Real Medieval Knights
What was a “real” knight?
When most people hear the words “medieval knight,” they think of a tall, strong, handsome man—a knight in shining armor riding a large white horse. They imagine the knight bravely wielding his sword or lance in defense of a damsel in distress, or courageously charging forth to glory and honor on the field of battle. Or perhaps they think of a crusading knight, armor glimmering in the sun and banners waving as he rides for the mighty castles and fortresses of the east. Whatever their perception of knights, it no doubt includes chivalry, integrity and honor, the romance of quests and excitement of adventure.
However, being a knight was much more complicated, and the reality often fell far short of the romantic ideal. Chivalry indeed created a hard role to fill in the harsh middle ages. Knights were expected to be loyal to their lords, exhibit prowess in battle, and defend the weak from oppression. They were supposed to display knightly virtues such as generosity, compassion, courtliness, and integrity.
While there were some bad “black” knights who pillaged villages and tormented peasants, many more actually did aspire to attain the values of chivalry. These knights served their lords and strove to live honorably. The allure of knighthood was enhanced by lords and rulers who devised elaborate rituals and created knightly organizations that in turn helped create an entire culture of knighthood.
Who could be a knight?
Theoretically, anyone could become a knight. However, being a knight was quite expensive. Knights were required to purchase heavy armor (if they expected to be successful, at any rate), good weapons, and an expensive horse (actually, a horse to carry equipment and a heavy horse to ride into battle). If captured, be it in battle or in tournament, a knight had to pay a hefty ransom. He also lost his horse and armor to his victorious captor. If the knight became successful, he had to maintain his position lavishly. This included supporting squires, pages, heralds, and other knights in a personal retinue. His men had to be housed, fed, armed, and clothed. Consequently, knights were almost exclusively of the upper classes. The majority of the people lacked both the money and the time required for training to become a knight.
All about Knights
This portion of Medievalry explores knighthood, from its origins to chivalry and the flowering of knighthood in the courts of Europe.