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(Historical) Who Can Knight?


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Not an area I know an enormous amount about but some meagre thoughts:

There were no clear rules on this.  Or more accurately, there were rules, more than one of them, and they contradicted each other, because chivalry developed over time and was contested.  Initially, knights developed gradually out of mounted warriors attached to a nobleman — it’s more a matter of a certain kind of aristocratic warrior becoming identified as being in a special category, and it’s really fuzzy.  At what point does a leader giving arms formally to a follower — a ceremony that may have Germanic origins that go back to at least 100 A.D. — become “knighting” that follower?

At any rate, once chivalry existed as an idea, people (unsurprisingly) fought over who would control entry into this special category.  If you look at a book of chivalry like Lull or de Charny (which I have not read — this is based on references in stuff that talks about them), they will probably say something along the lines that only a knight could dub another knight.  However, ecclesiastical authors tried very hard to establish that no, only the Church could make a knight, and there are versions of the dubbing ceremony in which a priest does it.  It’s part of that great übertheme of medieval history, the power struggle between clergy and secular nobility.

Generally speaking, the knights won this one, and the Church lost, and the clearest overall rule of thumb across Europe is that being a knight is the minimum qualification for making a knight.  But the identity of the knight who dubs was very important: they were thought to be guaranteeing on their own honour the honour of the person they knighted.  (I like the stuff in 4e‘s Book of Knights in which you get additional Glory based on who knighted you.)

There’s a fun complication here: we talk as if the source material for Pendragon “reflects” medieval ideas, but that’s not actually the case.  Chivalric romance was one of the main things that helped develop the idea of chivalry and then spread it — it’s not something that passively reflected a set of standard ideas, but something that actively shaped them.

What a knight was could be quite different in different places: in the more dynamic world of medieval Italian cities, you might find commoner knights from quite low social origins (something which could be adapted for urban “Roman” knights, those rather unconvincing figures, in Pendragon), while in Germany you have ministeriales, unfree knights whose legal position was not unlike that of serfs elsewhere (but who were of course not very much like serfs at all from a social standpoint).  

Yet calling all these people “knights” is however basically accurate in an important sense, because they self-defined as that, basing their sense of who they were by importing what were essentially a set of ideas that were developed in what is now France, but are ultimately something that can be found in recognizably similar forms across a wide area.  This spread of chivalry didn’t happen solely through the medium of the stories of Chrétien and others.  (Obviously, in England, the main thing that happened was that Normans conquered the place and brought the way that people were thinking in what is now northern France with them.)  

In the Vulgate, for instance, when Lancelot works out a way to be knighted by Guenevere, should we read that as “reflecting” a standard unsurprising assumption that a woman can knight?  Or, in light of categorical statements that only a knight (implicitly, a man) can knight, should we read that as part of the process by which the author is staking a position on how knighthood should be understood, that it’s meant to strike the reader as a bold departure from expectations, a statement about how important love is.  I’m not a specialist in medieval literature, but I’d have to wonder if the second is at least possible.

Most of the above comes from Maurice Keen’s Chivalry, which is where I’d start looking for more information.   My local university library is closed, so I don’t have access to a copy.

Edited by Voord 99
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As far as I know, Knights could knight people on the battlefield.

Kings who were knighted could, in the same way, knight people. However, the power moved from Knights to Kings when knighthood became merely a recognition of lesser nobility.

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Simon Phipp - Caldmore Chameleon - Wallowing in my elitism since 1982. Many Systems, One Family. Just a fanboy. 

www.soltakss.com/index.html

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The answer depends on when we are speaking about.

During Uther and Anarchy and Boy King - any LANDED KNIGHT or Landed Greater Lord could make a knight. IE: Countess Ellen of Salisbury could knight someone as well as any of her landed knight, but a random household knight could not do so. The exception would be on the field of battle, where any knight could do it.

From the Conquest period forward, you begin to see ability to create a knight codified/solidified into being only the Greater Landed Lords (Baron/Count/etc) or higher, and by the time we reach the Grail period, a landed knight CANNOT make a knight.

 

Note that this is NOT codified within the Pendragon game, nor within the GPC, but rather is how it was "historically".

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Thanks for your responses, everyone.

I suppose what has me confused is GPC SPOILERS...

... the situation in 509.

I'm trying to figure out whether this is just a matter of the countess not being able to knight, or the specifics of that particular situation. Given that many of my second-generation PKs will be knightable then, I wanted to know to whom they would owe that status.

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Deleted my earlier thoughts after consulting the GPC and seeing exactly when Robert is knighted.

Robert is knighted in 509.  If you’re sticking with that, the answer to whom they would owe that status would naturally be to him, as he would presumably knight any new knights in that year. 

I’d probably play up that this bond is unquestionable, even if their homage and fealty to him is not.  As a knight, Robert can knight, whether or not he is really the count, and the relationship between a knight and the knight who knighted him is special.  Especially if one of the father PKs knights Robert, as the GPC suggests.  Robert then proceeds to knight that PK’s son as his own first act as a knight.  Not a dry eye in the house. 🙂

It’s more interesting in 496-508, when there would be no obvious single person, and new PKs have to ask knights for the honor.  Whom they choose to ask in that period would send messages.  Although as Robert’s knighting approaches, it becomes feasible to delay one’s own knighting until he can do it.

Edited by Voord 99
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  • 2 weeks later...
On 4/25/2021 at 12:06 PM, soltakss said:

As far as I know, Knights could knight people on the battlefield.

Kings who were knighted could, in the same way, knight people. However, the power moved from Knights to Kings when knighthood became merely a recognition of lesser nobility.

Although that scene is surely a pure fiction and it took place in Renaissance, there's a famous episode of the Italian wars where Francis the first is knighted by knight Bayard after a battle.

Note that Bayard was a living legend, and not a simple knight.

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Apparently I've muddled things in trying to avoid spoilers. Here's the passage:

"Young Robert of Salisbury undergoes knighting ceremonies. He has asked to be knighted by the 'best knight in Salisbury.' Is this one of the player knights? If
so, it is a very high honor to knight your own lord! The knight chosen will practically have a permanent favor from Robert."

I interpret this as the countess being able to knight, but Robert wants to go in a different direction. (And I'm not sure what Ellen thinks about the decision resulting in a permanent favor...)

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My own interpretation would be that, since a knight is normally knighted by another knight, it’s not odd that Ellen isn’t doing it.  What is odd is that Robert wants to be knighted by someone of lesser rank than himself, and his own vassal on top of that.  In the absence of the king, you’d expect him to be shopping around for a still greater noble, or perhaps the king of another kingdom.

Historically, there was a lot of competition between prospective knghts to be knighted by someone important.  This comes up in the romances — for instance, in the Vulgate, Gawain is very insistent that he will be knighted by no-one other than Arthur.   (Seriously, Gawain, stop being a $%#$ and think of your poor old dad’s feelings for once.)   Being knighted by someone important isn’t pure prestige alone, as you will be thought to be more trustworthy, which has obvious practical advantages.  But there is prestige in it, too, of course.  

So Robert is choosing to lose face here, and is making the extraordinary declaration that he regards one of his own vassals as the best possible person to vouch for his own honor.  I think, as long as my PKs at that point are sufficiently glorious to make this credible, I will probably have Robert choose, not the one with the higher Glory, but the one with the higher Honour.

Incidentally, in Scotland there is a case of someone being knighted by another knight (not the king, and not their lord) as late as 1402.  No idea what the last known example in England is.  What I want to work into my own game is someone who insists on being knighted by the Pope.

Edited by Voord 99
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13 hours ago, Voord 99 said:

What I want to work into my own game is someone who insists on being knighted by the Pope.

At first, I thought "what a strange idea !" Then I remembered one of my ancestors was ennobled (is it the correct verb ?) by the Pope in 19th century... 

I think there are two kind of "knighthood" here. One consists in being a member of the noble class, and the other means you become a member of an elite group and adhere to the moral ethics of Chivalry. See my example about King Francis being knighted by Bayard. Even if it's certainly not an historical event, it shows how people considered a King could be "knighted" by a Knight of lesser rank.

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I think one shouldn’t oversystematize or suppose that there were definite rules that applied in all times and places.  There was no “Committee on Knighthood” that met and decided things, and then laid them out clearly in documents that everyone could consult.  Knighthood evolved  over time, worked differently in different places, and to a significant degree its development was the product of struggle and disagreement, not agreement.  

As I mention somewhere in this, the Church did make a serious effort at one point to try to control the making of knights — weird from a modern perspective, but if one bears in mind that the clearest analogies to an “order” of people set aside from others that one could join would be found in the clergy, one can see how the Church might have a strong case that this should be their thing.

There’s also the wrinkle that stories about knights — and in Pendragon those are of particular concern — are generally set in imagined pasts that may be consciously intended to be different from the present, and are shot through with highly idealized ideas about knighthood that are often intended to contrast with knights in the real world.  

But then those idealized views did feed back into the self-conception of actual knights.  In some ways, the great age of chivalry is the 15th-16th centuries, not earlier.  You really did have people setting out to be knights-errant then, for instance, inspired by reading romances like Amadis of Gaul (the appetite for romances in the early print era was enormous).  Don Quixote is closer to reality than one might think. 

Edited by Voord 99
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2 hours ago, Mugen said:

At first, I thought "what a strange idea !" Then I remembered one of my ancestors was ennobled (is it the correct verb ?) by the Pope in 19th century... 

 

In Geoffrey of Monmouth, Gawain is knighted by the Pope, so I'd say it's legitimate for "Pendragon".

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