Knights, Monty Python style, during filming of The Holy Grail.
This week, the Prime Minister announced that he has restored the imperial system of honours – something he was apparently able to do unilaterally, subject to the Queen’s approval, a curious reminder for anybody who might have forgotten that we do indeed live in a monarchy. But it’s been several decades since we last had any newly-minted knights and dames, and those who do still live among us are advancing in years.
Consequently, there are not many people in our community with the suitable heraldic knowledge to induct our new honorees into the chivalrous ways and rich traditions of the knighthood.
Hence, as a proud member of a family who have been Knights for many generations, I proudly offer my expertise to all knights, dames, and would-be knights and dames who might be looking to pull up their imperial socks ahead of the receipt of such a pre-eminent honour.
Consider this advice a grace note, if you will, in our national reaction to the Prime Minister’s plan.
Dames and knights must at all times use language fitting of the great tradition that has so honoured them with inclusion. So if you’re an eminent person who thinks you’ve a chance of being recognised pre-eminent, start using words like “vouchsafe”, “forsooth” and “prithee” in everyday conversation. Do not say “mate”, say “vassal” or “knave” as appropriate. And it should go without saying it’s “thou” or “thee”, not “you” (or "youse").
It might help accustom the public to discourse of this nature if senior members of the government set a more courtly tone in public discussion. For instance, instead of saying “This is a bad tax” on the campaign trail, they might choose to say the more formal “Verily this be the most dishonourable of imposts”.
Maintain an honourable bearing
A knight or dame must behave with suitable dignity at all times. In particular, knights will find that the joke “night night, knight” will get old. Nevertheless, knights must grin and bear it as a matter of honour. Trust me on this.
Similarly, dames will soon find that they’ve heard more than enough of the song ‘There is nothing like a dame’ from South Pacific.
Get a sword
Possibly even two. But you definitely need one – for centuries, a sword has been the defining feature of knighthood. In an age of gender equality, it will also shortly become a defining feature of damehood, just as soon as a few dames behead vassals who dare to suggest that dames are lesser members of the warrior class than knights.
A practical tip – when travelling by plane, it’s best to put your sword in your checked baggage. You will fail airport security scans if you try going through a metal detector, and if you behead the impudent dog who dared to try to take your sword from you, as is your undoubted feudal right, you may nevertheless find that the airline refuses to fly you in future.
All tables must be round
Or give it to the Salvos, the most military of charities. Round is the only shape for a knight or dame's table. Not even oval, as all must be equal when gathering around the festive board.
Well, except that knights and dames are, by their very definition, marked out as social superiors. And at the same time, they are marked out as the inferiors of the monarch. But within the boundaries of the Dames and Knights of the Most Excellent Order Of Australia itself, they are totes equal.
Get a horse
Again, this is a non-negotiable part of knightly life. Even if you cannot ride one, you should walk around holding it by the bridle, lest the peasants laugh at you. Until you can procure a suitable steed, it’s perfectly acceptable to substitute a pantomime horse, if you have two vassals handy to wear the costume. Even a hobby horse or pool pony will do. The important thing is to maintain the equestrian elements of the tradition.
Perform acts of chivalry
Most of those elevated as knights and dames do so already, of course – but there are practical considerations to take into account. For instance, Dame Quentin Bryce has long been known for her array of colourful garments. But because dames, like knights, are required to lay down their coats in mud puddles should the monarch wish to cross them without spoiling their shoes, she may choose to augment her lemon-yellow coat with a Drizabone for such situations.
Choose an appropriate name
Sadly, the lack of dames and knights in recent years has meant that many who might be elevated to the honour have entirely inappropriate names. By way of an example, consider the notion of Sir Shane Warne, or Dame Kylie Minogue. It doesn’t quite sound right, does it? Although, that said, nobody seems to baulk at the idea of Sir Elton John – although his birth name, Sir Reginald Dwight, would be far more appropriate.
Consequently, those who anticipate receiving knighthoods or damehoods might like to pre-empt their pre-eminence by changing their first name to something more appropriate. Lancelot, Gawain or Aethelred will be suitable for knights, while prospective Dames might like to follow the finest monarchical tradition by changing their names to the names of the most acclaimed of the realm’s various queens regnant. You may choose from Elizabeth, Victoria or Elizabeth.
Get into lute music
It is important that all knights and dames become familiar with the courtly arts, and lute music is a very important element in them. Those who have not previously had much experience with the ‘guitar of chivalry’, as knights (well, I) have called it, will be glad to learn that Sir Sting of The Police recently recorded an album of lute music. (Yes, really.)
Defend the realm
The incoming Governor-General, General Sir Peter Cosgrove, has already performed this duty admirably, of course, and as the monarch’s Australian designate he will act as commander-in-chief of the Australian military. However, those without his lengthy and distinguished military experience are nevertheless required to ride into battle with honour when the occasion demands. In this event, it also helps to have a suit of armour handy at all times. Seriously, all times.
Even at a dinner party, anybody who disses Australia or the monarch should rebuked sternly, albeit honourably. You may also wish to unsheath your sword.