Eras and Their Highlights

The Middle Ages

What were knights?

In the Middle Ages (500–1350) knights were armed and mounted warriors who were also landholders; in other words, they were noblemen who took up arms. A knight might have been the lord of a manor who vowed to fight for the feudal lord (the lord of the fief where the manor was situated). During the Carolingian Age (during the eighth and ninth centuries), when a monarchy was established in western Europe, a feudal lord might also have been a knight in service to the king. In times of war, any man who pledged loyalty to his lord and took up arms on his behalf would become a knight, who later might receive lands from the lord or king as repayment. During the Crusades (1096–1291) knights were made of men who were not landowners—they were instead designated by primogeniture (the eldest son would bear the honor of becoming a knight). Knighthood was traditionally conferred by a blow on the shoulder with the flat side of a sword. Feudal knighthood ended by the sixteenth century. Today, the only vestige of this tradition is found in Britain, where knighthood is an honorific designation conferred by the king or queen on a noble or commoner for extraordinary achievement.


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