Upon Giving and Receiving Favors

Upon Giving and Receiving Favors
by Countess Tessa of the Gardens, Baroness Bordermarch

         As wars became less common in Western Europe, in order to keep their abilities sharply hewn, fighter, knights and nobles would arrange tournaments, which, though not as large-scale as war, still often resulted in deaths.  Early tournaments had few rules and much carnage.  Three-score men died in 1240 at Calone, a knight put his own son to death in one tourney, and in others men were thrown from their horses and killed.  The Church frowned upon such sport, and one monk railed, “Those who fall in tourneys will go to hell!”(1)  But to be ready for war, one text taught, “a knight must have seen his own blood flow, have had his teeth crackle under the blow of his adversary . . .”(2)

        To be really proud of himself as a knight, a man had to be accomplished with the ladies and make himself pleasing to them.  Ideas of love and the treatment of women began to influence the code of knights.  The concept was taking root that a man could not be a true knight if he did not feel passionate emotions for a lady and that the more he suffered the torments of love, the more prowess he was displaying.  To acquire real prestige in the eyes of his fellows, the toughest, most formidable fighting man had to be gentle to the ladies as well.  Besides being able to chop his enemies apart, the knight had to sigh exhaustingly (and, which is more, be seen to do it) for the love of his lady.

        Thus, as the 12th century progressed, both the tournament and the vogue for love-poetry were making knights more courteous to each other and to their women-folk and giving new ideas of how they should behave and appear in society.

        It was during the 13th century that damsels thronged galleries to “well and clearly see who jousted best for his lady love, and to their favorites they tossed strips of skirt, hose, scarves, . . .”(3), similar to a 20th century crowd of fans following a person of fame trying to get his attention.  German manuscripts of the 13th century, as well as Flemish tapestries of the same period, depict noble warriors receiving tokens from well-wishing ladies at the tournament field.  It was during one such tournament that Berengaria, Richard I’s queen, first caught his eye in her father’s kingdom of Navarre.
        One of the most usual items given as a favor was the ladies’ maunch, or sleeve of her dress, having long lappets hanging at the cuff.  During the time of Henry I, the maunch was so commonly given as a favor that it became an heraldic charge.  The pair of sleeves were not built into the garment, but were worn like a tubular scarf, easily detachable and placed upon the knight’s helm or lance as he rode about the field in ceremony before the fighting began.

        Minnesingers (German knight-poets) put the lady on a pedestal.  To the “gentle, perfect” knight, the lady was not so much loved in the ordinary sense, as venerated with a religious fervor.  She was depicted as the ideal paragon of feminine virtue.  Earthly considerations such as fleshly love and gratification hardly entered the picture;  the knight’s duty and main purpose in the relationship was to worship and serve his idol, while pining for her favors and living in the hope that one day she might reward his constancy by looking sweetly upon him and giving him a place in her heart.

        There seemed to be no limit to the extent to which knights would show off, as their code and the propaganda of chivalric romances urged them to do everything to win honour and prestige in the eyes of their society.  The knight might promise to kill some enemy or merely perform well in a tournament in front of his chosen lady; in each case, he might wear his hair long, his cloak inside-out or a patch over one eye to signify his resolve.  As “courtly love” entered into the knight’s world, the taking of a vow to perform some great exploit in honour of a lady became considered the highest form of gallantry and greatly enhanced his own reputation.

        As recorded of the Chauvency tournament in Northern France, 1285:  “Sunday, 30 September:  Many ladies were present; there was dancing and music; minstrels entertained the guests at banquets in the evenings and even serenaded the ladies in the intervals between the fights.  Special galleries with seats arranged in tiers on scaffolding had been set up by the side of the tournament field which was bounded by barriers.  There was a general feast in which the noble knights and their ladies made each other’s acquaintances . . . The following Monday and Tuesday were devoted to individual contests . . . After the jousting came a day of rest during which the bards continued to entertain and the knights and ladies no doubt flirted and exchanged gallantries in the best courtly style of the day . . . With grand melee, the actual tournament came to an end . . . The violence of the main events had been kept to an acceptable level, no disasters had marred the festival atmosphere that had prevailed from beginning to end, the knights and ladies had danced, sung, and strolled together with much talk of courtly love . . .”(4)

        A poet describes how each knight rode up for the tournament and passed under the ladies’ gallery:  “He would sing ‘Helas, oh how shall I hear myself?  Love gives me no respite,’ while the ladies looking down at him would reply with a pretty little song, sung in chorus to give him a good heart.”(5)

        Within the SCA, as some of the spirit of history is recaptured, there are various types of favors or presentations to a fighter and several ways in which they may be exchanged.  Three will be discussed here.

        GESTURE -- As historically, there could be the veil or part of it, a glove, a ribbon, a length torn from the hem or trim of a garment, given to the fighter on the spur of the moment.  This could be for the day of a tourney, to express to the fighter the hope that there be no injuries, that he fight nobly, and that a quenching drink awaits with a smile when the bout is over.  Such a favor might be considered a gesture token for the day, perhaps from the lady of a household to the new member, perhaps (in the absence of the new fighter’s usual companion) to provide moral support and good cheer, perhaps from the seneschal or autocrat or baroness to an up-and-coming trainee who otherwise does not have a special someone.  At the end of the tourney, it is possible that the favor be returned, although it is likely that the fighter might ask to keep it.  (In the case of a married or otherwise unavailable fighter, it is most proper to consult with his/her chosen one to determine if offering the favor is acceptable to the beloved.  It usually is fine and appreciated as an expression of good will, as well as making the newer member feel welcomed.)

        There are some shire and baronial customs whereby a gesture token is given to every list participant.  These are usually decorated ribbons conveniently but thoughtfully produced in mass.  At a tourney, a princess once shredded an entire “tapestry” (actually, printed drapery stock) so that a strip could be offered to every participant whom she deemed courteous.  Others were encouraged to make similar gestures.  The fighters at that tourney resembled May Poles!

        NON-ROMANTIC -- Secondly, there is the special favor which has taken some bit of preparation, such as a prepared hemmed length of trim, a ribbon with some piece of jewelry sewn to it, the monogrammed handkerchief, the braided leather lanyard for the weapon, or something else that involves preparation and personal time.  This type of favor may be one that, for example, a young lady might offer to her favorite knight or baron or leader-figure or brother-figure.  There need not be a romantic connotation with a favor.  Possibly, a lady may wish to give a token of special esteem to another lady who is a fighter.  There are many possibilities here.

        BELOVED -- The kind of favor that a lady would make for her one chosen beloved is a third kind.  As well, a gentleman may create a unique favor for a lady of his choice.  Anyone may certainly present his/her colors to a non-combatant whose company they enjoy.  This kind of favor, depending on the relationship, can be brief, long term or eternal.  Perhaps this kind of favor would be the giver’s device placed onto a leather pouch or leather armor part, personal colors woven into a belt, a symbol meaningful to both of them embroidered upon a handkerchief, a length of crocheted work especially designed, a sleeve which matched her dress, or some needle- or bead-worked length to attach to his belt or be tied about his arm for all to see that she is his or he is hers, and on this occasion she is at his side to smile and offer him inspiration to fight well, as he is an honorable man.  There are multitudes of possibilities in  making favors of this nature or either of the first two mentioned.

        FOR GESTURE -- Giver:  “Would you this day accept these colors (or this token . . .) as a reminder that I wish you well and am proud to watch you do combat upon the field of battle?”  Receiver:  “I would be honored.”  Or something a little more elaborate such as “It honors me greatly to accept your colors (or token . . .) this day as an inspiration to fight in a chivalrous manner.”

        FOR NON-ROMANTIC -- Giver:  “It would please me greatly for you to accept this _____, which I have made especially for you to wear upon the field of battle as a reminder that I wish you well and am proud of you.”  (If applicable:  “Your own beloved has graciously permitted me to express unto you that I am honored to watch you fight valiantly.”)  Receiver:  “You do me honor to present this _____, which I shall cherish as a reminder of your esteem.”

        FOR BELOVED -- Giver:  “Wouldst thou take my colors, which I have made for thee in our symbol, to bear upon the combat field as a sign that you are my beloved, remembering that all we hold dear rides upon your honor?”  (Note:  not necessarily “upon your VICTORY.”)  Receiver:  For God, for you, for the homeland, for myself, with all my heart I accept thy colors for all to see that thou art my inspiration to fight nobly.”

        The making, giving and receiving of favors is fun and one of the ways in which SCA people can add a little ceremony and pomp to experiences at events.  If someone is a little uncertain about how to go about approaching someone to inquire about a favor, there are always plenty of old-timers around who would be more than happy to help.  What?  You’re bashful?  You don’t think this gentleman will accept?  Well, do we have news for you!  He’s on his way over to your pavilion to ask you if you have any little trinket he might wear!
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(1)  National Geographic Society, The Age of Chivalry, p. 224.
(2)  ibid.
(3)  Franklyn, John Tanner.  Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Heraldry, p. 223.
(4)  Rudorff, Raymond.  Knights of the Age of Chivalry, pp. 154-55.
(5)  ibid., p. 170.

    Ashley, Roscoe Lewis.  Early European Civilization.  MacMillan Co. New York.  1919.  pp. 339-340; 371-531
    Fox-Davies, A. C.  The Art of Heraldry: An Essay of Armoury.  Benjamin Bloom Inc.  New York.  1904.  p. 223
    Franklyn, John Tanner.  Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Heraldry.  Pergamon Press.  New York.  1970.  p. 223.
    Rudorff, Raymond.  Knights of the Age of Chivalry.  The Viking Press.  New York.  1974.  pp. 154-55; 170-72; 174-75.
    Boutell’s Heraldry.  Revised by Scott, C. W. (OBE, FHS, Fitzalan Pursuiant of Arms Extraordinare).  Fredrick Warne and Co., Ltd.  London.  1950.  p. 96
    National Geographic Society.  Grosvenor, Melville Bell; Editor-in-Chief of the Board.  The Age of Chivalry.  National Geographic Society.  Washington, D.C.  1969.  pp. 220-33

NOTE:  “Upon Giving Favors” originally appeared in Barony Bordermarch’s The Trumpeter, Vol. VI, Issues 5-6, Sept/Oct 1983, A.S. XVIII.  “Upon Giving and Receiving Favors” appeared in Tournaments Illuminated, No. 73, Winter A.S. XIX.