In eleventh-century Burgundy, the Latin term miles (‘soldier’) began to imply nobility. This occurred unevenly in the Christian west – in twelfth-century Germany there were ministeriales (unfree knights) – but gradually the knight became a socially distinct elite, a fellowship embracing lords, even kings, and their followers. The cost of arms, armour, and horse, always high, increasingly separated knights from other soldiers. To meet this burden required land, or membership of a lord’s following. Many twelfth-century knights were waged members of a royal, noble, or Episcopal household. The knight needed a war-horse, riding horse and pack animals, and servants. The number of knights, however, shrank drastically as costs mounted. ‘Serjeants’ (from the French for servant) provided lighter, and non-noble, cavalry. Their role was to act as supporting ranks and to back up the knights’ charge in battle. In the later middle Ages, historians prefer to refer to men-at-arms since, while knighthood became a distinct social rank, heavy cavalrymen could be esquires or gentlemen.

Rituals associated with ‘knighting’ were based on royal coronations. The giving of arms, particularly tying on the sword belt, was an ancient bond between lord and follower. In the twelve century, knights could be created en masse on the eve of battle, but by the end of the century the church had added a ritual bath, white tunic, and overnight vigil to sanctify knighthood. This legitimisation reached its apogee with the creation of monastic knighthood, beginning with the ‘Order of the Knights Templar’ in 1128, knights who originally helped Christian pilgrims in the holy Land. Donations made the military order very wealthy. In the Holy Land, the’ Templars’ and ‘Hospitallers’ played a crucial role in constructing fortresses and providing troops; in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Teutonic knights ruled Prussia and Livonia. Knights who wished to fight the infidel or pagan did not have to join the military orders, but were able to campaign with them in the east, Spain, and the Baltic to gain spiritual advantages of crusading vows.