Back in the late 80’s Nintendo released a video game called Super Mario Brothers. Mario or Luigi fight to rescue Princess Peach, or Princess Toadstool if you’re old school. A 15th Century knight by the name of Sir Thomas Malory would say this is the heart of chivalry:
“The very purpose of a knight is to fight on behalf of a lady.”
Malory famously wrote Le Morte d’Arthur, which are the famous stories of King Arthur. As chivalry progressed through the Middle Ages, rules about how to pursue a woman began to shape. Gallantry and refined love began to take center stage.
How did a knight pursue a lady?
One had to be gallant, which meant he adhered to manners and courtesy. Knights in the Middle Ages learned the art of fine love (more like refined), where he would chivalrously profess his love to the lady he was pursuing. In the 12th Century, Andreas Capellanus wrote on the rules of courtly love. I highlighted a few applicable rules for guys today:
[The Art of Courtly Love], Book Two: On the Rules of Love
- Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.
- He who is not jealous cannot love.
- No one can be bound by a double love.
- It is well known that love is always increasing or decreasing.
- That which a lover takes against his will of his beloved has no relish.
- Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity.
- When one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required of the survivor.
- No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons.
- No one can love unless he is impelled by the persuasion of love.
- Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice.
- It is not proper to love any woman whom one should be ashamed to seek to marry.
- A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved.
- When made public love rarely endures.
- The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized.
- Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved.
- When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved his heart palpitates.
- A new love puts to flight an old one.
- Good character alone makes any man worthy of love.
- If love diminishes, it quickly fails and rarely revives.
- A man in love is always apprehensive.
- Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love.
- Jealousy, and therefore love, are increased when one suspects his beloved.
- He whom the thought of love vexes, eats and sleeps very little.
- Every act of a lover ends with in the thought of his beloved.
- A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved.
- Love can deny nothing to love.
- A lover can never have enough of the solaces of his beloved.
- A slight presumption causes a lover to suspect his beloved.
- A man who is vexed by too much passion usually does not love.
- A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved.
- Nothing forbids one woman being loved by two men or one man by two women.
One important aspect of courtly love was that the man had to do anything and everything to win the affection of the woman. It was a formalized process, and a young knight would often practice on an older married woman to refine his skills in gallantry. In the book Chivalry (1908), Francis Cornish described the knight and said “he must try by every means in his power to make himself pleasing in her sight. No word of love must be spoken till after long trial. He must gain distinction…in war, and after long service might venture to ask some token of favour, which she would long withhold.”
Can the chivalry of old exist today? I don’t know. Knights would win favor with the ladies by winning battles, which would also bring him fame and money. We all know fame and money still win favor today. The missing link might be the honor.
While the process was formalized, there aren’t any step-by-step procedures in pursuing her. Good character was enough.
Some people might argue chivalry is dead due to feminism, but in reality, men have become weak in pursuing. How many guys ask their dads for dating advice? Chivalry was taught. A boy became a knight through apprenticeship. A Middle Age boy had to become a squire and learn from knights before he could be given the title and go out on the battlefield. Maybe that’s what this generation of men need. Maybe it’s a dad, a mentor, a book, a club, or a church. Chivalry is learned, not dead.