Copyright Dr. L.
Kip Wheeler 1998-2018. Permission is granted for non-profit,
educational, and student reproduction. Last updated April 24, 2018. Contact: email@example.com Please
e-mail corrections, suggestions, or comments to help me improve this
site. Click here
for credits, thanks,
and additional copyright information.
Cult of Chivalry
"If I had one foot already in
paradise, I would withdraw it to go and fight!"
--Garin li Loherains, heroic character
in a chanson de geste.
is an idealized
code of military and social behavior for the aristocracy in
the late medieval period. The word "chivalry" comes
from Old French cheval (horse) and literally means
"horsemanship." Normally, only rich nobility could
afford the expensive armor, weaponry, and warhorses necessary
for mounted combat, so the act of becoming a knight was symbolically
indicated by giving the knight silver spurs. The right to
knighthood in the late medieval period was inherited through
the father, but it could also be granted by the king or a
lord as a reward for services. The tenets of chivalry were
attempts to civilize the rather brutal activity of warfare.
The ideals include sparing non-combatants such as women, children,
and helpless prisoners; the protection of the church; honesty
in word and bravery in deeds; loyalty to one's liege lord;
dignified behavior; and single-combat between noble opponents
who had a quarrel. Other matters associated with chivalry
include gentlemanly duels supervised by witnesses and heralds,
behaving according to the manners of polite society, courtly
love, brotherhood in arms, and feudalism.
The paradox of chivalry can be seen in both
its violent nature and its emphasis on polite rules of behavior.
Consider the quotation below:
"My heart is filled with
gladness when I see
Strong castles besieged,
stockades broken and overwhelmed,
Many vassals struck
Horses of the dead
and wounded roving at random.
And when battle is
joined, let all men of good lineage
Think of naught but
the breaking of heads and arms,
For it is better to
die than be vanquished and live. . . .
I tell you I have
no such joy as when I hear the shout
'On! On!' from both
sides and the neighing of riderless steeds,
And groans of 'Help
me! Help me!'
And when I see both
great and small
Fall in the ditches
and on the grass
And see the dead transfixed
by spear shafts!
Lords, mortgage your
domains, castles, cities,
But never give up
--Bertrand de Born, French aristocrat and troubadour
It is clear that warfare is near and dear
to the heart of the knight. However, this can be contrasted
(especially in the late medieval period and early Renaissance)
with the ideals listed in other quotations about knighthood
in the days of the Renaissance courtier