The Code of Chivalry


        The Knights of the Virgin is an international military order of Catholic knighthood whose members strive to live out the code of chivalry in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


St. Galgano's sword


Chivalry was the code of conduct practiced by Medieval European knights.


Chivalry was a compound made up of two distinct elements. 

Its first element was made up of a Warrior Ethos.  The warrior ethos, according to Steven Pressfield, "... evolved as a counterpoise to fear."  It "embodies certain virtues-courage, honor, loyalty, integrity, selflessness and others-that most warrior societies believe must be inculcated from birth.”  Various warrior cultures in sundry places expected their soldiers to practice some form of warrior ethos such as that of the Laconians of the city of Sparta, or the Habitus of the Romans, and later the Bushido Code of the Japanese Samurai.

The warrior ethos contained in the code of chivalry consisted of the following warrior virtues: Prowess, Valor, Honor, Duty, Service, Loyalty, Glory, & Nobility.

But it should be noted that these military virtues embraced by the ancient world are unbridled by any other virtues.  In the classical world "Might makes Right" or as Sir John Dalberg-Acton put it; "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men..."   Thus, the heroes of old, whether of myth or of historical record, Gilgamesh, King Ninus, Heracles, and Alexander the Great, these were great men in the eyes of the world but they were not good men. The second element that makes up the code of Chivalry caused a revolutionary break with the classical idea of what defines heroism.

As stated, a warrior ethos was common to many warrior cultures but the second element that was grafted on to the warrior ethos was the impulse for a moderation of violence and the practice of Christian virtues. 

The part of chivalry that is unique to itself and distinct from every other warrior ethos consists of the following qualities that the knight is expected to embrace: Largess, Courtesy, Meekness, Obedience to the Church, Defense of the Church, Moderation, Justice, Mercy, Defense of the Weak, and Courtesy to Women.  These qualities, these virtues, are unique to the European knight up to that point in history, until his influence carried these qualities elsewhere.  No warrior culture before him embraced these qualities systematically like the knight because these qualities were the incomparable contribution of Christianity.


                “The Creed that created our civilization.”

                                   -G. K. Chesterton


Chivalry has its true origin in the Christian Faith.  It takes its philosophical premise from the belief that God became a man and died for all men and then it follows the logic to its natural conclusion, that, then all men have a certain dignity and priceless value.  The Christian soldier found himself in somewhat of a dilemma; he was called on to defend home, city, or nation but Christ demanded of him that he must also love his enemy.  This conundrum was wrestled over by the early Church Fathers; Tertullian, Origen, and St. Augustine.  What came out of it was a theology of the soldier; a deepening understanding of why a soldier might fight and how he ought to behave in obedience to the Gospel even in the extraordinary circumstances of a pitched battle.


      You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? Do not also the heathens this? 

Matthew 5:43-48


This requirement to charity is the quintessence of chivalry.  It is charity that animates the knight and sets him apart from all of the pagan warriors that preceded him.  Even though the knight was an imperfect person and but recently raised from barbarism, a sinner who fell, sometimes far from the mark.  Nevertheless, his eye was set on that unreachable quixotic star ... perfection of the soul, the forging of a saint, the quest of the Grail.  This was the patrimony that he passed down even to the modern world.  This is the chivalry that made so great a contribution to western civilization.  It was this demand of charity that lead to a movement away from total warfare, to practice courtesy even to enemies, the defense of the weak, and the veneration of womanhood.


St. Galgano's
The Rotonda at Montesiepi near St. Galgano's Abbey


There were a variety of codes of chivalry in history as some regions or local lords would emphasize one aspect of the code or another.  Here is a generalized code of chivalry that contains the most common virtues found in most of the codes:

        Prowess                 Largess

        Valor                     Courtesy

        Honor                   Meekness

        Duty                     Obedience to the Church

        Service                  Defense of the Church

        Loyalty                  Moderation

        Glory                     Justice

        Nobility                Mercy

                                       Defense of the Weak

                                       Courtesy to Women



Here are some examples of codes of chivalry:


To fear God and maintain His Church

To keep faith

To guard the honor of fellow knights

To serve the liege lord in valor and faith

To obey those placed in authority

To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun

To refrain from the wanton giving of offence

To respect the honor of women

To fight for the welfare of all

To despise pecuniary reward

To give succour to widows and orphans

To protect the weak and defenseless

To live by honor and for glory

At all times to speak the truth

To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit

Never to refuse a challenge from an equal

Never to turn the back upon a foe



Thomasmalory Tl
a page from Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur


      The king stablished all his knights, and gave them that were of lands not rich, he gave them lands, and charged them never to do outrageousity nor murder, and always to flee treason; also, by no mean to be cruel, but to give mercy unto him that asketh mercy, upon pain of forfeiture of their worship and lordship of King Arthur for evermore; and always to do ladies, damosels, and gentlewomen succor upon pain of death. Also, that no man take no battles in a wrongful quarrel for no law, ne for no world’s goods. Unto this were all the knights sworn of the Table Round, both old and young. And every year were they sworn at the high feast of Pentecost.

-excerpt from Le Morte d'Arthur




Don Quixote
'Don Quixote' by Pablo Picasso


It is the mission of each true knight...
His duty... nay, his privilege!
To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go;
To right the unrightable wrong.

To love, pure and chaste, from afar,
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star!

This is my Quest to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far,
To fight for the right
Without question or pause,
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause!

And I know, if I'll only be true
To this glorious Quest,
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest.

And the world will be better for this,
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach the unreachable star!

-Joe Darion, Man of La Mancha

Immaculate Heart

The Immaculate Heart of Mary



      In the Middle Ages, chivalry was the Christian form of the military condition, and the knight was the Christian soldier in his fullness. Much more than an institution, chivalry was an ideal of the military life. It was by the means of chivalry that the Church transformed barbarians into saints.

-Raymond de Souza, KHS, KM



      In the mean time Chivalry stood forth the most glorious institution that man himself ever devised’.  There cannot be a doubt that Chivalry, more than any other institution (except religion) aided to work out the civilization of Europe.  It first taught devotion and reverence to those weak, fair beings, who but in their beauty and their gentleness have no defense.  It first raised love above the passions of the brute, and by dignifying woman, made woman worthy of love.  It gave purity to enthusiasm, crushed barbarous selfishness, taught the heart to expand like a flower to the sunshine, beautified glory with generosity, and smoothed even the rugged brow of war. ... There is scarcely a noble feeling or a bright aspiration that we find among ourselves, or trace in the history of modern Europe, that is not in some degree referable to that great and noble principle, which has no name but the Spirit of Chivalry.

-G.P.R. James



      The laws of chivalry might have been adopted by the wisest legislators and by the most virtuous philosophers of all nations, and of all epochs.

-Jean-Baptiste de La Curne de Sainte-Palaye



      Chivalry! -why, maiden, she is the nurse of pure and high affection-the stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances, the curb of the power of the tyrant-Nobility were but an empty name without her, and liberty finds the best protection in her lance and her sword.

-Sir Walter Scott



      Another is the paradox of charity or chivalry that the weaker a thing is the more it should be respected, that the more indefensible a thing is the more it should appeal to us for a certain kind of defense.

-G.K. Chesterton



      [...] it remains one of the most precious monuments of the moral history of our race, as a remarkable instance of concerted and organized attempt by a most disorganized and distracted society, to raise up and carry into practice a moral ideal greatly in advance of its social condition and institutions …and which has left a most sensible, and for the most part highly valuable impress on the ideas and feelings of all subsequent times.

–John Stuart Mill



      The story of chivalry began in the mind of God. Its principles and tenets are an expression of His character. Chivalry is, until we sear our own consciences, wired into our DNA. Every boy imagines being the valiant knight. Every little girl dreams of being rescued by one.

      Chivalry is every man’s ideal (whether he realizes it or not), and is the flowering beauty of every woman. Take chivalry out of mankind, and we are reduced to beasts. Remove chivalry from legend and story, and we would lose our greatest epics and sagas, not to mention all our fairy tales. Ban chivalry from the movies and “Gladiator,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Tombstone,” “Star Wars,” “Rob Roy,” “Braveheart,” and a thousand other great films would disappear, not to mention “The Passion of the Christ.” And if chivalry were somehow dismissed from history, the story of mankind is not worth reading, and our lives are not worth living.

-Gene Cunningham



      Little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour and of cavaliers.  I thought ten thousand swords would have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.  But the age of chivalry is gone.  That of sophists, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.  Never, never more shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom.  The unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone!  It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing its grossness.

      This mixed system of opinion and sentiment had its origin in the ancient chivalry; and the principle, though varied in its appearance by the varying state of human affairs, subsisted and influenced through a long succession of generations, even to the time we live in.  If it should ever be totally extinguished, the loss I fear will be great.

-Edmund Burke



      Some say that the age of chivalry is past, that the spirit of romance is dead. The age of chivalry is never past, so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth.

- Charles Kingsley



      (However), there is still life in the tradition which the Middle Ages inaugurated. But the maintenance of that life depends, in part, on knowing that the knightly character is art not nature - something that needs to be achieved, not something that can be relied upon to happen. And this knowledge is specially necessary as we grow more democratic. In previous centuries the vestiges of chivalry were kept alive by a specialized class, from whom they spread to other classes partly by imitation and partly by coercion. Now, it seems, the people must either be chivalrous on its own resources, or else choose between the two remaining alternatives of brutality and softness. . . .

-C.S. Lewis



      Chivalry is not dead as long as man is willing to forego the easy way, be always the salmon swimming against the tide of docility.

-Phil Williams

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