Knights in the Middle Ages
Knights in the Middle Ages held a special position within society. These knights were generally rewarded richly for their service to the king, but being a knight was not a cheap and easy endeavor anyone could do.
Knights, Foot Soldiers, and Archers
When you think of the warriors or soldiers of the Middle Ages, it is unquestionable that knights come to mind and are perhaps the most famous of those who did battle during this time. However, knights in the Middle Ages were not the only ones who were fighting in the medieval period.
Others who also engaged in battle, fought for the king or a lord, manned and protected forts and castles, and defended territories during the Middle Ages included foot soldiers and archers. However, foot soldiers and archers tended to be less well-off than knights were. Knights were held in higher esteem than these other categories of fighters.
Suit of Armor
Part of the myth and allure surrounding knights in the Middle Ages has to do with what knights wore when doing battle. Anyone who has seen a suit of armor in a museum or a movie should be familiar with what a Middle Ages knight looked like.
While these suits of armor today have been relegated to historical artifacts and seem impractical as combat-wear, in the Middle Ages, knights really did wear suits made of multiple coats of armor. At the time, this was generally considered to be a good thing, since the suit of armor made them stronger and more impenetrable than foot soldiers or archers — essentially turning them almost into the equivalent of human tanks. However, this protection did not come cheap, as suits of armor were extremely expensive during the Middle Ages.
Who Became a Knight in the Middle Ages
Generally, only those who were able to afford the suit of armor could become a knight. Usually, this meant they were children of knights or that their parents and families had the proper social standing necessary to enter into the prestigious and expensive profession.
These children would start training and learning to fight from a young age. As young as age 7, they'd be sent away to act as a page and wait on other noble families or knights. They'd be trained in the art of fighting and usually became squires at around age 14. Most would graduate to become full knights by the age of 21.
Rarely would a peasant or peasant's child be able to achieve this for many reasons, including a rigid social and class system, lack of money or time for the proper training, lack of funds to buy a suit of armor, and the need to help parents make a living.
Knights and Feudalism
So, if becoming a knight was so expensive, why did people do it? Knights, in addition to being the most well-thought of and respected of the fighting men, also fared very well in the medieval feudalism economy.
Generally, in exchange for defending and showing allegiance to the king, a knight could be granted a fief or a piece or a tract of land. The knight could then have peasants work the land in exchange for offering them protection from enemies. The peasants would do the hard labor on the land and the knight would be able to reap the benefits and profits.
Knights and Combat
Eventually, as the feudal system evolved, knights would sometimes pay shield money to their lord or to the king instead of actually going out and fighting themselves. This allowed them to avoid the risk of fighting and the need to buy and wear armor and weapons. The king or lord then used the money for a paid army.
However, these knights, even when not actually part of an army, would hold tournaments to practice, perfect, and show off their weaponry skills.