I have always been fascinated by the image of the "Knight N Shining Armour" Who hasn't wondered what it was really like to live the life of a medieval knight?
Their legend is so grand that even today their tales can be witnessed in role playing at world wide renaissance festivals/guilds, through movies, games and books.
The middle ages were a time of frequent war and brittle peace, grand spectacles and devastating plague, high moral standards and bitter persecution. It was a time of the brightest hope and the darkest despair. Through it all the knight was there, an integral part of society and the events that make up our history, before the time of guns and gunpowder when battles were still being won by hand-to-hand combat.
The medieval knight was generally perceived as an armed and mounted warrior who fought for his king, and country. The word "chivalry" stood for the behavior of a knight. These horse mounted warriors were bound by a code of chivalry obeying to be religious, honorable, and courteous. Knights were shown to be brave, loyal, and just, speak only the truth, be fair to their enemies, help those in distress, protect women, and show mercy to the weak and defenseless. To never harm women or children. These warriors traditionally were
portrayed as gallant, bold and courageous. Whether rescuing fair maidens or guarding their
king's castle, these mounted warriors were always quick to heed the call of adventure and
rise to the challenge set before them.
The horse mounted warrior was of significant importance to an army's leader due to the great advantage he held on the battlefield. With the speed and momentum of his horses charge and a long lance or polearm, the knight could injure his enemies while keeping safely out of reach of their weapons. The warrior could then ride off, only to return for another deadly attack. This technique had a most devastating effect when the cavalry worked together in formation.
The ability to wield a sword or lance atop horseback dressed in full plate armour was a special skill that took practice and wherewithal. A knight and his comrades had to learn how to work together as a team. A lord would employ knights giving them the time and equipment they needed for training; in return they served their lord as vassals. The duties of a vassal could include not only fighting in his lord's army, but guarding his castle, giving him financial aid, acting as his messenger or ambassador, and serving on his council. The knight was under his lord's protection, both legally and militarily.
The lord's position gave him considerable control over the knight's life, career, future including the final say in who he could marry and the disposition of his estate upon death. The lord technically owned the land used by the knight to raise revenues, and while the property usually remained in the knight's family for generations, it was the lord's perogative to revoke his right to the land and give it to someone else.
Chivalry prescribed the knightly training for a young nobleman first as a page, then a squire, and finally as a knight. He was taught reverence toward women, service to the church, and allegiance to the king. Such a system yielded a trained group of gentlemen-soldiers whose ideals were knightly honour, Christian principles, and romantic love.
The preparatory education of candidates for knighthood was long and arduous. A knight's training began at the young age of seven. He was sent to a neighboring castle where he would be given title of "page". The boy was usually the son of a knight or of a member of the aristocracy. For the next seven years he would be trained by the lord of the castle, along with other children in the art of knighthood. Training techniques during these early years included strengthening his body, riding horses, wrestling, and sword/weapon fighting (with blunted or wooden weapons). As the boy grew a little older he would learn horseback riding, as well as lancing and charging techniques. The young man was also taught to read and write by a schoolmaster while the lady of the castle taught the page manners, courtly behavior, the rules of chivalry, music, love and faith.
Upon reaching the age of fourteen, the page would graduate to the title of "squire". As a trusted companion to the knight, the squire tended his knight's horses and armour, run errands, followed the knight to tournaments and assist his lord on the battlefield. More service was thus required of a squire than a page, and more strenuous exercise as well. He learned leaping skills, distance running, how to climb jagged, near-vertical cliffs, spring over ditches, was taught to hunt, stalking the quarry in preparation for training with weapons of war, bear hunger, thirst, cold and sleeplessness. A squire would also prepare himself for war by learning how to handle a sword and lance while wearing forty pounds of armour atop his horse. The boy would hold the title of squire until the age of twenty, upon which time if proven worthy could become a knight. To graduate to the status of knight, a squire usually performed some heroic deed in battle.
The bond of the young knight forged with his lord could last a lifetime. By fostering boys in this way, lords created small armies of knights, loyal to their mentor. Lords kept bonds of friendship and even kinship with each other by raising each other's sons.
Today, the word "knight" conjures up far more then war and service. Loyalty, courtesy, honour, glory, and courage--all this and more comes to mind when we think of the "Knight N Shining Armour". And indeed, as history unfolded, the knight's role in society altered from that of a cavalry soldier to a model of behavior. Yet, we know knights were only human, and didn't always live up to the standards imposed on them by society.