Life of the Knight

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During the Middle Ages, knights generally were members of the landed aristocracy and, especially by the later Middle Ages, could trace their linage through generations of knights. There were mainly two types of knights: those who inherited an estate (usually the eldest son) and freelancers who worked for nobles and lived as part of a lordís household. Knights who received land (in the form of a fief) from a lord had to adhere to standard feudal obligations to their overlord. They had to show him loyalty and friendship and aid him in the running of his estate by attending court and administering justice. In addition, knights had military obligations that included 40 days of regular military service per year and guard duty in his lordís castle. Medieval knights might also be called upon to escort their lords on journeys and expeditions as part of a personal retinue.

Early Years

Medieval knights were generally born into families of knights or title lords. Thus, they were raised with the goal of knighthood in mind. An aspiring young knight was raised by the women in his own house until he reached the age of seven or eight. At that point, he was sent to the household of the local lord, along with other aspirants, to learn how to be a knight and live within the knightly brotherhood.

Young knight-hopefuls began their training as pages. They learned how to serve at the dinner table, ran errands, and performed menial cleaning tasks. At the court of the lord, they were exposed to chivalry and grew up hearing and desiring to emulate tales of romance and prowess.

When a page became a teenager, he would gain the status of squire. As a squire, he would serve his lord at dinner, take care of his horse and riding equipment, and manage his lordís equipment at tournaments and battles. Additionally, his combat training commenced in earnest. The squire learned to ride, fight with knightly weapons, and then both ride and fight with knightly weapons at the same time. They were well trained in the arts of defense. Squires also exercised so that they could fight in chain mail (weighing up to 50 lbs) while wielding their heavy weapons.

Growing up at the court of a lord ensured that squires developed all of the finer skills required at court, like the proper way to carve meat. He also learned to hunt, participate in banquets, and dance. Courtly culture, from its literature and ceremony to its clothing and music, became an integral part of the life of a medieval knight. This of course means that he was thoroughly exposed to the knightly ideals of chivalry.

After an entire childhood dedicated to acquiring the skills of knighthood, a squire was finally knighted when he reached his late teens and early twenties, if he could afford it. Those who couldnít afford the weapons, armor, and other trappings of a medieval knight either became bachelors until they could afford to maintain their status as a knight or found employment in the courts and entourages of other knights and lords. There were plenty of jobs available for trained squires and men of court.

The Prime of Knighthood

The life of a medieval knight during times of peace was far from boring. Besides aiding the court of a lord as discussed above and administering his own lands if he had them, there were numerous diversions to distract the knight. Activities and pastimes ranged from hunts and great banquets to the all-important tournaments. The peacetime activities of the knight will be discussed in future sections detailing domestic life.