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  Chivalry (from French chevalier, ‘horseman’) was a system of values of considerable importance in the arts of medieval Europe and to some extent in aristocratic life as well. Its origins can be traced to the 8th century and the vows warriors made when they were accepted into Charlemagne\'s royal circle: to uphold the Christian church and the name of the Emperor, to defend the weak and challenge the strong, to avoid the Seven Deadly Sins and practise the Seven Virtues. In medieval literature and art, the distinction is often blurred between knights and saints: for example, St George is depicted as a knight vanquishing a dragon and rescuing a damsel, and Galahad as a saintly, even Christly, figure of purity with supernatural power. This blurring was particularly important, in real terms, at the time of the Crusades. It still promotes a misleadingly romantic image of the Crusades, which were, on the whole, no more than examples of violent adventurism and cultural imperialism.

The chivalric ideal inspired such medieval masterworks as the Grail and Arthur legend-cycles and the Roland epics. Its overspill into real life is apparent in the whole fabric of European feudal society, and in the constitution of many later European courts and aristocratic orders. Shakespeare\'s Henry V, and his English history plays in general, show how prevalent it was even in High Renaissance times. There was a somewhat pallid resurgence in 19th-century Europe, allied to the mock-medievalism of such people as Sir Walter Scott and the Pre-Raphaelites. Inchoate memories of chivalric ideas and behaviour haunt some of the rituals and practices of present-day aristocratic and establishment circles, both in Europe itself and in countries which were once European colonies or dependencies.

Very few value-systems are almost entirely invented by intellectuals and then taken over by real people as the basis of real behaviour and social culture. Chivalry\'s nearest parallel is, perhaps, the Japanese samurai code of Bushido, though that lacks the religious resonance which gave, and to some extent still gives, chivalric ideals such potency. KMcL



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