You’ve probably seen people running around with the real-life-title, “Sir”. As in, they’re not just people who spontaneously decided they wanted to go by “Sir John” or something one day. You also probably know that knights are actually still a thing. If you didn’t–they are. That’s where the “Sir” comes from. But there doesn’t seem to be much room for armor plated crusaders in today’s society. So what do modern knights actually do?
Knights in the Old Days
Way back in the Middle Ages, knights were more or less lower nobles. Don’t let the term “lower” mistake you–in the monarchy they would definitely have way more weight to their name than any of us. Anyway, knights were typically charged with being mounted warriors. Later they would become symbols of chivalry. You know, that whole Christian thing.
As lower nobles, knights were normally obligated to serve some other higher noble. Given that they were already warriors, this normally took the form of being a bodyguard or other kind of mercenary. They weren’t normally paid in coin–instead they were paid in land. Remember that the Middle Ages were largely feudal, so land was basically money. Honestly, land is still basically money now.
Knights were granted their titles, typically, by embodying chivalric code. Well, that was more of the obligation. Knights got their titles because they were born into nobility. That, or having some significant achievement worthy of recognition by a very powerful person. Think a head of state or something. However, there was never really a “chivalry pamphlet,” so different churches and orders had slightly different methods of attaining knighthood.
It’s no secret that knights took a really long time to train, so they eventually became obsolete. As more efficient methods of training soldiers came about–so did the idea of “honorable combat”. As such, the last knights were folded into the military meat grinder.
Outside of Warfare
Normally, you wouldn’t be seeing knights doing much outside of the martial. That’s kind of the point, they were supposed to be this kind of symbol of military might and, of course, chivalry. They were so symbolic they were basically the only military rank taken as prisoners of war. Heck, they even got comparatively comfortable arrangements. People like archers were executed on the spot.
But, as violent as the Middle Ages were, knights weren’t always fighting other kingdoms. So they would have tournaments instead. Of course, these were tournaments where the knights would fight each other. Yes, lots of knights died or were otherwise injured in this process.
We’d be remiss to mention jousting, which were a part of these tournaments. This was basically two knights on horseback coming at each other with wooden lances. Their end goal? Break the thing on the other knight. The loser surrendered their horse and armor.
What Do Modern Knights Do?
Modern knighthood is more or less based on the British honors system. You get knighted by being recognized by important people and all that. Women who go through this process in the UK get to become dames. It’s basically the same thing.
Once you get your slot in knighthood, there’s some variation in ranks one might obtain. You could be a Knight/Dame Grand Cross, a Commander, Officer, or a Member. If you’re of the Grand Cross or a Commander, you get to slap “Sir” or “Dame” to your name.
If you’re not a Brit, you may be wondering if you’ll ever get to become “Sir/Dame American”. Unfortunately for you, you can’t do that. You can become an honorary knight, so you do get to slap the rank as a suffix to your name. If you’re an honorary knight and one day become a British citizen, you can be nudged to a true knight.
If you want to ascend to knighthood, you probably want to be a big name. Then you have to make a hefty contribution to the British realm.
Or, at the end of the day, you could be a baller like David Bowie and turn down knighthood twice. On the record, he declined because he didn’t think it had any broader application to his life. “It’s not what I spent my life working for.” Sounds like a polite way of saying “it was a waste of time.” Others have turned down knight/damehood due to their relationship with the British Empire.
Further Reading: What is Imperialism?
Anyway, we don’t live in the Middle Ages anymore. Plus, knights in combat are basically obsolete. Which is a long way of saying “knight/damehood is a neat thing but you don’t really have to do anything with it.”
Yes, that’s a thing you can do. There are services that exist right now, that have a shot at securing you a slot in the British Order. Getting into the Order is done in a sort of naming cycle, where a handful of people are up for getting a title every year or so. Anyway, there are services that can get you on that list. Doesn’t guarantee you knight or damehood to any degree, but you know. Indirectly but basically directly buying a title is a thing. Because of course it is.
A lot of knights are from the entertainment industry. See who you recognize here.