For almost seven hundred years between the ninth and sixteenth centuries knights were the lords of the battlefield, admired and respected for their abilities and their chivalry and courage. So how did a boy in these centuries become a knight?
Becoming a knight was a tradition that changed over the centuries of the middle ages and by around the sixteenth century, with the advent of gunpowder and firearms, had pretty much become just a symbolic title. But there was a commonly accepted normal route that a boy could take in his quest to become a knight during the height of the Middle Ages when knighthood was important.
The Rule of Birthright
The first requirement for a boy to become a knight was the requirement of his heritage. Generally, only boys born to certain men were allowed the opportunity to become a knight. These requirements were usually that the boy be the son of a knight, Lord, a wealthy merchant, or someone who held title and position in the court of the king or a lord.
Contrary to popular belief, the king did not usually train boys to become knights. This was the responsibility of the king’s lords, barons and knights. Each of these men held stations, titles, lands and manors of his own. And it was to the lord’s manor that the boy would go to train under the knight of the king.
Over the centuries of the Middle Ages what a knight was expected to do changed dramatically and chivalry did not come into the picture until the late middle ages. We will take a look at the traditional picture of what a knight learned in these later centuries.
At around the age of six or seven a boy, who was of noble lineage, would report to the local lord’s castle or manor to begin his training as a knight. There he would learn a host of basic skills to make him a well-rounded and educated knight. He would learn the fundamentals of court life such as table manners, care and maintenance of armor and weapons, and how to care for a horse. He would also learn how to read and how to appreciate music or even play the flute. His training would begin and he would learn how to hunt.
The Page Becomes A Squire
At around the age of thirteen, as the boy’s body strength and mind are developing he is promoted to squire. He is then assigned to be a personal assistant to a knight and it is here that he in focuses on combat training for knighthood. He would get intensive training in weapons, armor, tactics and mounted combat. Often times he was allowed to carry a small sword and shield with him as a symbol of his status as a squire or a “knight in training”.
Becoming a Knight – The Ceremony of Knighthood
The ceremony of becoming a knight was something that could often last several days and could include fasting or a Vigil where the knight would engage in prayer and contemplation for a day and a night or longer. Then there would often be elaborate feasts and hardy discussions with lords and knights about chivalry, courage, religion, and the nature of being a knight. During the actual knighting ceremony the knight would swear allegiance to God and to his lord and he would receive presents such as a sword, a pair of spurs, armor, and a cloak. At the end of the ceremony the king would tap the squire on the shoulders with the flat of a sword blade and he would become a knight.
In modern times we have a very romanticized view of what a knight was and for good reason. There is a certain mysterious aura around the idea of knighthood and it is well founded. It was a serious path that a boy embarked on and something that he spent his whole childhood striving for and his whole adult life improving. The life of a knight was a life of constant vigilance in combat and constant striving toward improvement in the eyes of others.
Will Kalif is the author of two epic fantasy novels and an avid fan of all things Medieval.