By Danièle Cybulskie
It was the moment noble boys dreamed of: the transition from lowly squire to honoured knight. In his Book of the Order of Chivalry, thirteenth-century knight Ramon Llull wrote down a whole lot of information pertaining to knighthood, including a fairly detailed description of the ceremony in which a squire was knighted. Although a man could be made a knight with a few words and a quick touch on the battlefield, there was definitely more involved in the usual ceremony – especially where words are concerned.
Llull explains that squires are knighted on feast days in order to gain maximum prayers for each squire as he enters into service of the Order of Chivalry, “for the honour of the feast will cause many men to gather that day in that place … and they will all pray to God for the squire”. Though feast days meant revels, the night before the ceremony is to be spent in prayer, “keep[ing] a vigil”, so that the squire can begin his knighthood on the right foot. On the other hand,
if [a squire] listens to jongleurs who sing and speak of whoring and sin, from the very first moment that he joins the Order of Chivalry he will have begun dishonouring and scorning the Order.
Clean, innocent ears, then, are essential.
On the morning of the ceremony, the squire must attend mass, approach the altar, and take vows to “bind himself to the Order of Chivalry and submit to honouring and upholding it with all his might”. After that, the priest is to deliver a (long, long) sermon in which he explains and expounds upon
the fourteen articles upon which the faith is founded, the ten commandments, the seven sacraments of the Holy Church, and the other things that pertain to the faith … so that [the squire] knows how to reconcile the office of knighthood with the things that pertain to the Holy Catholic Faith.
Helpfully, Llull lists all of these required points, in case his reader does not know what they are. But the priest is not done yet:
The priest must preach about all these things stated above, as well as everything else that pertains to Chivalry. And the squire who wishes to be a knight must pray to God that He give him grace and a benediction so that he can be His servant for his entire life.
After spending all night and all morning on his knees in his first knightly trial, I can imagine a poor squire praying for the fortitude to stay focused on the instructions he has been waiting years to hear spoken to him.
When the priest has explained the high standards the new knight will be held to, in terms of faith and chivalry, the “prince or high baron who intends to invest the squire” steps forward. Llull emphasizes that this person must be of spotless moral character so that this spotlessness may rub off on the new knight:
For if a knight is not ordered or virtuous in himself he cannot give what he does not have, and he is in a worse condition than the plants, which have the virtue of giving each other their nature.
(That’s right: a knight who isn’t virtuous is worse than a plant. Llull is not kidding around, here, people.) In fact, it’s a dangerous thing to be knighted by an unworthy knight because, Llull says,
sometimes it comes to pass that the squire who takes knighthood is not as helped by the grace of God or the virtue of Chivalry, with the result that the squire who takes knighthood from such a knight is a fool.
Hopefully, then, the prince or baron who decides to knight you is a good one, or you’re starting at a divine disadvantage. Seems harsh, but there it is.
Finally, the squire reaches the most dramatic moment of the ceremony. He is to kneel at the altar once again, and “lift his bodily and spiritual eyes and hands unto God”. While his hands are lifted, the knight investing him “shall gird the sword upon him to signify chastity and justice”. Then, the squire receives the tough love of the knightly order:
to signify charity [the knight] must kiss the squire and give him a hard slap so that he will remember what he is promising and the great burden he must carry and the great honour he is taking through the Order of Chivalry.
With that ringing slap, the squire has become a knight. (You can see why they choose not to follow Llull at Medieval Times.)
Knighthood being irrevocably tied to horses, after the ceremony, the new knight is to parade around on his horse to show off his newness to the crowd. And then the party starts. Llull says,
That day a great festival shall be celebrated with gift-giving, banquets, behourds, and everything else that befits a chivalric festival. And the lord who makes the knight shall bestow gifts upon him and the rest of the new knights.
The new knight has to give gifts, too, Llull says, because that’s what knights do, and if you want to sit at the grown-ups’ table, you have to act like one.
At this point, Llull gets bored of explaining the knightly ceremony, saying, “all of these things and more that would take too long to explain pertain to the act of bestowing knighthood”. Still, he’s left us a detailed portrait of something that many moderns have a burning curiosity about. Thanks to Llull, we know a little bit more about knighthood, and how it was bestowed.
For more of Ramon Llull’s thoughts on knighthood, check out the rest of Noel Fallows’ translation of The Book of the Order of Chivalry.
You can follow Danièle Cybulskie on Twitter @5MinMedievalist