The Cowboy Code Meets the Medieval Code of Chivalry By Janalyn Voigt
The worlds of knights and chivalry and the cowboy code of the American West seem quite different, but I’ve noticed striking similarities. Both inhabit feudalistic cultures set on frontiers during times where law-and-order wasn’t yet established. And both developed unwritten codes of honor that sprang up to sustain civilized life.
I write fantasy novels. Wayfarer (left) is my newest, to be released January 3rd (see special offer below). Stephen Bly wrote western novels. So, what do we have in common?
I’ve always had a thing about flying. As a child I cheered for Dumbo, who proved he didn’t need anyone else’s approval or even a magic feather to soar. You see, Dumbo was a little different. His ears were too big. This made him an object of ridicule, but he silenced his tormentors by believing in himself. That’s a struggle I understand on a gut level and a path I’ve trod.
My interest in flying was not limited to storybook elephants, though. How I longed to soar with Peter Pan into a land of strange and wonderful adventures where children didn’t have to grow up. Looking back as an adult with grown-up responsibilities, I sometimes wonder if Peter wasn’t on to something. There will always be a part of me that holds out for Neverland.
I would have loved to ride Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology who struck a hoof to the ground to create a spring which ran poetry. It naturally followed that winged horses would fly through the pages of DawnSinger , my debut novel and the first installment in my Tales of Faeraven epic fantasy trilogy. I based the world within DawnSinger and Wayfarer, book two in the series, on 13th Century Europe.
So, what’s a medieval fantasy novelist doing on a Stephen Bly western author blog?
|History has an equal hold on me, and this is my father’s fault, too. Many a Sunday afternoon I spent in front of the TV beside him, watching cowboy code western movies. My mother couldn’t understand the appeal, but she went with us to the California ghost town of Columbia and even boarded the stagecoach. I’ll never forget riding shotgun for that stagecoach, which of course was robbed along the way. I rode it again as an adult. Wouldn’t you know another outlaw lie in wait for the hapless lookouts (my daughter and nephew).|
The Cowboy Code
Western writer Zane Grey first described a cowboy code common standard of morality in his 1934 novel The Code of the West. In 1947 Gene Autry identified what he called the Cowboy Code in existence since the previous century. Old West cowboys expected to display fairness, fidelity, honesty, patience, cleanliness, and integrity. They championed the weak and showed kindness to women, children, and the elderly. They did not hold governing laws in as much esteem as their own cowboy code. Anyone who broke faith with the code of the west would receive ostracism, ridicule, and punishment. In her autobiographical book, No Life For A Lady, Agnes Morley Cleaveland describes meeting an outlaw on the run as a young girl when she traveled home on horseback after dark. The man sat on a winded horse as he greeted her and let her pass without incident. He could have taken her fresh horse and escaped that night to Mexico. But he paid the ultimate price for his unwillingness to frighten a young girl. By dawn a posse member’s bullet ended his life.
Cowboy Code of the West
There was not a single code of the west, but many a cowboy code that evolved by necessity from one western town to another. A summary of the most common Old West codes include:
- Never ask a man about his past.
- Theft of a horse is punishable by death.
- Look after yourself and those you love.
- Remove guns before sitting down to dine.
- Only make a threat if you’re prepared to take the consequences.
- On the trail, greet others before you come into shooting range, especially when approaching from behind.
- When greeting a person on horseback, nod rather than wave to avoid spooking the horse.
- Looking back at someone you pass on the trail implies a lack of trust.
- Riding a horse without permission is akin to violating his wife.
- A real cowman saves his breath for breathing rather than talking.
- Tend your horse’s needs before your own.
- Never cuss in front of a woman.
- Complaining about cooking earns you a stint as cook.
- Help those in need, even enemies.
- Never steal another man’s hat.
- Show hospitality to strangers.
- Fight fair.
- To avoid being shot, never shake a sleeping man awake.
- Help a friend in need.
- Never brag.
- Be loyal.
- Be grateful.
- Don’t complain.
- Never quit.
- Show your grit.
- Never shoot an unarmed man.
- Never shoot a woman.
- Let your word be your bond.
- Uphold the Golden Rule.
The Medieval Code of Chivalry
Chivalry evolved from the Old French chevalerie, which meant “noble knight” combined with the Medieval Latin caballarius, or “horseman.” It originally applied only to knights but in the 14th Century became the unspoken creed of the general populace. The Code of Chivalry is based on The Song of Roland, also known as Charlemagne’s Code of Chivalry, that outlined the duty of a knight. The oaths of fealty , ceremonial pledges taken by knights to pledge themselves to their liege lords, melded with this code of conduct. Bards idealized chivalry through poetry, ballads, and literature. The knight expected to suffer divine consequences should he falter in his duty.
Like the cowboy code of the west, the medieval code of chivalry rose spontaneously in disparate areas. So variations existed. However, a common theme emerged, as outlined, below.
- Fear God.
- Be faithful to the church.
- Serve his liege lord.
- Protect the weak.
- Help widows and orphans.
- Avoid giving offense.
- Live with honor and for glory without monetary reward.
- Fight for countrymen.
- Obey authority.
- Guard the integrity of fellow-knights.
- Reject iniquity.
- Love truth.
- Remain pure in heart, mind, and body.
- Persevere in duty.
- Uphold the honor of women.
- Never shrink from the challenge of an equal.
- Valiantly engage foes.
Cowboy Code of the West and Code of Chivalry Similarities
In many ways, the cowboy code of the west parallels the code of chivalry adopted by medieval knights. The focus was on hating evil and leading lives of purity, honesty, integrity, fairness, and honor. Women were revered. The weak and poor, including widows, elders, and fatherless children could find champions. The Bible held similar precepts.
Gone are the days of knights on war horses. The heyday of Old West cowboys riding across open range has passed. And yet, the spirit of the codes they followed remains alive. As a writer of fantasy novels that extol these virtues, I have noticed great interest from my readers in the old codes. On a gut level we crave codes of honor.
Cowboy Code Meets the Medieval Code of Chivalry CLICK TO TWEET
Find Wayfarer at these links:
Other blogs featuring articles by Janalyn Voigt about Wayfarer:
Lynn Donovan (Sitting on the Front Porch) What I Discovered in the Vale of Shadows
Sarah Grimm (Naturally Grimm) An Accidental Meeting by an Author with a Character CLICK TO TWEET
Lisa Lickel (Living Our Faith Out Loud) The Not-Quite-Safe Fantasy Creatures of Tales of Faeraven CLICK TO TWEET
Kristen Stieffel (New Author’s Fellowship) The Challenges of Writing the Second Book in a Series CLICK TO TWEET
What I Discovered in the Vale of Shadows by @JanalynVoigt CLICK TO TWEET
DawnSinger: A headstrong young princess and the guardian sworn to protect her fly on winged horses to the Gate of Life above the Well of Light. They’re desperate to release the DawnKing, and the salvation he offers, into a divided land. Will they each learn in time sometimes victory comes only through surrender?
WayFarer: When an untried youth ascends to the high throne of Faeraven, his mistakes tear kingdoms apart. He has one chance at redemption. Will he humble himself before the man he banished?
About Fantasy Author Janalyn Voigt
As children, my older brother and I would beg my father for bedtime stories. His deep voice rumbled against my ear at his chest as he unfolded stories of exotic places like Oz and Neverland. My imagination carried on with the tales even after he closed the book for the night. When he stopped reading stories, I began creating my own.
|Within a few years I’d become storyteller of my neighborhood. The other children would gather in a circle on our lawn while I invented stories to entertain them. No one, including myself, thought of this as anything unusual. It wasn’t until my sixth-grade teacher pointed out my ability to spin a tale that I and my parents took note. This is how at the age of twelve I decided to become a novelist. At it turns out, the fulfillment of that dream took a few more years than planned.Find out more about Janalyn Voigt, her closet writing office, and her novels at author website: Janalyn Voigt|
Here’s the WayFarer fantasy novel YouTube Book Trailer:
Old West Legends – The Code of the West: http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-codewest.html
“A man’s got to have a code, a creed to live by, no matter his job.” John Wayne
Reminding us of the Virtues, Ethics, and Moral Codes defined by ‘The Code of the West‘: http://thecodeofthewest.com/ … The Code of the West is the classic American code of ethics created out of necessity by the pioneers of the western frontier.