The knight is arguably one of the most iconic figures of the Middle Ages. Knights were essentially mounted warriors, and in the hierarchy of Medieval society, were considered to be part of the lower nobility. Nevertheless, knights could rise to the ranks of the higher nobility as well by acquiring land and becoming landlords.
While the role of the knight remained more or less the same throughout the Middle Ages, the perception of this social class evolved as time went by. It was only during the High Middle Ages (from around 1000 to 1300) that the image of the knight we are so familiar with today emerged. Additionally, what we know about the process of becoming a knight is drawn from this period.
Knights were originally professional cavalry warriors. While this may not be reflected in the English word, it is so in the French ‘chevalier’, and the Spanish ‘caballero’. These words trace their origin to the Latin ‘caballus’, which means ‘horse’. Incidentally, the English ‘knight’ (‘cniht’ in Old English) has West Germanic roots and is related to the Dutch and German ‘knecht’. Rather than denoting a cavalryman, however, these words mean ‘servant’, which is also a role performed by this social class, especially during their training.
The Knights of the Early Middle Ages and Medieval Period
During the Early Middle Ages, which lasted from around 500 to 1000, knights were considered to be violent brutes by most people. In exchange for their military service, the knights were given land or allowed to plunder the villages where they did battle. It was due to the latter that the knights of this period gained such infamy, as they looted, raped, and burned as they pleased.