Compiled by Dr. Richard Abels 

for HH315: Age of Chivalry and Faith at the United States Naval Academy.

Copyright 2009

(Feel free to use this document for academic purposes, but please provide proper citation)




1130   Chivalry: tournaments banned by the Council of Clermont, canon 9: “We completely forbid those detestable fairs or festivals where knights customarily gather by agreement and heedlessly fight among themselves to make show of their strength and bravery, whence often result men's deaths and souls' peril. Should any knight die on such an occasion he should not be denied penance and the last rights if he asks for them; yet let him not enjoy Church burial.” This provides evidence for the growing popularity of tournaments in France. The Church saw tournaments as places in which all of the seven deadly sins flourished and forces of disorder. They also feared that tournaments distracted knights who might otherwise go on crusade. The ban, however, proved completely ineffective, as did subsequent conciliar prohibitions of tournaments (1148, 1179, 1215, 1245, 1279, and 1313). Finally, in 1316 Pope John XXII gave up the fight and bestowed his blessings on tournaments.

1147-1219  William Marshal, the “flower of English chivalry.” William was the fourth son of John fitz Gilbert, royal marshal to the kings of England and a local magnate in southwestern England. He began his career as a royal household knight and rose to become one of the greatest landholders in Ireland and Wales and regent for the young King Henry III (r.1216-1272) after King John’s death in 1216. William Marshal is a good example of “practical” chivalry during the second half of the twelfth century. William leveraged a reputation for loyalty and exceptional skills as a tournament knight and soldier achieved while a household knight of the Young King Henry and, later, his father King Henry II of England into marriage with a royal ward that brought him extensive lands, wealth, and the title of earl.


 c. 1150-1200   Emergence and development of French chivalric literature and courtly society. The second half of the twelfth century witnessed the flowering of French vernacular courtly literature: romances, chansons de geste, and troubadour love poetry.  The French poet Chrétien de Troyes (flourished c.1160-x.1190) recast Welsh traditions about King Arthur and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s imaginative History of the Kings of Britain (see above 1138) as chivalric Arthurian Romances. Chrétien’s contributions to the Arthurian legend include Lancelot, the love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere (Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, dedicated to Countess Marie de Champagne), the stories of Eric and Enide and of Cligès and Fenice, and the quest for the Holy Grail, introduced in his last work, Perceval, the Story of the Grail, an unfinished poem written c.1190 for Philip of Alsace, count of Flanders. (Several continuations of Chrétien’s Perceval were written in the first half of the thirteenth century.) Chrétien was the first writer to advance the idea of romantic love within marriage (e.g. in his poem Yvain, The Knight with the Lion). Thomas of Britain (c.1160) and Beroul (c.1190) wrote early treatments of the story of Tristan and Iseult. Their contemporary Marie de France, writing in England in the late twelfth century, composed a series of twelve “lais” (short narrative poems) in rhymed French that focus on chivalry, in particular, love and courtliness. Chivalry, the literal meaning of which is "horsemanship," was transformed by the troubadours at the behest of their noble patrons into an aristocratic ethos that includes not only martial qualities (prowess in combat, demonstrated in tournaments; loyalty to lords and friends, courage) but also the newer qualities of courtliness (courtoisie) required by life within baronial households: affability, largesse, skill in languages and music, self-restraint, elegant manners, knowing how to romance women. 

       Courtliness and chivalric romances were products of French courtly society; one might almost call them a design for living within a court. By the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries feudal society revolved around the courts of kings, counts, and other barons. These courts moved with the lord as he peregrinated through his various estates and castles (a necessity for 1) keeping order and control, and 2) for feeding a household that could number in the hundreds). A lord's court included his close kin (wife, children, brothers--those who slept in the chambers of the castle), other members of his household (bachelor knights, chaplains, domestic servants), and landed vassals whom he had summoned to escort or serve him. Courts were supposed to reflect the power and glory of a lord; the honor of a lord was reflected by the size and magnificence of his household. Those who entered a noble's household came within the sphere of his protection. To injure one under a lord's protection was to insult that lord. The problem faced by lords was how to maintain peace and order within large households, filled with belligerent young men competing with one another for favor. One solution was to punish harshly those who broke the peace. Another was to foster a code of behavior that was conducive to the maintenance of peace. Courtliness was a set of behaviors that permitted constant competition among young knights while restraining them from killing each other. It moderated the ethos of revenge. It served to domesticate the knights while preserving their martial values.

       Medieval illuminated manuscripts of Chrétien de Troyes Perceval and Yvain. Perceval: opening of poem (BNF fr. 12577, fol. 1, c.1340); Perceval arrives at the Graal Castle, BNF fr. 12577; Chretien de Troyes' Perceval: Arthur and Guinevere welcome Perceval’s return (BNF fr. 1453, fol. 27); early 13th-century manuscript of Perceval;  Chretien’s Yvain: Calogrenant fights d'Esclados le Rouxr, from Yvain, BNF, fr. 1433 (c.1340) ; Scenes from Yvain: Yvain fights two demon brothers; Yvain and Gawain unknowingly fight, BNF. fr. 1433 (c.1340); Yvain: Lunette reconciles Yvain with the Lady Laudine, BNF, fr. 1433,(c.1340). “In Parenthesis,” an online collection of texts maintained by York University, has several Old French medieval romances in translation.


 1177-1179   Chivalry: William Marshal is on the tournament circuit as partner to another “bachelor” (i.e. landless knight} in Henry's household, Roger de Gaugie; for two years they go from tourney to tourney. According to list kept by Wigain, the young king's clerk, they captured 103 knights in the course of 10 months.

     Tournaments were a staple of chivalric literature. All of the Arthurian romances depict their heroes as champions at tourneys (e.g., YWAIN). Although there were probably similar sorts of war games in the 10th century, tournaments as such seem to have arisen toward the end of the 11th or beginning of the 12th century. By 1125 the growing popularity of tournaments in France (especially northern France) provoked a papal denunciation by Innocent II in 1130. By 1200 the popularity of tournaments had spread throughout Western Europe, although France was still known as the home of the best and greatest tourneys. (English chroniclers called the tournament "the Gallic battle.") William Marshal's career reflects the importance of tournaments for knights. Great French lords, such as the counts of Champagne and Flanders, gained reputation and prestige from their patronage of tournaments, while ordinary knights gained—or forfeited—fame, glory, possibility of material gain in the form of horses, trappings, armor, and ransom). The tournament was the arena in which a landless knight could prove his worth to potential lords (for which read: 'employers'). Tournament served as training grounds for warfare, as opportunities for knight to obtain booty and prestige, as social gatherings of the aristocracy, and, generally, as arenas for chivalric theater, ceremony, and ‘play.’ In essence, the tournament helped the nobility to define itself, and changed as the nobility's self image changed.  The tournament at Lagny-sur-Marne, from the History of William the Marshal (poem, c. 1225).

c.1185   Chivalry.  Composition of existing rhyming section of the chanson de geste Raoul de Cambrai. Raoul de Cambrai, an epic poem about honor and revenge in which the courtly attribute of mesure, self restraint and moderation, is represented as a necessary complement to qualities of prowess, honor, and loyalty.


c. 1200-c.1220   Chivalry: Gottfried von Strassburg and Wolfram von Eschenbach.  German chivalric literature, which drew upon French models, came into its own in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. The three most important German romances were the anonymous Nibelungenlied (c.1190) (translation online in the Medieval German Series on “In Parenthesis”), Gottfried von Stassburg’s Tristan (c.1210) and Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Pazifal (before 1220). Gottfried’s and Wolfram’s contemporary, Walther von der Vogelweide, was the greatest of the German minnesingers (composers of courtly love poetry). The most interesting—and weirdest—minnesinger of the next generation was undoubtedly the Bavarian knight and royal minister Ulrich von Liechtenstein (c.1200-1278), who wrote a pseudo-autobiography “The Service of Ladies” (1255) in which he described his Venusfahrt (a jousting tour that he undertook in drag) (1226) and his Artusfahrt (another jousting tour, but this time dressed as King Arthur) (1240). For Ulrich, see under 1226 and 1255. Walther von der Vogelweide from the Codex Manesse, c.1304.

1223   Chivalry: on the Crusader state of Cyprus was held the first Arthurian themed tournament (described by Philip of Novara), marking the growing importance of the Arthurian legend in the ideology of chivalry. Around this time, the earliest extant handbook of chivalry was also composed. The anonymous poem L’Ordene de Chevalerie (The Ordination of Chivalry, trans. William Morris) is a fictional account of how the captive Hugh of Tiberias, in lieu of ransom, explained to the noble sultan Saladin the ritual of the knighting ceremony and the meaning of Christian knighthood. In this account Saladin is not actually knighted, since the order of knighthood is reserved for Christians. The poem’s description of the ritual of dubbing probably follows actual early thirteenth-century practice, and its explanations of the symbolism of the objects used in the ceremony (e.g. sword, gown, spurs) were repeated in many subsequent medieval and renaissance chivalric treatises


 1226   Chivalry: Ulrich von Liechtenstein’s “Venus tour” (Venusfahrt). In his poetic autobiography (see under 1255), the Bavarian knight Ulrich von Liechtenstein describes his undertaking of a tourneying journey in honor of "Frau Venus" and his lady love. Dressed in full armor covered by a plus size woman's dress and wearing a blond woman's wig, Ulrich rode from Italy to Bohemia, issuing a general challenge to all knights to joust with him. To each knight who broke three lances with him he gave a gold ring, but if the challenger was defeated, he was to bow to the four corners of the earth in honor of Ulrich's lady. He tells us that he “broke” 307 lances in a month's jousting, sometimes engaging in up to eight matches a day. An interesting sidelight is that Ulrich was married and took time out to visit his wife during the Venusfahrt. His unnamed lady love, meanwhile, was a married woman, whom he fell in love with when he served as a twelve-year old page in her husband’s household. Ulrich’s Venusfahrt illustrates the artificiality and playfulness of “courtly love” in the thirteenth century. Ulrich von Liechtenstein on his Venusfahrt (Codex Manesse, c.1304).

1255   Chivalry: Ulrich von Liechtenstein writes his autobiographical poem “Frauendienst” (“The Service of Ladies”) describing two tourneying journeys that he undertook, the Venusfahrt (Venus tour) (1226) and the Artusfahrt (King Arthur tour) (1240). For the former, he dressed up as "Frau Venus", donning a plus plus size woman’s dress over his armor and wearing a blond woman's wig. He travelled from Italy to Bohemia, issuing a general call in advance to all knights to joust with him along the way. To each knight who broke three lances with him he gave a gold ring, but if the challenger was defeated, he was to bow to the four corners of the earth in honor of Ulrich's lady. He tells us that he “broke” 307 lances in a month's jousting, sometimes engaging in up to eight matches a day. The Artusfahrt saw him doing the same thing, but now disguised as King Arthur and accompanied by six companions.  Ulrich’s Frauendienst is seriously weird at times. Ulrich relates in it how he risked his life undergoing medieval plastic surgery (without anesthesia) to correct a harelip that repelled his lady. When she still rejected him, he took to the tournament circuit, publicly proclaiming that he jousted to win her love, and wrote poems and songs praising her beauty. When she doubted his claim to have ruined a finger in a joust fought in her honor, he cut off the finger and sent it to her in a box. She was touched by the gesture, but still resisted his overtures, which led him to make an even grander gesture, the Venusfahrt.  This appears to have done the job. When he returned, she sent word that she wanted to see him, but insisted that he visit her disguised as a leper and that he sit outside the castle gate with the other lepers begging for alms. After he did that, she sent word that he should climb through her bedroom window the next night, but when he was half way up the rope, she unhooked it, send him tumbling into the moat. Finally, he persuaded her to profess her love for him by swearing to undertake a crusade on her behalf. One should note that both Ulrich and his unnamed lady love were married, and that she was considerably older than him: he tells us that he fell in love with her when he was a twelve year old page serving in her husband’s household. It is unclear how seriously Ulrich intended his audience to take his adventures.  They underscore the artificiality and game-like qualities of fin amour. Ulrich’s lady love seems to have served more as an excuse for chivalric achievement than as an object of love or even lust.   Ulrich von Liechtenstein on his Venusfahrt (Codex Manesse, c.1304).

c.1280   Chivalry. Catalan knight turned Franciscan missionary, philosopher, and mystic Ramon Lull (1232-1315) composes Libre de ordre de cavayleria (Book of the Order of Chivalry), an account of the origins of Christian chivalry and the qualifications, qualities and training required of a chivalric knight, emphasizing wisdom, charity, loyalty, courage, generosity, humility, honor, and prowess. The right reason to become a knight, Lull writes, is to do right; the wrong reason is for advantage and rank.

       Qualities of a chivalric knight (Lull). A proper chivalric knight MUST be 1.able-bodied; 2. of good lineage; 3. sufficiently wealthy to support his rank; 4. wise (to judge his inferiors and supervise their labors; to advise his lord); 5. generous (holds open house within the limits of his means); 6. loyal; 7. courageous; 8. honorable.

       Ethical duties of the knight (Lull): 1. to defend the Christian faith, 2. to defend his lord, 3. to protect the weak (women, children); 4. to exercise constantly by hunting and jousting in tournaments; 5. to judge the people and supervise their work (the knight acts here as a royal agent and servant); 6. to pursue robbers and evil-doers. A chivalrous knight must avoid 1) pride, 2) lechery, 3) false oaths, 4) and especially treachery (=betraying one's lord, sleeping with his wife, or surrendering his castle).

      Lull’s Libre de ordre de cavayleria became one of the most popular handbooks of chivalry of the later medieval and Renaissance periods, and was often incorporated into other handbooks and romances.


 1304   Chivalry: Codex Manesse. The Codex Manesse or Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift is an illuminated manuscript collection of the songs of the German minnesänger, compiled for the Manesse family of Zürich. The main section was completed in 1304, with an additional material added c.1340. The manuscript contains not only the fullest collection of love poetry in Middle High German, it also has 137 portraits of the poets, each in a representative pose. (Ulrich von Liechenstein, for example, is shown dressed as “Frau Venus,” see above 1226.)

1348      Chivalry: Order of the Garter. Probable date for King Edward III of England’s foundation of the Order of the Garter. The Order of the Garter was either the second or third of the secular orders of chivalry that various European kings instituted in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Although characterized by elaborate ritual, ceremony, and pageantry consciously drawn from Arthurian romance, the chivalric societies had also practical political puproses: the “recruitment and consolidation of political loyalty; the quest for diplomatic alliance and advantage; the maintenance of legal and social status and privilege; the promotion of activities such as tourneying which had strong tones of upper-class exclusiveness” (Maurice Keen, Chivalry 190). (Manuscript illustration of Edward III granting the duchy of Aquitaine to his son Edward the Black Prince. Sir Geoffrey Lutrell on horseback assisted by his wife and daughter, from the Lutrell Psalter, c.1330)

c.1350  The French knight Geoffrey de Charny composes the Livre de chevelarie (The Book of Chivalry), a treatise on chivalry, the guiding principle of which is “he who achieves more, the more worthy.” Geoffrey de Charny’s focus is the quest for earthly honor achieved through deeds of arms, though the entire work is infused with Christian religious feeling.