Understanding Chivalry: The Origin and Outlook of Medieval Knights

I presented this talk in the Spring of 2017 at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. For now I am just including the slides and the passages of relevant Old and Middle English, but I will add explanatory paragraphs and recordings of me reading the texts when I get a chance.


HWÆT, WE GAR-DEna in geardagum,
þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!
oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas, syððanærest wearð
feasceaft funden; he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum weorðmyndum þah,
oð þæt him æghwylc ymbsittendra
ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan; þæt wæs god cyning!
Beowulf, ca. 800-900 A.D.


Ande quen þis Bretayn watz bigged bi þis burn rych,
Bolde bredden þerinne, baret þat lofden,
In mony turned tyme tene þat wroȝten.
Mo ferlyes on þis folde han fallen here oft
Þen in any oþer þat I wot, syn þat ilk tyme.
Bot of alle þat here bult, of Bretaygne kynges,
Ay watz Arthur þe hendest, as I haf herde telle.
Forþi an aunter in erde I attle to schawe,
Þat a selly in siȝt summe men hit holden,
And an outtrage awenture of Arthurez wonderez.
If ȝe wyl lysten þis laye bot on littel quile,
I schal telle hit as-tit, as I in toun herde,
with tonge,
As hit is stad and stoken
In stori stif and stronge,
With lel letteres loken,
In londe so hatz ben longe.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ca. 1350 A.D.



Whilom, as olde stories tellen us,
Ther was a duc that highte Theseus;
Of Atthenes he was lord and governour,
And in his tyme swich a conquerour
That gretter was ther noon under the sonne.
Ful many a riche contree hadde he wonne;
What with his wysdom and his chivalrie,
He conquered al the regne of Femenye,
That whilom was ycleped Scithia,
And weddede the queene Ypolita,
And broghte hire hoom with hym in his contree
With muchel glorie and greet solempnytee,
And eek hir yonge suster Emelye.
And thus with victorie and with melodye
Lete I this noble duc to Atthenes ryde,
And al his hoost in armes hym bisyde.
The Knight’s Tale, Geoffrey Chaucer 1390 A.D.


Anone all the knyghtes aroos from the tabyl for to set on Balyn / and kynge Pellam hym self aroos vp fyersly / & sayd knyȝt hast thow slayn my broder / thow shalt dye therfor or thou departe / wel said balen do it your self yis sayde kyng pellā / ther shall no mā haue ado with the / but my self for the loue of my broder / Thenne kyng Pellam cauȝt in his hand a grym wepen and smote egrely at balyn / but balyn put his swerd betwixe his hede and the stroke / and therwith his swerd brest in sonder / And whan balyn was wepenles he ranne in to a chamber for to seke somme wepen / and soo fro chamber to chamber / and no wepen he coude fynde / and alweyes kynge Pellam after hym / And at the last he entryd in to a chambyr that was merueillously wel dyȝte and rychely / and a bedde arayed with clothe of gold the rychest that myghte be thought / and one lyenge theryn / and therby stode a table of clene gold with four pelours of syluer / that bare vp the table / and vpon the table stood a merueillous spere straungely wrought / And whan balyn sawe that spere / he gat it in his hand and torned hym to kyng Pellam / and smote hym passyngly sore with that spere that kynge Pellam felle doune in a swoune / and therwith the castel roofe and wallys brake and fylle to the erthe / and balyn felle doune so that he myghte not stere foote nor hand / And so the moost parte of the castel that was falle doune thorugh that dolorous stroke laye vpon Pellam and balyn thre dayes
Le Morte D’Arthur, Thomas Malory 1485 A.D.