Today it is my pleasure to welcome Andrew Fraser to The Turnip of Terror for the inaugural monthly Guest segment.
How Does a Man Become a Knight?
by Andrew Fraser
It is often through popular depictions we have a sense that the knight is a person of high nobility, a member of the landed aristocracy and the warrior caste. As with all things medieval this is not always true, the medieval period is multi-faceted and complex. How someone became a knight and who was entering into knighthood is something I will look into here.
During the late medieval period the feudal system softened, there was more exchange between the tight caste structures imposed during the early and high medieval. The wealthy mercantile middle class sought to emulate the noble elites and to join them politically. This led to a greater social exchange, one of these was the entrance of the merchant into the ranks of the knight.
This next section will take some shortcuts here for the sake of brevity and speak in overall terms. The aristocracy made up the warrior caste in numbers, they were eligible to bear arms; meaning that they could have their own heraldry.
They trained from youth in the arts of war and participated in war, took part in deeds of arms, studied chivalry and knightly conduct. It is this group of people that is commonly referred to as men at arms, although this term is loosely defined and used to refer to many different groups during the medieval period.
The hierarchy and organisation of the military system of feudal Europe was such that only the most wealthy could be inducted into this elite group, a knight had to maintain themselves, their equipment, their lands, and the men at arms that served them. This required wealth. A poor knight could not maintain these obligations for long.
The social structure of Medieval Europe also favoured the aristocracy as knights, recognition and fame ensured your induction into the ranks of knighthood, far be it for an unknown man with no connections to a knight to be granted the honour of knighthood, but instead, the well-known sons and brothers of lords and kings making a name for themselves in the field of valour.
De Charny, who famously wrote on the subject of knighthood, said that a Man at Arms of worth should strive to be like Judas Maccabeus
“He was wise in all his deeds, he was a man of worth who led a holy life, he was strong, skillful, and unrelenting in effort and endurance; he was handsome above all others, and without arrogance; he was full of prowess, bold, valiant, and a great fighter, taking part in the finest, greatest, and fiercest battles and the most perilous adventures there ever were, and in the end he died in a holy way in battle, like a saint in paradise.”
Such high standards to live up to, yet De Charny was the Bearer of the Oriflamme the sacred banner of the King of France. Knight and writer of the precepts of the Order of the Star, commission by John II of France in response to the Order of the Garter. He had high standards of what a perfect knight should be, and how they should conduct themselves.
Many a young knight was found fit on the tourney field. We can look to the story of Du Guesclin, which may be somewhat mythologised, who upon entering into the tournament under anonymity, defeated his estranged father and was made a knight for displaying his skill and valour.
Then you find examples of others who win their honours through skill at war. Sir John Chandos, Knight of the Garter. Chandos was knighted for his efforts in the battle of Sluys having gained great honour in battle in the Hundred years war.
Like Du Guesclin, Chandos was hailed as one of the true knights of his age. It is in dispute whether the English mercenary, Sir John Hawkwood, was knighted or if he assumed the title himself. Famed for his skill in battle and his cunning as a General, this demonstrates at least to the casual eye how by the 14th century the structure and the tradition of knighthood had begun to blur. Hawkwood was not in anyway, outside of his excellent military skills, the embodiment of chivalry laid out by De Charney.
It is also during the early 14th century we see the entrance of the merchant classes into the aristocracy and the knightly classes. Either through marriage, or the donation of large sums of money, the merchant classes were able to secure the necessary clout and political favour to have this great title bestowed on themselves or their sons.
In the 14th and 15th centuries we see the rise of the merchant nobles’ families, keen to secure more power, bought and married into nobility. It is during this time, the exchange of status from the rich aristocracy into poor mercantile families can be viewed in just a few generations.
With the rich landowners becoming merchants or worse, poor farmers themselves, and the merchants the richest landlords in the county it was not uncommon for an aristocrat to sell off an honour or two to stave off poverty. During times of war, it would not be uncommon for the king to borrow large sums of money from merchant families and to award an honour or two when repayment is needed.
But not all merchants bought their knighthoods, some were able to earn the title (though that was even rarer.) Sir William Walworth, Mayor of London, famed for slaying Wat Tyler and effectively ending the peasant’s revolt, was a merchant and a member of the fishmonger’s guild before being awarded his honours of knighthood.
It is questionable if Sir Walworth lived up to De Charney’s opinions of how a knight should be, I am sure that as a merchant and politician he most likely would not demonstrate any of the required attributes. Though I think effectively ending the revolt and saving the life of the king is well worth the honours of a knight.
But if we are considering what De Charny thought of as suitable for a knight, Du Gueslin himself was said to be an ugly and squat man; though his valour and skill in combat were without peer. Not so much the shining example set by Judas Maccabeus, John Hawkwood, though master tactician and skilled in arts of war, was far from any of these virtues, yet he held the mantle of Knighthood.
Many more men would take up arms and not be awarded the title of knight, and as in today’s tournament field they would be passed over or their deeds missed by their peers. De Charny addressed this.
“I must now consider yet another category of men-at-arms who deserve praise: that is those who devote a good part of their own financial resources and suffer physical hardship in the search for opportunities for deeds of arms in a number of countries; and they may well find many such opportunities and incur no reproach on many good fields of combat.
But it so happens that few learn of their exploits but are only aware of the fact that they have been there, which is in itself a fine thing; for the more one sees great deeds, the more one should learn what is involved and should talk and take advice at the places where feats of arms are performed or where one is engaged in other activities. And because of this they deserve to be praised and honoured: although their deeds have been of little account, they have done no ill; for it is very important in such activity to pause and look. Hence so it is that he who does best is most worthy.”
So we can see not all men who took up the path of a Man at Arms eventually achieved their end goal, that of the knight. More often than not many strove for recognition and failed to achieve the fame and glory of knighthood. Be it through inheritance, the acts of war, the honours of the tournament, or transactions of the merchant.
I think there is a lesson here for us in the re-enactment community. There are many among us who work hard with little recognition but do great work just for the sake of learning and displaying great living history; that is I think worthy of great praise. So I will leave you with some parting words from De Charny;
“…for the more one sees great deeds, the more one should learn what is involved and should talk and take advice at the places where feats of arms are performed or where one is engaged in other activities. And because of this they deserve to be praised and honoured.”
Andrew is a living historian and adult educator who has turned his hand to many different medieval projects over the years. His interests have included armouring, HEMA and medieval tailoring. His latest folly is researching and cataloguing the rise of the medieval guilds and the middle class and their influence on the modern era.
Have an idea for a great guest article? Tell me about it!
Routine Maintenance and Upkeep
The website received a facelift this month, which gave me the opportunity to change up the layout of the front page. After an update to the template I was using, formatting got strange and I no longer liked the way the site looked. I also wanted to try and get a more column type layout, as much of what I do with the site is easier to represent in such a manner. Swapping to a new template gave me space to make some side bars along the right which will persist across all the pages. I am very excited I can now have a bulletin of recent stories and news across all the networks show up on every page. It also means I can fulfil a Patreon promise I’ve been trying to figure out the technical requirements behind: one of the tier benefits for Yeomen, Esquires, and Knights of the Household is to have their name displayed in the “Hundred Rolls” on the website where everyone can see.Continue reading “September 2020 Newsletter”
The medieval period is a vast swath of time covering a myriad of different cultures and fashions. However, just like how there are some common threads (puns) between the suits of the roaring 20s and the business dress of the Covid 20s, there are some must have necessary elements of medieval dress every living history or reenactment impression should consider incorporating to be considered complete.Continue reading “Top Ten Medieval Clothing Must Haves”
ROUTINE MAINTENANCE AND UPKEEP
All links are sound with very few updates required to keep it all current. Nothing was sent to the morgue in any of the lists this month, and since it was empty, there were no resurrections to speak of. On the 27th I updated the cosmetics of my heraldry which required a scouring of the website for instances of the old image for update. As far as I can tell I got to all of it. There was a bit of fiddling to get the og:image and site token correct, with much gnashing of teeth and rending of shirts as I repeatedly scraped the Facebook debugger and uploaded the site repeatedly on different screens in different browsers in a variety of cog and incognito. I’m certain there is something I have missed, but as far as I can tell there are no errors which leave empty gaps or image errors.Continue reading “August 2020 Newsletter”
As most of you are aware, as the Turnip of Terror, the turnip has been a central facet of my arms, heraldry, and iconography for this project and for my living history pursuits. I am a self-taught graphic artist doing what I can with access to tools I have no training or true understanding of. Now and then I try to make cosmetic improvements. However, outside of looks, there are also times when further study of the period brings to light possible errors in our kit we have to fix. In this instance, it is my “digital soft kit” which is getting both an aesthetic and an authenticity upgrade.Continue reading “Heraldry Update!”
I had the distinct pleasure of being a guest on The Greenwood Podcast, the audio outlet for the 13th century living history group The Company of Little Dunmow. Considering our isolation with the pandemic, Little Dunmow was unique in how it was predominantly an internet based group who affiliated with each other and met at events prior to the lock downs. We talk about unit cohesion in the digital age, handling distance and lock down, gatekeeping, and other topics.