Responsibilities of Knighthood

Responsibilities of Knighthood

by Ser Maelgrim Crowther

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 castle.

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 journey.

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.

The 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. 



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