Knights in the Middle Ages were mounted soldiers who held land in exchange for military service.
Originally, the title of knight could only be obtained through military achievements, and some knights came from the lower classes of mediaeval society. However, knights would eventually become only male descendants of knighted men, while knightly families were regarded as nobles. Regardless, the title of knight could not be inherited, and each noble had to go through a lengthy process before becoming a knight.
The process of becoming a knight began in early childhood, typically around the age of 7 or 8 years, when a boy was sent to his lord’s household to begin his training to become a knight. From the age of 7 to 14, the boy worked as a page, a type of waiter, and a personal servant to his elders. A page was also taught knightly virtues and behaviour, as well as battle tactics. When a page reached the age of 14, he or she became a squire, the knight’s personal servant, and when old enough, he or she joined the knight in battle. Some squires were knighted for outstanding battlefield performances, but they were usually knighted by their lord when the latter considered the training to be completed, which was usually at the age of 21.
Knighthood was formally conferred through a ceremony known as the accolade, which was performed by the king or overlord with a stroke with the flat of the sword on the future knight’s neck or shoulder. After the 12th century, acclaim was usually preceded by a religious ceremony that included praying, fasting, blessing the weapons, bad of purification, and keeping vigil.
After being formally knighted, knights either served or were hired by the mightier lords. Some knights possessed land and castles, while others were landless and belonged to various military orders. However, rules were frequently broken, and some knights even became involved in organised crime. Aside from the so-called robber knights or robber barons, some knights refused to swear allegiance to a liege lord or a military order. They were known as knights-errants because they roamed the land looking for adventures to prove their worth as knights.
The knights played a crucial role in mediaeval warfare and were frequently decisive in the outcome of mediaeval battles. They were usually part of the heavy cavalry, which evolved into the elite warrior caste of the Medieval Times. The knights had to respond to their overlord’s or king’s call to go to war at any time, which required them to regularly maintain their military equipment. The knights could sometimes avoid going to war by paying a scutage, but every knight was eventually forced to participate in a military campaign. In that case, the knight was usually escorted by an armed escort made up of his vassals, personal attendants (squires and pages), and servants. The knight could either lead his troops under his own banner or join troops under the banner of another. A knight fighting under his own banner was known as the knight banneret or simply banneret, whereas a knight fighting under the banner of another was known as the knight bachelor.
For a variety of reasons, the importance of knights as a professional fighting class began to wane by the end of the Middle Ages. The feudal lords began to regard knighthood’s duties as onerous, while the monarchs began to prefer standing armies led by officers over knights. As a result of this development, the mediaeval institution of knighthood was further disintegrated by the implementation of a regular payment of scutage, a monetary payment instead of active military service.
Chivalry is more or less associated with the mediaeval institution of knighthood and was renowned for its dominance on the battlefields as early as the Middle Ages. After the 9th century, cavalries or knights were regarded as special elite forces made up of wealthy knights and noblemen who could afford expensive armour, horses, and weapons.
The term chivalry comes from the French word chevalier, which means “one who rides and fights on a horse.” In the Middle Ages, the term also referred to a set of ethnical ideals associated with knightly virtues, conduct, and courtly love. Today, the terms chivalry and chivalrous are frequently used to describe men’s behaviour toward women.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Medieval Knights and Knighthood" https://englishhistory.net/middle-ages/medieval-knights/, January 12, 2022