What Were Elite Knights Called?

What Were Elite Knights Called?

The intricate weave of medieval history is peppered with tales of bravery, honor, and chivalry. These narratives often center around the heroic figure of the knight. However, not all knights were created equal; certain groups distinguished themselves as elite warriors, often serving as the vanguard in battle and the exemplars of knighthood. The following sections delve into what these elite knights were called, their role, and their significance within the vast tapestry of medieval history.

Knight Ranks Highest to Lowest

Knighthood in the Middle Ages was a highly structured institution with a distinct hierarchy. The rankings ranged from the highest echelons of nobility to the humblest warriors on horseback. Here’s a breakdown of knight ranks from highest to lowest.

Knight Banneret

At the pinnacle of knightly hierarchy was the Knight Banneret, sometimes considered a rank below the true nobility but still superior to all other knights. The title was not hereditary and was granted by a monarch or higher noble in recognition of exceptional valor or leadership in battle. Bannerets led their troops into battle under their banner, which was square-shaped to distinguish it from the pennants flown by lower-ranking knights.

Knight Bachelor

Beneath the Bannerets was the Knight Bachelor, the most common form of knighthood. These knights were in direct service to the king or a lord of similar standing. Unlike Bannerets, Bachelors did not have the privilege of leading troops under their banner.

Knight Errant

Further down the hierarchy was the Knight Errant. These knights were often depicted in chivalric romances, roving the land in search of adventure and the chance to display their bravery, skill, and chivalry. While they were still of noble birth, they did not typically possess land or significant wealth.


The rank below Knight Errant was Squire. This was not so much a rank of knighthood as a step towards it. Squires were usually younger men of noble birth who served as knights hoping to eventually become knights themselves. Their duties included caring for the knight’s horses, maintaining his armor and weapons, and even accompanying him to battle.


At the lowest level of the hierarchy were the Men-at-Arms. Although not knights, they were professional soldiers who served as knights or noblemen. They were well-trained and equipped, forming the backbone of medieval armies. While they lacked the social status and privileges of knighthood, their role on the battlefield was no less essential.

From the high-ranking Knight Banneret to the common Man-at-Arms, each rank had its role within the complex structure of medieval chivalry. Together, they made up the formidable force that was the medieval knightly class.

The Elite Among the Elite: Knights Templar

Among the countless knights of the Middle Ages, one group stood above the rest in terms of influence, wealth, and military prowess – the Knights Templar. Named after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Knights Templar was an elite military order of knights dedicated to the protection of Christian pilgrims during the Crusades.

These elite knights became renowned for their martial abilities and adherence to a strict religious and moral code. The Templar knights were easily distinguishable on the battlefield with their iconic white mantles adorned with a red cross. They were disciplined warriors, expert horsemen, and formidable opponents, often at the forefront of Crusader armies, their names whispered with respect and fear alike.

The Knights Templar: Elite Beyond Battle

Beyond their battlefield exploits, the Knights Templar amassed significant influence and wealth, making them an elite group not only in the martial context but also in economic and political power. Their network spread across Europe and the Holy Land, running estates, castles, and banking operations. This financial prowess made them one of the most powerful organizations of the medieval world, elevating their status and making the name ‘Templar’ synonymous with elite knights.

Names for Elite Knights

The monikers given to elite knights varied widely, depending largely on the culture and era in which they served. In England, the most prestigious knights were referred to as ‘Bannerets’ or ‘Knights Banneret’. This elite group of knights led their retinue into battle under their banner, often taking on significant responsibility and command roles.

The highest tier of knighthood in France was the ‘Chevalier Banneret,’ a parallel to the English Knight Banneret. Other names for elite knights across different cultures and regions include ‘Ritterbruder’ in the Teutonic Order, ‘Caballero Villano’ in Spain, and ‘Milite’ in Italy.

In addition to these regional names, knights could gain individual titles of honor due to their exceptional bravery, strength, or leadership. These names often reflected their deeds or attributes, such as ‘the Brave,’ ‘the Lionhearted,’ or ‘the Fearless.’

The Elite Group of Knights: Hospitallers

Another group that often comes to mind when discussing the most elite knights is the Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of St. John or the Knights of Malta. Like the Templars, this group was a religious, military order established during the Crusades. Initially, they provided medical aid to pilgrims in the Holy Land, but their role evolved to include military duties, making them one of the most powerful Christian military orders.

The Hospitallers, with their black mantles decorated with a white cross, were an elite group of knights known for their bravery and resilience. Even after the loss of the Holy Land, they managed to hold their sovereign territory – the islands of Rhodes and later Malta – standing as bulwarks against the Ottoman Empire.

The Most Elite Knights: The Round Table

In the realm of legend and folklore, the tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table offer an idealized depiction of knighthood. Although their existence is contested, these knights represented the epitome of chivalry, valor, and honor, making them the most elite knights within the Arthurian mythos.

Each knight of the Round Table was considered a paragon of chivalry, embodying traits such as bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry towards women. Names like Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, and Sir Galahad still echo today as representations of idealized knights.

Famous Elite Knights in History: From William Marshall to Jean de Valette

Throughout the history of knighthood, a handful of knights have stood out, becoming legends in their own right. Two such individuals are William Marshall and Jean de Valette, knights whose impact reverberates through the centuries.

William Marshall

Considered by many as the greatest knight of the Middle Ages, William Marshall served four English monarchs – Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, John, and Henry III. His reputation for chivalry, skill in combat, and political acumen made him an exemplar of knighthood.

Born into a relatively minor noble family, Marshall climbed the social ladder through his prowess on the battlefield and in tournaments. He was named the protector of the realm during Henry III’s minority, effectively ruling England in a time of civil strife and successfully defending it from a French invasion.

Jean de Valette

Another iconic figure in the annals of knighthood is Jean de Valette, the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller. His tenure is best remembered for the successful defense of Malta against a massive Ottoman siege in 1565.

Valette’s leadership, courage, and tactical genius during the Great Siege of Malta earned him a permanent place in history. Valette and his knights repelled the formidable Ottoman forces despite being heavily outnumbered. In recognition of this victory, he laid the foundation for Valletta, the future capital of Malta, which carries his name to this day.

These two knights, William Marshall, and Jean de Valette, embody the qualities that define the elite knights – courage, skill, wisdom, and leadership. Their stories continue to inspire, representing the pinnacle of knightly achievement.

Heraldry and Insignia: Symbols of Elite Knighthood

The knight’s armor is incomplete without the distinctive heraldry and insignia that identify him. These elements, far from mere decoration, served critical functions in the age of knights and played a significant role in distinguishing the elite knights from their peers.

Heraldry, the system by which coats of arms and other insignia are devised, became an elaborate art form during the Middle Ages. Each knight had a unique heraldic device on their shield, surcoat, and other possessions. These symbols were more than decorative; they signified the knight’s lineage, allegiance, and personal history. They were his brand, his trademark that distinguished him on the battlefield and in courtly life.

Elite knights often had more elaborate and recognized coats of arms. For example, the Knights Templar were known for their simple but powerful emblem – a red cross on a white field. This straightforward design was easily recognizable and struck fear into their enemies hearts, a testament to the order’s military prowess and devout mission.

Similarly, the Knights Hospitaller bore a white cross on a black field, an insignia symbolizing their original mission to care for the sick and wounded in the Holy Land. Over time, as the order transformed into a military force, this emblem became a symbol of their fighting spirit and resilience.

In addition to group heraldry, elite knights bear personal coats of arms. These could include a range of symbols, from animals and mythical creatures to geometric shapes and objects, each with its symbolic meaning. They might indicate the knight’s place of origin, exploits, or qualities he wished to embody, such as bravery or loyalty.

Thus, heraldry and insignia served as the visual language of knighthood, especially amongst the elite. Through these symbols, knights communicated their identity, status, and values, creating a vibrant, symbolic tapestry that continues to fascinate historians and enthusiasts alike.

The Enduring Legacy of Elite Knights: Influences on Modern Culture

The allure of the elite knight transcends history, persistently influencing our modern culture. From literature to film, from video games to popular festivals, the echoes of these noble warriors continue to resonate, capturing the imagination of the public.

In literature, knights have been central figures in countless stories and novels. The tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table have given rise to a rich tapestry of narratives, epitomizing the ideals of chivalry and heroism. In modern fantasy, the figure of the knight, often with a touch of magical realism, remains integral. George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series and J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are perfect examples.

The silver screen has also been a platform for the enduring legacy of knights. Films like ‘Kingdom of Heaven,’ ‘Excalibur,’ and ‘A Knight’s Tale’ continue to popularize these historical figures, often casting them in larger-than-life roles.

Even in the realm of interactive media, knights continue to feature prominently. Video games like ‘The Elder Scrolls,’ ‘Dark Souls,’ and ‘For Honor’ showcase knights as heroic, sometimes complex characters.

Festivals and events, such as Renaissance fairs and medieval tournaments, still draw crowds, showcasing knightly combat and often allowing the public to step back in time and experience the thrill of the chivalric age.

Thus, the legacy of the elite knights endures, their influence seamlessly woven into the fabric of modern culture, attesting to their timeless appeal.

Bottom Line 

From the tangible realms of the Knights Templar and Hospitaller to the legendary Knights of the Round Table, the annals of history and legend alike are steeped in the deeds and tales of these elite knights. They were more than warriors; they were symbols of courage, honor, faith, and power, their names forever etched into the foundations of the Middle Ages. Their stories continue to inspire, a testament to their enduring influence and the everlasting allure of the knightly ideal.