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.
9 thoughts on “The Seven Knightly Virtues”
My boyfriend lives by the code of chivalry. Reading this page has given me a better understanding of the man I love. It also makes me feel very fortunate that he is the one man in my life who truly loves me.
While I agree with most of your declarations. I have to wonder where is love invoked?
Love is the basis of all of these things and that is what I’ve chosen to live by.
The items in the post appear to me derived from an American obsession with superheroes. An obsession in which people try to be more than others in superficial and clearly measurable ways, instead of just being a better person by his or her own standards. What about qualities like responsibility or patience? Although not easily measurable and definitely not things that can be used to be more others, I do believe those are parts of what makes a human being better instead of more.
(In reply to FingerPaint) As I mentioned in the intro to this piece, there are many qualities that fall under the umbrella of “chivalry” – our Seven Knightly Virtues simply reflect the themes that seem to be incorporated in many, if not all of the interpretations of the concept of chivalry through the ages.
Wouldn’t “responsibility” be a facet of the virtue of nobility? The more you have and the “higher” you rise in life, the more duty you have to lead, volunteer and answer for your own actions.
And “patience” could be considered one of the ways of demonstrating generosity. Isn’t being patient just being generous with your time and attention, rather than your wealth and material goods?
Those are just my thoughts – but whenever I hear someone say that a particular virtue has been left out of the code of chivalry, I usually don’t have to look very far to find it in one of the Knightly Virtues.
Your version of chivalry, while admirable is not correct. Chivalry was for entitled individuals. Lower ranking individuals had no worth nor accorded any such ideals or actions. You take modern day morals and apply them broadly and inappropriately. Those of noble blood took what they wanted. Those granted titles were still bound to honor the rules of the nobles – unless elevated beyond station (read as titled by king or lord) above others.
Justice was for those strong enough to mete it out themselves or by accordance with the lords of the land. Mercy was shown only to those of worth (see above – noble word was beyond reproach by a commoner.) Generosity was shown for favor in return upon a field of honor. Faith was nothing more than religious virtue granted by the king or lord. Nobility is just that, one should act noble by custom of the lord or king – nothing less was accepted. Hope is BS, and never mentioned in any code. Knights were nothing more than blessed hooligans with horse and armor. Some (none of record mind you) may have been above this, most were not.
If you wish to change chivalry, please do not refer to medieval times or knights. Take and make the word for yourself in to a meaning which you can (and WILL) portray today and tomorrow and forever.
Mick – Thanks for posting. While there are certainly some valid points in your comment, you demonstrate the inaccurate perspective we have of medieval culture and history, which is almost always the case when anyone starts making blanket statements like “all knights (or priests, or peasants) did such-and-such.”
Understand – chivalry was something of a personalized concept, and every knight (undoubtedly) had a slightly different take on it. But writing in the 14th century, Geoffroi de Charny recognized that “there are many of low station who are more worthy of praise and honor than those who call themselves knights, yet act like thieves and bandits.” He was one of the most respected knights of the age – and he realized that just being born into a noble family didn’t give you a noble spirit.
Similarly, a century earlier, Sir Ramon Llull, a Spanish knight, wrote that “Hope is the primary instrument of chivalry, like the hammer is the primary instrument of the carpenter.” Hope was not “B.S.” – the value of optimism (what they would have called “good cheer”) was clearly understood on some level.
Surely there were plenty of knights in medieval history who failed to live up to the values of chivalry – just as there are leaders and cultural icons today who fail to live up to our standards of ethics and morality. That doesn’t invalidate the principles – living by any code of honor is hard.
The “Seven Knightly Virtues” we list here are merely concepts that are distilled from the many principles written about by medieval knights who did value the notion of chivalry – the things that appear most often in their writings. And, whether or not they were observed in history, we need to recognize their cultural significance if we are to build our own code of honor which we can live by – today, tomorrow and forever.
Good day, Sir, and thank you for creating such a fantastic site. I have already replied on the ‘women and chivarly’ area with how I discovered chivalry, went through a stage of misunderstanding, then finally, realised how much it mean to me, but now I have another query. Is it possible for an atheiest, such as myself, to aspire to and embody chivarly, or are belivers the only ones who can do this? I would feel crushed to discover that chivarly is unachievable beacuase of religious beliefs, but if that is the way it has to be, then…
Anyway, thanks again.
I don’t know if you will ever visit this page again but for all of the future readers, then the answer to that is no. Anyone can aspire to embody chivalry no matter race, beliefs, age or nobility. The part about faith it does not say that you need to believe in a high power it just says that you should keep your promises no matter how big or small. You can be an atheist you could even be… I don’t no, an alien and you could still embody chivalry. So too any one that is reading you can be chivalrous no matter what you are or your past, just start now.
Trenton – Thanks for really “getting” one of the ideals of chivalry, as we see it. Yes, “faith” can mean being true to your religious/spiritual beliefs. It can also mean being true to your vows, your commitments, your obligations. The word faith (at least within the original values of chivalry)) means “fidelity,” not “spirituality.”