Chivalry

Konrad von Limpurg as a knight being armed by his lady in the Codex Manesse (early 14th century)

Chivalry, or the chivalric code, is an informal, varying code of conduct developed between 1170 and 1220, but never decided on or summarized in a single document. It was associated with the medieval Christian institution of knighthood;[1] knights' and gentlewomen's behaviours were governed[when?] by chivalrous social codes.[2] The ideals of chivalry were popularized in medieval literature, especially the Matter of Britain and Matter of France, the former based on Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, written in the 1130s, which introduced the legend of King Arthur.[3] All of these were taken as historically accurate until the beginnings of modern scholarship in the 19th century.

The code of chivalry that developed in medieval Europe had its roots in earlier centuries. It arose in the Holy Roman Empire from the idealisation of the cavalryman—involving military bravery, individual training, and service to others—especially in Francia, among horse soldiers in Charlemagne's cavalry.[4][5] The term "chivalry" derives from the Old French term chevalerie, which can be translated as "horse soldiery".[Note 1] Originally, the term referred only to horse-mounted men, from the French word for horse, cheval, but later it became associated with knightly ideals.[7]

Over time, its meaning in Europe has been refined to emphasise more general social and moral virtues. The code of chivalry, as it stood by the Late Middle Ages, was a moral system which combined a warrior ethos, knightly piety, and courtly manners, all combining to establish a notion of honour and nobility.[Note 2]

Terminology and definitions

A young woman in a medieval-style dress of cream satin ties a red scarf to the arm of a man in armour and mounted on a horse. The scene is set at the portal of a castle.
God Speed by English artist Edmund Leighton, 1900: depicting an armoured knight departing for war and leaving his beloved

In origin, the term chivalry means "horsemanship", formed in Old French, in the 11th century, from chevalier (horseman, knight), from Medieval Latin caballārius.[9][10] The French word chevalier originally meant "a man of aristocratic standing, and probably of noble ancestry, who is capable, if called upon, of equipping himself with a war horse and the arms of heavy cavalryman and who has been through certain rituals that make him what he is".[11] In English, the term appears from 1292 (note that cavalry is from the Italian form of the same word).[Note 3]

The meaning of the term evolved over time because in the Middle Ages the meaning of chevalier changed from the original concrete military meaning "status or fee associated with a military follower owning a war horse" or "a group of mounted knights" to the ideal of the Christian warrior ethos propagated in the romance genre, which was becoming popular during the 12th century, and the ideal of courtly love propagated in the contemporary Minnesang and related genres.[13]

The ideas of chivalry are summarized in three medieval works: the anonymous poem Ordene de Chevalerie, which tells the story of how Hugh II of Tiberias was captured and released upon his agreement to show Saladin (1138–1193) the ritual of Christian knighthood;[14] the Libre del ordre de cavayleria, written by Ramon Llull (1232–1315), from Majorca, whose subject is knighthood;[15] and the Livre de Chevalerie of Geoffroi de Charny (1300–1356), which examines the qualities of knighthood, emphasizing prowess.[16] None of the authors of these three texts knew the other two texts, and the three combine to depict a general concept of chivalry which is not precisely in harmony with any of them. To different degrees and with different details, they speak of chivalry as a way of life in which the military, the nobility, and religion combine.[17]

The "code of chivalry" is thus a product of the Late Middle Ages, evolving after the end of the crusades partly from an idealization of the historical knights fighting in the Holy Land and from ideals of courtly love.

Ten Commandments of Chivalry

Gautier's Ten Commandments of chivalry, set out in the 19th century, hundreds of years after the time of medieval chivalry, are:

  1. Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches and thou shalt observe all its directions.
  2. Thou shalt defend the Church.
  3. Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
  4. Thou shalt love the country in which thou wast born.
  5. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
  6. Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation and without mercy.
  7. Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
  8. Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word.
  9. Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse to everyone.
  10. Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.[18]

There is no reference to women, horses, quests, or travel. This list would serve a soldier, or even a clergyman.