knight was "a mounted warrior in the service of his liege-lord." Knights were professional soldiers. They were higher in rank in the cavalry. They wore coat of arms that bore the names of their heritage. They carried the colors of their Lords. (Hopkins, 1990) Their job was protecting the lands that belonged to their Lords and by extension the domain of the king. The rise of knights was associated with a martial meritocracy and an eventual aristo-meritocracy. Those knights who won battles for their masters rose through the hierarchical ranks. They were accorded greater power, lands and servants. The raison d' tre for knights was martial supremacy. Fighting was an often occurrence, because the common person could not defend themselves against an invading foe. In time of danger the people fled to the castle. When not engaged in combat, knights would participate in tournaments to win favors, power, and money. Often times, this would also lead to courtships -- the winner got a chance at the hand of the "Queen of the Tournament" -- a buxom beauty.
Horses were critical to a knight's service. In France he was a 'Chevalier', in Italy a 'Cavalier', in Spain a 'Caballero', and in Germany a 'Ritter', from the word meaning 'to ride'. Even the name for the code by which the knight was later bound. It is only in England that the etymology of a horse cannot be traced back to horse. It came from the Anglo-Saxon word 'Cniht', meaning household retainer or servant. It wasn't until the 12th Century that knighthood and chivalry become inextricably associated with gentility. To this day, being a knight is synonymous with being chivalrous -- once again from the French cheval.
In order to understand how the concept of knighthood arose, historical perspective is necessary. There are four distinct periods in the history of chivalry. The first was associated with the Crusades. Here the knights rose to defeat the rise of Islam in the Holy Land of Christ's birth. The Church took knights under her protection, and conferred temporal and spiritual privileges, so that Knights were free to do Christian work without the sin of violence. In the second period, after freeing Jerusalem, knights became responsible for protecting the spreading Christian world. In addition, they also got the added mandate of being aggressors against the non-believers. After the Crusades lost their appeal, the honor associated with knighthood persisted. This manifested itself in war between countries. The battles between Britain and France, which involved such luminaries such as Black Prince, Chandos and Tabot for the Britons; while the exploits of Franks, Du Guesclin, Boucicaut, and Dunois are legend. The fourth period of knight's history lies in the merely decorative. This period, in a manner of speaking, marked the demise of knighthood. As the need for knights reduced as wars between nations ended, their most serious business was the sport of jousts and tournaments. (Gies, 1986)
Besides the above historical references, it is necessary to recognize the place of knights in society in various countries of Europe -- the feudal system. This top down hierarchy was established as a departure from centrally controlled empires as a protection against countries being attacked. The origins of the word feudal come from the Latin, feodum. In Western Europe, from the ninth century into the fifteenth century, feudalism was the system of government. In this system, officials and nobles in small areas became powerful and important. Kings, princes, dukes, and counts gave certain rights to less important nobles in return for their support. This created a way of life that determined how everyone lived, from the king to the poorest serf, or peasant. In 500 years, feudalism ended when rulers of country regained their power.
Important factors under the feudal system were vassalage and fiefdoms. Vassalage was an honorable and personal relationship between two men of the ruling class. For example, dukes were vassals of a king. The king conferred authority and lands upon the duke or other noblemen. For the honors conferred, the noble would be called to pay homage. This solemn oath was called the oath of fealty. The acts of homage and fealty created an arrangement that was of mutual advantage to the king and the noble. Often, the king also granted the noble a fief -- an area of land. Peasants who in feudalism were called serfs tilled the land. Serfs possessed almost no rights -- democratic and socialist thinking arose from the hardships suffered by the serfs. The nobles, in turn, supported the monarchs by supplying them with knights who went to war in the name of the king. Usually the arrangement was specific as to just how many knights and how many days a year they had to serve the king. Sometimes the knights or other soldiers had to be supplied to defend one of the king's castles. The most powerful nobles, the dukes, the earls, and the counts, often held several fiefs and they in turn accepted lesser nobles as their vassals and granted them the same rights in some of their lands that they had received from the king. Thus, when the king called on a very important noble for the knights he had promised, that nobleman in turn called on his own vassals to supply the fighting men they had promised. This was the general system of government in a country. The various nobles, all of them trained to be warriors, lived on the lands granted then by the lord next above, up to the king himself. They ruled the lives of all the people on their land. Nearly everyone helped in farming and, for the most part, food and clothing materials came from the manor lands around the castle. (Tappan, 1913) knight of the Middle Ages, almost without exception was born a member of the noble class. Noble birth was not a guarantee for knighthood. He had to earn this rank through long and hard training. He began to learn to ride a horse and to use arms almost as soon as he could walk. At the age of seven a vassal was presented with a boy who was a potential knight. During his younger years he would be called in France a valet, which meant a little vassal, and in England a page. When he was about 14, he got a new title-squire. After that he was attached to a knight and accompanied him and assisted him. In battle, the squire carried the knight's reserve of arms and led his extra horse, if he had one. He helped put on the knight's armor, and aided him if he was wounded. In time of peace, he practiced with all the weapons of the day and fought sham battles with other squires. Finally, when he was well trained and especially if he had already proved himself a warrior in battle, he was rewarded with knighthood. (Turnbull, 1985)
The conferring of knighthood was a special ceremony. It was also very solemn. The ceremony was generally performed by the boy's father, or by his overlord. The new knight was presented with the arms and was given the "accolade," a blow on the neck or shoulders, delivered either with the hand or the flat of a sword. In the later days of feudalism, this ceremony was preceded by a night-long vigil before a church altar. In some cases, a squire who showed particular bravery was beknighted right on the field of battle. In Great Britain, men are still made knights by touching him on the shoulder with a sword -- knighthood is conferred, of course, for accomplishments in different fields.
When not engaged in actual warfare, knights often took part in tournaments. These would be sports of today -- or perhaps, even military maneuvers. At first they were battles in a very real sense, except that they were planned in advance and there were rules agreed upon. Toward the end of the twelfth and into the early thirteenth century, a tournament was a serious and bloody affair between two groups of knights. If lances were broken, combat was continued with swords. The victor could claim the horse and arms of his opponent unless the latter ransomed them for a sum of money. It was good training for soldiers in a way, but it was dangerous. Later, the tournaments became somewhat more like boxing or fencing matches, so that skill was tested, but actual injuries with sword and lance were not inflicted. These sports involved jousting, mounted combat, foot combat, gaming joust (where the lance pierced a target such as a suspended ring), melee, wrestling and horsemanship. Often such affairs were held in an open space in front of a castle.
Knights were bound by loyalty to a Christian God, King and their Master. But they also came to be recognized for their chivalry. Stories of knight in shining armor rescuing the damsel in were legend. In this code of behavior the important facets were: Prowess-excellence…