What Did the Knights Fight For?

What Did the Knights Fight For?

Knights have been the subject of countless stories, movies, and even video games. Often depicted as gallant figures in shining armor, they represent an era of chivalry, warfare, and distinct social hierarchy. Their lives and motivations, however, were much more complex than mere storytelling elements.

10 Facts About Medieval Knights

  1. Page and Squire Training: The journey to knighthood began at a young age, around 7 when a boy was sent to live with a knight or noble and became a page. There, he learned manners, hawking, and some basic combat. At 14, he was promoted to a squire, performing duties for the knight while receiving more advanced training.
  2. Dubbing Ceremony: When the squire was around 21, he could be dubbed a knight through a formal ceremony. This included a religious vigil, a symbolic purification bath, donning knightley attire, and a strike (dub) on the neck or shoulder with a sword.
  3. Not Always Wealthy: Contrary to popular belief, not all knights were rich. Many were minor nobles with just enough wealth to maintain their horse, armor, and weapons.
  4. Chivalry was a Late Addition: The chivalric code, defining the ideal knightly behavior, only emerged in the 12th century, long after the establishment of knighthood.
  5. Heavy Armor: A knight’s full armor could weigh up to 60 pounds. However, it was distributed evenly across the body, allowing knights to move with surprising agility.
  6. Tournaments Were Deadly: Tournaments were not just a sport; they were mock battles and could be as deadly as real warfare. Knights could capture and ransom each other, leading to significant gains—or losses.
  7. Knights Didn’t Work Alone: Knights often fought in units, not as lone warriors. These units, called contingents, were usually led by a higher noble or knight.
  8. Knighthood Could be Revoked: If a knight acted dishonorably, his status could be stripped away—a practice called the degradation of knighthood.
  9. Peasant Knights: Occasionally, a peasant could become a knight, usually as a reward for bravery in battle. Nevertheless, these knights often struggled to maintain their status due to the cost associated with knighthood.
  10. Knights Were Literate: Many knights could read and write despite common misconceptions. Literacy was a sign of prestige and necessary for managing estates and correspondence.

Who Did Knights Fight Against? 

Knights in the Middle Ages could find themselves in combat against a variety of opponents. The identity of these adversaries was shaped by the time’s complex sociopolitical and religious landscape.

  • Other Knights and Lords: One common opponent was other knights. Conflicts over land, power, and honor often led to warfare between feudal lords, with their knights leading or supporting the battle.
  • Rebellious Peasants: At times, knights were called upon to suppress peasant revolts. Unrest among the peasant class was common in the Middle Ages, particularly during economic hardship, and knights would fight to maintain the feudal order.
  • Foreign Invaders: Knights also defended their lands from foreign invaders. This could include Viking raiders in the early Middle Ages or more organized armies from rival kingdoms or empires.
  • During the Crusades: During the Crusades, European knights fought against Muslim forces in the Holy Land. These religious wars were a defining feature of the High Middle Ages, driven by a complex mix of religious fervor, political ambition, and the promise of wealth. 

Thus, knights engaged in combat with various opponents, reflecting the diverse challenges and conflicts of the Medieval period.

Middle-Aged Knights: Honor and Duty

Knights in the Middle Ages were bound by their obligations to their feudal lords and their dedication to the concept of chivalry. As warriors, they were expected to uphold the ideals of loyalty, honor, and protection of the innocent. Yet, they also fought for personal gain and prestige, as success in battles often translated into wealth and increased status.

Being a knight wasn’t easy. Training often began in childhood and continued into early adulthood. Knights-to-be would serve as pages and then squires, learning the skills necessary for combat and gaining an understanding of the chivalric code. Only after this rigorous process could they be officially dubbed knights, usually in their early twenties – which is surprisingly middle-aged considering the average life expectancy in the Middle Ages.

Once they attained knighthood, these Middle-Aged Knights were often called upon to fight in battles, siege warfare, or the Crusades. As time progressed, the life of a knight expanded to include participation in tournaments, which provided a way to display their martial prowess in a relatively safe environment, and a chance to increase their wealth and reputation.

The Knight in Medieval Times: God and Glory

The life of a knight in medieval times was not just centered on warfare and chivalry. Religion played a significant role in their lives. This was a time when the Church held considerable power, and religious warfare, such as the Crusades, was a common occurrence. Knights often fought for their faith, believing God chose them to uphold and protect the Christian faith from external threats.

The Crusades, which occurred between the 11th and 15th centuries, offered knights an opportunity to gain eternal salvation, as well as worldly rewards. The Church promised remission of sins to those who participated in these holy wars. This religious motivation was often combined with more earthly incentives, such as the chance to gain land and riches in the conquered territories.

Middle Ages Knights: Power and Prestige

In the feudal system, power and wealth were tightly intertwined. Land was the primary source of wealth, often acquired through warfare. Knights, therefore, fought to increase their holdings and status. Successful knights could become landowning lords, while those of lesser fortunes might serve as mercenaries.

Knights also pursued prestige through their actions on and off the battlefield. The code of chivalry demanded that they act with honor, courage, and courtesy. Demonstrating these virtues could earn a knight considerable respect and admiration, further enhancing their status. Knights could also earn prestige through tournaments and jousts, which served as platforms for displaying their martial skills and earning potential rewards.

Moreover, knights often had obligations to their feudal lords. They received land, protection, and support in exchange for their service. Therefore, they were obligated to answer when their lord called them to battle. Loyalty to their lord was essential to a knight’s duty, and they often fought to defend their lord’s land and interests.

Knights Beyond Warfare: Courtly Love and Chivalry

The concept of courtly love also motivated the knights of the Middle Ages. This romanticized ideal propagated through literature described knights as protectors and admirers of ladies who inspired them to do great deeds of valor. A knight’s devotion to a lady was seen as a way to refine his character and motivate his actions. Whether real or imagined, the love of a knight for his lady often inspired him to do acts of bravery and nobility. This romantic notion further fueled the knights’ pursuit of honor and glory.

Conclusion: Knights of Multiple Facets

Knights in the Middle Ages fought for more than just survival; they fought for honor, faith, power, and love. As protectors and warriors, they served their lords and defended their lands. As followers of the Church, they waged holy wars and sought spiritual redemption. As pursuers of prestige, they sought to display their skills and increase their status. As lovers, they fought in the name of their beloved, striving for deeds of greatness that would earn them renown and admiration.

The Middle Ages Knights were not simple figures; they were complex individuals molded by their time’s unique pressures and expectations. Their motivations were multifaceted, shaped by personal ambition, social norms, religious fervor, and romantic ideals. As we explore their lives, we gain a deeper understanding of the Middle Ages, a period that, while often romanticized, was defined by its complexity and contradictions.