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Knighthood & the Feudal System

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Author Topic: Knighthood & the Feudal System  (Read 657 times)
Sun Goddess
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Posts: 4517

« on: February 19, 2007, 12:20:02 am »

Becoming a knight
The process of training for knighthood began before adolescence, inside the prospective knight’s home, where he learned courtesy and manners. A knight was usually the son of a vassal. Around the age of 6 to 7 years, he would be sent away to train and serve at a grander (kings) household as a page. Here, he would serve as a kind of waiter and personal servant to his elders. For at least seven years a page was cared for by the women of the house, who instructed him in manners, courtesy, cleanliness, and religion. She would also teach him how to make food and do much more. He would learn basic hunting and falconry, and also valuable battle skills such as the use of weapons and armour and the caring, readying, and riding of horses.

A page became a squire when he turned 14 years of age, by being assigned or picked by a knight to become his personal aide. This allowed the squire to observe his master while he was in battle, in order to learn from his techniques. He also acted as a personal servant to the knight, taking care of his master’s armor, equipment, and horse. This was to uphold the knight’s code Chivalry that promoted generosity, courtesy, compassion, and most importantly, loyalty. The knight acted as a tutor and taught the squire all he needed to know to become a knight. As the squire grew older, he was expected to follow his master into battle, and attend to his master if the knight fell in battle. Some squires became knights for performing an outstanding deed on the battlefield, but most were knighted by their lord when their training was judged to be complete.

"The Vigil" by John PettieA squire could hope to become a knight when he was about 18 to 21 years old. Once the squire had established sufficient mastery of the required skills, he was dubbed a knight. In the early period, the procedure began with the squire praying into the night, known as vigil. He was then bathed, and in the morning he was dressed in a white shirt, gold tunic, purple cloak, and was knighted by his king or lord. As the Middle Ages progressed, the process changed. The squire was made to vow that he would obey the regulations of chivalry, and never flee from battle. A squire could also be knighted on the battlefield, in which a lord simply performed the accolade, i.e. struck him on the shoulder saying “Be thou a knight”.

The night before his knighting ceremony, the squire would take a cleansing bath, fast, make confession, and pray to God all night in the chapel, readying himself for his life as a knight. He would dress in white which was the symbol for purity. Then he would go through the knighting ceremony the following day. Knights followed the code of chivalry, which promoted honour, honesty, respect to God, and other knightly virtues. Knights served their lords and were paid in land, because money was scarce.

In various traditions, knighthood was reserved for people with a minimum of noble quarters (as in many orders of chivalry), or knighthood became essentially a low degree of nobility, sometimes even conferred as a hereditary title below the peerage.

Meanwhile kings strove, as an expression of absolutism, to monopolize the right to confer knighthood, even as an individual honour. Not only was this often successful, once established, this prerogative of the Head of State was even transferred to the successors of dynasties in republican regimes, such as the British Lord Protector of the Commonwealth.

Knighthood as a purely formal title bestowed by the British monarch unrelated to military service was established in the 16th century. (However, military knights remained among the Knights of Malta until 1798.) The British title of baronet was established by James I of England in 1611 as an inheritable knighthood, ranking below Baron (the lowest Peerage title).

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