In the Medieval Europe the term knight referred to a mounted warrior of secondary noble rank. The name is sometimes also applied to the equites of ancient Rome, a similar class of mounted soldiers who ranked below senators. The Roman class was formed to provide a means of advancement for men who were not born into a noble family (or gens). The medieval rank, however, probably originated with the barbarian tribes of northern Europe, and the English term derived from the old English cniht, meaning "youth" or "military follower". Often the younger son of a hereditary peer, the knight began his training as a young boy by entering the service of an overlord. At age 15 or 16 he was raised to the rank of squire and began his period of trial. When his overlord considered him worthy, the prospective knight received his accolade, traditionally a tap on the shoulder with a sword, which proclaimed him a knight. Once knighted he was entitled to the honorific title "sir" and continued in the military service of his overlord.

As Feudalism developed, the rank of knight (in French, chevalier; in German, Ritter) became a landholding rank. The knight held his land by what was knows as military tenure. That is, in return for a land grant the knight was expected to render military service to his overlord. Knighthood also took on a religious significance, and a vigil before the alter became part of the initiation into knighthood.

At the time of the Crusades the great military and religious orders of knights were established. They included the Knight of St. Lazarus (formed as early as the 4th century but militarized during the 12th century); the Knights Hospitalers (formed in the 12th century); the Knights Templars (1118); the Teutonic Knights (1190); and the Knights of the Sword (Livonian Order, 1204). The Spanish orders of Alcantara, Calatrava and Santiago were founded in the 12th century, and the Portuguese order of Sao Benedito de Avis evolved during the following century.

Later secular knightly orders were established in Europe. They included the Order of the Garter (c. 1349) in England, the Order of Saint Michael (1469) in France, and the Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece (c. 1430; later split into Austrian and Spanish branches). As modern weapons and battle techniques diminished the military effectiveness of the armored knight, his title became primarily honorary. Increasingly, the military service required of a landholding knight was converted to money payments to the overlord -- known as scutage in England.

In modern times many monarchies established purely honorific orders of knighthood. In Great Britain they included the Order of the Bath (1725) and the Order of the Thistle (for Scots; reformed in 1687). The French Legion of Honor was established by Napoleon I in 1802 and the Japanese Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum in 1888.

Honorary knighthood is still in existence. Practices vary from country to country, however. In Britain the title of knight is not hereditary but is conferred by the monarch (with the advice of the government). The British feminine equivalent of knight is dame commander.




1. Give the original and modern definition of the word knight.

2. How do knights differ from country to country?

3. Are knights really important to us? How would a knight be of use in our world nowadays?

4. Make a research about the existence of any knighthood in your own country.

5. The text says that the medieval knight in Europe was "an armored knight". What does the word "armor" mean?

6. Give your own opinions about the entitlement of somebody as "sir" or "dame commander" (these two applied in England).