Thursday, April 11, 2013

How To Be... a Knight

The word "knight" conjures up all sorts of images, but I bet the one that charges to the forefront is something like this:
You know, that whole "knight in shining armor" thing. But the ways of becoming a knight have changed through the years.

For instance, it is both easier and harder to become a knight today than it was, say, 1000 years ago. Rather than learning to wear armor and ride a horse and fight with swords (which all sounds rather difficult and time consuming), these days, you only have to make a significant contribution to British society to be knighted. Somehow, the learning to wear armor, ride a horse, and fight with swords sounds easier. And more dangerous.

But, since I know you are all thinking about shining armor and all of that, we'll take about that kind of knight and not Sir Ian McKellen or Dame Maggie Smith.

So what did it take to be a knight all those long years ago? Well, let's look at that on the historical continuum.

The word originates from a word meaning servant, which eventually came to mean a military servant following a king. So, at that time, about 1000 years ago, all you needed to do was pick up your weapon (which probably wasn't a sword) and follow the king or warlord or whomever into battle and you were a knight. Pretty easy. You didn't even have to know how to fight, which was good, because most of those guys weren't actually trained in combat, not like we think of it.

Within a few hundred years, during the Hundred Years' War in fact, the specific sense of the word had changed to mean a mounted heavy cavalryman. These guys did know how to fight and were trained to both wear armor and wield a variety of weapons while mounted, so the meaning of the word had the connotation of a skilled warrior. By about 1300, being a knight was a rank of dignity that was bestowed because of martial prowess. To be a knight was something that was earned, and it wasn't easy. I think this ideal is probably what most people think of when they think of knights, although we weren't really to the "shining armor" part quite yet.

But the word wasn't finished changing...

See, to be a knight you had to have a horse, a warhorse, in fact, that could carry a man in full armor and often wear armor itself. These were not cheap, so, basically, only the wealthy, the landowners, could support owning a warhorse. By 1500, the term had already begun to change to be an honorific for landowners. Yes, they were still required to be able to sit a warhorse if they needed to go to war, but they weren't necessarily good fighters. Actually, it's slightly more complicated than that...

If you had money and owned land and had horses, you could afford to have your sons taught to fight, so it was pretty normal that the wealthy had some fighting skills that placed them above the masses, but they no longer had to demonstrate those skills to be a knight; they just tended to gain the skills by the fact that they were knights. Some of them were very skilled, but, mostly, it was a title of position, not ability. And it was around this time that what we think of as the "knight in shining armor" really came into being, because that was the time period when armor technology really began to take off.
Plate armor as developed in the 1400's.

So there you go, many different ways of being a knight. Of course, you can't really be a knight in shining armor anymore, not in any real sense. However, you can always join the Society for Creative Anachronism to get a taste of what it would have been like.


  1. The original knights are the best version.

  2. The horse had to be strong to carry all of that - a draft horse like a Shire or Clydesdale.
    And listened to the tune. I don't have any of their albums but I liked it. My kind of music!

  3. Sadly being a woman I couldn't have been a knight at all, unless in one of the earliest incarnations with my own weapon of choice, which would probably have been a wooden spoon in those days.

  4. Oh lots of great info! I've always been fascinated with knights. Thx

  5. You can probably still be a metaphorical knight in shining armor. Or a Dark Knight.

  6. If Britain today had to field its army of knights what a pathetic sight that would be since anymore it's all old actors and rock stars.

  7. It always makes me sad that I couldn't have been a knight at all. And not just because the armor weighs more than I do.

  8. I think it would be awesome to see Sir Paul McCartney leading an armored line of horses into battle against American royalty in a new Revolutionary War:

    "Revolution 2013: This Time It's About More Than Tea!" From Producer Mark Burnett comes the latest reality craze: WAR! But not the bad sad kind where your children die and we have to pretend there's a purpose to it. Instead, watch as the British Knights of TODAY don their armor and charge across the battlefield to cross swords with American Royalty: Rob Kardashian in chain mail wielding a mace will square off against Sir Sean Connery doing his dragon voice, and probably other stuff will happen, too!" (ABC, Sunday night at 7.)

    I'm a little off kilter today. Or on kilter.

    But your post was more informative than my two pop culture references for how to be a knight, those being "The Sword In The Stone" and "A Knight's Tale," both of which I now realize are pretty historically accurate.

    "Donuts. Is there anything they CAN'T do?"-- Homer Simpson.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: I thought originally that quote was about TV, but then I looked it up and saw it was about donuts, so I went with it. It's an artistic choice that I think holds up.

  9. I think I would have passed on knighthood back in those good old days. The armor was heavy and clunky, you had to charge into people with those long lance things and if you fell off your horse you were more vulnerable than an upside down turtle.

  10. Excellent post! We recently watched Terry Jones's "Medieval Lives" series which deals with how people actually lived during that era as opposed to our public perception now. One of the episodes was about knights. I highly recommend the series.

    In response to your question yesterday, I went to a small liberal arts college in Iowa - one of them old hippy schools.

    Also, cow tipping - complete myth. No self-respecting cow would stand for it without delivering some serious damage of her own.

  11. They have jousting,and battle re-enactments not far from where I live. It's pretty impressive to see them preform, especially in the middle of summer under all that armor and heat. It always amazes me that no one passes out from a heat stroke.

  12. Very informative. They started as returning soldiers from the crusades, didn't they? I'm not making that up I don't think. I can't recall the details, I just recall being appalled at the whole formation and maintenance of the nobility in Europe. Dammit. It's just been too long. Can't remember.

  13. I'm sure it was pretty manky inside that gleaming armour couture.

  14. The thing I find most fascinating about the warrior class is that ... completely independently ... the class of Knight developed in Europe, and the class of Samurai developed in Japan.

    Not to mention, a long time ago ... the class of Jedi Knight developed in a galaxy far, far away.

  15. Sheena-kay: I don't know. The -original- knights were just untrained "servants" (the original meaning of the word) thrown out to act as a shield of sorts. Fodder.

    Alex: Yeah, they bred the horses to carry the men.

    DayDreamer: That's true; you would never have been able to be a "knight." However, there were plenty of warrior women in other cultures.

    kmckendry: Yeah, me, too.

    S.L.: I'm not sure there even too many metaphorical ones left around. Dark Knights, though...

    PT: Oh, man! I think that would make a hilarious spoof of some sort!

  16. M.J.: Eh, who wants to wear all the armor anyway?

    Briane: Ah, I see who is going to write that story that PT suggested.
    And I hope you do.

    C: Well, they did try to keep people handy to help them stand if they did fall down. Of course, those people often got killed first.

    TAS: It's a myth that it's a myth. Or, maybe, it's a myth everywhere but Texas. It was considered wild fun in East Texas, and, yes, people did get hurt. The cows rarely did.

    Elise: It's been a long time since I've been to a Ren Fair, but I'd really like to go back.

    Rusty: Not exactly. During the First Crusade (just before 1100), they were, basically, just foot soldiers. The knights were all the non-peasant men that fought for a leader. It wasn't until the 1300s that horses became attached to the meaning and after that when it became station based on wealth.

    ADSL: Um... I don't think you covered "manky," but I can probably guess, and you're probably right.

    Matt: I was just talking about the whole samurai thing with my wife (because of their relation to my "N" post); the thing that I find most interesting is that they evolved during basically the same time period completely independently of each other.

    Maybe they were both influenced by a rogue Jedi...


  17. Seeing the armor on display at the Tower of London last year was a highlight for me. Some of it was so intricately made and decorated it's pure artwork. Henry VIII's riding armor was absolutely stunning.

  18. L.G. You don't really need to rub that in again, do you?

  19. I saw the armor at the Tower of London a few years back. Amazingly beautiful. So were the royal stables. I'm glad I had the chance to see such beauty.

  20. Wearing such heavy armor must have been a nightmare in itself. And I feel bad for the horses that had to carry all that weight!

  21. Elsie: You, too! Bah!

    TGE: I'm not sure some of those horse even felt it. They were HUGE!

  22. Oh, now I just want to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail again!

  23. The Knights in my books are kinda a modern version. No armor. :(

  24. Survive a brutal battle wearing a hundred something pounds of armor with no medical attention to speak of? Sounds pleasant.

  25. Turns out I didn't know as much as I thought I knew about knights. That was very interesting, thanks!

    #atozchallenge, Kristen's blog:

  26. Donna: Well, I do, too, now! I hadn't even thought of that throughout working on this post.
    BUT! Make sure you come back tomorrow.

    DL: Do they play musical instruments?

    Jeanne: They had medical attention. It was called leeches and cutting off limbs.

    Kristen: You're quite welcome.

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  28. As a lady, I have never given much thought to becoming a knight. I have however wished to acquire one for my own selfish purposes--like opening jars.

    Upon reading this, GEEZ you had to do a lot of stuff! I thought knights were kinda the lone-wolf type, who stumbled upon a life of fighting and stealing women of the kingdom (i.e. Sir Lancelot from King Arthur tales.)

    You really do your research, sir! Interesting read.

  29. That suit of armor would be a real hassle to deal with. Sure your staff could attend to the maintenance of the suit, but putting the darn thing on and taking it off with be a chore. My luck I'd get it on and have to go to the bathroom. How did they go to the bathroom in those things?

    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

  30. Jean: I can open jars! Does that make me a knight?
    It was a lot of stuff, and, later, owning property and doing a lot of stuff.

    I do try to make sure I am well researched.

    Lee: With help, sir; with help.

  31. I just read a comment that you left on another blog that said you up in Shreveport. Me too! Wow, small blogging world. Where did you go to school?

  32. Melissa: I know another blogger over in Bossier who works for a judge (I think).
    I graduated from Magnet. You?