The True Meaning of a Knight
The Middle Ages were a time in which kings ruled over the people. The knights protected the people, as well as their king and his kingdom, from opposing forces. People think of the knights as honorable and courageous figures of their days. Becoming a knight was a life long commitment. Determination and hard work were key factors in the process. Years of training and other duties to the people prepared them for knighthood. Knights were an essential part of the medieval era in which their hard work and community involvement benefited the people of their time.
The word knight is derived from the Old English word cnight. It was used to describe the earliest figures known as knights, which were French mounted soldiers who came to England after Norman Conquest (Rosenthal 348). There was no set eligibility in becoming a knight, which meant that any man could be a knight. Although, a male could become a knight if he had a father that was a knight or of nobility. Knights themselves acted as recruiting agents (Rosenthal 348). The process of recruiting involved choosing, testing and the arraying of available levies. The next step was to clothe and equip those who were suitable. The recruiting agents would then draw up contracts with kings for number and type of soldiers they d provide. The overseers of the contracts would sub-contract with the soldiers acquired and determine their rate of pay and benefits (Turnbull 31). Lords hired some knights to perform household duties during times of peace. In exchange the lords provided their armor. During 1100 1300 most knights became vassals and received some land. There was also a cost increase and only wealthy men could equip themselves (Rosenthal 348).
Training, for those who were born into the role of knighthood, began mainly at the age of seven. From birth until the age of seven, a boy would live with his family. During this time he would learn to ride a pony and care for horses. When he reached seven years old, he became known as a page (Rosenthal 348). The page left home and started training in the household of a knight or nobleman. There he learned to use small weapons and the code of courtesy and the behavior expected of knights. At the age of fifteen or sixteen, he became known as a squire. His role as a squire usually lasted for five or six years. The squire acted as a valet, or personal servant, to his master. Training became seriously intense with education as mounted soldier (Rosenthal 348). His duties also included setting the table and serving meals. The squire was also no able to take part in battles with his mentor. On the battlefield, he wore silver spurs to distinguish him from knight. After training was complete, the honor of being knighted took place. The ceremony mostly took place during peacetimes, but could be done on battlefield. The phrase I dub you knight, was always used. When Christianity became closely related to knighthood, religious ceremonies took place. Aspiring knights confessed, fasted, prayed and pledged to use weapons for sacred causes and ideals (Rosenthal 348). They were also required to follow their behavioral code known as chivalry.
In the code of chivalry, a true knight had faith and deep love of Christianity. He would defend the church and even die for it. A knight never surrendered or drew back in face of enemy. In reality the code of honor and loyalty sometimes only applied to his class. Knights acted cruel towards others that were of lower status. Any coward knights that were proven guilty had their sword and spurs broken (Barber 43-45).
The everyday clothing and armor of a knight changed over the course of years. The daily clothing of a knight was rather bulky. They wore a sleeved under tunic made of linen or wool, reaching below knees. Over the sleeved tunic was a sleeveless tunic open at sides and it was fastened with a belt at the waist. Long stockings with leather shoes wore worn on the legs and feet. A cloak was also worn and fastened at the shoulders. In the 1200 s, the tunics were fur lined and had long sleeves and on their head they wore a hood (Rosenthal 350). In the 1300 s the tunics were now buttoned down in front and only covered the upper torso. Their sleeves buttoned tightly from the wrist to elbow. On the lower torso, tight trousers were worn. Jeweled felt hats replaced the hoods and a cape was worn about the shoulder. In the 1400 s, their surcoats were pleated and edged with fur (Rosenthal 350). They were fastened at the waist with a belt. Their sleeves were long, full, and stiff. The shoes that they wore were pointed and curled up. A small chain was used to fasten them to the knee. Similar to the daily clothing, the armor was also hulking. Early knights used cone shaped helmets with projections to protect their nose. A long garment of padded fabric or leather was worn and covered with mail. In the 1300 s a stronger helmet covering the entire head replaced the previous one. Plate armor was added to protect the places the mail didn t. Their shields became smaller in order to shift and protect their face and head. The weapons that they used were a lance, sword, mace and battle-axe. Their sword hung on left side and the dagger on their right. In the later years when gunpowder was used, the new armor was extremely heavy. Knights were lifted onto their horses by a crane. In the battlefield, a different coat of arms was used to distinguish each other. The coat of arms was printed on the shield and surcoat they wore over their armor. The horses wore cloth trappings with the coat of arms. Armor was also used during the tournaments (Rosenthal 350).
The tournaments provided valuable military training, but kings opposed them. They viewed them as bloody and wasteful. The kings also feared that a large number of men could lead to a rebellion. They could only be held with royal permission. If permission was not granted, the punishment was imprisonment and loss of property. Defeated knights had to pay a ransom for his freedom and possessions. The tournaments became a social gathering for ladies and the common people. Jousting was a popular exhibit in a tournament. It was a combat between two men who used blunt weapons in a confined field. Another event that was popular was tilting. Two knights on horseback charged in lists, which were narrow lanes separated by rails to keep the horses apart. The purpose was to knock off your opponent with a blunt lance (Rosenthal 351).
The duties of a knight did not only involve military activities, but also those of the government. In the local aspect of the government, they acted as juries for grand assize. Police duties were also part of their role in the local government. Knights would also take part in administrative work for courts, for instance, the inspections of lands in dispute. In the central government, the knights acted as members of the House of Commons. They were also representatives of the parts of the community where they were from (Barber 21).
Their community involvement and hard work benefited the people of their time. Soon after, knights were no longer needed for military purposes due to the introduction of gunpowder. The term knighthood no longer has any military meaning. The knights of today are in no way related to the knights of the past. In today s society, it is used by the king or queen to bestow honor upon an individual. The true story of a knight will live on in legends and fairy tales. They are now remn