Chivalry: a single word that is the source of discussion, debate and controversy in today's time. Yet when seen from the eyes of history, Chivalry was something completely different.
Historians and Scholars have agreed almost in one voice that Chivalry as known from the idea taught by Leon Gautier, Victorian Era literature, Hollywood and popular opinion does not exist within the realm of historical fact.
I would like to raise these questions, first: Are we looking at a misguided or false version of Chivalry? Second: What was Chivalry as history shows it? Third: What does this mean to us who claim to be chivalrous?
The answer is not easy or simple, but worth the challenge of understanding it so that by knowing it, one will apply it with wisdom and discernment.
Chivalry, according to History (in specific: according to the works of Ramon Lull, Sir Geoffri de Charney and Christine de Pizan) was a warrior ideal that was formed, developed and debated during the entire Middle Ages. What History tells us is that Chivalry was an ideal and model of ethics that pertained to knights and their relationships between their Lords and other knights. What we see is the absence of romantic gestures towards a woman and the notion of fair play. In reality, history has many records of knights participating in the sacking and slaughter of many famous cities and towns. Yet, is this a contradiction?
No. Here is why?
Chivalry was an ideal and ethic model that pertained to warriors and their conduct in warfare, tournaments and deeds of arms (which the history of the Middle Ages is fruitful in records and accounts) in which respect and courtesy between two knights was established and praised. The ideal was recognized and praised in its every aspects that a medieval history book was dedicated to the preservation of Chivalry practiced in action (The Chronicles of Jean Froissart). In the 8th episode of the Chivalry Today Podcast, the interview with Professor Steven Muhlberger gives a detailed discussion of my points which I have established here. You can access the Podcast here: http://chivalrytoday.com/episode-8/
One question that is brought up is: where did the notion of respectful gestures towards women come from?
The answer: from Courtly Love.
History shows that Courtly Love was developed out of the need to show excellence of courtly mannerisms. This ideal was the social bridge that filled the gap for the knight to relate to non warriors. With the ideal of Courtly Love, the knight was able to not only impress a Lady, but also was able to understand the social norms outside the battlefield or tournament field.
For the Knight, he went by the warrior aspect of Chivalry in war, deed of arms and tournament, exercising his prowess and warrior aspects. And he went by the ideal of Courtly Love, going by the aspect of the gentle man who excelled in non martial activities and in ethical behavior towards women and nobility.
Before you skip, I will give a recap of what was stated. Historically, Chivalry was a warrior ideal seen more in war than in court. To make up the difference in social norms, Courtly Love helped the knight with being socially accepted.
With that said, you might be shocked or confused. I don't blame you, I had the same thing happen to me. But by learning this it brought me great clarity as to how does one become a better man.
For a modern man to put this into practice, he needs to make a separation between his conduct in his application of his martial abilities and his social abilities. Meaning that you cannot be gentle in war, or stern in love. Rather one must use discernment to determine the difference between the two. The way that you conduct yourself in the gym or the martial arts school is not the same as your conduct your girlfriend or wife. One must keep themselves in check like this, "I will use my fist or weapon to protect myself, but I will never use it against my wife or loved one or for my own agenda." Sounds easy? Not so.
A martial artist who uses his prowess for his own agenda is no different than the robber who got away with cash from a bank. A lover who seeks to further his philandering by means of fighting is no different than the husband who abuses his wife out of his anger. In simple words, the ego is what will make the fighter a pleasure boy behind closed doors and the womanizer a murderous fighter in secret.
The ego is what blurs the line between the warrior and the lover by making one loose perspective in the grand picture of things. When perspective is lost, the next things that go away are vision and purpose.
A man must keep perspective on his warrior and lover aspects and to keep both of them in moral check. When one does so, they keep their priorities straight and their commitment to their vision and purpose fully in line with pure conviction based on honor and private integrity.
By understanding what True Chivalry is, we not only understand better human nature, we also understand how do we function in life. A man must always maintain excellence in his martial and social abilities. Aspiring and practicing this form of self excellence brings many benefits and blessings such as the ability to protect those you love and at the same time, the ability to relate to people who are different from you.
Now that the definition of Chivalry is laid out here, let us continue on the warrior path.