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Can Parents Use History to Teach Children Modern Manners?

09/07/2013 11:07 BST | Updated 07/09/2013 10:12 BST

Anyone who has ever stood in the aisle of a supermarket watching a furious toddler screaming and hammering their fists on the floor at the injustice of not getting exactly what they want at all times has an idea of what life was like around a mediaeval king.

Of course the choices facing a toddler's parent and a king are rather different. Where a toddler can be picked up and marched out of the shop, mediaeval kings had to be more circumspect in their chiding of the overmighty knights who were their equivalent. Knights were problematic. They had wealth and power, were highly trained and armed with the latest weaponry. In a world without police forces what was to stop them getting exactly what they wanted at all times? The answer lay with the chivalric code.

The code which governed how knights should behave towards each other, their rulers and the vulnerable grew out of idealised romances such as the c11thc century Song of Roland which describes a battle during the reign of Charlemagne in 778AD. In these epics the rules of knighthood were laid down, rules which have travelled down the centuries and which dictate how the powerful should behave. The question is, does this idea of chivalry still exist and do we even want it to?

At this point a rather unlikely knight rides into the story. Mike the Knight is a CG animation for pre-schoolers in which a knight in training (Mike) and his little sister (Evie) go on adventures in which they learn the right and knightly way to behave. To celebrate the launch of the new series on CBeebies I was asked to see if the original mediaeval knights code could be updated to something a modern toddler might understand and whether their parents have any interest in their children behaving chivalrously in the first place.

So how do you adapt the Song of Roland for three year olds? Surprisingly simply as a matter of fact. Most of the injunctions in the various chivalrous codes from mediaeval literature are reasonably straightforward. Firstly a knight should protect the weak and defenceless which translates into the pre-school playground as simply helping those smaller than yourself. To eschew meanness, unfairness and deceit is no more than a call to share, play fair and never cheat. In fact any teacher would recognize much of the code as something they regularly ask their class for. Helping your lord don his armour is perhaps a harder fit but learning to put your own clothes on amounts to much the same.

But do parents have any interest in chivalry today? Surprisingly perhaps some commissioned market research for the series suggested over 90% of parents did still believe that a code designed for truculent knights had a place in the modern world but worried that it was not as practised as widely as before. 78% of parents said they actively encouraged their children to be chivalrous but rather shamefully only 66% of them would themselves give up their comfy recliner for a pregnant woman. It would seem that some parents are very much in favour of chivalry in others. Of all the knightly values parents most valued courtesy, that essential mediaeval safety valve that prevented a knight getting on his high horse (literally) at the first hint of disagreement. In a world where child safety is permanently on the news agenda it's perhaps not surprising that bravery has fallen out of favour as a quality their children should have with less than a third of parents rating this. More surprising is the least valued quality. Of all the values that once marked out knights and which have, in some form or the other, been passed down to us, only 12% of modern parents thought that perseverance was important for their children. In an age of instant gratification the most celebrated of all knightly attributes, the will to never give up, the value behind the quest for the Holy Grail itself, would seem to be just that bit too difficult. Perhaps Mike the Knight can help a new generation restore this questing spirit - even if just means eating up all their peas!

For more information on the code visit www.miketheknight.com

Anyone who has ever stood in the aisle of a supermarket watching a furious toddler screaming and hammering their fists on the floor at the injustice of not getting exactly what they want at all times has an idea of what life was like around a mediaeval king.

Of course the choices facing a toddler's parent and a king are rather different. Where a toddler can be picked up and marched out of the shop, mediaeval kings had to be more circumspect in their chiding of the overmighty knights who were their equivalent. Knights were problematic. They had wealth and power, were highly trained and armed with the latest weaponry. In a world without police forces what was to stop them getting exactly what they wanted at all times? The answer lay with the chivalric code.

The code which governed how knights should behave towards each other, their rulers and the vulnerable grew out of idealised romances such as the c11thc century Song of Roland which describes a battle during the reign of Charlemagne in 778AD. In these epics the rules of knighthood were laid down, rules which have travelled down the centuries and which dictate how the powerful should behave. The question is, does this idea of chivalry still exist and do we even want it to?

At this point a rather unlikely knight rides into the story. Mike the Knight is a CG animation for pre-schoolers in which a knight in training (Mike) and his little sister (Evie) go on adventures in which they learn the right and knightly way to behave. To celebrate the launch of the new series on CBeebies I was asked to see if the original mediaeval knights code could be updated to something a modern toddler might understand and whether their parents have any interest in their children behaving chivalrously in the first place.

So how do you adapt the Song of Roland for three year olds? Surprisingly simply as a matter of fact. Most of the injunctions in the various chivalrous codes from mediaeval literature are reasonably straightforward. Firstly a knight should protect the weak and defenceless which translates into the pre-school playground as simply helping those smaller than yourself. To eschew meanness, unfairness and deceit is no more than a call to share, play fair and never cheat. In fact any teacher would recognize much of the code as something they regularly ask their class for. Helping your lord don his armour is perhaps a harder fit but learning to put your own clothes on amounts to much the same.

But do parents have any interest in chivalry today? Surprisingly perhaps some commissioned market research for the series suggested over 90% of parents did still believe that a code designed for truculent knights had a place in the modern world but worried that it was not as practised as widely as before. 78% of parents said they actively encouraged their children to be chivalrous but rather shamefully only 66% of them would themselves give up their comfy recliner for a pregnant woman. It would seem that some parents are very much in favour of chivalry in others. Of all the knightly values parents most valued courtesy, that essential mediaeval safety valve that prevented a knight getting on his high horse (literally) at the first hint of disagreement. In a world where child safety is permanently on the news agenda it's perhaps not surprising that bravery has fallen out of favour as a quality their children should have with less than a third of parents rating this. More surprising is the least valued quality. Of all the values that once marked out knights and which have, in some form or the other, been passed down to us, only 12% of modern parents thought that perseverance was important for their children. In an age of instant gratification the most celebrated of all knightly attributes, the will to never give up, the value behind the quest for the Holy Grail itself, would seem to be just that bit too difficult. Perhaps Mike the Knight can help a new generation restore this questing spirit - even if just means eating up all their peas!

For more information on the code visit