A Matter of Britain
The High Order of Knighthood
As a knight, your character knows all this information intimately.
THE ORIGINS OF KNIGHTHOOD
In the beginning, all men were equal in a perfect world of harmony and peace. But Adam and Eve condemned humanity to live in the world of trouble and death. Envy and covetousness came into being, and when men became violent, then might triumphed over right. Cruel people became leaders and forced themselves upon the weak and hapless.
At last, knighthood was instituted to restrain the unjust and to defend the weak. The most strong, courageous, and loyal man in every thousand (the ex mille electus) was chosen to be a knight (L. miles). He was given weapons, armor, a noble horse, and a squire to serve him. He was placed over the common people to protect them from tyranny and wild beasts. Commoners, in turn, were to till the earth and support the knight.
Since virtue is inherited, it has been the duty of each knight to train his son to follow in his noble steps, and so the institution has continued. The great Biblical heroes were knights: Judas Maccabeus and King David, for instance. Certain ancient pagans were knights as well, Alexander and Julius Caesar being among their number.
BECOMING A KNIGHT
A formalized sequence for learning the skills of knighthood is an established part of the feudal tradition. Except under very special conditions, every aspirant to knighthood must follow these steps.
Pages are young boys or girls between the ages of ten and fifteen who are learning the ways of courtly life by observing their elders and doing those tasks assigned to them. After serving as pages, most girls become maids-in-waiting and wives. Boys become squires.
Boys may become squires at age fifteen. Squires are servants of their knights, studying the ways of knighthood as they serve. Those who are confident in themselves, who show promise, and who have the right connections may become knights. Most will remain squires.
Most aspirants must wait until age 21 to be knighted, after serving six years as squires. Men knighted younger are exceptional, but not unknown. Sometimes a young heir must be hastily knighted and ennobled upon reaching his majority at age eighteen or, even rarer, at fifteen.
RANKS OF KNIGHTHOOD
All knights share certain duties and traits. However, not all knights are equal in rank, and there exist several grades of knighthood. The difference between these is determined primarily by the source of income for the knight. (Note that the descriptive term to describe a knight may either precede or follow the word “knight.” Thus, it is equally correct to say knight bachelor or bachelor knight. This is a vestigial remnant of the French influence on Germanic English.)
The grade or rank that your character attains affects the course of the game in many ways.
Knights without a lord are the lowest class of knights. They are called mercenary because they must seek to sustain themselves through work for money. Since knights are fighting men, they generally make their living by seeking mercenary soldier employment, and differ from ordinary mercenary cavalry (sergeants) only in that they have taken the oath of knighthood before a lord.
Knights bachelor derive their income directly from their lord, either through direct maintenance or by cash payments. (The word bachelor derives from bas chevalier, or “low knight.” It has come to be associated with unmarried men because bachelor knights were generally not rich enough to support a wife.)
Knights bachelor are also called “household knights” because they live in their lord’s household, not on their own land. They are his bodyguard and standing army, and travel wherever their lord takes them. Their loyalty is crucial to the lord’s success, perhaps even to his survival, so they are usually treated well and receive great honor.
A knight bachelor may bear a pennocelle (a small pennant) upon his lance to distinguish his rank from mercenary knights and commoners, who wear no decoration.
Knights who own their own land are knight vassals. They have their own manor and lands, and are thus substantial landlords capable of equipping themselves for war. Knights vassal generally live at their own home, but are obliged to serve for forty days per year at war, plus a customary extension of twenty more if the lord demands it. They must also serve three months of castle garrison duty, and appear at court to offer advice whenever the lord demands it. A knight vassal may bear a pennant on his lance.
Knights are sometimes lords over other knights, and are thus called knight lords. Knight lords are the upper-rank noblemen, the lords of the land. In this context, a “lord” means any knight who has taken on other knights as followers. The lowest grade of lord is a banneret knight. The highest is the High King.
THE COAT OF ARMS
Each knight has his own unique coat of arms. This is a design carried on his shield and surcoat, but also used to mark anything of the owner’s as a personal possession. Only the knight, his wife, and his hired herald (who must wear a special type of coat called a tabard) can wear a knight’s personal arms.
The knight’s eldest son wears his father’s arms, but with a special mark called a difference which is taken off only after he inherits the title and other rights of his deceased father. Other sons generally make some modification to their father’s coat, so families all have similar coats of arms.