Knighthood in the Middle Ages
Written by Simon Newman
History - Middle Ages
Knighthood in the middle ages was something of a prestigious position. The knight was charged with the obligation of learning the art of war and adhering to the code of chivalry. This code demanded that the knight demonstrate bravery, loyalty, generosity, courtesy and devotion especially to his liege. It was also his primary responsibility to protect the castles and more so during the time of battle.
Three categories of people went to war in medieval times and these included foot soldiers, knights and archers. In the middle ages, the knight was protected in metallic armor and he could easily destroy the enemy foot soldiers during battle. Of all the three categories of fighters, knights were the wealthiest because it was very costly being a knight. Purchasing the armor, weapons and horse cost a fortune and most people who desired to become a knight simply could not afford it.
Knighthood was part of the feudal power structure and myriad agreements that characterized the middle ages. The knights in the middle ages would offer their military service in exchange for a fief or a piece of estate. In the later part of the middle ages, when battles continued to intensify, many people began to pay an amount of money that would keep them from serving as knights in the army of the king. Instead, these eligible knights were looking to ransack cities and pillage them. They were not looking to fight for any particular ideology. The money that they paid to the local lords was used to establish a small parallel army that would ransack and pillage cities in battle.
Code of Chivalry and Knight Weaponry
The code of chivalry is something that the knights deeply believed in and abided with. The Code required the knight to defend those who were weak and not to boast about his achievements. Knights were expected to serve both God and the king and to demonstrate humility in the presence superiors. The Code also required the knight to show mercy to defeated foe. Although the Code required the knights to protect the weak, the peasants were not considered as part the weak. The knights were often brutal to them.
The knight was the most armed of all the types of soldiers. He was often so enamored that his squire had to assist him in carrying and maintaining his weaponry. The first layer of armory was chain mail made from minute metallic rings that numbered up to 200,000. Because this armory was uncomfortable, metal plates, which shielded the legs, back, chest and arms replaced it. He wore a metal helmet to protect his head and a metal shield for his face. The entire battle suit weighed about sixty pounds.
A knight used shields for further protection during battle. These were either metallic or wooden and they would bear the knight’s family logo. The swords were the most important weapons for knighthood in the middle ages. Knights placed their swords on the left side of the waist and a dagger on the right. Other weapons that they used include axes, maces and lances as well as metal hammers.
One would become a knight through two methods. A young man could attain knighthood for showing bravery in battle while fighting in a different position such as an archer or as a foot soldier. At other times, he would be given the position of a knight just to instill courage in him. The most common way of attaining knighthood in the middle ages was that demonstrated by a noble’s son. At the tender age of eight years, a noble or knight’s son would be sent to a nearby castle to train in the position of a page.
During the training, the boy would learn skills in wrestling, body strengthening and horse riding. Importantly, he was trained in sword and spear fighting. The trainee used a quintain, a dummy made from wood to practice sword and spear skills. The dummy, which replicated a human, hung from a pole with a shield. The young trainee was required to hit the center of the shield and when he did, the dummy would make a complete spin. This is how the knight attacked his foes in the actual battle field.
In addition to the fighting techniques, the trainee also learnt how to read and write in both French and Latin. It was very important for a knight to be literate; this was part of his power and what served to place him in a higher status in society. The aspiring knight also learnt kingly etiquette so that he knew how to conduct himself in the presence of the king. The boy attained other skills such as singing and dancing.
By the time a boy was fifteen he would serve as the knight as a squire. The obligations of a squire were to dress the knight each morning, to serve meals, care for the knight’s horse and to clean his weaponry. The squire accompanied the knight almost everywhere including tournaments and in the battlefield. In addition to serving the knight, the squire continued to learn skills such as sword coordination and balance while adorning heavy armory and riding a horse too. At the age of 20, the squire would attain knighthood if he were successful in his training.
Upon successful training as a sequire, the local lord would hold a ceremony for the young knight-to-be. In the night leading to the ceremony, the young knight-to-be would don in red robes and a white tunic. All night long, he would purify his soul by praying and fasting. Meanwhile the church priest would bless his sword and leave it at the altar. Before the sun rose, the young knight would confess to the priest and then the ceremony would start.
Family and friends attended the ceremony. With the young knight-to-be kneeling before the lord, his shoulders would be tapped using the sword then he would be dubbed a knight. In the early centuries of the middle ages, the knight to be would be hit forcefully using the sword, as preparation for the future battles.