Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Chivalry

"Stitching the Standard" by Edmund Blair Leighton: the lady prepares for a knight to go to war.


Chivalry is a term related to the medieval institution of knighthood. It is usually associated with ideals of knightly virtues, honour and courtly love. Today, the terms chivalry and chivalrous are used to describe courteous behavior, especially that of men towards women.
Bors' Dilemma - he chooses to save a maiden rather than his brother Lionel.
The term originated in France in the late 10th century; based on the words for "knight" (French: chevalier), and "horse" (French: cheval). Knights possessed military training, a war horse and military equipment which required a substantial amount of wealth and prestige to acquire.
Between the 11th century and 15th centuries Medieval writers often used the word chivalry, but its definition was never consistent among authors, and its meaning would change on a regional basis, and even over time. Further, its modern meanings are different from its medieval meanings. Thus, the exact meaning of chivalry changes depending on the writer, the time period, and the region; so a comprehensive definition of the term is elusive.

The term chivalry is very commonly found in medieval chronicles, vernacular literature and other written records, but its meaning varies. It can refer to a company of mounted knights. It can mean the status of being a knight, either as an occupation or as a social class. In legal documents, references to lands held in chivalry imply a type of land tenure in which military services was owed, as in feudalism. In literary texts, such as The Song of Roland, chivalry means a worthy action on the battlefield.
From the 12th century onward chivalry came to be understood as a moral, religious and social code of knightly conduct. The particulars of the code varied, but codes would emphasize the virtues of courage, honor, and service. Chivalry also came to refer to an idealization of the life and manners of the knight at home in his castle and with his court.
Medieval knights glorified and identified with the valor, tactics and ideals of ancient Romans. For example the ancient hand-book of warfare written by Vegetius called De Re Militari was translated into French in the 13th century as L'art de chevalerie by Jean de Meun. Later writers also drew from Vegetius such as Honore Bonet who wrote the 14th century L'arbes des batailles, which discussed the morals and laws of war. In the 15th century Christine de Pizan combined themes from Vegetius, Bonet and Frontinus in Livre des faits d'armes et de chevalerie.
The medieval knightly class was adept at the art of war, trained in fighting in armor, with horses, lances, swords and shields. Knights were taught to excel in the arms, to show courage, to be gallant, loyal and to swear off cowardice and baseness.

Related to chivalry was the practice of heraldry and its elaborate rules of displaying coats of arms. When not fighting, chivalric knights typically resided in a castle or fortified house, while some knights lived in the courts of kings, dukes and other great lords. The skills of the knight carried over to peacetime activities such as the hunt and tournament.
The tradition of the chivalric "knight in shining armor" can be traced back to the Arabs, with notable pre-Islamic figures like the Bedouin knight Antar The Lion (580 CE). He is believed to be the model of this tradition. Charles Reginald Haines noted traits "such as loyalty, courtesy, munificence...are found in eminent degree among the Arabs." Medieval Spain, which he calls the "cradle of chivalry", could bear that pre-modern title, due to the direct impact of Arab civilization in al-Andalus. "Piety, courtesy, prowess in war, the gift of eloquence, the art of poetry, skill on horseback, dexterity with sword, lance, and bow" was expected of the elite Moorish knight. Richard Francis Burton, when characterizing this strain of thought in the writings of Europe as a whole, maintained "were it not evident that the spiritualising of sexuality by imagination is universal among the highest orders of mankind", he continues, "I should attribute the origins of love to the influences of the Arabs' poetry and chivalry upon European ideas rather than to medieval Christianity." The frequent clashes between the Christians and Muslims preceding the Christian Crusades leave no doubt that orders of the knighthood and the tradition of courtly love were transmitted into Europe by way of the Muslim occupation
Christianity had a modifying influence on the virtues of chivalry. The Peace and Truce of God in the 10th century was one such example, with limits placed on knights to protect and honor the weaker members of society and also help the church maintain peace. At the same time the church became more tolerant of war in the defense of faith, espousing theories of the just war; and liturgies were introduced which blessed a knight's sword, and a bath of chivalric purification. In the 11th century the concept of a "knight of Christ" (miles Christi) gained currency in France, Spain and Italy. These concepts of "religious chivalry" were further elaborated in the era of the Crusades, with the Crusades themselves often being seen as a chivalrous enterprise. Their ideas of chivalry were also further influenced by Saladin, who was viewed as a chivalrous knight by medieval Christian writers.
The relationship between knights and the nobility varied based on region. In France being dubbed a knight also bestowed noble status. In Germany and the Low Countries, knights and the nobility were distinctly different classes. In England, the relations between knights, nobles and land-owning gentry were complex.
In the later Middle Ages, wealthy merchants strove to adopt chivalric attitudes - the sons of the bourgeoisie were educated at aristocratic courts where they were trained in the manners of the knightly class. This was a democratization of chivalry, leading to a new genre called the courtesy book, which were guides to the behavior of "gentlemen". Thus, the post-medieval gentlemanly code of the value of a man's honor, respect for women, and a concern for those less fortunate, is directly derived from earlier ideals of chivalry and historical forces which created it.


There are a number of questions historians debate related to chivalry. In his study of chivalry, The Broad-Stone of Honour, Kenelm Henry Digby offers the following definition: "Chivalry is only a name for that general spirit or state of mind which disposes men to heroic actions, and keeps them conversant with all that is beautiful and sublime in the intellectual and moral world."
It is still debated as to what extent the exploits of notable knights such as Godfrey of Bouillon, William Marshal and Bertrand du Guesclin set new standards of knightly behavior, or were instead reflections of existing models of conduct.
Another common debate is whether (since knights bore arms) the ranks of knights were open to anyone who had the physical requirements and skills, or restricted to only those who were born into knightly families.
When examining medieval literature, chivalry can be classified into three basic but overlapping areas:
Duties to countrymen and fellow Christians: this contains virtues such as mercy, courage, valour, fairness, protection of the weak and the poor, and in the servant-hood of the knight to his lord. This also brings with it the idea of being willing to give one’s life for another’s; whether he would be giving his life for a poor man or his lord. Duties to God: this would contain being faithful to God, protecting the innocent, being faithful to the church, being the champion of good against evil, being generous and obeying God above the feudal lord.

Duties to women: this is probably the most familiar aspect of chivalry. This would contain what is often called courtly love, the idea that the knight is to serve a lady, and after her all other ladies. Most especially in this category is a general gentleness and graciousness to all women. These three areas obviously overlap quite frequently in chivalry, and are often indistinguishable.
Different weight given to different areas produced different strands of chivalry:
warrior chivalry, in which a knight's chief duty is to his lord, as exemplified by Sir Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle, religious chivalry, in which a knight's chief duty is to protect the innocent and serve God, as exemplified by Sir Galahad or Sir Percival in the Grail legends. Courtly Love chivalry, in which a knight's chief duty is to his own lady, and after her, all ladies, as exemplified by Sir Lancelot in his love for Queen Guinevere or Sir Tristan in his for Iseult. One particular similarity between all three of these categories is honour. Honour is the foundational and guiding principle of chivalry. Thus, for the knight, honour would be one of the guides of action.