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. 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. The lords trusted
the knights, who were skilled in battle on horseback.
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.
Royal, noble and
Emperor / Empress
King / Queen
Grand Prince / Grand Princess
Grand Duke / Grand Duchess
Infante / Infanta /
Królewicz / królewna
Duke / Duchess
Prince / Sovereign Princess /
Fürst / Fürstin
Marquess / Marquis / Marchioness /
Margrave / Landgrave /
Count / Countess / Earl
Châtelain / Castellan
Viscount/Viscountess / Vidame
Baron / Baroness
Baronet / Baronetess
Ritter / Ridder
Knight / Dame
Jonkheer / Junker
Gentleman / Younger / Maid
In the late medieval period, new methods of warfare began to render
classical knights in armour obsolete, but the titles remained in many
nations. Today, a number of orders of knighthood continue to exist in
Christian Churches, as well as in several historically Christian
countries and their former territories, such as the Roman Catholic
Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the Protestant Order of Saint John, as
well 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, monarch, or prelate to selected
persons to recognise some meritorious achievement, as in the British
honours system, often for service to the Church or country. The modern
female equivalent in the
United Kingdom is Dame.
Historically, the ideals of chivalry were popularized in medieval
literature, particularly the literary cycles known as the Matter of
France, relating to the legendary companions of Charlemagne, and the
Matter of Britain, relating to the legend of
2 Evolution of medieval knighthood
3 Knightly culture in the Middle Ages
3.3 Chivalric code
4 Medieval and Renaissance chivalric literature
6 Types of knighthood
6.1 Chivalric orders
6.1.1 Military orders
6.1.2 Honorific orders of knighthood
6.2 Hereditary knighthoods
6.2.1 Continental Europe
6.2.3 British baronetcies
6.3 Women in orders of knighthood
6.3.1 England and the United Kingdom
6.3.4 The Low Countries
7 Notable knights
8 See also
8.1 Counterparts in other cultures
The word knight, from
Old English cniht ("boy" or "servant"), is a
cognate of the German word Knecht ("servant, bondsman"). This
meaning, of unknown origin, is common among West Germanic languages
Old Frisian kniucht, Dutch knecht, Danish knægt, Swedish knekt,
Middle High German
Middle High German kneht, all meaning "boy, youth,
lad", as well as German Knecht "servant, bondsman, vassal"). Middle
High German had the phrase guoter kneht, which also meant knight; but
this meaning was in decline by about 1200.
The meaning of cniht changed over time from its original meaning of
"boy" to "household retainer". Ælfric's homily of St. Swithun
describes a mounted retainer as a cniht. While cnihtas might have
fought alongside their lords, their role as household servants
features more prominently in the Anglo-Saxon texts. In several
Anglo-Saxon wills cnihtas are left either money or lands. In his will,
Æthelstan leaves his cniht, Aelfmar, eight hides of land.
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
An Equestrian (Latin, from eques "horseman", from equus "horse")
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
Latin meant "soldier", normally infantry).
In the later Roman Empire, the classical
Latin word for horse, equus,
was replaced in common parlance by the vulgar
sometimes thought to derive from Gaulish caballos. 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. 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-.
Evolution of medieval knighthood
Further information: Bucellarius
In ancient Rome there was a knightly class
Ordo Equestris (order of
mounted nobles). Some portions of the armies of
Germanic peoples who
Europe from the 3rd century AD onward had been mounted, and
some armies, such as those of the Ostrogoths, were mainly cavalry.
However, it was the Franks who generally fielded armies composed of
large masses of infantry, with an infantry elite, the comitatus, which
often rode to battle on horseback rather than marching on foot. When
the armies of the Frankish ruler
Charles Martel defeated the Umayyad
Arab invasion at the
Battle of Tours
Battle of Tours in 732, the Frankish forces were
still largely infantry armies, with elites riding to battle but
dismounting to fight.
Early Medieval period any well-equipped horseman could be
described as a knight, or miles in Latin. The first knights
appeared during the reign of
Charlemagne in the 8th
century. As the
Carolingian Age progressed, the Franks
were generally on the attack, and larger numbers of warriors took to
their horses to ride with the
Emperor in his wide-ranging campaigns of
conquest. At about this time the Franks increasingly remained on
horseback to fight on the battlefield as true cavalry rather than
mounted infantry, with the discovery of the stirrup, and would
continue to do so for centuries afterwards. Although in some
nations the knight returned to foot combat in the 14th century, the
association of the knight with mounted combat with a spear, and later
a lance, remained a strong one. The older
Carolingian ceremony of
presenting a young man with weapons influenced the emergence of
knighthood ceremonies, in which a noble would be ritually given
weapons and declared to be a knight, usually amid some
A Norman knight slaying
Harold Godwinson (Bayeux tapestry, c. 1070).
The rank of knight developed in the 12th century from the mounted
warriors of the 10th and 11th centuries.
These mobile mounted warriors made Charlemagne’s far-flung conquests
possible, and to secure their service he rewarded them with grants of
land called benefices. These were given to the captains directly
Emperor to reward their efforts in the conquests, and they in
turn were to grant benefices to their warrior contingents, who were a
mix of free and unfree men. In the century or so following
Charlemagne's death, his newly empowered warrior class grew stronger
Charles the Bald
Charles the Bald declared their fiefs to be hereditary. The
period of chaos in the 9th and 10th centuries, between the fall of the
Carolingian central authority and the rise of separate Western and
Eastern Frankish kingdoms (later to become
France and Germany
respectively) only entrenched this newly landed warrior class. This
was because governing power and defense against Viking, Magyar and
Saracen attack became an essentially local affair which revolved
around these new hereditary local lords and their demesnes.
The battle between the Turks and Christian knights during the Ottoman
wars in Europe.
In the course of the 12th century knighthood became a social rank,
with a distinction being made between milites gregarii (non-noble
cavalrymen) and milites nobiles (true knights). As the term
"knight" became increasingly confined to denoting a social rank, the
military role of fully armoured cavalryman gained a separate term,
"man-at-arms". Although any medieval knight going to war would
automatically serve as a man-at-arms, not all men-at-arms were
knights. The first military orders of knighthood were those of the
Knights Hospitallers and of the Holy Sepulchre, both founded at the
First Crusade of 1099, followed by the
Order of Saint Lazarus
Order of Saint Lazarus (1100),
Knights Templars (1118) and the
Teutonic Knights (1190). At the time
of their foundation, these were intended as monastic orders, whose
members would act as simple soldiers protecting pilgrims. It was only
over the following century, with the successful conquest of the Holy
Land and the rise of the crusader states, that these orders became
powerful and prestigious.
The great European legends of warriors such as the paladins, the
Matter of France and the
Matter of Britain
Matter of Britain popularized the notion of
chivalry among the warrior class. The ideal of chivalry as the
ethos of the Christian warrior, and the transmutation of the term
"knight" from the meaning "servant, soldier", and of chevalier
"mounted soldier", to refer to a member of this ideal class, is
significantly influenced by the Crusades, on one hand inspired by the
military orders of monastic warriors, and on the other hand also
cross-influenced by Islamic (Saracen) ideals of furusiyya.
Knightly culture in the Middle Ages
The institution of knights was already well-established by the 10th
century. While the knight was essentially a title denoting a
military office, the term could also be used for positions of higher
nobility such as landholders. The higher nobles grant the vassals
their portions of land (fiefs) in return for their loyalty,
protection, and service. The nobles also provided their knights with
necessities, such as lodging, food, armour, weapons, horses, and
money. The knight generally held his lands by military tenure
which was measured through military service that usually lasted
40 days a year. The military service was the quid pro quo for
each knight's fief.
Vassals and lords could maintain any number of
knights, although knights with more military experience were those
most sought after. Thus, all petty nobles intending to become
prosperous knights needed a great deal of military experience. A
knight fighting under another's banner was called a knight bachelor
while a knight fighting under his own banner was a knight banneret.
A knight had to be born of nobility – typically sons of knights or
lords. In some cases commoners could also be knighted as a reward
for extraordinary military service. Children of the nobility were
cared for by noble foster-mothers in castles until they reached age
The seven-year-old boys were given the title of page and turned over
to the care of the castle's lords. They were placed on an early
training regime of hunting with huntsmen and falconers, and academic
studies with priests or chaplains. Pages then become assistants to
older knights in battle, carrying and cleaning armour, taking care of
the horses, and packing the baggage. They would accompany the knights
on expeditions, even into foreign lands. Older pages were instructed
by knights in swordsmanship, equestrianism, chivalry, warfare, and
combat (but using wooden swords and spears).
When the boy turned 15, he became a squire. In a religious ceremony
the new squire swore on a sword consecrated by a bishop or priest, and
attended to assigned duties in his lord’s household. During this
time the squires continued training in combat and were allowed to own
armour (rather than borrowing it).
David I of Scotland
David I of Scotland knighting a squire
Squires were required to master the “seven points of agilities”
– riding, swimming and diving, shooting different types of weapons,
climbing, participation in tournaments, wrestling, fencing, long
jumping, and dancing – the prerequisite skills for knighthood. All
of these were even performed while wearing armour.
Upon turning 21, the squire was eligible to be knighted.
Main article: Accolade
The accolade or knighting ceremony was usually held during one of the
great feasts or holidays, like
Christmas or Easter, and sometimes at
the wedding of a noble or royal. The knighting ceremony usually
involved a ritual bath on the eve of the ceremony and a prayer vigil
during the night. On the day of the ceremony, the would-be knight
would swear an oath and the master of the ceremony would dub the new
knight on the shoulders with a sword. Squires could also be
conferred knighthood early if they showed valor and efficiency in
The miles Christianus allegory (mid 13th century), showing a knight
armed with virtues and facing the vices in mortal combat. The parts of
his armour are identified with Christian virtues, thus correlating
essential military equipment with the religious values of chivalry:
The helmet is spes futuri gaudii (hope of future bliss), the shield
(here the shield of the Trinity) is fides (faith), the armour is
caritas (charity), the lance is perseverantia (perseverance), the
sword is verbum Dei (the word of God), the banner is regni celestis
desiderium (desire for the kingdom of heaven), the horse is bona
voluntas (good will), the saddle is Christiana religio (Christian
religion), the saddlecloth is humilitas (humility), the reins are
discretio (discretion), the spurs are disciplina (discipline), the
stirrups are propositum boni operis (proposition of good work), and
the horse's four hooves are delectatio, consensus, bonum opus,
consuetudo (delight, consent, good work, and exercise).
Main article: Chivalry
Knights were expected, above all, to fight bravely and to display
military professionalism and courtesy. When knights were taken as
prisoners of war, they were customarily held for ransom in somewhat
comfortable surroundings. This same standard of conduct did not apply
to non-knights (archers, peasants, foot-soldiers, etc.) who were often
slaughtered after capture, and who were viewed during battle as mere
impediments to knights' getting to other knights to fight them.
Chivalry developed as an early standard of professional ethics for
knights, who were relatively affluent horse owners and were expected
to provide military services in exchange for landed property. Early
notions of chivalry entailed loyalty to one's liege lord and bravery
in battle, similar to the values of the Heroic Age. During the Middle
Ages, this grew from simple military professionalism into a social
code including the values of gentility, nobility and treating others
The Song of Roland
The Song of Roland (c. 1100),
Roland is portrayed
as the ideal knight, demonstrating unwavering loyalty, military
prowess and social fellowship. In Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival
(c. 1205), chivalry had become a blend of religious duties, love and
military service. Ramon Llull's Book of the Order of
demonstrates that by the end of the 13th century, chivalry entailed a
litany of very specific duties, including riding warhorses, jousting,
attending tournaments, holding Round Tables and hunting, as well as
aspiring to the more æthereal virtues of "faith, hope, charity,
justice, strength, moderation and loyalty."
Knights of the late medieval era were expected by society to maintain
all these skills and many more, as outlined in Baldassare
Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier, though the book's protagonist,
Count Ludovico, states the "first and true profession" of the ideal
courtier "must be that of arms." Chivalry, derived from the French
word chevalier ('cavalier'), simultaneously denoted skilled
horsemanship and military service, and these remained the primary
occupations of knighthood throughout the Middle Ages.
Chivalry and religion were mutually influenced during the period of
the Crusades. The early
Crusades helped to clarify the moral code of
chivalry as it related to religion. As a result, Christian armies
began to devote their efforts to sacred purposes. As time passed,
clergy instituted religious vows which required knights to use their
weapons chiefly for the protection of the weak and defenseless,
especially women and orphans, and of churches.
With the rise of
Renaissance humanism and moral relativism, the
knight–and chivalry along with him–lost much of his relevance to
society, and the idealism of chivalric romance was fundamentally
rejected in Niccolò Machiavelli's Il Principe (1532) and more
directly derided in Miguel de Cervantes's
Don Quixote (1605–1615).
The medieval literary genre of chivalric romance had been the
high-water mark of idealism and romanticism in literature, but in the
16th century Machiavelli instructed aspiring political rulers to be
ruthlessly pragmatic and to apply the principle that the ends justify
the means, directly counter to the high-flown idealism of late
medieval chivalry. Later, the high-flown values of chivalric romance
were heavily satirized in Cervantes's Don Quixote, which portrayed the
charmingly idealistic protagonist as a lovable but hopelessly
Main article: Tournament (medieval)
Tournament from the Codex Manesse, depicting the mêlée.
In peacetime, knights often demonstrated their martial skills in
tournaments, which usually took place on the grounds of a
castle. Knights can parade their armour and banner to the
whole court as the tournament commenced. Medieval tournaments were
made up of martial sports called hastiludes, and were not only a major
spectator sport but also played as a real combat simulation. It
usually ended with many knights either injured or even killed. One
contest was a free-for-all battle called a melee, where large groups
of knights numbering hundreds assembled and fought one another, and
the last knight standing was the winner. The most popular and
romanticized contest for knights was the joust. In this competition,
two knights charge each other with blunt wooden lances in an effort to
break their lance on the opponent's head or body or unhorse them
completely. The loser in these tournaments had to turn his armour and
horse over to the victor. The last day was filled with feasting,
dancing and minstrel singing.
Besides formal tournaments, they were also unformalized judicial duels
done by knights and squires to end various disputes. Countries
like Germany, Britain and
Ireland practiced this tradition. Judicial
combat was of two forms in medieval society, the feat of arms and
chivalric combat. The feat of arms were done to settle hostilities
between two large parties and supervised by a judge. The chivalric
combat was fought when one party's honor was disrespected or
challenged upon in which the conflict cannot be resolved in court.
Weapons were standardized and must be of the same caliber. The duel
lasted until the other party was too weak to fight back and in early
cases, the defeated party were then subsequently executed. Examples of
these brutal duels were the judicial combat known as the Combat of the
Thirty in 1351, and the trial by combat fought by Jean de Carrouges in
1386. A far more chivalric duel which became popular in the Late
Middle Ages was the pas d'armes or "passage of arms". In this
hastilude, a knight or a group of knights would claim a bridge, lane
or city gate, and challenge other passing knights to fight or be
disgraced. If a lady passed unescorted, she would leave behind a
glove or scarf, to be rescued and returned to her by a future knight
who passed that way.
One of the greatest distinguishing marks of the knightly class was the
flying of coloured banners, to display power and to distinguish
knights in battle and in tournaments. Knights are generally
armigerous (bearing a coat of arms), and indeed they played an
essential role in the development of heraldry. As heavier
armour, including enlarged shields and enclosed helmets, developed in
the Middle Ages, the need for marks of identification arose, and with
coloured shields and surcoats, coat armoury was born. Armourial rolls
were created to record the knights of various regions or those who
participated in various tournaments.
Medieval and Renaissance chivalric literature
King René's Tournament Book (BnF Ms Fr 2695)
Main article: Knight-errant
Further information: Chivalry, Romance (heroic literature), Matter of
Britain, Matter of France, Minnesang, and Jinete
Knights and the ideals of knighthood featured largely in medieval and
Renaissance literature, and have secured a permanent place in literary
romance. While chivalric romances abound, particularly notable
literary portrayals of knighthood include The Song of Roland, Cantar
de Mio Cid, The Twelve of England, Geoffrey Chaucer's The Knight's
Tale, Baldassare Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier, and Miguel de
Cervantes' Don Quixote, as well as Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte
d'Arthur and other
Arthurian tales (Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia
Regum Britanniae, the Pearl Poet's Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,
Geoffrey of Monmouth's
Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings
of Britain), written in the 1130s, introduced the legend of King
Arthur, which was to be important to the development of chivalric
ideals in literature. Sir Thomas Malory's
Le Morte d'Arthur
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.
Instructional literature was also created. Geoffroi de Charny's "Book
of Chivalry" expounded upon the importance of Christian faith in every
area of a knight's life, though still laying stress on the primarily
military focus of knighthood.
In the early Renaissance greater emphasis is laid upon courtliness.
The ideal courtier—the chivalrous knight—of Baldassarre
The Book of the Courtier
The Book of the Courtier became a model of the ideal
virtues of nobility. Castiglione's tale took the form of a
discussion among the nobility of the court of the
Duke of Urbino, in
which the characters determine that the ideal knight should be
renowned not only for his bravery and prowess in battle, but also as a
skilled dancer, athlete, singer and orator, and he should also be
well-read in the
Humanities and classical Greek and Latin
Later Renaissance literature, such as Miguel de Cervantes's Don
Quixote, rejected the code of chivalry as unrealistic idealism.
The rise of
Christian humanism in
Renaissance literature demonstrated
a marked departure from the chivalric romance of late medieval
literature, and the chivalric ideal ceased to influence literature
over successive centuries until it saw some pockets of revival in
Fortified house – a family seat of a
Knight (Schloss Hart by the
Harter Graben near Kindberg, Austria).
By the end of the 15th century, knights were becoming obsolete as
countries started creating their own professional armies that were
quicker to train, cheaper and easier to mobilize. The
advancement of high-powered firearms eradicated the use of plate
armour, as the time it takes to train soldiers with guns is much less
compared to that of the knight. The cost of equipment is also
significantly lower and guns give a reasonable chance to easily
penetrate a knight's armour. In the 14th century the use of
infantrymen armed with pikes and fighting in close formation also
proved effective against heavy cavalry. An example of this was seen in
the Battle of Nancy, when
Charles the Bold
Charles the Bold and his armoured cavalry
were decimated by Swiss soldiers only armed with pikes. As the
feudal system came to an end, lords saw no further use of knights.
Many landowners found the duties of knighthood too expensive and so
contented themselves with the use of squires.
Mercenaries also became
an economic alternative to knights when conflicts arose.
Armies of the time started adopting a more realistic approach to
warfare than the honor-bound code of chivalry. Soon, the remaining
knights were absorbed into professional armies. Although they have a
higher rank than most soldiers because of their valuable lineage, they
have lost their distinctive identity that previously set them apart
from other common soldiers. As the age of knights dissolved, some
still survived as knightly orders who still exist even by the end of
the Medieval Age. They adopted newer technology while still retaining
their age-old chivalric traditions. Examples of holy orders that
existed beyond the Middle Ages were the
Knights Hospitallers and
Types of knighthood
Further information: Chivalric order
Further information: Military order (society)
Sovereign Military Order of Malta, founded during the First Crusade,
Order of the Holy Sepulchre, also founded during the
First Crusade in
Order of Saint Lazarus
Order of Saint Lazarus established about 1100
Knights Templar, founded 1118, disbanded 1307
Teutonic Knights, established about 1190, and ruled the Monastic State
Teutonic Knights in
Prussia until 1525
Other orders were established in the Iberian peninsula, under the
influence of the orders in the Holy Land and the Crusader movement of
Order of Aviz, established in Avis in 1143
Order of Alcántara, established in
Alcántara in 1156
Order of Calatrava, established in Calatrava in 1158
Order of Santiago, established in Santiago in 1164.
Honorific orders of knighthood
After the Crusades, the military orders became idealized and
romanticized, resulting in the late medieval notion of chivalry, as
reflected in the
Arthurian romances of the time. The creation of
chivalric orders was fashionable among the nobility in the 14th and
15th centuries, and this is still reflected in contemporary honours
systems, including the term order itself. Examples of notable orders
of chivalry are:
the Order of Saint George, founded by
Charles I of Hungary
Charles I of Hungary in 1325/6
the Order of the Most Holy Annunciation, founded by
Count Amadeus VI
the Order of the Garter, founded by
Edward III of England
Edward III of England around 1348
the Order of the Dragon, founded by
Sigismund of Luxemburg
Sigismund of Luxemburg in
the Order of the Golden Fleece, founded by Philip III,
Burgundy in 1430
the Order of Saint Michael, founded by Louis XI of
France in 1469
the Order of the Thistle, founded by
King James VII of Scotland (also
known as James II of England) in 1687
the Order of the Elephant, which may have been first founded by
Christian I of Denmark, but was founded in its current form by King
Christian V in 1693
the Order of the Bath, founded by George I in 1725
Francis Drake (left) being knighted by Queen
Elizabeth I in 1581. The
recipient is tapped on each shoulder with a sword
From roughly 1560, purely honorific orders were established, as a way
to confer prestige and distinction, unrelated to military service and
chivalry in the more narrow sense. Such orders were particularly
popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, and knighthood continues to be
conferred in various countries:
United Kingdom (see British honours system) and some Commonwealth
of Nations countries such as New Zealand;
Some European countries, such as The
Holy See — see Papal Orders of Chivalry.
There are other monarchies and also republics that also follow this
practice. Modern knighthoods are typically conferred in recognition
for services rendered to society, which are not necessarily martial in
nature. The British musician Elton John, for example, is a Knight
Bachelor, thus entitled to be called Sir Elton. The female equivalent
is a Dame, for example
Dame Julie Andrews.
In the United Kingdom, honorific knighthood may be conferred in two
The first is by membership of one of the pure Orders of
as the Order of the Garter, the
Order of the Thistle
Order of the Thistle and the dormant
Order of Saint Patrick, of which all members are knighted. In
addition, many British Orders of Merit, namely the Order of the Bath,
the Order of St Michael and St George, the
Royal Victorian Order
Royal Victorian Order and
Order of the British Empire
Order of the British Empire are part of the British honours
system, and the award of their highest ranks (Knight/
Dame Grand Cross), comes together with an honorific
knighthood, making them a cross between orders of chivalry and orders
of merit. By contrast, membership of other British Orders of Merit,
such as the Distinguished Service Order, the
Order of Merit
Order of Merit and the
Order of the Companions of
Honour does not confer a knighthood.
The second is being granted honorific knighthood by the British
sovereign without membership of an order, the recipient being called
British honours system the knightly style of Sir is accompanied
by the given name, and optionally the surname. So,
Elton John may be
called Sir Elton or Sir Elton John, but never Sir John. Similarly,
Judi Dench DBE may be addressed as
Dame Judi or
Dench, but never
Wives of knights, however, are entitled to the honorific pre-nominal
"Lady" before their husband's surname. Thus Sir Paul McCartney's
ex-wife was formally styled
Lady McCartney (rather than
Lady Heather McCartney). The style
Dame Heather McCartney
could be used for the wife of a knight; however, this style is largely
archaic and is only used in the most formal of documents, or where the
wife is a
Dame in her own right (such as
Dame Norma Major, who gained
her title six years before her husband Sir
John Major was knighted).
The husbands of Dames have no honorific pre-nominal, so
John Major until he received his own knighthood.
The English fighting the French knights at the
Battle of Crécy
Battle of Crécy in
Since the reign of Edward VII a clerk in holy orders in the Church of
England has not normally received the accolade on being appointed to a
degree of knighthood. He receives the insignia of his honour and may
place the appropriate letters after his name or title but he may not
be called Sir and his wife may not be called Lady. This custom is not
observed in Australia and New Zealand, where knighted Anglican
clergymen routinely use the title "Sir". Ministers of other Christian
Churches are entitled to receive the accolade. For example, Sir Norman
Cardinal Gilroy did receive the accolade on his appointment as Knight
Commander of the Most Excellent
Order of the British Empire
Order of the British Empire in 1969. A
knight who is subsequently ordained does not lose his title. A famous
example of this situation was The Revd Sir Derek Pattinson, who was
ordained just a year after he was appointed
apparently somewhat to the consternation of officials at Buckingham
Palace. A woman clerk in holy orders may be made a
Dame in exactly
the same way as any other woman since there are no military
connotations attached to the honour. A clerk in holy orders who is a
baronet is entitled to use the title Sir.
British honours system it is usually considered improper
to address a knighted person as 'Sir' or 'Dame'. Some countries,
however, historically did have equivalent honorifics for knights, such
Cavaliere Benito Mussolini), and
Germany and the
Austro-Hungarian Empire (e.g. Georg
Ritter von Trapp).
Jean Froissart Chronicles depicting the Battle of
Montiel (Castillian Civil War, in the Hundred Years' War)
State Knighthoods in the
Netherlands are issued in three orders, the
Order of William, the Order of the
Netherlands Lion, and the Order of
Orange Nassau. Additionally there remain a few hereditary knights in
In Belgium, honorific knighthood (not hereditary) can be conferred by
King on particularly meritorious individuals such as scientists or
eminent businessmen, or for instance to astronaut Frank De Winne, the
second Belgian in space. This practice is similar to the conferal of
the dignity of
Knight Bachelor in the United Kingdom. In addition,
there still are a number of hereditary knights in
Belgium (see below).
France and Belgium, one of the ranks conferred in some Orders of
Merit, such as the Légion d'Honneur, the Ordre National du Mérite,
Ordre des Palmes académiques and the Ordre des Arts et des
Lettres in France, and the Order of Leopold, Order of the Crown and
Order of Leopold II
Order of Leopold II in Belgium, is that of Chevalier (in French) or
Ridder (in Dutch), meaning Knight.
Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth the monarchs tried to
establish chivalric orders but the hereditary lords who controlled the
Union did not agree and managed to ban such assemblies. They feared
King would use Orders to gain support for absolutist goals and to
make formal distinctions among the peerage which could lead to its
legal breakup into two separate classes, and that the
King would later
play one against the other and eventually limit the legal privileges
of hereditary nobility. But finally in 1705
King August II managed to
establish the Order of the White Eagle which remains Poland's most
prestigious order of that kind. The head of state (now the President
as the acting Grand Master) confers knighthoods of the Order to
distinguished citizens, foreign monarchs and other heads of state. The
Order has its Chapter. There were no particular honorifics that would
accompany a knight's name as historically all (or at least by far
most) its members would be royals or hereditary lords anyway. So
today, a knight is simply referred to as "Name Surname, knight of the
White Eagle (Order)".
Europe different systems of hereditary knighthood have
existed or do exist. Ridder, Dutch for "knight", is a hereditary noble
title in the Netherlands. It is the lowest title within the nobility
system and ranks below that of "Baron" but above "Jonkheer" (the
latter is not a title, but a Dutch honorific to show that someone
belongs to the untitled nobility). The collective term for its holders
in a certain locality is the Ridderschap (e.g. Ridderschap van
Holland, Ridderschap van Friesland, etc.). In the
female equivalent exists. Before 1814, the history of nobility is
separate for each of the eleven provinces that make up the Kingdom of
the Netherlands. In each of these, there were in the early Middle Ages
a number of feudal lords who often were just as powerful, and
sometimes more so than the rulers themselves. In old times, no other
title existed but that of knight. In the
Netherlands only 10 knightly
families are still extant, a number which steadily decreases because
in that country ennoblement or incorporation into the nobility is not
Likewise Ridder, Dutch for "knight", or the equivalent French
Chevalier is a hereditary noble title in Belgium. It is the second
lowest title within the nobility system above Écuyer or
Jonkheer/Jonkvrouw and below Baron. Like in the Netherlands, no female
equivalent to the title exists.
Belgium still does have about 232
registered knightly families.
The German and Austrian equivalent of an hereditary knight is a
Ritter. This designation is used as a title of nobility in all
German-speaking areas. Traditionally it denotes the second lowest rank
within the nobility, standing above "Edler" (Noble) and below
"Freiherr" (baron). For its historical association with warfare and
the landed gentry in the Middle Ages, it can be considered roughly
equal to the titles of "Knight" or "Baronet".
The Royal House of Portugal historically bestowed hereditary
knighthoods to holders of the highest ranks in the Royal Orders.
Today, the head of the Royal House of Portugal HRH Duarte Pio,
Braganza bestows hereditary knighthoods for extraordinary acts of
sacrifice and service to the Royal House. There are very few
hereditary knights and they are entitled to wear a breast star with
the crest of the House of Braganza.
In France, the hereditary knighthood existed in regions formerly under
Roman Empire control. One family ennobled with that title is the
house of Hauteclocque (by letters patents of 1752), even if its most
recent members used a pontifical title of count.
Italy and Poland also had the hereditary knighthood that existed
within the nobility system.
There are traces of the Continental system of hereditary knighthood in
Ireland. Notably all three of the following belong to the Welsh-Norman
FitzGerald dynasty, created by the Earls of Desmond, acting as Earls
Palatine, for their kinsmen.
Knight of Kerry
Knight of Kerry or Green
Knight (FitzGerald of Kerry) — the current
holder is Sir Adrian FitzGerald, 6th
Baronet of Valencia, 24th Knight
of Kerry. He is also a
Knight of Malta, and has served as President of
the Irish Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
Knight of Glin
Knight of Glin or Black
Knight (FitzGerald of Limerick) — now
Knight (see Edmund Fitzgibbon) — now dormant.
Another Irish family were the O'Shaughnessys, who were created knights
in 1553 under the policy of Surrender and regrant (first
established by Henry VIII of England). They were attainted in 1697 for
participation on the Jacobite side in the Williamite wars. 
Since 1611, the British Crown has awarded a hereditary title in the
form of the baronetcy. Like knights, baronets are accorded the
title Sir. Baronets are not peers of the Realm, and have never been
entitled to sit in the House of Lords, therefore like knights they
remain commoners in the view of the British legal system. However,
unlike knights, the title is hereditary and the recipient does not
receive an accolade. The position is therefore more comparable with
hereditary knighthoods in continental European orders of nobility,
such as ritter, than with knighthoods under the British orders of
chivalry. However, unlike the continental orders, the British
baronetcy system was a modern invention, designed specifically to
raise money for the Crown with the purchase of the title.
Women in orders of knighthood
England and the United Kingdom
Women were appointed to the
Order of the Garter
Order of the Garter almost from the start.
In all, 68 women were appointed between 1358 and 1488, including all
consorts. Though many were women of royal blood, or wives of knights
of the Garter, some women were neither. They wore the garter on the
left arm, and some are shown on their tombstones with this
arrangement. After 1488, no other appointments of women are known,
although it is said that the Garter was conferred upon Neapolitan poet
Laura Bacio Terricina, by
King Edward VI. In 1638, a proposal was made
to revive the use of robes for the wives of knights in ceremonies, but
this did not occur. Queen consorts have been made Ladies of the Garter
since 1901 (Queens Alexandra in 1901, Mary in 1910 and Elizabeth
in 1937). The first non-royal woman to be made
Lady Companion of the
Garter was The
Duchess of Norfolk in 1990, the second was The
Baroness Thatcher in 1995 (post-nominal: LG). On 30 November 1996,
Lady Fraser was made
Lady of the Thistle, the first non-royal
woman (post-nominal: LT). (See Edmund Fellowes, Knights of the Garter,
1939; and Beltz: Memorials of the Order of the Garter). The first
woman to be granted a knighthood in modern Britain seems to have been
H.H. Nawab Sikandar Begum Sahiba, Nawab Begum of Bhopal, who became a
Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India (GCSI) in
1861, at the foundation of the order. Her daughter received the same
honor in 1872, as well as her granddaughter in 1910. The order was
open to "princes and chiefs" without distinction of gender. The first
European woman to have been granted an order of knighthood was Queen
Mary, when she was made a
Knight Grand Commander of the same order, by
special statute, in celebration of the Delhi Durbar of 1911. She
was also granted a damehood in 1917 as a
Dame Grand Cross, when the
Order of the British Empire
Order of the British Empire was created (it was the first order
explicitly open to women). The
Royal Victorian Order
Royal Victorian Order was opened to
women in 1936, and the Orders of the Bath and Saint Michael and Saint
George in 1965 and 1971 respectively.
Knight of France, illustration by Paul Mercuri in Costumes
Historiques (Paris, 1860–1861)
Medieval French had two words, chevaleresse and chevalière, which
were used in two ways: one was for the wife of a knight, and this
usage goes back to the 14th century. The other was possibly for a
female knight. Here is a quote from Menestrier, a 17th-century writer
on chivalry: "It was not always necessary to be the wife of a knight
in order to take this title. Sometimes, when some male fiefs were
conceded by special privilege to women, they took the rank of
chevaleresse, as one sees plainly in Hemricourt where women who were
not wives of knights are called chevaleresses." Modern French orders
of knighthood include women, for example the
Légion d'Honneur (Legion
of Honor) since the mid-19th century, but they are usually called
chevaliers. The first documented case is that of Angélique Brûlon
(1772–1859), who fought in the Revolutionary Wars, received a
military disability pension in 1798, the rank of 2nd lieutenant in
1822, and the Legion of
Honor in 1852. A recipient of the Ordre
National du Mérite recently requested from the order's Chancery the
permission to call herself "chevalière," and the request was granted
(AFP dispatch, Jan 28, 2000).
As related in Orders of Knighthood, Awards and the
Holy See by H. E.
Cardinale (1983), the
Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded by
two Bolognese nobles
Loderingo degli Andalò and Catalano di Guido in
1233, and approved by
Pope Alexander IV
Pope Alexander IV in 1261. It was the first
religious order of knighthood to grant the rank of militissa to women.
However, this order was suppressed by
Sixtus V in 1558.
The Low Countries
At the initiative of Catherine Baw in 1441, and 10 years later of
Elizabeth, Mary, and Isabella of the house of Hornes, orders were
founded which were open exclusively to women of noble birth, who
received the French title of chevalière or the
Latin title of
equitissa. In his Glossarium (s.v. militissa), Du Cange notes that
still in his day (17th century), the female canons of the canonical
monastery of St. Gertrude in Nivelles (Brabant), after a probation of
3 years, are made knights (militissae) at the altar, by a (male)
knight called in for that purpose, who gives them the accolade with a
sword and pronounces the usual words.
To honour those women who defended
Tortosa against an attack by the
Moors, Ramon Berenguer IV,
Count of Barcelona, created the Order of
the Hatchet (Orden de la Hacha) in 1149.
The inhabitants [of Tortosa] being at length reduced to great
streights, desired relief of the Earl, but he, being not in a
condition to give them any, they entertained some thoughts of making a
surrender. Which the Women hearing of, to prevent the disaster
threatening their City, themselves, and Children, put on men's
Clothes, and by a resolute sally, forced the
Moors to raise the Siege.
The Earl, finding himself obliged, by the gallentry of the action,
thought fit to make his acknowlegements thereof, by granting them
several Privileges and Immunities, and to perpetuate the memory of so
signal an attempt, instituted an Order, somewhat like a Military
Order, into which were admitted only those Brave Women, deriving the
honour to their Descendants, and assigned them for a Badge, a thing
like a Fryars Capouche, sharp at the top, after the form of a Torch,
and of a crimson colour, to be worn upon their Head-clothes. He also
ordained, that at all publick meetings, the women should have
precedence of the Men. That they should be exempted from all Taxes,
and that all the Apparel and Jewels, though of never so great value,
left by their dead Husbands, should be their own. These Women having
thus acquired this
Honour by their personal Valour, carried themselves
after the Military Knights of those days.
— Elias Ashmole, The Institution, Laws, and Ceremony of the Most
Order of the Garter
Order of the Garter (1672), Ch. 3, sect. 3
Tomb effigy of
William Marshal in Temple Church, London
Late painting of Stibor of Stiboricz
Henry Percy (Hotspur)
Godfrey of Bouillon
Bertrand du Guesclin
Jean Le Maingre
Geoffroi de Charny
Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard
Jean III d'Aa of Gruuthuse
Suero de Quinones
Adrian von Bubenberg
Franz von Sickingen
Götz von Berlichingen
Heinrich von Winkelried
Philip Riedesel zu Camberg
Heinrich von Bulow (Grotekop)
Stibor of Stiboricz
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Knights.
Look up knight in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Auxilium ad filium militem faciendum et filiam maritandam
Spanish military orders
Orders, decorations, and medals of the United Kingdom
Papal Orders of Chivalry
Counterparts in other cultures
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^ Charlton Thomas Lewis, An elementary
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and first conferred in Scotland by
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