knighthood codes

Chivalry Defined: The Codes Governing Knighthood

Welcome to our article exploring the concept of chivalry and its significance in the world of knighthood. Throughout history, the ideals and codes that governed the behavior and conduct of knights have played a crucial role in shaping our understanding of honor, virtue, and noble conduct. In this section, we will delve into the origins of chivalry and examine the various codes that have defined the knighthood tradition.

Key Takeaways:

  • Chivalry is a crucial concept in the world of knighthood, shaping the behavior and conduct of knights throughout history.
  • The codes that govern knighthood include a code of honor, an oath of knighthood, a code of conduct, and specific societal roles and obligations.
  • The ideals of chivalry have continued to evolve and shape our understanding of noble conduct in contemporary society.

The Origins of Chivalry

Chivalry, as we know it, originated during the medieval period in Europe. Its roots can be traced back to the military practices of the Frankish Empire and the Germanic tribes that ruled parts of Europe during the early Middle Ages.

The term “chivalry” itself comes from the French word “chevalerie,” which means the qualities of knighthood, particularly the ideal of mounted combat. As the concept developed over time, chivalry became associated with a code of conduct that included virtues such as bravery, honor, and loyalty that were expected of knights.

By the 12th century, chivalry had become more than just a code of martial conduct. It encompassed a broader set of ideals that defined the lifestyle of the medieval knight. These included religious devotion, refined manners, and an appreciation for the arts, particularly music and poetry.

As the idea of chivalry spread across Europe, it took on different forms and interpretations. In Spain, for example, chivalry became linked to the ideals of the Catholic Church, while in Italy, it was associated with the courtly love tradition.

Despite these regional variations, however, the core principles of chivalry remained largely the same. It remained an ideal that was held up as the standard of behavior for knights, representing the pinnacle of medieval virtue and noble conduct.

The Evolution of Chivalry

Over time, the concept of chivalry continued to evolve. As the medieval period came to an end, and the age of chivalry drew to a close, the ideals of knighthood gradually faded away. New forms of warfare, such as gunpowder, made the traditional codes of chivalry obsolete, and the feudal system that had supported it began to crumble.

However, the legacy of chivalry continued to influence European culture, particularly in the romantic ideals of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Today, chivalry is often seen as a symbol of the past, a reminder of the courage, honor, and nobility that were once the hallmarks of knighthood.

However, some argue that the ideals of chivalry still have a place in modern society. From acts of kindness and courtesy to the defense of those who are weak or vulnerable, the virtues upheld by chivalry remain as relevant today as they were in the Middle Ages.

The origins of chivalry may be rooted in medieval Europe, but its legacy lives on in our understanding of honor, virtue, and noble conduct.

The Code of Honor: Upholding Virtues

At the heart of chivalry lies the code of honor, a set of ideals and principles that defined the behavior and conduct of knights. This code was based upon a set of knightly virtues, including courage, loyalty, humility, and honesty, among others.

The code of honor demanded that knights be brave in the face of danger, benevolent to the weak and helpless, and loyal to both their lord and their fellow knights. These virtues shaped their actions and set a standard of conduct for knights to follow.

Chivalry also placed a strong emphasis on the treatment of women and the importance of courtly love. Knights were expected to be courteous and respectful towards women, as well as to engage in romantic relationships that were pure, chaste, and respectful.

Overall, the code of honor was essential to the identity of a knight, and upholding these knightly virtues was seen as the utmost form of honor and nobility.

The Oath of Knighthood

The oath of knighthood was a solemn ceremony in which a man was officially initiated into the order of knights. This ceremony involved a series of rituals and symbolic gestures that underscored the significance and gravity of the occasion. The oath itself was a formal pledge to uphold the codes of knighthood and to serve the realm and its people with honor and valor.

The wording of the oath varied somewhat over time and across different regions, but certain elements remained fairly consistent. Typically, the knight would swear to defend the Church, protect the weak, and uphold the laws of the land. He would also pledge to be true to his liege lord and to fight for his cause, even at the risk of his own life.

The knighthood ceremony was a public event, attended by family members, peers, and other members of the community. The newly-initiated knight would be dressed in special attire, including armor and a surcoat bearing his lord’s coat of arms. He would then kneel before his lord or some other high-ranking official and receive the accolade – a dubbing with a sword on his shoulders – that marked his ascension to knighthood.

The oath of knighthood was a sacred obligation that carried significant weight in the eyes of the medieval world. It was a sign of the knight’s commitment to a higher purpose and represented his willingness to sacrifice his own self-interest in service to others. Even today, the knighthood ceremony and the ideals it embodies continue to inspire and captivate us.

The Knight’s Code of Conduct

The code of conduct that governed the behavior of knights was a crucial aspect of chivalry. Knights were expected to uphold the highest standards of noble behavior and conduct themselves with dignity, honor, and respect. This code was based on a set of virtues that defined the ideal knightly character.

One of the key virtues that knights were expected to uphold was courage. Knights were expected to exhibit fearlessness in battle and the face of danger. They were also expected to exhibit gallantry and chivalry towards opponents, even in the heat of battle.

Loyalty was another essential virtue upheld by the knightly code. Knights were expected to remain faithful to their lord and their comrades in arms, even at great personal risk. This degree of loyalty was seen as essential for maintaining the integrity of the knightly ideal.

Humility was also an important virtue among knights. They were expected to be modest about their accomplishments and show respect and courtesy to those around them. This humility was seen as a necessary counterbalance to the power and privilege that came with knighthood.

Honor was perhaps the most important virtue upheld by the knightly code. Knights were expected to conduct themselves with dignity and honor in all their interactions, and to protect the honor of their lord, their family, and their fellow knights. Dishonorable behavior was seen as a shameful betrayal of the entire knightly ideal.

Chivalric Conduct

The conduct of knights was guided by a set of rules and guidelines that were based on the knightly virtues. This chivalric conduct dictated how knights should interact with each other, with their lords and ladies, and with members of the general public.

One of the key principles of chivalric conduct was honor. Knights were expected to show respect and courtesy to all people, regardless of their status or standing. This included being polite, showing good manners, and behaving with chivalry and gallantry towards women.

Another important principle of chivalric conduct was courage. Knights were expected to be brave and fearless in battle, but also in the face of adversity and personal hardship. This courage was seen as an essential quality for upholding the ideals of chivalry.

Respect was also a key aspect of chivalric conduct. Knights were expected to show respect for those in positions of authority, such as their lords and the king. They were also expected to show respect to those of lower status, such as the peasantry and the common people.

Courtesy was another important principle of chivalric conduct. Knights were expected to be polite, well-mannered, and respectful in their interactions with others. This courtesy extended to all people, regardless of their station in life, and reflected the high ideals of knighthood.

The Role of the Knight in Society

Knights held a significant role in medieval society, tasked with defending the realm and protecting the weak and vulnerable. They were bound by a code of honor that dictated their behavior and conduct, emphasizing virtues such as courage, loyalty, and humility.

As members of the noble class, knights had access to education and resources that allowed them to develop expertise in areas such as warfare, diplomacy, and governance. They were often called upon to serve as advisors to rulers and played a crucial role in shaping the course of history.

Despite their privileged status, knights were not exempt from the responsibilities and obligations that came with their role. They were expected to serve their lord and their country with utmost loyalty and devotion, even to the point of sacrificing their lives if necessary.

  • Knights were charged with ensuring the safety and protection of their lord’s lands and people.
  • They were expected to uphold the law and maintain order within their communities.
  • They were often called upon to participate in military campaigns and engage in combat to defend their country’s interests.

Overall, the role of the knight in society was one of service and honor. Their actions and behavior had a significant impact on the people they served and the course of history. Their commitment to the code of chivalry set them apart as noble and virtuous figures, inspiring admiration and respect from their contemporaries and future generations.

Chivalrous Love: Courtly Romance

One of the most fascinating aspects of chivalry is the concept of courtly love. In medieval Europe, courtly love was a highly idealized and romanticized form of love that emphasized nobility, generosity, and chivalric virtues. It was a type of love that was often forbidden, as it went against the traditional societal norms of arranged marriages and political alliances.

Courtly love was characterized by its emphasis on the pursuit of an unattainable love interest, often a married woman or a lady of higher social standing than the knight. The knight would express his love through poetic praise, chivalrous deeds, and symbolic gifts, such as a silk handkerchief or a ribbon.

While courtly love was often associated with adultery and forbidden romance, it was also seen as a way to cultivate virtue and honor. Knights would strive to embody the ideals of courtly love, such as loyalty, humility, and devotion, in their own lives and relationships.

“In the arms of love, knights were transformed, lifted onto a higher plane of existence where they could achieve great deeds, both physically and spiritually.”

Despite its idealized nature, courtly love had a significant impact on medieval culture and society. It influenced literature, art, and music, and it helped shape the ideals and expectations of romantic relationships for centuries to come.

Today, courtly love remains a popular theme in literature, movies, and TV shows, serving as a reminder of the enduring legacy of chivalry and its impact on our understanding of love and honor.

Chivalric Romance in Literature

Courtly love was a major theme in medieval literature, particularly in the genre of chivalric romance. These romantic stories typically featured a knight on a quest for love and adventure, battling enemies and overcoming obstacles in pursuit of his beloved.

Some of the most famous examples of chivalric romance include the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, as well as the stories of Tristan and Isolde and Lancelot and Guinevere. These tales continue to capture the imagination of readers and serve as a testament to the enduring appeal of chivalric romance.

The Challenges of Upholding Chivalry

The ideals of chivalry were often in conflict with the harsh realities of medieval life. Knights were expected to uphold the codes of honor and conduct, but they were also warriors who engaged in brutal warfare and political power struggles.

One of the main challenges knights faced in upholding chivalry was the tension between their duty to their lord and their responsibility to protect the weak and defenseless. At times, these two obligations conflicted, forcing knights to make difficult decisions that could compromise their honor and integrity.

Another challenge was the prevalence of violence and aggression in medieval society. Knights were trained to fight and to use their strength to assert their dominance over others. However, the codes of chivalry emphasized the virtues of courage, humility, and respect for others. This often created a conflict between the aggressive, competitive nature of knighthood and the compassionate, virtuous ideals of chivalry.

Furthermore, the codes of chivalry were not always followed by all knights. Some knights were known for their cruelty and brutality towards others, while others were praised for their honor and gallantry. The same conflict between ideals and reality that challenged individual knights also affected the knighthood as a whole, creating an ongoing struggle to maintain the integrity and reputation of the order.

In the face of these challenges, many knights were able to uphold the ideals of chivalry and demonstrate its enduring legacy. However, the tension between the codes of knighthood and the harsh realities of medieval life remains a fascinating subject of study and reflection for modern audiences.

Famous Knights and Their Legacies

Throughout history, there have been many notable knights whose stories have become legendary. From medieval Europe to the present day, their legacies have influenced the ideals of chivalry and shaped our understanding of noble conduct and heroism.

One of the most famous groups of knights is the Knights of the Round Table, led by King Arthur. Their tales of chivalry, bravery, and honor continue to inspire us today. Sir Lancelot, known for his courage and loyalty, is often portrayed as the quintessential knight in shining armor.

Another legendary figure is Sir Gawain, known for his chivalric virtues of loyalty, honor, and courage. His story has been retold in countless works of literature and continues to endure as an example of knightly conduct.

During the Crusades, Richard the Lionheart became known as a great warrior and champion of chivalry, leading his troops into battle with valor and honor. The deeds of this famous knight have inspired generations and cemented his place in history as a model of knighthood.

Modern-day knights also carry on the legacy of chivalry. Knighthood still exists as an honor bestowed on individuals for their service and achievements. Among the most famous contemporary knights is Sir Paul McCartney, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997 for his contributions to music and philanthropy.

The legacies of these famous knights continue to inspire us and remind us of the importance of upholding the virtues of chivalry. They serve as examples of noble conduct and heroes who put the needs of others before their own.

The Evolution of Chivalry

Chivalry, as a concept, has evolved over time. While its origins date back to medieval Europe and the codes governing knighthood, chivalry has taken on new forms and interpretations in the modern era.

One modern interpretation of chivalry is the idea of being a gentleman; displaying courtesy, respect, and kindness towards others. This concept emphasizes the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of gender, social status, or other factors.

Another modern interpretation of chivalry is the notion of being a protector, not just physically but also emotionally. This interpretation highlights the importance of standing up for those who may not have a voice, defending the oppressed, and fighting against injustice and inequality.

However, there are some who argue that the concept of chivalry has become outdated and irrelevant in today’s society. They point to the changing roles and expectations of men and women, and argue that the traditional codes of chivalry are no longer applicable or necessary.

Despite these debates, the ideals of chivalry continue to inspire and shape our understanding of virtue and noble conduct. Whether it is through the traditional codes of knighthood or modern interpretations of chivalry, the legacy of this concept will continue to influence society for generations to come.

Chivalry in Popular Culture

Throughout history, chivalry has been a popular and enduring theme in literature and media. From tales of medieval knights to modern superhero stories, the concept of chivalry continues to captivate and inspire audiences all around the world.

One of the most iconic portrayals of chivalry in media is the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. This timeless tale has been retold countless times in various forms, from literature to movies to TV shows. The story of the noble and brave knights of Camelot has captured the hearts and imaginations of generations of readers and viewers.

Another popular portrayal of chivalry in media is the depiction of medieval combat in movies and TV shows. From classic films like “Braveheart” to modern shows like “Game of Thrones,” these portrayals often romanticize the idea of knighthood and valor in battle.

However, it’s worth noting that not all portrayals of chivalry in media are accurate or positive. Some forms of media may idealize or glorify certain aspects of chivalry while ignoring or downplaying others. Moreover, some portrayals may perpetuate harmful stereotypes or reinforce gender norms that are no longer applicable in contemporary society.

Despite these potential issues, the fact remains that chivalry continues to resonate with audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Whether we’re watching a classic movie or reading a new book, the ideals of courage, loyalty, and humility that define chivalry continue to inspire and uplift us.

In conclusion, the portrayal of chivalry in media reminds us of the enduring legacy of knighthood codes and their impact on society. Despite changes in technology and culture, the ideals of chivalry remain relevant and essential to our understanding of honor, virtue, and noble conduct.

Reflecting on the Legacy of Chivalry

As we conclude our exploration of chivalry and its codes governing knighthood, it becomes clear that the ideals and values it upheld still hold relevance today. The virtues of courage, loyalty, honor, and humility remain universally admired and esteemed.

The Importance of Virtue

Chivalry placed great emphasis on virtuous conduct, which was seen as vital not only for the individual knight but also for society as a whole. The codes of knighthood sought to instill a sense of morality and ethics in those who held positions of power and influence. The concept of chivalry recognized that those in power had a responsibility to use that power for the greater good, to uphold justice and protect the weak.

The Challenges of Upholding Chivalry

While the ideals of chivalry were noble, the realities of medieval life often made it difficult to uphold these codes consistently. In times of war and conflict, the pressures of politics, power struggles, and self-preservation could sometimes clash with the code of honor. Yet despite these challenges, the legacy of chivalry endures, a testament to the enduring power of ideals and values.

Chivalry and Modern Society

Today, chivalry is often viewed as an outdated concept, something that belongs to a bygone era. And yet, the values and virtues of chivalry remain relevant and can be applied in new and meaningful ways in our modern society. The codes of chivalry can guide us in our interactions with others, helping us to be respectful, honorable, and courageous.


In conclusion, the legacy of chivalry continues to inspire us today. The codes governing knighthood remind us of the importance of virtue, of the need for those in positions of power and influence to use that power for the greater good. While the realities of life can make it difficult to uphold these ideals consistently, the enduring legacy of chivalry serves as a reminder of the power of noble values and the timeless importance of honor, courage, and respect.


Q: What is chivalry?

A: Chivalry is a code of conduct that governed the behavior and conduct of knights throughout history. It emphasized virtues such as courage, loyalty, and humility.

Q: Where did chivalry originate?

A: Chivalry originated in medieval Europe and evolved over time, shaping the ideals and expectations placed upon knights.

Q: What were the knightly virtues?

A: The knightly virtues included courage, loyalty, honor, respect, and courtesy. Knights were expected to uphold these virtues in their actions and interactions.

Q: What was the oath of knighthood?

A: The oath of knighthood was a solemn vow taken by knights during their initiation into knighthood. It outlined their responsibilities and obligations as knights.

Q: What rules governed the conduct of knights?

A: Knights followed a code of conduct that emphasized honor, respect, and courtesy. These principles influenced their interactions with others.

Q: What was the role of knights in society?

A: Knights served as protectors of the realm and defenders of the weak. They had duties, obligations, and societal expectations placed upon them.

Q: What is courtly love?

A: Courtly love was a concept closely associated with chivalry. It emphasized idealized romantic relationships and the pursuit of noble love.

Q: What challenges did knights face in upholding chivalry?

A: Knights faced conflicts between the code of honor and the realities of medieval warfare, politics, and power struggles.

Q: Who were some famous knights in history?

A: Notable knights include King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, who left behind lasting legacies and impacted the realm of chivalry.

Q: How has chivalry evolved over time?

A: The concept of chivalry has evolved and has different interpretations in the modern world. It continues to shape our understanding of honor and virtue.

Q: How is chivalry portrayed in popular culture?

A: Chivalry is often depicted in literature, movies, and TV shows, shaping public perception and understanding of knighthood and its codes.