“Chivalry” conjures up an image of a man in a top hat from the 1800’s laying his coat over a puddle so his lady won’t have to get her shoes wet. The French origin of the term chivalry means “horsemanship,” so you could theoretically say chivalry is a form of horse riding during the Middle Ages, but that definition just doesn’t fit the grandeur of the word, and what it has embodied. Chivalry has more to do with a code of conduct, and because this code continues to influence our world today, it is not dead.
It’s the Middle Ages, and the Crusades have yet to be born. The Roman Empire aligned with the Christian church, which became the Roman Catholic Church. Barbarians (mostly made up of German Goths and Asiatic Huns) began destroying the Roman Empire, and eventually the Ottoman Empire began encroaching on the same lands.  The Church detested war, but war became necessary. Saint Augustine explained:
It is a righteous war when one proposes to punish a violation of law: when it has become necessary to chastise a people who refuse to repair a wrong, or who refuse to restore property unjustly acquired.
In effect, war was a punishment to right what had been wronged. A new kind of soldier had to be formed; a warrior whose purpose was to not only to keep a physical kingdom, but to establish and enact a spiritual kingdom. “Not being able to prevent war, the Church has Christianized the soldier. And so we are logically led to elucidate the origin of this chivalry…we have termed ‘a German custom idealized by the Church.’” Chivalry was the code of conduct for the soldier who fought on behalf of the Church.
The German custom was one that was passed down from fathers and leaders to their sons. The Church adopted this initiation to manhood to form a gentleman of war that would differ from the ruthless tactics of the Barbarians. The German ceremony included a large gathering of all the men. The young man would enter and kneel before his father or the leader of the tribe who would then “knight” him with a spear and shield  Becoming a knight was one of honor and privilege, and was a rite of passage into manhood.
Sons were raised to pursue knighthood. “The whole duty of a gentleman was included in the idea of chivalry; and his life from his early childhood was regulated by it. The principle of service to God, his lord, and his lady underlay everything.” Chivalry might be thought of as the process in becoming a knight. The ideals weren’t just passed on from a father to a son, but were also taught through apprenticeship so that knighthood was earned through commitment and through victories on the battlefield.
In other words, chivalry wasn’t a courteous act. It was a way of living.
Chivalry isn’t an act. It’s a way of life.
Chivalry elevated manhood. Not only did it include defending the Church and treating women with respect, it also encompassed defending the weak, loving your country, and being a proponent of justice and charity. In fact, the term largesse, or extreme generosity originated from this time period.
The decline of chivalry began when “knighthood came to be no more than a title and was no longer prized as a symbol of personal qualities.” Pomp and ceremony became the focus rather than the hard-earned traits. “In this way temerity replaced true courage; so good, polite manners replaced heroic rudeness; so foolish generosity replaced the charitable austerity of the early chivalry.” In other words, men became overly confident instead of courageous, heroes became too nice, and men began to donate for show.
While the rituals, oaths, and the orders of chivalry no longer exist, the ideals are still intact and alive today. In the US, we still have the freedom to go to church, we can up the ante in respecting women, we can give more graciously to the poor and help take care of orphans, we can have more pride in our nation, and we can become champions of justice. It’s up to this generation of men to revive, revolutionize, and adapt chivalry. Divorce and absent fathers have cut the lines to passing down these traits, but they can still be received through being involved in a community. I hope to see a revival of chivalry. I hope to see men become better men. If all men strived for the ideals of chivalry today, there would be no rape, there would be no sex trafficking. We would all live in a better world.
- Chivalry by Leon Gautier, pg. 3
- Chivalry by Leon Gautier, pg. 11
- Chivarly by Francis Warre Cornish
- Chivarly by Francis Warre Cornish
- Chivalry by Leon Gautier, pg. 77