The Code of Chivalry

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The Code of Chivalry

The term chivalry has its origin in the medieval institution of knighthood. Chivalry and knighthood have been popularly studied by scholars. The term chivalry originates from the old French word chevalerie. This word itself derives from the Latin term caballarius that means someone on the horseback. Chivalry is not a legal or technical term, rather the word has its root in the vernacular of twelfth century. The meaning of this word as used in the French literature of the High Middle Ages remains imprecise, as it could “refer variously to a group of mounted aristocratic warriors or the behavior of such a group or the standard that members of the group would have liked to meet” (Bouchard 103). The old French term chevalerie continued to describe warrior like qualities of armed men on horseback up until the final decades of twelfth century. The term did not have moral and political overtones at the time. The term that described polite and virtuous behavior of nobles including the art of courtly behavior was cortoisie (Bouchard 103). Historians have spoken of Age of Chivalry in Europe when the Viking raids came to an end. In the Middle Ages a code of knighthood, also known as Code of Chivalry developed that emphasized bravery, honesty, and courtesy. The Age of Chivalry distinguishes feudalism in Middle Ages apart from the others. Feudalism was not unique to Europe but almost every contemporary kingdoms throughout the world used some form of feudal government. The society in Medieval Ages was harsh and brutal. The knights were the same barbaric tribesmen that had devastated Rome not long back. Hence a Code of Chivalry was developed to tone down the brutal temperament of the warriors in a Christian setting. All knights were supposed to follow the Code of Chivalry. It set up standards for the training, and behavior of knights both in and out of combat. The Catholic Church was concerned with harshness and brutality prevalent during the Middle ages. In the opinion of Church Officials knights could show honesty, generosity, and courtesy as also respect to women if they took vows during the knighting ceremony. Therefore, by 1100s Church began to take special interest in knighting ceremony adding an aura of moral significance to it (Stanton & Hyma 261-262). In due course and over a period of time developed the code of chivalry that was religiously sanctified. With religious sanctification the spirit de corps of the knightly world gained strength along with impacting upon the moral law of the group. Before a future knight took back his sword from the altar he was required to take an oath defining his obligations. Not all dubbed knights had their arm blessed and hence not all of them took the oath, but according to many ecclesiastical writers, even those that did not pronounce the oath with their lips were bound to the code by a kind of quasi-contract. Slowly and gradually, the rules thus formulated found their way into texts beginning with prayer, followed by various writings in vulgar tongue. “One of these composed shortly after 1180, was a celebrated passage from the Perceval of Chretien de Troyes. In the following century these rules were set forth in some pages of the prose romance of Lancelot; in the German Minnesang, in the fragment of the ‘Meissner’; finally and above all, in the short French didactic poem entitled L’Ordene de Chevalerie (Bloch 38). In the middle ages, along with strength and skills of combat, a knight was expected to be chivalrous, that is, the aggressive side of his nature was expected to be tempered with modest qualities of bravery and courtesy, gallantry and honor toward ladies. The Middle Ages culture strongly focused on the Knights Code of Chivalry. ‘The Song of Roland’ composed between 1098 and 1100 documents one such code. This code that describes eighth century Knights of the dark ages is also known as Charlemagne's Code of Chivalry, for Charlemagne is...
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