It is an interesting question, one not taken lightly thanks to the romanticism that it is associated with. To truly answer the question, one must first define the word. In 1292 the word was written in old French as ‘chevalerie’ meaning knighthood… that word is (for all intents and purposes) dead. Over the centuries the word evolved to take on a different meaning. In the 12th century the word became the ‘ideal of courtly love’ and by the 15th century the military connotation was almost completely removed.
In time a practice of chivalry became heralding (a practice of showing off the coat of arms)… interestingly enough we do that today with the concept of showing off our cars and other personal items a person has acquired over the years. It demonstrates a person’s wealth and whether or not they can offer stability to the person they are interested in dating or marrying (in that sense most would agree the practice of heralding is NOT dead).
Over time chivalry became a code a knight (or someone of higher statue) lived by. The codes varied but most emphasized courage, honor, and service in the home or court they resided in. In the middle ages the wealthy strived to be chivalrous… classes were given to teach others to be knightly. This brought about the courtesy books (guides to being gentlemen).
There became three distinct areas that men were concerned with in order to show they were knightly, chivalrous, gentlemen to society. First was the man’s duty to countrymen and king/lord (political aspect)… this duty exhibited acts of mercy, courage, protection of the weak and poor, valor, fairness and devotion to one’s king or lord. It also speaks to the ideal of someone willing to give one’s life for another. These are pretty strong devotions that one must make to show they are chivalrous. But this is not the only area a man must face to demonstrate chivalry.
The second area of focus is the man’s duty to God (religious aspect). A person can take the religious aspect; obeying god over all other rules, being faithful and generous to the church on one side and the spiritual aspect on the other; being a champion over evil vs. good, protecting the weak and innocent when they are not able to protect themselves. Either way, believing and living by a higher code from a higher being demonstrates chivalry (most people have this category down when they examine their own belief system) and enhances the ideal of being good.
The third area of chivalry is one that has been romanticized over time, the man’s duty to women. This dates back to a time when women were presumed to be a weaker half of the human race, which has been proven inconsistent in the modern age. Men and women are viewed more as equals now than ever before. But how does that affect the virtues expected of a man/woman who wishes to be chivalrous? If you break this virtue down into two parts; courtly love (a man serves a woman) and being gentle/generous/gracious to a lady, it is easy to see that chivalry may not be dead after all.
Courtly love is where the term romance is used in regards to the word chivalry. It is not about opening doors, putting dinner jackets over water puddles, or sending love letters as most have come to associate with the word; chivalry. In fact, courtly love was not even practiced publicly, some even theorize it was a literary concept and never truly existed in real life. And most would be surprised to know that courtly love was generally not practiced between a husband and wife. You can read more on courtly love here.
Despite the changes in society’s norms; men and women are still (in the majority) raised by different standards. Women are raised to look good and men are raised to be the stronger half. Despite these stereotypes people turn out how they are meant to; some men stay home and raise the children while the wife prefers to work outside the home, some women play sports, hunt, and compete against men in everyday life (there are many more broken stereotypes that can be listed here)… but none of that changes the fact that one person on the relationship generally likes to be treated like a princess/queen and another generally likes to be treated like a prince/king.
In short, chivalry, by actual definition is not dead, but lives on in both genders; the only thing that truly changes in the modern day and age is that everyone can be a knightly gentle man/woman. What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to leave a comment below with your thoughts.
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