How important was chivalry in molding the cultural world of the upper classes?
The word chivalry comes from the French term “chevalrie” which when literally described meant the warrior attributes of armed knights on horseback. When the word was first used it did not have many, if any, of the moral or social aspects with which were later attributed to it. Reaching the later periods of the Middle Ages there begins to be a consensus opinion on the definition of a chivalrous knight. This knight would be polite, especially to women, loyal to his lord, a devout and humble Christian, and a powerful and strong-willed fighter. While no man could live up to these expectations, an ideal chivalrous knight would demonstrate all of these qualities. Chivalry would begin to fade in the 15th century following the unrealistic disposition of courtly love. From the beginning of the Crusades to this point however, chivalry was not only an important part of the cultural world of the upper classes it would come to define it. Indeed, many of the major parts of life in the Middle Ages including warfare, religion, ceremonies and romance were significantly affected by chivalry. These key aspects of life which chivalry impacted would define the cultural world of the upper classes throughout Europe.
Chivalry, in its most all-encompassing definition, can be described as “a form of behavior knights and nobles would have liked to imaged they followed, both based on and reflected in the epics and romances, a form of behavior which took armed and mounted combat as one of its key elements.” This definition opens many doors as to a true depiction of chivalry; however it is efficient at enabling discussion of chivalry from almost every medieval source. It is just as important to know what was expected of the chivalrous knight. These knights should: believe the church and all of its teachings, defend the church, respect weakness and defend them, love their country, not retreat when confronted with an enemy, fight against the infidel without cessation or mercy, follow their feudal duties (if they did not betray the laws of God), not lie and stay true to their word, be generous, and be the champion of right against injustice. It is clearly evident being an ideal chivalrous knight was extremely difficult, one could only try to emulate as many of these qualities as possible. It was up to the nobility and gentry, however, to uphold these chivalric values to the best of their ability. The following aspects of life which were affected by chivalry are seen in France, but can be with some limitations (England’s need to make anything French more palatable, for example) attributed to most of Europe.
Chivalry would at first shape the cultural world of the upper classes through chivalric ideals in warfare. A chivalrous knight in war was deemed to possess exquisite armor, a keen sword and the ability to kill fearsome opponents without even “raising a sweat.” One knight, as described in the...