A few days ago I attended a university lecture on the ‘Medieval World’ where the subject of “Chivalry” was brought up, and what a fascinating lecture it was!
The lecturer Dr Levi Roach, who is an absolutely phenomenal lecturer I might add, discussed the historiographical debate which swirls around the ancient concept and if it is still present in our society today. In his lecture Dr Roach considered the views of numerous historians ranging from Johan Huizinga, Georges Duby, to Maurice Keen. These historians as well as their colleagues in the field of medieval culture have contemplated the notion that ‘chivalry’ as we know is indeed dead, and whether or not it was even alive to begin with.
Just hearing the word ‘chivalry’ instantly evokes images of gallant knights in shining armor coming to the rescue of hapless damsels in distress, fighting dragons, and being generally awesome people. For those of you who have heard the term but do not fully understand what it means I will fill you in. Chivalry derives its name from two other words; Cheval (Horse) and Chevalier (Horseman, which later became “Knight”). It was a term used to display admiration for particularly benevolent members of the nobility and knighthood. Contrary to popular belief not every single medieval knight was considered to be ‘chivalrous’ for a fair amount of them went on rampages across medieval towns wreaking havoc, pillaging and killing at will. European ‘chivalry’ is actually very similar to the Japanese code of honor observed by the Samurai, Bushido (and by an extension of the Samurai, “Ronin” warriors).
A chivalrous knight was expected to defend the poor, the weak, and the vunerable in medieval society – even if it was detrimental to his own wealth and/or safety. They were sworn to uphold the truth and respect the honor of others, and to never back down from a challenge from their equals.
Now I ask you: How much of this exists in the moral fabric of today’s modern man?
The common argument for those claiming that chivalry is indeed dead, and that women killed it, is that the ideal saw its’ demise with the rise of equal rights for women and ethnic minorities in contemporary society. True, 20th century movements such as women’s suffrage and black civil rights HAVE leveled the playing field considerably, there is absolutely no denying that, but society still expects more of the middle-upper class man… why is that? Think about it: Ladies, how many dates have you been on where been on where you expected your boyfriend to cover all the costs or lay everything out for you? The playing field is more even that it ever has been yet society expects men of all racial and social backgrounds to instinctively give way to the fairer sex, and if they don’t… shame on them! It is this exact example and many other similar cases which take place in the battlefield which is modern relationships which have caused so many men to completely disregard the concept of chivalry and become the stereotypical “Bad Guy”… which lets’ face it, most women cannot get enough of. How many “good” men have you seen dropped by women in exchange for someone who by all accounts is an absolute douchebag? Personally, I’ve lost count, especially since arriving here at university.
This is why so many people have declared chivalry dead, it died at the hands of feminism and its’ never coming back and “nice guys finish last”.
The counter-argument for this however, despite it being labelled as being overly liberal and idealistic, is that gender or ethnicity should never factor into driving the benevolent nature that exists within each and every man – no matter how deeply it may be buried. Men and women on this side of the debate have both argued that whilst it seems that chivalry has died it has only really taken on a new meaning, its’ original concept is outdated for today’s world and it has adapted – it’s just not very obvious. Here in the UK monarchs since King George V have granted awards called Orders of the British Empire (OBEs), orders which ‘officially’ bestow the chivalrous title of “Sir” upon an individual. Critics of the system have attacked the system by calling out recipients of such awards as “Sellouts” and “Attention Seekers”, when in reality I feel the system accurately portrays exactly what the modern ideal of chivalry has become. Whilst the whole notion of men needing to protect and be overtly generous to women is defunked the same cannot be said of being a charitable and decent person; someone who goes out of their way to help someone in need for little or no personal gain, someone who stands up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, and someone who truly excels at what he or she does to the extent that they become an inspiration for others.
You might not be riding a horse, taking part in the joust, going on epic quests, or living out an Arthurian-Fairytale but you can still be somebody’s knight.