knighthood medieval times

Knighthood in the Middle Ages: Valor, Chivalry, and Tradition

In the Middle Ages, knighthood represented the pinnacle of honor, valor, and chivalry. Knights were revered for their courage on the battlefield and their adherence to a strict code of ethics known as chivalry. The traditions and values associated with knighthood continue to captivate our imagination to this day.

Key Takeaways

  • Knighthood was a symbol of honor and chivalry in the Middle Ages.
  • Knights were respected for their courage on the battlefield and their adherence to a strict code of ethics.
  • The traditions and values associated with knighthood continue to captivate our imagination today.

Origins of Knighthood

The concept of knighthood has been around since the Middle Ages, and it evolved into a prestigious social class that symbolized valor, honor, and chivalry. Knights were known for their exceptional skills in warfare, and they played a significant role in shaping the medieval-era societies.

Medieval knights trace their origins back to the 12th century, where they were primarily men-at-arms who served feudal lords. These lords gave them land, which they could use to produce crops and livestock. In exchange for this land, the knights had to pledge their services to their lords and protect them against their enemies.

Medieval Warfare and the Birth of the Knight

The birth of the knight as we know it today happened in the 11th century. This period saw the emergence of a new style of war, which relied on heavily armored cavalry. The use of this cavalry helped in the successful conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066.

The heavily armored cavalry was a significant factor in the Norman Conquest, and it became a crucial component of medieval warfare. The knights, who were wealthy landowners, provided the cavalry for the feudal lords and kings. This new style of warfare created a need for skilled, armored horsemen who could fight on the battlefield effectively. Thus, the knight was born.

The training and education of knights began early in their lives. They were sent to live with other knights, where they learned the skills of horsemanship, jousting, sword fighting, and archery. They were also trained in the Code of Chivalry, which was a set of moral rules that governed their behavior.

The Evolution of the Knightly Class

As the Middle Ages progressed, knights gained more power and became a distinct social class. They had a significant influence in the politics of their time, and their wealth and prestige grew. Knights became the protectors of the weak and the defenders of the faith.

The social status of knights allowed them to intermarry with the nobility, and they became part of the ruling elite. Their wealth and power made them influential in society, and they played a significant role in shaping the culture of the Middle Ages.

The origins of knighthood lay in the need for skilled, heavily armored horsemen who could fight effectively in medieval warfare. Over time, they evolved into a prestigious social class defined by their code of chivalry and their adherence to the principles of valor, honor, and duty.

Training and Education of Knights

In medieval society, becoming a knight required extensive training and education. Young boys, typically from noble families, began their knightly training at the age of around seven as pages, serving as attendants to knights. At the age of fourteen, they became squires, working directly under a knight as an apprentice.

The education of a knight included physical training such as jousting, wrestling, and archery, as well as lessons in etiquette, religion, and strategy. Knights were expected to uphold the code of chivalry, which emphasized honor, loyalty, and courage. The code also required knights to be respectful towards women and to protect the weak and defenseless.

The most important virtue for a knight was bravery. Knights were trained to be fearless in battle and to never retreat. They were also taught to be skilled horsemen, as the horse was a vital component of medieval warfare.

The path to knighthood was not easy, and only a select few could achieve this honorable status. A knight’s education and training never truly ended, as they were expected to constantly improve their skills and knowledge throughout their lives.

Knightly Armor and Weapons

The armor and weapons used by knights in the Middle Ages were integral to their success in combat. A knight’s armor was not only a protective covering but also a symbol of their status and wealth. It evolved over time from chain mail to plate armor, and the level of protection increased as the materials improved.

Knightly armor not only covered the body but also the head, hands, and feet. The helmet was essential to a knight’s protection, and it came in a variety of designs, including the classic visor style and the more elaborate ‘Great Helm’ that provided full coverage. The gauntlets, or armored gloves, protected the hands, while the greaves covered the shins. The armor also included a surcoat, a sleeveless tunic worn over the armor that indicated a knight’s coat of arms and helped identify them on the battlefield.

In addition to armor, a knight’s weapons were also a crucial element of medieval combat. Knights used a variety of weapons such as swords, lances, axes, and maces. Swords were the most commonly used weapon and varied in size and design depending on the knight’s preference. Lances were the most lethal weapon of choice during jousting tournaments, and the objective was to unhorse one’s opponent.

Another essential weapon was the battle axe, which was useful in close combat situations. The mace was preferred by knights who needed to crush through armor, as the forceful blows could inflict severe damage. The crossbow was also used, though it was often considered an underhanded weapon due to its ability to pierce armor from a distance.

Overall, the armor and weapons used by knights in the Middle Ages played a vital role in their success on the battlefield. The armor not only offered protection but also represented a knight’s status and wealth, while the weapons were lethal and varied to suit different battle scenarios.

The Role of Knights in Feudal Society

In feudalism, knights sat at the top of the social hierarchy. They were members of the nobility, above the common people and peasants. Knights were sworn to uphold the feudal obligations of their lords and to protect their lands against any invaders. In return for their service, knights were granted land or other valuable assets.

Knighthood was a hereditary title, passed on from father to son. Knights were trained from a young age in the art of warfare and courtly manners. They were expected to be skilled in several forms of combat, including swordsmanship, jousting, archery, and hand-to-hand combat. They also had to be knowledgeable about heraldry, the code of chivalry, and the law of the land.

The knightly hierarchy was arranged in a strict order, with the king at the top, followed by the nobles, and the knights below them. Knights were also categorized based on the amount of land they held or the number of vassals they controlled. This system ensured that the most powerful knights had the most military and political influence.

Feudal obligations were at the core of knightly life. Knights were required to provide military service to their lords whenever called upon. They also had to protect their lord’s lands, collect taxes, and maintain law and order. Additionally, knights were expected to show loyalty, honor, and respect to their lords and to the code of chivalry.

Code of Chivalry and Knightly Virtues

The code of chivalry was the moral and behavioral code followed by knights during the Middle Ages. It was a set of rules that encompassed every aspect of a knight’s life, from his behavior and manners to his duties and responsibilities. The code of chivalry emphasized the importance of knightly virtues, such as honor, loyalty, courage, and mercy.

Honor was one of the most significant virtues that a knight was expected to uphold. A knight was required to keep his word, never deceive others and maintain the highest standards of conduct and character. Loyalty was another important virtue, as it required knights to prioritize their loyalty to their lord above all else.

Courage was also considered a key virtue, as knights were required to be fearless in battle and defend their country and lord at all costs. In addition to these virtues, mercy was also highly valued, as knights were expected to show compassion to the weak and vulnerable.

The chivalric code was often referred to as the ‘knightly way of life,’ and it played a significant role in shaping the behavior and attitudes of knights during the Middle Ages. Knights were trained in these virtues from a young age, and it was considered a crucial part of their education and training.

Medieval honor was a crucial concept associated with the code of chivalry. It was the idea that a knight’s reputation was everything, and he was expected to defend his honor at all costs. This often led to the practice of dueling, which was seen as a way to defend one’s honor and reputation.

The code of chivalry and the virtues it embodied were not only applicable to knights but also to the nobility and those in positions of power. The code of chivalry helped to establish and maintain a sense of order and justice in medieval society, and it remains a symbol of honor and valor to this day.

Famous Knights of the Middle Ages

The stories of knights in the Middle Ages have captured people’s imaginations for centuries. From legends of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table to historical figures like Richard the Lionheart, famous knights have become symbols of chivalry, honor, and bravery.

One of the most famous legendary knights is Sir Lancelot, a central figure in Arthurian legend and known for his controversial love affair with Queen Guinevere. Another notable figure is Sir Gawain, one of King Arthur’s most loyal knights and the protagonist of the famous poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.”

Historical knights also left their mark on the Middle Ages. Richard the Lionheart, King of England during the late 12th century, was renowned for his military prowess and his involvement in the Third Crusade. William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, was a skilled warrior and successful diplomat who served under four different kings of England.

Other famous knights include Sir John Chandos, a close advisor to Edward the Black Prince during the Hundred Years’ War, and Sir William Wallace, a Scottish knight who led a rebellion against English rule in the late 13th century.

“What is chivalry? It is the will to serve others, the will to sacrifice oneself for the good of the many.”

These knights have not only made their mark in history but have also served as inspiration for countless books, movies, and TV shows. Their legacy continues to captivate people of all ages, and their stories of valor and honor continue to be told and retold.

Knightly Traditions and Ceremonies

Knightly traditions and ceremonies played a significant role in the lives of knights during the Middle Ages. These events were often steeped in symbolism and ceremony, reflecting the values and ideals of the knightly class.

One of the most important ceremonies associated with knighthood was the dubbing ceremony. This was the moment when a squire was formally knighted, marking their transition from a trainee to a fully-fledged knight. During this ceremony, the squire would swear an oath of loyalty to their lord, receive their knighthood accolade, and be presented with their sword and armor. It was a moment of great honor and achievement, marking the pinnacle of a knight’s training and education.

Other popular medieval traditions included chivalric tournaments, where knights would compete against each other in a variety of events, including jousting, sword fighting, and archery. These tournaments were a way for knights to show off their skills and compete for prestige and glory.

Courtly love was another important tradition of the medieval period. It involved a complex system of etiquette and social norms governing the behavior of knights towards women, emphasizing the importance of chivalry, honor, and respect.

The Code of Chivalry also had a significant impact on knightly traditions and ceremonies. It emphasized the importance of virtues such as bravery, loyalty, and honesty, and encouraged knights to act in accordance with these values in all aspects of their lives. This code was a key part of medieval society and was often invoked during knightly ceremonies and events.

In conclusion, knightly traditions and ceremonies were an integral part of medieval society, reflecting the values and ideals of the knightly class. From the dubbing ceremony to courtly love, these events were steeped in symbolism and tradition, contributing to the enduring legacy of knighthood in the Middle Ages.


Knighthood in the Middle Ages was more than just a title. It represented a way of life, built on the values of valor, chivalry, and tradition. From its origins in medieval warfare to its position in feudal society, knighthood played a significant role in shaping the world we know today.

The path to knighthood was not an easy one, requiring years of training and education. But for those who successfully completed their journey, the rewards were great. As knights, they were expected to uphold the code of chivalry and embody the virtues of honor, loyalty, and courage.

The armor and weapons used by knights were not only functional but also symbolic of their status in society. Whether in battle or at tournaments, they were known for their skill and strength.

Although the era of knighthood has long since passed, its legacy lives on. From the legends of famous knights to the traditions and ceremonies associated with knighthood, the Middle Ages continue to capture our imagination and inspire us.

Final Thoughts

The world of knighthood is rich and fascinating, offering a glimpse into a time long gone but not forgotten. As we reflect on the enduring legacy of this period, we are reminded that the values of valor, chivalry, and tradition are timeless and continue to shape our world today.


Q: What is knighthood in the Middle Ages?

A: Knighthood in the Middle Ages referred to a social class of warriors who were known for their valor, chivalry, and adherence to knightly traditions.

Q: What are the origins of knighthood?

A: Knighthood in the Middle Ages originated from the needs of medieval warfare and evolved into a distinct class of warriors known for their skill and bravery.

Q: How did knights receive training and education?

A: Knights underwent rigorous training and education, which included combat practice, horsemanship, and learning the code of chivalry.

Q: What armor and weapons did knights use?

A: Knights in the Middle Ages wore suits of armor and wielded weapons such as swords, lances, and maces in battles and tournaments.

Q: What was the role of knights in feudal society?

A: Knights held a prominent position in feudal society, serving as vassals to lords and lords themselves, and fulfilling military and administrative obligations.

Q: What was the code of chivalry and what were knightly virtues?

A: The code of chivalry was a set of ethical guidelines that knights were expected to follow, emphasizing virtues like honor, loyalty, and courage.

Q: Who were some famous knights of the Middle Ages?

A: Some famous knights from the Middle Ages include King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, Sir William Marshal, and Sir Lancelot.

Q: What were some knightly traditions and ceremonies?

A: Knightly traditions and ceremonies included the dubbing ceremony, tournaments, and the concept of courtly love.