Most people have a stereotypical
view of knights
, mostly the very late middle ages
version of the Knight, chivalrous, wrapped in shiny mail
, on the side of God
. Unfortunately, this is a highly romanticized version of the knight, and the truth is somewhere in between, and it's not very pretty
Originally the knight was simply a mounted warrior. Anyone who used a horse while fighting in a battle was a knight, being a knight said nothing about who you were as a person, it was simply a term, like soldier. However, eventually the term took on detail, the knight was a mounted warrior who wore mail and in addition to the normal weapons also tended towards using a lance in mounted charges, mounted charges being the specialty of the knight.
The idea of the knight that we hold today originated in the area of what we now know as France, and eventually spread throughout Europe. The noblemen merged knights, and eventually you couldn't be a knight if you weren't a nobleman, and noblemen were expected to be knights, unless you became a clergyman. This is why being knighted by the Queen of G.B. does in fact hold meaning, she is ceremoniously making you a part of the aristocracy. Although how Elton John gets to be one just cause he's gay and he plays the piano is beyond me, but let's not get off track. Anyway, by the twelfth century, the knight as we know it was made. By the sixteenth century, however, the knight was obsolete thanks to well trained infantry and handguns, cannons, etc. However, tradition kept them alive for much longer.
was as much a way of life as it was a code of honor that knights were supposed to live by.
Military Aspects of Chivalry
A knight was not equipped to fight at a long distance; bows
were discouraged by the clergy as being inhumane
, so hand-to-hand combat
was the norm of the day. A heavy chainmail hauberk
or plate mail
(introduced later) was used for protection
, and their offensive weapons consisted of a (shiny) sword
, and lance.
What was a knight without attendants? After all, you're a nobleman and not having attendants is shameful. Part of the trappings of being a knight was having these attendants:
- An attendant to conduct the horses.
- An attendant to hold the heavy weapons so the knight didn't have to.
- An attendant to assist the knight with getting on and off his horse. That chainmail IS awfully heavy...
- An attendant to guard prisoners, which, if you caught important ones, could go for a hefty sum when you ransom them.
These attendants were not to be confused with the knight's guards, who also went with him, and also do not include the squire
, who is like a knight apprentice.
One musn't forget the banners that the knight carried with him. Not only did he carry his own family crest on a pennant (forked end, not to be confused with real banners), he also carried a banner with the crest of the baron he was under. House crests are, of course, hereditary.
Social Aspects of Chivalry
One of the reasons knighthood merged into the aristocracy was because it was realy really expensive
being a knight! You had to buy the weapons, pay for the upkeep, then there were the horses
, and what about the armor, after a while the price alone basically kept poor people from being knights, let alone the laws that were later made that kept them from legally being made knights, except by the king
. Knights, in fact, could knight other people; providing, of course, they were of the proper training, social status
, and age. If not of the proper birth, only the king could make them knight.
Religious Aspects of Chivalry
Since clergy played a part in knighting people, by blessing the sword
, chivalry quickly assumed religious aspects as well. The Crusades
easily come to mind when one thinks of how knighthood was tied to the church. Clergy quickly seized upon certain opportunities to require knights to vow to only protect the weak, such as widows, orphans, children, and of course, the church. This vow is where the concept of honor that we now tie to the ideas of chivalry and knighthood come from, and the people quickly came to view knights almost as the status of monks
. At first simple religious traditions were observed, but the act of becoming a knight gradually became more and more complex, sometimes involving fasting
Historical Periods of Chivalry
Chivalry can be seperated into four periods, depending upon who you ask
, of course. Up until this point I've been jumping around a bit from period to period to get my points in, but this is strictly in order of chronology
were the golden age of the knight, the one for which we usually look to today. Holy
, chainmailed, everyone knows what I mean. The church took the knight under its wing, and the knights even received a tenth of the church's revenue to help defray the costs (their attendants, etc.). After all, the knights were taking over foreign countries for the church.
Because of the need to occupy Jerusalem
, a fourth vow was created, thus creating the military orders of knights. The fourth vow stated that the knight would perpetually fight against the infidels
. It was in these orders (for clarification, an order here is meant organization) that the concept of chivalry reached its epogee
, the perfect fusion of war and honor (this is as opposed to the crusades, where the idea of the knight as we know it was formed. The knight and chivalrous code are similar concepts, but there are subtle distinctions).
At this point, chivalry no longer had a religious aspect, now that the crusades had ended, and due to literature romanticizing
chivalry, it began to become all about "the damsel in distress
" and helping noblewomen
, etc. Usually, bad things happened with this concept, because knights apparently didn't think anything was wrong with helping themselves to other men's wives
Chivalry was simply a lip service people paid, a way for noblemen to joke around and have a good time. A fad, if you would, albeit a long lasting one.
As one can see, the ideas we recognize as the knight and his chivalrous code constitute only a rather short period of time, and are rather stereotypical. Still, what a time and ideal it was? Don Quixote
is an example of how the ideals of such a small period of time seeped into European culture