Everything You Need to Know About Chivalry (DnD Other)

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A moral, religious, and social code of knightly conduct. Most versions emphasize courage, honor, and service. Most extend beyond the battlefield or noble court, expressing expectations of behavior at home as well.

Before Chivalry[edit]

The origins of chivalry as a concept are obscure. It emerged as the total conflating of many abstract, unnamed, vaguely related concepts, over the course of several hundred years, starting in the dark ages. Therefore just as divine exaltation blooms from obedient servitude, chivalry itself may have begun out of necessary humility. Here is what can be discerned with certainty:

The Preudomme Habitus[edit]

These were the unwritten code of conduct upon which the myth of chivalry was supposedly founded. Some of these ideals originated centuries before knights even came into existence.

  • Loyalty. This is a practical utility in a warrior nobility. Richard Kaeuper associates loyalty with prowess. The importance of reputation for loyalty in noble conduct is demonstrated in William Marshal's biography.
  • Forbearance. A knights' self-control towards other warriors and at the courts of their lords was a part of the early noble habitus as shown in the Conventum of Hugh de Lusignan in the 1020s. The nobility of mercy and forbearance was well established by the second half of the 12th century long before there was any code of chivalry.
  • Hardihood. The quality of hadriness aligns itself with forbearance and loyalty in being one of the military virtues of the preudomme. According to Philip de Navarra, a mature nobleman should have acquired hardiness as part of his moral virtues. Geoffrey de Charny also stressed on the masculine respectability of hardiness in the light of religious feeling of the contemptus mundi.
  • Largesse or Liberality. Generosity was part of a noble quantity. According to Alan of Lille, largesse was not just a simple matter of giving away what he had, but "Largitas in a man caused him to set no store on greed or gifts, and to have nothing but contempt for bribes."
  • The Davidic Ethic. This is the strongest quality of the preudomme created by clerics from Biblical tradition. Originally it was a set of expectations of good rulership articulated by the Frankish church, which involved rightful authority based on protection for the weak and helpless (in particular the Church), respect for widows and orphans, and opposition to the cruel and unjust. The core of Davidic ethic is benevolence of the strong toward the weak.
  • Honor. Honor was what was achieved by living up to the ideal of the preudomme and pursuing the qualities and behavior listed above. The loss of honor is a humiliation to a man's standing and is worse than death. Bertran de Born said: "For myself I prefer to hold a little piece of land in honor, than to hold a great empire with dishonor".

Spanish Chevaliers[edit]

Chivalry is a literary concept that mostly originated in Spain during the Reconquista, an event where Christians pushed Muslims out of the Iberian peninsula. Near the end of the second century of this conflict, around the beginning of the crusades, the concept of knightly orders and a knightly code appeared. This chivalry spread from Spain and became the literary chivalry we are more familiar with. This is where the code of waging war on the "infidel" came from; the infidels were Muslims.

The Spanish epic, El Cid, is a work of historic fiction about the hero Cid, set during the Reconquista.

Once the Reconquista was over, there was no enemy remaining. The knightly orders of the time were seen as threatening to the new central authority, and so were disbanded. With the end of "Chivalric" orders to uphold a code of conduct, and no remaining purpose for that code, chivalry became anachronistic, leading to the story of Don Quixote being penned.

A similar series of events happened to the Chivalric orders of the crusades, but chivalry had existed in literary form for much longer in the northern countries, and had become a part of their culture. As a result, the traditions and iconography of chivalry remained in place.

It is important to note that reconquistadors and crusaders were real people, military men, and that their objectives were usually primarily material. The myth of chivalry is an idealization of their values, not not an accurate representation of their deeds.

So, What is Chivalry?[edit]

Chivalry is two things:

1. An unwritten social code of conduct for the warrior nobility of the European middle ages.
2. A genre of fantasy literature which was not given a name until centuries after people stopped writing it. This is sometimes described separately from chivalry as a whole, as "the chivalric romance".

Core Principals[edit]

These were the main principals most stories of chivalry focused on, when it first appeared in poetry.

  • Generosity
  • Fidelity
  • Liberalism
  • Courtesy

The Military Ethos[edit]

These are the military virtues of chivalry as they were believed to be during the crusades. They are a fabrication, an attempt to justify chivalry in the face of the history of the crusades.

  1. Be faithful and serve the church in absolute faith.
  2. Defend the church.
  3. Respect and defend the weak.
  4. Love your country.
  5. Never retreat from the enemy.
  6. Show no mercy to infidels.
  7. Perform your feudal duties absolutely within the law of God.
  8. Never lie, and always uphold your word.
  9. Be generous to everyone.
  10. Always and everywhere be right and good against injustice.

Chivalric Duties[edit]

At the height of the Chivalric romance, the code was divided into three sets of duties.

Duties to countrymen and fellow Christians[edit]

This contains virtues such as mercy, courage, valour, fairness, protection of the weak and the poor, and in the servant-hood of the knight to his lord. This also brings with it the idea of being willing to give one’s life for another’s; whether he would be giving his life for a poor man or his lord.

Duties to God[edit]

This would contain being faithful to God, protecting the innocent, being faithful to the church, being the champion of good against evil, being generous and obeying God above the feudal lord. (This means the entire bible and all the teachings of the church are part of the Chivalric code.)

Duties to women[edit]

This is probably the most familiar aspect of chivalry. This would contain what is often called courtly love, the idea that the knight is to serve a lady, and after her all other ladies. Most especially in this category is a general gentleness and graciousness to all women. (This was a very late addition to chivalry, and ultimately was just an evolution from "perform your feudal duties" as those duties required courtly involvement. As a result, courtly love was absorbed into chivalry in the same manner as the 7 virtues and vices. [Courtly love is, itself, evolved from the growing cult of the Virgin Mary at the time, and the associated changing values towards women] This portion of chivalry would later become the code of gentlemen in the form of gallantry.)

Styles of the Chivalric Romance[edit]

Different weight given to different areas produced different strands of chivalry:

Warrior chivalry, in which a knight's chief duty is to his lord, as exemplified by Sir Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle

Religious chivalry, in which a knight's chief duty is to protect the innocent and serve God, as exemplified by Sir Galahad or Sir Percival in the Grail legends.

Courtly love chivalry, in which a knight's chief duty is to his own lady, and after her, all ladies, as exemplified by Sir Lancelot in his love for Queen Guinevere or Sir Tristan in his love for Iseult

Chivalric Games[edit]

Military Expertise is what separated the Knight from all other nobility, for they were warriors by blood. When war and combat were not at hand, in times of peace and plenty, a knight must hone, practice, and display his expertise through duel, tournament, and the hunt. This directly lead to chivalric sporting events, such as the Joust and pas d'armes.

As noblemen and warriors, heraldry was essential to their very life- not just a useful tool.

Courtly Love[edit]

This is, in essence, a genre of fiction written to entertain noble ladies, which did not receive a name until some 500 years after people stopped writing stories of this sort. Nevertheless, courtly love is a useful term to discuss these stories and the impact they had. Courtly love, as a genre, evolved through the same period of time as chivalry, hence their eventual conflation. The genre itself is, essentially, a precursor to erotic fiction, each tale setting up a grand romantic relationship for the reader to fantasize about, without specifically including explicit subject matter in the body of the work. What is essential in courtly love is the ambiguity of the love's platonic or erotic nature, and an emphasis on yearning for love over having it, and this has lead to great debate over just what sort of relationship it is meant to embody.

Most courtly love focuses on the themes of Humility, Courtesy, Adultery, and the Religion of Love.

Because courtly love fiction influenced the ladies of noble courts, it became a part of courtly culture. Knights were expected to participate in such courts, as they were nobles and military leaders. Such participation became absorbed into the concept of chivalry as part of their feudal duties. Finally, knights, (being the lowest rank of nobility prior to the rise of gentlemen) saw courtly love as a tool that could be used to raise their status, eventually absorbing the ideals of courtly love into chivalry as well.

In reality, the rare occasion where courtly love was practiced, was merely a thinly veiled cover for an affair within a noble court.

The tenets of courtly love are many and varied, but among the more common ones are, "Marriage is no real excuse for not loving", "He who is not jealous cannot love", "No one can be bound by a double love", and "When made public, love rarely endures".

The Stages of Courtly Love[edit]

The stages of courtly love are, essentially, the plot structure of a courtly love story. By today's standards, this would all be extremely inappropriate and creepy.

  • Attraction to the lady, usually via eyes/glance
  • Worship of the lady from afar
  • Declaration of passionate devotion
  • Virtuous rejection by the lady
  • Renewed wooing with oaths of virtue and eternal fealty
  • Moans of approaching death from unsatisfied desire (and other physical manifestations of lovesickness)
  • Heroic deeds of valor which win the lady's heart
  • Consummation of the secret love (often in symbolic or platonic ways)
  • Endless adventures and subterfuges avoiding detection


This is the name of the type of relationship courtly love was supposed to produce.

Domnei or donnoi is an Old Provençal term meaning the attitude of chivalrous devotion of a knight to his Lady, which was mainly a non-physical and non-marital relationship.

This type of relationship was highly ritualized and complex but was generally considered to be non-physical. In discussing the history of Provençal Poetry (Occitan literature), Claude Charles Fauriel asserts: "He who wants to fully possess his lady knows nothing of 'donnoi'." Guilhem de Montanhagol (1233–1268), a Provençal troubadour, declared: "E d'amor mou castitaz", or, "From love comes chastity".

The chevalier's devotion to his lady functioned by his servitude to her both in terms of his code of conduct and courtly duties. Chivalry as a code, as indicated by the concepts of courtly love and the quality of Domnei, necessitated in theory as in practice a level of devotion to the lady, or high mistress, that went beyond mere professionalism and graciousness in etiquette. Truth and honesty were core virtues, and therefore, a knight's actions were to stem from honorable intentions, sincere motives, and purity of heart. Therefore, in matters of the heart, courtly love wasn't always plausibly separable or indistinguishable from romantic love.

However, by Eros, by Cupid's arrow, the object of a knight's affections may have resided elsewhere outside of his formal duties to his lady. In some instances, the lady was chosen, as in assigned to a knight by happenstance, whereby direct interaction may have been unlikely. As a princesse lointaine, she may have lived in a far away castle by which the chevalier could never, and would never have the chance to know her. Despite the confines of romantic impossibility, obligations of courtly love and Domnei were to persevere out of a chivalrous sense of loyalty and devotion for a knight to his lady. Realities as they were, such as unrequited love as an example, often provided the basis for contributing to many tales of love and legend in Medieval Literature and Medieval poetry.

The Nine Worthies[edit]

These are a group of historic and legendary people whose lives were believed to represent the highest aspirations of chivalry. Studying the lives of these people was believed to be a strong education for a perspective knight. They were a VERY late addition to chivalry, made in the late 14th century, near the end of siege warfare and the importance of knights in combat.

The Nine Worthies are...

  • Three Good Pagans:
  • Hector
  • Alexander the Great
  • Julius Caesar
  • Three Good Jews:
  • Joshua
  • David
  • Judas Maccabeus
  • Three Good Christians:
  • King Arthur
  • Charlemagne
  • Godfrey of Bouillon

Later, there was an effort to add nine female counterparts to the nine worthies. Had knighthood and chivalry continued, this may have one day lead to Dames being commonplace in chivalric orders. These nine women never became standardized. The most well-recognized groups were...

One list which follows the same pattern is the woodcut series by Burgkmair.

  • Lucretia. Wife of Brutus, her suicide after being raped by Tarquinius prompted the overthrow of the Roman monarchy in 510 BC.
  • Veturia. Mother of Coriolanus, she persuaded her son to stop fighting with Rome's enemies.
  • Virginia. Her death in 449 BC at the hands of her father to avoid falling in the hands of a lusting decemvir prompted a popular revolt and the retreat to the Aventine.
  • Esther. from the Book of Esther, saved the Jewish people in exile from a plot to destroy them.
  • Judith. famous heroin who killed the Assyrian general Holophernes after seducing him.
  • Jael. heroin mentioned in Judges 4:17-22 as having killed the chief of the Canaanites after he took refuge in her tent.
  • St Helena. mother of Constantine the Great, according to legend found the True Cross in Jerusalem.
  • St Brigita of Sweden. (1302-73)
  • St Elisabeth of Hungary. (1207-31)

Here is one from the late 14th c., in the novel written by Thomas, marquis of Saluzzo (Saluces): le chevalier errant (Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, mss. Fr. 12559, fol. 125v; manuscript dated 1403-04):










In the 15th c. Triomphe des Neuf Preux, one finds:






Boadicia (Boudicca, who led a Celtic rebellion against the Romans c. 60 AD)


Saint Clotilde (who saved Paris from Attila's invasion)

Andegona (Antigone?).

Other lists include the names of...

Semiramis (queen of Babylon)

Tamyris (or Tammaris, queen of Egypt)

Deiphile (mother of Diomedes)


Melanippa (an Amazon)

Lampeto (queen of the Amazons)

Orithya (Amazon)

Penthesilea (queen of the Amazons killed by Achilles)

Hippolyta (queen of the Amazons, killed by Hercules)

Tanaquil (ambitious wife of Tarquinius the Elder)

Last Remnants of Chivalry[edit]

Much, much later, long after the end of the narrative use of chivalry had died, certain acts of maritime soldiers were influenced by the remaining ideals of chivalry and gallantry- specifically:

"The captain goes down with the ship."


"Women and children first."

Closing Comments[edit]

Chivalry was dynamic, and changed to suit the values of any given region during any given time period. This variability and inconsistency made chivalry essentially value-less and hollow, leading to its ultimate demise.

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