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Chivalry

The Origins of Chivalry

There is a common error in assuming that because chivalry and feudalism were contemporary for several centuries they were identical. In reality they had nothing in common. Feudalism was a successful social and economic system that required a class structure to discipline it, one that became hereditary. Chivalry was an ideal, and althought it had a simple class structure, membership was not hereditary.

Chivalry was disciplined by a code of conduct that was clearly understood although it was never clearly formulated. Examination now, in retrospect, allows it to be reduced to this series of commandments composed by Léon Gautier ~

1. Thou shalt believe all the Church teaches and shalt obey her commandments.
2. Thou shalt defend the Church.
3. Thou shalt respect all weaknesses and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
4. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
5. Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation and without mercy.
6. Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
7. Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word.
8. Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse to everyone.
9. Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.

These commandments may be said to have evolved from two Charlemagnic sources around the end of the eighth century. The first, now described as Charlemagne's Code of Chivalry, listed the knight's duties as follows ~
To fear God and maintain His Church
To serve the liege lord in valour and faith
To protect the weak and defenceless
To give succour to widows and orphans
To refrain from the wanton giving of offence
To live by honour and for glory
To despise pecuniary reward
To fight for the welfare of all
To obey those placed in authority
To guard the honour of fellow knights
To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit
To keep faith
At all times to speak the truth
To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun
To respect the honour of women
Never to refuse a challenge from an equal
Never to turn the back upon a foe.
The second, The Exhortation of 800 AD, was issued by Charlemagne in the year he became Emperor.
Love God Almighty with all your heart and all your powers
Love your neighbour as yourself
Give alms to the poor as ye are able
Entertain strangers
Visit the sick
Be merciful to prisoners
Do ill to no man, nor consent unto such as do, for the receiver is as bad as the thief
Forgive as ye hope to be forgiven
Redeem the captive
Help the oppressed
Defend the cause of the widow and orphan
Render righteous judgement
Do not consent to any wrong
Persevere not in wrath
Shun excess in eating and drinking
Be humble and kind
Serve your liege lord faithfully
Do not steal
Do not perjure yourself, nor let others do so
Envy, hatred and violence separate men from the Kingdom of God
Defend the Church and promote her cause.
Six centuries later, the Duke of Burgundy defined for the Order of the Golden Fleece the knight's twelve chivalric virtues as ~

faith, charity, justice, sagacity, prudence, temperance, resolution, truth, liberality, diligence, hope and valour

~ a list which is easier to remember and will be as valid in the 21st century as it was in the 14th.

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© 1999 The Baronage Press and Pegasus Associates Ltd
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