Chivalry is a tenure of land by knight's service: for the better understanding whereof it is to be known, that there is no land but is held mediately or immediately of the crown by some service or others; and therefore all our free-holds that are to us and our heir are called fees, as proceeding from the bounty of the king for some small yearly rent, and the performance of such services as originally were imposed upon the land at the giving thereof....And these services are all by Littleton divided into two sorts, chivalry and soccage: the one martial and military; the other clownish and rustical." Terms de la Ley 83-84 (1st Am. ed. 1812).

Chivalry, the code of behaviour practised in the Middle Ages, especially in the 12th and 13th centuries, by the mounted soldier or knight. The chivalric ethic represented the fusion of Christian and military concepts of conduct. A knight was to be brave, loyal to his lord, and the protector of women (See A Knight's Code). The songs of the troubadours celebrated these virtues.

It was a system of apprenticeship: as boys, knights' sons became pages in the castles of other knights; from the age of 14 they learnt horsemanship and military skills, and were themselves knighted at the age of 21. The Crusades saw the apogee of the chivalric ideal, as new Christian orders of knights (Knights Templars, Knights Hospitallers), waged war in Palestine against the Muslims. During times of peace, the tournament was the setting for displays of military and equestrian skill. The 15th century saw a decline in the real value of chivalry, and though new orders, such as the Order of the Golden Fleece(Burgundy) were created, tournaments survived merely as ritualized ceremonies.

From the olden days of princesses and fire-breathing dragons, to the silent era's villains and helpless maidens tied to railroad tracks—the men who rescued damsels in distress served the code of chivalry with honor; honor was its own reward, in olden days.

Dragons now are something of a scarcity it seems, and now more people fly than take the train; these days danger comes in subtler forms than fire-breathing dragons.  Yet villains are still with us, as are damsels in distress. But chivalry, they say, is dead, today.

Wars are fought, perhaps, for honor and for country; the plight of damsels in distress still gives rise to dragon tales. Men go off to war and die, perhaps, in honor of their country; sometimes we're as foolish, as we are wise, at other times.

As if it were a dark and inverse pageant, every year another maiden tears her dress and conjures up a villain, or feigns distress and simply points a finger.  We read the story daily in the paper, we hear it every hour on the hour; we follow every line as if possessed.

The press is like a pusher in feeding our obsession, the networks base the movies on what makes it in the press; what started as a maiden crying wolf becomes a maiden’s cry for help. We watch every movie, we follow every line. And every year another damsel tears her skirts and feigns distress—or burns her hair and calls it dragon-fire.

Each maiden in this dark and inverse pageant has her own peculiar reasons, but there's a grander and simpler explanation for everything they do.  Damsels tear their skirts and feign distress, men go to war and die—

Because, we ask them to.





Chiv"al*ry (?), n. [F. chevalerie, fr. chevalier knight, OF., horseman. See Chevalier, and cf. Cavalry.]


A body or order of cavaliers or knights serving on horseback; illustrious warriors, collectively; cavalry.

"His Memphian chivalry."


By his light Did all the chivalry of England move, To do brave acts. Shak.


The dignity or system of knighthood; the spirit, usages, or manners of knighthood; the practice of knight-errantry.



The qualifications or character of knights, as valor, dexterity in arms, courtesy, etc.

The glory of our Troy this day doth lie On his fair worth and single chivalry. Shak.

4. Eng.Law

A tenure of lands by knight's service; that is, by the condition of a knight's performing service on horseback, or of performing some noble or military service to his lord.




Sir P. Sidney.

Court of chivalry, a court formerly held before the lord high constable and earl marshal of England as judges, having cognizance of contracts and other matters relating to deeds of arms and war.



© Webster 1913.

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