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Derived from the Old English cniht for page-boy or simply boy, the term "knight" originated in medieval times as a military rank and has over time developed through the nobility to modern times when knigthhood is given as a royal recognition for services to society. In this latter case, the female form is "Dame".

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While the knight was the servant of the Crown (through one or more Lords under whom he held his land, particularly under the highly developed feudal system after the Norman conquest of 1066) and of God, the demands placed upon the knight to discharge his obligation of military service meant that he was a man of some substance if not a wealthy junior nobleman.

The Saxon thegn as was the Norman knight later, obliged to either attend the fyrdor shire levy himself, or provide a substitute. He was required to attend with four horses, two of which were saddled which indicates that he was required to be accompanied by at least one mounted attendant, known as a squire.

It is estimated that England was divided into some 60,000 knight's fees each of which, based on statements by Ordericus Vitalis, was worth about �20 per annum and liable to supply one fully armoured knight for the king's service for forty days in each year. Under both the Saxons and the Normans, the possession of five hides (of land) rendered the holder to do knight's service (perform the obligations of a knight).

Probably because of the considerable cost of equipping oneself as a knight, the title became increasingly connected to nobility and social status until it eventually became a formal title bestowed on those noblemen trained for active duty in war.

William Marshal (1146-1219), 4th Earl of Pembroke, was described by Stephen Langton as the "greatest knight that ever lived".


Would-be knights were sent to live in the household of his father's lord as a page at the age of seven. Until the age of fourteen, the page would be cared for by the women of the household and recieve his education in comportment, courtesy, cleanliness, and religion.

The page became squire when he became fourteen years of age and, as the personal attendant to a knight, would learn not onyl the military skills he would require, but also hunting, hawking, and other sports.

And as lordes sonnes bene sette, at four yere age,
To scole to lerne the doctryne of letture,
And after at sex to have thaym in language,
And sitte at mete semely in all nurture;
At ten and twelve to revelle in thair cure,
To daunse and synge, and speke of gentelnesse;
At fourtene yere they shalle to felde I sure,
At hunte the dere, and catch an hardynesse.

For dere to hunte and slea, and se them blede,
Ane hardyment gyfffith to his corage,
And also in his wytte to takyth hede
Ymagyninge to take thaym at avauntage.
At sextene yere to werray and to wage,
To juste and ryde, and castels to assayle,
To scarmyse als, and make sykur courage,
And sette his wache for perile nocturnayle;

And every day his armure to assay
In fete of armes with some of his meyne,
His might to preve, and what that he do may
Iff that we were in such a jupertee
Of werre by falle, that by necessite
He might algates with wapyns hym defende:
Thus should he lerne in his priorite
His wapyns alle in armes to dispende.
  - John Harding, date uncertain

The squire would become a knight in his own right when he was deamed ready, usually between eighteen and twenty-one years of age. Contrary to the impression given by Hollywood, few knights recieved their knighthood as a recognition of exceptional valour on the field of battle. After a night spent in prayer and guarding his armour before the curch altar, the squire was knighted in a religious ceremony during which he swore to uphold the knightly code of chivalry which required the knight to "protect the weak, defenseless, and helpless, and fight for the general welfare of all" - although the code of chivalry was rarely kept, it did provide the standard for chivalry and proper behaviour amongst the nobility for a number of centuries.


A standing (permanent) army did not come into being until the Civil War (1642-1652) and the knight was obligated as his feudal due to serve under his lord for forty days each year. Until the time of Henry I reigned in the power of the magnates and under weak kings, many battles were usually quite minor affairs fought between individual barons.

The object of battle was not necssarily to kill an opponent, but to capture him for ransom, and many knights and noblemen thus profitted greatly from their participation in warfare.


Armour, the protection against the weaponry of the enemy, was subject to an "arms race" just as in modern times. Armourers sought to make weapons more effective against armour and, as they succeeded, armour was designed to attempt defeat the effectiveness of the new weaponry.

One of the chief developments in weaponry took place in archery. Early armour primarily relied on chain mail - interlocking rings of steel to stop a weapon reaching the body and a helmet to protect the head. The abandonment of the traditional barbed arrow-tip in favour of of a long tapering steel shaft with a sharp point which could pick a path between the links led to the development of the later steel plate armour.

Arrows were made with long, tapering and barb-less iron tips which, powered by the 120lb of force exerted by the longbow could pierce armour at three hundred yards.

The development of fire-arms which could readily pierce armour at considerable distances made the armoured knight obsolete in military terms and played a large part in consigning knighthood to an aristocratic rank.

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Knights Templars

The Knights Templars were a religious and military order which was first established at Jerusalem in the early part of the 12th century for the protection of pilgrims and of the Holy Sepulcher. They were so named because they occupied an apartment of the palace of Baldwin II in Jerusalem, near the Temple.

Originally limited in numbers, members of the order were bound by vows of chastity and poverty. After the conquest of Palestine by the Saracens, the Templars spread throughout Europe, and, by reason of their reputation for valor and piety, they were enriched by numerous donations of money and lands. The extravagances and vices of the later Templars, however, finally led to the suppression of the order by the Council of Vienne in 1312.

The name derives from the Old English templere (French templier, Late Latin templarius).


The original buildings at the Temple in London belonged to the order and students of law were known as "templars" from having apartments in the Temple.

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Order of the Bath

The order of knighthood was established by Henry IV and, though lapsed c.1670, it was revived by George I, being formally reconstituted in 1815.

There are three classes; Knights Grand Cross (G.C.B.); Knights Commanders (K.C.B.) and Commanders (C.B.) - each with military, civil and honorary divisions.

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Order of the Garter

The most senior and the oldest British order of chivalry, the Order of the Garter was founded by in 1348 by Edward III as the highest reward for loyalty and for military merit.

It consists of the monarch and twenty-five knights.

The founder-knights had all served in the French campaigns including the battle of Cr�cy. They included the Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) and three foreigners who had previously sworn allegiance to the king.

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1312Suppression of the Knights Templars by order of the Council of Vienne
1348Foundation of the Order of the Garter by Edward III

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