Origins of Knighthood

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9th Century Beginnings

Knights have their origins in Charlemagne’s (9th century) Frankish heavy cavalry. They were spear-bearing mounted warriors drawn from society’s elite. They were quite successful because they charged enemies in close formation, broke their ranks, and finished survivors with swords. The transformation of these warriors into medieval knights would occur as the social and political climate of Europe began to change drastically in the 11th century.

Why did Knighthood Arise?

During the tumultuous years prior to the year 1000 AD, Western Europe suffered constant invasion from barbarians and Muslims. This dangerous atmosphere provided the perfect environment for the emergence of a class of protectors—the knights. In addition, military technology improved. Better weapons and armor meant more effective protectors and increasing influence of the growing warrior class. As invaders became Christianized and the social and political climate settled, the romantic culture of knighthood could flourish as knights spent less time on the battlefield and more time in court and tournaments.

The knight became separated from the lower orders because of the expensive armor and weapons needed, the time required for training at a noble’s court, and the manners and values expected from a knight. Knighthood was not just a means for achieving wealth. It was a brotherhood with a culture of its own. Anyone, from a landless peasant to a prince of the realm, would be honored to be called a knight.