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chivalry(shĭv`əlrē), system of ethical ideals that arose from feudalismfeudalism
, form of political and social organization typical of Western Europe from the dissolution of Charlemagne's empire to the rise of the absolute monarchies. The term feudalism is derived from the Latin feodum,
..... Click the link for more information. and had its highest development in the 12th and 13th cent.
Chivalric ethics originated chiefly in France and Spain and spread rapidly to the rest of the Continent and to England. They represented a fusion of Christian and military concepts of morality and still form the basis of gentlemanly conduct. Noble youths became pages in the castles of other nobles at the age of 7; at 14 they trained as squires in the service of knights, learning horsemanship and military techniques, and were themselves knighted, usually at 21.
The chief chivalric virtues were piety, honor, valor, courtesy, chastity, and loyalty. The knight's loyalty was due to the spiritual master, God; to the temporal master, the suzerain; and to the mistress of the heart, his sworn love. Love, in the chivalrous sense, was largely platonic; as a rule, only a virgin or another man's wife could be the chosen object of chivalrous love. With the cult of the Virgin Mary, the relegation of noblewomen to a pedestal reached its highest expression.
The ideal of militant knighthood was greatly enhanced by the CrusadesCrusades
, series of wars undertaken by European Christians between the 11th and 14th cent. to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. First Crusade
In the 7th cent., Jerusalem was taken by the caliph Umar.
..... Click the link for more information. . The monastic orders of knighthood, the Knights TemplarsKnights Templars
, in medieval history, members of the military and religious order of the Poor Knights of Christ, called the Knights of the Temple of Solomon from their house in Jerusalem.
..... Click the link for more information. and the Knights HospitalersKnights Hospitalers,
members of the military and religious Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, sometimes called the Knights of St. John and the Knights of Jerusalem. The symbol of the Order of St.
..... Click the link for more information. , produced soldiers sworn to uphold the Christian ideal. Besides the battlefield, the tournamenttournament
in the Middle Ages, public contest between armed horsemen in simulation of real battle. In this military game, which flourished from the 12th to the 16th cent., combatants were frequently divided into opposing factions, each led by a champion.
..... Click the link for more information. was the chief arena in which the virtues of chivalry could be proved. The code of chivalrous conduct was worked out with great subtlety in the courts of love that flourished in France and in Flanders. There the most arduous questions of love and honor were argued before the noble ladies who presided (see courtly lovecourtly love,
philosophy of love and code of lovemaking that flourished in France and England during the Middle Ages. Although its origins are obscure, it probably derived from the works of Ovid, various Middle Eastern ideas popular at the time, and the songs of the troubadours.
..... Click the link for more information. ). The French military hero Pierre Terrail, seigneur de BayardBayard, Pierre Terrail, seigneur de
, c.1474–1524, French military hero, called le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche [the knight without fear or reproach].
..... Click the link for more information. , was said to be the last embodiment of the ideals of chivalry.
In practice, chivalric conduct was never free from corruption, increasingly evident in the later Middle Ages. Courtly love often deteriorated into promiscuity and adultery and pious militance into barbarous warfare. Moreover, the chivalric duties were not owed to those outside the bounds of feudal obligation. The outward trappings of chivalry and knighthood declined in the 15th cent., by which time wars were fought for victory and individual valor was irrelevant. Artificial orders of chivalry, such as the Order of the Golden Fleece (1423), were created by rulers to promote loyalty; tournaments became ritualized, costly, and comparatively bloodless; the traditions of knighthood became obsolete.
Medieval secular literature was primarily concerned with knighthood and chivalry. Two masterpieces of this literature are the Chanson de Roland (c.1098; see RolandRoland
, the great French hero of the medieval Charlemagne cycle of chansons de geste, immortalized in the Chanson de Roland (11th or 12th cent.). Existence of an early Roland poem is indicated by the historian Wace's statement that Taillefer sang of Roland's deeds
..... Click the link for more information. ) and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (see Pearl, ThePearl, The,
one of four Middle English alliterative poems, all contained in a manuscript of c.1400, composed in the West Midland dialect, almost certainly by the same anonymous author, who flourished c.1370–1390.
..... Click the link for more information. ). Arthurian legendArthurian legend,
the mass of legend, popular in medieval lore, concerning King Arthur of Britain and his knights. Medieval Sources
The battle of Mt. Badon—in which, according to the Annales Cambriae (c.
..... Click the link for more information. and the chansons de gestechansons de geste
[Fr.,=songs of deeds], a group of epic poems of medieval France written from the 11th through the 13th cent. Varying in length from 1,000 to 20,000 lines, assonanced or (in the 13th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. furnished bases for many later romances and epics. The work of Chrétien de TroyesChrétien de Troyes
or Chrestien de Troyes
, fl. 1170, French poet, author of the first great literary treatments of the Arthurian legend. His narrative romances, composed c.1170–c.
..... Click the link for more information. and the Roman de la RoseRoman de la Rose, Le
, French poem of 22,000 lines in eight-syllable couplets. It is in two parts. The first (4,058 lines) was written (c.1237) by Guillaume de Lorris and was left unfinished. It is an elaborate allegory on the psychology of love, often subtle and charming.
..... Click the link for more information. also had tremendous influence on European literature. The endless chivalrous and pastoral romances, still widely read in the 16th cent., were satirized by Cervantes in Don Quixote. In the 19th cent., however, the romantic movement brought about a revival of chivalrous ideals and literature.
For the lyric poetry of the age of chivalry, see troubadourstroubadours
, aristocratic poet-musicians of S France (Provence) who flourished from the end of the 11th cent. through the 13th cent. Many troubadours were noblemen and crusader knights; some were kings, e.g.
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, medieval poet-musicians of central and N France, fl. during the later 12th and the 13th cent. The trouvères imitated the troubadours of the south.
..... Click the link for more information. ; minnesingerminnesinger
, a medieval German knight, poet, and singer of Minne, or courtly love. Originally imitators of Provençal troubadours, minnesingers developed their own style in the 13th and 14th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. .
See B. E. Broughton, Dictionary of Medieval Knighthood and Chivalry (1986); M. Keen, Chivalry (1984); H. Chickering and T. H. Seiler, ed., The Study of Chivalry (1988).