How And To What Extent Did War And Violence Contribute To The Definition Of Chivalry As Both An Historical And Social Phenomenon?

1934 words - 8 pages

How and to what extent did war and violence contribute to the definition of chivalry as both an historical and social phenomenon?

It is largely acknowledged by historians that, while it is difficult to be definitive in the meaning of chivalry-with Maurice Keen believing it to be a ‘word elusive of definition’- it came to denote the culture of a martial estate which ‘regarded war as its hereditary profession’. Thus, it could be considered that the violence of war had large implications on what people began to perceive to be chivalry. Additionally, the focus on violence- such as the participating in tournaments and jousts- further emphasises the close link between carrying out violent acts ...view middle of the document...

In this period it was the nobles who were considered eligible for knighthood, therefore this ethos then became identified with knights and hence the violence they were linked to. The historian Richard Kaeuper notes that prowess being crucial to honor may have contributed as much to the ‘problem of violence as it provided a solution’. Therefore, this appears to convey why the concept of chivalry began to be associated with violence and warfare as knights, in the pursuit of honor, became reliant on violence and battle to prove their aptitude. This idea is supported by a medieval knight Sir John Chandos, who stated that men brought up for martial calling ‘cannot live without war and do not know how to’. Maurice Keen argues that ‘chivalry was quintessentially bellicose’ as it presented those who fought has having a ‘pinnacle of honor’. As a result, the use of force by knights as a way of denoting their gallantry led to the belief that violence was intrinsic to the notion of chivalry.

Furthermore, within the medieval period there was the development of certain traditions and rewards associated with the concept of chivalry. The partaking in tournaments and jousting is argued by Keen to have been a ‘step on the scale of chivalrous perfection’. In these activities acts of violence were glorified and those who were successful were rewarded, thus endorsing and entrenching the belief that violence and success in war were the main premises on which chivalry was based. The extent to which violence contributed to what came to define chivalry is evident in legal records that indicate knightly violence was ‘practiced in everyday life, with serious consequences for public order’. This was demonstrated in the case of Rodrigue de Villandro, who while fighting for the cause of Charles VII, king of France, simultaneously gained the title ‘Emperor of the pillagers’. Such an instance provides evidence of violence being adopted into the framework of what it meant to be chivalrous.

Alternatively, it may be considered that religion influenced the defining of what it meant to be chivalrous. In some definitions, chivalry is spoken of ‘as if knighthood ought to be compared to a religious order’ and therefore one could perceive religion to have played a prominent role in defining chivalry. It may be believed that religion’s contribution to chivalry was an attempt to control and direct the knight’s fierce nature to focus on religious goals such as the Crusades. A French knight, Philippe de Mezieres, wrote that the principle of true chivalry was to fight for the faith; demonstrating the identification of chivalry being synonymous with fighting in the name of Christianity. Similarly Kaeuper argues the significance of religion in the development of chivalric ideology due to the ‘close parallels between Christ and knighthood’ in which knights were portrayed as courageous imitators of a warrior Christ. Thus, this idea of knights embodying Christ and exposing themselves to...

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