Le Morte D'Arthur
Rules and Order Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Than the Kynge stablysshed all the knyghtes and gaff them rychesse and londys – and charged them never to do outerage nothir mourthir, and allwayes to fle treson, and to gyff mercy unto hym that askith mercy, uppon payne of forfiture of their worship and lordship of Kynge Arthure for evirmore; and allwayes to do ladyes, damesels, and jantilwomen and wydowes [socour], strengthe hem in hir ryghtes, and never to enforce them, uppon payne of dethe. Also, that no man take no batayles in a wrongful quarell, for no love ne for no worldis goodis. (77.26-34)
There it is folks, in all its glory: the oath that all the Knights of the Round Table must take before they get to join the club. Along with a bit that forbids knights from committing crime or aiding and abetting in crime, the oath has a special section devoted entirely to a knight's treatment of ladies. What's up with that? Can you imagine if the president's oath of office required him to hold open doors and lay his coat down over puddles? Of course it's possible that "ladies" are a just stand-in for society's powerless members in general.
Oh, and also of note is the part of the oath that requires knights to give mercy when asked hints at a more Christian moral code taking hold, instead of one based on a warrior ethic, where knights would take no prisoners.
But finally thes two brethirne wolde nat be entreted, and answerde that they wolde kepe that they had.
"Well," seyde Sir Uwayne, "Then woll I fyght with one of you, and preve that ye do this lady wronge."
"That woll we nat," seyde they, "for and we do batayle, we two woll fyght bothe at onys with one knyght; and therefore, yf ye lyste to fyght so, we woll be redy at what oure ye woll assygne:
"And if ye wynne us in batayle, she to have hir londis agayne."
"Ye sey well," seyde Sir Uwayne, "Therefore make you redy, and that ye be here tomorne in the defence of this ladyes ryght." (110.20-29)
One of the ways of determining the outcome of land disputes in Le Morte is for the two parties in question to engage in trial by combat. In other words, fight it out until you arrive at a solution. Of course if one of the people in the dispute is a woman, well that presents a bit of a problem. She would have to find a champion to fight for her. So, very soon after taking the oath of the Round Table, Uwayne fulfills it by fighting for a lady in a righteous quarrel.
But sone after, on a Saturday, sought unto Kynge Arthure all the senatoures that were on lyve, and of the cunnyngyst Cardynallis that dwelled in the courte, and prayde hym of pece and profird hym full large; and besought hym as a soverayne, most governoure undir God, for to gyff them lycence for syx wekys large, that they myght be assembled all, and than in the cité of Syon (that is Rome callyd) to crowne hym there kyndly with crysemed hondys, with septure, forsothe, as an emperoure sholde.
"I assente me," seyde the Kynge, "as ye have devysed, and comly be Crystmas to be crowned – hereafter to reigne in my asstate and to kepe my Rounde Table with the rentys of Rome to rule as me lykys." (149.22-33)
Wait a minute. Arthur just became the Emperor of Rome? In a matter of seconds? Gee, that was easy. It's a lofty title, to be sure, but the really awesome thing about it is that it entitles Arthur to the "rentys of Rome" – homage paid to him in the form of gold, commodities, and, should he so choose, able-bodied men. Can you say ca-ching? In theory the Romans give Arthur all these goodies because he showed them mercy in their defeat, but it also comes with a price. He'll have to protect them in the future, too.