The knight is one of the most recognizable images from the medieval period, but becoming a knight was not as simple as putting on a suit of armor.
When the Normans, led by William the Conqueror, invaded England, they needed men to protect their lands. Initially, young men took oaths to provide service and sometimes fight for a lord or nobleman. Overtime, these men in service began to amass wealth and acquire their own land allowing them to pay for the supplies necessary to carry out military campaigns and have their own men-at-arms. Before long, knights were a class of nobility all to themselves.
A knight’s training began at an early age. At age 7 a boy would join with a knight becoming a page. This page would serve the knight until he became a squire at age 14. While the squire was still a knight’s assistant, he would learn how to fight, wear armor and to act like a knight. Then when the squire turned 21, he would become a knight.
To be elevated to the status of a knight from the station of a squire, a “knighting” ceremony would be held. As knights were generally quite religious, the ceremony began with a night long vigil in the castle where the squire would remain in the chapel of the castle, praying through the night. The following morning there would be a bath for the candidate then, dressed in white, he would attend mass and eat breakfast. Then before a group of witnesses, with much ceremony, the squire would kneel and be touched on the shoulders and head with a sword by a knight or royal. This process, called “dubbing” would raise the squire to the status of knight. A feast would follow to celebrate the occasion. Knights could also be made on the filed of battle where it was done without ceremony or fanfare.
Wealth, inheritance, marriage to nobility and the granting of land were common rewards of knighthood. In return, the knight served a certain number of days for his noble each year. While there was much in the way of reward for knights, sometimes the knight would pay for his status with his life in battle. When the knight was not fighting, they maintained their skills by competing in tournaments and other competitions.
While many knights were secular, there were also fighting religious knights, the Knights Templar or the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon as they were known were a religious sect of the Catholic Church who initially were charged with protecting pilgrims on the way to the Holy Land during the Crusades. However, their role expanded as they amassed great wealth and power as an order pioneering many modern day banking concepts such as lending, safety deposit repositories and other transactions.
While the role of the knight as a nobleman declined, many societies recognize the concept of the knight today and the honor is still bestowed on many by the British Crown.