Author: Ian Michie

a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
ENTRY

Virginia Cavalier, The

The Virginia Cavalier is a concept that attaches the qualities of chivalry and honor to the aristocratic class in Virginia history and literature. Its origin lies in the seventeenth century, when leading Virginians began to associate themselves with the Royalists, or Cavaliers, who fought for and remained loyal to King Charles I during the English Civil Wars (1642–1648). The myth gained popularity in nineteenth-century southern literature by authors such as George Tucker, William Alexander Caruthers, John Esten Cooke, and Mary Johnston, whose work presented a romanticized masculine portrait of the elite authority in Virginia in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries and expressed nostalgia for Virginia’s supposedly aristocratic origins. Tying into a history that progressed from patriarchal to paternal, the Cavalier myth reinforced the illusion of benevolent male authority during the antebellum and post–Civil War periods, and is still present in modern iconography depicting Virginia’s past. By circulating a version of Virginia history that is dominated by the ruling class, the Cavalier myth marginalizes the role that other groups played in the state’s social development and disregards the growth of the institution of slavery under an ethos of supposed honor and benevolence.

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