Chivalry – generally used to mean courtesy, especially male to female. But where does the word come from? What was it? And is it dead?
The word comes from the 13th century – being a time when the French were in power in Britain, French was the language of the government and of the military, many French words still remain in these contexts today. At this time the word was ‘chivalrie’, having come from the French word ‘chevalries’, those readers who speak French, may notice the similarity between this and the French word for horse, ‘cheval’, and this is no coincidence, ‘chivalrie’ meant ‘horse rider’. The cavalry at the time was held in high esteem as you had to be fairly well off to afford a horse and to be trained to ride it well. Those ‘horse riders’ of the military tended to be people of higher social standing, those whose wealth and influence could ensure they weren’t fighting on foot; wading in the mud and fighting at extremely close quarters. By the end of the 14th century, the term ‘chivalrie’ was applied to nobility in general.
The horse riders had and elite had a code called the ‘chivalric code’, the idea of brave nights living by this code has been popularised by literature and film. In fact, there had never been a time where chivalry actually happened on any meaningful scale, it was more an idealism to aspire to and didn’t deal with such things as how to treat a woman like a lady, it included rules like
– No killing during dinner
– Valuing courage
– Killing the most enemies in honour of your king
I think most people live by at least some of those rules today so it may be that chivalry isn’t dead after all.