By Sharon Fabian
Knights lived by a code of honor called chivalry. The rules of chivalry
dictated how a knight should live, and they spelled out the character traits of
a good knight. Since knights were warriors, there were rules for war, but
there were also rules of chivalry for many other occasions. There were even
rules for romance!
Chivalry developed gradually throughout the Middle Ages. It grew out
of several things that were happening in those years -- feudalism, the
crusades, and even the songs and stories of troubadours.
Under the feudal system, knights served their lords. That is why loyalty
became one of the most important qualities of the medieval knight.
On the crusades, knights had the chance to learn from the cultures of the
Middle East. In the Middle East, they saw women treated with respect. They
gained an appreciation for culture. Both of these ideas became parts of
chivalry too.
At home, they listened to troubadours singing songs of love. The
troubadours sang about romance and about knights trying to win the
affections of their true love. These romantic ideas eventually became part of
a life of chivalry too.
There are different versions of the code of chivalry, but it included rules
like these:
1. Defend ladies and the weak.
2. Serve your country and your lord.
3. Live a life of respect and honor.
4. Defend freedom and justice.
5. Never attack an unarmed enemy.
6. Respect women.
7. Avenge wrongdoing.
8. Never attack from behind.
9. Die bravely.
10. Use good manners.
King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table - those ideal, and
maybe fictional, knights - were models of chivalrous behavior. The knights
chosen to sit at the round table with King Arthur were the best; they lived a
life of chivalry and represented its virtues, including honor, honesty, valor,
and loyalty.
A knight had always been expected to treat a lady with respect and to
come to the lady's rescue when needed; however, over the years, tales of
brave knights rescuing ladies in distress began to change into tales of
romance. Stories about romance, also called courtly love, became popular.
In the later years of the Middle Ages, romance was very fashionable.
Popular tales told of knights suffering from love sickness. A knight in
love might turn pale, sigh, be unable to eat or sleep, and even come down
with a fever. A knight suffering from love sickness had to declare his love.
Then, he was expected to serve the lady he loved in any way that she
requested. He would send her gifts such as poems, songs of love, or
bouquets of flowers. All of this was done to win the lady's favor. Just a hint
from the lady that she was interested in the knight was enough to inspire him
to great deeds of valor and glory. It was just one of the benefits of living a
chivalrous life.
Now the days of knights and chivalry are long gone, but many people
still admire the medieval knights, not only for their chivalrous behavior, but
also for their adventurous, romantic lifestyle.
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