Commenter J. J. Griffing disagrees with my use of the term chivalry:
Just call it “Courtly Love,” already, @Dalrock. You seem to have no idea what ACTUAL “chivalry” consists of beyond that, but what you call “chivalry” repeatedly is to the real thing what the Book of Mormon is to the Gospel. By defining the whole by one cancerous outgrowth (through a single book about said growth), you demonstrate gross ignorance of your topic and of the serious scholarship even your one abused source represents.
You’re usually RIGHT about feminism. But your persistent ignorance of chivalry is appalling. (Yes, I am still working on the promised rebuttal, but Real Life often interferes.)
I have no doubt that Griffing and other readers have much they could teach me about chivalry, and I look forward to the instruction. But nevertheless I don’t agree that we can draw the clear distinction he claims between chivalry and courtly love. While there are multiple aspects to what we commonly call chivalry, in popular usage chivalry is largely if not entirely about service and deference to women. If a parent tells you they are raising their son to be chivalrous, they almost never mean they are raising their boy to say go on armed adventures, or fight duels to defend his honor. What they most commonly will mean is they are raising their boy to look for ways to be of service to the women around him (carrying heavy loads, offering his coat, opening doors, etc). They often will also mean they are training their boy to court chivalrously by boldly declaring his romantic intentions, always paying for dates, and (when the time comes to propose marriage) kneel in submission before his lady.
Moreover, it isn’t just in modern usage that chivalry is associated with what the men’s sphere calls white knighting for women. The most famous real life act of chivalry (according to legend) is arguably when King Edward III gallantly came to the aid of a woman with a suspiciously timed wardrobe malfunction:
While she was dancing at a court ball at Calais, her garter is said to have slipped from her leg. When the surrounding courtiers sniggered, the king picked it up and returned it to her, exclaiming, “Honi soit qui mal y pense” (“Shame on him who thinks evil of it.”), the phrase that has become the motto of the Order.
This legendary act of chivalry led to the founding the oldest order of chivalry in the world, the Order Of The Garter. This is the most prestigious order of chivalry in the UK:
Order Of The Garter
This is the highest ranking order of chivalry in the United Kingdom, it is entirely within the personal gift of the Monarch and is very exclusive. Only The Queen, The Prince Of Wales and 24 knights may be in the order at any one time. When one Knight dies, another is appointed. It is also, the oldest order of chivalry in the world, going back to 1348.
The phrase the king uttered when the woman dropped her underwear was thought to be so gallant, so perfect an act of chivalry, that it along with a depiction of the garter itself was prominently incorporated into the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom. As a result, this glorious example of the chivalric ideal is to this day embossed in gold on the front of British Passports.
Neither is it just C.S. Lewis who observed that tales of the Knights of the Round Table are steeped in the morality of courtly love, nor is this morality limited to works like Chrétien de Troyes’ Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart. As Associate Professor of English Laura Ashe at Worcester College, Oxford explains, Malory is likewise steeped in courtly love:
Malory’s ideal of chivalry has love at its heart: ‘thy quarrel must come of thy lady’, he says, ‘and such love I call virtuous love’. Each knight is to fight for the sake of his lady; with his victories he earns her love, and defends her honour. He is absolutely loyal to her and will follow her every command, whatever happens – whether she sends him on an impossible quest, banishes him from her company, or stands accused of some terrible crime, in desperate need of his help. Here, tragedy enters the picture. Lancelot’s love of Guinevere can never have a happy ending, for she is King Arthur’s queen. This is the epitome of ‘courtly love’ in literature: a commitment which binds the lovers until their deaths, but is never fulfilled in happy union.
Lastly, the very term courtly love Griffing wants me to exclusively use is relatively new. While there is some controversy, it is generally attributed to Gaston Paris in an article from 1883. It is a term coined by literary critics hundreds of years later to describe a common characteristic of literary chivalry in the Late Middle Ages. Courtly love was always a common component of chivalric tales starting around the late 1100s. There were not two separate literary genres, chivalry and courtly love. Courtly love was part of the Late Middle Ages concept of chivalry, so much so that a separate name wasn’t required.