Chivalry in Croatia

Chivalry in Croatia

Development of Chivalry

Chivalry developed in the late 10th century, as the late Carolingian society transitioned into feudal one and when castles became seats of lords instead of just fortresses. Title of knight appeared first in 971., at least in feudal sense. Originally, knight (lat. Eques, fr. Chevalier, ger. Ritter) was a warrior on the horse, and with enough possessions to support that lifestyle. But as feudalism developed, knight became a title which was assigned at a ceremony, and former role of knight was taken over by men-at-arms. Knights and later men-at-arms were professional soldiers and a striking force of feudal armies.

In the beginning the access to knighthood was free for anyone who was able to buy the expensive equipment and keep a horse. With time however it got more and more limited to hereditary nobility. Knights most often joined the service of a senior, which allowed them sustinence as well as rewards in form of plunder and land (fief). Young noble had to serve until his 14th year as a page on the court of a noble where he received knightly upbringing. At 14 he would become a squire, and at 21 a knight. Ceremony was highly religious – after a fast and a vigil in a chapel, knight would be dressed into a knightly attire and receive marks of knighthood – sword and spurs, and would kneel in front of the ruler who would knight him by touching him with sword’s side at head and shoulders while speaking ritual words that would declare a knight.

Knightly age was at its peak in 11th to 14th centuries. In this time lie the origins of the knightly codes of honor, teatral and chivalrious behavior, and in general the way of life which aimed to make the upper classes worthy of their privileges. According to the medieval understanding, knights were to be fearless, honourable, and loyal to their king and the Church. They were to be pious, generous, bold, defenders of womens’ honour, of widows and the poor. Their achievments were preserved in story and song, idealized, and passed until today as legends. Most popular today is the legend of king Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, as well as the Holy Grail legend which had appeared around 1150. During the 15th century knighthood was in retreat, to finally fall by the wayside in the 16th century with military reforms centered around the firearms.

Development of Croatian Army

Croatian military during the national kings was a tribal army. It is not known how it was organized exactly, but it is likely that each tribe provided a military unit commanded by a duke. Below a duke were smaller nobles with their troupes, and so on. Overall commander was the king himself.

Following the death of king Zvonimir on 1089., Croatia came under the rule of Hungarian Arpad dynasty. Hungarian King Coloman managed in 1102. to reach an agreement (Pacta Conventa) with Croatian nobility, tying the chieftains of the twelve Croatian tribes as vassals, giving them in return very wide liberties. In addition to maintaining a normal tribal army, every tribe had the duty of equipping and maintaining ten armoured cavalryman for the royal army. To improve the administration, king Coloman organized – after the Hungarian model – first administrative units. These counties (županije) were headed by administrators (župani) which over time took over the role of organizing the defense.

In the second half of the 12th century the Byzantine Empire had conquered Dalmatia for a short time, showing that the king and the existing counties could not successfully defend the kingdom. Because of this, in 1193. king Bela III. (ruled 1172. – 1196.) gave county of Modruš to Krk duke Bartol and his successors in perpetuity, with the accompanying duty of raising ten armored cavalrymen for defensive campaigns and four cavalrymen for the offensive campaigns. From then on such donations became more frequent, gradually creating the Croatian nobility: Frankapans (Krk, Vinodol, Modruš), Nelipćić (Bribir, Cetinje), Omiš (Kačić), Krbava (Kurjaković), Blagaj (Babonić), Gorica, Vodice etc.

Process of feudalization of Croatia continued much like in the other European countries. King Andrew II (ruled 1205 – 1235) gave (in 1224) the fief of Klokoč to town of Gorica, under condition of raising 15 armored knights and 100 infantry. Municipality of Gradec at the hill of the same name (later part of Zagreb) was in 1242. given the status of free royal city with the duty of equipping 10 soldiers.

Following the Mongol invasion of 1241. – 1242., authority of ban (viceroy) as the main administrator of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia has strenghtened. Until the early 14th century, the honor of viceroy is hereditary and kept within the Croatian nobility. From the 14th century onwards, the viceroy is elected by the nobility.

At the Slavonian Council of 1273. (essentially a Parliament) it was decided that “…Should an enemy attack or army threaten the kingdom or should lord the King personally lead the army, then the nobles of the Kingdom of Slavonia, individuals and all, are required to join the army, but such that they are free to join the barons as they like…”. King Andrew III (ruled 1290. – 1301.) gave to ban Pavao of Bribir of the Šubić tribe for all times the “Coastal Banate”, with the obligation of raising an army of 500 troops. This was the beginning of the formation of banderial system of the army.

Strong tribal relations meant that development of feudalism in Croatia was lagging behind the Western Europe. Only with the king Charles Robert I. (1301. – 1342.) does Croatia begin a stronger feudalization. New king made the high nobility responsible for defense of the kingdom, providing them with holdings which were used to finance the troops. During the king Louis II. (1342. – 1382.) banderial organization had been finalized, achieving the shape and structure it would keep until the early 16th century and Battle of Mohacs. There were nine large banderia that formed the basis of the Croatian army: royal banderium, banderium of the viceroy of Slavonia, banderium of the viceroy of Croatia-Dalmatia, banderium of the Bishop of Zagreb, banderium of a prior of Vrana, banderium of Frankapans, banderium of Nelipići (dukes of Cetina), banderium of Kurjakovići (dukes of Krbava), banderium of Blagajski. These would be joined by the banderia of the counties as well as mercenaries (mostly siege experts).

Noble banderia were well-trained and well-equipped, comprised of anyone willing to serve and typically equipped by the lord who kept them. These retinues were fielded under the noble’s personal standard and leadership. These banners (banderia) were however a major threat to king’s authority, which was shown in 13th century when banderia played a large role in struggle for power after the death of the last Arpad king. Charles Angevin limited who exactly could raise the banderia, but banderia remained the primary source of troops for the kingdom until its dissolution in 1526. Banderium as a term could mean all the troops of a noble, or a unit of some 300 to 500 men.

Croatian Heraldry

Arrival of Charles I. Robert (1302. – 1342.) from the French dynasty of Anjou onto Croatian throne led to integration of Croatia into European medieval world. French Gothic and Italian Renaissance arrived with the king, as did the courtly hierarchy and knightly chivalry. Foundation of the knightly order of St. Juraj introduced chivalry to Croatian nobility, including the tourneys. Just as on other European courts, heralds were responsible for the ceremony and organization of the tournaments. After appearance of the family coats of arms in the early 13th century, heralds also became responsible for systematization of the coats of arms, such as control, creation and keeping track of various coats of arms. This then became a science of heraldry.

By the end of the 15th century, heraldic rules were fairly similar in all European states and very strictly regulated. This is the time of the living heraldry, but in early 16th century European heraldry becomes freer with choice of figures and colors, abandoning the strict rules – the era of dead heraldry. Oldest coats of arms of the Croatian nobility are from Dalmatia, where they had appeared in 13th century under influence of the Italian and French nobility.

Nobility displayed their coats of arms on the banners, equipment, civilian clothing and uniforms, everyday objects, buildings and on documents. This was partly due to illiteracy, and so the stamp with a coat of arms served as a signature.

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