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27 Jul

Medieval Knights and Knighthood

Medieval knights were mounted warriors who held land in return for military service. Originally, the title of a knight could have been earned exclusively through military achievements and some knights originated from the lower classes of medieval society. However, eventually the knights could became only male descendants of knighted men, while knightly families became regarded as noble. Despite that the title of a knight could not be inherited and every noble had to go through a long process before becoming a knight.

The process of becoming a knight started in early childhood usually around age of 7 or 8 years when a boy was sent to his lord’s household where he started his training to become a knight. The boy served as a page, kind of waiter and personal servant to his elders from about of 7 to 14 years of age. Page was also taught knightly virtues and conduct as well as battle techniques. Page became a squire, a personal servant of the knight at about 14 years of age and followed the knight in the battles when old enough. Some squires were knighted for their outstanding performances on the battlefields but they were usually knighted by their lord when latter considered the training to be completed which was usually at 21 years of age.

Knighthood was formally conferred with a ceremony known as the accolade performed by the king or overlord with a stroke with the flat of the sword on the neck or shoulder of the future knight. Accolade was usually preceded by religious ceremony which featured praying, fasting, blessing the weapons, bad of purification and keeping vigil after the 12th century.

After being formally knighted the knights served the mightier lords or were hired by them. Some knights held land and castles, while the others were landless and joined various military orders. However, rules were often broken and some knights even turned to organized crime. Besides the so-called robber knights or robber barons some knights did not swore alliance neither to a liege lord nor to a military order. They were known as the knights-errants wandering the land and searching for adventures to prove themselves as knights.

The ceremony of conferring knighthood

Accolade by Edmund Blair Leighton

The knights played the key role in medieval warfare and were often a decisive factor in the outcome of the medieval battles. They usually formed the heavy cavalry which eventually became the elite warrior caste of the Medieval Times. The knights had to respond the call of their overlord or king to go to war at anytime and thus to regularly maintain their military equipment. The knights could sometimes avoid going to war by paying a scutage but eventually every knight had to participate in a military campaign. In that case the knight was usually accompanied by armed escort consisting of his vassals, personal attendants (squires and pages) and servants. The knight could led his troops under his own banner or joining troops under another’s banner. A knight fighting under his own banner was called the knight banneret or simply banneret, while a knight fighting under another’s banner was known as the knight bachelor.

The importance of the knights as the professional fighting class began to decline by the end of the Medieval Times for various reasons. The feudal lords began to consider the duties of knighthood to onerous, while the monarchs began to prefer the standing armies led by officers over knights. Such development resulted in the implementation of a regular payment of scutage, a money payment instead of active military service which led to further disintegration of medieval institution of knighthood.

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