Page protected with pending changes


Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

A 14th century depiction of the 13th century German knight Hartmann von Aue
, from the Codex Manesse.

A knight is a person granted an honorary title of knighthood by a head of state (including the Pope) or representative for service to the monarch, the church or the country, especially in a military capacity.[1][2] Knighthood finds origins in the Greek hippeis and hoplite (ἱππεῖς) and Roman eques and centurion of classical antiquity.[3]

In the Early Middle Ages in Europe, knighthood was conferred upon mounted warriors.[4] During the High Middle Ages, knighthood was considered a class of lower nobility. By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior. Often, a knight was a vassal who served as an elite fighter or a bodyguard for a lord, with payment in the form of land holdings.[5] The lords trusted the knights, who were skilled in battle on horseback. Knighthood in the Middle Ages was closely linked with horsemanship (and especially the joust) from its origins in the 12th century until its final flowering as a fashion among the high nobility in the Duchy of Burgundy in the 15th century. This linkage is reflected in the etymology of chivalry, cavalier and related terms. In that sense, the special prestige accorded to mounted warriors in Christendom finds a parallel in the furusiyya in the Islamic world. The Crusades brought various military orders of knights to the forefront of defending Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land.[6]

In the Late Middle Ages, new methods of warfare began to render classical knights in armour obsolete, but the titles remained in many countries. Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I is often referred to as the "last knight" in this regard.[7][8] The ideals of chivalry were popularized in medieval literature, particularly the literary cycles known as the Matter of France, relating to the legendary companions of Charlemagne and his men-at-arms, the paladins, and the Matter of Britain, relating to the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

Today, a number of orders of knighthood continue to exist in Christian Churches, as well as in several historically Christian countries and their former territories, such as the Roman Catholic Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the Protestant Order of Saint John, as well as the English Order of the Garter, the Swedish Royal Order of the Seraphim, and the Order of St. Olav. There are also dynastic orders like the Order of the Golden Fleece, the Order of the British Empire and the Order of St. George. In modern times these are orders centered around charity and civic service, and are no longer military orders. Each of these orders has its own criteria for eligibility, but knighthood is generally granted by a head of state, monarch, or prelate to selected persons to recognise some meritorious achievement, as in the British honours system, often for service to the Church or country. The modern female equivalent in the English language is Dame. Knighthoods and damehoods are traditionally regarded as being one of the most prestigious awards people can obtain.[9]


The word knight, from Old English cniht ("boy" or "servant"),[10] is a cognate of the German word Knecht ("servant, bondsman, vassal").[11] This meaning, of unknown origin, is common among West Germanic languages (cf Old Frisian kniucht, Dutch knecht, Danish knægt, Swedish knekt, Norwegian knekt, Middle High German kneht, all meaning "boy, youth, lad").[10] Middle High German had the phrase guoter kneht, which also meant knight; but this meaning was in decline by about 1200.[12]

The meaning of cniht changed over time from its original meaning of "boy" to "household retainer". Ælfric's homily of St. Swithun describes a mounted retainer as a cniht. While cnihtas might have fought alongside their lords, their role as household servants features more prominently in the Anglo-Saxon texts. In several Anglo-Saxon wills cnihtas are left either money or lands. In his will, King Æthelstan leaves his cniht, Aelfmar, eight hides of land.[13]

A rādcniht, "riding-servant", was a servant on horseback.[14]

A narrowing of the generic meaning "servant" to "military follower of a king or other superior" is visible by 1100. The specific military sense of a knight as a mounted warrior in the heavy cavalry emerges only in the Hundred Years' War. The verb "to knight" (to make someone a knight) appears around 1300; and, from the same time, the word "knighthood" shifted from "adolescence" to "rank or dignity of a knight".

An Equestrian (Latin, from eques "horseman", from equus "horse")[15] was a member of the second highest social class in the Roman Republic and early Roman Empire. This class is often translated as "knight"; the medieval knight, however, was called miles in Latin (which in classical Latin meant "soldier", normally infantry).[16][17][18]

In the later Roman Empire, the classical Latin word for horse, equus, was replaced in common parlance by the vulgar Latin caballus, sometimes thought to derive from Gaulish caballos.[19] From caballus arose terms in the various Romance languages cognate with the (French-derived) English cavalier: Italian cavaliere, Spanish caballero, French chevalier (whence chivalry), Portuguese cavaleiro, and Romanian cavaler.[20] The Germanic languages have terms cognate with the English rider: German Ritter, and Dutch and Scandinavian ridder. These words are derived from Germanic rīdan, "to ride", in turn derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *reidh-.[21]

Evolution of medieval knighthood

Pre-Carolingian legacies

In ancient Rome there was a knightly class Ordo Equestris (order of mounted nobles). Some portions of the armies of Germanic peoples who occupied Europe from the 3rd century AD onward had been mounted, and some armies, such as those of the Ostrogoths, were mainly cavalry.[22] However, it was the Franks who generally fielded armies composed of large masses of infantry, with an infantry elite, the comitatus, which often rode to battle on horseback rather than marching on foot. When the armies of the Frankish ruler Charles Martel defeated the Umayyad Arab invasion at the Battle of Tours in 732, the Frankish forces were still largely infantry armies, with elites riding to battle but dismounting to fight.

Carolingian age

In the

A Norman knight slaying Harold Godwinson (Bayeux tapestry, c. 1070). The rank of knight developed in the 12th century from the mounted warriors of the 10th and 11th centuries.

These mobile mounted warriors made Charlemagne's far-flung conquests possible, and to secure their service he rewarded them with grants of land called benefices.[24] These were given to the captains directly by the Emperor to reward their efforts in the conquests, and they in turn were to grant benefices to their warrior contingents, who were a mix of free and unfree men. In the century or so following Charlemagne's death, his newly empowered warrior class grew stronger still, and Charles the Bald declared their fiefs to be hereditary, and also issued the Edict of Pîtres in 864, largely moving away from the infantry-based traditional armies and calling upon all men who could afford it to answer calls to arms on horseback to quickly repel the constant and wide-ranging Viking attacks, which is considered the beginnings of the period of knights that were to become so famous and spread throughout Europe in the following centuries. The period of chaos in the 9th and 10th centuries, between the fall of the Carolingian central authority and the rise of separate Western and Eastern Frankish kingdoms (later to become France and Germany respectively) only entrenched this newly landed warrior class. This was because governing power and defense against Viking, Magyar and Saracen attack became an essentially local affair which revolved around these new hereditary local lords and their demesnes.[25]

Multiple Crusades & Military Orders

The battle between the Turks and Christian knights during the Ottoman wars in Europe

Clerics and the Church often opposed the practices of the Knights because of their abuses against women and civilians, and many such as St. Bernard, were convinced that the Knights served the devil and not God and needed reforming.[29] In the course of the 12th century knighthood became a social rank, with a distinction being made between milites gregarii (non-noble cavalrymen) and milites nobiles (true knights).[30] As the term "knight" became increasingly confined to denoting a social rank, the military role of fully armoured cavalryman gained a separate term, "man-at-arms". Although any medieval knight going to war would automatically serve as a man-at-arms, not all men-at-arms were knights.

The first military orders of knighthood were the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and the Knights Hospitaller, both founded shortly after the First Crusade of 1099, followed by the Order of Saint Lazarus (1100), Knights Templars (1118) and the Teutonic Knights (1190). At the time of their foundation, these were intended as monastic orders, whose members would act as simple soldiers protecting pilgrims.

It was only over the following century, with the successful conquest of the Holy Land and the rise of the crusader states, that these orders became powerful and prestigious.

The great European legends of warriors such as the paladins, the Matter of France and the Matter of Britain popularized the notion of chivalry among the warrior class.[31][32] The ideal of chivalry as the ethos of the Christian warrior, and the transmutation of the term "knight" from the meaning "servant, soldier", and of chevalier "mounted soldier", to refer to a member of this ideal class, is significantly influenced by the Crusades, on one hand inspired by the military orders of monastic warriors, and on the other hand also cross-influenced by Islamic (Saracen) ideals of furusiyya.[32][33]

Knightly culture in the Middle Ages


The institution of knights was already well-established by the 10th century.[34] While the knight was essentially a title denoting a military office, the term could also be used for positions of higher nobility such as landholders. The higher nobles grant the vassals their portions of land (fiefs) in return for their loyalty, protection, and service. The nobles also provided their knights with necessities, such as lodging, food, armour, weapons, horses, and money.[35] The knight generally held his lands by military tenure which was measured through military service that usually lasted 40 days a year. The military service was the quid pro quo for each knight's fief. Vassals and lords could maintain any number of knights, although knights with more military experience were those most sought after. Thus, all petty nobles intending to become prosperous knights needed a great deal of military experience.[34] A knight fighting under another's banner was called a knight bachelor while a knight fighting under his own banner was a knight banneret.


A knight had to be born of nobility – typically sons of knights or lords.[35] In some cases commoners could also be knighted as a reward for extraordinary military service. Children of the nobility were cared for by noble foster-mothers in castles until they reached age seven.

The seven-year-old boys were given the title of page and turned over to the care of the castle's lords. They were placed on an early training regime of hunting with huntsmen and falconers, and academic studies with priests or chaplains. Pages then become assistants to older knights in battle, carrying and cleaning armour, taking care of the horses, and packing the baggage. They would accompany the knights on expeditions, even into foreign lands. Older pages were instructed by knights in swordsmanship, equestrianism, chivalry, warfare, and combat (but using wooden swords and spears).


When the boy turned 14, he became a

David I of Scotland knighting a squire

Squires were required to master the “seven points of agilities” – riding, swimming and diving, shooting different types of weapons, climbing, participation in tournaments, wrestling, fencing, long jumping, and dancing – the prerequisite skills for knighthood. All of these were even performed while wearing armor.[36]