What is knighthood?

Knights (chevaliers, milites) were originally warriors who served on horseback. However, the status of knighthood was formally conferred from the eleventh century by girding, or dubbing, with a sword, often following a vigil, or on the battlefield. The knight’s son who had not yet been made a knight was an esquire (écuyer, knabe). Thus, the dubbed knights, and their descendants, came to be distinguished from other mounted soldiers, and conferring knighthood, or eligibility for knighthood (typically with a right to a coat of arms) was an early form of ennoblement. In this way the knightly class became the core of the nobility.

During the crusading period, religious Orders of knighthood developed (the knights were the lay brothers but ran the Order), and from the fourteenth century monarchs established their own secular Orders of Chivalry. religious and secular. Later, knighthood also came to be conferred by patent.

In the case of the nobilities of central and northern Europe, the nobility as a whole, or part of it, often came to form a corporate knightly group (Ritterschaft, Ridderschap, Riddarhuset). In central Europe, the Ritterstand came to be granted on an hereditary basis. Where it remained a personal quality, a further act became necessary for the      ennoblement of the family.

Orders of merit from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often retain a grade of knight, chevalier, cavaliere, even where nobility has been abolished. Where nobility is still recognised, such a grade will still confer personal nobility.