Stains on shining armour: Perceptions of chivalry during the reign of Edward III, 1327-1377
University of Tampere, Master’s Thesis (2010)
Introduction: Knighthood and chivalry should be familiar concepts to everyone in Europe, if not the world, regardless of his or her education everyone has heard something of it and has a few central preconceptions to what chivalrous behaviour should be and what knights were. They are concepts widely used even today hundreds of years after the last knight fought with sword and spear in hand. Few ideals have influenced western ideology and thinking as much as chivalry, it has been with us and part of our honour codes in one form or another all the way from the Middle Ages to the present day. Obviously it has changed on the way, but the fact that people are still associating the words ‘chivalry’ and ‘knight’ to certain kind of politeness and honourable behaviour shows clearly enough how influential the idea has been in our culture. Knights are still prominently present in almost all kinds of media from cinema, to literature to computer games. Sports teams around the world call themselves ‘knights’ showcasing their fighting spirit and skills, relating to the popular image of a man clad in steel. Similarly the culture and values they represent are seen, as some kind of golden age of good manners, whether or not this was actually the case is a moot point. Social ideas and codes from king Arthur’s court are still considered valid and good. Arthur himself is at least as popular and known figure as is the knights who he represents. Chivalric literature is still used extensively in society, if the medieval stories themselves are not read directly then they are the inspiration or source for screenplays to movies starring the aforementioned Arthur. Even the modern pulp literature like romance novels draw heavily on the modern concepts of chivalry and the interaction between lovers.
Seeing how heavily ingrained the concepts of chivalry is to our society it is equally important to know where and how this concept came from. What was chivalry like when knights were actual warriors on horseback riding through hordes of enemies, going on heroic quests and wooing the noble ladies in court, and not the players for a local ice hockey team in the 21st century? These questions are important in studying the history of knights and chivalry, as it is imperative to remember that the ideal has developed over the years as societies and their values have changed.