Chivalry

before and in the name of God; the sacredness of the vow placed a heavier burden on the Christian knight than did any secular oath or promise he might have made. The swearing of oaths was also a part of secular judicial practice and, in that manner, came to be incorporated into the chivalric literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Chivalric oaths came in a variety of forms: They were statements of duty sworn to someone, as in Arthurian literature, where the knights swear loyalty to King Arthur; they were sworn against someone, as in the Song of Roland, in which Roland swears to make the Saracens suffer for every Frank who is killed; or they were personal vows of intent, as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which the knightly hero vows to accept the Green Knight's challenge.

The oaths or vows of chivalry have their origins in the Germanic warrior ethos, in which oaths and heroic boasting (and the two were closely linked) were an integral part of the warrior culture; and as such, oaths also played an integral part in warrior literature. Even before the codes of chivalry were articulated (beginning in the 12th century), Anglo-Saxon literature was filled with tales of warriors swearing oaths, promises of brave deeds to come, and vows of loyalty to chief and tribe. The swearing of oaths in Anglo-Saxon poetry, such as Judith or The Battle of Maldon, provided a way for poets to convey the extent to which warfare, and the obligations it placed on the warrior class, held the society together. The swearing of oaths, particularly before or during a battle, created a communal identity for the oath-takers. The use of oaths, either prechivalry or chi-valric proper, reinforced the warrior culture as the ideal social order. It was also a way for characters to establish social boundaries between the oath-taker and the oath-giver, while Renaissance poets added another layer to the oaths. In the great age of patronage, they often dedicated their works to specific (albeit sometimes unnamed) patrons, which were often written as oaths in poetic form, echoing the chivalric oaths that sometimes appeared within the works in question.

See also Anglo-Saxon poetry.

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