Chivalry: How Was it Born?

July 4, 2019

Pope Urban II preaches the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont.

Chivalry is not one of those official institutions which make their appearance suddenly in history, promulgated by a Pope and decreed by a sovereign.

Religious as it might have been, it had nothing in its origin that reminded one of the foundation of a religious order. One may in fact declare, that every single monastic order has been conceived in the mind of an individual. The grand Benedictine order arose out of the intelligence of Saint Benedict, and the Franciscan order from the heart of Saint Francis. There is no parallel to this in the case of chivalry, and it would be useless to search for the place of its birth or for the name of its founder. What a great archeologist of our day has said of the romance architecture is scientifically applicable to the birth of chivalry.

St. Benedict of Nursia, painted by Vicente Berdusán and located at the Saragossa Museum.

It was born everywhere at once, and has been everywhere at the same time the natural effect of the same aspirations and the same needs. There was a moment when the Christians in the East experienced the necessity of sheltering themselves at prayers in churches built of stone which could not be burned; and then to use the graceful terms of Raoul Glaber, the Christian soil was everywhere covered with the white robes of new churches.

Hence the romance architecture. There was another moment when people everywhere felt the necessity of tempering the ardor of old German blood, and of giving to their ill-regulated passions an ideal. Hence chivalry!

Chivalry, as we shall presently show, arose from a German custom which has been idealized by the Church.

Statue of Saint Francis in the Parish church of St. Ulrich in Gröden – Ortisei

It is less an institution than an ideal.

Many volumes have been written upon this noble subject, and a few words will be sufficient to define clearly chivalry and the knight. “Chivalry is the Christian form of the military profession: the knight is the Christian soldier.”

León Gautier, Chivalry, trans. Henry Frith (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1891), 1–2.

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