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Knighthood

Although Knights Bachelor do not comprise an order of chivalry, knighthood is a dignity which has its origin in Britain in Saxon times. Knighted members of the orders of chivalry place initials after their names denoting the class of the order received (Note that not all recipients of orders are necessarily Knights or Dames but only those denoted as such, usually the first or second classes of orders). All knighted men, including Knights Bachelor, are styled 'Sir' (except clergymen, who do not receive the accolade) and their wives 'Lady'. Women receiving the Honor are styled 'Dame' but do not receive the accolade.

The growth of knighthood is a subject on which the greatest obscurity prevails. Knights were not necessarily nobles, nor were nobles necessarily knights. Knighthood was originally a professional association that included those men who could afford to make and maintain the heavy investment in horse and armor for mounted warfare. It emerges in the 11th century, and included nobles (members of the great land-owning families) as well as small land-holders, free men, craftsmen, etc... Even in the feudal era, the boundaries of knighthood were quite fluid. Knighthood and Chivalry are nearly but not quite synonymous, designating a single subject of inquiry, which presents itself under three different although connected and in a measure intermingled aspects. It may be regarded in the first place as a mode or variety of feudal tenure, in the second place as a personal attribute or dignity, and in the third place as a scheme of manners or social arrangements.

The words knight and knighthood are merely the modern forms of the Anglo-Saxon or Old English cniht and niihthad. Of these the primary signification of the first was a boy or youth, and of the second that period of life which intervenes between childhood and manhood. But some time before the middle of the 12th century they had acquired the meaning they still retain of the French chevalier. In a secondary sense cnihl meant a servant or attendant. Around the Anglo-Saxon magnates were collected a crowd of retainers and dependants of all ranks and conditions; and there is evidence enough to show that among them were some called cnihtas who were not always the humblest or least considerable of their number. Those whom the English called knights the Normans called chevaliers, by which term the nature of their services was defined, while their social status was left out of consideration.

The medieval knights had nothing to do in the way of derivation with the "equites" of Rome, the knights of King Arthur's Round Table, or the Paladins of Charlemagne. In England the king himself fought on foot; the horse might bear him to the field, but when the fighting itself came he stood on his native earth to receive the onslaught of her enemies. In this perhaps we may behold one of the most ancient of British insular prejudices, for on the Continent the importance of cavalry in warfare was already abundantly understood. In early society, where the army is not a paid force but the armed nation, the cavalry must necessarily consist of the noble and wealthy, and cavalry and chivalry, will be the same.

On the decline of the Roman power, about five centuries after Christ, the countries of Northern Europe were left almost destitute of a national government. Numerous chiefs, more or less powerful, held locsil sway, as far as each could enforce his dominion, and occasionally those chiefs would unite for a common object; but, in ordinary times, they were much more likely to be found in hostility to one another. In such a state of things, the rights of the humbler classes of society were at the mercy of every assailant; and it is plain that, without some check upon the lawless power of the chiefs, society must have relapsed into barbarism. Such checks were found, first, in the rivalry of the chiefs themselves, whose mutual jealousy made them restraints upon one another ; secondly, in the influence of the Church, which, by every motive, pure or selfish, was pledged to interpose for the protection of the weak; and lastly, in the generosity and sense of right which, however crushed under the weight of passion and selfishness, dwell naturally in the heart of man.

From this last source sprang Chivalry, which framed an ideal of the heroic character, combining invincible strength and valor, justice, modesty, loyalty to superiors, courtesy to equals, compassion to weakness, and devotedness to the Church; an ideal which, if never met with in real life, was acknowledged by all as the highest model for emulation. The word Chivalry is derived from the French cheval, a horse. The word knight, which originally meant boy or servant, was particularly applied to a young man after he was admitted to the privilege of bearing arms. This privilege was conferred on youths of family and fortune only, for the mass of the people were not furnished with arms.

The knight then was a mounted warrior, a man of rank, or in the service and maintenance of some' man of rank, generally possessing some independent means of support, but often relying mainly on the gratitude of those whom he served for the supply of his wants, and often, no doubt, resorting to the means which power confers on its possessor. In time of war the knight was, with his followers, in the camp of his sovereign, or commanding in the field, or holding some castle for him. In time of peace he was often in attendance at his sovereign's court, gracing with his presence the banquets and tournaments with which princes cheered their leisure. Or he was traversing the country in quest of adventure, professedly bent on redressing wrongs and enforcing rights, sometimes in fulfilment of some vow of religion or of love. These wandering knights were called knights-errant; they were welcome guests in the castles of the nobility, for their presence enlivened the dulness of those secluded abodes, and they were received with honor at the abbeys, which often owed the best part of their revenues to the patronage of the knights ; but if no castle or abbey or hermitage were at hand, their hardy habits made it not intolerable to them to lie down, supperless, at the foot of some wayside cross, and pass the night.

It is evident that the justice administered by such an instrumentality must have been of the rudest description. The force whose legitimate purpose was to redress wrongs, might easily be perverted to inflict them. Accordingly, we find in the romances, which, however fabulous in facts, are true as pictures of manners, that a knightly castle was often a terror to the surrounding country ; that its dungeons were full of oppressed knights and ladies, waiting for some champion to appear to set them free, or to be ransomed with money ; that hosts of idle retainers were ever at hand to enforce their lord's behests, regardless of law and justice; and that the rights of the unarmed multitude were of no account. This contrariety of fact and theory in regard to chivalry will account for the opposite impressions which exist in men's minds respecting it.

Regarded as a method of military organization, the feudal system of tenures was always far better adapted to the purposes of defensive than of offensive warfare. Against invasion it furnished a permanent provision both in men-at-arms and strongholds; nor was it unsuited for the campaigns of neighbouring counts and barons which lasted for only a few weeks, and extended.over only a few leagues. But when kings and kingdoms were in conflict, and distant and prolonged expeditions became necessary, it was speedily discovered that the unassisted resources of feudalism were altogether inadequate. It became therefore the manifest interest of both parlies that personal services should be commuted into pecuniary payments.

Then there grew up all over Europe a system of fining the knights who failed to respond to the sovereign's call or to stay their full time in the field, and in England this fine developed, from the reign of Henry II. to that of Edward II, into a regular war-tax called escuage or sculage. In this way funds for war were placed at the free disposal of sovereigns. In England, those who held land in knight's fee but did not wish to take up the profession could pay a tax. Knighthood did not become a hereditary class in England, and instead the knightly class (those eligible to be knights) became the nucleus of the gentry.

Owing to the crusades the church took the profession of arms under her peculiar protection, and thenceforward the ceremonies of initiation into it assumed a religious as well as a martial character. To distinguished soldiers oi the cross the honours and benefits of knighthood could hardly be refused on the ground that they did not possess a sufficient property qualification, of which perhaps they had denuded themselves in order to their equipment for the Holy War. And thus the conception of knighthood as of something distinct from feudalism both as a social condition and a personal dignity arose.

During the 14th and 15th centuries, as well as somewhat earlier and later, the main divisions of the army were distributed under the royal and other principal standards, smaller divisions under the banners of some of the greater nobility or of knights banneret, and smaller divisions still under the pennons of knights or, as in distinction from knights banneret they came to be called, knights bachelors. All knights whether bachelors or bannerets were escorted by their squires. But the banner of the banneret always implied a more or less extensive command, while every knight was entitled to bear a pennon and every squire a pencel. All three flags were of such a size as to be conveniently attached to and carried on a lance, and were emblazoned with the arms or some portion of the bearings of their owners. But while the banner was square the pennon, which resembled it in other respects, was either pointed or forked at its extremity, and the pencel, which was considerably less than the others, always terminated in a single tail or streamer.

The squire and the page were both in training for knighthood, but the first had advanced further in the process than the second. It is true that the squire was a combatant while the page was not, and that many squires voluntarily served as squires all their lives owing to the insufficiency of their fortunes to support the costs and charges of knighthood. But in the ordinary course of a chivalrous education the successive conditions of page and squire were passed through in boyhood and youth, and the condition of knighthood was reached in early manhood.

With regard to knights banneret, various opinions have been entertained as to both the nature of their dignity and the qualifications they were required to possess for receiving it at different periods and in different countries. On the Continent the distinction which is commonly but incorrectly made between the nobility and the gentry has never arisen, and it was unknown here while chivalry existed and heraldry was understood. On the Continent, as elsewhere in the old time, a nobleman and a gentleman meant the same thing, namely, a man who under certain conditions of descent was entitled to armorial bearings. In England banneret was often corrupted to baronet. " Even in a patent passed to Sir Ralph Fane, knight under Edward VI, he is called * baronettus ' for * banecrettus.* " * In this manner it is not improbable that the title of baronet may have been suggested to the advisers of James I when the order of Baronets was originally created by him.

KNIGHT BATCHELORS This degree of honour is the most ancient, though the lowest Order of Knights in England. It was accounted the first of all military dignity, and the foundation of all honours. The word Batchelor was added by King Henry the Third, and so styled, because this title of honour dies with the person to whom it is given, and descends not to his posterity. This title, which was anciently in high esteem, is now conferred indiscriminately upon gownsmen, physicians, burghers, and artists, whereby the original institution is perverted, and is of less reputation than it hath been; it is still accounted a respectable degree of honour both in England and foreign countries. A Knight may be made as soon as a child is baptized ; the ceremony now in use being no other than kneeling down before the King, who, with a drawn sword, lightly touches him on the right shoulder, with these words, Sois chevalier au nom de Dieu; and then, Avancez, chevalitr. A Knight must be named by both his Christian and surname (with Sir preceding) as Sir T L , Knight. If a Knight be made a Nobleman, he still retains the name of Knight, and is to be so styled in all writs.



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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:07:49 ZULU