The brave and valiant knights of old are a captivating legacy of the medieval history of Europe.
These bold and fearless characters were, for many generations, the champions of royalty and protectors of the vulnerable. Many of history’s most famous knights became renowned for their honourable values and Christian virtues, such as honesty, duty, courage and impeccable manners – a kind of Knight’s code.
The traits commonly associated with the great knights of old are reflected in the origins of the word chivalry, as well as the codes of conduct that evolved from the esteemed behaviour and devotion of the early medieval knights.
What Is Chivalry?
The modern definitions of chivalry describe aspects of honour, politeness and courtesy, particularly of men towards women. Chivalry also calls to mind gallant behaviour, the idea of a heroic type rushing to the aid of those in need, or acting fearlessly to resolve a perilous situation.
These modern takes on the word chivalry evoke the popular fantasy of ancient knights, who have become a kind of archetype in many stories throughout the ages – the heroes of the hour in medieval narratives as well as modern retellings of fairy tales and classic plot lines.
The values and virtues of knights, a noble rank that emerged from the horse-riding soldiers of the Middle Ages, have become synonymous with heroism, honour and gallantry.
Yet, these honourable traits are the result of centuries of stories of virtuous knights and their heroics, King Arthur and the legendary round table, and the Knights Templar. The original knights were simply cavalrymen, often clad in metal armour to protect them during battle.
The word chivalry is a remnant of the original knights and points to the word’s origins in medieval Europe, as it stems from the Old French word for horseman. This can be seen even more clearly in the French equivalent of the noble rank of knight which is chevalier, based on cheval, the French word for horse.
The Rules Of Chivalry
While it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly when chivalry began, the traditions of gallantry that we now associate with knights of old can be summed up in a chivalric code of conduct that was popularised in the late medieval period around the 13th century.
This code of virtues became known as the Rules of Chivalry and developed to include the following attributes and chivalrous conduct;
Many of the earliest orders of knights that endured throughout history were established in order to protect vulnerable groups and uphold the religious tenets to which they swore allegiance.
From the original commissions to protect European travellers making their way to the Holy Land in the Middle East, the role of brave protector has become an integral aspect of the knightly code of chivalry.
Gallantry and honour have long been associated with the medieval knights of old, and this trait is a reflection of their strong sense of loyalty.
The greatest knights of history were those who bravely and fearlessly proved their loyalty in battle, whether in defence of their king or queen, or as loyal warriors serving their country or kingdom.
The original medieval knights were devoutly religious and passionate supporters of the Roman Catholic Church and Christian values.
This aspect of faith gave the knights their reputation for humble devotion to their fellow man, one of the core facets of chivalrous behaviour.
Perhaps one of the most compelling and thrilling virtues of the most heroic knights is their courage in the face of great danger.
There are few people that don’t admire and respect those who have proven their bravery and valour, and the medieval knights were given many opportunities to demonstrate the fearlessness and courage that epitomises the noble rank of knight.
While many of the traditions of chivalry reflect the great and grand aspects of heroic behaviour, one of the quieter aspects of the knight’s character was that of a humble devotion to duty.
The traits of discipline and simply doing what must be done are not as glamorous or exciting as the mighty victories on the battlefield, yet they can often be just as challenging, which is why this particular code of conduct once again adds to the esteem and character of the knight’s value system.
As their reputation for virtue and a high code of honour became established during the Middle Ages, knights became associated with a level of trustworthiness and honesty that became their standard to live by.
This aspect of faithfulness, integrity and fidelity was an extension of the Christian values that people of all levels of society idealised during the medieval period. Yet the knights, in their lofty status as paragons of protection and virtue, were often the noblest embodiments of this code of conduct.
Alongside a humble devotion to duty to their fellow man, the knights of old were also required to be benevolent in their actions.
The virtues of generosity and charitable giving were regarded as honourable traits befitting of a noble knight. This aspect of altruism endured as the ancient knights became more honourary noblemen than active warriors, with many adopting aristocratic roles that involved great service to their society.
Knightly Behaviour In A Modern World
These Rules of Chivalry date back over a thousand years, and they have influenced the public perception of knights over the centuries since the earliest cavalrymen established the code of chivalry through their unique role of protection, gallantry, honour and service.
Yet these traits have endured for generations, from the ancient heroes of the Middle Ages to the devout noblemen of the Renaissance, the stories of the most renowned and fabled knights share a common thread of virtue and chivalry that makes this noble rank a uniquely beloved and respected legacy of the aristocratic system.
The enduring esteem of knightly virtue is reflected in the respect and reverence granted to the knights of modern times – those whose good works or devoted service earn them recognition in the form of a knighthood.
While social standards and common values may have changed much over the centuries, the traits of protection, loyalty, faith, duty, courage, honesty and generosity are still valued and respected in the modern world.
While the fairytale knights in shining armour may belong to another era, these ancient Rules of Chivalry will always be welcome in any contemporary society.