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"Knighthood" redirects here. For other uses, see knight (disambiguation) and knights (disambiguation).
For the Roman social class sometimes referred to as "knights", see Equites.
The 13th. century German knight Hartmann von Aue, from the Codex Manesse
A knight is a man granted an honorary title of knighthood by a monarch, bishop or other political or religious leader for service to the monarch or a Christian church, 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 an elite fighter, a bodyguard or a mercenary 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. The special prestige accorded to mounted warriors in Christendom finds a parallel in the furusiyya in the Muslim world, and the Greek hippeis (ἱππεῖς) and Roman eques of classical antiquity.
Part of a series on
European imperial, royal, noble,
gentry and chivalric ranks
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In the late medieval period, new methods of warfare began to render classical knights in armour obsolete, but the titles remained in many nations. 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 his men-at-arms, the paladins, and the Matter of Britain, relating to the legend of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.
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 and Order of Malta, 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.
2 Evolution of medieval knighthood
2.1 Pre-Carolingian legacies
2.2 Carolingian age
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, vassal"). 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"). 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, King Æthelstan leaves his cniht, Aelfmar, eight hides of land.
A rādcniht, "riding-servant", was a servant 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") 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).
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. 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-.
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