What Was the Significance of the Chivalric Code and How Did It Work
The Middle Ages presented the world with the noble knights who apart from the power and military skills had to possess the chivalrous spirit of real gentlemen. Initially, the word “chivalry” was used for defining the warriors on horseback, but with the time it transformed into the term meaning the particular code of conduct.
The first point to make is to state that chivalry was mainly applied to the military affairs against the non-Christian states. The Code of Chivalry could be followed by forming the vows and oaths, which were underpinned by the principles of etiquette and the respectful attitude to women. To explain, the knights were going through the procedure of tying their duties with God and experiencing the process of purification. Furthermore, the church wanted to eliminate the brutality of the warriors as well as to make them faithful to the God. The three types of chivalry were different in their nature, namely in the responsibilities and rules the knights had to follow. The duties to the countrymen were defined as having honor and value, as well as defending the weak and the poor. What is more, they had to be ready for sacrificing their life for the life of others and helping the widows and orphans (Marti 165). They could not take any monetary awards for their deeds, could not expect the fame and rely on their enemies. The most important was to remain true and always end the given tasks. The point is that the knights could prove their chivalrous ideas not only by fighting as the Crusades but during the tournaments, where they presented all their chief virtues and skills.
Another type was known as the religious chivalry according to which the Knights put the God’s will above all, spread the idea of good being against evil. The code of conduct required them to be faithful to the Church and to worship God. The last type of chivalry was the most exciting and essential in the Middle Ages since it concerned the treatment of women. It presupposed the admiration of one woman among all the others, the honor to her and gentleness. Such attitude was called as the courtly love chivalry with its famous representative Sir Lancelot while expressing his feelings to Guinevere. Such treatment of the females came from the worship of the Virgin Mary but it still, was opposed significantly to the standard Medieval attitude towards women (Charny 3). Notably, they were underestimated and discriminated, not equal to the men, specifically those of the poor classes. The way of showing love was also different in chivalry because it comprised the idea of spiritual passion connected with the erotic dreams. Still, only the representatives of the noble families could count on such courtly platonic love, the special rules of communication, dating, and courtship.
It has to be said that the rules and norms of chivalry were distorted with the time, they stopped being so honorable and faithful in its intentions. To be more precise, the duties turned into the wicked ones; the tournaments became expensive, slightly bloody and more ritualized. Even the love affairs did not remain completely clear and spiritual, they in many cases led to the adultery and promiscuity. As a result, the code of chivalry saw its end with the increase of mercantilism and the appearance of the middle class. What is more, if earlier the power and authority were in the hands of noble social representatives, not it was altered with the ordinary people ruling the community (Bonenberger 36). Nobody continued spreading the spirits of good manners and honor what finally ended up in the code disappearance.
The role of chivalry code is rather significant for the whole history since it based the ground for the most critical human virtues and social norms. In other words, the church aimed to create the atmosphere of responsibility, courtesy, and value. It wanted to transform the idea of the social warrior, who associated with the justice, sympathy, and sacrifice for the weak. Still, the primary issue of chivalry code lied in its peculiarity for a particular lord. To be specific, the norms and principles depended mainly on the Lord’s views on what was right and what was wrong. One could consider the adultery as usual in that society, while another forbidden even to think about such crime (Abels).
On the whole, the new code of conduct was not created for the average person, but the warrior who was to bring morality through his actions. The Church namely struggled to deracinate the idea of warriors as being the cruel, uneducated vandals. Correctly, the church put the goal at turning them into the incarnation of all the principal virtues which everybody should follow. Everything was directed on transforming the warriors from the so-called bandits to the leading social class, that would rule on the basis of fairness and respect to all its members.
It is impossible to claim about the purely tremendous or adverse influence of the chivalry code on the medieval society. The one thing is clear enough is that the idea of spreading it lied in reducing the level of violence in the community. The knights were supposed to change the society by being the example of good will, sacrifice, mercy, and readiness to protect. Moreover, they had to entirely reconstruct the role of women, by not oppressing them, but respecting, adoring and worshiping their beauty. But it has to be mentioned that not all the followers were keeping to the vows and oaths given in the church (Saul 215). It can be explained by the inability of perfect behavior due to the medieval times being cruel, violent, and ruled by the feudal system. In additions, as it was mentioned above, the attitude to the code was distorted, the knighthood was recognized as a perfect tool for the smear actions, the personal benefits. All in all, the church viewed such manipulations as the threat to its plans and ideas, primarily, the increased violent character of the tournaments and other public manifestations of the code of conduct.
To sum up, the code of chivalry did change the movement of history and put the beginning of the entirely different view on the social norms with the new principles of courtly behavior and deeds. It had both advantages and disadvantages, but the main thing is that it wore the spirit of improvement, the struggle for change and development of the right morality and democracy. In general, the knighthood was significant for the transformation of the women role in the society, for the respect of others, for the eternal faith in God and the good being always above the evil.
De Charny, Geoffroi et al. A Knight’s Own Book Of Chivalry. Philadelphia, University Of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.
Saul, Nigel. Chivalry In Medieval England. Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, 2011.
Sánchez-Martí, Jordi. “The Representation Of Chivalry In The Knight’s Tale.” Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses, no. 13, 2000, pp. 161-173. Universidad De Alicante Servicio De Publicaciones, doi:10.14198/raei.2000.13.13.
“Chivalry.” Usna.Edu, 2017, https://www.usna.edu/Users/history/abels/hh381/Chivalry.htm.
Bonenberger, Adrian. “Chivalry: Legend Or Realistically Relevant Code?.” vol 5, no. 1, 1997.
Many of us know about knights and chivalry from fairy tales and brief lessons from history classes. The real life of a medieval knight was too far from a fairy tale. Almost all free time of a knight was spent either hunting or in war. Another way to earn a living was through knight tournaments. However, in the endless medieval external and internal wars, a new image of chivalry was formed: the knight transformed from an illiterate soldier to a noble and aristocratic warrior. Chivalry was a moral system of the Middle Ages, which was based on such qualities as courage, bravery, and honor for knights. For the first time, this code was mentioned in “The Song of Roland” – an epic poem written in the 12th century.
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