Chivalry – a word hardly recognized in this world we now know. We recognize it rather as a component of fairytales, but at one time, chivalry was the accepted manner in which men were expected to act. In a time when honour and justice were important and gentlemen were not extremely rare, there were codes of conduct and orders than kept the standard of how men behaved and treated others.
Chivalry was a prominent feature of the High and Middle ages in Western Europe. It’s roots stretch back to the 9th and 10th centuries, but the system of chivalry flourished most vigorously in the 12th and 13 centuries before fading at the end of the Middle Ages. However, the ideals of chivalry continued to influence models of behaviour for gentlemen and nobility during the Renaissance and into the 16th century.
The ethics of chivalry represented a fusion of Christian and Military of morality, and still for the basis of gentlemanly conduct. Piety, honour, valour, courtesy, chastity and loyalty were the chief chivalric virtues required of knights. The loyalty was due to their spiritual master, God; to their temporal master, the suzerain; and to the mistress of the heart, his sworn love.
In more recent times these ideals were set up as the Code of a Gentleman from the Virginia Military Institute.
- “Without a strict observance of the fundamental Code of Honor, no man, no matter how `polished,’ can be considered a gentleman. The honor of a gentleman demands the inviolability of his word, and the incorruptibility of his principles. He is the descendant of the knight, the crusader; he is the defender of the defenseless and the champion of justice . . . or he is not a Gentleman.”
As I was reading other’s takes on chivalry and behaviour of gentlemen, I came across Kalyan’s Blog where I found this illuminating piece of writing for modern Gentlemen.
“A Gentleman . . .
Does not discuss his family affairs in public or with acquaintances.
Does not speak more than casually about his girl friend.
Does not go to a lady’s house if he is affected by alcohol. He is temperate in the use of alcohol.
Does not lose his temper; nor exhibit anger, fear, hate, embarrassment, ardor or hilarity in public.
Does not hail a lady from a club window.
A gentleman never discusses the merits or demerits of a lady.
Does not mention names exactly as he avoids the mention of what things cost.
Does not borrow money from a friend, except in dire need. Money borrowed is a debt of honor, and must be repaid as promptly as possible. Debts incurred by a deceased parent, brother, sister or grown child are assumed by honorable men as a debt of honor.
Does not display his wealth, money or possessions.
Does not put his manners on and off, whether in the club or in a ballroom. He treats people with courtesy, no matter what their social position may be.
Does not slap strangers on the back nor so much as lay a finger on a lady.
Does not `lick the boots of those above’ nor `kick the face of those below him on the social ladder.’
Does not take advantage of another’s helplessness or ignorance and assumes that no gentleman will take advantage of him.
A Gentleman respects the reserves of others, but demands that others respect those which are his.
A Gentleman can become what he wills to be. . .”
Confucianism also had such a code which required a man to strive to be a ‘perfect man’. A succinct description of the “perfect man” is one who “combine[s] the qualities of saint, scholar, and gentleman”. A hereditary elitism was bound up with the concept, and gentlemen were expected to act as moral guides to the rest of society. They were to:
- cultivate themselves morally;
- show filial piety and loyalty where these are due; and
- cultivate humaneness
Robert E. Lee also stove to lay down a guide of conduct. Robert E. Lee himself fought inwardly as he felt loyalty to his state, but also felt the justice of Lincoln. He fought for his state, but in the end surrendered, and worked to reconcile North and South.
- The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.
- The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly — the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light.
- The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He can not only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others
When I see how people interact these days, I long for the days when the above was common practice. I know men are not only at fault, but women as well. So many times I have seen a woman tell a man off for acting in a gentlemanly way – seriously, ‘WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!’ They may say what they like, but every woman likes being treated like a princess. Also, loyalty, fairness, respect and honour sound so foreign, but wouldn’t it be fantastic if they came back into fashion?
The International Commission and Association on Nobility.
Kalyan’s Blog – The Code of a Gentleman.
Wikipedia – Gentlemen