Let’s consider this just a basic primer and a chance to define what we are talking about. Let us first explore where we get the word knight from.
The term seems to have come from Old English and German. In Old English, the word appears to have been cniht. This meant boy or servant to the people of the time. The German end of the word appears to have come from the term knecht. Knecht, meaning servant or bondsman, still doesn’t give us the warm fuzzies that a knight in shining armor gives us when we think about them. It is around the 12th century that we finally see the word knight being used to refer to a person serving in a military fashion for a king or some other overlord. It is also at this time that the term begins to apply to a mounted warrior.
A Brief History
The idea of the European knight originated with Charlemagne. The European concept of feudalism (filaty to an overlord) and a mounted warrior were the catchphrases that made one a knight. The first uses of these mounted warriors in Western European society was most likely in Charlemagne’s conquests. As he rode on, conquering lands as he went, riders joined him. These mounted warriors or knights fought at his side and made the far flung conquest that he initiated possible.
But, before we go on, let us recognize one thing. These were not the first mounted warriors, these were merely the first mounted warriors in western Europe to be tied with the name knight. Certainly it can be argued, and rightly so, that the mounted warriors of the Huns and the mounted warriors of the Steppe peoples were probably the first mounted warriors. And you can not deny that the Roman and Greek warriors that fought from horseback changed the course of modern warfare. But, let us jump back to the knights.
The term knight then, in the beginning was tied to the concept of a fighting style, not to prestige. In fact, at the start of the Medieval time period, any soldier with a mount could rightfully call himself a knight. In the 12th century, however, we start to see a difference being made between the mounted soldier and a true knight. The term knight begins to refer to a social rank. The term knight becomes a title that is earned and given. You could become a knight through valorous acts or you could become a knight simply by birth. It is also during this time that the development of knightly orders and the Chivalric code are introduced.