation of the Truce of God. The latter movement began during his reign to be transformed into the” royal peace”.20

In that respect, Suger’s Vita Lodovici Grossi is a mirror of this evolution of chivalric ideals, especially the distinction between the good and the bad. The perspective is, however, different from the Bernardine vision, because Suger had practically no interest in crusading ideas and was less concerned by the needs of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem than his friend, Bernard of Clairvaux; moreover, he never showed interest in the military orders. His focus was primarily the restoration of the royal authority in France, a process in which he had been actively involved.21 He distinguished between “genuine” knights, who were engaged in the restructuring of society and the creation of the State, and the “others”, whom he classed as brigands, even though they had been dubbed.

Accordingly, Suger combined certain criteria for “genuine” or “good” knights: they were to be descendants of noble families, valiant fighters, participants in the wars of their lords, protectors of churches and the clergy, as well as of the poor and the weak; above all, they were to be the faithful vassals of their lords. Such qualifications, already witnessed by other historical sources, and especially by the literary texts of the twelfth century, reflect in Suger’s mind the implementation of new chivalric ideals.22 While the dubbing ceremony remained essential to the “ordination” of knights, it was, according to these new ideals, only symbolic of joining the militia. It was a man’s behavior which determined whether he was worthy of knighthood. In this respect, the case of Hugh of Puiset is significant. He belonged to a very noble family, whose members, including his own father, distinguished themselves on crusade. His cousin became count of Jaffa, and thus a member of the highest rank of the nobility of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.23 However, in addition to his rebellion against royal authority, Hugh was an open enemy of the Abbey of Saint Denis, claiming some of its estates in the Beauce, which were at the time administrated by Suger, the abbey’s provost in the area. Therefore, Suger considered Hugh to be:

a man lacking moral values, rich because of his tyranny and his ancestor’s oppression; he succeeded to his uncle
Guy, inheriting the honor of Puiset, because his arrogant father took his arms and went on the first expedition to
Jerusalem; since his accession, Hugh did not cease to behave maliciously, as his father had done previously.24

Because of his personal involvement in that conflict, Suger’s criticism is bitter, to the point that he did not find any excuse for the conduct of Hugh’s father, even though Everard had been a crusader and was killed at the siege of Antioch and accordingly deserved the remission of his sins.

Finally, one may consider the case of Thomas of Marle, lord of Coucy, a former crusader who had acquired a bad reputation due to his cruel behavior.25 After his return from the First Crusade, Thomas renewed his activity in Picardy, terrorizing the country. Excommunicated in 1114 by the Council of Beauvais, where he was proclaimed “enemy of the peace”,26 he was also considered as a rebel against royal authority. Suger described him as a prototype of a tyrant, “a scoundrel and enemy of God and mankind”.27 Recounting his excommunication at the Council of Beauvais, the Abbot of Saint Denis emphasized that Cardinal Conon of Praeneste, after having pronounced the sentence, in Thomas’ absence, “deprived him of the knight’s belt and divested him of his honors, being a scoundrel, an infamous person, and an enemy of Christianity”. Suger emphasized the procedure adopted at the Council: a knight whose behavior brought on him public disapproval and who deserved to be convicted as a disturber of the peace ought to be degraded, in a way similar to the ecclesiastical procedure of degradation of ordained persons.28 In that respect, the account is a complimentary testimony concerning the early twelfth-century transformation of knighthood into the militaris ordo, which was shaped under the influence of the monastic orders.29

Thus, Bernard of Clairvaux was not the first thinker or author to distinguish between chivalry and malice. Since it had emerged and developed during three previous generations, this distinction was already a common place for his contemporaries. His original contribution to the idea resided in his interpretation of this dichotomy, which he adapted to his purposes. But this adaptation, used in a narrow sense in his De laude novae militae, where he applied it exclusively to the Templars, contained the elements of a broader distinction between worthy and unworthy knights. Moreover, in connection with positions and attitudes adopted, either in the conflict in 1140-42 that opposed Theobald of Champagne to Louis VII, king of France,30 or during the propaganda campaign for the Second Crusade,31 Bernard acknowledged that there were many secular knights worthy of the qualification of milites. In that respect, Suger and Bernard held in common some views concerning the definition of the militia and the incompatibility of malicious warriors with knighthood. But Suger’s pragmatic views led him to deal with more realistic definitions; these consequently prevailed in the process of the crystallization of chivalric ideals during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, until the elaboration of the treatises on chivalry in the late Middle Ages.32 On the other hand, despite his brilliant style, Bernard’s definitions were based on his dogmatic approach to the topic and represented an utopian vision. This vision, based on his inflexible criteria and qualifications, was incompatible with the conditions of real life. Even the Templars, therefore, once the small group of founders had been transformed into a formidable Order by the recruitment of successive waves of knights, were not able to implement these ideas, deserving in their turn the criticism of the chroniclers of the Second Crusade.33

End Notes

1. Bernard, De laude, in: Bernard, Opera, vol. 3, pp. 213-240.

2. Bernard, De laude, ch. 2, in: Bernard, Opera, vol. 3, p. 216.

3. See: Robinson, “Gregory VII”, and Leclercq, Nouveau visage, s.v.

4. Bernard, De laude, ch. 2, in: Bernard, Opera, vol. 3, p. 216.

5. Some examples of a broader use of this dichotomy may be found in Bernard’s sermon, such as: Sermones in laudibus Virginis Mariae, Homilia IV, 10 (Bernard, Opera, vol. 4, p. 56); In Psalruun qui habitat, Sermo V, 2 (Bernard, Opera, vo1. 4, pp. 402-403); In Dedicatione Ecclesiae, Sermo II, 4 (Bernard, Opera, vol. 5, p. 378); and In Natali Sancti Victoris, Sermo II, 5 (Bernard, Opera, vol. 6, p. 36).

6. This conclusion results from a comparison with Bernard’s letter addressed to the Templars (see: Leclercq, “Templiers 1”).

7. Painter, ch. 3: “Religious Chivalry”. Since the publication of this book, significant progress has been made in research in that field. The proceed–ings of the 1979 Reichenau conference (Fleckenstein) opened new perspec–tives on this topic. For the linkage between “secular” and “religious” knighthood, see: Winter, Rittertum; Keen.

8. See: Wolff, “Eveil”; Duby, “Societes”. See also: Duby, Bouvines; Duby, Marriage.

9. See: Duby, “Socidtds”; Duby, “Origines”.

10. See: Cardini; Flori, Glaive, pp. 158-65.

11. For trends of monastic historiography, see: Ambroise, s.v. On “chivalric” education, see: Rich; Orme.

12. See: Leclercq, Nouveau visage; Sommerfeldt.

13. Bernard’s De conversione, ad clericos sermo seu liber. (Bernard, Opera,vol. 4 (1966), pp. 69-116) should be considered as part of his polemical activity against Abelard and his Parisian students and must be interpreted in that context (Grabolfs, “Quartier Latin” [rpt. with the same pagination in: Grabois, Civilisation, ch. 71). On the other hand, it expresses in a broader sense Bernard’s views on the celestial Jerusalem (Konrad; Bredero).

14. See: MacKinney; Bonnaud-Delamare; Hoffmann; Cowdrey, “Peace & Truce”; Renna.

15. See: Russell.

16. Raoul Glaber, p. 129. In this context, similar attitudes had been adopted and expressed by Gerard of Cambrai and Adhemar of Chabannes, enlarging thus the geocultural area where such ideas prevailed to northeastern and western France; see their analyses by Duby (Trois ordres, pp. 35-61, 168-74), as well as Flori (Glaive, pp. 137, 161-63).

17. See: Johrendt; Van Luyn; Batany.

18. Gesta Guillelmi, pp. 154, 182-84. See: Douglas, pp. 185-88; Brown, Normans, pp. 145-51.

19. The Chron. de Morigny (2nd ed.) uses such stereotypical qualifications: King Louis VI is described as the ideal knight (p. 11), while the troublemakers deserved malicious terms, such as Robert of Oinville, “a malicious warrior” (p. 14), or Hugh de Crdcy, “an impious knight” (p. 22).

20. See: Grabois, “Treve”.

21. The autobiographical references included in Suger’s works are the best source testifying to his activity (see: Misch, vol. 3, pp. 318-23).

22. Suger, Vita Ludovici (1964), p. 90. For the general trend of this evolution, see: Hunt, Paterson, and particularly, Flori, Chansons.

23. For the genealogy of the family, see: Dion; for the participation of its members in the crusade and their role in the new Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, see: La Monte, “Le Puiset”.

24. Suger, Vita Ludovici (1964), p. 130. Suger’s personal involvement in this conflict caused him to deal at length with this story (see pp. 128-70).

25. See: Chaurant, with a good bibliography. In the late thirteenth century Thomas became the hero of a popular epic, La Chanson de Jerusalem. On his literary image, see: Durparc-Quioc, “Coucy”. A revised and up-dated version of this article was included in Durparc-Quioc, Cycle, pp. 39-44.

26. Suger, Vita Ludovici (1964), pp. 174-76.

27. Suger, Vita Ludovici (1964), pp. 30, 176. See similar qualifications by Guibert of Nogent, who was well informed about Thomas’ conduct on the crusade and in Picardy (Guibert of Nogent Vita, p. 160). See also the English translation in: Benton, Guibert of Nogent, pp. 184-88, with notes by the editor.

28. Suger, Vita Ludovici (1964), p. 176. See: Winter, “Cingulum militiae”; Flori, “Adoubement”; Flori, “Chevalerie”.

29. See: Morris, “Equestris Ordo”.

30. Bernard’s Letter 221, addressed to King Louis VII (PL, vol. 182, cols. 386-87). See: Pacaut, Louis VII, pp. 42-4 and Grabois, “Louis VII”.

31. See: Constable, “Second Crusade”; Willems.

32. Among the various studies, see: Barber, Knight, Keen.

33. See: Demurger.

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