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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Chivalry – the Knight’s Code of Honor

Chivalry – the Knight’s Code of Honor

fiveminutehistory.com 


If you’re picturing a knight in shining armor rescuing a damsel in distress, you’re not alone.
Consider the 1885 painting below by Frank Dicksee—its title is “Chivalry”.
So there we have it—chivalry is rescuing a damsel in distress. Or is there more to it?
Continue dear reader and we shall delve a little deeper.

 Chivalry by Frank Dicksee, 1885

Our story begins in the deep, dark Teutonic forests of medieval Europe, where the warrior culture of Germanic horsemen combined with Roman traditions were molded by the Church into a civilized code of conduct based on bravery, disciplined training, and service to others. By the Late Middle Ages, the Code of Chivalry had become a moral system, combining warrior ethos, knightly piety, and courtly manners.

Warrior Ethos

Knights were mounted warriors, specializing in combat within a clan-like social caste.

Fight of knights in the counry side by Eugène Delacroix, c.1824
Fight of knights in the counry side by Eugène Delacroix, c.1824
They swore allegiance to their lord or monarch as a vassal—to protect, honor, and serve as a fighter in exchange for land holdings.
And when they weren’t fighting on the battlefields, they were testing their prowess in jousting tournaments.

Illustration from Boys King Arthur by NC Wyeth
Illustration from Boys King Arthur by NC Wyeth
There was strong camaraderie and respect among knights, even to those of the enemy.

Illustration from "Scottish Chiefs" by N.C. Wyeth
Illustration from “Scottish Chiefs” by N.C. Wyeth
As prisoners of war, knights were held for ransom in relative comfort—a courtesy not extended to lower castes like archers and foot soldiers, who were usually killed.

Knightly Piety

In addition to the earthly warrior ethos, spirituality in the form of Christianity was firmly entrenched in the Chivalric Code of knights.

The Vigil by John Pettie 1884
The Vigil by John Pettie 1884
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In Geoffroi de Charny’s “Book of Chivalry“, he explains the importance of Christian faith in all aspects of a Knight’s life.
It was 1095 in Clermont, France. Pope Urban II pronounced that any knight fighting for the First Crusade would be exonerated from the sin of killing.

Pope Urban II Preaching the First Crusade in the Square of Clermont by Francesco Hayez, 1835
Pope Urban II Preaching the First Crusade in the Square of Clermont by Francesco Hayez, 1835
These words were like music to knights—if they fought in the crusades, they need no longer worry about their immortal souls.
But while knights believed in defending God and the Church, they had their own independent strand of piety, separate from that of the clergy.

The Faithful Knight by Thomas Jones Barker (1815 - 1882)
The Faithful Knight by Thomas Jones Barker (1815 – 1882)
Some did join the Church as a new type of order—the Templars and Hospitallers.

Courtly Manners

The word courtesy comes from 12th-century French courteis, meaning a behavior marked by respect for others, and polished manners. Besides displays of strength, skill and piety, knights were expected to behave in a dignified manner at court—to know dining etiquette and how to hold sophisticated conversation.

The Accolade by Edmund Leighton, 1901
The Accolade by Edmund Leighton, 1901
Courtly love—known in medieval France as “fine love”—originated with troubadours, who were composers and performers of lyric poetry.
A medieval tradition of love between a knight and a married noblewoman was considered a noble passion, and typically unconsummated.

The Meeting on the Turret Stairs by Frederic William Burton, 1864
The Meeting on the Turret Stairs by Frederic William Burton, 1864
In medieval literature, stories abound of knights setting out on adventures and performing services for their ladies.

God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton
God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton

At Knight’s End

In the late medieval period, new methods of warfare began to render classical knights-in-armour obsolete.

The Return of the Crusader by Karl Friedrich Lessing, 1835
The Return of the Crusader by Karl Friedrich Lessing, 1835
But the memories and the legend lived on.

A Dream of the Past - Sir Isumbras at the Ford by John Everett Millais, 1857
A Dream of the Past – Sir Isumbras at the Ford by John Everett Millais, 1857