When a Knight Won His Spurs



In the Middle Ages the knight played a very important role in society.  He was the local lord, and the backbone of the king's army.


What was a medieval knight like?  If you had lived 20 years ago, you would have 'known' before you went to secondary school, because you would have sung this hymn in your Primary School Assembly:

When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old

He was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold.

With a lance on his arm and a sword in his hand

For God and for valour he rode through the land.

The hymn, written in 1931 by the English writer and radio celebrity, Jan Struther, created many children's interpretation of what a medieval knight was like.  When I was a teenager, my girlfriend was always disappointed that I didn't arrive on a white horse to carry her away, but instead turned up in a bright orange Mini to take her to the local cinema!

By the end of this Chapter, you will have formed your own hopefully better founded interpretation of what a medieval knight was like.



Study this webpage, then answer the question sheet by clicking on the 'Time to Work' icon at the top of the page.


The following websites will help you research further:


The Knight:

Mr Donn's site  

The ThinkQuest site


A website on Chivalry and Courtly Love 

British Library webpage on Courtly Love 






1  Chaucer's Knight

This description of a knight comes from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (c.1386), the story of a group of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury.

There was a KNIGHT, a most respected man,

Who from the day on which he first began

To ride had followed chivalry,

Truth, duty, generosity and courtesy.

He had done bravely in his country's wars

And ridden into battle, no man more:

To fifteen deadly battles he had been sent

And jousted for his faith at tournaments...

He was of greatest worth in everybody's eyes.

Yet though he was famous, he was wise

And in his manners modest as a maid.

He never yet a nasty thing had said

In all his life to anyone, come what might;

He was a true, a perfect gentle knight.


2  Sir Geoffrey Luttrell

In this picture from the Luttrell Psalter (c.1340), Sir Geoffrey Luttrell is handed his helmet and shield by his wife and daughter.

Is he going to joust at a tournament?  Or is he riding off to war?


3  The Knight's Code

When a young noble became a knight, he had to behave nobly.

This advice on how to behave was written by Eustace Deschamps, a 14th-century poet.

You must lead a new life:

Keeping watch in prayer,

Running away from sin, pride and wrong-doing;

Defending the Church,

Helping the widow and the orphan.


Be bold and protect the people.

Be loyal and brave, taking nothing from others.

This is how a knight should behave.


He should be humble of heart

And do deeds of chivalry;

He should go to tournaments

       and joust for his lady-love.

4  The Knighting Ceremony

The knight promises obedience to the king, and is given his sword and spurs.


5  A Tournament (the myth)

A twelfth-century tournament.  Knights joust while their ladies watch.


6  Courtly Love

It was fashionable for a knight to fall in love with a married lady. 

He devoted his life to her, longing for a love he could never have. 

This song was written by Arnaut Daniel (c.1200), a knight and wandering minstrel (singer).

I serve the fairest lady

In the world (and say so openly).

I am hers from head to toe,

And even in cold winds

The love raining in my heart

Keeps me warm.

My heart burns and breaks for her:

And if she does not heal me

With a kiss before the new year,

I will die...


I am Arnaut, who gathers the wind

And chases rabbits on an ox

And swims against the incoming tide.