What come to mind when you hear the word knight? You are probably thinking of a book that you read when you were younger and saw someone in shining armor, fighting a dragon and rescuing ladies in distress. But actually these are myths about the knight. They never fought dragons or rescued ladies in distress. They did however fight battles and wars. A knight was someone who was given land by a lord in exchange for military service in the lords army and any money that he might earn off his new land. The life of a knight was nothing more than training and being prepared to serve his lord.
They had other responsibilities other than military service. They often helped guard the lords castle, serve on his council, and served as an ambassador. In this paper I am going to talk about all the aspects of the knight. From where the word knight originated from, what their duties were, the weapons that they use, to how they behave. The word knight has no clear origin. There are many arguments of where it came from. Some say that it came from the Germanic word ritter, which is a Middle High German term. The word was primarily used in poetic texts.
But the word miles, which was a derivative of the old Roman word for soldier was considered the earliest form of the word knight (p. 6, Bumke). But in Ancient Rome, the word equites or mounted officers might have been the first real argument for what a knight really originated from. Others believe that the word knight comes from the Anglo-Saxon word cniht, which meant youth, servant, man, follower. The German word knecht and the Danish word knegt both mean servant. And the Norwegian word knekt meant rogue or rascal (p. 4, Jones). Webster dictionary defines knight to mean, a usually high born medieval gentlemen-soldier serving a monarch.
Others believe that there is no clear definition of the word knight. They differ in that the word could mean an ideal of military prowess, an embodiment of courtesy and noble deeds, and others think a hidden form of taxation. The knight came to be after the fall of the Roman Empire. After the fall, kingdoms had trouble with invasions from nomadic tribes and aggressive neighbors. To combat these invasions, these kingdoms formed armies of peasants and tenant farmers. However, these invading groups brought a new fighting style, the mounted warrior.
So in order to defend them off they had to form their own mounted warrior, which were the knights. A knight was a mounted warrior that would serve a king or other feudal superiors during Medieval Europe. It is said that there are two characteristics that stand out of a knight, he fights on horseback and that he held his land by virtue of his military service. A lord or other superiors gave a knight land in return that he serves in their military. The land that the knight receives from his lord and the military service and homage that he provides in return is the basis of feudalism.
Feudalism is defined as a medieval European political and economic system based on vassalage. A vassal is someone who receives the feudal lands from a lord, which are called a fief. There is no clear definitive answer to how much a knight gets from his landlord. I guess you could say that depends on the character of the knight. Many people believe that it is around twelve hides or 1,500 acres. But this figure had some leeway. It had to do with the quality of land, the amount of food and other resources that it can produce (p. 133, Hilton). The knight in this feudal system is near the bottom of the ladder.
The people the knight rent his land to are serfs. These serfs are bound to the land to raise crops. They work the land for the knight for protection and to put money in the land lords pockets. They are however free to plant whatever crops they wish. These crops feed the knight, his lord, the knights horses, and themselves. But the money that is earned goes to the land- lord. Ex: The chart above shows the process of feudalism that has the knight at the bottom. The equipment of the knight is what defines him. From the horse they ride, to the armor they wear, and to the weapons they used make a knight what he is.
Being a knight is also very expensive. The horse for example was said to be six times as expensive as a cow. It was the most defining characteristic of a knight (p. 4, Barber). The invention of the stirrup was very important to how successful a knight was on the battlefield. The stirrups first appeared in the end of the fifth century in China (p. 4, Barber). Without the stirrup, knights were very unbalanced on their horses. It was difficult for them to stay on the horse and to fight. It was also difficult for them to use weapons while riding on their horses.
But the invention of the stirrup gave them good balance and made staying on the horse easier. With the stirrup, knights could now carry heavier weapons like the heavy lance. The lance used in rest could be used as a battering ram. It had replaced the javelin that was thrown instead of as a battering ram. Also on the lance there was a crosspiece near the end of the lance to make it easier for the knight to discard the victim from the end of the lance (p. 5, Barber). This innovation made it reusable. The armor of the knight was what protected him from wounds. Armor was not cheap.
It is also said that it might have cost six times as much as a cow (p. 4, Barber). With armor, it made the knight heavier. So they needed stronger horses, which in turn means more expensive. Chain mail was an innovation that also protected the knights. Mail was merely metal rings that were linked together. It was very tough and flexible. The main purpose of mail was to protect from cuts and stabs. But it was used on the upper part of the body (p. 19, Barber). The helmet was a necessity for the knights. It protected their heads from anything. Over time helmets changed.
It started with four plates riveted together with a nosepiece that projected out. Then it changed to a helm, which covered the whole head. It was equipped with a visor to protect the eyes. This made the knights identity a mystery (p. 19, Barber). There were other weapons that were in the knights arsenal. There were shields that ranged in size, material, and design. Also there were daggers, swords, a bow, a quiver, cross bows, and long bows. All of these weapons ranged in size. The knights had a lot of responsibilities. The main duty was to be ready in the case that their lord or superior needs them.
They did however had other responsibilities. A knights other responsibilities are to fight in his lords army, guard his castle, give him financial aid, act as a messenger or an ambassador, and serve on his council. However, beyond their responsibilities there was a code of conduct called chivalry. Chivalry is defined as qualities of bravery and courtesy, of an ideal knight. Examples of this are, speaking nobly and courteously. How they dressed, kept a good and clean house, and had clean and splendid equipment also was a sign of understanding the concept chivalry (p. 15, Jones). These were not rules that were written out but were common knowledge. One of the most elaborate forms of chivalry is the ceremony of knighting. Knighting was a way of showing a coming of age in adolescents. In the twelfth century, it is said that the knightly class was officially the class by birth. At this time, knights were the leading figures in politics, literature and law (p. 4, Bumke). Many well-known leaders of this early age were knighted in ceremonies. Some examples were Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne and Otto I (p. 25, Barber).
By the thirteenth century the cost of living was so high that the only people that could afford to be knight were the wealthy. For the serf or peasants, knighthood was not something that they didnt want or could have but it was just a burden on them. It was a hard time and they need to work on their lands to grow enough for his family to survive. It was not a surprise that some began to avoid their feudal obligation. It is said that about half the people that could serve do (p. 5. Jones). The question comes up asking, is the knight gentil? Gentil comes from the Latin word, gentilis, which means of the same stock or belonging to a good family.
But in medieval Europe, gentil came to mean, of noble rank or birth, belonging to the gentry. I guess at this point in time, most people thought that this was the case (p. 115, Jones). There were two types of knights during these times. One was the more traditional one and the other was a mercenary. The traditional knights had a code of conduct that they tried to uphold. The mercenaries were hired help. The more traditional knights thought of the mercenaries offering their services for monetary gains was despicable. This system of hired help was called the Indentured System.
The reason that mercenaries were preferred was because they were cheaper than regular knights were. Also they only worked when they were need, usually at a time of war. The more traditional knights were full time knights (p. 7, Jones). After the knight serves his military service he retires. Because the lord owns the land that was given to him, the lord has the right to do anything that he wants with land. But usually the knight keeps it and passes it down to his son. It is expected that his son becomes a knight to serve in the lords army. There has always been a myth about knights.
For example, were they really in shining armor, or any armor at all, did they rescue ladies in distress, or did they fight dragons. I have read books, seen pictures and seen movies about knights and some of the things that I read for this paper were in those movies. I guess that everything that you see in the movies are not always true but some things are. I would have to say the same about pictures and books that I read and seen. But not in a single book that I read for this paper did I read about a knight fighting a dragon. I also know that dragons are not real. But what about rescuing the ladies in distress?
From the reading I did, I can pretty much assume that there were very few kidnappings in Medieval History, so those were probably a myth. The issue about armor is probably a myth too. I know that there was armor in the Early Middle Ages, but I doubt that they were all shining. And some of the movies I saw there were knights that were not wearing armor. But from the books I read all the knights had some kind of armor. From this paper and doing the research I was surprised to read and learn about some of the different aspects of being knight. What I found interesting was how the word knight originated.
I did not know that it came from the time of the Roman Empire. I also found interesting was that these knights had a code of conduct, which told how they were suppose to act and behave. While doing my research, I found out that the word chivalry came from the French word cheval, which means horse. What struck me the most interesting was that there were more than one type of knights? There were the indentured and the traditional types of knights. The indentured being the mercenaries, I thought were more interesting being that they would go around looking for monetary gains.
How they were hired only to fight battles and wars and not to run a fief. But then the traditional knights were also interesting. They tried to follow a code of conduct, how they were given fiefs, and some of the responsibilities that come with being a knight. It was hard to believe that these vassals were a small piece of land to them, but it seems like to me that it was a very large piece. And the word they use to measure out the lands, hides, I thought was different. What I enjoyed reading the most was the parts on the weapons and the innovations that were used during these times.
When I thought of knights of the Middle Ages, I thought that they already had stirrups. I was surprised to hear that they did not have them already and that the stirrups came from the Chinese. What I thought was a small but important invention was the crosspiece near the end of the lance. Its purpose was to stop the victim from staying on the lance so it could be used again and again. This research project has taught me a lot about knights and how the came to be, from the origin of the word knight to when this feudal system ended.