In the early Middle Ages the term knight designated a professional fighting man in the emerging Feudal system. Some were as poor as the Peasant class. However, over time, as this class of fighter became more prominent in post-Carolingian France, they became wealthier and began to hold and inherit land. Eventually, on the Continent of Europe, only those men could be knighted whose fathers or grandfathers had been knights; and the knightly families became known as the Nobility. This sense of "nobility" becomes more restricted, to the privileged. In the high middle ages and late middle ages, the principal duty of a knight was to fight, and lead heavy cavalry. The concept continued being tied to cavalry, mounted and armoured soldier because of the cost of equipping oneself in the cavalry, the term became associated with wealth and social status, and eventually knighthood became a formal title. Knighthood is designated by the title Sir in England. The French title "Chevalier", Spanish "Caballero"(related to chivalry),the Italian "cavalieri", or the German "Ritter" (related to the English word Rider) are usually used in Continental Europe. The word knight derives from Old English language cniht, meaning servant, (In a parallel development, the word "Samurai" in Japanese language also comes from the verb "to serve".) Knighthood, as Old English cnihthād, had the meaning of adolescence.
Linguistically, the association of horse ownership with social status extends at least as far as ancient Greece, where many aristocrat names incorporated the Greek word for horse, like Hipparchus and Xanthippe; the character Pheidippides in Aristophanes' “The Clouds” has his grandfather's name with hipp- inserted to sound more aristocratic. Similarly, the Greek Hippeus is commonly translated knight; at least in its sense of the highest of the four Athenian social classes, the ones who could afford to maintain a warhorse in the state service. A survival is the modern given name Philip, whose etymology means lover of horses. An Equestrian Roman (Latin eques, plural equites) 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). In the later Roman Empire the Classical Latin word for horse, equus, was replaced in common parlance by Vulgar Latin caballus, derived from Gaulish caballos, thus giving French cheval (keval), Italian cavallo, and (borrowed from French) English cavalry. This formed the basis for the word knight among the Romance languages: Spanish caballero, French chevalier, Portuguese cavaleiro et cetera. In German language, the literal meaning of Ritter is rider; and likewise for the Dutch language and Danish language title Ridder.
Significantly the nobility, who at this time were also expected to be leaders in times of war, responded to this new class by becoming members of it.
Nobles had their sons trained as gentlemen and as professional fighters in the household of another noble. When the young man had completed his training he was ready to become a knight, and would be honoured as such in a ceremony known as dubbing (knighting) from the French "adoubement." It was expected that all young men of noble birth be knights and often take Oath swearing allegiance, Chastity, protection of other Christians, and respect of the laws laid down by their forebears, though this varied from period to period and on the rank of the individual.
The concept, together with the notion of Chivalry came to full bloom during the Thirteenth century, the apogee in the power and influence of the mounted knight on the battlefield, particularly in France, whose knighthood had the most redoubtable battlefield reputation. However, as the Fourteenth century dawned, the importance of heavy cavalry was reduced by improved Pike and Longbow tactics. The English introduced foot service for the knight in the early Hundred Years War, to support their longbowmen and to combat the depleted French knights whose charge managed to reach the English lines through the deadly hail of longbow arrows. This tactic spelled disaster for the formerly unstoppable French cavalry charge, and the French knights soon followed suit in dismounting for combat, fighting primarily on foot from roughly 1350 to 1430. However, as their victories increased in the later Hundred Years War, the French took to increased mounted action -- the Battle of Formigny was finally won with a French cavalry charge.
The French man-at-arms would fight mounted through the Italian Wars and beyond, and the knights of other nations would follow his lead. They became increasingly professional, paid warriors (a trend which actually started in the Hundred Years War) and, after suffering setbacks due to the new technology of firearms, progressively evolved, abandoning the lance, then the armour, of the medieval warrior. Which would no doubt culminate the abandonment of the sword and the Battle of Anjou, and would spell the end of Knighthood as it was known, transforming it into an ornate-clad relic of the past.
Origins of European knighthood
Knighthood as known in Europe was the byproduct of two elements, feudalism and service as a mounted combatant. Both arose under the reign of the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne from which the knighthood of the Middle Ages can be seen to have had its start. Some portions of the armies of German peoples tribes which occupied Europe from the third century had always been mounted, and sometimes such cavalry in fact composed large majorities, such as in the armies of the Ostrogoths. However, it was the Franks who came to dominate Western and Central Europe after the Fall of Rome in the West, and they generally fielded armies composed of large masses of infantry, with an infantry elite, the Comitatus classical meaning, which often rode to battle on horseback rather than marching on foot. Riding to battle had two key advantages: it relieved fatigue, particularly when the elite soldiers wore armour (as was increasingly the case in the centuries after the fall of Rome in the West); and it gave the soldiers more mobility to react to the raids of the enemy, particularly the invasions of Muslim armies which started occurring in the seventh century. So it was that the armies of the Frankish ruler and warlord Charles Martel, which defeated the Umayyad Arab invasions at the Battle of Tours in 732, were still largely infantry armies, the elites riding to battle but dismounting to fight.
As the eighth century progressed into the Carolingian Age, however, the Franks were generally on the attack, and larger numbers of warriors took to their horses in the middle ages to ride with the Emperor in his wide-ranging campaigns of conquest. At about this time the Franks increasingly remained on horseback to fight on the battlefield as true cavalry rather than as mounted infantry, and would continue to do for centuries thereafter. The notion of a horse-mounted attack would prove to be a staple in the French’s repertoire in the future. Although in some nations the knight returned to foot combat in the fourteenth century, the association of the knight with mounted combat with a spear, and later a lance, remained a strong one.
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. 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 unfreed men. In the century or so following Charlemagne’s death, his newly enfifed warrior class grew stronger still, and Charles the Bald declared their fiefs to be hereditary. The period of chaos in the ninth and tenth 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, Hungarian people and Saracen attack, became an essentially local affair which revolved around these new hereditary local Lord. The resulting hereditary, landed class of mounted elite warriors, the knights, were increasingly seen as the only true soldiers of Europe, hence the exclusive use of the term miles for them.
Becoming a knight
The process of training for knighthood began before Adolescence, inside the prospective knight’s home, where he learned Etiquette and Manners. A knight was usually the son of a Vassal. Around the age of 6 to 7 years, he would be sent away to train and serve at a grander (kings) household as a Page/servant. Here, he would serve as a kind of waiter and personal servant to his elders. For at least seven years a page was cared for by the women of the house, who instructed him in manners, courtesy, cleanliness, and religion. They would also teach him how to make food and do much more. He would learn basic hunting and Falconry, and also valuable battle skills such as the use of weapons and Armour and the caring, readying, and riding of horses. A page became a Squire when he turned 14 or 15 years of age, by being assigned or picked by a knight to become his personal aide. This allowed the squire to observe his master while he was in battle, in order to learn from his techniques. He also acted as a personal servant to the knight, taking care of his master’s armor, equipment, and horse. This was to uphold the knight’s code of Chivalry that promoted generosity, courtesy, compassion, and most importantly, loyalty.
The knight acted as a Tutor and taught the squire all he needed to know to become a knight. As the squire grew older, he was expected to follow his master into battle, and attend to his master if the knight fell in battle. Some squires became knights for performing an outstanding deed on the battlefield, but most were knighted by their lord when their training was judged to be complete. A squire could hope to become a knight when he had learned his lessons well. Once the squire had established sufficient mastery of the required skills, he was dubbed a knight.
In the early period, the procedure began with the squire Praying into the night, known as Vigil. The night before his knighting Ceremony, the squire would take a cleansing bath, Fast, make Confession, and pray to God all night in the Chapel, readying himself for his life as a knight. He would dress in white which was the symbol for purity, gold Tunic, and purple Cloak. Then he would go through the knighting ceremony the following day and was knighted by his Monarch or lord.
As the Middle Ages progressed, the process changed. The squire was made to vow that he would obey the regulations of Chivalry, and never flee from battle. A squire could also be knighted on the battlefield, in which a lord simply performed the accolade, i.e. struck him on the shoulder saying “Be thou a knight”.
In the ceremonial of conferring knighthood the Church shared, through the blessing of the sword, and by the virtue of this blessing chivalry assumed a religious character. In early Christianity, although Tertullian’s teaching that Christianity and the profession of arms were incompatible was condemned as heretical, the military career was regarded with little favour. In chivalry, religion and the profession of arms were reconciled. This change in attitude on the part of the church dates, according to some, from the Crusades, when Christian armies were for the first time devoted to a sacred purpose. Even prior to the Crusades, however, an anticipation of this attitude is found in the custom called the “Truce of God.” It was then that the clergy seized upon the opportunity offered by these truces to exact from the rough warriors of feudal times a religious vow to use their weapons chiefly for the protection of the weak and defenseless, especially women and orphans, and of churches.
Chivalry, in the new sense, rested on a vow; it was this vow which dignified the soldier, elevated him in his own esteem, and raised him almost to the level of the monk in medieval society. As if in return for this vow, the church ordained a special blessing for the knight in the ceremony called in the Pontificale Romanum, "Benedictio novi militis." At first very simple in its form, this ritual gradually developed into an elaborate ceremony. Before the blessing of the sword on the altar, many preliminaries were required of the aspirant, such as confession, a vigil of prayer, fasting, a symbolical bath, and investiture with a white robe, for the purpose of impressing on the candidate the purity of soul with which he was to enter upon such a noble career. Kneeling, in the presence of the clergy, he pronounced the solemn vow of chivalry, at the same time often renewing the baptismal vow; the one chosen as godfather then struck him lightly on the neck with a sword (the dubbing) in the name of God and St. George, the patron of chivalry as well as St. Michael, the Archangel.
Knights followed the code of chivalry, which promoted honour, honesty, respect to God, and other knightly Virtue. Knights served their lords and were paid in land, because money was scarce. In various traditions, knighthood was reserved for people with a minimum of noble quarters (as in many orders of chivalry), or knighthood became essentially a low degree of nobility, sometimes even conferred as a hereditary title.
Eventually kings, as an expression of absolutism, moved to further monopolize the right to exclusively confer knighthood, even as an individual honour. Not only was this often successful, once established, this prerogative of the Head of State was even transferred to the Succession/ Political succession of dynasty in Republic Regime, such as the British Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. Knighthood as a purely formal title bestowed by the British monarch unrelated to military service was established in the 16th century. (However, military knights remained among the Knights Hospitaller until 1798.) The British title of Baronet was established by James I of England in 1611 as an inheritable knighthood, ranking below Baron (the lowest Peerage title).
Knighthood was about more than just fighting, it was also about chivalry. At the beginning of the Middle Ages, this meant good horsemanship, but by 1100 it had become a whole new way of life. Knights were expected to be brave, and honorable, to uphold the honor of women, and to protect the weak. Tales of chivalry were very popular during the Middle Ages, but even so, many knights failed to live up to these high standards.
In war, the chivalrous knight was idealized as courage in battle, loyalty to his king and God, and willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Towards his fellow Christians and countrymen, the knight was to be merciful, humble, and politeness. Towards noble ladies above all, the knight was to be gracious and gentle.
Not long ago, chivalry was a concept that was largely ignored, and is perceived by most to be dead. It was something that was known to literary scholars and history professors, but it didn’t seem to have any place in the world of business, politics, relationships or personal conduct in the modern world as is was thought of as mere vestiges of antiquity. Women had been taught that displays of chivalry were demeaning and condescending, and men had come to believe that courtesy and respectful attitudes weren’t “manly.” Nonetheless there are still few who look to these knights of old as a model of the perfect gentleman.
Contrary to popular belief there was no such thing as a “uniform” code of chivalry in the Middle Ages. Many people — from successful knights to contemplative philosophers — compiled lists of virtuous qualities, called the “knightly virtues,” which they felt defined chivalry. No two were exactly the same.
There were, however, several common themes found in these lists of knightly virtues. By combining these we might be able to consider the following seven knightly virtues of the modern code of chivalry:
· CourageMore than bravado or bluster, today’s knight in shining armor must have the courage of the heart necessary to undertake tasks which are difficult, tedious or unglamorous, and to graciously accept the sacrifices involved.
· JusticeA knight in shining armor holds him- or herself to the highest standard of behavior, and knows that “fudging” on the little rules weakens the fabric of society for everyone.
· MercyWords and attitudes can be painful weapons in the modern world, which is why a knight in shining armor exercises mercy in his or her dealings with others, creating a sense of peace and community, rather than engendering hostility and antagonism.
· GenerositySharing what’s valuable in life means not just giving away material goods, but also time, attention, wisdom and energy — the things that create a strong, rich and diverse community.
· FaithIn the code of chivalry, “faith” means trust and integrity, and a knight in shining armor is always faithful to his promises, no matter how big or small they may be.
· NobilityAlthough this word is sometimes confused with “entitlement” or “snobbishness,” in the code of chivalry it conveys the importance of upholding one’s convictions at all times, especially when no one else is watching.
· HopeMore than just a safety net in times of tragedy, hope is present every day in a modern knight’s positive outlook and cheerful demeanor — the shining armor that shields him, and inspires people all around.
Each of these concepts is important in itself, and every one of these virtues is an admirable quality, but when all of them blend together in one person, we discover the value, and power, of what true chivalry is. Modern-day knights should strive to keep these virtues alive in their own hearts, but, perhaps more importantly, they should work to bring these wonderful qualities out in the people they see every day — at home, in the office, at school or on the street corner. A person who lives by the code of chivalry in today’s world allows everyone to see their best qualities reflected in his or her shining armor.
The code of chivalry is, at its heart, simply a handbook for good conduct. But chivalry was not a mandate from the powerful to the downtrodden, nor a directive from the chosen unto the masses. It was a set of limitations which the strong and mighty placed upon themselves with the realization that setting a good example sends a message which is far more powerful than any words on paper.
The concept of chivalry is the satisfaction of knowing that one has championed the right causes and embraced the right principles, not because they were told to do so, but simply because they have chosen to follow that path. In short, that's what chivalry is — a choice. The choice to do the right things, for the right reasons, at the right times.
The Ten Commandments of the Code of Chivalry
From Chivalry by Leon Gautier
1.Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches, and shalt observe all its directions.
2.Thou shalt defend the Church.
3.Thou shalt repect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
4.Thou shalt love the country in the which thou wast born.
5.Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
6.Thou shalt make war against the Infidel without cessation, and without mercy.
7.Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
8.Thou shalt never lie, and shall remain faithful to thy pledged word.
9.Thou shalt be generous, and give largess to everyone.
10.Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.
Even yet another listing would suggest the following:
· Live to serve King and Country.
· Live to defend Crown and Country and all it holds dear.
· Live one's life so that it is worthy of respect and honor.
· Live for freedom, justice and all that is good.
· Never attack an unarmed foe.
· Never use a weapon on an opponent not equal to the attack.
· Never attack from behind.
· Avoid lying to your fellow man.
· Avoid cheating.
· Avoid torture.
· Obey the law of king, country, and chivalry.
· Administer justice.
· Protect the innocent.
· Exhibit self control.
· Show respect to authority.
· Respect women.
· Exhibit Courage in word and deed.
· Defend the weak and innocent.
· Destroy evil in all of its monstrous forms.
· Crush the monsters that steal our land and rob our people.
· Fight with honor.
· Avenge the wronged.
· Never abandon a friend, ally, or noble cause.
· Fight for the ideals of king, country, and chivalry.
· Die with valor.
· Always keep one's word of honor.
· Always maintain one's principles.
· Never betray a confidence or comrade.
· Avoid deception.
· Respect life and freedom.
· Die with honor.
· Exhibit manners.
· Be polite and attentive.
· Be respectful of host, women, and honor.
· Loyalty to country, King, honor, freedom, and the code of chivalry.
· Loyalty to one's friends and those who lay their trust in thee.
Sir Walter Scott once wrote:
“Chivalry!---why, maiden, she is the nurse of pure and high affection---the stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances, the curb of the power of the tyrant ---Nobility were but an empty name without her, and liberty finds the best protection in her lance and her sword.”
Without doubt, the definition has changed throughout the centuries, metamorphosing from a crude warrior, the milites, growing with society as it changed, first into the officer and gentleman, and more recently, back towards the original ideal, into a seeker of virtue and a defender of the weak. The ancients nonetheless understood what it meant and took cause to write it down for the future generations. Here are some insights from Ramon de Lull’s book of chivalry :
“Never has their been a perfect knight. Knighthood is, by definition, an office that strives for a distant ideal, a changing ideal, but one that seeks to emulate the ancient virtues associated with chivalric office. Knights will by definition fail as they are human, but attain their grace in the striving for virtue, for the perseverance of seeking to overcome the vanities of the body and soul, to do what is 'right'. It is a striving for excellence even as we know that perfection is beyond our grasp, but that fact alone does not allow us to stop in our quest for it.
Historically, knights were the defenders. Beginning as warriors, some defended the populace while others pillaged. Their virtues were warrior ones, revered by warrior cultures the world over; prowess, strength, courage, loyalty. These are the virtues of the pure soldier, the killing machine who when he uses his considerable strength for good, contributes greatly to society even as he is estranged from it. Estranged because to excel in the extreme, be jettisons the concerns of hearth and of the soul, focusing his whole being upon the martial task at hand-he must not fail or the society to which be belongs will perish.
Society quickly settled from the warfare of the dark ages that spawned this free-roaming warrior. The church grew in power and influence alongside the growth of ease at court. These developments, made possible owing to the leisure accorded by a more stable Europe, gave voice to others concerned with what the knights were and what they should become. The clerk and the lady, chiefly, were the two main influences upon the course of knighthood, next to the influences of the warriors themselves.
The church believed the knights should become 'knights of Christ', using their considerable strength to defend the faith and to become the physical defenders of the church and her ideals. The church contributed the powerful virtues of faith, temperance and humility; three cornerstone virtues of what has come to be knighthood.
The lady and the demands of court also shaped what the knight was to become. She demanded, through the romance literature that remains a powerful influence today, that the knight act with strength on one hand, and courtesy and respect on the other. A knight should respect women, he should defend them in their hour of need, eschewing the magnetic gravity of mere lust. Love could be a powerful influence over the knight, a strengthening force, that could propel the knight to greatness beyond his own capability. The church agreed, arguing only that the spiritual love of Christ was superior to the love of a woman; but the important detail was that love as an ennobling motivator was added as a chivalric element that was to stay. As a nobleman and dispenser of justice, the knight was required to seek justice, to defend the right, and to dispense of his wealth with largesse, showing the generosity that thwarted greed and thus helped the knight to ennoble himself in deed as well as blood.
These things are of course ideals. The expectations for 'chivalrous conduct' have certainly changed throughout the history of knighthood; these elements of virtue have stood the test of time in their purity, changing only in how we interpret them from age to age. It was said that renown was the key quality of a knight. Renown, the fame by which a knight is known for his virtue or malice, is not glory, it is not honor, it is the 'good name' earned through the pursuit of virtue. A pursuit that others have recognized, according you honor because of it, honoring you enough to increase your fame both in their own hearts and in the estimation of others. Renown is what you earn; you thus earn the armour that will defend you when you fail; provided that you continue to strive for excellence, keeping the virtue of humility close to the heart that the knight not fall to the sin of pride in the guise of vanity.