Chivalry as Meaning for the Dames and Knights of The Order of St. George
The word “chivalry” is derived from the Old French language (1300-1500 AD). It originated as a word for horsemanship but came to refer to the mounted women “Chevaleresse” or “Chevaliere” and men “Chevalier” of Gaul that met to oppose the early Roman invaders. A report from Julius Caesar in the late First Century refers to the Roman’s surprise that both women and men of Gaul defended their homeland on horseback, with female leaders (e.g., Boadicea) strategizing many of the forays against the invading Roman Army. The symbolic use of the horse in chivalry, even today, represents a spiritual duality, for it connotes the horse as representative of the physical, the body’s energies and emotions. The rider, female or male, represents the higher spiritual self, striving to become the best and noblest to which one can aspire. The mounted rider becomes the Dame or Knights symbol of the “Quest for Self”.
The historic concept of chivalry began in the years after the fall of the Roman Empire. The increasing barbarism and lack of universal respect for all levels of society during the Dark Ages set the stage for the well-known visionary legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. This paved the way for the establishment of real chivalrous orders based on the ideals of Arthurian legend, many of them devoted to women.
The Order of the Hatchet (1149) was created for females that participated in protecting the future area of Aragon, The Order of the Garter (1358) was created in England, and The Order of The Glorious Saint Mary (1233) honoured exceptional females of the day. Anglo Saxon princess Eanswythe set up the Benedictine Folkestone Priory, the first acknowledged English nunnery to promote authority and protection during political distrust. Elisabeth of Bohemia, 1618, protected religious refugees from multiple warring nations. Elizabeth Fry, 1780, was the influential reformer of the New Gate prison for women. Mathilda of Flanders, 1031, promoted health and education at all levels.
Women also fought in the Crusades (Margery Kemp wrote of the experience), and Julian of Norwich was recognized as the first female English writer. These early Knights and Dames became the forerunners of those helping others in a world that attached little value to the principles of trust, honour, loyalty, and justice. The presence of these individuals led to a rise of chivalry. A rise that saw the return of justice and honour, the restoration of truth and a growing determination to restore justice in a brutal world. The popular rise of chivalry among medieval Europeans was further inspired by their encounters with their Islamic foes of the Crusades.
During the twelfth century a revival of the “Arthurian” legends and stories, formalized honour-based trials, magical adventures, and difficult acts of heroism, often against impossible odds, led individuals into a self-defining quest for honour. Today’s contemporary quests may not be the same as the challenges of Arthurian legend, but they can still provide us with opportunities to self-define and maximize our potential.
The true Knight and Dame strives for perfection, working through selfless trials of service to be publicly acknowledged as Chevaliers (historically documented in Europe). A famous failure, the Quest for the Holy Grail, is offset by the 1645 Battle of Malta that granted the call-to-privilege to participating men and women. This was the right to become titled and bear the Grand Cross. The introduction of this hallmark of nobility, not by birth but by nobility of character, inspired one to transcend above a self-serving individual to a higher giving self. This transformation is not unlike the attempts of early alchemists who tried to turn base metals like lead into pure gold.
The St. George symbology of the Dragon and the Knight locked in mortal combat portrays a fierce dragon with slashing claws and fiery tongue. The mounted Knight stands stalwart with shield and lance in defence. Sometimes the Dame or Knight is pictured holding a book as protection against a protagonist. Chivalry is not limited to external battles, after all, but also deals with inner battles as we each strive to become the best we can be.
The colours of the Shield of St. George are also symbolic and can be associated with the early alchemists’ efforts to transform lead into pure gold. White represents simplicity, innocence, purity, and a beginning. Red symbolizes fire and energy and is associated with danger, war, power, and determination balanced with passion, desire, courage, and love. The Knight or Dame, Chevalier, Chevaliere, or Chevaleresse of today no longer wears the literal shining armour of outdated romantic myth. Their selfless service, however, stands as a shining and timeless symbol of their commitment to the principles of trust, honour, loyalty, and justice, and to always strive to make the world a better place for all.
Yours in St George
Chevalier Steven Mohns, KGCStG, Cascadia Priory
With Chevalier William Foote, KGCStG researching the history of “Chevaleresse” or “Chevaliere”
Edited by Dame Melanie Graham, DCStG, Cascadia Priory
The Legend of St George (A video link)