From Page to Knight: The Path to Medieval Knighthood and Its Legacy

From Page to Knight: The Path to Medieval Knighthood and Its Legacy

The image of a knight in shining armor astride a powerful steed, charging bravely into battle, is an enduring symbol of the Middle Ages. But how did one become such a storied figure in medieval society? Becoming a knight was not merely a matter of birthright; it involved a rigorous training regimen, adhering to a strict code of conduct, and navigating the political landscape of feudalism. Let’s delve into the intricacies of knighthood and the journey to becoming a knight. 

Birthright and Social Class

Beginnings Matter:

Knighthood was not open to everyone in medieval society. While there were exceptions, most knights came from the nobility or the wealthier classes. Being born into a noble family was the first step on the path to knighthood.

Exceptions to the Rule:

While most knights had noble origins, there were instances where exceptionally brave squires or soldiers, irrespective of their birth, were knighted on the battlefield in recognition of their courage.

Could Anyone Become a Knight in the Middle Ages?

Becoming a knight in the Middle Ages was a privilege often reserved for the nobility and the wealthier classes. The intricate process and the expenses associated with maintaining the knightly lifestyle typically limited this honor to those born into higher social strata. However, it would be a misconception to say that knighthood was entirely exclusive to the elite.

While the majority of knights indeed hailed from noble families, there were exceptional circumstances where individuals outside of this social class could attain knighthood. Exceptional bravery, valor, or service on the battlefield might lead to a soldier or squire being knighted by a lord or even the monarch, irrespective of their birth.

In some cases, individuals who had acquired wealth or influence through commerce or other means could also enter the path to knighthood. This was particularly more feasible during the later Middle Ages, as social mobility increased slightly and the rigid class distinctions began to soften.

Nevertheless, these cases were more the exception than the rule, and the road to knighthood was fraught with obstacles for those not born into the privileged classes. The deeply entrenched feudal system and the significant social, financial, and training requirements meant that, for the vast majority, knighthood remained an unattainable dream. Thus, while not entirely closed, the gates to knighthood were guarded by barriers few could overcome.

Early Life and Pagehood


From as early as seven years old, boys destined for knighthood were sent to live with a knightly relative or lord as a page. This stage was the boy’s introduction to court life and chivalry.

Duties and Education:

Pages had to perform simple tasks, such as serving meals and delivering messages. In return, they received education in religion, reading, writing, music, and social decorum.

The Life of a Squire

Transition to Squirehood:

At around the age of 14, after years as a page, the young boy would become a squire. This role was akin to an apprenticeship for knighthood.


Squires trained intensively in combat skills. They learned to wield swords, lances, and other weapons, ride horses, and participate in tournaments. They also learned about armor, how to wear it, and how to care for it.

Additional Duties:

Squires also served their knightly master, assisting them in battle, maintaining weapons, and even dressing the knight in his armor.

The Role of Training 

The role of training in the path to knighthood during the Middle Ages was both rigorous and indispensable. It served as the foundation upon which a squire would grow and develop into a full-fledged knight, encompassing not just physical skills but also mental discipline and moral fortitude.

From the age of 14, when a young boy would typically become a squire, training in combat skills became a daily routine. This included learning to wield various weapons like swords and lances, mastering the art of horsemanship, and participating in mock battles and tournaments. The squire would also be taught how to wear and care for armor, a vital part of the knight’s equipment.

But training extended beyond mere physical prowess. The squire would learn about the Code of Chivalry, absorbing the virtues of loyalty, bravery, and courtesy that would govern his conduct as a knight. A strong religious connection was often present, and training might include religious studies and an understanding of the knight’s role as a protector of the Church.

The hands-on aspect of the training was further enriched by serving under a seasoned knight. This mentorship allowed the squire to observe and learn from real-world experiences, imbuing them with the practical wisdom and skills needed for warfare and life in the court.

In essence, the role of training was to mold the individual, blending physical ability with moral grounding, shaping not just a warrior but a gentleman. It was a complex, all-encompassing process, reflecting the multi-dimensional nature of knighthood and its significance in medieval society.

Chivalry and the Code of Conduct

Moral Grounding:

Beyond physical prowess, knights had to adhere to the Code of Chivalry—a moral system emphasizing virtues like loyalty, bravery, and courtesy.

Religious Connection:

The Church played a significant role in shaping the knight’s code. Knights were expected to protect the Church and maintain their piety.

The Dubbing Ceremony

Coming of Age:

Typically, at the age of 21 or thereabouts, a squire was deemed ready for knighthood. This decision was made by the lord or knight they served under.

The Ritual:

The dubbing ceremony was a solemn affair, filled with religious overtones. It often began the evening before with a ritual bath and an all-night vigil in a chapel. On the day of the ceremony, the squire would be dressed in white (symbolizing purity), red (symbolizing nobility), and black or brown (representing the earth to which he will one day return). The central moment was when the lord or presiding knight tapped the squire’s shoulders with a flat sword, officially conferring knighthood.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Knight


Knights were often bound by an oath of loyalty to a lord. In exchange for land or a fief, they promised military service. This feudal system defined political and military relationships during the Middle Ages.

Tournaments and Jousts:

Apart from warfare, knights often participated in tournaments, which were both a form of military training and entertainment. The joust, where two knights charged at each other with lances, was a highlight of these events.

The Cost of Knighthood

Financial Implications:

Knighthood was expensive. Knights had to maintain their weapons, armor, horses, and often a retinue of squires. While some knights received lands from their lords to sustain their status, others had to seek fortune in tournaments or mercenary activities.

How Were Knights Paid?

Knights in the Middle Ages were typically compensated through a system deeply tied to the feudal structure of society. Rather than receiving monetary payment, knights often were granted land, or a “fief,” by their lord or monarch. This land not only provided the knight with a place to live but also generated income through agriculture and other means.

The fief allowed the knight to sustain the lifestyle associated with his status, including maintaining armor, weapons, horses, and a retinue of squires and servants. In exchange for the land, the knight was bound by an oath of allegiance to provide military service to his lord, which could include fighting in battles, defending the lord’s territory, or other martial duties.

In some instances, knights might also receive gifts, spoils from conquests, or special privileges as forms of remuneration. Still, the granting of land remained the central means of compensation, reflecting the intertwined nature of military service, social status, and economic sustenance in medieval society.

What Age Did the Knights Retire?

In the Middle Ages, the concept of retirement, as we understand it today, did not precisely exist, especially for knights. There was no standardized age at which a knight was expected to retire, as the notion of knighthood was often seen as a lifelong commitment to service rather than a career with a defined endpoint.

The ability of a knight to continue in active service would typically depend on his physical condition and the needs of his lord or sovereign. As long as a knight could fulfill his martial and administrative duties, he would continue to do so.

However, the demanding physical requirements of being a knight — wearing heavy armor, engaging in combat, and participating in tournaments — would inevitably take a toll on the body. As a knight aged, he might step back from active military duty if these physical tasks became too taxing. In such cases, a knight could continue to serve in other capacities, such as administrative or managerial roles on his estate or within his lord’s domain.

In some circumstances, a knight’s son or another chosen successor might take over the active duties, allowing the older knight to enjoy a form of “retirement” where he might still oversee lands and hold influence without the day-to-day rigors of knighthood. The transition was typically gradual, reflecting both the lord’s needs and the knight’s abilities and desires.

The Role of Knights in the Middle Ages

The role of knights in the Middle Ages extended far beyond the romanticized image of a gallant warrior charging into battle. They were key figures in medieval society, serving various functions critical to the time’s social, political, and military fabric.

  1. Military Service: As elite warriors, knights were instrumental in defending lands and enforcing the lord’s authority. Trained in combat and equipped with heavy armor, they were the backbone of medieval armies, leading cavalry charges and providing tactical expertise.
  2. Feudal Obligations: Within the feudal system, knights often held land from a lord in exchange for military service. This vassalage created a complex web of loyalties and dependencies that defined political relationships and power dynamics during the Middle Ages.
  3. Chivalric Code: Knights were bound by a code of chivalry that emphasized virtues like loyalty, bravery, courtesy, and honor. This moral code not only guided their conduct in battle but also their behavior in courtly life, setting a standard for gentility and nobility.
  4. Protectors of the Church: As devout Christians, knights often saw themselves as defenders of the faith. They protected religious institutions and went on crusades to reclaim or defend Christian lands.
  5. Economic Role: Knights were often landowners, overseeing estates and peasants. They had responsibilities to manage these lands productively, which included administering justice and ensuring the well-being of those under their charge.
  6. Social and Cultural Influence: Beyond their military and economic roles, knights played a significant part in medieval culture. They participated in tournaments and jousts, not merely as training exercises but also as grand social events that were integral to the social calendar.
  7. Legal and Administrative Duties: Some knights held judicial and administrative roles within their domain. They served as local judges or officials, contributing to the governance and legal framework of their territories.
  8. Patrons of Arts and Education: In some cases, knights were patrons of art, literature, and education. They sponsored poets, musicians, and scholars, fostering the growth of culture and learning.

The multifaceted role of knights in the Middle Ages reflects the complexity of their status and influence. Far from being mere warriors, they were central to almost every aspect of medieval life, shaping politics, law, economics, and culture. Their legacy, woven into the fabric of medieval history, continues to be celebrated as a symbol of courage and nobility. It also stands as a testament to their substantive impact on society.

Knighthood’s Decline

Knighthood’s decline in the later Middle Ages is a multifaceted phenomenon deeply rooted in the changes that occurred during this period. Introducing new weaponry, such as the longbow and firearms, diminished the importance of heavily armored knights on the battlefield. These innovations made traditional cavalry charges less effective and, in some cases, obsolete.

Moreover, the growth of centralized monarchies began to change the feudal system that had supported the knights’ role for centuries. Kings and rulers started relying more on professional standing armies rather than feudal levies, leading to a gradual decline in the traditional knightly class. This move towards centralized power rendered the individual knight’s military service less essential and shifted the focus toward a more organized and unified military structure.

Economic factors also played a role in the waning of knighthood. Maintaining the status of a knight, with the associated costs of armor, weaponry, horses, and squires, became increasingly burdensome. Many knights were unable to sustain their financial obligations, leading to a shift in their societal roles.

Finally, cultural and social changes contributed to the decline. The rise of a mercantile class and an increasing emphasis on non-military virtues led to a reevaluation of the knight’s status and importance in society.

Knighthood’s decline thus reflects broader transformations in medieval society, where political, military, economic, and cultural evolutions reshaped the landscape, redefining roles and responsibilities and leading to a fading of the once mighty and revered knights.

Final Words

The journey of knighthood in the Middle Ages paints a vivid portrait of a time when honor, courage, and duty intersected with politics, warfare, and social obligations. Aspiring knights underwent rigorous rites of passage, from their early days as pages to the momentous dubbing ceremony that marked their formal entry into knighthood. These medieval warriors were bound not only by their fealty to lords but also by a chivalric code that governed their very essence. Yet, like many historical institutions, knighthood faced inevitable transformations, particularly with the advent of new warfare tactics and political structures. 

Yet, despite its decline, the image of the gallant knight continues to be a symbolic representation of medieval Europe. Their enduring legacy, symbolizing a blend of bravery, sacrifice, and nobility, remains a testament to their indelible mark on history, and their tales still inspire tales of heroism today.