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Christopher VaughnStrever




Location: San Antonio, TX
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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jul, 2011 7:35 am    Post subject: Chivalry; Fiction or Fact?         Reply with quote

So I have been quite decided for a long time according to what I have been told by many: Chivalry is just a Victorian thing. It did not exist in the 14th-16th centuries... And on the other hand I have read (in one of Geoffrey Chaucer's stories) where Chivalry is directly mentioned (15th century) and other places.

Now I am not saying chivalry is true or untrue, rather I am asking; Is Chivalry Fiction or Fact according to the 15th and 16th centuries?

(Sorry if this topic has been discussed previously. I searched for a while and didn't come up with anything)

Experience and learning from such defines maturity, not a number of age
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Jeffrey Faulk




Location: Georgia
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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jul, 2011 8:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While I'm not an expert, this is my understanding of how things stood:

--There was an overall Christian morality that was the ideal for everybody, no matter what their station. Don't lie, cheat, murder, treat your fellow man as you would wish to be treated, et cetera. Obviously just an ideal most of the time, rarely taken seriously, regrettably.

--Chivalry as a concept came forth somewhere around the 12th or 13th century in France? Could've been earlier, I don't know.

--Up until then the general ethic for knights and nobility had been "do whatever you want with what's yours, just don't trespass on the rights of your peers or those of higher station and do what you're told by your ruler." Considering that for a long time, people could be property (serfs and sometimes even outright slaves), this meant that the upper classes could basically do anything they wanted.

--After the introduction of the idea of chivalry, it was gradually modified into a sort of code of manners that was generally more or less followed in public society-- be nice to women that know their place, pay respect to your betters, that kind of thing. This was in public; in private, 'your house is your castle', you could still do as you liked.

When it came to situations like war and what not, however, the attitude was "we're obviously better and more chivalrous than they are, they don't deserve to be treated with chivalry" in many incidents, hence things like knights massacring peasant soldiers. This is countered by a number of incidents where chivalrous behavior was exhibited; I can't think of a specific incident right now, although Saladin and Richard in the Crusades rings a bell for some reason.

--The concept itself of chivalry, gentlemanly behaviour towards all and what not, was always an ideal that was rarely practiced to the letter. As such, the idea of 'knights in shining armour' and such is indeed largely romantic Victorian notions reinforced by 'evidence' such as Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, which one might note has a good number of knights acting in a most unchivalrous manner indeed, although they're condemned by the author, of course...

--So, the answer to your question (was it fact or fiction) is... it was kind of both? It was an ideal that was occasionally followed, sometimes more actively than others, and over time has been embellished and exaggerated by historical sentiment. Has that helped? Anybody who knows better than I, feel free to expand/correct me...
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 24 Jul, 2011 9:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chivalry existed, but to what extent it did and how much it was followed has been the subject of academic debate that will probably never end. Chivalry was an ethos and part of the aristocratic culture and mindset, a cultural value that was passed from generation to generation. It certainly evolved over time, and it was nebulous enough that there never was a formal code of chivalry as it were, nor even generalized agreement about what it was precisely. But there seem to be a few features of chivalry which we can identify.

Chivalry for medieval people was first and foremost skill in war. To be chivalrous, one needed to be skilled in fighting with lance and sword, primarily on horseback, but also on foot if the need arose. One of the reasons Richard I of England was considered by many, even in his own time, to be a paragon of chivarly was because of how good he was at fighting, and how heroic he was in leading his men.

Chivalry stressed loyalty to your lord, particularly to the lord whom you swore homage and fealty to. In practice, with men often swearing more than one oath of homage, and swearing oaths of fealty to numerous men, this was often highly problematic. Nevertheless, the importance of the lord and vassal relationship increased, with emphasis upon the loyalty and trustworthiness of the latter towards the former.

As the 12th century wore on, chivalry became connected with courtly etiquette, and it became important to be respectful to your peers. Part of this expectation was that a knight was supposed to treat a noble woman and lady with a certain degree of respect and politeness. This did not apply to women of a lower social standing, who were fair game for rape. The problem with talking about chivalrous behaviour towards noblewomen is that we automatically transpose our modern ideas about chivalrous behaviour, which is quite different from the medieval idea. One need look no further than some of the 12th and 13th century Arthurian romances to see that this was the case; in particular, Chretien de Troyes' “Eric et Enide” comes to mind.

Related to the concept of social etiquette, knights often tried to capture and ransom other knights, rather than outright kill them. Among other things, this was probably because many knights were so inter-related to other aristocrats in Europe that they would often fight against people who were relatives, distant relatives or kinsmen. Thus, checks on the amount of bloodshed were desirable, because of these close relationships. Of course, as has been pointed out already, this did not apply to social inferiors. The concept of ransoming enemy knights seems to have declined somewhat by the start of the 14th century, such that it became less common than it once was.

Theoretically, knights were also supposed to act as protectors of the Church. This probably grew out of the tendency for warriors in the Early and High Middle Ages to loot and despoil churches. While this was certainly an important component of true chivalry in the mind of church men, I am not sure how many knights saw it this way as well.

Knights were expected to show largesse by giving away vast amounts of money and wealth. Achille Luchaire, at the start of the 20th century, had shown in his monograph on France that noblemen often spent exorbitant and prodigal sums of money, some of which was spent in acts and gifts to demonstrate largesse. This kept many lords in a cycle of impecuniousness which undoubted exacerbated conflicts at the time.

Mesure was also another element important to chivalry. It is sometimes translated as “moderation”, and refers to moderation in behaviour and action, in contrast with actions driven by anger and pride. Undoubtedly, this was largely in response to almost unrestrained belligerence and warmongering of knights and aristocrats during the 11th century, which had become so bad at times as to require the Truce of God and the Peace of God movements. It might have also been partly in response to the Germanic notions of feuding which wreaked havoc in areas controlled by the Empire, and also in the “fringe” regions of Europe. Remaining balanced and moderate in one's decisions and actions came to be seen as a desirable trait, even though it remained uncommon among the aristocratic classes. Both Frederick Barbarossa, and the much later Sir John Chandos were praised by chroniclers for their mesure.

These are some of the more important medieval notions of the chivalry. Obviously, there are others, and perhaps other forum members might comment on some of these as well. Chivalry became especially popular in the waning of the Middle Ages, particularly in the court of Edward III of England, but also among some of the other members of the European aristocracy. Philip the Good of Burgundy, Emperor Sigismund I and the Hungarian King Charles I all come to mind as late medieval supporters of chivalry, insofar that all created a chivalric order of their own.
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Jeff A. Arbogast





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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jul, 2011 10:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[quote="Jeffrey Faulk"]While I'm not an expert, this is my understanding of how things stood:

When it came to situations like war and what not, however, the attitude was "we're obviously better and more chivalrous than they are, they don't deserve to be treated with chivalry" in many incidents, hence things like knights massacring peasant soldiers. This is countered by a number of incidents where chivalrous behavior was exhibited; I can't think of a specific incident right now, although Saladin and Richard in the Crusades rings a bell for some reason.


I remember reading somewhere that once when Saladin was besieging some Crusader fort or other that he heard that a certain knight within had just been married. Upon inquiring as to where the knight and his bride were housed (a particular tower apparently) he ordered his catapults, etc. to avoid that specific tower as they pummeled the rest of the fort. I can believe that.

A man's nose is his castle-and his finger is a mighty sword that he may wield UNHINDERED!
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Quinn W.




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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jul, 2011 11:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I wrote a paper on this topic last year for a university course. However, my focus was exclusively on 13th century England and France. On a basic level, though, I'm sure the points would be applicable for later centuries as well.

I, too, have very often heard that chivalry was nothing more than an ideal, and that nobody actually lived up to it in reality. But the conclusion I drew from my research was that even the idea of chivalry actually had extensive practical application. What I mean is that it was in a knight's best interest to be "chivalric". The disclaimer here is that the definition of chivalry back then was not what many think it was. It was a strictly class based ideal, and the rules changed depending on whether one was dealing with his inferiors, superiors, or equals.
For example, it encouraged restraint (again, among equals) which in turn reinforced the effort to take fellow knights as prisoner and hold them for ransom rather than kill them. This helped prevent the breakdown of the upper levels of society, encouraged the enemy to treat you in the same manor, and generally reinforced the status quo, to the point where knights might very well feel a closer connection to enemies of equal class than to their own countrymen of inferior rank.
That example was a bit of a cynical one, but my point is that chivalry was not necessarily some useless philosophy only ever exercised by naive idealists. As long as we look at it from a historical context rather than by our own modern definition, I think chivalry was very much an active, practiced reality.

(If anybody is interested in more examples or would like to read my paper, let me know. I am only a student and it is an unpublished work, but it was very well received by my professor and I thought I made some solid points.)

"Some say that the age of chivalry is past, that the spirit of romance is dead. The age of chivalry is never past, so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth"
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E. Storesund





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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jul, 2011 1:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In the norse text translation "strengleikar" from various courtly French literature, I believe the part called "Leikara lioð" - or as the supposed original was named, some thing like - if you'll excuse my French- "the song of the c*nt". If I remember correctly it satirized the courtly cliché of suffering knights and heroic deeds as merely a prospect of tricking ladies into the sack.
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Jean-Carle Hudon




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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jul, 2011 2:27 pm    Post subject: chivalry and democracy         Reply with quote

I would tend to believe that there were as many chivalrous land owning people in the middle ages , all proportions respected,
as there are modern day well off politicians who really believe that they are serving the People while in Congress, or Parliament, or wherever the ideal of Democracy is front and center in the value system. Any takers on that one ?
Every epoch has values that identify their preoccupations, short real life and hope of eternal life were realities in the Middle Ages, so Chivalry was a hodge-podge of religious ideals and military necessities.
Democracy, since the great revolutions of the late XVIIIth, has reached the same summit in the modern value system. No one seriously questions the premisse that democracy is a good and necessary thing, but the practice is still pretty sketchy, and the practionners are often colourful to say the least. Still, they are ''sworn'' into office, and they vote on laws for our greater benefit, they meet and haggle and argue, and have the best seats in the house at Tournaments ( rock concerts or sporting events), but every now and then one is caught with his hand in our pockets, despite the vows and the pomp and circumstance

Bon coeur et bon bras
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Christopher Lee




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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jul, 2011 3:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tangential to the topic but I think pertinent is a quote I read in a Victorian era (1888) book in relation to Edward Bruce:

The Bruce’s, now foiled, marched along the green banks of the Liffey till they reached the pleasantly-situated waterfall at Leixlip (Salmon Leap), where they rested for four days. They now commenced a career of plunder and destruction, and passed on to Naas reduced the ancient town to ashes. They next plundered Castledermot Friary, and marched on to Kilkenny, devastating and burning the whole country through which they passed. Their course could l'>e tracked by the fire and smoke of burning towns and houses, and the unfortunate inhabitants were reduced to such distress that great numbers died by starvation.…..

Taking a brief retrospective view of Bruce's career, it is difficult to see how it could have ended otherwise, and, except for the number of Irishmen who fell in his cause, it is hard to regret his discomfiture. Though chivalrous and brave, his hasty and impetuous disposition pre-eminently unfitted him for a position of authority, and his horrible sacrileges, wanton cruelties, and inexplicable spirit of destruction alienated the sympathies of those he undertook to emancipate. He possessed but few of those great qualities which mado his illustrious brother the victor of Bannockburn.

That is a really interesting conception of “chivalry”; that someone can be all of those things, possess all of those appalling qualities and yet is still accorded the dubious distinction of being "chivalrous" based, I suspect, solely upon the nobility of his birth, not by his deeds or ideals.


Last edited by Christopher Lee on Sun 24 Jul, 2011 5:58 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Michael Curl




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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jul, 2011 3:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I recommend you read this.

http://www.amazon.com/Knights-Book-Chivalry-M...amp;sr=8-1

E Pluribus Unum
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Andrew W




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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jul, 2011 6:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

For the twelfth and thirteenth century development of chivalry, a very readable overview is Constance Bouchard, Strong of Body, Brave and Noble.
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Sam N.




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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jul, 2011 10:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's to easy to be cycnical and think that all people back then were at heart simply greedy, but I think how ideal people can be is constantly underrated. I recently did a paper on the Crusades for a 2nd year history of Christianity class and during my research I discovered that for the most part the reason so many nobles went on the Crusades was their faith and duty, not profit. The cities they sought to take were hardly rich (Jerusalem was not really a trade city at all) and the expenses it took to fuel the Crusades were so massive that they could never be paid off with the loot gathered from them. Most nobles recognised this fully and even took out loans and sold nearly everything to go on these expeditions, including kings of great countries. Why? Many did it as a way to atone for all the Christian blood they had spilled, but many also reported that they went because their feudal duties to provide military support to their lords extended the Lord, God himself. With almost all children being brought up with these ideals in some way, it's actually no wonder that there were many who decided to stick to them, certainly no fewer than religious or very moral people in modern times. I suspect the rate of those who followed chivalry is basically the same as those who follow ethical business practices today, i.e. the majority of businesses all over the world, though a few large famous unethical business people tend to really stick out and give the rest of the business world a very bad name.

Quote:
Democracy, since the great revolutions of the late XVIIIth, has reached the same summit in the modern value system. No one seriously questions the premisse that democracy is a good and necessary thing, but the practice is still pretty sketchy, and the practionners are often colourful to say the least. Still, they are ''sworn'' into office, and they vote on laws for our greater benefit, they meet and haggle and argue, and have the best seats in the house at Tournaments ( rock concerts or sporting events), but every now and then one is caught with his hand in our pockets, despite the vows and the pomp and circumstance


Just somewhat sketchy I think. The "corrupt politicians" we like to think of as being the majority are actually pretty few in number. Perhaps it's different in a country with much more power in the world like the US (Canadian guy speaking here), but all the politicians I've spoken to basically stress that you'd have to be crazy to become a politician without being at least a bit idealistic. The hours you have to work are ridiculous, the pay you get for the office is miniscule compared to the work done and you can lose your job for a bad reason or absolutely no reason whatsoever. Unless you're already rich and powerful when you get into office being a politician is hardly fun it seems. I think it's likely the same for most lords during the Middle Ages, they were brought up with a moral code and did their duties at least partially out of an ideal for following that code, especially those lords in areas where there was no chance of any great profit.
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Tristán Zukowski




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Jul, 2011 7:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not throwing myself headlong into this debate, just including the perspective of a scholar whom I expect to be well-known among us..

Ewart Oakeshott, in The Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour from
Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry
(p 188), wrote:
"It has been said that the distinctive qualities of a knight were at their best honour, piety and love; at their worst ferocity, superstition and lust. The virtues of chivalry were courage, faith and devotion; its vices murder, intolerance and adultery. Unless we are prepared to take neither one side nor the other, to see more than just the black or the white, to allow chivalry to be a fantastic mixture of vices and virtues, of good, bad and indifferent like all human institutions, we shall get a very mistaken idea of it."

Tristan P. Zukowski
Longsword (KdF) Instructor, New York Historical Fencing Association
Longsword (KdF) Instructor, Sword Class NYC
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Tristán Zukowski




Location: Poughkeepsie, NY
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Jul, 2011 7:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Curl wrote:
I recommend you read this.

http://www.amazon.com/Knights-Book-Chivalry-M...amp;sr=8-1


..and more relevant to the topic at hand, I think that this and much of contemporary (medieval) literature illustrates that "chivalry" was indeed a phenomenon with roots in the high middle ages. However, like any concept or ideology, it's had its own evolution of self-interpretation and re-interpretation throughout history (which was my point in posting that Oakeshott quote a few moments ago).

OK, done now Happy

Tristan P. Zukowski
Longsword (KdF) Instructor, New York Historical Fencing Association
Longsword (KdF) Instructor, Sword Class NYC
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Sam N.




Location: Beijing, China
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Jul, 2011 9:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tristán Zukowski wrote:
Not throwing myself headlong into this debate, just including the perspective of a scholar whom I expect to be well-known among us..

Ewart Oakeshott, in The Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour from
Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry
(p 188), wrote:
"It has been said that the distinctive qualities of a knight were at their best honour, piety and love; at their worst ferocity, superstition and lust. The virtues of chivalry were courage, faith and devotion; its vices murder, intolerance and adultery. Unless we are prepared to take neither one side nor the other, to see more than just the black or the white, to allow chivalry to be a fantastic mixture of vices and virtues, of good, bad and indifferent like all human institutions, we shall get a very mistaken idea of it."


I think that quote definitely explains it best and likely most realistically of all.
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