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Knight in shinning armour

The Knight in shining armour
1. Medieval warfare broke out for a number of different reasons.
Lords and their armies fought one another to gain land and power
within their own countries; they fought for their kings in battle
against other countries; and sometimes they joined forces to try to
replace their king with a new monarch. The most significant person
on the battlefield was the knight in his armour.
2. Knights were warriors on horseback. They fought for their king,
their lord or (in some cases) for whoever would pay for their
services. The early knights could be ‘lowly born’ men who were
rewarded for bravery and skill in battle. By the thirteenth century,
the nobility allowed only men of noble birth to become knights.
Even then, they had to complete years of training in military skills, service to others
and Christian teachings.
3. Training for knighthood began at the age of seven, when a boy left his own family to
learn the skills of a page. He studied under the supervision of the noblewomen of
another household and learned to be polite, to serve God, to read and write, and to
ride and hunt for wild game.
4. At 14 years of age, the page could become a squire. Through service to a knight, he
learned to look after armour, weaponry and horses and he continued his training in
military skills, social graces and cultural pursuits. Between the ages of 18 and 21, the
young man was eligible for knighthood.
At the tournament
5. When not in battle, knights practised their fighting skills. They did this individually in
exercises called ‘tilting the quintain’, which helped develop their skills in using the
lance and in organised tournaments.
6. Tournaments centred on violent events called mêlées in which two opposing teams
engaged in mock battles. Jousting was another popular part of a tournament. In a
joust, two knights took part in individual combat against each other. Tournaments
attracted large audiences, who enjoyed the excitement of seeing who would be the
hero of the day.
Heraldry and coats of arms
7. People could identify knights by their coats of arms — the symbols on their shields, on
their surcoats (worn over armour) and on the garments their horses wore. Coats of
arms followed the rules of heraldry:
• a design had to use up to five colours and two metals
• metals separated the colours and colours separated the metals.
8. People expected a knight to live his life according to the rules of chivalry — the rules
for the proper behaviour of a knight. The chivalrous
knight was:
• loyal to the Catholic Church
• dedicated to helping those who were weak and
easily exploited
• brave in battle
• willing to fight to protect women.
9. Knights could not always live up to these high
ideals. The group of knights that people most
associate with the idea of chivalry are the legendary
‘Knights of the Round Table’ and their leader, King
Arthur. According to legend, King Arthur chose to seat his knights at a round table to
indicate that they were all equal in status.
Source One
An extract from the 10 000-line French poem Girart de Roussillon (AD c.1150). The poet is believed to be a
French monk. Here, he describes Folcon, an ‘ideal’ knight.
He is brave and courtly and skilful, and noble and of good family and eloquent, handsomely
experienced in hunting and falconry; he knows how to play chess and backgammon, gaming and
dicing. And his wealth was never denied to any, but each has as much as he wants . . . He has
never been slow to perform honourable deeds. He dearly loves God and the Trinity . . . he has
honoured the poor and lowly; and he judges each according to his worth.
From H. Middleton, The Age of Chivalry, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988.
Source Two
A different type of knight, as described by a modern historian
. . . He drank himself into a stupor with considerable regularity. His castle was usually filled with
prostitutes. If he got annoyed with his opponent during a chess game, he was inclined to brain
him with one of the massive pieces of the day. If his wife annoyed him, he beat her savagely.
When a servant was slow to bring his wine, he threw a javelin at him to speed up his steps.
Brian Tierney & Sidney Painter, Western Europe in the Middle Ages, 300–1475, Random House,
Questions and activities based on the passage
Based on the reading state whether the following statements are true or false.
a. Knights often fought one another to gain land and power within their own countries.
b. Sometimes knights fought to overthrow their own king.
c. In the 13thC peasants were allowed to become knights.
d. Peasants started training to be knights at the age of seven.
e. Squires became eligible to become a knight at 18 years old.
f. Tilting the quintain helped knights learn how to use swords in battle.
g. The chivalrous knight often robbed peasants
Comprehension questions
1. What do you think is meant by ‘lowly born’? (2)
2. List some of the things a page had to learn. (3)
3. What training did the prospective knight undertake as a squire? (4)
4. List the two main events a spectator would see at a tournament. (5)
5. Where would a knight display his coat of arms? (7)
6. How do you think displaying a coat of arms would help knights in battle? (7)
7. According to what rules was a knight expected to live his life? (8)