Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn.
And I dream of what I need.
I need a hero, I’m holding out for a hero.
‘Til the end of the night.
He’s gotta be strong.
And he’s gotta be fast.
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight.
So sings Bonnie Tyler and admit it, this is what most adolescent girls, and even many adult women, yearn for, isn’t it? In movies, knights in shining armour are the order of the day. Be they the metaphorical knights in love stories, who save damsels in distress from semi-perilous or uncomfortable situations, or actual medieval knights jousting during festive tourneys or challenges.
Real war however, is very different. Actual knights during medieval times were war machines. They were men trained to kill, men trained to obey orders, men following a cause. Training to murder someone in the name of honour is a paradox. At least, that’s how we perceive it in this day and age – when the death penalty is a subject which promotes controversy, as are issues such as suicide and euthanasia. At the time, it was the most common thing in the world however – something which, I think, people of our age can never fully comprehend. That is how much the concept of killing has changed.
From the youngest age, Maltese children are all taught their historical background as Maltese citizens at school. We are told about the glorious Knights Hospitallers of Saint John, who came to Malta after battling in the crusades, and established the different auberges in Birgu and then in Valletta. Most importantly, we are taught about the Grand Siege, when the Knights and the Maltese battled against the Turks, who wanted to invade our islands. These are our roots and it is what we are made of. The blood and the sweat of those who fought in the name of freedom, will never be forgotten. And yet, do we really know what that means?
Yesterday, I started researching and reading a bit about the Order of Saint John in Malta, and I remembered certain things which at the time, did not seem important to a child’s mind, but which now have different connotations. I read and remembered that they are the oldest Order of Knights still in existence, that they were rivals with the Order of the Templars, and that while they were in Malta, since a large percentage of their income had been reduced for a number of reasons, they turned into smugglers and corsairs, that is pirates who raided Turkish towns upon the coast of North Africa, and then sold the plunder they took.
Knights turned pirates, warrior monks battling Turks … it all seems like a glamorous movie doesn’t it? Well, it was no movie, it was real life. And the harsh truth is that life is hard, and when your sustenance is compromised, honour tends to be forgotten in the face of want and hardship, and even honourable knights who have achieved glorious feats, have to face the cold facts and change their tune in order to put some bread on the table.
Where does that leave us regarding the so-called ‘Knight in Shining Armour’ which so many women unrealistically dream about? Is every knight who professes his undying love, secretly hiding a raving corsair underneath his helmet? The truth is less romantic than the stories portrayed by the media. Nothing is absolutely black or white. We should not expect our partner to be infallible and flawless, nor however should we perceive every man to be cold and cruel. Real knights, real people, are always something in between. No one should be put on a pedestal because, like the Knights of Saint John, you never know when and how the wheel will turn, and you never know what you might need to become in order to survive.