Chivalric ethics originated chiefly in France and Spain and spread rapidly to the rest of the Continent and to England. They represented a fusion of Christian and military concepts of morality and still form the basis of gentlemanly conduct. Noble youths became pages in the castles of other nobles at the age of 7; at 14 they trained as squires in the service of knights, learning horsemanship and military techniques, and were themselves knighted, usually at 21.
The chief chivalric virtues were piety, honor, valor, courtesy, chastity, and loyalty. The knight's loyalty was due to the spiritual master, God; to the temporal master, the suzerain; and to the mistress of the heart, his sworn love. Love, in the chivalrous sense, was largely platonic; as a rule, only a virgin or another man's wife could be the chosen object of chivalrous love. With the cult of the Virgin Mary, the relegation of noblewomen to a pedestal reached its highest expression.
The ideal of militant knighthood was greatly enhanced by the Crusades. The monastic orders of knighthood, the Knights Templars and the Knights Hospitalers, produced soldiers sworn to uphold the Christian ideal. Besides the battlefield, the tournament was the chief arena in which the virtues of chivalry could be proved. The code of chivalrous conduct was worked out with great subtlety in the courts of love that flourished in France and in Flanders. There the most arduous questions of love and honor were argued before the noble ladies who presided (see courtly love). The French military hero Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard, was said to be the last embodiment of the ideals of chivalry.
In practice, chivalric conduct was never free from corruption, increasingly evident in the later Middle Ages. Courtly love often deteriorated into promiscuity and adultery and pious militance into barbarous warfare. Moreover, the chivalric duties were not owed to those outside the bounds of feudal obligation. The outward trappings of chivalry and knighthood declined in the 15th cent., by which time wars were fought for victory and individual valor was irrelevant. Artificial orders of chivalry, such as the Order of the Golden Fleece (1423), were created by rulers to promote loyalty; tournaments became ritualized, costly, and comparatively bloodless; the traditions of knighthood became obsolete.
Medieval secular literature was primarily concerned with knighthood and chivalry. Two masterpieces of this literature are the Chanson de Roland (c.1098; see Roland) and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (see Pearl, The). Arthurian legend and the chansons de geste furnished bases for many later romances and epics. The work of Chrétien de Troyes and the Roman de la Rose also had tremendous influence on European literature. The endless chivalrous and pastoral romances, still widely read in the 16th cent., were satirized by Cervantes in Don Quixote. In the 19th cent., however, the romantic movement brought about a revival of chivalrous ideals and literature.
See B. E. Broughton, Dictionary of Medieval Knighthood and Chivalry (1986); M. Keen, Chivalry (1984); H. Chickering and T. H. Seiler, ed., The Study of Chivalry (1988).
Knightly class of feudal Europe, and especially the gallantry and honor expected of medieval knights. The ideal of courteous knightly conduct developed in the 12th–13th century. It arose out of feudal obligation (see feudalism) and stressed loyalty and obeisance by a knight to his God, his lord, and his lady, thus melding Christian and military virtues. Chivalry was greatly strengthened by the Crusades, a military endeavor on behalf of Christianity, which led to the founding of the earliest orders of chivalry, the Knights of Malta and the Templars. In addition to loyalty and honor, the chivalric virtues included valor, piety, courtesy, and chastity. Questions of love and honor were combined in the ethos of courtly love. The knight's lady was meant to be unobtainable, ensuring chastity; the feminine ideal thus became melded with the Virgin Mary. In the 14th–15th century, chivalry came to be associated increasingly with aristocratic display and public ceremony, particularly in jousting tournaments, rather than with service in the field.
Learn more about chivalry with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Chivalry is a term related to the medieval institution of knighthood. It is usually associated with ideals of knightly virtues, honour and courtly love. Today, the terms chivalry and chivalrous are used to describe courteous behavior, especially that of men towards women.
The term originated in France in the late 10th century; based on the words for "knight" (French: chevalier), and "horse" (French: cheval). Knights possessed military training, a war horse and military equipment which required a substantial amount of wealth and prestige to acquire.
Between the 11th century and 15th centuries Medieval writers often used the word chivalry, but its definition was never consistent among authors, and its meaning would change on a regional basis, and even over time. Further, its modern meanings are different from its medieval meanings. Thus, the exact meaning of chivalry changes depending on the writer, the time period, and the region; so a comprehensive definition of the term is elusive.
From the 12th century onward chivalry came to be understood as a moral, religious and social code of knightly conduct. The particulars of the code varied, but codes would emphasize the virtues of courage, honour, and service. Chivalry also came to refer to an idealization of the life and manners of the knight at home in his castle and with his court.
Medieval knights glorified and identified with the valor, tactics and ideals of ancient Romans.
For example the ancient hand-book of warfare written by Vegetius called De Re Militari was translated into French in the 13th century as L'art de chevalerie by Jean de Meun. Later writers also drew from Vegetius such as Honore Bonet who wrote the 14th century L'arbes des batailles, which discussed the morals and laws of war. In the 15th century Christine de Pizan combined themes from Vegetius, Bonet and Frontinus in Livre des faits d'armes et de chevalerie.
The medieval knightly class was adept at the art of war, trained in fighting in armor, with horses, lances, swords and shields. Knights were taught to excel in the arms, to show courage, to be gallant, loyal and to swear off cowardice and baseness.
Related to chivalry was the practice of heraldry and its elaborate rules of displaying coats of arms. When not fighting, chivalric knights typically resided in a castle or fortified house, while some knights lived in the courts of kings, dukes and other great lords. The skills of the knight carried over to peacetime activities such as the hunt and tournament.
The tradition of the chivalric "knight in shining armor" can be traced back to the Arabs, with notable pre-Islamic figures like the Bedouin knight Antar The Lion (580 CE). He is believed to be the model of this tradition.  Charles Reginald Haines noted traits "such as loyalty, courtesy, munificence...are found in eminent degree among the Arabs." Medieval Spain, which he calls the "cradle of chivalry", could bear that pre-modern title, due to the direct impact of Arab civilization in al-Andalus. "Piety, courtesy, prowess in war, the gift of eloquence, the art of poetry, skill on horseback, dexterity with sword, lance, and bow" was expected of the elite Moorish knight.  Richard Francis Burton, when characterizing this strain of thought in the writings of Europe as a whole, maintained "were it not evident that the spiritualising of sexuality by imagination is universal among the highest orders of mankind", he continues, "I should attribute the origins of love to the influences of the Arabs' poetry and chivalry upon European ideas rather than to medieval Christianity."  The frequent clashes between the Christians and Muslims preceding the Christian Crusades leave no doubt that orders of the knighthood and the tradition of courtly love were transmitted into Europe by way of the Muslim occupation
Christianity had a modifying influence on the virtues of chivalry. The Peace and Truce of God in the 10th century was one such example, with limits placed on knights to protect and honor the weaker members of society and also help the church maintain peace. At the same time the church became more tolerant of war in the defense of faith, espousing theories of the just war; and liturgies were introduced which blessed a knight's sword, and a bath of chivalric purification. In the 11th century the concept of a "knight of Christ" (miles Christi) gained currency in France, Spain and Italy. These concepts of "religious chivalry" were further elaborated in the era of the Crusades, with the Crusades themselves often being seen as a chivalrous enterprise. Their ideas of chivalry were also further influenced by Saladin, who was viewed as a chivalrous knight by medieval Christian writers.
The relationship between knights and the nobility varied based on region. In France being dubbed a knight also bestowed noble status. In Germany and the Low Countries, knights and the nobility were distinctly different classes. In England, the relations between knights, nobles and land-owning gentry were complex.
In the later Middle Ages, wealthy merchants strove to adopt chivalric attitudes - the sons of the bourgeoisie were educated at aristocratic courts where they were trained in the manners of the knightly class. This was a democratization of chivalry, leading to a new genre called the courtesy book, which were guides to the behavior of "gentlemen". Thus, the post-medieval gentlemanly code of the value of a man's honor, respect for women, and a concern for those less fortunate, is directly derived from earlier ideals of chivalry and historical forces which created it.
It is still debated as to what extent the exploits of notable knights such as Godfrey of Bouillon, William Marshal and Bertrand du Guesclin set new standards of knightly behavior, or were instead reflections of existing models of conduct.
Another common debate is whether (since knights bore arms) the ranks of knights were open to anyone who had the physical requirements and skills, or restricted to only those who were born into knightly families.
When examining medieval literature, chivalry can be classified into three basic but overlapping areas:
These three areas obviously overlap quite frequently in chivalry, and are often indistinguishable.
Different weight given to different areas produced different strands of chivalry:
One particular similarity between all three of these categories is honor. Honor is the foundational and guiding principle of chivalry. Thus, for the knight, honor would be one of the guides of action.