In this essay I’d like to write about chivalry. I’m going to discuss what chivalry is and some of its ideals and values. The ideals that I feel are the most important and mean the most to me will be listed. Also, chivalry’s role in a knight’s life and what it means to me today will be discussed, as well as how it can be an important guide today of how a person should live.
First off, what is chivalry? The definition of chivalry according to answers.com is,” 1. The medieval system, principles, and customs of knighthood. 2. A. The qualities idealized by knighthood, such as bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women. B. A manifestation of any of these qualities. 3 A group of knights or gallant gentlemen.” In this essay I’m writing about chivalry as it pertains to the second definition. In the medieval world the chivalric code wasn’t an exact code that was the same everywhere. It was more a collection of ideals that medieval knights and men of honor strove to emulate. Chivalry as a group of values and ideals is attributed as beginning in the eighth century during the reign of Charlemagne the great. The code of chivalry in Charlemagne’s time was a list of values and rules that all his knights were to uphold. The code changed over time as values changed in the dark ages. The French and particularly the Normans greatly revered Chivalry and developed it further during the ninth century through the fifteenth century. The Arthurian legends added to the romance and allure of chivalry as well. To me, Chivalry as a code for living one’s life is an old world concept that’s as applicable today as it ever was.
There are quite a few historical sources for the ideals and values of chivalry. I’ve reviewed several sources and tried to condense them to a core of seven that I try to live by. The ideals of chivalry that are the most commonly listed and that mean the most to me are as follows: Honor / Nobility, Courage / Bravery, Loyalty / Faithfulness, Justice, Prowess, Humility, and Courtesy.
All of these ideals and qualities are just as admirable today in the modern world as when they were developed in medieval times. To me these qualities should be the goals every person strives to live up to. Can you picture how different today’s world would be if more people lived according to these ideals? The modern world we live in today seems to have become more and more an every man for his self scenario. The youth of today seem to be more materialistic than ever before. Women are routinely disrespected in song lyrics, or in person for that matter. The ideals of chivalry if taught to young men and women and upheld as ideals to strive for couldn’t help but improve their attitudes toward each other and the world we live in. To the few who still value the chivalric code, Chivalry is not dead, but still alive and well!
Let’s take a look at some of the ideals of chivalry that I feel are most important. When looking at these ideals please keep in mind how these qualities might apply in today’s world and ask yourself, are these not qualities that you would want in your self, as well as in others? I think you’ll agree with me that these are all very good qualities to have and to strive for, even in today’s society. To borrow a phrase from our United States Declaration of Independence,” We hold these truths to be self-evident!”
Honor / Nobility - Seek great stature of character by holding to the virtues and duties of a knight, realizing that though the ideals cannot be reached, the quality of striving towards them ennobles the spirit, growing the character from dust towards the heavens. Nobility also has the tendency to influence others, offering a compelling example of what can be done in the service of rightness. Being an honorable and honest person is an extremely important element to chivalry.
Courage / Bravery - Being a knight often means choosing the more difficult path, the personally expensive one. Be prepared to make personal sacrifices in service of the precepts and people you value. At the same time, a knight should seek wisdom to see that stupidity and courage are cousins. Courage also means taking the side of truth in all matters, rather than seeking the expedient lie. Seek the truth whenever possible, but remember to temper justice with mercy, or the pure truth can bring grief. A knight should have the courage to stand for what he thinks is right no matter the sacrifice and defend it against all foes, or the odds.
Loyalty / Faith - Be known for unwavering commitment to the people and ideals you choose to live by. There are many places where compromise is expected; loyalty is not amongst them. Faith means trust and integrity, and a knight should always be faithful to his or her promises, no matter how big or small they may be. Also a knight must have faith in his beliefs, for faith roots him and gives hope against the despair that human failings create.
Justice - Seek always the path of 'right', unencumbered by bias or personal interest. Recognize that the sword of justice can be a terrible thing, so it must be tempered by humanity and mercy. If the 'right' you see agrees with others, and you seek it out without bending to the temptation for expediency, then you will earn renown beyond measure.
Prowess - To seek excellence in all endeavors expected of a knight, martial and otherwise, seeking strength to be used in the service of justice, rather than in personal aggrandizement.
Humility - Value first the contributions of others; do not boast of your own accomplishments, let others do this for you. Tell the deeds of others before your own, according them the renown rightfully earned through virtuous deeds. In this way the office of knighthood is well done and glorified, helping not only the gentle spoken of but also all who call themselves knights.
Courtesy - Always behave with an excellence of manners or social conduct; polite behavior. Always be courteous, respectful, or considerate of others no matter their station.
To a medieval knight or lord, chivalry guided everything in their lives. Chivalry was a guide of how to behave and act whether in battle or at court. The knight took on the values and did his best to live up to the ideals. I believe this can be done today as well. I have always tried to be a good person and treat everyone respectfully. It’s not always easy, but most things worth while aren’t easy. Recently within the last year, I’ve become a member of a medieval recreation organization called,” The Society for Creative Anachronism.” I’ve met many people in this group who also value the chivalric ideals and try to recreate them. I try to live my life today by the code of chivalry as best as I can and I can’t help but believe the world would be a better place if more people tried to live by the same values. I might not end up a hero in shining armor as in some fantasy novels. Though, I at least hope by following my own chivalric code to become a better person, a respected person, and most important to me, a good role model for my children
In conclusion, I have attempted to express what chivalry was and is, as well as what it means to me. I’ve tried to explain some of the ideals and values of chivalry and their meaning. I hope I’ve shown in this essay that Chivalry is still alive and can still have a place in this modern world of ours. To me, Chivalry as a code for living one’s life is an old world concept that’s as applicable today as it ever was.
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