Essential elements of today’s code of chivalry
Although we often refer to the “code of chivalry,” in truth, there was no such thing as a uniform code of knightly behavior and attitude in the Middle Ages. (And if you’ve read some version of a “true code of chivalry” on the Net or in a book somewhere, rest assured it was written sometime long after the Age of Chivalry was past.) Many people — from successful knights to contemplative philosophers — compiled lists of virtuous qualities, called the “knightly virtues,” which they felt defined chivalry. No two were exactly the same.
There were, however, several common themes found in these lists of knightly virtues. By combining these, we have created what we consider to be the seven knightly virtues of the modern code of chivalry:
More than bravado or bluster, today’s knight in shining armor must have the courage of the heart necessary to undertake tasks which are difficult, tedious or unglamorous, and to graciously accept the sacrifices involved.
A knight in shining armor holds him- or herself to the highest standard of behavior, and knows that “fudging” on the little rules weakens the fabric of society for everyone.
Words and attitudes can be painful weapons in the modern world, which is why a knight in shining armor exercises mercy in his or her dealings with others, creating a sense of peace and community, rather than engendering hostility and antagonism.
Sharing what’s valuable in life means not just giving away material goods, but also time, attention, wisdom and energy — the things that create a strong, rich and diverse community.
In the code of chivalry, “faith” means trust and integrity, and a knight in shining armor is always faithful to his or her promises, no matter how big or small they may be.
Although this word is sometimes confused with “entitlement” or “snobbishness,” in the code of chivalry it conveys the importance of upholding one’s convictions at all times, especially when no one else is watching.
More than just a safety net in times of tragedy, hope is present every day in a modern knight’s positive outlook and cheerful demeanor — the shining armor that shields him or her, and inspires people all around.
Each of these concepts is important in itself, and every one of these virtues is an admirable quality, but when all of them blend together in one person, we discover the value, and power, of chivalry today. Modern-day knights should strive to keep these virtues alive in their own hearts, but, perhaps more importantly, they should work to bring these wonderful qualities out in the people they see every day — at home, in the office, at school or on the street corner. A person who lives by the code of chivalry in today’s world allows everyone to see their best qualities reflected in his or her shining armor.
- Conversation With: Dr. Tobias Capwell (Arms and Armor Curator, Wallace Collection) - September 29, 2014
- Three Chivalry Lectures – October 14-16 - September 2, 2014
- Conversation With: Dr. Elizabeth Morrison (J. Paul Getty Museum “Chivalry in the Middle Ages”) - July 7, 2014