The term “chivalry” refers to the rules of behavior that knights in medieval Europe were supposed to follow in their interpersonal relationships. The chivalry of the medieval times brought the gallantry of courtly love as a great romantic invention in the art of love.
Medieval literature popularized chivalric ideals as cultural and moral virtues. Medieval nobles and knights in France, Spain, and Germany quickly adopted chivalrous rules for relationships, such as courtly love (Karandashev, 2017).
Henry Finck wrote that the chivalry of medieval times brought great cultural innovations in the notion of love. The gallantry of chivalry and the art of love were among those (Finck, 1887/2019).
Who Was a Knight-errant?
A common character in medieval chivalric romance literature is the knight-errant. The word “errant” indicates how a knight-errant might travel the countryside in search of adventures. He demonstrated his chivalric virtues in knightly duels or through other pursuits of courtly love.
When Did the Gallantry of Chivalry Become the Art of Love?
The way a knight-errant acted in relationships could be summed up with the phrase “gallantry gone mad.” One could see some hints of gallantry in the writings of the ancient Roman poet Ovid. However, this overtone of love could be heard clearly and loudly only in the age of medieval chivalry. The gallant behavior was “contagious” like fashion. The novel idea of gallant behavior toward women became very popular among these knights. They carried it to the most ridiculous extremes.
Women were unaccustomed to such devotion. Therefore, they developed extravagant coyness in equal measure to that of the men. They put this gallantry through the craziest, cruelest tests possible.
The knights of medieval times were sent to battle, to the crusades, and into the dens of wild animals to test their devotion. Few knights of that time were as manly as the one in the ballad of Friedrich Schiller, a German playwright and poet of the 18th century. Schiller’s literary knight, after retrieving his lady’s glove from the lion’s den, threw it in her face instead of accepting her willing favors. Wolfram von Eschenbach, a German knight and poet of medieval German literature, bitterly accuses this art of love of causing the deaths of many noble knights in reference to these coy and cruel tests of gallantry.
The Romantic Value of the Knights’ Trials and Procrastinations
One can see some absurdities in the medieval traditions of chivalry and gallantry. Nevertheless, the knights’ trials and procrastinations had a positive value. Those acts delaying love satisfaction gave the feelings of love a supersensual and imaginative basis. When the troubadour love-poetry became popular in Austria, Gotthold Bötticher said of “Parzival,” a medieval romance by the knight-poet Wolfram von Eschenbach:
“it was especially the idea of Minnedienst (love-service) that was seized upon with avidity: the knight wooes and labours for a woman’s love, but she holds back and grants no favours until after a long trial-service. The final object of this service, the possession of the beloved, is regarded as quite subordinate to the pangs and pleasures of wooing and waiting.”Gotthold Bötticher
Certainly, the notions and rituals of love have evolved to a significant novelty. And fashion greatly aided the innovation. The sentiment was that “whoever is not in the service of love is unworthy to be a courtier.” Thus, the boors — unrefined and ill-mannered people who would prefer to continue treating women as servants — had to put on the yoke of gallantry in order to be “fashionable.”