Essay: Medieval Knights

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¶ … Life in a Medieval Castle" by Joseph and Frances Gies and "The Poem of the Cid" trans. By L. Simpson. Specifically it will describe who the medieval knight was and what type of world the he lived in by providing a comparative analysis of both works. The medieval knight is a legendary and romantic figure in history. Brave, bold, and dependable, the knight protected the lord's manor and his family, and became one of the world's first "freelancers" in trade.

Values, Ethos, and Way of Life

The medieval knight existed to protect others, and he was extremely loyal to his lord or master. To become a knight, a youth had to study and prove his ability to fight, and he had to be knighted by a lord or his king. The Gies' write, the word knight "simply indicated a warrior who fought on horseback, but even in its earliest stage it connoted a superiority of class, since only a man of means could afford a horse" (Gies 170). Thus, the knights were higher in status that other servants, and in fact, as the story of the Cid shows, they were often quite wealthy themselves, and rose to the rank of a lord or leader in their own right. They could not come from the peasant class, and they became an aristocracy of their own by the thirteenth century (Gies 171). Many knights paid a fee for knighthood, while others were knighted for valor in service to their lord.

To become a knight was a long process. The boy began as a squire, working in the stables. The Gies' note, "[H]e began his apprenticeship, often in the household of his father's lord, cleaning out stables, currying horses, cleaning armor, serving at table, while he learned to ride a horse and wield sword and lance" (Gies 172). The chivalric code (or the ethos of the knight) was an important aspect of the knight's learning experience, as well. The code stressed "honor, generosity, loyalty, and dedication to God and Church" (Gies 173), and this is evident in both these works. These words certainly describe My Cid and his group of followers, and the chivalry of medieval knights is legendary just because of legends like this poem and its heroic nature. The knights were also loving and protective of their families as part of their code of chivalry. Simpson notes, "The gates of the castle My Cid commands shall not be opened day or night, for within are his wife and daughters, whom he loves with all his heart and soul, and the ladies who serve them well" (Simpson 77). This was also part of the chivalric code, that the knits must be loyal and loving to their families as well as to their church and God.

The knights were often poets, musicians, and offered other talents beside their horsemanship and fighting skills. However, their main duty was to fight, and they were often hired as mercenaries to fight battles for other lords and kingdoms. The Gies' continue, "The normal business of the knight was war, and often as a mercenary. By the twelfth century, the practice of hiring knights was well established, and even in a knight served his liege lord as part of a feudal levy, the thought of gain is in the forefront of his mind" (Gies 174). This gain is shown repeatedly in "The Poem of the Cid," as he continually gains booty on the battlefield and then shares it with his men. Since many knights did not have lands of their own, they needed this treasure to build their own wealth and acquire their own lands. Ransoming captured wealthy landowners was also a way for the knights to make money, as well.

The daily life of the knight was far from dull, even when they were not fighting in battles or traveling to a battle. They might spend the day hunting, caring for their horse, entertaining in the castle during meals, or sometimes participating in the tournament. Knight's tournaments are legendary too, and they were a way for the knight to make money, as well. The major feature of the tournament was the mock battle, where two opposing groups of knights fought before their lords and the rulers of the area. The winning knights ransomed the losing knights, usually for a value worth their horse and armor, and many knights survived by traveling the countryside and participating in any tournaments they could find (Gies 178). They could also win prizes, often food or other rewards, and it was not until later in the fourteenth century that jousting became a popular entertainment at the tournaments.

The knights also defended their lord's castle from intruders, and castles were often besieged during the Middle Ages. The knights held watch on the top of the castle in both day and night, and trained to defend the castle as a garrison. Often, knights were exchanged for ransom if the castle was breeched, and sometimes their captures tortured them or killed them as punishment. The castle was the backbone of the siege warfare at the time, and castles were built to withstand severe punishment from the many warfare devices devised in the Middle Ages, such as battering rams and siege engines. Knights were key in the castle defense, and so, many lords kept their knights on retainer, employing them throughout the year to defend the castle during hard times, and training them when the castle was not under attack.

Young knights in training were responsible for other household duties, as well. They were responsible for managing the dining table, and for the presentation of food. The Gies' continue, "Part of a squire's training was learning how to serve his lord at meals: the order in which dishes should be presented, where they should be placed, how many fingers to use in holding the joint for the lord to care, how to cut the trenchers and place them on the table" (Gies 115). Thus, the young knights played an integral role in the day-to-day life of the castle, and they were learning information that would help them manage their own households when they became successful knights and landowners. Once a man became a knight, his sons would normally become knights, too, something that helped keep the tradition alive for several centuries.

The reality of the knight is not always one of heroism and chivalry. Both of these books offer accounts of grisly battles and weaponry, and they both offer accounts of pillaging and plundering that reduce entire communities to smoldering ruins. The Gies' write, "The whole city was plundered to the last farthing, and then they proceeded to rob all the churches throughout the city, breaking open all the chests and cupboards with hatchets and hammers" (Gies 175). This is not the heroic and chivalrous thing to do, even to your enemies -- it seems to go against the vows the knights took for Church and God when they became knights. Attacking the churches, especially, is particularly distressing, and it is difficult to mesh these two different sides to the knight's and their actions. They speak of honor and respect, and yet gladly plunder others to make their own gains. They changed sides, too. The Cid fought with the Moors before he fought against them, it was a matter of money at the time, clearly an indicator that their morals could be bought if the price was high enough. The authors note, "For poor knights dependent on their swords for their livelihood, one employer was as good as another" (Gies 177). This is another aspect of the everyday knights that does not seem so heroic and chivalrous.

This points out the disparity between the two descriptions of the knight. One is factual, while the other is written to entertain. A story about a knight who is not heroic would not be entertaining, and so, My Cid has to be heroic and larger than life, which he is. He has the perfect family, always does the right thing, is loyal to his lord and his Church, and to his men. He can do no wrong, and clearly, that was not the case in real life. "Life in a Medieval Castle" is a much more balanced portrayal of what it was really like to be a knight because that is what it sets out to accomplish, to inform the reader rather than entertain. The Gies' know that there were no "perfect" knights; there were simply a wide range of people who worked as knights at the upper levels of medieval society. Some were good, some were great, and some were just average, just like any other occupation.

The Image of the Knight

In both books, the knight is noble and trusting, honest and forthright. The Cid, the banished knight, is kind and honest, even during his banishment, and treats others fairly. He says to those who helped him, "I will share my wealth with you, I… [END OF PREVIEW]

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