Knights, knighthood and code of chivalry in medieval period
Knights were the highest class of warrior in Europe from 11th to 14th centuries. They fought on horseback. Their code of behavior was called chivalry.
Between A.D. 850 and 950, western Europe came under attack by warlike peoples, such as the Vikings from Scandinavia and Magyars from Eastern Europe. But from about 950, these invaders were countered by riders wearing armor and riding big, heavy horses. In England they were called Knights, from the Anglo-Saxon word cnight, meaning 'household retainer'.
Knights received land from rulers in return for their military service. Although the statues of knights differed from time to time and from country to country, they became a core part of the European society.
Young boys went to live in the home of another knight or noble to be educated. They learned how to ride and fight and how to behave in courtly society. They became squires at about 14 and knights at about 21.
Code of chivalry
The ideals the knight was supposed to uphold were known as chivalry, from the French word chevalerie, meaning “cavalry”. These ideals were extremely important in the medieval society. A knight, for example, should always be generous to the needy and protect the church, women, and all who were unable to defend themselves.
Politeness also became part of the code. Knights curbed their coarse manners in the company of ladies. They believed that a chivalrous knight honored every women, particularly the one to whom he had given his love. He remained true to her and performed great deeds for her sake.
Preparing to fight
A knight's horse was probably the most valuable thing he owned. His skills as a fighting man depended on a good horse. The armor worn by knights differed from one century to another during the middle ages. In the 1100s, a well-armed knight wore a long cloth or leather garment that covered most of his body. Over it he wore chain mail, a network of linked iron rings. It had a hood that fitted over the head and protected the neck. On his head a knight wore a steel helmet, which sometimes also head a metal nose protector. In later times the body armor was made of strong metal plates. The helmets had visors that could be lowered to cover the face. The body armor weighed at least 55 lb. (25 Kg).
Knights carried light wooden shield for protection. Their chief weapons were the lance and the sword. The lance, a long pole with a pointed steel head, was for use when the knight was on the horseback. The knight pointed his lance staright ahead and rode at full speed against his enemy, trying to run him through or to knock him off his horse. If the knight was forced to dismount, he would go on fighting with his sword, a heavy blade made of steel. Knights also fought with battle-axes, iron-headed war clubs called maces, and iron balls that swung on chains, called flails.
As a pastime and spectacle, knights took part in tournaments, mock battles fought with flattened lances and blunted swords. Tournaments were often dangerous, and attracted a vast crowds of spectators.
By 1500 the time of knight as a warrior was over. Hired foot soldiers with firearms replaced the man on a horse. Knighthood and chivalry did not die out completely. In the United Kingdom, knighthood is still an honor that the king or queen gives to worthy men and women. A male knight is given the title 'Sir'. His wife is called 'Lady'. A women with the rank of knight is called 'Dame'. Her husband has no title.