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see chivalrychivalry
, system of ethical ideals that arose from feudalism 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.
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; 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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; knightknight,
in ancient and medieval history, a noble who did military service as a mounted warrior. The Knight in Ancient History

In ancient history, as in Athens and Rome, the knight was a noble of the second class who in military service had to furnish his own mount
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a social category in Western and Central Europe during the Middle Ages. In the broad sense the term included the entire secular feudal nobility, and in the narrow sense it referred only to the petty nobility.

The first references to knighthood may be found in the late tenth century. At that time, the knighthood (in Latin terminology, milites) referred to the category of military servants, primarily horsemen, who were vassals of the aristocracy. With the increase in feudal fragmentation and the consequent broadening of the rights of the petty knights, the boundary between the knighthood and the aristocracy gradually disappeared. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the knighthood was most often understood to include all secular feudal warrior-lords. With the formation of the religious knightly orders in the 12th century, the knighthood came to include some of the ecclesiastical lords as well. (At the same time, however, that the knighthood was developing in the broad sense of the term, the word “knighthood” continued to be used in its narrow sense, referring only to the lower strata of the secular nobility.) A member of the knighthood usually held a fiefdom, which freed him from direct participation in production. It also enabled him to provide himself with a war horse and knightly armament, such as a sword, shield, and armor. This knightly equipage, however, became increasingly expensive as time went on.

A major social role filled by the knighthood was the waging of wars for the seizure of new domains and for plunder. There were internecine struggles, the Crusades, wars between the states that were forming in Europe itself, and military operations undertaken to crush popular uprisings. The special nature of the social role of knighthood gradually placed the knights in a distinct socioeconomic and legal category. As the supreme owner of the chief resource, land, and as the ruling social group, knighthood possessed broad privileges. The knights were free from most fiscal obligations, were subject only to the jurisdiction of courts composed of their social equals, and enjoyed preferential rights to hold state and military offices; in most countries, admission to the knightly ranks of persons of non-knightly origin was limited.

A special knightly morality developed, reflected in the work of the troubadours, trouvères, and minnesingers. A knight was expected to be brave and courageous in battle, faithful to his lord, and a strong defender of the Christian church and its clergy and of the “orphaned and infirm” scions of the knightly families. Particular importance was attributed to knightly munificence, and the knight who was most generous in dispensing his wealth enjoyed the most prestige. Among the knights there developed a cult of courtly love: the knight would venerate an aristocratic woman of his own choosing, but most likely one who was married and of a higher social position than himself. The spread of the cult resulted, on the one hand, from the impoverishment of some of the knights and their aspiration to improve their position by means of advantageous marriages, and on the other hand, from a dissatisfaction with the asceticism of Christian morality.

A special system of knightly training ensured the necessary physical conditioning of future knights and helped spread the norms of knightly morality among knightly youth. At the age of seven, the sons of knights left the care of women and, under the supervision of older men (often their future suzerain), they mastered the skills of riding, fencing, archery, and hunting. The clergy acquainted them with the fundamentals of reading and writing and the Christian faith. If the knightly youth resided at the courts of powerful nobles, they were often enlisted as pages, and from the age of 14, as squires.

After the age of 21, the knightly youth were permitted to take the oath of knighthood, which, symbolizing acceptance into the ranks of the privileged social stratum, was accompanied by a special solemn ceremony. In its final form, the ceremony included investiture with a sword and spurs, a symbolic blow on the shoulder administered by the suzerain using his hand or the flat of a sword, a demonstration of martial skill, and the taking of an oath before a clergyman to observe the requirements of knightly honor. In reality, however, the only young men of the knighthood who could avail themselves of this special ceremony were those who were sufficiently wealthy to acquire a horse and arms. Tournaments, in which competitions in martial skills were held, were an important form of disseminating the socioethical ideals of knighthood among the knightly youth. The victor in a tournament attained glory and received a monetary reward.

In a number of countries, the knights had their own corporate organizations. These included both religious knightly orders and secular orders, of which the oldest, the Order of St. Mary in the kingdom of Navarre and the Order of the Lion in France, were in existence from the 11th century.

In the 14th through 16th centuries, as standing armies were formed and firearms developed, the military role of the knights steadily diminished. However, knighthood did not disappear as a social category but became transformed into the gentry class.

To a certain extent, the sipahi of the Ottoman Empire and the samurai of Japan resembled the European knighthood.


Efimova, E. Rytsarstvo, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1914.
Cohen, G. Histoire de la chevalerie en France. Paris, 1949.
Boutruche, R. Seigneurie et féodalité, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1968–70.
Gautier, L. La Chevalerie. Paris, 1960.
Duby, G. Guerriers et paysans. Paris, 1973.
Duby, G. Hommes et structures du moyen âge. Paris, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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