This A-Z, I’m using my PhD in medieval history to look at aspects of the Middle Ages that might be useful to writers, trying to show how the history can make for a slightly different world. Today, it’s the turn of knights. We all know them in the stories. Noble men, bound by codes of chivalry, wearing nothing but the heaviest plate armour and going around righting wrongs.
Well, let’s knock those four things off the list, shall we? Certainly in the earlier part of the period, knights wouldn’t have been very noble. If you were being called a knight, it was because you weren’t noble enough to call yourself a baron or a lord. You were just a fighter with the money to afford a horse and armour. Later lords and kings affected some of the styles of knights, but not as often as you’d think. Codes of chivalry were mostly a later imposition, or an attempt by the clergy to get those borderline psychopaths in armour to behave themselves for once. “Chivalry” when it is used in earlier sources is not a reference to a code of honour. Instead, they say “the chivalry” in exactly the same way we would say “the cavalry”. It’s where we get the word, and it’s the people on the horses, not their behaviour. As for the armour, until the later Middle Ages, you only have to look at sources like the Bayeux Tapestry. Chain mail, not heavy plate, was the order of the day.
Then there’s righting wrongs. Read La Morte de Arthur. Even Arthur’s fictional, flower of chivalry round table knights spend their time fighting random strangers over petty arguments, sleeping with whoever they liked (often through trickery or force) and killing people for little reason. Believe me, the real ones were worse.