development of the institution of the knight over the course of the medieval period
The medieval knight has a long, convoluted history of being one of the crucial entities in ancient kingdoms. The role of the nights developed gradually over the centuries during the middle ages. Some of the earliest Knights were used as messengers in the ancient kingdoms of Greece and Rome. In the middle ages, the institution of the knighthood began to see significant transformations. The 11th century came to shape the entire function of the knights. Early knights were mostly foot soldiers who used skills and rudimentary weapons with which they had access. Then, the role of the Knights grew slowly into what was seen as the 18th-century knight. Displaying combat skills while riding on a horse back become one of the crucial skills of knighthood. This was greatly appreciated due to the due advantage it offered in the battlefield.
The pre-Carolingian age saw the reign of the Ordo Equestris, a knighthood class from which European knights were probably inspired. In the medieval period, otherwise described as the Carolingian age, any skilled and well-equipped horseman would be considered a knight. The Latin version was miles. However, gaining knighthood was an uphill task for a beginner. There were several stages that one had to pass to be awarded the rank of knighthood. The reign of Charlemagne that spanned part of the 8th century saw the first Knights thrive. As the Carolingian age advanced, the attack was majorly dominated by the Franks. The vast number of soldiers mounted their horses and accompanied the Emperor in his campaign to conquer the regions and expand his rule. Despite the fact that knights in some areas returned to be foot soldiers, the link between knighthood and horses remained a strong association. In return for fighting for Charlemagne, the Knights were rewarded with pieces of land called ‘benefices.’ With this, the knights would fight for Charlemagne whenever he called upon them. This created a wave making the kingdoms of Europe adopt this principle for the next seven centuries. Later, knighthood became hereditary. The period between the fall of the Carolingian central authorities and the rise of different powers only worked to reinforce the function of the knights. The period between the 9th and 10th century was marred with chaos. Their role was highlighted due to the need to defend against Saracen and Magyar attacks.
In the subsequent years, some knights decided to dedicate themselves to fighting for the Christian faith. They formed various units called orders, which they used in fighting in the different Christian crusades. The Knights of Templar established their order in the 1100s. Together with Hospitaller and Teutonic Knights, they fought in Crusades to protect pilgrims from enemies such as the Muslims. These orders, together with that of chivalry, were supposed to imitate military protocol. The Knights were however expected to follow the code of chivalry. In it, they were expected to be fearless and brave in battle but at the same time retain their devout and generous nature. They were expected to display their cultured qualities.
In the fall of the middle ages, knights ceased to be a significant part of the military powers. There were various reasons as to why knighthood became unnecessary. The nature of the warfare had changed. The invention of long bows and firearms made the cumbersome weapons of the knights irrelevant. Moreover, many countries had invested in creating their standing armies eliminating the need for knights.
Geary, Patrick J. Readings in Medieval History: Theodosian Code. Vol. 1. University of Toronto