Did chivalry provide medieval aristocrats?
Chivalry is defined as the ideal qualifications of a knight which includes all the characteristics of valor, courtesy, generosity and dexterity in arms. The code of Chivalry also states that a knight lives to defend crown and country. To protect, serve and follow the church. Chivalry was the highest order that a Knight has to follow. Others see it as the strictest order of discipline among warriors clad in armor. Perceived as defenders of the King, the Church and the people, they uphold virtues and the ideals of the church During the Middle Ages, knighthood was only limited to the nobles in society.
Close relatives of the king to assume the role of knights. For them to become a knight, they must embark on a ritual that will seal their loyalty and lives to the cause. As stated in the code of Chivalry, Thou shall remain faithful to thy pledged word. They are tasked to obey the orders of the King, to defend the ideals of the church, and to protect the people, the weak and the innocent. They were in a total position to closely follow the code of chivalry. During these times, they were the yielding force of the church.
They were tasked with defending the principles of the clergy. If they were so ordered to embark on a crusade or simply punish infidels who were a threat to the Eastern Church at that time. Knighthood is the privilege given to nobles. They are regarded, especially with their high class noble ranking as someone who will set themselves as good examples for the community. Nobility has the power to influence; therefore it is regarded as something that must be done to show the correct path and persuade others to follow the path in the service of rightness.
These were the much honored characteristics of chivalry during the middle ages. These the codes of discipline that guides a knight in practicing the most revered order during those times. Others see chivalry as nothing else but a political veneer for the nobles during those times. As the great historian Johan Huizinga, according to his works in his book, “The Waning of the Middle Ages” he stated there that
Chivalry was nothing more than the nobles’ pastime. They glorified the ceremonies and the occasions garbled in robes and gold goblets, reliving the glorious days patterned after the idealistic values of Chivalry. Conducting tournaments patterned after the styles of knights in armor jousting against each other. This according to Huizinga was nothing more than a pastime for the nobles in their search for identity and to profess and show their status in society. Historians also beg to differ to the functions of the Knights during medieval times.
They claimed that the Knights primary function is to be the right arm of the church. Yielding to every command that the church designates. They were supposed to live and uphold the very teachings of the church in their everyday lives. They are exemplified role models for society and are supposed to carry out the values and set forth right examples for the citizens to follow. They are also as consequence of their vows and status in the society, required to defend his high Baron or Lord over his interests.
These may as well be the profound statements that we are looking for that will show that the Knights were used as “pawns” not only by the church but also by their superiors. This thinking has led me to explain how the nobility was expanded from the close relatives of the King, to select members of society. This happened in 1307- 1397 after the death of Edward I. The title of Earl was only limited in the circle of the Royal family. It was only to be given to the immediate relatives of the King. But as the events would have it.
The title was given to selected individuals in society by the basis of wealth influence and considerable political influence within their territories. This move was implemented during the reign of King Stephen (1135-1154) and his rival, Empress Matilda in an attempt to outbid each other and gather support from Barons in order to claim hierarchy to the throne. This was a move which cheapened the Aristocracy of the Noble Status in the middle ages.
The problem for the King was if he was promoting the right individuals for the status. Politically, it was a move that is dangerous to the Reign of the King. If the right individuals are given such status, it is to the advantage of the king but if the king thinks that he has the wrong individuals in place, serious political problems may occur. Now what is the relevance of this historical aspect to the chivalry that the knights display in medieval times?
According to this, if the people whom the king has chosen to be around him for the purpose of political power are indeed the correct people, them all of this comes into place, but if the incorrect people are placed, then this is a question of authority and hierarchical imbalance for the Knights whom are supposed to follow their immediate Lords. The code of Chivalry according to the Knights stands.
Live to serve King and Country, defend thy Land from those who rob and steal from our people. These are the guiding principles for the Knights; I have to give them that. But this is not entirely the case for the aristocrats whom the Knights serve. If the wrong people are placed and with the codes of Chivalry for Knights to follow, it simply gives Chivalry a bad name. In my position, I think that Chivalry is misused by some aristocrats and the clergy during those times.
The clergy, for instance in reference to the meaning of chivalry has learned to manipulate it. The ways in which Chivalry is regarded as the highest social order in which Knights are to follow became the arm that controls the mindset of those who follow it and makes them believe that the course of action that take is still in line with the codes of Chivalry. Like the famous Crusades of the Middle Ages. The knights were the messengers of the church at that time and were tasked to carry out to expand the influence of the church. They were told to carry out the tasks of expanding the territories of the kingdom and destroying the so-called “infidels” who are poised to bring danger to the kingdom and to the church. This for me brings a unique approach on how Chivalry was used by the Nobles and the clergy to carry-out their interests.
As political thinkers point it out, the idea of chivalry was indeed taken for granted by the Nobles and the church for their political gains and self interests. As stated in the Book of Chivalry, the Knights way of life is focused on military tactics and training, and is expected for them to use the abilities and skills that they’ve learned for the protection of the King and his constituents. In this case, the King seeing the opportunity may authorize to carry out orders for his Knights to follow.
Now with these facts in hand, I would like to answer the question that Chivalry is used by Nobles as an escape to a fantasy world to which they will retreat. The answer based on the facts stated is yes. Although Chivalry was a word used to describe the highest order of discipline among the Knights, it was also regarded as a tool for Nobles to use in order to carry out their interests. The Nobles dwell into the “Dogmas” or truths surrounding the code of Chivalry that they find it hard for Knights to disagree.
I’d like to place my own personal views on this statement. The codes of are for the Knights to follow, if I am a noble I can be reassured that I will be followed by my Knights who are loyal to me and will do what I say as long as my commands fall into the concept of Chivalry . It’s a simple task of manipulating the thoughts of individuals who are so keen in following rules that in order for me to bend such rules; I have to go over it but on a minimal degree.
For me if I would put myself on a Noble’s place, I would see Chivalry as a tool to experiment with and carry out my vested interests with the use of such resources such as my knights who have profound influence over the people which allows them to carry out my orders without the fear of rejection among the citizenry. This is a yes based on the theories stated above. But I’d like to argue with these theories in my own personal view over Chivalry.
I believe Chivalry itself was not used as a fantasy world by the nobles to retreat to, but I think the concept of Chivalry was the one used and abused by the nobles into retreating to what we call their fantasy world. In my own personal opinion, I think it is unfair that the historians’ claim that Chivalry has misled the Knights into thinking that they are following the codes when they carry out the tasks assigned to them. I believe that this is a simple confusion on how the historians and I view Chivalry.
If the historians, political thinkers and writers of our time see it as merely manipulating Knights and using them to fulfill their own gains, I see it as the code in which Knights follow to the highest order. Be it abused or not by their leaders, it is not a question of Noble’s using it for their fantasy goals, but for me it is a commitment to an ideal that you follow. The very basic rules that align your life and sets your goals. It is the very mindset that sets you apart from the barbarians and infidels who mock the very ideals of it. It is a way of life that Knights follow and I strongly believe that it is the most disciplined code which can still be followed even in this modern day and age.
The words of the Code of Chivalry may be old and often be referred to as sayings of the past, but I do know that these can still shape an individuals life into doing what is good and what is fair to his fellow man. For some this may be a retreat to a fantasy world by Nobles, but for me I have to argue that it is not. If manipulating the concept of Chivalry will be the case it’s a yes, but Chivalry itself is a word that best exemplifies the conduct that a man must follow to live in a world of reality, not fantasy.
Huizinga, J. The Waning of the Middle Ages. n.d.
Keen, M. Chivalry. Yale University Press, 2005.
M.Keen. Nobles, Knights, and Men at Arms in the Middle Ages. The Hambledon Press, n.d.
Scattergood, V. J. English Court Culture in the Later Middle Ages. n.d.