Knights were people who were devoted to their King. They would serve him in anyway possible. They were like his army. In return for their services the King would give them a reward.The reward could be a gift as major as a large parcel of land, or as small as a bed and meal in his castle.
During battle and tournaments knights would wear suits of armor. Click here to see our Armor page.
The knights were not like the ones that are in songs or poems. In songs, stories, and ballads it is said that knights were very generous to the poor, the knights protected widows, orphans and damsels in distress, they never tried to win by trickery, and never struck an unarmed opponent . It is also said that knights were "free of heart and handsome in body, gallant, gentle and modest, and wouldn't be tricked by talking". These ideals were not always carried out. Many knights were ignorant and brutal men.
These knights lived in an age where men were ranked by their military power and as a skilled warrior they ruled the world (under their King and Queen). Fighting was a way of life. Knights cared more than anything about a well aimed lance, powerful horse, shining armor, and the clash of sword on steel. Yet they lived by strict rules of conduct, called chivalry (which in many ways are still carried out today).
In the 13th century knights lived in England, France, Germany, and all over Europe. The countryside was divided into thousands of sections, called fiefs. Each fief was ruled by a King or lord who was supported by his knights. The rulers were sometimes at war with each other, trying to enlarge their landholdings. But there were a lot of times when they couldn't, like during the black plague or when they didn't have enough money. Sometimes one lord might attack another over very small things (such as fishing rights or an insult). These attacks were called besieging a castle. Once in a long time they would stop fighting to embark on a crusade, a holy mission to rescue Jerusalem ( the sacred birthplace of Christianity) from the Muslims.
The son of a knight had no training until he was seven. During those peaceful years he was brought up by the woman of the house. He played in stone halls, the courtyard of castle, listened to the song of traveling entertainers, and marveling at the fierce ways of the knights which he would join someday.
When the child reached seven the first period of education of knighthood began. He couldn't spend the days roaming around castle or in fields. He could become a page, an apprentice to a knight. Pages were often sent away to their father's lord's castle for further schooling. Any boy who was the son of a knight and was seven years old would be a page. There wasn't any special ceremony or anything else to undergo to be a page. That would come later.
The warriors taught the page archery, horsemanship, and fencing. He also learned a little bit of math with a machine called an abacus. He was also taught to play the harp. Another thing the page learned was how to play chess, a game of battle. If he was lucky he might even learn to use an astrolabe, a device for finding stars. He was sometimes taught to read and write a little bit from monks.
In warmer weather, the page joined the hunt with the older men with a bow, trained hawk or a falcon. There was no greater thrill to the Page than crashing through the woods on horseback as hounds chased after a boar, watching a falcon being launched off a gloved hand flash through air toward a partridge and returning with a kill. Hunting was more than sport in Medieval times it was a way of life. Wolves and bears were killed to make the country safer. Idle moments were rare back then. Much of the land was covered by woods, and there was not enough open land for farming so wildlife was an important part of the food supply. The page helped kill deer, rabbits, thrushes, quail, and other game for dinner.
The page rose at daybreak to help take care of the horses. He also ran errands, studied his lessons, fed falcons, and practiced riding and fencing. Any laziness was punished with an angry blow or a severe beating. He accepted his lot without complaint. When he listened to old knights talk of their great adventures and gallant deeds, his life seemed unimportant and easy compared to theirs.
His first military training was with a sword. He first learned with a wooden sword, he later tried using a sword made of blunt steel. Then he learned to fight with a lance. He practiced fighting with a lance on a pivoting dummy, called a quintain.
When the page was fourteen he became a squire. Squire was the last stage of an apprentice to a knight. The next seven years for the squire were spent serving his lord. When his Master was at war or a tournament he led his master's horse and carried his extra weapons. If the master was hurt during battle the squire ran out to help him.
By age twenty-one the squire knew most everything (even the details) of running a castle. He also learned the Chivalric code. Another thing he learned was to fight and give orders. He was ready to become a knight. To be knighted though he must serve his lord in 40 days of military training. Once he did this could become a knight.
In early Medieval times all that happened when a squire became a knight was an older knight would place a sword on the shoulder of the squire to show he had reached manhood. In the 1300s it became a huge ceremony. On the day before he became a knight he would have to go without food. Then in the evening the squire would take a bath showing he had washed away his former sins. After his bath he went to the church and his armor was placed before the alter. In his hand he held his new sword.
The process which he had to undergo was a test of self-discipline. The next nine or ten hours were spent kneeling or standing in the church, all the while he was praying about the meaning chivalry. When the sun finally rose he would confess his sins to the priest and got a communion at Mass. After that he ate an enormous breakfast. At last he appeared before his lord and a crowd of nobles. His lord then tapped him on his shoulder and said "In the name of god, Saint Michael and Saint Gorge, I dub thee knight. Be valiant." There were sometimes different words in lords versions. His lord would also sometimes give him a final blow, showing that was the final blow the lord could give him without the knight being able to take revenge. The very last thing that happened was his armor and spurs were strapped on him. He was finally a knight.
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