The word, “chivalry”, comes from the French word, “chevalerie”, which means “skills to handle a horse”. The ability to handle a horse, especially in combat, was of utmost importance to a medieval knight. As the Middle Ages progressed, the term “chivalry” began to take on new meanings.
As Islam spread after its inception in the 7th century C.E., the lands held sacred by Christians fell under Moslem rule. The pope, Urban II, in 1095 C.E. began the pursuit of reconquering these former Christian lands (particularly Jerusalem), by visiting areas in Western Europe and preaching the need for a “crusade” against the infidels.
The sword was a standard fighting weapon long before the evolution of the medieval knight. Nevertheless, the medieval knight found the sword to be an effective weapon. Medieval swords usually were made from a mild steel (low carbon steel). Most swords were double-edged, and featured a crossguard, hilt, and pommel.
Like most periods in history, the era of knights evolved gradually. The term “knight” originates from the Anglo-Saxon name for a boy: “cniht”. Indeed, most early knights were not much more than hired “boys” who performed military service and took oaths of loyalty to any well-to-do nobleman or warlord offering the most promise of money or war booty.
Like the medieval knight’s body armor, the knight’s helmet also evolved as technology, battle tactics, and the knight’s role in society changed.
Protecting oneself in battle has always been a concern for any soldier, and medieval knights were no exception. In fact, it was their protective armor that helped define them as a military unit and social class. Armoring one’s self during the Middle Ages was a great expense that only the wealthy could afford.
Heraldry (symbols identifiable with individuals or families) originated as a way to identify knights in battle or in tournaments. With the advent of the “great” or “barrel” helm (ca. early 13th century) an individual’s face became concealed. It therefore became necessary to create a method to distinguish ally from enemy.
Training for knighthood during medieval times usually began at an early age. Often the prospective knight was sent to live with a relative or lord who had the resources to train the young boy in use of weapons and, most importantly, the skills to handle a horse in combat. A knight-in-training would often serve as a squire (assistant) for an established knight, attending his needs, helping him don his armor, and making ready his horse and weapons.