Assignment: Feudalism, Knights, and Squires (Oh my!)

posted Nov 9, 2012, 9:18 PM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Nov 9, 2012, 9:20 PM ]
Yes, these three words may be new or at least pretty unfamiliar to you, but don't worry. This week's assignment is designed to give you some background information about those topics.

Below is the assignment and required reading. There are two parts: the completed pyramid diagram and the caricatures. You can either download and print the assignment from here or attached to this page, or you can read off of this web page and complete the assignments on your own paper. You can get a total of 6RP for this assignment.

Feudalism, Knights, and Squires Assignment


Feudalism in the Middle Ages resembles a pyramid, with the lowest peasants at its base and the lines of authority flowing up to the peak of the structure, the king. Under Feudalism the King was only answerable to the Pope. Feudalism was based on the exchange of land for military service. Life lived under the Medieval Feudal System, or Feudalism, demanded that everyone owed allegiance to the King and their immediate superior.

Feudalism Pyramid - Fealty and Homage
During the Middle Ages a portion of land called a fief would be granted by the King. This reward would be granted to him by his lord in exchange for his services. The recipient of the fief would be one of his vassals. The fief, or land, was usually granted following a Commendation Ceremony. The commendation ceremony was designed to create a lasting bond between a vassal and his lord. Fealty and homage were a key element of feudalism.

The Feudalism Pyramid in England - How it worked
Feudalism in England can be easily described through a pyramid:

  • At the top of the Feudalism Pyramid was the King
  • The King claimed ownership of the land
  • The King granted the land to important nobles - these nobles then pledged their loyalty by swearing to serve and protect the king
  • The king also granted land to the less powerful military men (the knights) who were called vassals
  • The vassals also agreed to fight for the king in exchange for their land
  • The land was worked by the peasants or serfs. They belonged to the land and could not leave without permission - the bottom of the Feudalism pyramid.

The Feudalism Pyramid - The Social Pyramid of Power
The good thing about the Feudalism Pyramid of Power was that is was possible for everyone to move higher up the ranks of the pyramid and this is what everyone aspired to do. Medieval Squires and Pages of the Middle Ages wanted to become knights. A Knight who proved valiant in battle or was successful at jousting in tournaments could become wealthy. His wealth could pay for a castle. His importance in the land would increase and he could then join the nobility. Powerful nobles aspired to be King - and the Medieval history of the Middle Ages under the feudalism pyramid describes such coups.

Feudalism - The Pyramid of Power
The pyramid of power which was the Feudal system ran to a strict 'pecking' order - during the Medieval period of the Middle Ages everyone knew their place. The order of rank and precedence in the Medieval Feudal System was as follows:

The Pope
The King
Knights / Vassals
Peasants / Serfs / Villeins

The Feudalism Pyramid and the Pope
Feudalism was based on the belief that the land belonged to God - but that the Kings, who ruled by Divine Right, managed the land and used it as they wished. However, under the Feudalism pyramid the King was answerable to the Pope. The Pope, as God's vicar on Earth, had the right to intervene and impose sanctions on an unjust King. Under the feudalism pyramid the Pope had the power to pronounce judgment against a King, depose a King, forfeit his Kingdom, put another King in his place or excommunicate a King. The power and pronouncements of the Pope played a major part in the History of England. The Pope declared the Norman Invasion as a Holy Crusade and declared his support of William the Conqueror against the claim of King Harold.

Now that you know a little about the feudal system in Europe during the time of The Crusades, fill in the flow chart below. Use the reading to fill in the boxes on the left and right of the pyramid about what each group provided the other what each gave in return. Use the words below to fill in the dotted lines in the pyramid.

King                    Nobles                Vassals and Knights

Peasants, Serfs, and Townspeople


(You will want to download and print the diagram to complete it)

Knights and Squires

The knight was one of three types of fighting men during the middle ages: Knights, Foot Soldiers, and Archers. The medieval knight was the equivalent of the modern tank. He was covered in multiple layers of armor, and could plow through foot soldiers standing in his way. No single foot soldier or archer could stand up to any one knight. Knights were also generally the wealthiest of the three types of soldiers. This was for a good reason. It was terribly expensive to be a knight. The war horse alone could cost the equivalent of a small airplane. Armor, shields, and weapons were also very expensive. Becoming a knight was part of the feudal agreement. In return for military service, the knight received a fief. In the late middle ages, many prospective knights began to pay "shield money" to their lord so that they wouldn't have to serve in the king's army. The money was then used to create a professional army that was paid and supported by the king. These knights often fought more for pillaging than for army wages. When they captured a city, they were allowed to ransack it, stealing goods and valuables.


Becoming a Knight:

There were only a few ways in which a person could become a knight. The first way was the normal course of action for the son of a noble:

When a boy was eight years old, he was sent to the neighboring castle where he was trained as a page. The boy was usually the son of a knight or of a member of the aristocracy (the rich, land-owning families). He spent most of his time strengthening his body, wrestling and riding horses. He also learned how to fight with a spear and a sword. He practiced against a wooden dummy called a
quintain. It was essentially a heavy sack or dummy in the form of a human. It was hung on a wooden pole along with a shield. The young page had to hit the shield in its center. When hit, the whole structure would spin around and around. The page had to maneuver away quickly without getting hit. The young man was also taught more civilized topics. He would be taught to read and write by a schoolmaster. He could also be taught some Latin and French. The lady of the castle taught the page to sing and dance and how to behave in the king’s court.

Squires would begin training as early as 10 years old, but the majority would be attached to a knight for training at age 14. A squire's training concentrated on strength, fitness and skill with various weapons. Individual training was only part of the regimen, as knights also needed to know how to fight as part of a team of skilled horsemen. The squire would care for the knight's horse, clean the stables, polish the knight's armor and maintain his weapons. They would learn the chivalric codes of conduct and listen to epic tales of Roland, Charlemagne, Arthur, Percival and Lancelot. His other duties included dressing the knight in the morning, serving all of the knight’s meals, and cleaning the knight’s armor and weapons. He was required to follow the knight to tournaments and assisted his lord on the battlefield (that means he had to fight alongside his master!) A squire also prepared himself by learning how to handle a sword and lance while wearing forty pounds of armor and riding a horse. When he was about twenty, a squire could become a knight after proving himself worthy. A lord would agree to knight him in a dubbing ceremony. The night before the ceremony, the squire would dress in a white tunic and red robes. He would then fast and pray all night for the purification of his soul. The chaplain would bless the future knight's sword and then lay it on the chapel or church's altar. Before dawn, he took a bath to show that he was pure, and he dressed in his best clothes. When dawn came, the priest would hear the young man's confession, a Catholic contrition rite. The squire would then eat breakfast. Soon the dubbing ceremony began. The outdoor ceremony took place in front of family, friends, and nobility. The squire knelt in front of the lord, who tapped the squire lightly on each shoulder with his sword and proclaimed him a knight. This was symbolic of what occurred in earlier times. In the earlier middle ages, the person doing the dubbing would actually hit the squire forcefully, knocking him over. After the dubbing, a great feast followed with music and dancing.

A young man could also become a knight for valor in combat after a battle or sometimes before a battle to help him gain courage.

Knights believed in the code of chivalry. They promised to defend the weak, be courteous to all women, be loyal to their king, and serve God at all times. Knights were expected to be humble before others, especially their superiors. They were also expected to not "talk too much". In other words, they shouldn't boast. The code of chivalry demanded that a knight give mercy to a vanquished enemy. However, the very fact that knights were trained as men of war belied this code. Even though they came from rich families, many knights were not their families' firstborn. They did not receive an inheritance. Thus they were little more than mercenaries. They plundered villages or cities that they captured, often defiling and destroying churches and other property. Also the code of chivalry did not extend to the peasants. The "weak" was widely interpreted as "noble women and children". They were often brutal to common folk. They could sometimes kill peasants or even rape young peasant women without fear of reprisal, all because they were part of the upper class.



Armor and Weapons

A knight was armed and armored to the teeth. He had so much armor and weapons that he depended on his squire to keep his armor and weapons clean and in good working condition. At first the armor was made of small metal rings called chain mail. A knight wore a linen shirt and a pair of pants as well as heavy woolen pads underneath the metal-ringed tunic. A suit of chain mail could have more than 200,000 rings. However, chain mail was heavy, uncomfortable, and difficult to move in. As time passed, knights covered their bodies with plates of metal. Plates covered their chests, back, arms, and legs. A bucket like helmet protected the knight’s head and had a hinged metal visor to cover his face. Suits of armor were hot, uncomfortable, and heavy to wear. A suit of armor weighed between 22 to 30 kilograms. Some knights even protected their horses in armor.

A knight also needed a shield to hold in front of himself during battle. Shields were made of either wood or metal. Knights decorated their shields with their family emblem or crest and the family motto.

A knight's weapon was his sword, which was about 14.5 kilograms. It was worn on his left side in a case fastened around his waist. A knife was worn on the knight’s right side. Knights used other weapons in combat as well. A lance was a long spear used in jousts. Metal axes, battle hammers, and maces were also used to defeat the enemy.

Assignment: Make a Annotated Character of a Knight and Squire


Now that you have read about knights and squires like Nigel, Rannulf, Edmund, and Hubert in The Book of a Lion, make a caricature of a knight and a squire during the Middle Ages in Europe.

A caricature is a cartoonish drawing that is meant to exaggerate the qualities or characteristics of a particular person, group of people, or character from a story. Political cartoons are often caricatures. Draw your own caricature and make annotations, words explaining the parts of your picture and teaching us about the person. See below for an example of what you should do.


 (Click the picture to enlarge)

Jason Brunken,
Nov 9, 2012, 9:18 PM