The Peacock Vow

IT'S THE FIRST DAY OF 2015. I’m throwing caution to the wind, again, and not eating black-eyed peas. However, I do feel compelled take part in some new-year traditions, to make some sort of resolution(s).

Resolution-making has a long, rich tradition. For centuries people have been setting themselves up for failure with promises to eat less, exercise more, blah, blah… According to the most popular resolutions in 2015 will include: Lose weight, Volunteer to help others, Quit smoking, Get fit, Eat healthier, Manage debt, Take a trip, Drink less Alcohol, and Reduce, reuse and recycle.

But let’s go back a few hundred years, in the Medieval era, knights took the "peacock vow" at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.[Lennox, Doug (2007). Now You Know Big Book of Answers.]

Now there’s a resolution I can get on board with: reaffirming my commitment to chivalry. It’s vague enough to make it difficult to measure success (or lack of it). It’s enigmatic enough to sound well-thought-through without knowing what the heck I’m talking about.

If Chivalry Is Dead, Don’t Blame Me

It was in the midst of my first coming-of-age that the feminist movement made chivalry obsolete, even an affront to some women. I do remember, however a time in junior high. I held a door open for a new and very pretty young teacher at our school. She said, “Thank you. It’s good to know that chivalry is not dead.”

I was very happy to be seen by her as chivalrous even though I didn’t know what chivalry was. I tried to look it up in the dictionary but I didn’t even know how to spell it. Apparently, though I was helping keep it alive and that was appreciated by some.

So what is it? The sum of the ideal qualifications of a knight, including courtesy, generosity, valor, and dexterity in arms. From my Oxford American Thesaurus for Writers, other words for chivalry include: gentlemanliness, courtesy, courteousness, politeness, graciousness, mannerliness, good manners.

Sounds to me like that’s some stuff we could use today, but is it dead?

The pronouncedly masculine virtues of chivalry came under attack on the parts of the upper-class suffragettes campaigning for gender equality in the early 20th century, and with the decline of the military ideals of duelling culture and of European aristocracies in general following the catastrophe of World War I, the ideals of chivalry became widely seen as outmoded by the mid-20th century. [Wikipedia]

I know this about myself: if nothing else, I am at least outmoded. So, I’m going to embrace the Vow of the Peacock and resolve to be more chivalrous in 2015.

Of course I will need the help of my maiden, the Amazing-Missus, in stitching me up a pennant to bear as I go forward on my quest.

Depiction of chivalric ideals in Romanticism, Stitching the Standard is a painting by British artist Edmund Leighton. It depicts a nameless damsel on the battlements of a medieval castle making the finishing touches to a standard or pennant with a black eagle on a gold background, preparing for a knight to go to war. In a time of peace the woman has taken her needlework into the daylight away from the bustle of the castle.