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Author Topic: What makes a knight?  (Read 6701 times)

Sir Edward

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What makes a knight?
« on: 2009-07-15, 19:23:24 »
Brian Price wrote a couple of articles a while back, mostly with an SCA-slant, that discuss what constitutes a modern-day knight. I'm not sure what opinion folks have of him, I only know of him through these sorts of channels.

 Who is a Knight

 On Knighthood

These raise some interesting points, and I agree with his basic premise, that to me all of the types of knights he discusses are real knights. From my point of view, if you embrace chivalry and make an effort to be knightly, and improve the world around you, and accept the journey (not looking at it as a destination in itself) you have as much claim to the title as anyone else these days (not counting its use as an official title or rank within a specific society or Order).

However, I don't completely agree with his emphasis on renown, in the sense that what you think and do are more important than how many people know these things about you. There are far more unsung heroes than decorated ones, and I think it's just as important, if not more so, what you do when no one is looking. Here's the criticism I wrote on my website:

Quote
I found these to be interesting reads, though I disagree with a few points, particularly making "renown" a core criterion for knighthood. I feel that the path, the ideals, the struggle for virtue... these things are key. There are serpents who come out looking like angels everyday. Reputation, as good as it can be, isn't always completely reliable. While renown may get you into a position to be knighted, it doesn't, by itself, make you knightly. In fact, he also raises the point of saying that you can't just wake up one morning and decide to be a knight. I only partially agree, in the same sense as above. While you can't decide to be knighted officially, you can wake up one day and decide to be knightly, chivalrous, and virtuous.

However it should be noted that this is written from the standpoint of defining knights through the eyes of an SCA member, and therefore is naturally influenced by a reenactment and re-creation standpoint, where "knight" is a title and standing with meaning within such societies. I don't require a pat on the back and permission to wear a white belt to know in my heart the ideals I strive to achieve every day. (please note, while I'm being curt here, I have an enormous respect for many of the SCA knights and their endeavors).

Also, there's another interesting point he brought up-- the legend that SCA knights are "real" knights (in terms of historical lineage) because of a knight early in the SCA lineage. I've seen this discussed elsewhere, and the SCA's own rules preclude the possibility, because it bans intermingling real world titles and positions with the SCA ones. :)


So what are your thoughts? What makes a knight? Who can call themselves "knights" in the modern world, from your point of view?
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Sir Brian

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Re: What makes a knight?
« Reply #1 on: 2009-07-18, 16:59:37 »
Well I guess it is time I share my thoughts on some of the weightier discussions on this board…  ;)


Upon reflection of my younger years throughout the journey of my life I had not always believed in a chivalric code nor behaved in a knightly manner, however those were times when I was a mere “squire” and as such still learning and maturing.

In my lifetime and transition from “squire” to knighthood I have learned not to fear death, but I have known fear in the loss of loved ones. I have told lies but it has taught me the value of truth. I have fought numerous battles; some were physical yet most were emotional or psychological and although for many of those battles they were not truly necessary to have been fought the others were fought for the very substance of my soul. I have been swindled out of money, time and stature but have come to appreciate the value of genuine friendships and simpler pleasures. I have been reckless and merciless in my ambitions and desires but have come to cherish the wisdom and compassion such foolishness has taught me.

If such reflections can be considered knightly then I suppose I am justified to consider myself to be a knight. Not solely by deeds or ideals or for the adherence to a prescribed set or morality. I consider myself to be a genuine knight simply by the fact of being unwilling to compromise my beliefs in God, of the love for my wife and in myself regardless of my virtues and vices.
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Dragonlover

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Re: What makes a knight?
« Reply #2 on: 2009-07-18, 19:12:30 »
Well said, Sir Brian. Although I must say, I still consider myself a "squire"
in the fact that everyday, I clean the blackboard to continue the day's
lesson.... :)

Sir Brian

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Re: What makes a knight?
« Reply #3 on: 2009-07-19, 10:17:29 »
Nay my friend! You are most definitely a knight!  The modesty of your last statement only reaffirms that in my mind!  :)

We will always be challenged and called upon to demonstrate our prowess in battle, no matter what the nature or form that battle or contest comes in. It is how we comport ourselves in those battles and challenges that distinguishes us and reaffirms our right to claim the title of knight. We’ve earned our spurs many years ago my friend. It was the earning or those spurs back in our young squire days that enabled us to develop the skills and wisdom to cope and overcome the battles we fight today.

In regards to your disagreement of the importance of renown Sir Edward. I would also agree if one conducted themselves for the sole purpose of gaining recognition of their actions. That would be nothing more than shameless self-promotion which I do not think is the real significance of renown.
I consider renown important only in that it is basically your reputation in which the people you have interacted with and touched in some way hold you in the highest regard and will readily bear witness as such to all.
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Dragonlover

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Re: What makes a knight?
« Reply #4 on: 2009-07-19, 13:43:19 »
And a heartfelt "huzzah!" to you both! ;D

Sir Edward

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Re: What makes a knight?
« Reply #5 on: 2009-07-23, 18:46:16 »

Very well said, my friends. :)

I often see people leaning towards some of the later medieval definitions of knighthood, in which a knight was similar to a minor noble (just one step below the actual noble peerage), as a title that is conferred as an award, with duties and responsibilities.

However, there is also the earlier medieval way of looking at it. A knight was someone who could afford horses, equipment, and training, and did so. This allowed them to be elite cavalry units, but it was more the fact that they were equipped and trained that earned them the title. This gradually evolved into a more formal title, as the combat aspects evolved and eventually were downplayed.

In a modern context, cavalry warriors armed with lances and swords are obsolete, the role of the historical knight completely gone due to advances in technology, and the loss of the feudal societal structure. So I like to look at multiple points in history, not just the "title of nobility", but also one's desire to take part in the world around them, involving chivalry, and yes, even acquiring equipment. :)

Whether or not you've received an accolade in an "official" sense (from a government, or a private organization), I think what's in one's heart and mind is what is most important. We all have more to learn, and growth to achieve, and mistakes and challenges to overcome. This journey is what knighthood, in the personal sense, is all about.

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VaughnStrever

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Re: What makes a knight?
« Reply #6 on: 2009-09-04, 20:34:38 »
This is a good topic that I have been considering for some time now. Reading upon the historical text of a knight and his chivarly I have become less inclined to consider myself a knight even though I have obtained the armor of a  knight.

First to be a knight you had to pay for the title of knight and you had to own land. Not only those two things, though one had to have an equivaliant amount of soldiers for the amount of land the knight owned. Funding several war horses, armor, esquires, and workers of the land... being a knight was for the elite rich.

Seeing as I have read that a sergeant (A tenant by military service, below the rank of knight) was an individual that had similar if not equivalant armor to that of a knight, however they simply had not met the qualifications to have the title knight.

Then you have your Mercenary. One that is paid to fight (or paid to re-enact)

Now we come to the term of chivalry, (noted this web site is titled Modern chivalry) yet the old term of chivalry. In my opinion a knight displayed chivalry out of fear and greed. First fear, If a knight was not chivalric and killed or mistreated his captured knight (that was held for ransom) certainly word would get around of the misconduct. The knight who gave such horrid hospitality would not be shown mercy (Chivalry) on the battlefield. Then we have greed, why kill your enemy when you can profit from his money.

This comes down to the lesser men on the field, simple men at arms, archers, and the like. They had no money, they were worthless and once a knight made his way to this rank of soldier, the slaughter began. Thay had no use for these men (In select cases, the lesser men and the few that were taken were employed in the farms of their enemies)
and chivalry was not shown to them.

If you were rich and in the club, you were treated the best. If you were poor and outside the club, you were treated like dirt. Chivalry of old... to me was the same as a prejudice.

Kngihts had money, power, control, and they killed (for war, none the less, they killed) add those four ingrediants to any man and they turn out not to be so noble.

In conclusion, there is quite typically the bad with the good. Certainly there were good and noble knights, though imho chivalry was alot darker than the average person considers it to be.

Sir Edward

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Re: What makes a knight?
« Reply #7 on: 2009-09-05, 01:10:26 »
Sort of a bleak outlook eh? :)

Certainly, as with any cross section of any society, there is a mix of good and bad, with people living up to the better expectations to varying degrees. However it's a complex issue because the societal structure of the time was completely different. It's not that the lower classes were treated like dirt, they were treated differently due to being in a lower station. But to say they were typically mistreated I don't think is correct at all. It was well understood that the peasantry, for instance, were the foundation of society. You couldn't just go out and kill a peasant because you wanted to; it was still considered murder and even a knight could still be prosecuted for doing so. Yes, they were not afforded some of the same courtesies, but they were treated as the culture of the time expected.

It's true that during most of the medieval period, knights did have to be more wealthy, but this varies throughout the period. Early on, knights were really only distinguished from other fighting men by being able to afford horses and equipment, and were often knighted in the field by other knights, without any sort of land or other requirements.

Also, I think you're confusing the Sergeants and Men At Arms a little too. At least in Geffroi de Charny's time, a Man at Arms was essentially the same thing as a knight, just without the title. It was someone who was still armored, equipped, and skilled as a knight, and may be knighted for his deeds at some point. You'd almost certainly need to be one before being knighted.

Granted, most of the modern views of Chivalry are somewhat rose tinted, at least in part due to the romanticizing of it from the Victorian era. However, Chivalry was in important part of knighthood, even if just because it was meant to provide a positive influence on the behavior of knights, whether or not they adhered to it successfully.

To understand historical chivalry and knighthood, it needs to be considered within the perspective of the culture of the time, and also the fact that what defined knighthood varied considerably by time and region.
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Silvanus

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Re: What makes a knight?
« Reply #8 on: 2009-09-05, 02:13:33 »
VaughnStrever's summation of Knighthood, bleak as it is, has always been the reason why I hesitate even to imagine myself as a knight, modern or otherwise.

Statistically, I would most likely have been born a Northern Italian-German peasant in my chosen century (the 12th). My sad weapon would have been a pitchfork or a sharpened shovel, my harness the threadbare rags of a farmer's son. The best I could hope for would have been to journey on one of the Peasant's Crusades, or in the baggage-train of a slightly more noble endeavor. Or even were I to imagine myself then as I am now, the owner of a small house with a plot of land, without "noble" blood, my chances of knighthood would hardly be better. This is why I chose not to represent myself as a Templar, whose standards for inclusion were far too high. And even when I dawn my Teutonic surcoat (the standards of that Order were slightly less prohibitive) a feeling of unworthiness, and perhaps fraud, creeps over me. I have even considered as not representing myself as a Knight at all, but a simple man-at-arms - which is (statistically) the best I might have hoped for, then or now. I dream of a battlefield commission.

All that said, I believe that one can still live up to knightly ideals (The Code) - or try to - as well as any landed noble. One can carry himself as a Knight, through exercising Right Action. All those things taught in the Sermon on the Mount, if practiced daily, will lead to the greatest knighthood of all at the end one one's life.

Did not mean to get so philosophical, but this is a question I have asked myself every time I wield a sword, oil my mail, and gaze at my surcoat. "Am I worthy?"
« Last Edit: 2009-09-05, 02:17:03 by Silvanus »

Sir Edward

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Re: What makes a knight?
« Reply #9 on: 2009-09-05, 03:47:02 »
Statistically, I would most likely have been born a Northern Italian-German peasant in my chosen century (the 12th).

Statistically, we'd all most likely be peasants and nothing more. :)

All that said, I believe that one can still live up to knightly ideals (The Code) - or try to - as well as any landed noble. One can carry himself as a Knight, through exercising Right Action. All those things taught in the Sermon on the Mount, if practiced daily, will lead to the greatest knighthood of all at the end one one's life.

Did not mean to get so philosophical, but this is a question I have asked myself every time I wield a sword, oil my mail, and gaze at my surcoat. "Am I worthy?"

That is a very good question to ask yourself, and one I ask myself all the time. I think it's actually a high mark of chivalry to evaluate oneself as such. :) But believe me, I understand. The accolade I received a number of years ago was rather hollow. It was just one item on the agenda, and happened because our little medieval society was trying to find its way, and I was the first to suggest having a combat order within the society. The group no longer exists. Who am I to call myself a knight?

I think the answer has to come from within, and it matters a great deal as to what definition of knighthood you use. There is no one single form of knighthood. The meaning of the concept changed throughout the medieval history. At one time you needed only own a horse and know how to fight on it. Later, it became a title that no longer had any combat association. Chivalry started as a warrior ethos. Later it evolved into courtly grace and courtesy.

Remember, none of us can be historical knights, by definition, by the mere fact that we're separated from the era in question by centuries. But even ignoring that, knighthood as it existed was a unique convergence of societal structure, culture, socioeconomics, and available weapon technology. As weekend warriors, armor and sword enthusiasts, etc, we do not live and die by the sword, or live our lives as career horse cavalry. Thus chivalry and knighthood in a modern context need to be adapted to the realities of our world.

And if we're going to do that, why not focus on the positive aspects? Choose a path that's suitable for yourself? Aspire to be the best you can, and take inspiration where you can find it?

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Sir Brian

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Re: What makes a knight?
« Reply #10 on: 2009-09-06, 10:19:05 »
I wholeheartedly agree with Sir Edward’s perspective and would like to offer some additional thoughts on the subject of worthiness. On the medieval battlefield the knight was the ultimate or elite warrior but not only because they were better trained and equipped but that they were EXPECTED to be in a leadership role on the battlefield as well as in society in general. It is that role of leadership, backed by a noble’s authority that gave weight, substance and prestige to knighthood.  There was a time during Henry II’s reign when England was drastically short of knights, so after having a census taken, Henry II ordered all freemen that possessed a certain amount of holdings and wealth (what would equate to lower middle class in today’s standards) to swear fealty to him and become knighted.
To summarize this concept I’m trying to convey, consider a knight to be someone who is willing and able take the responsibility for the welfare of others. Now depending upon WHO the knight is serving, that could be a wide disparity from what modern conceptions would consider proper or right let alone humane.
To borrow a line from the movie “A knight’s tale”, it is a knight’s willingness to tilt when he should withdraw that epitomizes knighthood. To borrow further from that same movie I’ll ask the simple question of this.
At what time in the movie did William (Heath Ledger) demonstrate his worthiness to be called a knight?

Give up?
When he was informed that his real identity was known by the nobility and he would be arrested if he showed up at the lists to compete. Despite the advice of his friends and loved ones he held firm to his beliefs and took the responsibility for his actions in spite of the severe consequences.
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Sir Wolf

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Re: What makes a knight?
« Reply #11 on: 2009-09-06, 13:04:11 »
I don't know that I totally agree with the "slim outlook"  At least not in the late 14th and 15th centuries.  We know that to be a knight meant you had money, land and title. the "lesser" men around him were not so "lesser".  During the 15th century if you had it you flaunted it.  To have  a standing army was illegal so you had "households" of other landed gentry and yoemen close to you. Such as the group I protraigh "Lord Greys" was a minor peer of the king. His lands were of Codnor (near sherwood forests) hehhe.  He had a large household etc.  These men would be fairly well to do guys that had lands on Lord Greys area. They could read and had some wealth.  So its not all gloom and doom if your not the knight.  If you live on his lands you could be set up right nicely :) Being a landed gentry such as lord Grey meatn that you had to goto court and be judge and jury, colelct takes, be the sheriff, goto the kings court, hang with him to look good and get gifts etc. it aint all bad hehehe. so you fought a lil.. you would have the Bently of armour and would have the closest guys in your household in Bmw's and their closest guys in catallacs, and their closest guys in.... if you wer captured your weren't necessarily killed, you were treated with honor and ransomed. even when the crown took place the minor knights just said "hey i was jsut following what i was told, i am sorry and will follow you. and so on till the next king one the battle etc.  only the top nobles or best buddiest of the before hand king were "executed" to make way for his buddies.

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Re: What makes a knight?
« Reply #12 on: 2009-09-06, 13:20:44 »

I think it's also worth noting that knights may have gotten a little bit of a bad rap recently. Since the Victorian era put everything into the "rose tinted glasses" sort of view, giving us the modern connotation of the "knight in shining armor", many more recent writings have attempted to dispel this by going to the other extreme, focusing on the knights that did not live up to the ideals of Chivalry, who were tyrannical and brutal, etc. But of course, there are things that they did that may offend our modern sensibilities but were completely culturally acceptable at the time.

An example that comes to mind is one that I read on another forum somewhere. I don't remember the details or names, just the gist of it. A young lady, a daughter of a noble or gentile, decided to run away with the steward. A knight happens upon them along the road, and discovers what they are up to. He takes their money, and sends continues on. Arriving in town, he spends the money on food and ale for his fellow knights. To our modern culture this seems awful, but in the context of the time, and the way he recounted the event in his writings, was that this was high chivalry. How? He was merciful to the young couple for not hauling them in, and yet did his part to thwart their activity by taking the money that would have facilitated it. He was showing the virtue of largesse by sharing the reward of this chivalrous deed with his peers. To him, this was a win all the way around.

When reading about the history, it's good to approach it with a skeptical eye and read a variety of sources that take different perspectives. Authors are human and will color their writing with their own opinions, and often view things with modern eyes. It's very difficult to put yourself in the mindset of the culture of the time. :)
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Re: What makes a knight?
« Reply #13 on: 2009-09-06, 15:13:00 »

I think it's also worth noting that knights may have gotten a little bit of a bad rap recently. Since the Victorian era put everything into the "rose tinted glasses" sort of view, giving us the modern connotation of the "knight in shining armor", many more recent writings have attempted to dispel this by going to the other extreme, focusing on the knights that did not live up to the ideals of Chivalry, who were tyrannical and brutal, etc. But of course, there are things that they did that may offend our modern sensibilities but were completely culturally acceptable at the time.

Absolutely. And both are forms of romanticism (or perhaps you could call the modern view anti-romanticism, which in itself is still a form of romanticism), which cloud historical fact. Its the same kind of thing with the katana vs. longsword debate. It used to be that everyone believed the katana was the best weapon out there, bar none. After awhile, it went to the other extreme, where people kept saying katana were crap, and that a good European longsword would beat a katana anyday. And let's face it: Neither is view is correct.

Quote
He was merciful to the young couple for not hauling them in, and yet did his part to thwart their activity by taking the money that would have facilitated it. He was showing the virtue of largesse by sharing the reward of this chivalrous deed with his peers. To him, this was a win all the way around.

And really, this isn't that different a concept from what many of us would respect today. He was merciful, but he made sure that they understood that what they were doing was wrong, and made sure that they had some form of punishment (much as many parents have to do with their children). He could have spent that money completely on himself, but instead spread it around. While the specific actions are somewhat culturally foreign to the modern mind, when you break it down, it isn't quite so different.

Quote
When reading about the history, it's good to approach it with a skeptical eye and read a variety of sources that take different perspectives. Authors are human and will color their writing with their own opinions, and often view things with modern eyes. It's very difficult to put yourself in the mindset of the culture of the time. :)


Amen to that!
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Re: What makes a knight?
« Reply #14 on: 2015-07-07, 08:35:54 »
I believe that a traditional ceremony makes you an official knight. That said, striving to be chivalrous in all of your endeavors is what makes you knightly. Many people accomplish amazing feats of kindness, generosity, and bravery on a daily basis, it does not make them Knights. It does however, display very knightly qualities and virtues worthy of that title. I feel that becoming a knight should be an oath to, as much as possible, display courage, kindness, and other chivalrous qualities in your daily life.
Some say that the age of chivalry is past, that the spirit of romance is dead. The age of chivalry is never past, so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth.