In medieval times, also called the Middle Ages, knights of Europe were regarded among the most elite soldiers in the royal army of the land they defended. Noble men trained for more than 10 years before becoming knights and many died on the battlefield before they were 40 years old. Knights are most famous for their suits of armour, broadswords and chivalry, which is the code of conduct they lived by.
Becoming a Knight
Most knights' fathers were also knights, however some knights earned the title by doing honourable deeds. Those that were fortunate to train began by learning how to ride pigs in order to gain balance and control. At age 13, they would become squires and focus on learning combat. In order to become a knight, they would have to prove themselves in battle or by winning a series of jousts.
Weapons and Armor
Knights wore heavy wool clothing under chain mail suits. The chain mail could have more than 200,000 rings. Their helmets had varied designs; some covered their entire head with only tiny holes to see through while others had hinged visors like a modern football helmet. Knights used a variety of weapons including maces, flails, longswords, broadswords and polearms. Some knights carried shields, while others carried crossbows. A suit of armour was extremely heavy and most swords weighed over 13.6 Kilogram.
Jousts were tournaments that tested the strength and skill of squires and knights by placing two men against one another on a destrier, which was a medieval warhorse. The men held long jousting poles and rode towards each other at more than 60 miles per hour with the goal of knocking the other man off his horse. Squires with the highest scores were in a better position to become knights. They would often wear ladies' "favours," a lock of hair or piece of fabric, for good luck.
The most famous knights are probably Sir Lancelot and King Arthur, but it is not certain they actually existed. Sir Roland of England was the subject of the "Song of Roland," used as the code of chivalry among knights that came after him. Sir William Wallace, also known as Braveheart, was famous for fighting for the Scots while King Richard I of England, who was knighted by King Louis VII of France, later became king himself.
Movies and books often portray knights in an unrealistic light. One myth is that knights did not bathe often, but in fact they often had high standards of living and a lot of gold, which meant they could enjoy frequent baths. Their health was of optimal importance, as was their physical fitness. Even as strong as a knight was, it is unlikely he could mount his horse in one graceful movement -- he would use a box or his squire to help him instead.
Knights still exist today, although they do not necessarily train for battle. The Queen of England knights men who have proven to be leaders of their area of expertise, or who have contributed to society in a meaningful way. Some examples of modern knights are Sir Ian McKellan, known for playing Gandalf in "Lord of the Rings," and Sir Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. Women can be knighted also, and receive the title of "Dame."