In all times, there must be order. And so it was, in medieval times. In those days of kings and castles, order played a major role in attaining to knighthood. Knighthood was an honorable goal, but not reached without arduous labor and accomplishment. The paths to knighthood were few and reserved for sons of the aristocracy and for those who earned the right through bravery and courage in the field of battle.
First They Were Pages
Many young boys dreamed of becoming knights, but only a few were able to realize their dreams. At about the age of eight, the son of a nobleman or a knight began serving as a page. His training took place in the castle of a knight. Days were filled with spears and swords as the young page learned to wield them with accuracy. The young man also learned the social requirements of a knight including dancing, music and fitting behavior. His education was not neglected during his days as a page. In addition to reading and writing, the young boy studied Latin and French.
Then They Were Squires
Upon reaching his mid-teens, the young man’s training changed. He now became a squire and was in service to a knight. His days began early and were busy. Serving the knight his meals, taking charge of his horse’s care, as well as the care and cleaning of his sword and other weapons, was the direct responsibility of the squire. It was also his duty each morning, to assist the knight with dressing.
The squire’s training was more advanced than that of the young page. The squire was expected to become a skilled horseman and be accomplished in the art of horse mounted battle, a skill on which his life might depend. He developed expertise with the sword and shield as well as the axe, halberd, lance and mace. The squire carried a sword and shield indicating his rank.
When the squire acquired the skills necessary for knighthood he began his preparation to be dubbed. His sword was blessed by a priest. He prayed without ceasing the night before his dubbing. He also abstained from eating. When morning arrived he bathed and donned his padded vest and hood to protect his body from the weight of his armor. A young page assisted him in putting on his chain mail armor, which he covered with a white tunic.
Once he was prepared, he presented and knelt before his lord. The lord placed the flat side of his sword first on one shoulder and then the other while saying, “I dub thee Sir Knight.” When the ceremony, performed in front of family and friends, was completed, the new knight rose and received his sword. He was no longer a squire. He was a knight, ready to ride off to do battle. He was committed to the knighthood’s code of chivalry and ready to defend fair womanhood whenever necessary.
The knight’s sword was his constant companion. Numerous knights achieved legendary fame and so did some of their swords. The most famous sword of all time is Excalibur, the sword of King Arthur. Legend states this sword and its scabbard had magical powers. Durendal is another famous sword. It belonged first to Hector of Troy and then to Roland, the nephew of Charlemagne.
For five hundred years the knighthood flourished and its legends grew. Time, however, changes all things and the knighthood was no exception. First, the powerful crossbow threatened the formidable armor of the knights and then bullets, which easily penetrated armor, struck the fatal blow. With the arrival of these two advanced weapons the knight’s power was diminished. Vulnerable and weakened, the knighthood evolved into an honorary title.
Today, replicas of these swords and others, such as Joyeuse, the sword of Charlemagne, and Galatine, the sword of Sir Gawain of Arthurian legend fame, reside in the homes of collectors. The continued interest in the romantic exploits of legendary knights, and the medieval times in which they lived, is evident today in the popularity of renaissance fairs.
Copyright Judith Hayes
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