Medieval Glossary


From the Saxon cniht, originally a man-at-arms bound to the performance of certain duties, among others to attend his sovereign or feudal superior mounted on horseback in time of war.

The institution of knighthood, as conferred by investiture, and with certain oaths and ceremonies, arose gradually throughout Europe as an adjunct of the feudal system. The character of the knight was at once military and religious. The defense of the Holy Sepulchre and the protection of pilgrims were the objects to which, in the early times of the institution, he especially devoted himself.

The ceremonies practiced in conferring knighthood have varied at different periods. In general, some religious ceremonies were performed and the sword and spurs were bound on the candidate. After this a blow was dealt him on the cheek or shoulder, as the last affront which he was to receive unrequitted. He then to an oath to protect the distressed, maintiain right against might, and never by word or deed stain his character as knight and a Christian.

A knight might be degraded for the infringement of any part of his oath, in which case his spurs were chopped off with a hatchet, his sword was broken, his escutcheon reversed, and some religious observations were added, during which each piece of armor was taken off in succession and cast from the recreant knight.

Related term(s): Cniht; Man-at-arms; Feudal; Knighthood; Chivalry; Knight-bachelor
Category: Knighthood and Chivalry
Added: 08.09.04
Last modified: 07.04.06
Source information: Wilhelm, Thomas. A Military Dictionary and Gazetteer. Philadelphia: L.R. Hamersly & Co., 1881. 263-4.


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