facts about chivalry

The Code of Honor: 10 Surprising Facts About Chivalry

Chivalry is a term that evokes images of medieval knights, courtly love, and a code of honor that still resonates to this day. As a medieval code of behavior that emerged in the 12th century, chivalry represented the ideal of an honorable and brave knight, who would protect the weak, serve his lord, and uphold the values of loyalty, courage, and courtesy. But what are some surprising facts about chivalry that you might not know? From the origins of chivalry to its lasting legacy, this article will explore 10 fascinating aspects of one of the most enduring cultural phenomena in human history.

Key Takeaways:

  • Chivalry emerged as a medieval code of behavior in the 12th century.
  • It represented the ideal of an honorable and brave knight.
  • Chivalry emphasized virtues such as loyalty, courage, and courtesy.
  • Knights were trained rigorously and educated in the ideals of chivalry.
  • The code of chivalry influenced art, literature, and popular culture throughout the ages.
  • Chivalry continues to resonate in modern society as an ideal of conduct and behavior.
  • The decline of chivalry was influenced by societal changes and the evolution of warfare.
  • The role of women in chivalry was significant, with courtly love being a central concept.
  • Famous knights in history include King Arthur, Richard the Lionheart, and Joan of Arc.
  • Chivalry represents a legacy of ideals and values that continue to inspire and influence human behavior.

The Origins of Chivalry

Chivalry, derived from the French word chevalier, meaning knight, was a medieval code of conduct that governed the behavior of knights. It originated in the 12th century, a time of political instability and social upheaval in Europe. The feudal system was in place, and knights played a crucial role in providing military service to their lords and kings.

The origins of chivalry can be traced back to the military culture of the early Middle Ages. In those days, knights were primarily warriors who fought on horseback and wore heavy armor to protect themselves. They were renowned for their bravery, skill, and loyalty to their lords. However, as society became more complex, knights began to take on other roles. They became courtiers, participating in tournaments, jousts, and other forms of entertainment. They were also expected to show gallantry and respect to women, as well as to embody the virtues of honor, loyalty, and courtesy.

Chivalry was also influenced by the Christian Church, which stressed the importance of faith, compassion, and morality. The Church played a significant role in shaping the ideals of chivalry, emphasizing the importance of restraint, mercy, and humility. Knights were expected to use their martial prowess to defend the weak and protect the innocent, rather than to advance their own interests.

Over time, the ideals of chivalry became more refined and complex. The concept of courtly love emerged, emphasizing the romantic and emotional aspects of knightly behavior. Knights were expected to be devoted to a lady, writing poetry and songs in her honor, and performing heroic deeds to win her favor. This idealized form of love was seen as an idealized form of behavior, encouraging knights to be more refined and cultured.

The Origins of Chivalry

Period Significance
12th century Origins of chivalry
Early Middle Ages Military culture of knights
Feudal system Role of knights as warriors and servants of lords and kings
Christian Church Influence on the ideals of chivalry
Emergence of courtly love Emphasis on romantic and emotional behavior of knights

The origins of chivalry reflect the social, cultural, and historical context of medieval Europe. The codes of conduct developed by knights were meant to guide their behavior in a complex and changing world, emphasizing the values of honor, loyalty, and compassion.

The Chivalric Code of Conduct

Chivalry was not just a set of rules, but a way of life for medieval knights. The chivalric code of conduct was a set of virtues and principles that guided the behavior of knights, both on and off the battlefield. These codes of conduct served as the foundation of a knight’s honor and reputation.

The chivalric code of conduct emphasized the importance of honor, courage, loyalty, and generosity. Knights were expected to show respect to those above and below them in social status and to protect the weak and defenseless. They were to be truthful, uphold justice, and exhibit humility in their actions.

Honor was the highest virtue in the chivalric code of conduct. Knights were expected to defend their honor and the honor of their fellow knights, as well as the honor of their lords and ladies. They were to keep their word and maintain their loyalty and fidelity to their liege lords and ladies.

The chivalric code of conduct also stressed the importance of martial prowess, as knights were expected to be skilled warriors who could protect their lands and people. Knights were trained in the use of different weapons, including the sword, lance, and mace, and were required to wear a full suit of armor to protect themselves in battle.

Overall, the chivalric code of conduct was a strict moral and ethical code that governed the behavior of medieval knights. It reflected the values and ideals of medieval society and remains a prominent feature of popular culture today.

The Knight’s Armor and Weaponry

Medieval knights were known for their impressive armor and weaponry, which played a critical role in their success on the battlefield.

The knight’s armor was designed to provide maximum protection while allowing for ease of movement. The most famous and recognizable component of a knight’s armor was the plate armor, made of individual steel or iron plates that were linked together with leather straps or metal rings. Plate armor covered the knight’s chest, back, legs, and arms, and was often decorated with intricate designs and engravings.

In addition to the plate armor, knights also wore chainmail, a type of armor made of interlocking metal rings that provided protection against slashes and stabs. Chainmail was typically worn under the plate armor to protect areas that were more vulnerable to attack, such as the armpits and groin.

Knight’s weaponry was equally impressive, with swords being the most popular and iconic weapon. Knights carried a variety of swords, including the longsword, a two-handed weapon that could be used for both cutting and thrusting, and the arming sword, a one-handed weapon that was primarily used for cutting.

In addition to swords, knights also carried a variety of other weapons, including lances, maces, and battleaxes. Lances were used primarily during jousts and tournaments, while maces and battleaxes were used for close combat.

The Knight’s Armor and Weaponry: A Symbol of Power and Status

The armor and weaponry used by knights were not only functional but also served as symbols of power and status. A knight’s armor was often adorned with elaborate and ornate designs that reflected his family’s wealth and status, and the quality of his armor and weaponry was seen as a reflection of his skill and prowess on the battlefield.

Overall, the knight’s armor and weaponry were critical components of his success as a warrior, both in terms of protection and intimidation. The impressive appearance of a knight in full armor and wielding a weapon was often enough to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies, making him a formidable opponent on the battlefield.

The Training and Education of Knights

The path to knighthood was not an easy one. Becoming a knight required years of grueling training and education, both physically and mentally. In medieval times, the privilege of becoming a knight was reserved only for those who came from aristocratic families. However, over time, knights increasingly came from the ranks of lower nobility, and even non-noble families could have their sons trained as knights if they had the financial means to do so.

The training of knights began at an early age. Boys who were destined to become knights were sent away to a castle or manor to be trained by a knight or a group of knights. This training was known as “squirehood,” and it typically started at the age of seven.

The life of a squire was tough, and the training was designed to be physically demanding and mentally challenging. Squires were responsible for the care of their knight’s horses and armor, as well as running errands and performing other tasks to serve their knights. They were also taught how to fight with weapons, ride horses, hunt, and play games that developed their coordination and agility.

As they grew older, squires could be promoted to the rank of “yeoman,” which meant they were trusted to fight alongside their knights in battle. They were given more responsibility and, as a result, more privileges. This included being allowed to wear their own armor and weapons, and being able to join their knights at the table for meals.

Once a squire had proven himself worthy, he could be knighted by his lord or another knight. Knighthood ceremonies involved a religious service where the soon-to-be-knight would swear an oath of loyalty and service to his lord and to God. The newly-knighted knight would receive his spurs, his sword, and his armor, and would be officially recognized as a knight.

The education of knights was also an important aspect of their upbringing. Knights were expected to be well-educated, knowledgeable about history, literature, and religion. They were also expected to be able to read and write, which set them apart from the rest of society at the time.

The Importance of Chivalry in Knightly Training

Chivalry was an integral part of the knightly training. Knights were taught to be honorable, brave, and courteous in their dealings with others. They were expected to show respect to women and to protect those who were weaker than themselves. The chivalric code of conduct emphasized the importance of honesty, loyalty, and generosity, and knights were expected to uphold these virtues in their daily lives.

The training of knights was not just about developing fighting skills. It was also about developing a sense of duty and responsibility towards others. Knights were taught to serve their lords and their community, and to fight for the greater good of society.

The Role of Women in Chivalry

Women played a significant role in the development and practice of chivalry. While knights were expected to uphold a strict code of honor and behave in a virtuous manner, it was often the influence of women that spurred them to do so.

Central to this influence was the concept of courtly love. This was a form of love that emphasized nobility, chivalry, and devotion between a knight and a lady. It was often portrayed as a romantic, idealized love that transcended physical desire and was based on spiritual connection and mutual respect.

The idea of courtly love was first popularized in the 12th century by troubadours, who sang about the virtues of chivalry and the love between a knight and his lady. It quickly became a staple of medieval literature, with knights and ladies exchanging tokens of love and making declarations of fidelity.

Women were often the inspiration and object of courtly love, with knights dedicating their feats of arms to their ladies and performing acts of bravery in their honor. It was believed that such displays of devotion were necessary to win the favor of a lady and prove oneself as a worthy knight.

In addition to courtly love, women also played a role in shaping the behavior of knights in other ways. They were often responsible for teaching manners and etiquette, as well as encouraging acts of charity and kindness.

Moreover, women sometimes took on active roles in warfare, providing support services such as nursing and cooking, as well as taking up arms themselves. Some notable examples include Joan of Arc and Eleanor of Aquitaine, who both played crucial roles in military campaigns.

Overall, the role of women in chivalry was complex and multifaceted. While they were often portrayed as objects of admiration and devotion, they also had agency and influence in shaping the behavior and values of knights. The concept of courtly love in particular, with its emphasis on mutual respect and spiritual connection, paved the way for more egalitarian relationships between men and women that continue to resonate in modern society.

Famous Knights in History

Throughout history, there have been legendary knights who have exemplified the ideals of chivalry. Here are just a few:

Name Country Claim to Fame
Sir Lancelot England Featured in Arthurian legend as King Arthur’s trusted knight and lover of Queen Guinevere.
William Marshall England Considered one of the greatest knights of all time, known for his prowess in battle and service to King Henry II, King Richard the Lionheart, and King John.
Joan of Arc France As a teenage girl, led the French army to several victories during the Hundred Years’ War, eventually captured by the English and burned at the stake for heresy.
Sir Galahad England Legendary knight of the Round Table, known for his purity of heart and quest for the Holy Grail.
Sir Gawain England Featured prominently in Arthurian legend as one of King Arthur’s most loyal knights, known for his bravery and chivalry.

These famous knights represent the pinnacle of medieval knighthood, embodying the virtues of honor, courage, and loyalty that defined the chivalric code of conduct. Their feats and escapades continue to inspire and captivate us to this day, cementing their place in history as true legends of their time.

The Decline of Chivalry

Despite its prominence during the medieval period, chivalry began to decline in influence and relevance after the 15th century. Several factors contributed to this decline, including:

Factor Explanation
Changing warfare tactics As firearms became more prevalent in battles, the role and effectiveness of knights on the battlefield diminished.
Social changes The rise of trade and commerce led to a shift in societal values away from the ideals of chivalry.
Political upheaval The instability and violence of the Wars of the Roses in England and other conflicts across Europe challenged the notions of honor and nobility promoted by chivalry.

Gradually, the concept of chivalry became associated with an outdated and impractical code of conduct, no longer seen as relevant to the changing times. Yet, its influence and legacy continue to be felt in various aspects of modern society, from the honor codes of military and sports organizations to the romantic ideals of courtship and relationships.

Chivalry in Modern Society

Although the medieval period is long gone, the concepts of chivalry and honor continue to influence modern society. Knights may no longer ride into battle on horseback, but their ideals of courage and integrity remain relevant today.

The role of gender has also evolved, with women now taking on many of the same roles and responsibilities as men. However, the concepts of courtly love and respect for women that were prominent in chivalry still resonate in modern society, reinforcing the importance of treating women with dignity and respect.

Knighthood may no longer be a formal title, but the creed of chivalry lives on in modern organizations such as the Boy Scouts and the military. These groups emphasize leadership, self-discipline, and service to others, all values that were integral to the chivalric code of honor.

Overall, chivalry continues to influence modern society, reminding us of the importance of honor, courage, and respect for others. While the world may have changed in many ways since the medieval period, the ideals of chivalry remain as relevant as ever.

The Legacy of Chivalry

The legacy of chivalry is one that has endured through the centuries since its origin in medieval times. While the concept of chivalry has evolved over time, its impact on literature, art, and popular culture remains significant to this day.

The ideals of chivalry, such as honor, courage, and loyalty, have been immortalized in literary works such as the Arthurian legends and Don Quixote. These stories depict noble knights and their valiant deeds, inspiring generations of readers to strive for similar virtues.

Chivalry has also influenced the world of art, with depictions of knights and their armor appearing in paintings, sculptures, and even stained glass windows in churches and cathedrals.

In modern times, the legacy of chivalry can be seen in popular culture, from movies like Braveheart and The Lord of the Rings to video games like Assassin’s Creed and The Witcher. These works often feature characters who embody the ideals of chivalry, such as honor, selflessness, and bravery.

“Chivalry is not dead. It’s just been in a coma and will awaken when the world needs it most.” – Wayne Gerard Trotman

The legacy of chivalry also extends beyond the realms of literature, art, and popular culture. The concepts of honor, integrity, and respect continue to shape our modern world, influencing everything from personal conduct to global politics.

While the age of knights may be long gone, the legacy of chivalry lives on, a testament to the enduring power of timeless values.

In Conclusion:

Chivalry is a medieval code of honor that has captured the public imagination for centuries. From the origins of chivalry to the decline of its influence, the ideals and practices of medieval knights have left a lasting mark on society. Throughout this article, we have explored ten surprising facts about chivalry, highlighting the fascinating world of courtly love, knightly training, and honorable behavior.

We have seen how the code of conduct of the chivalric order emphasized virtues like bravery, loyalty, and compassion. The armor and weaponry of knights were designed to protect their bodies and symbolize their status, while their training and education emphasized the importance of chivalry in their upbringing. We have also learned about the critical role of women in chivalry, shaping the behavior and ethics of knights.

While the decline of chivalry was caused by various factors like social changes and the evolution of warfare, the legacy of chivalry has continued to inspire modern society. The concepts of chivalry continue to shape popular culture and art, promoting values like honor, respect, and civility.

Overall, the rich history and traditions of chivalry offer valuable insights into the ideals and practices that have shaped our society. By understanding the lessons of the past, we can appreciate the importance of honor, courage, and compassion in our lives today.


Q: What is chivalry?

A: Chivalry is a medieval code of conduct that knights were expected to follow, emphasizing virtues such as honor, bravery, and loyalty.

Q: When did chivalry originate?

A: Chivalry originated in the medieval period, specifically in the 12th century.

Q: What were knights expected to uphold?

A: Knights were expected to uphold a chivalric code of conduct, which included virtues like courage, courtesy, loyalty, and generosity.

Q: What armor and weapons did knights use?

A: Knights used armor such as chainmail and plate armor, and weapons such as swords, lances, and maces.

Q: How were knights trained and educated?

A: Knights underwent rigorous training regimens, including learning horsemanship, combat skills, and the principles of chivalry. They also received education in areas such as literature, music, and courtly etiquette.

Q: What was the role of women in chivalry?

A: Women played an influential role in chivalry, often serving as the object of courtly love and inspiring knights to demonstrate virtuous behavior. They also had significant influence in the realms of art, literature, and societal ideals.

Q: Who are some famous knights in history?

A: Some famous knights in history include King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, Joan of Arc, and Richard the Lionheart.

Q: Why did chivalry decline?

A: The decline of chivalry can be attributed to societal changes, such as the rise of gunpowder warfare and the erosion of feudalism, as well as shifts in cultural values.

Q: How does chivalry continue to influence modern society?

A: The concepts of chivalry continue to resonate in modern society, shaping values, ethics, and attitudes towards gender roles.

Q: What is the legacy of chivalry?

A: The legacy of chivalry can be seen in literature, art, and popular culture, where the ideals of honor, bravery, and courtly love continue to inspire and captivate audiences.