Chivalry and Heraldry

Code of Chivalry

Heraldry and Chivalry are so intertwined that it is useful to explore the interplay between the two in medieval times. The literal meaning of Chivalry is the lore of the horse soldier, or rather the man that could afford the horse. It comes from the French word "chevalerie", itself derived from "chevalier", which means knight, derived from "cheval", horse (indicating one who rides a horse). At its birth heraldry was also the preserve of the knights, it was through the loyalty of such men that wars could be fought and won, lands conquered and wealth increased. The army comprised of armored knights formed the backbone of the medieval army. If disciplined they could make the difference in a battle or war, and indeed battles were sometimes won without combat as the sight of the armored cavalry could be enough to cause their enemies to flee. During times of peace men used to war could get bored and become a liability to the ruler, his people and the church. Something was required to rein in marauding knights and it evolved in the form of the set of ethics that became known as the “ code of chivalry “. This code of chivalry was gradually refined into a loose set of rules aimed at civilizing the high-born.

This code of chivalry was a theme explored by popular writers of the time including Raymond Lull ( image below), Honoré Bonet, Christine de Pisan. Raymond Lull ( 1232-1315 ) was a member of the nobility from Aragon in Spain and he was well versed in knightly deeds and wrote of love and the pursuit of it in the style of the troubadours of southern France. Amorous by nature, Lull frequently cheated on his wife until he had a vision of Christ on the cross. This vision persuaded him to change his behavior and thereafter he used his writing to convert the heathen to Christianity through prayer, preaching and writing books. One of the most influential being his Libre del Ordre de Cavayleria ( Book of the Order of Chivalry). This book was written oin 1275, and for centuries after was considered standard textbook on the subject and was widely translated, copied and distributed throughout Europe.

Raymond Lull


Christine de Pisan ( 1364-1430 ), a disciple of Honoré Bonet provided a fascinating insight into the workings of the medieval mind in her book from 1408, Le Livredes Faits d’Armes et de Chevalerie ( The Book of Feats of Arms and Chivalry), which deals with such varied themes as banning the use of poisoned arrows by Christians, and saving the souls of warriors. Drawing on such diverse sources as Roman military strategy and the love songs and military epic poems of Minnesinger (German court poets and musicians from the 12th and 13th centuries) and French troubadours, Lull, de Pisan and others attracted the attention of European leaders at the time, most of whom sought to make their courts centers of learning. They also hoped that through pursuits such as courtly love, jousting tournaments, and orders of chivalry, they could pacify their unruly knights and mold them into a cohesive force that viewed loyalty to the lord as a benefit rather than a hindrance.In its simplest form the code of chivalry required its followers to honor their lord, defend the church, and protect women, the weak and the poor. In reality few knights were true followers of these noble aims and even those warriors who were held up by medieval writers as paragons of chivalry would be looked upon in a very different light today.

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