KnightsThe king or lord was the highest figure on the social scale in medieval times and right behind him come the knight. At the age of seven, boys left home to live in the lord’s house. Here, the boy became a Page and was cared for by the women who ran the lord’s manor. A Page was taught to keep himself clean, to be courteous and was instructed on religion. When he turned fourteen, he became the personal attendant to a knight that had been chosen as his tutor and his position was changed to Squire. His tutor instructed him on the skills of war, how to remain seated on a horse in battle and the arts of hawking and hunting, as well as other sports.

When the knight tutor felt the Squire was ready, he was knighted in a religious ceremony. Squires were usually knighted between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one. The night before the ceremony, the knight in waiting spent the night in the church guarding his armor that had been laid before the church alter.

On the day of his knighthood, the knight was required to recite and swear to the knight’s code, which declared that he had to “protect the weak, defenseless and helpless and fight for the general welfare of all.” The code was a standard for knight behavior and chivalry, though most often the knights didn’t bother to adhere to it. In exceptional circumstances, a squire could be knighted on the battlefield for bravery and valor, but this was a very rare occurrence.

Most battles occurred between knights of individual lords. The opponent was rarely killed, but instead was captured and held for ransom. A captured opponent was worth much more alive than dead, as lords almost always paid ransoms, especially if the captured knight was one in great standing. Then, the ransom would be phenomenal. This was an easy way for knights to access great sums of money, especially if they could capture the lord’s highest ranking knight.

Tournaments were a required part of knighthood. They were brought from France during the 12th century and consisted of jousts between two knights or, at times, a group of combatants. Tournaments were the place where great reputations were made, so knights fought hard and took extremely dangerous chances. Some knights, one being William Marshall, became very wealthy on the tournament circuit. Great prizes were always presented to the tournament winners.

The armor worn during tournaments was very cumbersome. These suites were worn with very heavy padding under them. This armor was different from that worn in battle.

The object of battle in tournaments was to unseat your opponent, but knights took the battles very seriously and more often than not, one or more men lost their lives during the matches. The knight who was the challenger put up a tent at one end of the field, and then hung a shield outside. If a knight wished to accept the challenge, he rode his horse close to the shield and touched it with his lance. Once the challenge had been accepted, the joust was on. Each knight that won an individual joust was awarded a prize by the “Queen of Beauty,” who was elected from the women present at the tournament. This was a great honor for the victorious knight.

Tournaments were transformed to fairs that included dancing, feasting and singing in the 14th century. These events lasted for days with much drinking, eating, laughter and fanfare. It was a festive time for both the knights and the local population.