The Chivalric Code

This artlce is a history of the Knights and the Chivalric Code of the Middle Ages. It shows how Christianity influenced the times and also gives a few examples from history and literature of the Chivalric Code in action.

Chivalry is a code of behavior that medieval knights followed. Chivalry was a feature of the High and later Middle Ages in Western Europe. While its roots stretch back to the 9th and 10th centuries, the system of chivalry flourished most vigorously in the 12th and 13th centuries before deteriorating at the end of the Middle Ages. However, the ideals of chivalry continued to influence models of behavior for gentlemen and the nobility during the Renaissance in the 16th century.


The early Middle Ages had been a chaotic time in Europe. However, the 11th century began a long period of renewed stability. Commerce and trade revived, and new towns and cities sprang up throughout the continent. In this comparatively peaceful climate, the Church tried to curb the warlike spirit of the feudal nobility.

In the 11th century, for instance, Church councils met throughout Europe and adopted the programs known as the Peace of God and the Truce of God. The Peace of God forbade knights from attacking peasants, women, priests, and merchants, while the Truce of God prohibited battle on Sundays and holy days. Although the Church lacked the power to enforce them, the Peace of God and the Truce of God reveal the emergence of new values that questioned the wholesale warfare in Western Europe typical of the 9th and 10th centuries.

Christianity also influenced chivalry through the Crusades. The Crusades were military expeditions undertaken by Christian knights to recapture from Muslim control the holy places of pilgrimage in Palestine, or the Holy Land. Although many knights enlisted in search of financial gain, military glory, and adventure, many were also moved by genuine religious enthusiasm. This enthusiasm was reflected in the founding of the military religious orders-the Knights Templar, the Teutonic Knights, and the Hospitalers. The members of these orders took religious vows and shared a common vision of recapturing the Holy Land for Christianity. They believed that knighthood could be a holy form of life when used for Christian purposes. These ordershelped infuse chivalry with religious idealism.


In the 15th and 16th centuries, chivalric ideals and customs continued to survive among the European nobility. By this time their importance consisted largely of keeping alive the memory of the knight's warrior tradition and in serving as a mark of the nobility's social distinction. At the same time, literary figures throughout Europe began to utilize the code of chivalry to serve as a model for the nobility and gentlemen at court.

In Renaissance Italy, Baldassare Castiglione used his Book of the Courtier, published in 1528, to fashion his advice for men and women at court based on knightly etiquette. In the two centuries that followed, many writers fashioned similar advice for both courtiers and worldly gentlemen. By the beginning of the 19th century, the figure of the knight had become romanticized. Writers saw the knight as pioneering the concept of romantic love and representing the highest expression of Christian ideals and civility.

In the 19th century, romantic authors like Sir Walter Scott began to attribute modern manners to medieval knights. Their work shows the ongoing adaptation and vigor of the concept of chivalry, a concept that continued to undergo significant historical development long after the age of medieval knights had passed.


One of the greatest examples of chivalry in literature is Sir Gawain. He epitomizes the chivalric code. In the work, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain received a test of his honor. In the midst of the New Year's celebration at King Arthur's Camelot, a man of mighty stature comes to challenge the Knights of the Round Table. This Green Knight comes to prove the honor and reputation of King Arthur's Court. He had heard of their valiant deeds, their truthfulness, and of their masterful swordsmanship. The Green Knight considered their reputation as presumptuous, and he came to pierce their pride.

Gawain held true to all the tests presented by the Green Knight, the castle lord, Berkilac, and to the lady of the castle, but one. He could not withstand the temptation of the magical scarf that will bring protection to the one wearing it. This was a test of his love for his life. This love of life was the true character of the knight. In all they did, life was valued and cherished.

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