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Chivalry encompasses a catalog of virtuous behavior or particular virtues ; sometimes even an ethos . It comes from the Middle High German adjective or adverb rîtterlich or rîterlich, so the noun chivalry is of later origin. There it describes the behavior befitting a knight .

Chronological outline

High Middle Ages

Manessische Liederhandschrift (Great Heidelberger Liederhandschrift), scene: The Limburg tavern

During the High Middle Ages (1170 to 1250), the term contained, especially in literature, the ideal of a non-codified ethos of chivalry that comprised the following values :

  • diemüete: humility (S)
  • êre [ eːrə ]: knightly reputation, dignity (P)
  • goodness: friendliness (S)
  • hôher muot [ ˈhohər ˈmu.ɔt ]: emotional elation (P)
  • courtesy: politeness , courtesy (S)
  • manhood: bravery (S)
  • Maze [ maːsə ]: moderation life, restraint (P)
  • milte: generosity, generosity (S)
  • minne: Servant, devoted love (P)
  • stæte: resistance, strength (P)
  • triuwe [ ˈtryvə ]: Loyalty (S)
  • dignity: dignity (P)
  • zuht [ ˈtsʊxt ]: upbringing according to fixed rules, decency, well-behaved (P)

The knightly virtues consisted of personal (P) and social (S) norms, which on the one hand preserve and establish the reputation of chivalry and thus of the nobility in general (êre, zuht), but also consolidate and guarantee the order of social relationships between people . They also served to legitimize the nobility as the noblest class.

They were based on the military virtues of loyalty and bravery (because knights were initially the soldiers of a liege lord), but far exceeded them. These were idealizations borrowed primarily from court poetry such as Erec , Parzival or Iwein, as well as minnesong , and which are reflected there in ritualized acts. The courtesy , from which the New High German term of politeness is derived, describes the manners at court , the civil and musically educated behavior.

In minnesang (more precisely: in the Hohe Minne) this chivalry is ritualized most strongly, in that the lyrical ego stylizes the imagined person into an unattainable ideal, whereby it always assures this of its high muots as well as its staete , diemüete and triuwe .

Even in the great chivalry , the Knights only come through maze and staete to their destination. Chivalry and Christian virtues, as found in the monastic virtues of helpfulness, chaste discipline and asceticism, complement each other. The thesis that chivalric virtues are essentially based on Christian virtues is also less controversial.

To understand medieval chivalry, the difference between the character type of the hero and that of the knight is crucial. The hero, as he is portrayed in the heroic epics of the Arthurian saga or the Nibelung saga in the characters of Siegfried or King Arthur, does not correspond to the ideal of courtly chivalry. Siegfried is described there as a rude, quite simple, but courageous man who does not meet the knightly criteria of êre and courtesy . The Celtic Arthurian legend (around 500) only became interesting for courtly-knightly poetry through its later reception in France (12th century).

Late Middle Ages

The high medieval ideals of chivalry are also the subject of subsequent glorification . In literature, for example, in Thomas Malory (around 1405–1471) and his stories of King Arthur and the men from the round table . Here the stories around the Celtic Arthurian saga are merged into a prose heroic epic .

Cervantes ' (1547–1616) Don Quixote is the swan song to the idealizing and transfiguring ideas of chivalry at a time when chivalry had become militarily obsolete and economically impoverished through the invention of gunpowder . In fact, with his "Knight of the Sorrowful Shape", Cervantes exposes all ideas of a new chivalry to ridicule; the days of knights are simply over.


The chivalrous ideals were most strongly received and revived in Romanticism , in which the feudal order with its chivalrous virtues is formulated in an escapist way as a backward- looking utopia against the new bourgeois society . The chivalric novels of the 19th century in particular convey the image of an ideal world of chivalry, for example by Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué .

Heinrich Heine had already written on August 18, 1820 in an article in the Rheinisch-Westphalian Anzeiger entitled Die Romantik . Kunst und Wissenschaftsblatt pointed out the connection between romanticism and chivalry:

"But many who have noticed the tremendous influence Christianity, and consequently chivalry, exerted on romantic poetry, now believe that they have to mix both in their poetry in order to imprint the character of romanticism on it."

This is also mentioned in his work The Romantic School . And indeed: In addition to Ludwig Tieck's knight Bluebeard , the publication of the German sagas by the Brothers Grimm also fell during the Romantic era. However, whether this was accompanied by a resurgence of the knightly ideal and chivalry is no longer only controversial in research, but is also increasingly contested.

Younger present

"Chivalry" as an estate virtue, with the abolition of an order of rank, is at best still cultivated as a virtue within the family (for example in the nobility ). In colloquial language today, the term describes fair, considerate and courteous behavior , especially towards women. However, it is used less and less. The term is occasionally viewed critically by the women's movement : women do not need a male virtue that they would regard as inherently weaker and would strengthen it.

Even today, the orders of knights that arose from the ethos of chivalry are of cultural and social importance worldwide. Furthermore, chivalry is one of the scouts' ideals . This has its origin in a statement by Robert Baden-Powell , the founder of the scout movement. In his book Scouting for Boys , he explains that scouts should strive to be the “knights of the modern age” (see Scout Law ).

As a characteristic of an individual personality, “chivalry” lost the opportunity to distinguish oneself personally with the industrialization of war. During the First World War, the term was still used in propaganda for chivalry in aerial combat between the pilots, for example for the supposedly fair behavior of the “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen .

With a few exceptions such as the fantasy bestseller The Mists of Avalon , the ideal of chivalry only plays a subordinate role in literature today. In film and television, the ideals of chivalry are mainly taken up in historical and fantasy films.


Web links

Commons : Chivalry  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Chivalry  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. see entry in the Middle High German Dictionary
  2. Joachim Castan: The Red Baron. The whole story of Manfred von Richthofen , Klett-Cotta Verlag, Stuttgart 2007
  3. Disassembly of a legend. Review. In: . September 26, 2007, accessed December 3, 2019 .