The Early Medieval Code of Honor

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher looks at the early medieval code of honor in ancient, Celtic Ireland. That such a code exists is one more reason why writing about the era is attractive for Christian historical fiction and Christian fantasy.

The Early Medieval Code of Honor

Celtic+high+kingA medieval code of honor prevailed among the nobility of some, but not all, medieval cultures. Especially in fifth century Celtic, Ireland—my current writing era—the qualities men admired most were honor, bravery, loyalty, hospitality, and generosity. Mind you, this is long before the age of chivalry brought about by Christianity.

We don’t pretend the medieval era was some kind of paradise. It wasn’t. But even before Christianity arrived, God’s Moral Law—the knowledge of good and evil born within each of us—shines through in our list of moral ideals. Let’s itemize them:

  • Honor: Embracing truth and rejecting falsehood, maintaining personal integrity, being a man or woman of your word—these virtues were highly prized.
  • Bravery: When death or danger approached, the brave man didn’t flinch, but joined the battle or stood his ground.
  • Loyalty: When a man pledged fidelity to a lord or friend, he stood by that person, no matter what happened.
  • Hospitality: Long before they heard about Christ, they practiced the Christian virtue of hospitality, extending welcome and kindness to strangers and foreigners. (See Hebrews 13:2)
  • Generosity: Being generous with praise and goods to guests and underlings was highly valued. A king would be dishonored if his reputation didn’t include generosity.
  • Handsomeness: Okay, this is rather superficial, but personal beauty was held in high esteem. Given that the average lifespan was less than 32 years, the population was young.


Of course, everyone in the ancient world didn’t practice these ideals. Many are the tales of perfidy, deceit, and evil doings. But those who violated these idealswere not viewed as honorable men.

For the story writer, these virtues become rich material for heroes and villains. They give the writer a solid basis for plot and character. To the extent that the best ideals of ancient culture align with Christian virtues, it also gives the story added depth.

Today—What Happened?

Now I must ask: What happened to these virtues today?  Today’s politicians and leaders, with a few notable exceptions, seem to embody the antithesis of these qualities. (We’ll set aside “handsomeness”. We’ll not hold them to that.) Today, I fear honor in public life is all but lost. I make an exception for the military, which understandably embraces only the first half of our list.  This points out another reason why writing for the medieval era is so attractive—it stands in stark contrast to the character of our time. Many readers want escape. They want to enter another world, far from the cares of today. Our list of virtues, if brought out in our heroes and heroines, provides a welcome relief from the perfidy, dishonor, disloyalty, and small mindedness on display in today’s leaders.

Christian Virtues Far Surpass the Ancient Culture’s

And here my critique of today’s world, and its leaders also provides a powerful reason why Christian fiction itself is so attractive. For the virtues of Christianity—the fruits of the Spirit—not only align with many of these, they surpass them. The Apostle Paul gave us a summary in Galatians 5:22–23 (NLT): “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

But the Medieval World Wasn’t All Roses

Thus far, I’ve given many reasons why writing for the medieval era is attractive. But lest I leave you with a Pollyanna view of that period, we must address reality. The ancient world was filled with violence, death, brutality, and deceit. But these, too, are reasons to write about the era. For conflict is the engine of storytelling. And here we enter a number of wide-ranging topics. When we pick up the subject again—after some intermission posts—we’ll continue looking at different aspects of the medieval world. Next week, I hope to review “Undercurrent”, by Michelle Griep.