Essay/Term paper: Medieval chivalry
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Medieval Chivalry and Knighthood
During medieval times knighthood was a class culture, cherished and jealousy guarded by the knightly caste. Knight had the honor of defending the king as well as their country. On the bloody fields of battle a code of chivalry evolved that tempered anger and fury with mercy. It created ways of turning the grim business of fighting into something tolerable, perhaps even acceptable. Chivalry was not only looked upon as a code for war; it was looked upon as a setting for stories of love and romance. Chivalry meant a higher social status as well as recognition.
Chivalry as we know it denotes the ideals and practices considered suitable to be a noble. Over time chivalry has been used as the primal word to describe the attitude and actions of men towards women. "The word itself is reminiscent of the milieu in which the ideas connected with it took shape-the aristocratic society of mediaeval France dominated by mounted warriors or chevaliers." From as early as the eleventh century several different sets of ideas represented different standards of chivalric behavior. Over the next four hundred years the concepts of
The ideal nobleman developed by and for the feudal class under the influence of changing environments, ideas, political views and economies.
The concept of being born into a certain class in society was a great part of medieval life. This concept of the class system was based on the land ownership and duties that were owed to other people. The knights were the military supporters of the feudal lords. The knight fought for his lord and if necessary died for him. However, the feudal inheritance was provided only for the eldest son. Younger sons therefore tended to the church or joined groups of knight lacking land. They worked and did their jobs waiting for the opportunity to marry into an estate.
There were three methods of becoming a knight. "The most common involved the King or tenant-in-chief conferring the title, known as 'dubbing'. The second method involved religion, the soon to be knight kept a night vigil with his arms on the altar in front of him. He then took a purifying bath, heard Mass and had his spurs put on it. The dubbing then followed with a formal sermon and a sword. The third method involved the readings of a service Benedictio Novi Militis.
A certain type of apprenticeship exited for knighthood. It was served through being a squire. This involved acting like a servant in the household while being instructed in manners, humility and various skills. Servants were taught exactly what it meant to be a knight. They were tight the responsibilities of knighthood and what their duties exactly were in defending their lord.
Aside from the military training of a knight there was a certain set of manners and customs that developed which is known as 'chivalry'. Part of this was the cultivation of manners that should be used in the courts. It furthered the idea of the social service as well as the ideas of loyalty, virtue and generosity. It was the idea of noblesse oblige- privileges, which came along with responsibilities. Along with the courtly manners came the idea of romantic love and the chivalrous devotion of a knight to his lady.
In the early history of knighthood there were two types of knights and two types of ceremonies to convey honor. One of these knights was known as a knight of the sword; a knight who had only been given an accolade. The other type was a knight who had been given a religious ceremony before the accolade, these were known as knights of the bath.
There were also two ranks in dignity of knighthood. The first were youngsters aspiring to be knights. They had to work for a prince or somebody f a high rank. The second rank was known as the esquires. These men were
He was responsible for carrying the shield of the knight. The esquire was considered a gentleman and had the right to bear arms on his shield. Esquires were also given the right to carry a sword, as well as the right to wear defensive armor, which was easily distinguishable from that of a knight.
The knight of the late thirteenth century was a very classic figure. A helmet, covering the head completely, which would later be better equipped to protect the eyes. The whole body was encased in armor with different degrees of flexibility. A series of plates attached to the basic armor protected the arms, legs, chest and back. A quilted garment was worn underneath these plates to lessen the discomfort. Besides this, the war-horse would bare a mail or a cloth trapper
Sometimes, both, and a chamfron on its head, for protection. All of these items were extremely expensive and hard to obtain.
In England only those who knights who planned on making fighting their careers, and to go in person to do his service rather than paying a shield tax and other dues, was likely to regard the outlay as worth while. These were the men who continued to take up knighthood and to continue their traditions of class. Those who were laymen, serfs or criminals supplied the livelihood of the knights. Whatever surplus was produced by the laboring classes went to the knights. Serfs
Hanuka, 5 said the knights in rents and services. All that was produced by the serfs went to the lord and his household. Any spare time the serfs had after production went to
Labor for the lords. Such labor included creating an extravagant house as well as an extravagant wardrobe for the lords.
Knights and lords had the highest-ranking power during medieval times. If a knight wished to in crease his power and resources, he waged war on his neighbors. Because knights had so much power, the fighting did not faze citizens. A successful raid could produce great rewards such as corn and cattle. "The capture of a baron of some importance could easily make the fortune of a poor knight."
What would prevent knights from killing one another in a time of war or during a tournament? It was possible that with the entire armor the knights wore it would be impossible to tell who was your friend and who was your foe. The way in which knights did recognize each other was by means of flags and war cries. War cries lasted as nearly infallible means of recognition throughout the middle- ages.
For centuries flags and war cries existed in many forms. Before the introduction of these means of identification two other methods were used for recognition. "First, the were those standards and other great ensigns were used for recognition which preceded armies on the march and which in battle provided
a focal point for men to rally under and regroup." Second to these standards were the personal banners that were carried by leaders so they could be both identified as alive and accounted for. As far as shouting was concerned it was also used as a method of scaring the enemy as well as boosting the morale within the army. "In his Arthurian Brut (completed in 1155) the Anglo-Norman poet Wace, doubtless reflecting the practices of his own day, describes a battle in ancient times in which men could not distinguish friend from foe 'save only by the cry they shouted'.
Another popular idea stemming from chivalry was tournaments between the knights. Most of the tournaments were not fought in honor of a woman or an act of chivalry. Most of the time a tournament consisted of a single event involving two groups of knights. Usually these two groups fought each other on an agreed upon time and place. However, it was possible for a knight to be attacked by a group of opponents, and if was to drop his weapon or be unarmed then he had nothing to protect him. Knights were not sympathetic to towards opposing groups of knights. If a man was alone or if they were wounded it was more than likely that he would be killed instantly. If a man fell off of his horse he was dragged away and held for ransom. Many times knights on foot were used to cut
the stirrups of an opponent's horse so that the man would fall off their horse. Many of the tournaments were used as a mask for feudal war. In these cases the death of opposing knights was without regret. Most of the time these wars were waged for financial profit.
"Such bloody business, was however, increasingly subjected to formal controls, both in England and elsewhere, and was softened by the inclusion of safer forms of mock combat." From these ides developed the Tudor and Jacobean tournaments. Two knights and two clerks attended each event. These men then gave an oath in which the two knights promised to keep peace and not settle personal feuds. Those who participated also had to pay a tax for the
License to enter their names into the tournament. At one point hundreds of knights would enter these contest. However, as time went on less and less knights entered because they could not settle their personal feuds through fighting their opponents in a tournament.
One highly skilled event that developed was a form of single combat known as jousting. With this event judges could assure that rules were carefully followed and enforced. The winner of the joust could be easily identified, as opposed to a bloody, chaotic free-for-all in which hundreds of knights were in pursuit of one another. At first the joust did not provide total satisfaction for those
who were out for blood because it was fought with blunted lances? However, jousting gradually gained popularity and became the main event for chief participants.
The use of armor was also an element in the growing idea of safety. Tilt barriers and large plates of armor were designed to offer maximum, protection to those battling. "Two opposing riders, one on each side of the tilt, would charge each other with lance in right hand and barrier to the left, the lance pointed across the body pat the left ear of the horse and across the top of the barrier. Points were awarded according to the number of lances broken and the types of contact made with the opponent, but as a discouragement to those who might otherwise break
the rules points were deducted for fouls (striking an opponents horse, for example). The tilt barriers were used to prevent the collision of horses, it also insured that the consequences of an impact between a knight and his opponents twelve-foot joust.
In the earliest tournaments plates of metal on their chest and legs, as well as metal caps for their heads. In the beginning of the thirteenth century, breastplates were developed and became common in the tournaments. As time went on more forms of armor were developed for those who could afford it. From the early
Hanuka, 9 fifteenth century, European schools of armoires developed a suit of armor totally fitting a knight form head to toe.
It is true that knighthood was masculine and aggressive. Survival of the fittest, kill or be killed. However, the idea that women have been the source and inspiration behind knightly deeds is present throughout history beginning from the early twelfth century through the present. "Chivalry and the worship of fair ladies are so are so intimately bound up as to become almost indistinguishable; the knight to aspires to military glory does not yearn to lead armies in Alexander's footsteps, does not dream of the gold of power, but longs for to shine for his prowess as an individual, that he may earn the silver of his lady's love." Realistically, the idea of chivalry did not stem from the man's love for a woman. It stems from a change in the attitude of men towards women. For example, in Rome, women were not looked upon with passion and love. They were looked upon merely as overseers of the household, tending to children, and not to be seen in public. The only thing that could bring a woman into high regard was being born into high class. Finally, as the ideas of chivalry began to develop, women became the focus of chivalry (based on medieval romances and stories of chivalry), and winning the heart of a woman became more important that winning a battle.
Hanuka, 10 Many authors saw the age of chivalry as an opportunity to write tales of love and romance. The created a branch of writing which is today known as The Romance of Chivalry, greatly influenced knighthood by displaying tales of great bravery and revered behavior based on imaginary knights. The church used these ides as a mean of instilling religion and moral behavior into the knights of that time. "It became the fashion for a knight to take a vow to perform some special act which might mean that he would protect all pilgrims, help to recover the Holy Sepulchre or to be knight-errant which meant that he would be delighted to join in any fight."
The lives of true knights were displayed in what is known as chivalric biographies. They were anecdotal styles of eyewitness accounts of the lives and battles of some knights such as Chevalier Bayard. Life of the Black Prince, a collection of poem was written by Chandos Herald on the life and battles of Bayard. The stories of chivalry and knighthood were written as preparation for young knights.
The ballads of chivalry addressed the behavioral codes and exploits of the aristocracy. They exemplified displays of honor, hospitality, loyalty, courage, and piety. Chivalric ballads were stories of romance, love and passion. Men, who would do anything to win the heart of a woman, even die at the hands of an enemy. For centuries these tales have touched the hearts of so many.
Passionate in sentimental love first appears in a group of romances composed in French during the twelfth century, and these include some of the most widely traveled as well as the longest-lasting romance stories. Some of these romantic stories originated in England, and most of them were later translated into English. Some of these stories include Floris and Blauncheflur, William of Palerne, and Lancelot. The appeal of these stories was the sexual relationship as a way to achieve a sense of self.
William Marshall was one of the most experienced knights in France during the reign of Henry II. Marshall became a tutor to Henry's son who later became know as Henry 'the young king'. Young Henry was placed in the hands of one of the greatest knights of all time, Marshall. Marshall's career began in a tournament near Le Mans in 1167, only a few short months after he was knighted. Marshall's lord, William de Tancarville, led forty knights into battle and Marshall distinguished himself immediately by capturing several knights. His success during this battle made him hungry for more. Within a few weeks of his success, he battled five knights who had attacked him and managed to drive them off. Out of all the skilled and talented knights that exited during this time, William Marshall was the most skilled and renowned.
Hanuka, 12 the medieval age introduced the world to chivalry. Ideas of courage, kindness, and intelligence, gave the citizens something to believe in. The period during which chivalry flourished the most was the most barbaric time on our history. Corruption, torture and treachery were human nature. However, one thing remained that gave young children something to believe in and strive for. During a time when women were treated unfairly by men, chivalry gave those women a reason to believe that true love and kindness did truly exist. Although chivalry, like everything else, had its flaws, it was an integral part of the development of society beginning from the early twelfth century. Chivalry has developed over the years and still exists today.
Barber, Richard. The Knight and Chivalry. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970.
Boutlon, Jonathan Dacre. The Knights of the Crown. Great Britain: The Boydell Press, 1987.
Cabell, James Branch. Chivalry. New York and London: 1909.
Davis, William Stearns, Life on a Mediaeval Barony. New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1923.
Harper-Bill and Harvey, Christopher and Ruth. Medieval Knighthood IV. Rochester: The Boydell Press, 1992.
Lang, Lloyd and Jennifer. Medieval Britain: The Age of Chivalry. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
Morgan, Gwendolyn A. Medieval Ballads. New York: Peter Lang, 1996.
Painter, Sydney. French Chivalry: Chivalry Ideas and Practices and Mediaeval France. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1985.
Ramsey, Lee C. Chivalric Romances: Popular Literature in Medieval England. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.
Wood, Charles T. The Age of Chivalry. New York: Universe Books, 1970.
Young, Alan. Tudor and Jacobean Tournaments. London: George Phillips, 1987.
British Orders and Awards. London: Kaye and Ward, 1968.
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It is apparent in today’s society that the definition and application of chivalry has changed through history. During the Middle Ages, chivalry was a code of brave and courteous conduct for knights. According to this system of morals and manners, a knight was to remain faithful to God, loyal to his king, true to his lady-love, and helpful to their less fortunate kinsmen. Chivalry is still alive today but to a lesser extent than in the Middle Ages. I think chivalry will exist in the future, but only time will tell.
The legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table molded chivalrous conduct. The Knights of the Round Table possessed many aspects of chivalry, but each of them had flaws. Sir Lancelot, for example, wasn’t entirely loyal to King Arthur because of his desire for Guenevere. He remedied the situation by fighting for his king in the battle against Sir Modred. While the chivalry of the Middle Ages is thought by most to have been reserved for royalty, this was not the case. Common folk also exhibited chivalrous conduct, though in less glamorous ways.
Chivalry has greatly diminished since the Middle Ages. Respect, courtesy, and honesty have little meaning to today’s youth. There are exceptions to this. Helping the elderly, family, and friends are just a few things young people can do to resurrect chivalry. I don’t think it’s possible to be as chivalrous as the knights in the Middle Ages were because our lifestyles have changed so drastically.
As of now, the future of chivalry looks bleak. If society doesn’t change its ways soon, the quality of life and chivalrous behavior will continue to decline. Chivalrous conduct could return slowly if society realizes the importance of it.
I think the phrase “treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated” simplifies chivalry. Since the beginning of the Arthurian legend, chivalry has been an important aspect of life; I hope this aspect stays with humanity many years into the future.
Filed Under: History, Middle Ages