“At the Tip of a Sword”: A Study of the Introduction of the Knight into Anglo-Saxon England
Rojas, Gabriela A. Faundez
Marymount University, Marymount Honors Program (2010)
This work will avoid the romanticized notions of the knight of the Middle Ages and will instead focus on the abilities these men were required to have as skilled warriors in comparison to those required from the thegns and the housecarls. It will begin with a study of the Late Anglo-Saxon military to be followed with the establishment of the housecarl by the Danish monarchs of the late tenth and early eleventh centuries in England. The thegn and the housecarl will be shown as somewhat “training figures” for what the Normans would eventually bring over to the island: individuals that made the transition not too radical. Lastly it will look at the already settled army organization of the Anglo-Norman period that began in the late eleventh century, to determine which elements from the Anglo-Saxon past remained in the figure of the knight. Therefore, while it will show that the knight was indeed introduced by the tip of his sword during the Norman invasion, it will also indicate how the original Saxon warrior paved his path with the tip of his own sword.
“How did the nobles become noble in the first place?” William Thatcher asks in the movie A Knights Tale, angered by the fact that his friends have reminded him that to become a knight he has to be of noble birth. Yet despite the inaccuracies and unforgivable mistakes of the movie, the answer Thatcher gives illustrates a good point about the medieval history of England. “They took it! At the tip of a sword!” he responds. And yes it was at the tip of many swords that the Normans conquerors became the new nobles of England in 1066 A.D. At the tip of a sword they also introduced the knight that William Thatcher longed to be. Though the movie takes place in the late fourteenth century, when the image of knight had already been idealized to fit the models of courtly literature, William does remind us of the martial beginnings of these warriors by indicating that it was at the “tip of a sword” that they reached their place.