The Knighting of Henry, son of William the Conqueror, in 1086

SESSION VIII: Power & Politics in the Long Twelfth Century

The Knighting of Henry, son of William the Conqueror, in 1086

Max Lieberman, (University of Zurich)


This paper discussed the ritual and origins of the knighting ritual. Lieberman spoke on the sources of knighting. Much has been written on knighting, this is a conceptual framework of dubbing and knighting. English has no “snappy” noun for ‘delivering of arms to a youth coming of age’. German does have such a noun, “Schwertleite”, and “Ritterschlag”. This paper asked the following questions: What is implied in the English expression is the actual act of knighting? How elaborate and recognisable were these acts to distinguish them? What is meant by a knight? What is the link between the two?

Knighting was a ritual of social status, and passage into adulthood. The link between the delivery of arms and knights was not clear at this time, it was a coming of age and not distinctly about becoming a knight. The term,“Dubbing” , occurs only once in the Old English corpus. The Germanic root would link it to hitting and striking – “Ritterschlag”. It has been argued that it means “to arm” in French.

There were discrepancies in these rituals; a a diversity of expression. Were delivery of arms capable of differences in interpretation? If there is only a reference of knighting it does not exclude a passage into adulthood and vice versa? Regarding the physical act, it seems plausible that these delivery of arms rituals were knightly arms, especially in the case of William to Henry because he would have been given the best arms.

What is meant by the term “knight”? There were different degrees of “militia”. Not all knights were one and the same so what was the link? Knighthood has meant different things to different people., i.e., a brotherhood in arms, a social rank, a status?

There is an argument that deliveries of arms ‘inaugurated’ chivalric life and conferred authority to young elites. Young men in these courts expected to be knighted at some point, to have arms conferred on them. Not all milites were created for that purpose, not all knights were equal, some had more privilege, i.e., the sons of kings. As this time there was no “pure” knighting ceremony divorced from a coming of age ritual.

 ~Sandra Alvarez

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