Chivalry also known as the chivalric code or 'Code of Chivalry' was an informal set of rules on how a knight should conduct himself in society and on the Battlefield in medieval times
The ideals of Chivalry changed during the medieval period and became more established and documented as the medieval period progressed.
Chivalry was present from around the 12th century and began to die out in the 14th Century
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The concept of chivalry traces its roots to 10th century France, established by the Frankish government in an attempt to reduce the violence prevalent in their society.
The term was derived from the word chevalier, the French for knight, which in turn comes from the word ‘cheval’, meaning horse.
Medieval society widely accepted chivalry as a set of ethical instructions for heroic knights. Although a general code of conduct, chivalry was mostly practiced amongst knights belonging to aristocratic circles.
Poets, minstrels, and troubadours wrote and sang about the knights’ acts of valor in great detail.
For centuries, feudal lords fought to protect their estates, acquire new territories and expand their coffers, forcing Europe into a state of chaos and division for a long time.
The seemingly endless violence triggered the creation of the Code of Chivalry in the 12th century. Adherence to the code gave the knights more dignity as it regulated their behavior and prevented them from assuming roles that could tarnish their respectable image.
Knights who fell out of favor for breaking the code were downgraded as lower-rank citizens.
The Franks were the first ones to practice chivalry. The Frankish empire consisted of three kingdoms which would eventually become the future Kingdoms of France and the Holy Roman Empire.
Many of the principles of chivalry were found in the ‘famous epic poem Song of Roland, which narrated the heroic deeds of Roland, a noble knight in Charlemagne’s army during the Battle of Roncevaux.
In the 1100s, Chivalry spread throughout England after the Normans led by William the conqueror successfully conquered the country in 1066. The Normans were descendants of the Vikings who settled in Normandy.
Ideas about chivalry originated from three different sources.
Ordene de Chevalerie, a poem written by an anonymous author, recounts the story of Hugh of Tiberias, a noble captured by Saladin during the besieging of Acre. His life was spared after he showed the great Muslim ruler the rite of Christian knighthood.
In Geoffroi de Charny’s Livre de Chevalerie (Book of Chivalry), qualities that made a man fit for knighthood were highlighted.
According to the author, the essence of a knight is prowess. Those who carried out their feudal duties calmly and without hesitation were the epitome of chivalric ethos.
The final work, Llibre del ordre de cavayleria (The Book of the Order of Chivalry), written by 13th-century Catalan writer Ramon Lull, was comprehensive documentation of the origins of knighthood and the role that chivalry played in a knight’s virtuous existence.
Chivalry, as a way of life, was regulated by the military, noble and religious aspects.
“The knight should respect the common good, since for the greater good was chivalry established To a knight pertains that he be a lover of the common wealth, for by the commonality of the people was chivalry founded and established; the common weal is greater and more necessary than the good and the special” (p. 96).
He said that the “God of glory chose the knights because by force of arms they vanquished miscreants who labored daily to destroy the holy church.” Knights, therefore, had the divine right to eliminate heretics and enemies of religion. He added that knights had the duty to “search for thieves, robbers and other wicked folks… [as well as] trespassers and delinquents” and punish them.
Modern Language and literature have often paid tribute to the principles of chivalry. Expressions like “knight in shining armor” and “gallant as a knight” reflect a yearning for those bygone eras where men were courteous and treated their ladies with care. Knights also took center stage in several European and Asian proverbs and in the speeches of various statesmen.
“For sake of the knight the lady kisses the squire.” (French Proverb) “The horse knows its knight the best.” (Arabic Proverb) “A true knight is fuller of bravery in the midst, than in the beginning of danger.” (Sir Philip Sidney)
From a pure military ethos, the concept of chivalry took on romantic proportions at the height of Arthurian and courtly literature.
Leon Gautier, the author of Le Chevalerie, held the Breton invasion accountable for the erosion of the original chivalry concept. He summarized the Code of Chivalry in the 11th and 12th centuries into Ten Commandments.
The Code of Chivalry required knights to esteem and practice the virtues of faith, charity, hope, justice, diligence, prudence, sagacity, truth, and temperance among others.
The popular idiomatic expression “chivalry is dead” bemoans the lack of courteousness, gentleness, and respect, usually towards women.
Many females are of the opinion that a great portion of the modern male population no longer has the morals and virtues practiced by knights in Medieval times.
Chivalry is one of the most iconic codes of conduct in the history of mankind.
Despite its apparent decline, its influence still reverberates in various works of fiction and everyday human interactions.