In the early Middle Ages a horse played an extremely important part in the life of a knight. A knight would own several horses which were built for different duties. The Courser was the most sought after and expensive warhorse, but the more common warhorses were the Destriers. The wealthy noblemen who became mounted knights were worth the equivalent of ten foot soldiers. This changed with the emergence of feudalism. A successful soldier could become wealthy and knighthood conferred regardless of his background.
Medieval Knights and Feudalism - Grants of Land
Feudalism was based on the exchange of land for military service. A portion of land (called a fief) would be granted by the King to a successful soldier or knight who had performed well during battle. This reward would be granted in exchange for his services. The fief, or land, was granted to a soldier or knight following a Commendation Ceremony which was designed to create a lasting bond between a vassal and his lord. The knight would swear allegiance to his lord - the Knights Oath of Fealty. Fealty and homage were key elements of feudalism.
Medieval Knights and Feudalism - The Feudal Levy
A knight who had been rewarded with land pledged his military services. This was called the Feudal Levy. When wars erupted during the Medieval times of the Middle Ages soldiers and knights were raised by the Feudal Levy when there was a 'Call to Arms'. Under the Feudal Levy soldiers and knights were required to fight for a limited period of 40 days - under certain circumstances this could be increased to 90 days. Medieval nobles, lords and knights of the Middle Ages were expected to provide trained soldiers to fight for the King and to provide clothes and weapons for the soldiers. The limited time requirement of the Feudal Levy was designed to ensure that the land would not suffer from neglect.
Medieval Knights and Feudalism - The Feudalism Pyramid
Feudalism therefore allowed men to become knights and climb the Feudalism pyramid of power.
- The King owned all of the land
- The King granted land to important barons - these barons then pledged their loyalty by swearing to serve and protect the king
- The king also granted land to the less powerful military men (the knights) who were called vassals
- The knights (or vassals) also agreed to fight for the king in exchange for their land
- The land was worked by the peasants or serfs who were bound to the land
Medieval Knights and Feudalism - Climbing the Feudalism Pyramid
The Feudalism Pyramid of Power made it possible for everyone to move higher up the ranks and this is what everyone aspired to do. Medieval Squires and Pages of the Middle Ages wanted to become knights. A Knight who proved valiant in battle could become wealthy. The most wealthy and powerful knights then joined the nobility. Powerful barons aspired to be King - and the Medieval history of the Middle Ages under the feudalism pyramid describes such coups.
Stages of Knighthood
Medieval Knights and Feudalism - Manors and Castles
The lands granted to knights in England were called manors. Dues and taxes were paid to the knights under Manorialsm. A knight would live in a Manor House on his fief. A knight could bring in additional wealth by competing in jousting tournaments. These tournaments offered a substantial purse to the winner. Winners of such jousting tournaments became the Medieval 'superstars' of the Middle Ages. Knights became rich and famous. The tournaments were a necessary part of feudalism as they acted as a necessary training ground for the knights. The most successful and therefore wealthy knights were able to increase their land holdings and acquire their own soldiers to whom he might grant lands and who in turn swore an Oath of Fealty to the knight. Powerful knights under feudalism were therefore able to acquire their own substantial fighting forces. This in turn led to the construction of castles by knights - the great power bases of the Middle Ages.
Medieval Knights and Feudalism - Religious Orders of Knights
Fighting and the acquisition of new lands were the focus of the Middle Ages. Religious crusades were also a feature of the Middle Ages. Military men were made knights but had no land - a class of landless knights. These landless knights formed the great religious military orders of knighthood which included the Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights.