What does it mean to have honor? Cultures from across the world have asked this question for millennia, and most of them have come up with very violent answers. Probably the most recognizable form of honorable conduct that we see in history is the idea of chivalry. Born in the Middle Ages, this idea bloomed in a troubled time, when wars were a pretty common occurrence, and the upper class was starting to need to justify their existence-- or distract the population with another shiny crusade. This is where chivalry comes in. At first, it was little more than a descriptor; someone who was “chivalrous” (or, in French, practiced chevalerie) was someone who was very good at fighting on horseback, particularly in formation. Because they tended to be in need of top-tier arms and armor for this style of fighting, the chevalier (or cniht, if you want to be Anglo-Saxon about it) either needed to be rich, or work for someone who was rich. And of course, chivalry being born out of a burgeoning warrior class that was the knight (ca. 1066-Forever in our hearts), it fit this role of justifying the bourgeoisie’s existence quite well.
Chivalry was an evolving concept that very much meant different things to different people, yet had some general, overarching themes that ran through it wherever it landed. This paper will explore some of those themes, and in the end, see if any of them still apply today. Because to fully kill an idea, it has to be replaced by another idea, and chivalry is so inherently unique that to replace it would be a tall task indeed. Herein, we will have a look at the ideal of chivalry from the perspective of the knight himself and the Church, and contrast that with the reality of chivalry seen in the Middle Ages. Finally, we will look at Medieval chivalry and see if it can be properly applied to the modern day.
Burrow, Kyle, "Chivalry and the Knight" (2020). History Class Publications. 66.