Older pages were instructed by knights in swordsmanship , equestrianism , chivalry, warfare, and combat but using wooden swords and spears. When the boy turned 15, he became a squire. During this time the squires continued training in combat and were allowed to own armour rather than borrowing it. All of these were even performed while wearing armour. The accolade or knighting ceremony was usually held during one of the great feasts or holidays, like Christmas or Easter , and sometimes at the wedding of a noble or royal.
The knighting ceremony usually involved a ritual bath on the eve of the ceremony and a prayer vigil during the night. On the day of the ceremony, the would-be knight would swear an oath and the master of the ceremony would dub the new knight on the shoulders with a sword. Knights were expected, above all, to fight bravely and to display military professionalism and courtesy.
When knights were taken as prisoners of war, they were customarily held for ransom in somewhat comfortable surroundings. This same standard of conduct did not apply to non-knights archers, peasants, foot-soldiers, etc. Chivalry developed as an early standard of professional ethics for knights, who were relatively affluent horse owners and were expected to provide military services in exchange for landed property.
Early notions of chivalry entailed loyalty to one's liege lord and bravery in battle, similar to the values of the Heroic Age. During the Middle Ages, this grew from simple military professionalism into a social code including the values of gentility, nobility and treating others reasonably.
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Knights of the late medieval era were expected by society to maintain all these skills and many more, as outlined in Baldassare Castiglione 's The Book of the Courtier , though the book's protagonist, Count Ludovico, states the "first and true profession" of the ideal courtier "must be that of arms. Chivalry and religion were mutually influenced during the period of the Crusades.
The early Crusades helped to clarify the moral code of chivalry as it related to religion. As a result, Christian armies began to devote their efforts to sacred purposes. As time passed, clergy instituted religious vows which required knights to use their weapons chiefly for the protection of the weak and defenseless, especially women and orphans, and of churches. In peacetime, knights often demonstrated their martial skills in tournaments, which usually took place on the grounds of a castle. Medieval tournaments were made up of martial sports called hastiludes , and were not only a major spectator sport but also played as a real combat simulation.
It usually ended with many knights either injured or even killed. One contest was a free-for-all battle called a melee , where large groups of knights numbering hundreds assembled and fought one another, and the last knight standing was the winner. The most popular and romanticized contest for knights was the joust. In this competition, two knights charge each other with blunt wooden lances in an effort to break their lance on the opponent's head or body or unhorse them completely.
The loser in these tournaments had to turn his armour and horse over to the victor. The last day was filled with feasting, dancing and minstrel singing. Besides formal tournaments, they were also unformalized judicial duels done by knights and squires to end various disputes. Judicial combat was of two forms in medieval society, the feat of arms and chivalric combat.
The chivalric combat was fought when one party's honor was disrespected or challenged upon in which the conflict cannot be resolved in court. Weapons were standardized and must be of the same caliber.
The duel lasted until the other party was too weak to fight back and in early cases, the defeated party were then subsequently executed. Examples of these brutal duels were the judicial combat known as the Combat of the Thirty in , and the trial by combat fought by Jean de Carrouges in A far more chivalric duel which became popular in the Late Middle Ages was the pas d'armes or "passage of arms". In this hastilude , a knight or a group of knights would claim a bridge, lane or city gate, and challenge other passing knights to fight or be disgraced.
One of the greatest distinguishing marks of the knightly class was the flying of coloured banners, to display power and to distinguish knights in battle and in tournaments. Armourial rolls were created to record the knights of various regions or those who participated in various tournaments.
Knights and the ideals of knighthood featured largely in medieval and Renaissance literature , and have secured a permanent place in literary romance. Geoffrey of Monmouth 's Historia Regum Britanniae History of the Kings of Britain , written in the s, introduced the legend of King Arthur , which was to be important to the development of chivalric ideals in literature. Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur The Death of Arthur , written in , was important in defining the ideal of chivalry, which is essential to the modern concept of the knight, as an elite warrior sworn to uphold the values of faith , loyalty , courage , and honour.
Instructional literature was also created. Geoffroi de Charny 's " Book of Chivalry " expounded upon the importance of Christian faith in every area of a knight's life, though still laying stress on the primarily military focus of knighthood. In the early Renaissance greater emphasis is laid upon courtliness.
The ideal courtier—the chivalrous knight—of Baldassarre Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier became a model of the ideal virtues of nobility. Later Renaissance literature, such as Miguel de Cervantes 's Don Quixote , rejected the code of chivalry as unrealistic idealism. By the end of the 15th century, knights were becoming obsolete as countries started creating their own professional armies that were quicker to train, cheaper and easier to mobilize.
The cost of equipment is also significantly lower and guns give a reasonable chance to easily penetrate a knight's armour. In the 14th century the use of infantrymen armed with pikes and fighting in close formation also proved effective against heavy cavalry. An example of this was seen in the Battle of Nancy , when Charles the Bold and his armoured cavalry were decimated by Swiss soldiers only armed with pikes. Many landowners found the duties of knighthood too expensive and so contented themselves with the use of squires.
Mercenaries also became an economic alternative to knights when conflicts arose. Armies of the time started adopting a more realistic approach to warfare than the honor-bound code of chivalry. Soon, the remaining knights were absorbed into professional armies. Although they had a higher rank than most soldiers because of their valuable lineage, they lost their distinctive identity that previously set them apart from common soldiers.
They adopted newer technology while still retaining their age-old chivalric traditions. Other orders were established in the Iberian peninsula , under the influence of the orders in the Holy Land and the Crusader movement of the Reconquista:. After the Crusades , the military orders became idealized and romanticized, resulting in the late medieval notion of chivalry , as reflected in the Arthurian romances of the time.
The creation of chivalric orders was fashionable among the nobility in the 14th and 15th centuries, and this is still reflected in contemporary honours systems, including the term order itself. Examples of notable orders of chivalry are:. From roughly , purely honorific orders were established, as a way to confer prestige and distinction, unrelated to military service and chivalry in the more narrow sense.
Such orders were particularly popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, and knighthood continues to be conferred in various countries:. There are other monarchies and also republics that also follow this practice. Modern knighthoods are typically conferred in recognition for services rendered to society, which are not necessarily martial in nature. The female equivalent is a Dame , for example Dame Julie Andrews.
In the United Kingdom , honorific knighthood may be conferred in two different ways:. The first is by membership of one of the pure Orders of Chivalry such as the Order of the Garter , the Order of the Thistle and the dormant Order of Saint Patrick , of which all members are knighted. The second is being granted honorific knighthood by the British sovereign without membership of an order, the recipient being called Knight Bachelor. In the British honours system the knightly style of Sir is accompanied by the given name , and optionally the surname.
Wives of knights, however, are entitled to the honorific pre-nominal "Lady" before their husband's surname. The style Dame Heather McCartney could be used for the wife of a knight; however, this style is largely archaic and is only used in the most formal of documents, or where the wife is a Dame in her own right such as Dame Norma Major , who gained her title six years before her husband Sir John Major was knighted.
The husbands of Dames have no honorific pre-nominal, so Dame Norma's husband remained John Major until he received his own knighthood. Since the reign of Edward VII a clerk in holy orders in the Church of England has not normally received the accolade on being appointed to a degree of knighthood.
He receives the insignia of his honour and may place the appropriate letters after his name or title but he may not be called Sir and his wife may not be called Lady. This custom is not observed in Australia and New Zealand, where knighted Anglican clergymen routinely use the title "Sir".
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Ministers of other Christian Churches are entitled to receive the accolade. A knight who is subsequently ordained does not lose his title. A famous example of this situation was The Revd Sir Derek Pattinson , who was ordained just a year after he was appointed Knight Bachelor , apparently somewhat to the consternation of officials at Buckingham Palace. A clerk in holy orders who is a baronet is entitled to use the title Sir. Outside the British honours system it is usually considered improper to address a knighted person as 'Sir' or 'Dame'. Some countries, however, historically did have equivalent honorifics for knights, such as Cavaliere in Italy e.
Georg Ritter von Trapp. Additionally there remain a few hereditary knights in the Netherlands.
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In Belgium , honorific knighthood not hereditary can be conferred by the King on particularly meritorious individuals such as scientists or eminent businessmen, or for instance to astronaut Frank De Winne , the second Belgian in space. This practice is similar to the conferal of the dignity of Knight Bachelor in the United Kingdom.
In addition, there still are a number of hereditary knights in Belgium see below. In the Polish—Lithuanian Commonwealth the monarchs tried to establish chivalric orders but the hereditary lords who controlled the Union did not agree and managed to ban such assemblies. They feared the King would use Orders to gain support for absolutist goals and to make formal distinctions among the peerage which could lead to its legal breakup into two separate classes, and that the King would later play one against the other and eventually limit the legal privileges of hereditary nobility.
The head of state now the President as the acting Grand Master confers knighthoods of the Order to distinguished citizens, foreign monarchs and other heads of state. The Order has its Chapter. There were no particular honorifics that would accompany a knight's name as historically all or at least by far most its members would be royals or hereditary lords anyway. In continental Europe different systems of hereditary knighthood have existed or do exist. Ridder , Dutch for "knight", is a hereditary noble title in the Netherlands. It is the lowest title within the nobility system and ranks below that of " Baron " but above " Jonkheer " the latter is not a title, but a Dutch honorific to show that someone belongs to the untitled nobility.
The collective term for its holders in a certain locality is the Ridderschap e. Ridderschap van Holland, Ridderschap van Friesland, etc. In the Netherlands no female equivalent exists. Before , the history of nobility is separate for each of the eleven provinces that make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
In each of these, there were in the early Middle Ages a number of feudal lords who often were just as powerful, and sometimes more so than the rulers themselves. In old times, no other title existed but that of knight. In the Netherlands only 10 knightly families are still extant, a number which steadily decreases because in that country ennoblement or incorporation into the nobility is not possible anymore. Likewise Ridder , Dutch for "knight", or the equivalent French Chevalier is a hereditary noble title in Belgium. Like in the Netherlands, no female equivalent to the title exists.
Belgium still does have about registered knightly families. The German and Austrian equivalent of an hereditary knight is a Ritter. This designation is used as a title of nobility in all German-speaking areas. Traditionally it denotes the second lowest rank within the nobility, standing above " Edler " Noble and below " Freiherr " baron. For its historical association with warfare and the landed gentry in the Middle Ages, it can be considered roughly equal to the titles of "Knight" or "Baronet".
The Royal House of Portugal historically bestowed hereditary knighthoods to holders of the highest ranks in the Royal Orders. There are very few hereditary knights and they are entitled to wear a breast star with the crest of the House of Braganza. In France, the hereditary knighthood existed in regions formerly under Holy Roman Empire control.
One family ennobled with that title is the house of Hauteclocque by letters patents of , even if its most recent members used a pontifical title of count. There are traces of the Continental system of hereditary knighthood in Ireland. Notably all three of the following belong to the Welsh-Norman FitzGerald dynasty , created by the Earls of Desmond , acting as Earls Palatine , for their kinsmen.
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They were attainted in for participation on the Jacobite side in the Williamite wars. Since , the British Crown has awarded a hereditary title in the form of the baronetcy. Baronets are not peers of the Realm, and have never been entitled to sit in the House of Lords, therefore like knights they remain commoners in the view of the British legal system. However, unlike knights, the title is hereditary and the recipient does not receive an accolade.
The position is therefore more comparable with hereditary knighthoods in continental European orders of nobility, such as ritter , than with knighthoods under the British orders of chivalry. However, unlike the continental orders, the British baronetcy system was a modern invention, designed specifically to raise money for the Crown with the purchase of the title.
Women were appointed to the Order of the Garter almost from the start. In all, 68 women were appointed between and , including all consorts. Though many were women of royal blood, or wives of knights of the Garter, some women were neither. They wore the garter on the left arm, and some are shown on their tombstones with this arrangement. In , a proposal was made to revive the use of robes for the wives of knights in ceremonies, but this did not occur.
Queens consort have been made Ladies of the Garter since Queens Alexandra in ,  Mary in and Elizabeth in The first non-royal woman to be made Lady Companion of the Garter was The Duchess of Norfolk in ,  the second was The Baroness Thatcher in  post-nominal: On 30 November , Lady Fraser was made Lady of the Thistle ,  the first non-royal woman post-nominal: Memorials of the Order of the Garter.
The first woman to be granted a knighthood in modern Britain seems to have been H. Her daughter received the same honor in , as well as her granddaughter in The order was open to "princes and chiefs" without distinction of gender. The first European woman to have been granted an order of knighthood was Queen Mary, when she was made a Knight Grand Commander of the same order, by special statute, in celebration of the Delhi Durbar of The other was possibly for a female knight.
Here is a quote from Menestrier, a 17th-century writer on chivalry: Sometimes, when some male fiefs were conceded by special privilege to women, they took the rank of chevaleresse, as one sees plainly in Hemricourt where women who were not wives of knights are called chevaleresses. It was the first religious order of knighthood to grant the rank of militissa to women. However, this order was suppressed by Sixtus V in In his Glossarium s. Gertrude in Nivelles Brabant , after a probation of 3 years, are made knights militissae at the altar, by a male knight called in for that purpose, who gives them the accolade with a sword and pronounces the usual words.
The inhabitants [of Tortosa] being at length reduced to great streights, desired relief of the Earl, but he, being not in a condition to give them any, they entertained some thoughts of making a surrender. Lazarus, which had a special duty of protecting leper hospitals. But it was not long before their religious aim gave place to political activity as the orders grew in numbers and in wealth. At the same time, crusading orders with a rather more national bias came into being.
The greatest order of German knights was the Teutonic Order. Between the end of the 11th century and the middle of the 13th, a change took place in the relationship of knighthood to feudalism. The result was twofold: The gradual demise of the Crusades, the disastrous defeats of knightly armies by foot soldiers and bowmen, the development of artillery , the steady erosion of feudalism by the royal power in favour of centralized monarchy—all these factors spelled the disintegration of traditional knighthood in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Knighthood lost its martial purpose and, by the 16th century, had been reduced to an honorific status that sovereigns could bestow as they pleased. A great number of secular knightly orders were established from the late Middle Ages onward: These honours were reserved for persons of the highest distinction in the nobility or in government service or, more generally, for persons distinguished in various professions and arts.
In the United Kingdom, knighthood is today the only title still conferred by a ceremony in which sovereign and subject both take part personally. In its modern form the subject kneels and the sovereign touches him or her with a drawn sword usually a sword of state first on the right shoulder, then on the left. The male knight uses the prefix Sir before his personal name; the female knight the prefix Dame.
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Our editors will review what you've submitted, and if it meets our criteria, we'll add it to the article. Please note that our editors may make some formatting changes or correct spelling or grammatical errors, and may also contact you if any clarifications are needed. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Ritter, chevalier, knighthood, miles. Learn More in these related Britannica articles: The term knight Latin miles came into more frequent use to designate anyone who could satisfy the new military requirements, which included the wealthiest and most powerful lords as well as fighting men from far lower levels of society.
The new order gradually developed its own ethos,…. They could not, however, use their knights for private warfare,…. Ties between magnates and their feudal tenants slackened as the relationship became increasingly a legal rather than a personal one. Lords began to adopt new methods of recruiting their retinues, using contracts demanding service either…. It was supplemented from the s by the Truce of God, which forbade fighting on certain days or during particular seasons of the year and which helped to mold a new conception of the knight….
Lay education and the lower schools German literature In German literature: Courtly romance military technology In military technology In military technology: The age of cavalry, c.
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