What Is a Knight?

What is a knight? Most of us picture a man clad in heavy armor, similar to this:


But, as with many things, our general perception doesn’t encapsulate the entire truth.

I did a bit of research on historical knights so I’d know what they were and could borrow from reality and legend to create the knights in my own work.

In reality, a knight was usually a mounted soldier serving under a feudal lord in Europe. The concept of what a knight was would come to mean men, usually of noble birth (but not required), who would be apprenticed as first a page and then a squire.

During this apprenticeship, they were taught all of the skills necessary to be a skilled fighter, as well as religion, reading and writing, and social decorum. They’d then be given the military rank of knight and be bound to the code of chivalry.

This code of chivalry was enacted partially to control behavior. Because history has taught us how well behaved soldiers can be. See also, Vikings.

They’d terrorized much of Europe, so yeah, chivalry had its reasons.

Unlike many other titles (duke, baron, etc.), knighthood was not hereditary. It was given to a person by a sovereign because of personal merit or service. This means that it was easier for men who were good at being soldiers to move up in rank. It also meant you never had a six-year-old knight. Unlike some kings. And helped reduce the crazy, unlike in kings.

Knights were an important part of feudal system established by Charlemagne. Under this system, the king owned all of the land, and he granted fiefs to various lords in return for loyalty, protection and service.

In order to provide this protection, the knight class was created. Many knights were professional warriors, and the lord they served paid them for the services, and provided food, lodging, armor, weapons and horses.

Knighthood was a way for a man to advance in a society that offered few other means. As it also wasn’t an inherited position, it was a way for a younger son of a lord to advance himself. Knights could make fortunes from their service, and they could be granted land from the king and become a lord in their own right.

While many of us think of Knights of the Round Table when we think of knights.

Okay, maybe not this King Arthur.

In reality, knights were experienced mounted soldiers. They were also supposed to have a firm grounding in religion, among other things, but the reality was knights were about as religious as any other general order of soldiers.

Stories of knights have been told for a very long time. I think it somewhat relates to the legends of King Arthur, but I also think seeing men riding in armor on horseback left a strong impression. It was story worthy.


How about you? What do you think of when you think of knights? Maybe Sir Lancelot or Sir Galahad from King Arthur’s court? Ser Bronn from Game of Thrones? Sir El Cid of Spain? Or maybe you think of something all together different?

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6 thoughts on “What Is a Knight?

  1. Great post! Alex is reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, so I get to read it too, since his teacher assigned it as “outside reading” and won’t go over it–but there’s still a paper due. I know, right? But, I used to teach a “British Literature to 1700 course” so this assignment has been fun for me anyway. I never taught Sir Gawain and I hadn’t read it since my senior year of high school, but I’m enjoying it. We are learning so much about the armor, courtly traditions, how a royal meal is served (very intricate), what “honor” means and how it can be lost. I’ll show Alex your post:)

    1. I look forward to hearing how he liked the book!

      While I liked the idea of Arthur and his knights, I hated a lot of other stuff about them. I used to pretend there were female knights that went out on adventures, too. And, of course, I actually liked Morgan Le Fey, especially after learning how Arthur was born.

      Interesting stuff. There’s a reason it’s survived so long.

  2. In my first book (unpublished) I referred to the army of the nation that the story took place in as knights. They were pretty much equal parts men and women. There was a whole backstory that never made it into the novel about the rebellious beginnings of the nation wherein the armed forces of the rebels usurped the title of knight from the empire they were rebelling against in order to change the meaning to something more positive.

    1. Woohoo! More female knights!

      Backstory is awesome to have, but so hard to fit into a story I find. Still, because you know it, there is consistency in the story itself.

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