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Castles & knights


A knight on horsebackA knight on horseback Knights were fighting men of the Middle Ages. They were “gentlemen soldiers” and formed a separate class of people below the higher nobility of the feudal system but above merchants and craftworkers. The first knights were soldiers who rode into battle on horseback rather than on foot. Their greater mobility made them very successful in combat. Noble lords secured their services by rewarding them with grants of land. Knights were expected to follow a code of chivalry, by which they had a duty to defend the weak and show courtesy, especially towards women. Many knights, however, failed to live up to these high standards.

Mounted soldiers featured in the Bayeux TapestryMounted soldiers featured in the Bayeux Tapestry

The first knights

It was in the 9th or 10th century that the role of knight first developed in England. These knights were mounted soldiers who, under the feudal system, served a king or lord. Knights were then known by the Anglo-Saxon word cnihts, which meant “servants” or “retainers”. 


Knight Hospitaller (left); Knight Templar (right)Knight Hospitaller (left); Knight Templar (right)

Crusader knights

From the late 1000s to the 1200s, knights fought in the Crusades, wars in which Christian forces attempted to win the Holy Land from the Saracens. Among the Crusaders were knights who were also monks: the Knights Hospitaller, who also cared for the sick, and the Knights Templar who protected Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land.

Double-edged swords were used by knights in battle until the late 1200s. After that, pointed swords became more popular, because they could be thrusted through the gaps in armour plating—which more and more knights were wearing by that time.

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