Historians think of chivalry as the unwritten agreement which the knights of the Middle Ages used to conduct themselves in tournaments and warfare. Literature experts view chivalry through the precepts of the medieval church and its unique “cult of the Madonna.” And for those who know of chivalry only from old fantasy novels and King Arthur movies, chivalry implies a sense of courtesy which is exemplified by a gentleman holding the door for a lady, or spreading his coat over a mud puddle so she can walk across it.
Interestingly, all of these views are correct. The true spirit of the Code of Chivalry springs from three sources of the Middle Ages: the battlefield, the cathedral and the court.
The job of a knight was to defend the kingdom in times of war, and a great deal of training (both physical and mental) was required for this job. So, from the knight’s duties on the battlefield comes the chivalric admiration of courage, strength and loyalty.
A knight was also expected to be pious, to respect the traditions of the medieval church, and to use his strength and armor to protect the monks and bishops from harm as they did the work of giving aid to the poor and crippled. From the cathedral, then, springs the chivalric sense of charity and generosity, and the role of a knight as the protector of the defenseless.
Finally, the knight was also a servant at the King’s court, and was expected to conduct himself with the refinement of a scholar or cleric when performing his duties there. From these courtly interactions comes chivalry’s nobler side: a sense of obligation, humility and respect for others.
These three distinct but complimentary sides of the Code of Chivalry are what I have combined in the Seven Knightly Virtues of Chivalry Today. You don’t need to be a soldier, a priest or a politician to appreciate the value of a combination of determination, introspection and cooperation.
In my mind, this is exactly what Chivalry Today is all about — 1) Recognizing the need for duty and service (to your loved ones, your family, your business or your community); 2) Understanding the importance of spiritual tranquility (which is a product of graciousness and charity, and those qualities are not limited to any particular faith); and 3) Undertaking every endeavor with honor and integrity (no matter how tempting it is to cut corners or let someone else do the unpleasant work).
In essence, every aspect of modern life can, and should be approached with a sense of chivalry and knightly virtue that springs from this three-pronged origin of the Code of Chivalry. That’s my approach to Chivalry Today!