CHIVALRY (Fr. chevalerie, from cheval, Lat. caballus, "a horse"), a term which indicates strictly the arganitatioli of knighthood as it existed in the Middle Ages, and in a general sense the spirit and aims which distinguished the knights of those times. The chief char acteristics of the chivalric ages were a warlike spirit, a lofty devotion to the female sex, a love of adventure and a thirst for glory.
To explain the nature and origin of chivalry we must consider' the character of the ancient German tribes. The warlike spirit was com mon to them with other barbarous nations; but there were certain trait§ in their character pe culiarly their own. was their es teem for women. This is dwelt upon by Tacitus, and is sufficiently apparent from the early native German historians. This regard for the female sex was diffused by them through every country into which they spread, thougih with considerable difference in the forms in which it developed itself. In France it became that refined gal antry for which the nation has been so long conspicuous; in Spain it assumed a more romantic and glowing character, dis ;playing much of 'the fire of Oriental feeling; in Germany itself it became faithful and tender attachment to the wedded wife. Engrafted upon this primitive regard for woman amongst the Germanic tribes, the moral and aesthetic principles of the Christian religion, its ideals of chastity, marriage and loyalty, and in particular the widespread Veneration paid to the Virgin Mother of Christ, powerfully contributed to the development of the institutions of chivalry. We may he told, in answer to our claim of the peculiar regard for the female as a characteris tic of the Teutonic tribes, that women were held in high esteem by the Romans. It is true that wives and mothers were treated with great regard by the Romans, and the history of no nation affords more numerous instances of female nobleness; this esteem was rendered to them, not as females, however, but as the faithful companions and patriotic mothers of citizens. It had somewhat of a political cast. But this was not the case with the Germans. There is another trait of the German character which deserves to be considered in this con nection, which is very apparent in their lit erature, and the lives of many individuals; we mean that indefinite thirst for something su perior to the realities of life, that schnen, to use their own word, which hardly admits of trans lation, which has produced among them at the same time so much excellence and so much extravagance. These three traits of the Teutonic race, their warlike spirit, their esteem for women and their indefinable thirst for superhuman greatness, together with the in fluence of the feudal system and of the Roman Catholic religion, afford an explanation of the spirit of chivalry—an institution which, to many observers, appears like an isolated phe nomenon in history, and leaves them in doubt whether to depise it as foolish or admire it as sublime. The feudal system divided the Christian Teutonic tribes into masses, the mem bers of which were united, indeed, by some political ties, but had little of that intimate con nection which bound men together in the com munities of antiquity, and which has produced like effects in our own and a few preceding ages. They still preserved, in a great measure,
the independence of barbarians. There was, however, one strong bond of union which gave consistency to the whole aggregate; we mean the Roman Catholic religion. The influence of a common religion was of great service to man kind,. during the ages of turbulence and violence, in giving coherency to the links of the social chain, which were continually in danger of parting. To this cause is to be ascribed the great uniformity of character which prevailed during the ages of chivalry. The feudal system enabled the gentry to live on the labors of the peasants without the necessity of providing for their own support, and to indulge the love of adventure incident to their warlike and ambitious character. It we now combine the characteristics which we have been considering— a warlike spirit, a lofty devotion to the female sex, an undefinable thirst for glory, connected with feudal inde pendence, elevation above the drudgery of daily toil, and a uniformity of character and purpose, inspired by the influence of a common religion — we obtain a tolerable view of the chivalric character. This character had not yet quite developed itself in the age of Charlemagne. The courage exhibited by the warriors of his age was rather the courage of individuals in bodies. The independence, the individuality of character, which distinguished the errant knight who sought far and wide for adventures to be achieved by his single arm, was the growth of a later period. The use of the war-horse, which formed so essential an instrument of the son of chivalry, was not common among the Ger mans until the time of their wars with the Huns. They were, indeed, acquainted with it before, and Tacitus mentions it in his account of Germany; but it was not in common use among them till the period mentioned. After it was introduced, cavalry was considered among them, as among all nations in the early stages of their progress, much superior to infantry, which was, in fact, despised, until the successes of the Swiss demonstrated its supe riority. In the llth century knighthood had be come an established and well-defined institu tion; but it was not till the 14th that its honors were confined exclusively to the nobility. The Crusades gave a more religious turn to the spirit of chivalry, and made the knights of all Christian nations known to each other, so that a great uniformity is thenceforward to be per ceived among them throughout Europe. Then arose the religious orders of knights, the Knights of Saint John, the Templars, the Teu tonic knights, etc. The whole establishment of knighthood assumed continually a more formal character, and, degenerating, like every human institution, sank at last into quixotic extrav agances, or frittered away its spirit amid the forms and punctilios springing from the pride and the distinctions of the privileged orders of society.