What is a knight?

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Knight in armor
A knight was more than just a man in armor
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Who were knights, and what did they do?

Traditionally, a knight was a man of noble birth trained to arms and chivalry. This social and military position originated in the Middle Ages and required that the man swear his loyalty to the crown. More recently, the title of knight is a symbolic moniker given to show honor to an individual who completed deeds in service of the commonwealth; for our purposes, we are going to concentrate on the type of knight who wore armor, rode a steed and fought in hand-to-hand combat in the medieval times.

What is a Knight?

The role of a knight developed slowly over the centuries with the earliest knights considered officers in the Greek and Roman armies. It was in the 11th century that the medieval knight most people are familiar with began to take shape. These early knights were foot soldiers who used basic weapons and armor. Later, knights became mounted and for this reason riding skills were imperative when deciding who to promote to this esteemed title.

In the 13th century, also called the Iron Age, weapons and armor became more sophisticated and knights became responsible for defending their king and kingdoms. It wasn't until the 15th century that the art of being a knight developed into the image we know today of a brave, chivalrous defender of the people. A knight was considered an example of exemplary behavior and was expected to be versed in subjects such as music, writing, the courts and land management.

Often groups of knights banded together outside of the normal king-knight relationship. These groups were concerned with subjects such as the military and religion. The most famous group is the Knights Templar, the best fighting order within the Crusades.

Who were Knights?

It appears that between the 12th and 17th century, who became a knight was based more upon his ability to do the job rather than family lineage or proprietary behavior. Knights had to be brave, skilled horsemen and swordsmen and be willing to throw themselves into battle should it become necessary. When we think of knights, we think of heroes; however, it must be noted that not all knights deserved their distinguished titles. Many were frightening men who raped, killed and pillaged as often as the drifters and enemies whom they were supposed to be fighting against.

Often, training to become a knight began in early childhood. Boys believed to have potential would be sent to live with a relative or lord who had the resources necessary to teach a knight-in-training. Here, the boy would be tutored in the skills of weapons training and how to handle a horse in combat. Once his training was over, and the boy reached a fighting age normally of 17 to 20 years there would be a ceremony declaring him a knight. The knight would typically promise to work 40 days a year in peaceful times and work more in times of war. In exchange, the knight would receive riches, his own estate and a position within the king's court.


Answering the question, "What is a knight?" can be further answered with a look at their traditional suits of armor. Knights wore these suits, called Platemail, to defend themselves against the weapons of their enemies. These suits included a helmet and a face piece, a piece called a gorget to protect the vulnerable throat and neck area, a chest plate, shoulder and arm pieces, gauntlets (which covered the fingers and hands) and leggings. Knights also wore protective footgear and carried a shield for further protection. The knights usually wore the symbol of their king on their chest plate.

It is interesting to note that these protective suits were not immediately available to knights in the Middle Ages. Metalworkers and blacksmiths worked diligently to provide the knights with these essential Platemail suits, each piece coming into existence individually and eventually put together.

The knighthood is rich in mystery, folklore, romance and danger.

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