The word chivalry is derived from the French word, “chevalerie.” The definition of chevalerie is “the skills to handle a horse,” and this was something that was required of knights, especially when they were engaged in combat. However, the term chivalry began to mean something quite different as the Middle Ages progressed.

In 1095, the conversion of knights to Christianity began to take place. The crusades turned into a holy war, which caused the pope to call for the support of knights and nobles. He felt that Jerusalem must be cleansed of Islam and returned to a land of Christianity. He gave all knights the title of Christian warriors and instilled a strict code of ethics to the profession.

From that point on, knights not only fought in battle, but defended and protected children, women and the poor. Knights were required to follow the strict codes of chivalry without question. When battles took place and knights and nobles were captured, their lives were spared and they were held for ransom instead of being killed. These rules did not apply to those of lesser ranks, such as archers and foot soldiers.

Most knights didn’t follow the strict chivalry codes. They continued to loot, plunder and kill on their quests for greatness.


Heraldry is the use of symbols to identify families and individuals. It began as a way of identifying knights during combat or when they participated in tournaments and jousts. During the 13th century, when the barrel helm was introduced, a knight’s face couldn’t be seen. It was imperative to create a method of identification in order to know the difference between an ally and an enemy.

Heraldic symbols ranged from very simple to extremely intricate. Some were basic geometry shapes and others were sophisticated drawings of animals or mythological creatures. Heraldic symbols were passed down through generations and were insignias of great honor. Later, heraldic symbols became significant as a way to identify duchies, kingdoms and provinces. They were used in the same way in which we use flags in today’s society.

Knights wore heraldic symbols on their surcoat, helmet, and shield or on a banner that served to identify rallying points in battle. As long as the knights were in combat, the banner, or standard as it was also called, was kept elevated and well guarded. If the banner was lowered, it was a signal to allied combatants to flee.

Today, heraldry is used as a coat of arms for individual families or as a symbol for clans, such as is used in tartans and kilts.