Our popular ideas of the chivalric world are off base, according to historian Richard Kaeuper. The gallant knights on horseback and banners unfurling before exciting tournaments largely come from people in the 19th century who saw the Middle Ages through a romantic haze.
Chivalry was a violent, often grisly, phenomenon. “It’s hands-on cutting and thrusting. It’s a very bloody profession, and [people from the last several centuries] admire it to excess,” says Kaeuper, a professor at the University of Rochester. But he also insists that chivalry is more than a timeless warrior code.