More often than not, Chivalry was associated with knighthood. The Code of Chivalry was the code of conduct followed by the knights during the medieval period. It was developed between the 11th and 12th century. However, according to David Crouch, a British Medieval historian, the Code of Chivalry was dated back the ancient times.
The late medieval code of chivalry however, arose from the idealisation brought by the synthesis of Germanic and Roman medieval martial traditions that often involved military bravery, training, and service to others. Yet according to common definitions, the Code of Chivalry was simply the rules and customs of medieval knights. Others defined it as the qualifications of a knight. These qualifications included virtues of courtesy, generosity and valour.
The Knights Code of Chivalry was prevalent during the dark ages and everyone understood what it entailed. There was not an actual code so to speak. However, the code of chivalry during the medieval era was understood to be a set of rules that were beyond combat. It introduced the concept of gallantry and several other qualities of medieval knights, such as bravery, honour and courtesy to women.
“The medieval period was also known for violence and death, thus it was also called the Dark Ages. Knights were expected to have the strength and skills to face combat but they must also know how to temper their aggressive side with chivalrous acts”
Knights all throughout the middle ages had made several kinds of vows. Most of these vows revolved around the a common concept which was chivalry. One of the documents of these vows was the Song of Roland. According to the Song of Roland, the Knights Code of Chivalry included these vows:
Another set of vows was Leon Gautier’s La Chevalerie, which was a popular summary of the ancient code of chivalry. It was also called the Ten Commandments of Chivalry and it included the following commands:
1. Believe the Church’s teachings and observe all the Church’s directions
2. Defend the Church
3. Respect and defend the weak
4. Love your country
5. Do not fear your enemy
6. Show no mercy and do not hesitate to make war with the infidel
7. Perform all your feudal duties as long as they do not conflict with the laws of God
8. Never lie or go back on one’s word
9. Be generous
10. Always and everywhere be right and good against evil and injustice
The Song of Roland was a document of the code of chivalry in the middle ages, especially during the period of William the conqueror who ruled England. The song described the 8th century knights and the battles that Emperor Charlemagne fought. It was also referred to by historians as Charlemagne’s Code of Chivalry. The Song of Roland was famous for describing the betrayal of Count Roland and his death in the hands of the Saracens. Roland was a loyal defender of Lord Charlemagne and his code of conduct was the key to defining chivalry during the medieval era.
The Knights Code of Chivalry was further emphasised in the stories that featured the adventures of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. King Arthur was the legendary British leader in the late 5th century, popular for his bravery and unprecedented skills in combat. Arthur together with his knights had sworn to vows of chivalry. Several myths were told about King Arthur and his knights which had further strengthened the idea of the code. Most of these myths revolved around the Code of Chivalry adhered to by Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. These vows included that of honour, honesty, loyalty and valour.
During the 14th century, the Duke of Burgundy broke the Knights Code of Chivalry into several virtues. These virtues included the following:
The primary goal of knighthood was to uphold the dignity of the Church. The foundation of chivalry was Christianity as it was created by the church, for the church and through the church. The idea of chivalry was conceived alongside the crusades in the dark ages and its goal was to diminish the brutality of these crusades as well as to make men loyal to Christian faith. Those who underwent knighthood also underwent a process of purification. This was a ceremony where the sacraments and relics were put into the hilt of his sword, tying his duty to God, which was the central notion of chivalry.
Was chivalry good or bad for the medieval society? One cannot totally say it was good or bad. Chivalry was derived from a French word chevalier which meant mounted heavy cavalry. Its primary goal is to regulate violence in the French society. When the Frankish clan structure was combined with that of Western Christian practices, an elite group of soldiers were conceived giving birth to the horse-bound soldiers known as knights. Each knight was bound to a code conduct known as the Code of Chivalry.
However, not all knights were able to uphold their vows to chivalry, primarily because the middle ages was highly characterized by violence, death and the feudal system. As knighthood became more elaborate and tournaments among knights became more popular, the church began to consider these gatherings as political threats, especially with the continued unrestrained violence despite having these codes of conduct.
Chivalry ended with the decline of knighthood. This was largely due to the rise of mercantilism and the creation of the middle class. Instead of noblemen having control over the system, power was slowly shifted to the hands of the people. Wealthy merchants strove to adopt the virtues, practices and manners of the knightly class. However, there was less and less use of such practices, which finally led to its end.