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CHIVALRY AND MATRIMONY.
Ī ITH all its fine expressions of ardent devotion to the fair sex,
and the multitude of its exquisite pretensions, Chivalry was the degradation of the highest and tenderest human instincts, the veritable curse of the course of true love. Such a statement presents itself to the romantic believer as a terrible counterblast; but it is true nevertheless. The records of the Treasury and the Law Courts of those days, in furnishing the experience of popular life deeply marked by the worst shades of modern shortcomings, provide the fullest proof.
Chivalry did not make marriages, at least in the sense of those born of love's young dream; it entirely ignored all sexual affections, and sold its victims with ruthless indifference to all mutuality. There were not two parties to its bargains ; there was only one, who was always the third of the group, and the one interested not in satisfying the yearnings of the impassioned, but in a pecuniary sense of their value. He was the vendor, and might be either king or baron. But whichever he was, he was the incarnation of unscrupulous power. The matrimonial transactions of chivalry were mercenary. To them there were no “contracting parties” in the shape of whispering lovers, ardent swains and coy maidens. On the other hand, there were but sullen indifference or hating compliance. Chivalry canted about its faith in women and the purity of its own motives, because it could not sing of love—it may be said that it so canted because it knew it must cant. It knew that its marriages had not been made in heaven, and of ethereal sentiment. They were coarsely bargained for, either in the King's Exchequer, or in the open market-place. Chivalry knew itself as a social falsity and the parent of lust. As a consequence, the “lower orders ” have had to give us the nomenclature of our love affairs. Chaucer, the ver; mirror of the era of chivalry, has typified lust with his master's hand , but he has no picture of the gratified tenderness of longing youth. In his surroundings it was not suffered to exist. These surroundings had no terms to enumerate the ardent swains and coy maidens of rusticity. But if the aristocracy can produce no one instance of the coy maiden, and the rustic sweetheart remains to mock the dubious fiancée, it has a wealth of the arts of diplomacy, and an inexhaustible list of the terms of intrigue. Chivalry gave expression to the word maitresse, which may have, and had, the funniest of meanings.
In those brave days of old the matchmakers were rapacious fathers, the most unscruplous dealers were amorous widows, actual or expectant, who with the keenness of their art and impulses were in the habit of carefully supplying themselves with gold to meet the emergency. The cash offerings that widows made to secure marital rights are astonishing in their value. A charming instance of antevidual diplomacy is afforded by the manoeuvres of Nicholaa de Emingfrid, a despondent Huntingdonshire wife. In 1199, when the manor houses of England were filled with crippled and consumptive Crusaders, and not a single baron in the land had five hundred pounds in coin, Nicholaa was the wife of William Rufus, and evidently expecting him to die. Weary of a life that had become passionless, and grown wanton in her weariness, she approached the mercenary Lackland with a gift, and with the subtle measures prompted by a yearning love. She offered the king £100-say £2,000 of present money, and a meaningful earnest of her anxiety—that she may not be constrained to marry! Poor devoted Nicholaa ! how crushed she was with the burden of her misery. But with further caution and a knowledge of the mutability of her woman's nature, she added the saving clause, that if of her own accord she should hereafter wish to marry, she will only do so after having taken the king's counsel. The manoeuvre of this wily dame was delightfully successful. The year had not elapsed before one Vitor de Wade gives to the king 70 marks “for having seizin of Nicholaa,” who was the wife, and had become the widow of William Rufus, with her goods and chattels ; and with an astuteness that one recognises as hers alone, he promises to pay one-half the money on the very moment when he marries her, and the remainder at the second feast of St. Michael after the king's coronation. Such a bargain was doubly diplomatic ; it alike satisfied eagerness and caution. John's love of money for the purpose of spending would expedite the marriage to the utmost. So we see how aptly chivalry could teach the art of plotting and bargaining, when once it had destroyed the pleasantries of original love,
The matrimonial bargainings were simply brutal. In the reign of John the appeal, “Come live with me and be my love,” was a mockery, for the condition “And I will ever faithful prove” was an impossibility. Mutual love was not recognised, therefore mutual fidelity was ignored. Sir Alonzo the brave might love the fair Imogene, and be loved in return with a soulful devotion, but that was of little consequence in the eyes of the king and the law. Sir Alonzo was the tenant of lands and a chattel of the king; there was, therefore, in him a pecuniary value, and he was treated accordingly. This is one fashion of restraining the imagination of Alonzo the brave. Philip FitzRobert offers to the king £200 sterling, 100 bacon hogs, and 100 cheeses, to have in custody the land which belonged to Yvo de Munbi with his heir, until the heir be of age and ought to marry, with the advice of the king and the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. Such a bargain would place Sir Alonzo the brave, willing or unwilling, in the arms of a damsel of the house of FitzRobert, the cult of which may be estimated by the hogs and cheeses. The domestic pæan would hardly be “Arms and the man, I sing," and yet the transaction was of chivalry.
In the highest ranks vast sums passed to effect these little arrangements, from which the king obtained a very considerable revenue. John, Earl of Lincoln, gave 3,000 marks-say £40,000 of present money—to have the marriage of Richard de Clare for the benefit of Matilda, his eldest daughter, and the money had to be secured by the pledges of his friends, the payment being spread over a term of years. Simon de Montfort gave 10,000 marks--nearly £150,000— to have the custody of the lands and heir of Gilbert de Umfraville with the marriage of the heir. These transactions may be described as of the simple order, being far above the reach of rivalry, which in John's ways meant jobbery. There were others more involved, for faithless Lackland was exorbitant in his demands, and kept possession till the highest bidder could be found ; and in more than one instance —when the “chattel” was easier of reach, and so commanded a greater number of bidders—after the sale to one man had been arranged, a larger offering by some other aspirant deprived him of his intended bargain. Varying influences mark the variety of these transactions. Sewal Fitz Henry, with a most clerkly knowledge of the table of affinity, offers to the king one hundred marks for license to marry the sister of his wife, Isabel Sewal de Maniai, to his nephew; and also a destrier and a palfrey which Geoffrey FitzPeter had received, with a view of hurrying the matter, as we may believe, and avoiding disappointment. This little arrangement was coolly set aside when Philip de Ulcot came and offered one hundred pounds! That was sound political economy, my masters !-selling in the highest market with the further advantage of not having bought. It was also the
most astute of trading, for it ignored all motives of conscience. King John, who knew how to drive a bargain as well as any modern Yorkshire horsedealer, is certainly maligned when described as worthless ; he was the greatest master of finance who ever occupied the English throne. Then we have the wiles and betimes the solicitudes of the mothers of chivalry. It is due to their emotions to describe them as for the most part worthy of their object. Hugh de Haversham offers the king two hundred marks to have the custody of the land and heir of William de Clinton, with the marriage of the heir, Hugh was seeking a bargain, which the widowed mother, Isabel de Clinton, determined to deprive him of, either on the score of love or barter. She offered John Lackland three hundred marks for the marriage, and he cancelled the bargain with Hugh. There is no doubt John resorted to these tricks to squeeze impressionable and tender-hearted parents. Sometimes he had to meet combinations well calculated to baffle even his astuteness. Gilbert, son of Gilbert de Calweleya, and Alicia, his mother, offer eighty marks and two palfreys that he, young Gilbert, may have the land which belonged to Gilbert his father, and that he may marry according to his own pleasure, with the advice of Alicia, his mother, who may follow her own counsel in marrying him. This was evidently an instance of the careful mother having the bride-elect under her own wing. Gundreda, who was the wife of Geoffrey Huse, offers to the king two hundred marks to have the custody of Geoffrey, his son and heir, with all his land, until he be of such age that he may and ought to hold land, and that she may dispose of him in marriage with the advice of his kindred and friends. What little project Gundreda was working out thus thoughtfully we have not learnt, but she clearly intended her boy should be protected, even at the cost of a very smart fine. If all the transactions of chivalry could be reduced to these little diplomacies we might not speak so ill of it. One of John's most shameless bargainings runs in a memorandum referring to the stately house of Neville, of which Mary of Middleham, an enforced wife, was then saying she would be no man's mere plaything. Hugh de Neville offers thirty marks for a marriage for the use of his granddaughter. John took his offer without naming the “chattel” to be supplied, but did not forget to add this condition — “If anyone is willing to give more for that wardship than Hugh offers, let such person have it, unless Hugh is willing to give the same for it !” As we have already said, John was indeed a master of finance —far above the manufacture of one-pound notes. Another instance
of his greatness lies in the experience of Thomas Noel, who offered three hundred marks and three palfreys to marry his younger daughter to Eustace FitzStephen, Geoffrey FitzPeter, the sheriff, being commanded to take some pledges thereon ; “and the same earl shall also give to the king one good goshawk which was in the possession of Geoffrey FitzPeter.” Greedy John Lackland . That “good goshawk” was merely a violent seizure thy rapacity could not pass by. Love-making in the days of chivalry was not a passion: as we have seen, it was a trade, and of a debased order in some of its branches. It is true brides were won, bridegrooms were hooked, even in those sad days; but neither end was reached by the powers of love and hardihood. The successful agency was then wholly, as now mainly, money ; but this perhaps may be said in favour of the earlier method—the money was tendered in the open market-place, and the “chattel” put up to the highest bidder. There was no attempt to disguise this fact by arranged intervals of billing and cooing. It was not the prerogative of the Queen of Beauty to lay her own fair charms and broad acres at the feet of the bravest of the brave because he had won her admiration by the prowess of his lance or the lightning strokes of his deadly brand. As a wife, she might intrigue in the after-days, and she did, but then —chivalry was satisfied. Nor was she singular in this deprivation. Rosy-cheeked Phyllis might not single out the best dancer on the village green, or the deftest archer at the village butts, and bid him come to her as a husband. Such power was completely and legally withdrawn from each of them—and in the case of poor Phyllis to her shame, and to the worst parental misery of her father. And if she intrigued, why—she copied her betters Lord Lochinvar may have unhorsed all comers, and have proved that Lady Clara Vere de Vere, who had given him her badge to carry through the fray, “was peerless of beauty and spotless of fame"; but there his efforts in the way of personal regard absolutely ended. Clara may have laid her flushed cheek upon Lochinvar's manly breast, and with the rosiest of lips, the most downcast of eyes, have declared in the witching tones of maidenly modesty, “My soul, I love thee"; but that was all she was permitted to do on the right side of morality and honesty of life. Under no circumstances, except the advance of cash, or hams, palfreys, hens and eggs which had immediate cash value, might she complete her declaration by bringing forward the priest and having the knot tied. Colin's yeoman-fortune and matchless strength may have captivated Phyllis, and earned the flocks and herds of her yeoman father ; Colin and