Chivalry and Courtly Love

Sir Gawain and the
Green Knight
Arthurian Romance
Castles and Keeps
Stone castles were encircled by
massive walls and guard
 Home to lord and lady,
their family, knights, and
 A fortress of defense
Castles and Keeps
The 3 Estates
in the Middle Ages
• The idea of estates, or orders,
was encouraged during the
Age, but this ordering was
breaking down.
– Clergy
• those who pray, purpose was
to save everyone’s soul,
primarily spoke Latin
– Nobles
• those who fight, purpose was
to protect—allow for all to work
in peace—and provide justice,
primarily spoke French
– Commoners
• those who work, purpose was
to feed and clothe all above
them, primarily spoke English
• The economic system of
much of the Middle Ages
• Based on premise that the
king owns all the land in the
kingdom. William the
Conquerer kept ¼ land for
himself, gave ¼ to church,
then parceled out rest to
loyal barrons.
A tenant (vassal) renews his oath of fidelity
to his lord
Think of a chess set
Provide knights in
times of war
Military protection
Provided land
food, etc
Barons gave land to serfs in
return for take on profits. No
“rent to own” option, however.
The lords estate –
 The lord
provided the serfs
with housing,
farmland and
 Serfs tended
the lands, cared for
the animals,
maintained the
Peasants rarely
traveled more than
25 miles from the
Was home to 15
– 30 families
 Peasants heavily
taxed, including a
tithe – a church tax
of 1/10 their
Arthurian Romance
 Legend of King Arthur
 Many tales
 Told since the
Anglo-Saxon period
 Many countries:
England, France,
Germany, etc.
 Sir Gawain = 14th C.
Romance poetry - genre
 Kings/knights
 Idealized courtly love (i.e. love
within the king’s court, or
 Fantasy
 Supernatural creatures
 Challenge/Test  Quest
Feudal social institutions
 Chivalry – knightly code of
 Truth
 Honesty
 Respect for women
 Courage
 Obedience to the king
 Humility/humble
 Knight obeys the
king because he’s
the king
 One-way
• A product of feudalism,
chivalry was an idealized
system of manners and
– Restricted to nobility
• Chivalric ideals include...
– desire to do good to
– brotherly love
– politeness
The Age of Chivalry
 The mounted Knights were the most important
part of an Army
• Knights were professional soldiers – main
obligation was to serve in battle
 Devoted lives to war
The Age of Chivalry
 Chivalry – a complex set of ideals, demanded that a knight
fight bravely in defense of three masters: his feudal lord, his
heavenly lord, and his lady
 Meant to protect the
weak and the poor
 Be loyal, brave, and
Demonstrate honesty,
respect for women and
The Age of Chivalry
Sons of nobles began training at an early age for
 Page – at 7 they were sent to another lord
to be trained
 Squire – at 14 they act as a servant to a
 Knight- at 21 they become a knight and
gain experience in local wars and
The Age of Chivalry
Tournaments – mock battles that combined recreation and
combat training
Fierce and bloody competitions
The Church
• Provided guidance
through well known
– Seven Deadly Sins
The Wheel of Fortune
The idea of Fortune and her
wheel was one of the
most pervasive ideas
throughout the Middle
On the wheel are depicted
four figures: one at the
top, one at the bottom,
one rising, and one falling.
It served to remind of the temporality of earthly
The Wheel helps understand the medieval mind,
and it can help remind us that the important things
in life come from within, that hard work has its
own merits. An award, an office, a title--these are
not the things that make for greatness.
The “High” Middle Ages
(begin 1095)
• Begin with the First Crusade(1095)--reclaim
Jerusalemfromthe infidels
– Open trade routes
– Peasants (the vassals) are liberated fromtheir
lords to fight, and die, in the Holy Lands
– Cities spring up along the crusade routes
– Feudalismdies out
– the transition to the Renaissance begins
The “High” Middle Ages
• Before, in the Dark
Ages, the Church
provided structure to
society, not only with
religion, but by
providing education,
as well.
• Sadly, with the
Crusades, the Church
becomes incredibly
– Popes fight for
political power
– Greed is rampant
• selling of indulgences
• Crusades for $
• look for this in the
With the Crusades comes
The Black Death
• spreads along trade routes
• kills much of the population
• the plague outbreaks occur
through the Middle Ages and
into the Renaissance
• Paradoxically, the Plague provides
for continued growth in cities
• Afterwards, hundreds of new
jobs available
• Many debts “died off” with
• also contributed to society’s culture
Challenge / Test
 Purpose of the Test:
 Ensure that Sir Gawain must
stick by his morals and
Challenge / Test
 Chivalry
guides his
 the moral
structure by
which he
bases his
Why read this today?
 Moral lesson
 14th century—Knights had to
make choices
choices should reflect
acceptance of the chivalric
Why read this today?
 Moral lesson
 Modern Day – We have to make
choices in life based on our belief
 1st: we must explicitly know and
understand what we believe in
 2nd: we will judge our actions based
on those beliefs
Why read this today?
 Conclusion:
 beliefs, then, become the way in
which we measure our actions
 way in which we decide what we
have done as either good or bad
Can you hold firmly to your beliefs?
Courtly Love in romance
 Audience = mostly women
 Interest in stories where women
play larger role
 Focus: contained alternates to
combat (although combat is
Courtly Love in romance
The courtly love
consisted of a
between a
knight and the
liege lady
(sometimes already
married to the king)
The Characters of
Chivalric Romance
A Kingdom with castle (Camelot)
A King (Arthur)
A Queen (Guinevere)
Knights (Sir Gawain, Sir Lancelot, Sir
Galahad, etc.)
 Ladies (objects of affection/devotion)
 Wizards, Sorcerers (Merlin)
 Enemies (other kings/knights)
The Ideal of Courtly
• This relationship was modeled on the
feudal relationship between a knight
and his liege lord.
• The knight serves his courtly lady
with the same obedience and loyalty
which he owes to his liege lord.
• She is in complete control; he owes
her obedience and submission
The knight's love for the lady inspires
him to do great deeds, in order to be
worthy of her love or to win her favor.
Were marriages like
this, too?
• “Courtly love" was not between husband
and wife because it was an idealized sort of
relationship that could not exist within the
context of "real life" medieval marriages.
• In the middle ages, marriages amongst the
nobility were typically based on practical
and dynastic concerns rather than on love.
Courtly Love continued
• provided a model of behavior for a
class of unmarried young men
who might otherwise have
threatened social stability.
• Knights were typically younger
brothers without land of their own
(hence unable to support a wife).
• They became members of the
household of the feudal lords
whom they served.
What is the purpose?
It provided young men with a model
for appropriate behavior.
It taught them to sublimate their
desires and to channel their
energy into socially useful
behavior (love service rather than
wandering around the
countryside, stealing or raping
Castle – What is this
King and Queen – Who
rules the modern castle?
Knights – Who follows
behavior code today?
Ladies – Any modern
Identify these elements in Sir
Gawain (graphic organizer)
1. Hero
2. Evil Enemy
3. Quest
a. a dangerous journey
b. a test/ordeal for hero
c. a return to some point of the
Identify these elements in Sir
Gawain (continued)
Test(s) of the hero
Supernatural elements
Good vs. Evil
Female figures (maidens in
need of rescue, mothers,
crones, or temptresses)
The Quest
• In addition to the theme of
Courtly Love, the Quest was
highly important:
• an errant knight wandering in search
of deeds of chivalry is bound by a
code of behavior - a set of
conventional principles and
Let’s Get Reading!!
“Sir Gawain and the Green
The Canterbury Tales: “The Wife
of Bath’s Tale”