Sinnful Cents -- Chivalry, Courtly Love, and the Case of Harry Dresden

Sitting down to lunch with a friend on Saturday -- who shall be called Ninja -- we started discussing The Dresden Files. Through various circumstances, we are both reading through the books. He keeps waffling on whether he will finish the series; however, in the interim, it is nice to talk to him about the books. We have both discovered we share a lot of the same opinions about the books. Reading through the books, we both find that Harry is too "knight-in-shining-armor." Not only is it extremely unbelievable, but I have to wonder if the author is using Harry as a Marty-Stu. The other thing that annoys me -- and Ninja -- is the continual comment that he is just being chivalrous. I keep asking myself, "Why can't Butcher just call it being 'courteous' or 'polite'?"

After posting my views on the Twilight series, I found that I enjoyed Sinnful 2¢. However, I have been struggling to find a topic to write about. After the conversation with Ninja, my husband suggested that I write a rant about it. Studying medieval lit. for years, I find the concept of chivalry -- or the modern interpretation of it -- to be kind of offensive. It annoys me that people call common courtesy chivalry. So, with that, I very enthusiastically dove into research in an attempt to write my rant. However, after our move, I cannot locate all of my medieval books, so I had to rely on internet sources and various papers I wrote throughout my college career.

With that in mind, here's my 2¢:


The word chivalry comes from French word, chevalier. Basically, as my medieval professor always said, it means "guy on a horse." However, it came to be known as a code of ethics to govern knights and their actions. Before the period of chivalry, knights were a feudal lord's "everyday-grunt." Their behavior was vile and inappropriate. They often pillaged, enjoyed the spoils of war, and treated the enemies in a a manner not befitting what modern times views as a knight. To combat this issue, a code of conduct was made in order to govern them. However, the Bishop Etiene Fougeres felt that the lower classes were not civilized enough to follow this new code. "In 1241, Henry boosted the Bishop's cause by declaring that English gentlemen with a certain amount of property would be classified as a knight." (Sara Dustin)

Okay, getting that out of the way, here is a definition of chivalry: It is an institution of knighthood, which refers to a group of mounted men. The 12th century has chivalry as ". . . a moral, religious and social code of knightly conduct . . ." Further, it ". . . idealized life and manners of a knight at home in his castle with his court." (Wikipedia)

There are three major duties a chivalric knight must follow:
  • Duties to countrymen and fellow Christians
  • Duties to God
  • Duties to women
With this last duty, we enter into the realm of courtly love.

Courtly Love

In Europe during the middle ages, marriages were not based on love. Quite the contrary, marriage was for alliances, furthering families, elevating status, and so on. In an attempt to allow the nobility a chance to express this desire, courtly love was born. However, since it was limited to the nobility, the ideal lady was one of higher status or the employer's wife (in the case of Lancelot, it was Guinevere). According to the New World Encyclopedia,
Courtly love was a medieval European conception of nobility and chivalrously expressing love and was secret and between members of nobility. It was not practiced between husband and wife.

Andreas Capellanus wrote down the rules of courtly love in De Amore (Concerning Love). While they are too numerous to fully list here, this is the first four:
  • Marriage is no excuse for not loving
  • He who is not jealous cannot love
  • No one can be bound by a double love
  • When made public love rarely endures
He also states that "there have been only four degrees in love . . .":
  • The first consists in arousing hope
  • The second in offering kisses
  • The third in the enjoyment of intimate embraces
  • The fourth in the abandonment of the entire person
In addition, he states that young peasant women should not be involved in courtly love. If she cannot be "put aside," she is to be taken by force. After which, the knight needs to move onto a lady deserving of courtly attentions.

With the three duties a knight must follow, the Virgin Mary ends up becoming the ideal model for women and the lady at the centre of courtly love. This, of course, proves to be problematic. "It involves a paradoxical tension between erotic desire and spiritual attainment."


I have written several papers on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (SGGK). The idea of women being the central controlling force in the story has always fascinates me. Women have always been seen as less than; however, I believe that, through courtly love, women are able to dictate how the court should act.

When the audience first meets Gawain, his courtly love ties are to the Virgin and Guinevere. However, through a course of events, he ends up turning from his Lady and the Virgin while rejecting his knightly duties of courtly love.
While there are several arguments against Morgan being at the crux of the poem, there is just enough evidence to prove it. However, it would be fair to state that, not just Morgan, but also the other women had a crucial card to play in the poem. The battle between the women represents the inherent battle between good and evil; furthermore, it also symbolizes the struggle between the factions of knighthood and the warring loyalties. The poem is used to say that chivalry is flawed because of its inherent contradictions, which are shown through the conflicts of the women. The Gawain poet is trying to show the readers that even a perfect knight cannot be perfect; they cannot be held to those standards, because they will inevitable fail. Gawain realizes this and tries to change; however, he finds that he lives in a world that does not allow that change to take place. (Sunderman 11)

So, to be blunt, it is impossible to be a secular knight and a sacred knight. Further, because of the natures of knightly chivalric duties, a knight is inherently set up to fail. One cannot honour/pursue his lady, partake in courtly love, and honour the Church and the Virgin.

Harry Dresden

At the very basic level, chivalry means you are of the knightly class. You have some level of nobility, and you must pursue your lord's lady at some level. You are to become her champion, you are to compare every woman to her, and so on. And, yes, in the middle of it chivalry is also a code of conduct. However, it cannot be fully removed from courtly love and vice versa. I just find myself frustrated with Dresden using chivalry as an excuse for his stupidity. Would a knight hold the door for his lady? Yes. Would he exalt a far away love? Yes. Would a knight do the same for a woman of lower breeding? No. With the truth of chivalry and courtly love, I would rather say that a gentleman is being polite.

Harry just needs to can the crap, admit that he's too overly stupid, and get on with life. Brainlessness, being duped by women, and being just plain stupid does not count as chivalry. Just admit that Harry has a "knight-in-shining-armor" complex and refuses to use his brain rather than his penis. Grow up, sprout a pair, and act like an adult!

And, just to add insult to injury, could Butcher be a little less obvious with Harry's status as a Marty-Stu? I understand that characters are somewhat a reflection of the author, but seriously?

Well, that's my 2¢ angel


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"If you’re a freak like me, Wave your flag! If you’re a freak like me, Get off your ass! It’s our time now, To let it all hang out!" I am a recovering English major, closet bibliophile, breve addicted, zombie lover with a rockabilly and heavy metal fetish.