Courtesy

Anne Atwell-Zoll and Charles Cameron

A WaterBird Game


Move 1: Annie plays "Roy-qui-ne-ment" in position 2

"Roy-qui-ne-ment" (i.e.,: "The-King-who-doesn't-lie"): a game played by persons of quality in the 15th century. One member of the party asks another questions -- often indelicate questions designed to provoke laughter by their phrasing and the answers they are intended to elicit -- and truthful answers must be given. Afterwards, the person who had answered the questions was allowed to select (by random strings) from a ragbag a roll of verse which described the good or evil characteristics of their questioner.



Move 2: Charles plays "Glastonbury" in position 7

Legend has it that shortly after Christ's burial and resurrection, Joseph of Arimathea (Matt 27: 57- 60) took the sea-route to the tin-mines of Cornwall, and journeyed from thence to Glastonbury (Ynis Gutrin or Glass Island), where he planted his staff (a thorn which flowers each Christmas), buried the cup in which Christ's blood had been caught at the crucifixion (the Grail), and built the first church in Christendom...

A second level of the legend suggests that Glastonbury was also the Isle of Avalon, which served as the "Once and Future King" Arthur's final resting-place, from which the good people of Britain confidently expected he would one day return. Henry II apparently went so far as to order the monks of Glastonbury to excavate their cemetery, and the remains of Arthur and his Queen were reportedly found and identified...



Move 3: Annie plays "Flat Holm" in position 10

This mile-long Welsh island off the shore of Glamorgan is, like Glastonbury, in some ways a bit of a mirage. From a distance, it can appear green and benign, but if you visit the island, its melancholy past seems to roil up before you: it has been both a fortress and a cholera hospital. Earlier in its history, a platoon of Danes was once left to starve on its shores. The knights who murdered of Thomas a Becket on Henry II's orders are said to have been buried on Flat Holm.



Move 4: Charles plays "Murder in the Cathedral" in position 6

TS Eliot's play, *Murder in the Cathedral*, deals with the killing of Thomas a Becket in a way that connects interestingly with the idea of "Roy-qui-ne-ment". The play supposes that Becket might have two very different motives for accepting death at the hands of the knights. He might do it because he perceives that his death will be viewed as a martyrdom, and he will gain an undying glory by his death... or he might do it because in the purity of his heart he must stand up for the Church against the King, asserting the primacy of the Kingdom of Heaven...

What makes the play so interesting is that fact that in either case he will die the same death -- indeed the Tempter who tempts him with the prospect of a glorious martyrdom, and the still small voice of conscience which prompts him to give his life in service to his Christ, speak the identical words:

You know and do not know, that action is suffering,
And suffering is action. Neither does the actor suffer
Nor the patient act. But both are fixed
In an eternal action, an eternal patience
To which all must consent that it may be willed
And which all must suffer that they may will it,
That the pattern may subsist, that the wheel may turn and still
Be forever still.

The difference, then, is not between two actions, nor even between the two different forms of words -- but only between two possible motives for those words and that action. For to go to his death in hope of martyrdom would be a "lie", in that it would involve him being unfaithful to his spiritual task, while to go to it in obedience to spiritual necessity would be a "truth", in that it would be the fruit of his faithfulness...



Move 5: Annie plays "The Tower of London" in position 4.

This massive piece in the chessboard of history fits nicely here. It's one of the bloodiest of historic sites -- many royal and saintly people have gone to their deaths within its walls. As in the game of "Roy-qui-ne-ment", those imprisoned in the Tower have been asked many probing questions, and the strings of fate pulled here have often led to their deaths...

Thomas-a-Becket wasn't murdered in the Tower, of course, but apparently he haunts it all the same. Henry II's grandson Henry III ordered the construction of a new tower and watergate in the precincts, but the project was destroyed twice -- once by a severe storm, and then again with no apparent explanation, except that of a priest who said he had seen Becket's ghost battering away at the stonework with his crozier...



Move 6: Charles plays "Truth or Consequences" in position 1

The game of "Truth or Consequences" sounds quite similar to the game of "Roy-qui-ne-ment" -- but I play it here with a wink to Annie, whose brother-in-law Manny used to live in the little town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

There's something neat about a game that gives its name to a town, and something even neater about the idea of living in Truth or Consequences... We all do, of course: but how many of us are reminded of it every time we write or receive a letter?



Move 7: Annie plays "Sir Gawain" in position 3

Sir Gawain, one of the noblest knights of the Round Table, once had what amounts to a game of "Truth or Consequences" to play himself. According to *The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell*, he was forced to marry this seemingly old and horribly ugly old woman, but found that at night she was ravishingly beautiful. She then gave him a choice: she could either be ugly by day and beautiful by night (in which case they would both suffer the pity and derision of the court, but in the privacy of the bedroom Gawain would delight in her beauty) -- or she could be lovely by day (in which case Gawain would be the envy of his fellow knights, and she would escape the pointed barbs of the other ladies of the court) and hideous by night...

Gawain kisses Dame Ragnell and allows *her* to choose -- and it is this courtly deference to the woman's choice which breaks the enchantment she has suffered under. For it turns out that she was always a beautiful woman, but was made to appear ugly by a spell cast by her stepmother, which could only be broken by "marriage to the best man of England" and his acceptance of her sovereignty of "all his body and goodes". Since Gawain fulfils these requirements, she is released from the spell, and is able to be beautiful both by day and by night.



Move 8: Charles plays "Courtesy" in position 5

In Chaucer's variant telling of the "Wedding of Gawain" story in his "Wife of Bath's Tale", it is an unnamed knight of King Arthur's court who must marry the Loathly Lady (linking this move with "Sir Gawain" in position 3).

This knight has committed rape -- a crime of male brutality against female virtue -- and is about to lose his head. But since the crime is one touching the matter of womanhood, the queen and ladies of the court ask to be allowed to try the case, and it is turned over to them. Their sentence is that the knight should have a year and a day in which to find out what it is that all women wish for, and lose his head if he cannot provide a satisfactory answer at the end of that time.

After a year of searching for the answer to this question, during the course of which he is given many different and even contradictory answers by different women, our knight is approached by a woman of surpassing ugliness who offers to tell him the answer on the condition that he will marry her if her suggestion satisfies the queen and court. Her answer is that all women wish to have dominion over their husbands. Sir knight gives this answer to the court, and none of the ladies present can disagree with it, so he is pardoned for his rape -- but the Loathly Lady then approaches the court, demanding that he take her hand in marriage.

On their wedding night, the groom turns quickly away from his bride, but she insists on her conjugal rights, and when he eventually turns toward her he perceives her to be of a peerless beauty. She then offers him the choice of having her beautiful by day and loathly by night, or loathly by day and beautiful by night -- he, meanwhile, has learned his lesson about wives wanting dominion over their husbands well enough that he asks her to make the choice.

At which point she is delighted, and announces that she will be lovely by day and by night.

I find this story to be somewhat in the spirit of Andreas Capellanus' (possibly fictional) description of the Courts of Love held by Eleanor of Aquitaine and her ladies at Poitiers. Our knight has learned a lesson in courtesy -- which I take to consist of the three ascending orders of gentility, nobility, and royalty, as the court itself consists likewise of the ascending orders of gentlefolk, nobles and royals.

Arthur's court at Avalon can be seen as expressing precisely these virtues of gentility, nobility, and royalty, and the common equation of Avalon with Glastonbury in mediaeval times gives me the needed link with "Glastonbury" in position 7.



Move 9: Annie plays "King Charles I" in position 8

Like Sir Gawain, Charles I was known as a courtly man (link with position 5) . His manner was urbane, polite and unfailingly elegant -- as was his choice of dress.

Charles I believed deeply in the truth of the concept of "The Divine Right of Kings", and indeed faced the consequences of his stubborn refusal to give up this belief ("Truth or Consequences", position 1). After the Civil War -- in which the loyalist "Cavaliers" were defeated by Oliver Cromwell's "Roundhead" army, he was imprisoned in the Tower (position 4), and finally beheaded (link with "Sir Gawain" at position 3 via another Gawain story, that of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight").

Charles I's relationship with his Queen bears some resemblance to *The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell* (position 3) and the *Wife of Bath's Tale* (position 5). Charles and Henrietta did not care much for each other at first. He was oblivious to the great loveliness which caused others to proclaim her one of the most beautiful women of Europe: but in his courtly manner, he allowed Henrietta to "have her head", and in watching her development as an intelligent and loyal woman, came to fall in love with his own wife -- and she with him. Theirs was indeed a marriage where love blossomed out of courtesy.

And this courtly, artistic, albeit stubborn and opinionated man, Charles I, who died for his belief, his principle, would have been hard pressed to conceive of a king who *could* lie, so truly was he himself "un Roy-qui-ne-ment-pas" (position 2).



Move 10: Charles plays "HRH" in position 9

The son and heir of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second -- Defender of the Faith, sovereign ruler of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland -- was baptized Charles Philip Arthur George, and is by right of title Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall.

As Prince of Wales, he is Flat Holm's prince (position 10). Should he succeed to the throne and keep his name Charles, he would be the third of that name, linking with Charles I (at position 8), though a prince may change his name on his accession: his name Arthur in any case links him to Sir Gawain (position 3) and Glastonbury (position 7). The regalia of the coronation are presently kept in the Tower of London (position 4), and it will be the Archbishop of Canterbury (Murder in the Cathedral in position 6) who will perform the ceremony.

More interesting, perhaps, are the links with Courtesy (position 5) and Roy-qui-ne-ment (position 2). Annie notes that in the game of Roy-qui-ne-ment, a person of quality is asked "indelicate questions designed to provoke laughter by their phrasing and the answers they are intended to elicit -- and truthful answers must be given" -- while courtesy, on the other hand, demands delicacy and silence. To my mind, HRH's unfortunate marriage has been in large manner a clash between the two opposing sets of values implicit in these two moves, and Prince Charles has in large degree handled the matter with courtesy...



Courtesy

Anne Atwell-Zoll and Charles Cameron, A WaterBird Game


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