Chivalry passed its meridian and began to decline when it became a ridiculous mania for renown. Knighthood was no longer the reward of high-minded virtue, but was bestowed on any man who had wealth or power to obtain it for his own selfish purposes. The profligacy of the troubadours was open and flagrant; the crusaders, who made the pilgrimage to the hole sepulcher in expiation of their sins, fearfully added to the list on their way; poor knights, who had no money to pay for their retainers, made no scruple of obtaining it by robbery and violence, and wandered about in the quest of adventures, letting out their swords to richer brethren; women departed from the modesty which had procured them homage, and bestowed their smiles so indiscriminately that they lost their value.
Yet, as the affection of anything is always more excessive than the reality, the exploits of the knights during the rapid decline of chivalry were more outrageously fantastical than they had ever been. It was common for a cavalier to post himself in some very pubic place, and fight every gentleman that passed, unless he instantly acknowledged that the lady of his affections was the handsomest and most virtuous lady in the world; and if, as often happened, he was met by one as mad as himself, who insisted upon maintaining the superior charms of his dulcinea, a deadly combat ensued.
At the beginning of the fourteenth century, a society of ladies and gentlemen was formed at Poictou, called the Penitents of Love. In order to show that love could effect the strongest metamorphosis, they covered themselves with furred mantles and sat before large fires in the heat of summer, while in winter they wore the slightest possible covering. Thus chivalry became an absurd and disgusting mockery, and was finally laughed out of the world by the witty Cervantes.
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.