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A Definition of Chivalry - Then and Now

Updated on May 11, 2013

The Practice of Chivalry

Before we can define the nature of chivalry today, we need an understanding of what it actually means and what it meant historically. According to on-line dictionary resource, Merriam-Webster, the word, chivalry, comes from the word, chivalrie, used in the Middle English; chevalrerie from Anglo-French; chevalier which is also French. Although this resource also indicates the first known use of this term was in the 14th Century, the behavior of chivalry has been reflected in writings noting it was practiced before this time.

For simplication, we'll focus on the definition used during the Middle Ages and how we refer to this word today. In medieval times, the skill and activities of knights and the actions of men of valor would describe chivalry. Today, while contemporary meanings of the term seem to be a thing of the past, such a suggestion references men who are gentlemen.

Knights valued their service to their lords.

The History of Chivalry In Medieval Times

Keep in mind that our notion of a knight riding into a village in his shining armour and well-decorated horse to go save some princess is primarily idealistic and an effect of a fairytale. A knight basically served his lord and was protected generally by his lord for his services. Knights were expected to uphold honor and part of their vows included helping to protect those who were less fortunate, or not as strong as they were.

Chivalry evolved over different periods of history:

  • The Crusades;
  • Militaristic orders;
  • Secular chivalry, meaning this type was not tied to any specific monastic vow or specific religion; and
  • Court chivalry

The Crusades - During medieval times, not only were men decked out in their armor, their horses were also suited up. Duties and ideals were imposed upon men, or expected and those expectations changed throughout history as far as how "orders of chivalry" has been described in research by writers on the subject. Some of the information is dated back to the era of the Crusades wherein religious orders centered around the effects of the activities of men. Knighthood evolved and behavior of the knights in a Christian-like manner was expected and was chiefly pronounced during the Crusades. During the Crusades, the perfect knight was the Crusader who took a vow to serve over a certain period of time. During this period, the knight was protected by the Church. If the Church was blessing the knight's sword, it was also supportive of their battling activities.

Going as far back as the 14th Century, men belonging to groups of noblemen or knights were referred to as orders or orders of chivalry. The term, chevalier, is the French word associated with an English knight who was, for his time during the Middle Ages, a professional soldier. Going even further back beyond the 14th Century, there were several orders which continued to grow in their members and many became wealthy as landowners.

Military Orders - Military orders involved another type of monastic vow which involved fighting against infidels. An infidel was a person who didn't accept a certain religious belief, particularly Christianity. In belonging to this type of order, there was a correlation between religion and the fighter with heroic effects. Similar to the monastic orders, the knightly vows were tied into actions involving mannerisms, ideals (reflected in the romantic era in literature) and goals. The knight was a participant in the calvary and was judged by his service. His honor was displayed by his armour, his horse and his flag's attendants. The knight's flag was particular to chivalry and knighthood.

Secular Chivalry - The religious part of chivalry was lost after the Crusades movement. Knighthood became a subject of heroic efforts with a lot of battles--no longer protected by the Church.

Court Chivalry - Chivalry became a court service involving a much smaller activity and lesser of a goal. Where chivalry had once been exalted, it became a thing of the past as knighthood evolved as was the term of chivalry redefined across the centuries.

A man tipping his hat to a lady was considered a respectful act to display gentlemanly behavior.
A man tipping his hat to a lady was considered a respectful act to display gentlemanly behavior.
Some women are disappointed when their dates don't open the car door because they are hoping their dates are gentleman.  Others believe it is an appropriate behavior of men to engage; that it is respectful.
Some women are disappointed when their dates don't open the car door because they are hoping their dates are gentleman. Others believe it is an appropriate behavior of men to engage; that it is respectful.

Modern Times

Today, knighthood still exists in the United Kingdom, but chivalry in itself has a whole other meaning in today's society compared to past centuries. It still encompasses the behavior and activities of a significant other, i.e, good manners, gentlemanly attributes. It's more about being mindful of your manners, being courteous and respectful. A common example would be when a man opens a car door for a woman to enter or exit.

If a man is impolite, he is indeed labeled as being rude. If he practices good behaviors and actions, he's labeled as a gentleman. It also involves a man in a relationship making compromises (or sacrifices) for the woman to also have what she wants or needs. Other subtle examples would be approaching an elevator and typically men will invite the women to enter it first. When a man helps a woman put her coat on, she may not expect it, but once it's performed, it's appreciated and in some instances, probably surprising. It's a kind gesture. And after going on a dinner date, it's not just a traditional reflection that the man should pay for the meal. I went on a blind date a long time ago where the man paid for what he could pay for and suggested I cover the balance. I have to say I was offended because of his unpreparedness to pay or to warn me in advance I was expected to cover the balance. Needless to say, that was the last time I say him.

Before one can say chivalry is a thing of the past, it has to be understood that many, many years ago, it carried a different meaning and it has definitely evolved over time. According to,

"So what happened to men like him? Gentlemen. A gentleman is polite, intelligent, witty, talented, modest, well dressed, well groomed, and culturally aware. How did guys get so afraid of these personality traits? Personally, I think they've got so desperately caught up in trying to prove themselves that they'll scratch themselves in public, listen to gangsta rap, and get so drunk they vomit and start fights in front of girls, just so that no-one thinks they like other men."

This video shares some very basic information on displaying attributes of a gentleman.


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  • ytsenoh profile image

    Cathy 5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    Chevalier, thanks very much for your interesting comment. For good measure, I'm posting a translation of your comment as follows:

    I'm with my family direct descendant of a Knight Companion of arms of Joan of Arc in Orleans fought with her - Chivalry courteous say is initiated by the court of the King of France Charlemgne - Chivalry called the military appeared first time in France in the south of France at Chateau de Papia of Lord William of Baux and were 7 armed knights - These are French knights in 10th century who have initiated and codified Chivalry and not the English "Courtesy Code and Honor Code, Code of knighthood" Chivalry is the French who established the cause for these tournaments Knights - The English have simply applied the codes to their French knights - French Chivalry gone to the French Revolution, but the Knights of France have not disappeared, they are biding their time, they are constituted and mysterious secret society based on progeny lines and perservant and major rituals and codes of corporate Social Knights of France, but not the masons francs, which are allocated and usurped titles cans - There can be only recognized Chivalry in the West which has created, which dictated the social and military codes: Chivalry of France - To claim the title of Chevalier of France must hold his family in the title Knight of the Order of St. Louis, awarded by the King of France only recognized Besides the Suspender England, the Order of the House of Spain was created by France - For now what remains of French chivalry among the population, it is the Courtesy - In France we open the car doors for ladies, we push the doors of their restaurants, the chair, we tailings their coats-A woman pay never a meal, a drink, etc. ... when accompanied by a Man in France - This is an art of knowing how to live, we have a whole education that comes directly from the codes of Chivalry.

  • profile image

    Chevalier France 5 years ago

    Je suis avec ma famille descendant direct d'un chevalier Compagnon d'armes de Jeanne d'Arc qui à combattu avec elle à Orléans - La Chevalerie dites courtoise est initiée par la cour de Charlemgne roi de France - La Chevalerie dîte militaire à apparue la première fois en France dans le sud de la France au Chateau de Papia du Seigneur Guillaume des Baux et qui comptait 7 chevaliers en armes - Ce sont les

    Chevaliers français qui au 10 ième siècle ont initiés et codifiés la Chevalerie et non les anglais "Code de Courtoisie et Code d'Honneur, Code d'Adoubement"

    C'est la Chevalerie française qui a instituée les tournois pour entraîner ces chevaliers - Les anglais n'ont fait qu'appliquer les codes français à leurs chevaliers - La Chevalerie française à disparue à la Révolution française- Mais Les Chevaliers de France n'ont pas disparus, ils attendant leur heure, ils sont constitués en Société secrête et mystérieuse en fonction des descendances et lignées perservant ainsi les grands rituels et les Codes Sociaux des sociétés de Chevaliers de France, mais pas celle des francs massons, qui se sont attribués et usurpés des titres bidons - Il ne peut y avoir qu'une Chevalerie reconnue en Occident celle qui l'a crée, qui a dictée les codes sociaux et militaires : La Chevalerie de France - Pour faire prévaloir du titre de chevalier de France il faut détenir dans sa famille le Titre de Chevalier de l'Ordre de Saint Louis, attribué par un Roi de France le seul reconnu A part la Jarretelle en Angleterre, l'Ordre de la Maison d'Espagne à été crée par la France - Pour l'instant ce qui reste de la chevalerie française parmi la population, c'est la Courtoisie - En France nous ouvrons les portes de voitures aux dames, nous leur poussons les portes de restaurants, la chaise, nous leur ôtons les manteaux- Une femme ne paient jamais un repas, une boisson, etc ... lorsqu'elles sont accompagnées par un Homme en France - C'est tout un art de savoir vivre, nous avons toute une éducation qui vient directement des codes de la Chevalerie

  • ytsenoh profile image

    Cathy 5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    Joe, thanks for your comment. I am a gracious receiver of gentlemen behavior. I have no problem waiting for a door to be opened. I am assertive and independent and also welcome traditional behavior. It doesn't make me any less strong as a person. It's just nice.

  • J. Frank Dunkin profile image

    Joseph Franklin Dunkin Jr 5 years ago from Foley, Alabama

    Enjoyed this Ytsenoh. I can certainly use a reminder from time to time. One area of chivalry that has always seemed a bit overblown and awkward to me is the act of the man turning off the ignition key, getting out of the car and walking all the way around the car to open his lady-friend's door. Several ladies have told me that they felt a little silly sitting there for those 6-7 seconds, when they could already be out of the car. Oddly the act of opening the door for the lady to get INTO the car does not seem so awkard for either party. What's your preference?

  • ytsenoh profile image

    Cathy 5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    Bobbi, thanks very much for your comment. I love men who are gentlemen. I place value on it. I have also learned over the years that some people have no awareness of etiquette. Thanks again for your kind comment. Have a good rest of the week!

  • PurvisBobbi44 profile image

    PurvisBobbi44 5 years ago from Florida

    Hi ytsenoh,

    I enjoyed your hub very much. I am from the South where a gentlemen is the norm, he knows how to treat a lady, by having good manners, showing respect, kindness and he protects her when she is with him.

    I have never had a man treat me any other way but as a gentleman. But I am sure they around as one reads the comments on Hubpages. But I am happy to say--I know only gentlemen here as my HubPage friends.

    Thank you,

    Your Hub Friend,


  • ytsenoh profile image

    Cathy 5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    aethelthryth, thanks much for your comment. I think there is nothing wrong in having a preference for gentlemanly behavior and it never compromises my strengths as a woman; I just prefer men who behave like gentleman. There are a lot of ladies out there who still behave like ladies. It's true our society has changed, but I still cling to the lessons I was brought up with.

  • aethelthryth profile image

    aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

    SanXuary, overall I agree, but in particular, I beg to differ. There are a few of us ladies out here who were taught, and inspired, to be that way by gentlemen, such as the one I'm married to. Ytsenoh, thank you for explaining chivalry as I think it is perceived by most women. Unfortunately, it seems most women don't think they are allowed to insist on, or even hope for, gentlemanly behavior.

  • ytsenoh profile image

    Cathy 6 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    SanXuary, thank you for your comment. I have seen a lot of changes in our society in my adult years and understand part of what you say. My objective was to explain that the term, chivalry, has evolved in its definition and it may be a different subject than the art of being a gentleman. I am fortunate to work in an office where respect is expected by all employees. I am aware that there are those of either gender who behave inappropriately and can be generally mean spirited. That being said, however, I also know a lot of men and women who value common courtesies. My rule of thumb with most circumstances is to do the right thing. Some of us are fortunate to be surrounded by kind people and some of us are not. I used to be married to someone who was abusive. That does not mean I hate all men. I like to believe there are good people and places in the world.

  • ytsenoh profile image

    Cathy 6 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    Robert, thanks much for your comment. I think some men are condition since childhood about certain mannerisms and etiquette to take out into the world and how certain behaviors are effective and appreciated. Being kind and thoughtful and polite, however, is not gender specific. I think both genders value common courtesies.

  • Robert Erich profile image

    Robert Erich 6 years ago from California

    Fascinating article about chivalry. It's definitely something that I work on very hard. And you know, my brother and I have both talked about how easy it is to impress women with simple acts of commonsense, simply because no one else does it! I just started dating a girl several months back and a couple weeks later, saw a rose at the store, bought it, and gave it to her - she was shocked! Apparently no guy had ever given her a flower before "just because". Chivalry is not only the way men should act, but it's the best way to attract women! Time to step it up.

    Thanks for this article!

  • profile image

    SanXuary 6 years ago

    The Modern day Gentleman should know when to be impolite as well, but must do it with-out stooping to their level. We live in a society where ladies do not act like ladies and chivalry does not merit any practical use. The line is further blurred by work place rules and ethics.