The Secular, Religious, and Courtly Development of Medieval Chivalry

Open Access
Cunningham, Kyle Glenn
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Dr. Kathryn Elizabeth Salzer, Thesis Supervisor
  • Dr. Michael James Milligan, Honors Advisor
  • Chivalry
  • Knighthood
  • History
  • Religion
  • Courtliness
  • Romance
  • Medieval
  • Middle Ages
  • France
  • England
  • Feudal Relations
Few images in history are as provocative as the knight in shining armor, and few concepts of medieval knighthood are as romanticized as chivalry, the code-of-conduct that all knights were supposed to follow. The concept of chivalry emerged alongside medieval knighthood in the decades around 1000 C.E., with the express purpose of portraying knights as the elite, mounted fighting-force of Western Europe. By 1100, Christian ecclesiastics had appropriated the militaristic qualities of chivalry in order to promote religious warfare in the form of the crusades, transforming the knight into a holy warrior. At the same time, the idea of courtly love, which promoted the wooing of noble maidens as the ultimate goal of knighthood, emerged in southern France. My thesis will explore this emergence and development of chivalry by looking at these three different aspects—secular/militaristic, religious, and courtly—specifically from the point of view of medieval chivalric texts, including the Arthurian romances of Chrétien de Troyes, heroic texts like The Song of Roland, and religious documents like St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s exhortation of the Knights Templar. Through this literary analysis, supported by relevant medieval letters and documents, I hope to show that the concept of chivalry is more complicated than the knight simply riding out to save the damsel in distress.