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Friday, August 17, 2012


A while ago I posted about Robert e. Lee. I remember that it got me to thinking about chivalry. Lee lived through a time that might be called a romantic revival of chivalry. After the the fall of the South chivalry was still a cultural memory and a literary heritage among people of European background. Even now there are some men pleased to practice the courage, loyalty, and dependability of chivalry.

In order to understand chivalry it is helpful to understand feudalism. I'm not going to spend much time on feudalism here, but will say that it is an economic system practice in Europe. especially Spain and France, from the 9th century to the 14rh century. To last for over 500 years it had to be an effective system. In the US, the Southern plantation system could well be called feudalistic. The great cattle outfits we used to see so much of in the movies can be seen as feudalistic. The mounted man of the range bore, if nor swore, allegiance to the brand, much as a knight swore allegiance to his liege.

We still have some memory of the cuture to which the medieval knight belonged. We know that a knight was a mounted warrior. The knight was central to chivalry. Chivalry was a glorious practice; it was also the way the ruling class controlled the mounted warrior during time he held great power. It was also a way of social or class mobility. A man not of the nobility could, by becoming a knight, move into that class. Knighthood also became a way for  an impoverished nobleman to regain some wealth. Within chivalry can still be found some worthy ideas about how to treat a fighting man, mounted or not.

The word chivalry is related to cavalry and cavalier. Etymologically, chivalry is the practice of horsemanship. It comes to English from the Old French 'chivalrie' and the medieval Latin 'caballarius.'

Chivalry was consciously practiced in Europe from about AD 800 to about AD 1600. the high days of chivalry were from about AD 1100 to about perhaps 1400. The word 'chivalry' may not have been in popular use until about 1300. Now, I have said that modern chivalry began about 800 in Europe, but practices of the principles of chivalry go back may thousands of years in other parts of the world. Just o take a baby step back, consider king Aurthur and the round table, Camelot. The knights who sat around the table at Camelot were surely chivalrous. The time of Aurthur dates from around AD 450.

The principle practices of the cavalier, of a knight, included the following practices in more or less this order of importance:
~ horsemanship
~ military skill
~ loyalty
~ courage, valor
These first four were followed in close order by 
~ honor
~ generosity
~ courtesy
~ piety
~ respect for women
~ knowledge of courtly love, dance, music, and poetry
~ chastity

Chivalry was a way to get a dangerous warrior to give obedient loyalty to his God, his sovereign, and his lady, who might also have been his lords lady. Even today, a man knows that it is his duty to risk his life for women and children, God and Country. He knows his life is expendable.

The principles of chivalry were valued before chivalry, and now, a man who is courteous, generous, honorable, courageous, and loyal is considered a pretty good fellow.

Oh, Lee. Many of us considered Lee to be chivalrous.

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