Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)

Chivalry, The Age of.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

There is no more baseless historical myth than that of a mediaeval Age of Chivalry, yet literary men and editorial writers always refer to it as if it were as solidly established as the French Revolution. Not a single modern authority on the period (about 1100-1400), in either England, France, Germany, Italy, or Spain, recognizes such a development, and the leading works of reference which yield to religious sentiment by including a notice of it (the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, and in this case even the Cambridge Mediaeval History) had to entrust the writing to romantic authors with no historical status whatever. Even Hilaire Belloc, who covers the period in the second volume of his larger History of England (4 vols., 1925), does not deign to mention the myth, and certainly describes no chivalry. All the standard authorities characterize the period as, precisely in the noble and knightly class of both sexes, sodden with vice, violence, theft, and corruption. Many, indeed, describe it as, particularly in regard to sex, the worst period in the history of civilization. In the case of England the Catholic historian Lingard (History of England, 14 vols., 1823-31) is as severe as Freeman, Green, Traill's Social England, or (apart from the totally unrepresentative short chapter on chivalry) the Cambridge Mediaeval History (7 vols., 1911-32). The highest authority on France at this time, Professor Luchaire, is even more scathing in his Social France at the Time of Philip Augustus (Engl. trans. 1912) and in Lavisse's large Histoire de France (1901, vol.111). For Germany Giesebrecht (6 vols., 1874), Hauck (5 vols., 1912), Quanter (1925), Prof. J. W. Thompson (Feudal Germany, 1928), and H. A. L. Fisher (Mediaeval Empire, 2 vols., 1898) tell the same story; and the classic works of Symonds, Burckhardt, and Gregorovius give an even worse account of morals in mediaeval Italy. Special authorities (Anglade, Gautier, Méray, Nyrop, Krabbes, Rowbotham, etc.) on the troubadours, writers, and women of the so-called Age of Chivalry are agreed that the period was never surpassed, if ever equalled, in history for its licence of life and literature and the hard aggressiveness of its women (young or matrons). The recent work of D. de Rougemont (Passion and Society, 1940), claiming that the troubadours were pious mystics, is fantastic and negligible. No such thing as a knight-errant is described in the contemporary chronicles, and the religious Orders of Knights (Templars, etc.) speedily became as corrupt as the others. Bayard and the few real representatives of a code of chivalry - Richard the Lion-Heart, the Cid, etc., were brutal and treacherous - lived long after the period was over. Romantic writers are apt to quote a mutilated passage from the French historian Guizot, but he in fact agrees that it was the worst period on record (History of Civilization, III, 114). The myth was started in the seventeenth century by two French genealogists and sycophants of the nobility, Vulson and Menstrier, and it owes its extraordinary success to its complete falsification of the character of the Catholic period. Undisputed as the facts are, there is not a single work, in any language, to recommend on the true character of the mediaeval knights and their wives and daughters, whose conduct in the overwhelming majority of their class was the exact opposite of what we call chivalry. The symposium Chivalry (1928), edited by Prof. Prestage, is a scrap-book of sketches, but acknowledges the general brutality and licence.


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