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Medieval Chivalry

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Medieval Chivalry


Western Civilization





Medieval Chivalry and Knighthood



During medieval times knighthood was a class culture, cherished and jealousy guarded by the knightly caste. Knight had the honor of defending the king as well as their country. On the bloody fields of battle a code of chivalry evolved that tempered anger and fury with mercy. It created ways of turning the grim business of fighting into something tolerable, perhaps even acceptable. Chivalry was not only looked upon as a code for war; it was looked upon as a setting for stories of love and romance. Chivalry meant a higher social status as well as recognition.

Chivalry as we know it denotes the ideals and practices considered suitable to be a noble. Over time chivalry has been used as the primal word to describe the attitude and actions of men towards women. "The word itself is reminiscent of the milieu in which the ideas connected with it took shape-the aristocratic society of mediaeval France dominated by mounted warriors or chevaliers." From as early as the eleventh century several different sets of ideas represented different standards of chivalric behavior. Over the next four hundred years the concepts of

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The ideal nobleman developed by and for the feudal class under the influence of changing environments, ideas, political views and economies.

The concept of being born into a certain class in society was a great part of medieval life. This concept of the class system was based on the land ownership and duties that were owed to other people. The knights were the military supporters of the feudal lords. The knight fought for his lord and if necessary died for him. However, the feudal inheritance was provided only for the eldest son. Younger sons therefore tended to the church or joined groups of knight lacking land. They worked and did their jobs waiting for the opportunity to marry into an estate.

There were three methods of becoming a knight. "The most common involved the King or tenant-in-chief conferring the title, known as 'dubbing'. The second method involved religion, the soon to be knight kept a night vigil with his arms on the altar in front of him. He then took a purifying bath, heard Mass and had his spurs put on it. The dubbing then followed with a formal sermon and a sword. The third method involved the readings of a service Benedictio Novi Militis.

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A certain type of apprenticeship exited for knighthood. It was served through being a squire. This involved acting like a servant in the household while being instructed in manners, humility and various skills. Servants were taught exactly what it meant to be a knight. They were tight the responsibilities of knighthood and what their duties exactly were in defending their lord.

Aside from the military training of a knight there was a certain set of manners and customs that developed which is known as 'chivalry'. Part of this was the cultivation of manners that should be used in the courts. It furthered the idea of the social service as well as the ideas of loyalty, virtue and generosity. It was the idea of noblesse oblige- privileges, which came along with responsibilities. Along with the courtly manners came the idea of romantic love and the chivalrous devotion of a knight to his lady.

In the early history of knighthood there were two types of knights and two types of ceremonies to convey honor. One of these knights was known as a knight of the sword; a knight who had only been given an accolade. The other type was a knight who had been given a religious ceremony before the accolade, these were known as knights of the bath.

There were also two ranks in dignity of knighthood. The first were youngsters aspiring to be knights. They had to work for a prince or somebody f a high rank. The second rank was known as the esquires. These men were

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He was responsible for carrying the shield of the knight. The esquire was considered a gentleman and had the right to bear arms on his shield. Esquires were also given the right to carry a sword, as well as the right to wear defensive armor, which was easily distinguishable from that of a knight.

The knight of the late thirteenth century was a very classic figure. A helmet, covering the head completely, which would later be better equipped to protect the eyes. The whole body was encased in armor with different degrees of flexibility. A series of plates attached to the basic armor protected the arms, legs, chest and back. A quilted garment was worn underneath these plates to lessen the discomfort. Besides this, the war-horse would bare a mail or a cloth trapper

Sometimes, both, and a chamfron on its head, for protection. All of these items were extremely expensive and hard to obtain.

In England only those who knights who planned on making fighting their careers, and to go in person to do his service rather than paying a shield tax and other dues, was likely to regard the outlay as worth while. These were the men who continued to take up knighthood and to continue their traditions of class. Those who were laymen, serfs or criminals supplied the livelihood of the knights. Whatever surplus was produced by the laboring classes went to the knights. Serfs

Hanuka, 5 said the knights in rents and services. All that was produced by the serfs went to the lord and his household. Any spare time the serfs had after production went to

Labor for the lords. Such labor included creating an extravagant house as well as an extravagant wardrobe for the lords.

Knights and lords had the highest-ranking power during medieval times. If a knight wished to in crease his power and resources, he waged war on his neighbors. Because knights had so much power, the fighting did not faze citizens. A successful raid could produce great rewards such as corn and cattle. "The capture of a baron of some importance could easily make the fortune of a poor knight."

What would prevent knights from killing one another in a time of war or during a tournament? It was possible that with the entire armor the knights wore it would be impossible to tell who was your friend and who was your foe. The way in which knights did recognize each other was by means of flags and war cries. War cries lasted as nearly infallible means of recognition throughout the middle- ages.

For centuries flags and war cries existed in many forms. Before the introduction of these means of identification two other methods were used for recognition. "First, the were those standards and other great ensigns were used for recognition which preceded armies on the march and which in battle provided

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a focal point for men to rally under and regroup." Second to these standards were the personal banners that were carried by leaders so they could be both identified as alive and accounted for. As far as shouting was concerned it was also used as a method of scaring the enemy as well as boosting the morale within the army. "In his Arthurian Brut (completed in 1155) the Anglo-Norman poet Wace, doubtless reflecting the practices of his own day, describes a battle in ancient times in which men could not distinguish friend from foe 'save only by the cry they shouted'.

Another popular idea stemming from chivalry was tournaments between the knights. Most of the tournaments were not fought in honor of a woman or an act of chivalry. Most of the time a tournament consisted of a single event involving two groups of knights. Usually these two groups fought each other on an agreed upon time and place. However, it was possible for a knight to be attacked by a group of opponents, and if was to drop his weapon or be unarmed then he had nothing to protect him. Knights were not sympathetic to towards opposing groups of knights. If a man was alone or if they were wounded it was more than likely that he would be killed instantly. If a man fell off of his horse he was dragged away and held for ransom. Many times knights on foot were used to cut



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the stirrups of an opponent's horse so that the man would fall off their horse. Many of the tournaments were used as a mask for feudal war. In these cases the death of opposing knights was without regret. Most of the time these wars were waged for financial profit.

"Such bloody business, was however, ...

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