Facts and interesting information about the life and times of the
Medieval Knights of England - Chivalry
What is Chivalry?
The word 'Chivalry derives from the French word chevalier meaning a horseman; a knight or a gallant young man. The definition of Chivalry can be described as a term often related to medieval institution of knighthood referring to the codes of conduct, including courtly love, adhered to by Medieval knights with gallant knightly values including honor, bravery, courteousness and honesty. Chivalry was the honor code of the knight. An important part of chivalry was to show respect and gallantry towards women. The Code of Chivalry was an important part of the society and lives of people who lived during the Medieval times and era. The Code of Chivalry was admired and understood by all.
Knights Code of Chivalry
A knight was expected to have not only the strength and skills to face combat in the violent era of the Middle Ages but was also expected to temper this aggressive side of a knight with a chivalrous side to his nature. There was not an authentic Code of Chivalry as such - it was a moral system which went beyond rules of combat and introduced the concept of Chivalrous conduct - qualities idealized by knighthood, such as bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women.
Code of Chivalry - The Song of Roland
A Code of Chivalry was documented in 'The Song of Roland' during the period of William the Conqueror who ruled England from 1066. The 'Song of Roland' describes the 8th century Knights of the Dark Ages and the battles fought by the Emperor Charlemagne. The code has since been described as Charlemagne's Code of Chivalry. The Song of Roland was the most famous 'chanson de geste' and was composed between 1098-1100, describing the betrayal of Count Roland at the hand of Ganelon, and his resulting death in the Pyrenees at the hands of the Saracens. Roland was a loyal defender of his liege Lord Charlemagne and his code of conduct a description of the meaning of chivalry. An excerpt from the Song of Roland is as follows:
For his beauty the ladies hold him dear;
Who looks on him, with him her heart is pleased,
When she beholds, she can but smile for glee.
Was no pagan of such high chivalry.
The Code of Chivalry and the legends of King Arthur and Camelot
The ideals described in the Code of Chivalry were emphasised by the oaths and vows that were sworn in the Knighthood ceremonies of the Middle Ages and the Medieval era. These sacred oaths of combat were combined with the ideals of chivalry and with strict rules of etiquette and codes of conduct towards women. The ideals of a Code of Chivalry was publicised in the poems, ballads, writings and literary works of Medieval authors. The wandering minstrels of the Middle Ages sang these ballads and were expected to memorize the words of long poems describing the valour and the code of chivalry followed by the Medieval knights. The Dark Age myths of Arthurian Legends featuring King Arthur, Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table further strengthen the idea of a Code of Chivalry. The Arthurian legend revolves around the Code of Chivalry which was adhered to by the Knights of the Round Table - Honour, Honesty, Valour and Loyalty.
Chivalry toward Women - The Knight in Shining Armor
Chivalry was the honor code of the knight and great importance was placed on courtesy towards women leading to the concept of a 'Knight in Shining armor. In modern times the terms chivalry and chivalrous are used to describe courteous behavior, especially that of men towards women. In the movie 'Pretty Woman' the character played by Julia Roberts dreams of a 'Knight in shining armor' who will rescue her from captivity in a tower. When the character played by Richard Gere realises that she will settle for nothing less he rides to her apartment in a shining car (in place of a horse), wearing an expensive suit (in place of shining armor) brandishing an umbrella (in place of a Sword) to climb up to her apartment (the tower) and rescue her. A highly romantic gesture fulfilling her dreams of a 'Knight in shining armor'.
The Code of Chivalry and Courtly Love
The Code of Chivalry was combined with the romance of Courtly Love which was practised during the Medieval times and era. There were strict rules of courtly love and the art of Courtly Love was practised by the members of the royal courts across Europe during Medieval times. Surprisingly the romance, rules and art of Medieval Courtly Love together with the code of chivalry allowed knights and ladies to show their admiration for each other regardless of their marital state. It was a perfectly acceptable and common occurrence for a married lady to give a token to a knight of her choice to be worn during a Medieval tournament. Courtly love was acceptable as long as the rules relating to chastity and fidelity were strictly adhered to. For additional information about Courtly Love please click the following link:
The Code of Chivalry
As previously stated there was not an authentic Code of Chivalry as such. However, a Code of Chivalry is described in the Song of Roland and also by the Duke of Burgundy in the 14th Century. To read about the rules and the virtues detailed in these two examples of the Code of Chivalry please click the following link:
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