The Ideal Knight

What are the characteristics of an ideal knight? It would be a hard question to answer, even if you lived in the Middle Ages, as this definition would always be changing.

Saint George was often depicted as an ideal knight. Here is an image of him from a fourteenth-century English Book of Hours - University of Cambridge MS Dd.4.17

The following description, which was written by the poet Huon le Roi in the 13th century, as part of his work The Palfrey, gives us a guide into what he envisioned as the ideal knight:

Once upon a time a certain knight, courteous and chivalrous, rich of heart, but poor in substance, had his dwelling in the county of Champagne. So stout of heart was this lord, so wise in counsel, and so compact of honour and all high qualities, that had his fortune been equal to his deserts he would have had peer amongst his fellows. He was the very pattern of the fair and perfect knight, and his praise was ever in the mouth of men.

In whatever land he came he was valued at his proper worth, since strangers esteemed him for the good that was told of him, and rumour but increased his renown. When he laced the helmet on his his head, and ridden within the lists, he did not court the glances of the dames, nor seek to joust with those who were of less fame than he, but there where the press was thickest he strove mightily in the heart of the stour.

In the very depths of winter he rode upon his horse, attired in seemly fashion (since in dress may be perceived the inclinations of the heart) and this although his substance was but small. For the lands of this knight brought him wealth but two hundred pounds of rent, and for this reason he rode to tourneys in hope of gain as well as in quest of honour.

You can read a translation of this work in Aucassin and Nicolette and Other Mediaeval Romances and Legends, by Eugene Mason (New York, 1928). To read about the life of another knight, check out the article “Knight of the Iron Hand: Götz von Berlichingen, Reluctant Leader,” by Sidney Dean, which appears in the latest issue of Medieval Warfare magazine.

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