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(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,
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 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.
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. 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.
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 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.
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, produced soldiers sworn to uphold the Christian ideal. Besides the battlefield, the tournamenttournament
or tourney,
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.
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 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.
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). 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].
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, 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
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) 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.
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). 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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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; trouvèrestrouvères
, 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.
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; 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.
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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).


Amadis of Gaul
personification of chivalric ideals: valor, purity, fidelity. [Span. Lit.: Benét, 27]
Arthur, King
king of England; head of the Round Table. [Br. Lit.: Le Morte d’Arthur]
chivalrous medieval knight, righting wrongs in Europe. [Br. Lit.: Bevis of Hampton]
Book of the Courtier
Castiglione’s discussion of the manners of the perfect courtier (1528). [Ital. Lit.: EB, II: 622]
Calidore, Sir
personification of courtesy and chivalrous actions. [Br. Lit.: Faerie Queene]
capital of King Arthur’s realm, evokes the romance of knightly activity. [Br. Legend: Collier’s IV, 224]
Cid, El
Spanish military leader who becomes a national hero through chivalrous exploits. [Span. Lit.: Song of the Cid]
Courtenay, Miles
dashing and chivalrous Irishman. [Br. Lit.: King Noanett, Walsh Modern, 108]
Coverley, Sir Roger de
ideal, early 18th-century squire. [Br. Lit.: “Spectator” in Wheeler, 85]
Dumas’s ever-popular chivalrous character. [Fr. Lit.: The Three Musketeers]
Dantes, Edmond
chivalrous adventurer. [Fr. Lit.: Count of Monte-Cristo]
Edward III, King
when a countess dropped her garter, he put it on to reproach the sniggering courtiers, and instituted the Order of the Garter. [Br. Legend: Benét, 383]
Eglamour, Sir
“a knight well-spoken, neat, and fine.” [Br. Lit.: Two Gentlemen of Verona]
Galahad, Sir
gallant, chivalrous knight of the Round Table. [Br. Lit.: Le Morte d’Arthur]
knight who, though Lynette scorns him as only a kitchen hand, successfully accomplishes rescuing her sister. [Br. Poetry: Tennyson Idylls of the King]
Gawain, Sir King
Arthur’s nephew; model of knightly perfection and chivalry. [Br. Lit.: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight]
the epitome of chivalric novels. [Br. Lit.: Ivanhoe]
Knights Templars
protected pilgrims to the Holy Land and fought the Saracens. [Medieval Hist.: NCE, 1490]
Knights of the Round Table
chivalrous knights in King Arthur’s reign. [Br. Lit.: Le Morte d’Arthur]
Lancelot, Sir
knight in King Arthur’s realm; model of chivalry. [Br. Lit.: Le Morte d’Arthur]
Morte d’Arthur, Le
monumental work of chivalric romance. [Br. Lit.: Le Morte d’Arthur]
gallant and steadfast hero of medieval romance. [Ital. Lit.: Orlando Furioso; Orlando Inammorato; Morgante Maggiore]
Quixote, Don
knight-errant ready to rescue distressed damsels. [Span. Lit.: Don Quixote]
Raleigh, Sir Walter
drops his cloak over a puddle to save Queen Elizabeth from wetting her feet. [Br. Lit.: Scott Kenilworth in Magill I, 469]
Richard the Lion-Hearted
(1159–1199) king known for his gallantry and prowess. [Br. Hist.: EB, 15: 827]
paragon of chivalry; unyielding warrior in Charlemagne legends. [Fr. Lit.: Song of Roland]
sweet william
symbolizes chivalry. [Flower Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 181]
Valiant, Prince
comic strip character epitomizes chivalry. [Comics: Horn, 565]


1. the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, esp courage, honour, justice, and a readiness to help the weak
2. the medieval system and principles of knighthood