Knight

"Knighthood" redirects here. For other uses, see knight (disambiguation) and knights (disambiguation).
For the Roman social class sometimes referred to as "knights", see Equites.
David I of Scotland knighting a squire
The English fighting the French knights at the Battle of Crécy in 1346.

A knight is a person granted an honorary title of knighthood by a monarch or other political leader for service to the monarch or country, especially in a military capacity. Historically, in Europe, knighthood was conferred upon mounted warriors. [1] During the High Middle Ages, knighthood was considered a class of lower nobility. By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior. Often, a knight was a vassal who served as a fighter for a lord, with payment in the form of land holdings. [2] The lords trusted the knights, who were skilled in battle on horseback. Since the early modern period, the title of knight is purely honorific, usually bestowed by a monarch, as in the British honours system, often for non-military service to the country. The modern female equivalent in the United Kingdom is Dame.

Historically, the ideals of chivalry were popularized in medieval literature, especially the Matter of Britain and Matter of France, the former based on Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) which introduced the legend of King Arthur, written in the 1130s. Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (The Death of Arthur), written in 1485, was important in defining the ideal of chivalry, which is essential to the modern concept of the knight, as an elite warrior sworn to uphold the values of faith, loyalty, courage, and honour. Furthermore, Geoffroi de Charny's " Book of Chivalry" expounded upon the importance of Christian faith in every area of a knight's life. During the Renaissance, the genre of chivalric romance became popular in literature, growing ever more idealistic and eventually giving rise to a new form of realism in literature popularised by Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote. This novel explored the ideals of knighthood and their incongruity with the reality of Cervantes' world. In the late medieval period, new methods of warfare began to render classical knights in armour obsolete, but the titles remained in many nations.

Some orders of knighthood, such as the Knights Templar, have become the subject of legend; others have disappeared into obscurity. Today, a number of orders of knighthood continue to exist in several countries, such as the English Order of the Garter, the Swedish Royal Order of the Seraphim, and the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav. Each of these orders has its own criteria for eligibility, but knighthood is generally granted by a head of state or monarch to selected persons to recognise some meritorious achievement.

Knighthood in the Middle Ages was closely linked with horsemanship (and especially the joust) from its origins in the 12th century until its final flowering as a fashion among the high nobility in the Duchy of Burgundy in the 15th century. This linkage is reflected in the etymology of chivalry, cavalier and related terms (see Etymology section below). The special prestige accorded to mounted warriors finds a parallel in the furusiyya in the Muslim world, and the Greek hippeus (ἱππεύς) and Roman eques of classical antiquity. [3]

Etymology

The word knight, from Old English cniht ("boy" or "servant"), [4] is a cognate of the German word Knecht ("servant, bondsman"). [5] This meaning, of unknown origin, is common among West Germanic languages (cf Old Frisian kniucht, Dutch knecht, Danish knægt, Swedish knekt, Norwegian knekt, Middle High German kneht, all meaning "boy, youth, lad", as well as German Knecht "servant, bondsman, vassal"). [4] Middle High German had the phrase guoter kneht, which also meant knight; but this meaning was in decline by about 1200. [6]

The Anglo-Saxon cniht had no connection to horsemanship: the word referred to any servant [including females?]. A rādcniht, "riding-servant", was a servant delivering messages or patrolling coastlines on horseback.

A narrowing of the generic meaning "servant" to "military follower of a king or other superior" is visible by 1100. The specific military sense of a knight as a mounted warrior in the heavy cavalry emerges only in the Hundred Years' War. The verb "to knight" (to make someone a knight) appears around 1300; and, from the same time, the word "knighthood" shifted from "adolescence" to "rank or dignity of a knight".

An Equestrian ( Latin, from eques "horseman", from equus "horse") [7] was a member of the second highest social class in the Roman Republic and early Roman Empire. This class is often translated as "knight"; the medieval knight, however, was called miles in Latin (which in classical Latin meant "soldier", normally infantry). [8] [9] [10] Both Greek ἳππος (hippos) and Latin equus are derived from the Proto-Indo-European word root ekwo-, "horse". [11]

In the later Roman Empire, the classical Latin word for horse, equus, was replaced in common parlance by the vulgar Latin caballus, sometimes thought to derive from Gaulish caballos. [12] From caballus arose terms in the various Romance languages cognate with the (French-derived) English cavalier: Italian cavaliere, Spanish caballero, French chevalier (whence chivalry), Portuguese cavaleiro, and Romanian cavaler. [13] The Germanic languages have terms cognate with the English rider: German Ritter, and Dutch and Scandinavian ridder. These words are derived from Germanic rīdan, "to ride", in turn derived from the Proto-Indo-European root reidh-. [14]