Monday, August 4, 2014

What is Chivalry?

Everyone's heard the word chivalry at some point in their lives. Some of us (paladin players, I'm looking at you) probably have delusions that we live our lives in a chivalrous way. We open doors for women, stand until the guests are seated, and we offer a hearty handshake while making eye contact. We don't lie, we don't steal, and we generally turn down monetary gifts offered to us by old women for helping them cross the street.

Whatever good things it is we do that we think of as part of a code tends to make us feel noble, at least for a moment or two. Knights without their shining armor, we are the errant servants of the realm. Without us the world would surely be a darker, danker place.

Congratulations, you have no idea what chivalry actually is.

All Right Smart Guy, What is Chivalry?

Well since you asked, I'll tell you.

The word chivalry that we know comes from the French word chevalier. The word cheval is French for "horse," and so a chevalier was the warrior who rode him. This word would be corrupted and bastardized until it became the English word cavalier. In short the original idea of chivalry (which came out under Charlemagne in the 700's and was codified in the 900's) was how good you were as a mounted warrior.

Chivalry, motherfucker, do you use it?
The chivalry that the mounted tanks of the Dark Ages knew was very different from the diluted code of noble conduct that many modern folks think of (more on that here). In its barest form it was a measure of bravery, combat skill, and battlefield valor. As time went on and the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries rolled around though the Romance genre was born.

We know what happens then.

So, What Happened?

Chivalry as a code of conduct had been evolving along with the knights of Europe and the culture they fought in. Originally a list of requirements for boosting one's reputation as a mounted warrior, it grew into a system codifying how a knight needed to behave sometime around the Crusades. It was mostly concerned with combat (over half of the rules referred to "warrior codes" as seen here), but there were also huge swaths of the code dedicated to the display of heraldry and what was appropriate to wear and show at what times. There were parts about protecting the weak and downtrodden, as well as refusing monetary rewards for services performed, but by and large they fell into the background. There were also codes in place for how knights should act toward women (noble women, at any rate), but they were generally concerned with making sure that proper titles, compliments, and etiquette were maintained. Because it seems that no matter what era we exist in, men have no fucking clue how to talk to women.

Anyway, what happened with the Romanticists (capital "R" on this one) got hold of it is pretty much what happens when your favorite gritty drama falls into the hands of fan fiction enthusiasts.

Yep, the same folks who gave us the softer parts of the Arthurian legend, and who whitewashed the 12 Peers along with knights as a whole (sort of like of Game of Thrones was written by David Eddings instead of George R. R. Martin) pretty much shooed away all the bits about dueling etiquette and which insults and offenses were considered worthy of bloodletting. Instead they focused on ideas of "courtly love," paying more attention to balls, dances, and the kinds of praise used by knights to flatter and uphold noblewomen. They also spent an unhealthy amount of time on stories about knights breaking all codes of chivalry to fuck their sworn lieges' wives, and thus was the romance genre as we know it born.

That's It?

Glossing over the finer details, yep, that's pretty much what it's about. So the next time you don't hold a door for someone and you get a roll of the eyes and a comment like, "looks like chivalry is dead," you should jaw jack them for questioning your honor.

Unless they're not Christian. Or of noble birth. I think at that point it is your duty as a chivalrous individual to slay them and carry the head through the streets on the tip of a bared sword to make your point. The French translation is sort of funny though, so check that last to be sure you're not supposed to use a cherry wood pole. That kind of mistake would be embarrassing.

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