Bearing the weight of honor: knightly navigation of chivalry’s physical, religious, and social burden

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Corrie W. Greene (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Amy Vines

Abstract: This dissertation argues that the chivalric code and resulting “ethos” of chivalry creates a physical, religious, and social burden upon the medieval knights tasked with its application and adherence. The immediate result of this chivalric burden is the inability of knights to live up to the chivalric code’s exacting physical standards, entropic ecclesiastical expectations, and social obligations. The medieval knight then appears in medieval texts as both the paragon of chivalric perfection and the exempla of perpetual failure. In order to combat the burden of chivalry, most knights, fictional or historical, create a code of their own—one based not upon physical, religious, or social idealism, but instead upon the realities of their experiences. They develop a system of triage in which oaths are fulfilled by order of perceived importance; they alleviate their personal burdens through the creation of brotherhood oaths—effectively reallocating burden amongst themselves, and they often reciprocate unattainable idealism with violence and monstrous behavior. Regardless of chivalric burden’s impact on the knights in medieval romance, lais, manuals, and biography, the idealized code of chivalry staunchly remains in our twenty-first-century conceptions of masculinity. The century, the authors, and the audience may change, but the burden remains the same. The weight of chivalric burden comes from society, but does not limit itself to stringent social expectations. The eyes of all the estates are on the knights, each with their own idea of what honor, prowess, largesse, gentilesse, and courtesy look like. The knight must carefully navigate the pitfalls and paradoxes of his honorable and weighty burden for God, lord, and country all while being held to a higher physical, religious, and social standard than others. An impossible task.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2021
Arthuriana, Chivalry, Gender Studies, Knights, Masculinity, Medieval
Chivalry in literature
Knights and knighthood in literature
Literature, Medieval $x History and criticism

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