chivalry

Derivation

  • French: chevalerie, horsemanship, knighthood

Profile

In its fullest sense, that aggregate of custom, discipline, ideal, and sentiment which guided the medieval gentleman’s conduct both in war and peace. The origin of chivalry may be traced to the general conditions existing in the 9th century. When the empire of Charlemagne disintegrated, the task of saving the Christian West from utter ruin fell to the feudal magnates and their vassals. Only the landed gentry were able to take the field against invaders, with horse and full equipment of armor at their own expense. Accordingly as the classes of society became more sharply defined the lords of landed estates emerged as a military aristocracy which gradually crystallized into a brotherhood in arms and controlled admission into its body by recognized usage. As portrayed in the early literature of feudal times, the military nobleman did not stand very high above the villain class in point of sentiment and fine manners. Too often he fought brutally and dealt unjustly. The Church intervened with a moderating hand. While her bishops strove hard to check violence by means of the Truce of God and the Peace of God in the 11th century, they at the same time held before the knight a more exalted conception of his calling, assigning him nobler ends to fight for, and introducing religion as the first article in his code of conduct. He was to be above all a Christian soldier, using his sword, if he must, to uphold the cause of Christ against the infidels, to combat evil, and to protect the weak. His ideals of conduct were valor and honor, loyalty to the Church’s teaching, chastity and truth, courtesy and reverence for women, generosity, and mercy. In order to “win his spurs” he must prove the quality of his manhood and these ideals were vividly set forth in the symbolic rites of reception. Even in the golden age of chivalry every knight did not fully live up to the standards of knighthood, and it softened and degenerated into gallantry when the knights began to withdraw themselves from the sustaining influence of religion. Chivalry, however, has left to posterity a legacy of ideals and sentiments which remain an object of esteem and inspiration to many.

MLA Citation

  • “”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 8 August 2013. Web. 25 September 2017. <>