The Chivalric Code

The term chivalry comes for the French word chevalier – skills to handle a horse.  This term was applied to the set of rules and regulations that a knight had to ‘follow’ to be a knight.  Now, this does not necessarily refer to knightly orders but to those knights that were knights due to social ranking.  These codes focused on the social, religious and military aspects of the knights life… in other words, everything.

The Code

  • To Fear God and Maintain His Church – This one would be pretty easy during the Middle Ages.  Churches everywhere and the church, if you were a knight would be the center of your world.  The church was the meeting place and the staging area for almost all of your social events.  Between the church and the court, you really only had two places to be.
  • To Serve the Liege Lord in Valour and Faith – Notice this did not say the king.  As  knight, under English Common Law, you served a lord that had been given the holding of land by the king.  In fact, in some ways your knighthood was tied to the land that your liege lord ‘owned.’
  • To Protect the Weak and Defenseless – This was really a rule in name only.  Certainly if the city you were planning on sacking was full of the weak and defenseless then you would be glad to protect them but in the grand scheme of things, the weak and defenseless had to fend for themselves.  
  • To Give Succour to Widows and Orphans – Much like the weak and defenseless, the orphans and widows were part of the myth of the Knight in Shining armor and not really a focus on their reality.
  • To Refrain from the Wanton giving of Offense – Try not to be a smart aleck for no reason.  Of course, if the person ranked lower then you on the social scale then it didn’t matter. The fact that you were carrying a longsword with you most of time made your wanton offense palatable   
  • To Live By Honor and For Glory – This was an easy one.  Whatever the knight chose to do could give them honor and battle gave them glory.  When you lived for battle, glory was pretty easy to find.  
  • To Despise Pecuniary Reward – Pecuniary or monetary reward… well, seeing as knights and knightly orders were some of the most wealthy people in the Middle Ages, I think they ignored this one to a great extent   
  • To Fight for the Welfare of All – Again, battle good.  Fighting good.  This rule is easy to follow.  
  • To Obey Those Placed in Authority – When your title and your job as a knight was given to you be the people in authority, they became increasingly easy to obey.  Unless of course your liege lord decided that they wanted a ste up the social scale, then you don’t have to obey the people they choose to attack. Or maybe you want to become liege lord yourself  
  • To Guard the Honor of All Fellow Knights – Also easy.  You just don’t guard the honor of those that you don’t like.  
  • To Eschew Unfairness, Meanness and Deceit – See the orphans and widows above.  As long as the meanness isn’t directed toward you it is ok.  
  • To Keep Faith – See rule one.
  • At all Times to Speak the Truth – Big sword means you probably get to decide what the truth is.  
  • To Preserve to the End in any Enterprise Begun – In other words if you start the crusade (s) you have to make sure that you kill everyone that opposes you.
  • To Respect the Honor of Women – Royal women only but this was a particularly easy one to follow.  Most of the women of the court wanted you if you were a knight so it was easy to respect them as they were fawning all over you.  
  • Never Refuse a Challenge from an Equal – Battle good.
  • Never to Turn the Back Upon a Foe – I would be willing to bet that this one was one of the most readily abused.  Sure, if you were a very successful knight and you knew that you were good at your ‘job’ then not turning your back on a foe was easy.  But if you are a knight by birth and you are challenged to defend the honor of a woman and you know that you will be summarily beaten by the foe you are facing, I bet the honor of the woman is forgotten and your back is quickly turned.  

Now, I know this is a rather cynical look at the Chivalric Code but I would think that for most knights after they took their oath and the swore to the fact that they would follow the code that they quickly realized that their status in society set them apart from the people they were supposed to protect and the code may have been forgotten.