Military History Chivalry
Kathryn Hurlock, David Green
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 November 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0032


Chivalry is a term that has many interpretations. The word itself, which first appeared in English in 1292, derives from the French chevalier or knight, specifically a mounted knight. It came to mean more than just knighthood, as chivalry was used to describe a way of fighting, a set of ideals in warfare and in love, and a whole system of society based around the idea of the noble warrior. A chivalric society arguably emerged in the 12th century with the rise of knighthood, and it really only applied to those who were part of militaristic elite; nobles, knights, and men who fought. Chivalric ideals also encompassed women. As the medieval period progressed, chivalric ideals were tackled in a range of written works—from biographies to comic tales and manuals of combat—as an attempt was made to define what chivalry was. The clash of ideals between warfare and violence, and the peace required by religious devotion, was resolved with the rise of the Crusades and debates over Just War. At the same time, the number of men assuming knighthood went into decline, perhaps due to the costs of becoming a knight and equipping yourself, and so knighthood and its attendant chivalric ideals became increasingly elite. The link between chivalry and high status was exemplified by the rise of chivalric orders, the elaboration of tournaments, and the promotion of heraldry as a sign of membership of this select group.

General Works

There are many general survey works on chivalry. The best introductory discussion of chivalry is still Keen 2005, which has been updated in several editions. This seminal work brought to an end the era when chivalry had been studied through a rather romanticized lens. Jones and Coss 2019 draws together a range of focused essays on aspects of chivalry. Barber 2000 and Barber 2005 are good introductory texts for students and the nonspecialist. Kaeuper 1999 concentrates on the effect of chivalry on violence and social order in Europe. There are numerous general works on chivalry aimed at a popular readership that vary in approach and content, but Phillips 2011 identifies many of the key points and personalities in an engaging and popular style. Hallam 1987, though outdated in its bibliographical details, provides an engaging reference from the start of the 13th century to the middle of the 14th. It is a work that explains key aspects of chivalry and the historical events that place it in context.

  • Barber, Richard. The Knight and Chivalry. Rev. ed. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2000.

    An intelligent introduction that discusses almost all aspects of chivalry in digestible chapters. Attractively illustrated. Ideal, along with Keen 2005, as an introduction for students.

  • Barber, Richard. The Reign of Chivalry. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2005.

    Lavishly illustrated; a good survey work that discusses medieval chivalry as well as its later influences. Good for students and the general reader.

  • Hallam, Elizabeth, ed. Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987.

    Heavily illustrated large-scale work that is aimed at the general reader, this does provide background information. Comprises short articles. It is also full of extracts from primary sources that would be useful for undergraduates. Maps, glossary. Out of print, but widely and inexpensively available in secondhand condition.

  • Jones, Robert W., and Peter Coss, eds. A Companion to Chivalry. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2019.

    An accessible collection of essays covering a wide range of topics, including tournaments, arms and armor, chivalric literature, the gendered nature of chivalry, and its post-medieval decline and reinvention in the Early Modern and modern periods.

  • Kaeuper, Richard W. Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    A detailed study by one of the leading scholars of chivalry, this work examines the contrast between how a knight was expected to behave and how he really did. Excellent use of documents, and a must volume for anyone studying the topic. Available electronically.

  • Kaeuper, Richard. Medieval Chivalry. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139015370

    An examination of the relationship among chivalry, violence, and warfare drawing on literary sources, manuscript illumination, sermon exempla, and moral tales. Considers the centrality of prowess in the chivalric ethic and the ways by which monarchs and religious authorities sought to direct knights and the chivalric elite.

  • Keen, Maurice. Chivalry. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005.

    Argues that chivalry was changed from a secular ethos to a religious one by the Crusades, becoming increasingly ritualized and romanticized. Its regular reprinting and low price make it a good undergraduate text.

  • Phillips, Charles. The Glorious Age of Chivalry: An Exploration of the Golden Age of Knighthood and How It Was Expressed in Art, Literature and Song, with 200 Fine Art Images. Leicester, UK: Southwater, 2011.

    Aimed firmly at the popular reader, this work contains some excellent illustrations. Includes some good short biographies of famous knights and discussions on the reality of chivalry versus the idealized code.

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