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In continental Europe from the 10th cent. onwards, the term miles (knight) was applied to a mounted warrior usually dependent on a greater lord. Domesday evidence suggests that this definition is appropriate for the knights of Norman England. Over the next two centuries, knights were enfeoffed with land, becoming more fully involved in landed society. Although the term never lost its military connotation, it had become by the late 14th cent. a social rank below the nobility, but above the squirearchy. By the mid‐15th cent., knights numbered only a few hundred. The decline has usually been explained in terms of personal preference: men of the requisite social standing resisted the crown's attempts to force them, by distraint of knighthood, to take up the rank because they feared the additional expense and burden of responsibility. Most knights were knights bachelor; the title was not hereditary, nor did it give noble status, so that knights were represented in Parliament in the Commons. The knight banneret emerged in the early 13th cent. as a senior rank, probably relating, in its initial stages, to special military significance. The creation of baronetcies, which were hereditary, in the early 17th cent. brought about a further decline in the status of knighthood. Though the link with military service did not totally disappear and successful admirals were often knighted, 18th‐cent. knights were just as likely to be diplomats, lord mayors of London, or wealthy merchants.

Subjects: British History.

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