Many of us who chose to get involved in
this rather esoteric and - to outside eyes - somewhat alarmingly
physical hobby, did so because of popular images of the knight in
shining armor, or because of bold adventurous swordsmen (and women)
portrayed in the pages of our favorite books or in film.
Launcelot du Lac. Roland. El Cid. Alanna the Lioness. Madmartigan. Richard Cour de Lion. Joan d'Arc. Wilfred of Ivanhoe. Bertrand DuGuesclin.
Whether found in the annals of history
or on the silver screen, these legendary figures stir the
imagination and serve as a reminder of who we often wish to be: the
bold, noble hero of song and tales who inspires others to
greatness. The knight in shining armor is the quintessential symbol
of the Middle Ages, possibly only surpassed by the knight's home - the
But who were the knights? What did
they truly stand for? And what does it mean to be a knight within
our own Mercenaries? These questions can be at least partially
answered by examining the roots of knighthood and how it developed
through history. It should be noted here that Anglo-Norman
knighthood as practiced in England and France provides the basis for
most information commonly available (although fascinating work has
been done on the institution of Germanic knighthood, it is outside
the scope of this article.)
The word "knight" finds its origins in
the Old High German knecht, (a word which, incidentally,
remains the same in modern German), meaning "servant." When the
word was assimilated into Old English (which shared common roots
with Old High German), it became cnicht, which meant "boy" or
"retainer." Interestingly, Norman French and Middle High German
used the words chevalier and Reiter respectively, both
meaning "rider." It is not until the emergence of Middle English as
a language circa 1100 AD that we find knyght used to refer to
a mounted warrior in English.
So a knight is one who
is both a mounted fighter and a servant. Because of the often
prohibitive cost of buying and maintaining the equipment needed to
be a knight, most knights were drawn from the nobility. In fact,
knighthood soon became a guarded privilege (and responsibility) of
the noble class.
For knights did indeed
have several responsibilities. Not only were they beholden to their
liege lord from whom they held their title and estates, knights were
also responsible for protecting their own vassals. In times of war,
it was a knight's responsibility to fight for his liege lord. In
times of peace, it was his duty to shield the commoners under his
care from brigands, and sometimes from other knights.
The idea of
chivalry evolved in the High Middle Ages, and was quite possibly
influenced by the Arthurian tales that had become quite popular. It
dictated a moral code by which the nobility would ideally deal with
its peers. This meant that while knights were theoretically
duty-bound to treat one another with respect and mercy, no such
strictures lay upon their behavior towards their inferiors.
Above all, knights
were a professional warrior class who specialized in fighting. Even today, this is reflected by the popular image of the knight in
shining armor mounted upon his armored war steed and carrying sword,
lance and mace. However, knights were also servants, and many
served in primarily administrative positions.
To generalize, an
ideal knight was a consummate warrior, a loyal servant of his liege,
and one who treated others with respect. A knight was a noble,
whose rank conferred privileges as well as responsibilities. Occasionally, a knight would also be a sort of civil servant.
The questions we must
now ask ourselves are: to what extent does the institution of
knighthood within the Mercenaries Medieval Combat Guild reflect the
historical model? How are the virtues of knighthood kept alive
amongst the members of our group? And what should it mean to
be a knight?
The requirements for
the office of knight in the Mercenaries are mostly combat related
(except for the rank of Knight of the Scroll, which is more closely
related to the Renaissance ideal of knighthood). Active
participation at multiple wars, ownership of weapons and armor, and
placing in combat tournaments are all mandatory for those who would
aspire to knighthood with the Combat Guild. In this way, the
Mercenaries' rank of knight reflects the professional warrior-class
origins of the historical knights.
However, it is also
required that candidates for knighthood prove themselves to be
committed to the ideals of the Mercenaries, and take an active role
in the group. This means showing up to practices and events,
helping as needed, and offering input on issues of importance. Knights within our society are also required to own their own
medieval or Renaissance clothing, and be chivalrous and courteous. So the rank should also reflect the ideal of the historical
knight's behavior as well.
Now for perhaps the
most vexing question of all: what should it mean to be a
knight in the Mercenaries Medieval Combat Guild?
Knights of either discipline (sword or
scroll) have already attained the highest recognized rank in our
group. Can there be anywhere to go from there? Of course there
can. In the final part of the dubbing ceremony, it is customary for
the senior knight to ask his Peers "Is it your wish that this person
be made a knight?" When answered in the affirmative, the senior
knight then declares, "We find this man (or woman) to be a knight." In other words, awarding the rank of knight is an acknowledgement of
the individual's continuing work and commitment, not the end of a
In the same way that some Eastern
martial arts recognize the attainment of black belt status as "being
now ready to learn," the achievement of knighthood should indicate
the beginning of a path, not the terminus.
There is no question that knights of
both disciplines represent the senior members of the Mercenaries
Medieval Combat Guild. As such, they should serve as role models in
all respects for the less experienced members. Knights should be
mentors, tutors, and sources of inspiration in their chosen field. They should be models of chivalry, patience and generosity. A
knight should not hesitate to offer the benefit of their experience
to others - even their Peers if as much is requested.
Of course, this sounds like a lot to
live up to. It is. However, nobody who seeks for knighthood should
expect the journey to be easy. Being a modern day knight in a world
that has largely forgotten or dismissed the need for such a creature
can be challenging. We have no invading hordes of Moors to battle,
as did Roland. There are no dark elves to fight so that we may
prove ourselves as Paksenarrion did. Instead, we must find ways to
be knights through our actions and attitudes in our everyday
dealings - and especially on the field of mock battle.
responsibilities of knighthood are many. Earning the accolade is a
comparatively easy task; continuing to live up to it and being
worthy of it is much more difficult, and therefore confers more
honor. At the end of the day, I can think if few higher compliments
than to be thought of as a true knight.