Chivalry in the modern society

Chivalry – an important institution in our culture

Davor Zovko KGCHS

(Published in Acta Locumtenentiae Sueciae et Daniae Ordinis Equestris Sancti Sepulchri Hierosolymitani Nr. 1, 2017.)

Orders and titles fulfill a very important function in modern society. Moreso, or­ders and titles are today more important and more necessary than ever before! Well, such a categorical statement needs to be comprehensively explained.

It is easy to interpret titles, orders and medals as an expression of vanity. But one needs to think a little deeper, in order to reach the real symbolic value of Orders and titles today. In our modern society, there is almost no person for whom the word ”Knight” would be unknown. Moreso, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a child in preschool age who is not capable of giving a rather good definition of a Knight. The word is not only known, but we find it often in everyday communica­tion, in very different situations. This word usually evokes a feeling of admiration.

The reason of this is the fact the Chivalry is a part of our culture, part of our cultural identity. We’ll find Knights in different works of art: novels, dramas, movies, pictu­res, sculptures. Places and cities associated with Knights and Chivalric Orders are often visited by many tourists, driven by different motives. Movies with Knights as the main theme are produced regularly and they always fill cinemas very well. The Knight’s adventure ”Ivanhoe” has become an indispensable Christmas tradition on Swedish television. Novels as well as scientific books about Chivalry are always bestsellers. Knights are well-represented even within the toy industry. There are always either cloaks, shields and swords that children can carry on themselves, or small figures and castles in different materials and designs. There are always tele­vision or computer games about Knights, available in toy stores. The well-known toy manufacturer Lego has regularly had Knights among their product lines, since the ’70s.

Knights and chivalric orders are often of crucial importance in descriptions and analyzes of important historical events. Knights and Chivalric ideals inspire indivi­duals, organizations and movements of different interests and orientations. Knights have also inspired science fiction. A good illustration of that are the “Jedi-Knights” from the famous movie series Star Wars, which has become a worldwide mega-success.

Daily meetings with this phenomenon reminds us about the wellknown Chivalric ideals. Chivalric ideals are an important part of what we call implicit knowledge, knowledge that we possess but which we are not aware of until we – in some situation – might need. Chivalric ideals are an indispensable part in learning good manners. Thanks to Chivalric ideals and our good (implicit) knowledge of them, we describe many situations in life with Chivalry as a metaphor. We often hear, for example, that someone has acted “as a Knight” in a given situation. Directly, with­out knowing anything about the actual person or the actual situation, we can ra­ther accurately guess how this person has acted. Similarly, we easily understand the metaphors as: Knights of morality, Knights of fair economy, drug-free Knights, Knights of justice, Knights of free speech, etc.

The Real Chivalry existing today

But the knights and the Chivalric ideals are not only reliquiae of history in our cul­ture. The real Chivalry still exists in following forms:

  1. Official reward system in many states and countries. Almost all states of the world reward their own and foreign citizens who have made meritorious contri­butions. Virtually all European countries – among them even Sweden – have their own official reward system consisting of knightly orders.
  2. Military Chivalric orders within the Christian Churches. Within the Roman Catholic Church as well as in some Lutheran churches, real Chivalric Orders, insti­tuted in the Middle Ages, still exist today. Knighthood has thus survived in its original form in these Christian churches.
  3. Knight as a title of nobility is a hereditary title ranked directly under the title of Baron (Friherre in Sweden). In general, even these titles were bestowed through Chivalric Orders. The official name of Swedish Association of Nobility is “Swedich Chivalry and Nobility”.

Only orders awarded by the sovereign, recognized states, governments and re­gents, are real Orders of Chivalry. Real Orders are governmental institutions regu­lated within the domain of Public Law. Numerous associations that by their own initiative call themselves ”Orders” and “Knights” are not real Orders of Chivalry. They are only private associations regulated within domain of Private Law and cre­ated simply thanks to the citizens’ freedom of association. Such compounds we can consider more like an organized form of praising the chivalric ideals. Real Orders of Knights have no secret operations, secret meetings or any other kind of secret rituals. Secret rituals occur only in so-called fraternal organizations, which also may be inspired by the ideals of Chivalry.

Chivalry plays an important role today

What are the important roles that Chivalric Orders play in the modern society?

Real Chivalric titles are always bestowed by sovereign states, always for the pur­pose of awarding outstanding merits. Persons awarded with Orders are persons who have made great meritorious deeds for people in need, for their country or for human society in general. Orders are awarded solely by the responsible Autho­rity’s own initiative. The rewarded person usually does not know anything about the Authority’s intention to award them. Still less do the rewarded people think about rewards and Orders, when they – often throughout the whole life and with a great passion – complete their life work or the task that is later awarded. A good illustration are prominent sportsmen and women. In 2007, the renowned Croatian athlete Blanka Vlašić was awarded an Order in Croatia. It is impossible to believe that Blanka thought about rewards and orders, when she so passionately practiced her favorite sport, and when she won so many fine medals at international competitions.

The same rule applies to all persons awarded with orders: they are always driven by the passion for their work, not by some romantic dream of Knights and even less by the ambition to get some titles. The greatest joy of a genuine altruist comes from knowing that his/her efforts have helped someone or have contributed to a better society. And that is the first function of Orders: they are a visible proof that the awarded person’s efforts really have made a difference, really have brought benefits to the needy or to the society. Thus, the Orders’ first function is to confirm to the awarded person that his or her long-lasting good work really has resulted in something good. Orders´ second function in the modern society is to be an impor­tant signal to the whole society, that shows that long-lasting dedication to good work still is appreciated. Today, many old values are being rejected and replaced by some new values, values of doubtful values: money that is “earned” quickly and without hard work, quick and superficial “popularity”, or similar “ideals”. Media noise around us sometimes creates the impression that it is only money and popularity that we need in our lives, that they will make us happy and that they must be achieved immediately and at all costs. Without deeper reflection, young people participate in the meaningless TV shows where they often only do different kinds of futilities and nonsense. The only thing they get is a few minutes in front of TV cameras. In some cases, even mature persons are tempted to act in a way that they normally would not. The only thing they get is easily earned money.

Therefore, the Orders and the titles are today more important than ever: they also provide a popularity. But this popularity is given to people who work in silence, usually for many decades, people who are not impressed by the quick profits and easy-won minutes in the media but rather by doing something good for other people. Not infrequently these persons make great sacrifices for other people’s sake. These persons really have acted in accordance with the teachings of Jesus who said that one should first care about the heavenly and that everything else will be given (Matthew 6:33). Today, when young generations need to learn to look critically at all the messages coming from the media noise, it is more impor­tant than ever to show them that the old values like compassion, generosity, soli­darity, selflessness, caring for one’s neighbor and unconditional love, still exist and still are esteemed!

Thus, the Chivalric titles and Orders should be worn with unbridled pride and even extra visible. Wasn’t it said that a lamp should not be lit and then hidden under a bowl, but instead held high so that everybody can see the light (Matthew 5:15; Luke 11:33)? By wearing the Orders and titles with pride we should inspire others, especially the young, to devote their life to caring for other human beings, an atti­tude so needed in our modern society.


By wearing the Orders and titles with pride we should inspire others, especially the young, to devote their life to caring for other human beings, an attitude so needed in our modern society: Insignia and Decree of appointment of H. E. Ingemar Eliasson, Chancellor of the Royal Swedish Orders of Chivalry, a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the EOHSJ. Photo: Davor Zovko

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