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   Inside Out - South: Monday 10th February, 2003


Three people in stocks
THREE PEOPLE IN STOCKS | Shackled by Medieval traditions?

Who wants a knight in shining armour to sweep down and open doors for them?

Well, many modern men and women of the 21st century would say a firm no thank you!

Chivalrous behaviour may be OK for some, but for others it's a throwback to the dark ages.

The twelve chivalric virtues (14th Century)
  • Faith
  • Charity
  • Justice
  • Sagacity
  • Prudence
  • Temperance
  • Resolution
  • Truth
  • Liberality
  • Diligence
  • Hope
  • Valour

as defined by the Duke of Burgundy for the Order of the Golden Fleece

In those days Chivalry was a code of conduct for knights telling them to protect king and country with patriarchal zeal.

The 21st century evolution of the term seems to mean that common courtesy is used as a weapon to enforce outmoded notions about the sexes.

Most people don't mind others opening the odd door- that's if it's a natural courtesy, they're actually wanting to go through the door, and not because it's a favour bestowed on their sex.

This isn't a call to drop courtesy - far from it. Courtesy should be offered to everyone, by everyone. Many feel the rules that govern this should not be based on medieval codes of conduct, but how society works today.

The Ten Commandments of the Code of Chivalry
  • Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches, and shalt observe all its directions.
  • Thou shalt defend the Church.
  • Thou shalt repect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
  • Thou shalt love the country in the which thou wast born.
  • Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
  • Thou shalt make war against the Infidel without cessation, and without mercy.
  • Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
  • Thou shalt never lie, and shall remain faithful to thy pledged word.
  • Thou shalt be generous, and give largess to everyone.
  • Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.

From Leon Gautier's "Chivalry, The Everyday Life of the Medieval Knight".

It is not up to men only to show this, and it is not up to men to feel they should do things for people based on their sex - courtesy shouldn't conform to gender boundaries.

A recent report showed that nine out of ten women liked to have doors opened for them - it appears to have forgotten to ask how many men would like that courtesy too (or at least that fact went unreported).

But for 10% of women the idea doesn't appeal. How many times have you had to make a five yard dash across the pavement because you become aware that some gallant man is waiting for you to shuffle through the door before him?

The report also showed that the majority of people would like to see formal social introductions become commonplace, and some 80% would like to see the custom of greeting strangers in the street reinstated.

So it appears that courtesy would like to make a resurgence, but in a form that reflects the equal role of both men and women.

Chivalry has a bloody past, born out of the battlefields of medieval Europe. Courtesy does not have to reflect that past and instead can reflect life as it is today and the way people want their life to be like. Long live courtesy!

See also ...

Is Chivalry dead? (Southampton)
Talking Point - Does chivalry still exist? (News)
Chivalry 'is no-win battle for men' (News)
Talking Point - Is chivalry still relevant in today's society? (News)

On the rest of the web
Is Chivalry sexist? (Pax Tharda)
The Code of Chivalry and Courtly Love

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Richard Gillies
For some reason we (and here I mean modern society) seem to think that traditions must be frozen in time and written in stone. We need to realise that (as our forefathers realised) was that tradition must change with time and circumstances.

If we take a couple of the chivalric virtues and translate them to the modern world you will see that these virtues still hold true today as then.

Faith – All need something to believe in this how humanity stays sane in times of great suffering, if our grand fathers lost their faith in the righteousness of the cause against the Nazi’s where would we be now.

Charity – We must all help others to the best of our ability. This does not mean we impoverish ourselves, instead all can offer help to others.

Justice – “We must recognise the sword of justice can be a terrible thing, so it must be tempered with humanity and mercy”. This is an obvious one as without Justice modern society will crumble.

The list goes on but we must learn to interpret these virtues in the correct way. Where this causes a problem is when we try to force our morals on others, this is because we all interpret these virtues in different ways.

Without these codes modern society would deteriorate into anarchy, we live in an enlightened society that we have built on the wisdom of the past.

Christopher Murfin
I have often been dubbed "old-fashioned" because I happen to believe in the courtesy aspect of chivalry.

I happen to believe that a gentleman SHOULD open a door for a woman, walk on the outside of pavements etc. I also believe that it is the height of rudeness to use foul language or innuendo in the presence of a lady.

However, it has also been my experience that many young woman today - particularly those aged 30 and under -[In case you were wondering, I am 41] seem to think that chivalric behaviour is either foolish, pointless, or demeaning towards them as they often look on it as sexist or an attempt to inveigle oneself into their affections. Very few appear able to accept such behaviour as genuine.

Today's society seems to be based far more on "appearence" rather than action. For instance, if someone with film-star looks and/or obvious financial attributes acts in a chivalrous manner they are more readily accepted than someone of plain looks or impoverished circumstances.

Many so-called "modern" women would happily accept that a man pay all the bills on a date yet NOT accept other chivalric values.

It may be said that men with a chivalric attitude are few and far between, yet it must also be said that the same could also be said for true lady-like women.

Even so, I will continue to be as chivalrous as possible because I simply feel it is the right thing to do.

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