The European Chivalry: the Ideals and Practices

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The European Chivalry: The Ideals and Practices

Andrew Daniels

Strayer University

Abstract

This paper focuses on the ideals and practices of chivalry, specifically in the Middle Ages. During this time, a list of Ten Commandments pertaining to chivalry existed. Knights were expected to uphold a certain code that impacted their country, church, king, and fellow man. This paper will elaborate on those individual commandments and explore what each mandate meant for a knight, and it will show how those obligations affected various aspects of their lives. Also, the paper will touch on chivalry in relation to a knight’s demeanor toward a woman, and the rules that were to be followed when engaging in courtly love. Lastly, one will see how some of these ideas have carried into modern day, though they have been altered throughout time.

The European Chivalry: The Ideals and Practices

Picture King Arthur, a knight in shining armor, waging war against his former knight Launcelot to prove his love for Guenever. Most people envision such scenes when they hear the word “chivalry.” While dragon-slaying knights and tales of rescuing damsels in distress have contributed to our notion of chivalry, many more unifying aspects make up what it means to be chivalrous. I will be delving into the true meaning behind the principles and what it means to be a knight devoted to the ideals of chivalry. Knights first evolved in the eighth century under the direction of the French ruler Charlemagne; it was from this time that the idea of chivalry arose. Though the Code of Chivalry was never formally written, it was understood by all as a way of culture and moral conduct. During the Middle Ages, knights upheld the ideals and practices delineated in The Code of Chivalry. These values ranged from dedication to the church, to defending the weak and defending your country, and holding yourself to a higher standard by being faithful to your word and respecting others. The unspoken Ten Commandments revealed the duties a knight was to defend. This paper will further expand upon the customs of knights and their chivalric ways.

One of the major components of chivalry dealt with protecting the church. The first commandment stated, “thou shalt believe all that the church teaches, and shalt observe all its directions” (Marshall, 2002). The second commandment simply stated, “thou shalt defend the Church” (Marshall, 2002). In the Middle Ages Christianity in the form of Catholicism was the only practiced religion. The church played a distinct and dominate role in the majority of people’s lives, not only medieval knights. Beginning as free peasants, knights often pillaged churches. Due to such violence, Rome declared knights the protectors of churches starting in the tenth century and threatening sanctions against any who ransacked churches. Later, in the 11th century, the Truce of God asserted that knights should not make war on all holy days, all saints days or Thursday through Sunday. Abiding to these rules meant that knights exhibited their chivalric duty by observing the churches directions. Not only did the knights protect the church, but the church protected the knights’ estate if he embarked on a Crusade to Jerusalem, the supposed burial sight of Jesus. During his time away, the knight was also exempt from paying taxes to the church (Warrior Challenge, 2003).

While knights were required to defend the church, they were also expected to defend the weak, according to the Code of Chivalry (Marshall, 2002). Knights were expected to protect the weak and innocent. Given a plot of land for their services, rather than monetary compensation, knights were required to oversee the land in order to keep agricultural procedures running smoothly and to ensure the well-being over their serfs. Another knightly duty was to avenge the wronged. This was possible with extensive training from the age of seven to twenty one. In...
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