If Chivalry Never Happened?
people believe that chivalry was nothing more than a quaint,
medieval phenomenon that offers no value for us today. At least
that's what I read in their eyes when the subject is first broached.
would like to suggest otherwise. Taking a look back in time, consider
what might have happened if chivalry had not been formulated.
first arose as a distinct, identifiable code of honor during
the eleventh century. This represented a turning point in Western
Civilization which led to what is called the High Middle Ages, a
time of social and cultural refinement that came to characterize
the West as we know it today. Previously, the conquests and rule
of Charlemagne carved out a logistical European identity
that lingered long after the formation of nation states that followed.
Indeed, Charlemagne represented a European impulse of solidarity
that tried to raise the quality of life of all its citizens, spreading
literacy and rule of law.
sudden leap forward ultimately failed as his kingdom broke apart,
but it left something behind in European consciousness, a dream
not only of empire building, but of cultural interconnectedness.
We see the results of that today in the formation of the European
helped make this interconnection possible. It provided a class ethic
that crossed national borders and languages and made more positive
alliances and relationships possible.
elevated the status of women in European society. For this reason,
wealthy female patrons propagated its development by subsidizing
various writers like Chretien de Troyes, who went out of his way
to portray the finest knights as dedicated to their ladies' whims.
rise of Christianity from the ruins of the Roman Empire quickly
embedded itself in rise of chivalry. At some point, the warrior
code was considered a sacred vocation, resulting in the formation
of religious military orders, such as the Knights Templar. The simple
accolade of a buffet on the shoulder was transformed into an elaborate
rite taking place in holy surroundings, like a church or chapel.
Warrior symbolism took on new, sectarian meaning.
Both chivalry and the Church benefited
by this alliance, each absorbing the influence of the other. Knighthood
became more refined, more humane and beneficent. The Church became
more active and gained political influence among the elite.
was during the Crusades that knights came in contact with Islamic
culture, which in turn led to the burst of creativity known as the
Renaissance. Through their Muslim contacts, Europeans learned
about the writings of Aristotle and other ancient Greek philosophers.
They incorporated new architectural techniques that led to the Gothic
churches we see today. Here was born the kernel from which all of
Western science was born.
What did this have to do with chivalry?
The warrior code is what bridged the gap between Muslims and Christians.
The Kurdish ruler of the Muslims at the time, known as Saladin,
was considered the epitome of chivalry behavior, and therefore acceptable
to knightly sensibilities. More than acceptable. He became a highly
respected model of chivalry that was then transplanted into European
traditions. This admiration for Saladin made Islamic influence not
only palatable, but preferential. Indeed, Islamic poetry strongly
contributed to the Western development of romantic love. In this
way, our Greek inheritance was firmly established. Chivalry made
this possible. There is no telling what sort of society we would
have today without the spawning of science and art known of the
transformed Dark Age barbarity into something more refined and
morally based. Social expectations of honor became commonplace among
the elite. This slowly filtered down to all strata, creating at
least an idea of social refinement among the masses.
In the midst of the 18th century, a resurgence
of chivalric romance was sown by the writer Richard Hurd
with his Letters on Chivalry and Romance (1762). His
collection of 12 essays sparked a cultural interest in Britain that
set the stage for a Victorian revival. Walter Scott wrote
poems and novels that boosted the knight's image into popular admiration.
Other writers followed, who in turn inspired artists such as the
Pre-Raphaelites as well.
It was Tennyson's Idylls of the King,
however, that fully restored the influence of King Arthur's on a
more enlightened culture. He took the original tales and modified
them to appeal to more modern sensibilities. Here he cast an ethical
blueprint for the Victorian gentleman that was still romanticized.
It was, in short, immensely inspiring.
no telling what Victorian England would have looked like
without this resurgence of chivalric ideals. And it was from these
ideals that our modern concept of gentlemanly behavior was formed.
is difficult to surmise how Western Civilization would have evolved
without the romantic yet often practical influence of chivalry.
Nationalism might have refused cooperation between neighbors,
leading to wars that still continue to this day.
adventurism might not have led to the early discoveries of the
- The cultural
suppression of women may have continued without challenge. Equal
rights might have remained out of the question.
- The cultural
divide between Christians and Muslims might have left Western
Civilization in a perpetual Dark Age mentality. No Renaissance.
No Age of Enlightenment. No Western science or technology.
Since Greek thought was eventually lost to the Islamic culture,
it would have been lost completely without its Crusader transmission
to the West.
- The Church
might not have influenced kings and princes as well as they did,
leading to further barbarity and conflict between Church and State.
The tolerance of religion by Western democracies might not have
occurred, But then, democracies might not have occurred either.
- Our idea
of gentlemanly behavior would be quite different, and possibly
does this mean for us today?
means that we can find in our updated ideology, Chivalry-Now,
a multifaceted wellspring of open-minded civility and inspiration
that can lead to a new Renaissance, a new Enlightenment,
and a new, humanistic approach to technology. We can heal the social,
cultural and spiritual wounds we suffer from today. We can renew
the impetus to move forward in every aspect of our lives by establishing
a new perspective of humanity and our place in the world. We can
inspire the best in us all, instead of surviving on a dull mindset
ask you to think about these things, and join us in mind and spirit
as we spread the word to others.