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Chivalry in the Middle Ages

Chivalric customs arose from the medieval knight's code of conduct, and were gradually adopted by aristocrats and society as a whole. Learn about the elements of the code and some surprising early applications, as depicted in illuminated manuscripts. Created by Getty Museum.

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Think of chivalry, and you might imagine knights in shining armor and damsels in distress. Chivalry originated in ideals associated with a knight's code of conduct. Over time it came to more broadly represent a model for the behavior and moral principles of the upper classes. - [Melanie] We can think of chivalry as a code of honor that really came to fruition in the 11th and 12th centuries, and many of the values that chivalry championed are things that we still value today. Loyalty, bravery, protection of the weak. - [Voiceover] Chivalry wasn't just about gallant acts meant to impress a princess. It widely affected culture from love relationships to hunting, fashion to law. This illustrated E is contained within a medieval law book. You see two knights on horses facing one another. They are about to settle a disagreement over a debt. Hunting was a chance to improve oneself physically and mentally, not unlike the goals of chivalry. - [Melanie] It's typical in these stories that there is an aristocrat or a knight who is in love with a woman of a higher social standing that's already married. It was thought that the man's love for this higher standing woman would have had a civilizing affect on him. Code of honor provided a means for aristocrats to kind of move up the social ladder. If they knew these rules, if they knew how to behave in a tournament or how to dress for a banquet, then that was a way of displaying one's social standing. But it's the nature of having rules like this that certain people are left out of that club. Because we have such romantic notions of what chivalry is, we don't tend to think of the practical consequences of chivalry during this period.