Grand Master Gérard de Ridefort was beheaded by Saladin in 1189 at the Siege of Acre.
The last Grand Master was Jacques de Molay, burned at the stake in Paris in 1314 by
order of King Philip IV.
Knight is the term for a social position originating in the Middle Ages. Elsewhere, the
Portuguese Cavaleiro (like the following, related to "chivalry"), the Spanish Caballero, the
Italian Cavaliere, the French "Chevalier", the German Ritter (like the following, related to
"rider"), the Swedish Riddare are commonly used in Continental Europe.
Origins of medieval knighthood
The Franks came to dominate Western and Central Europe after the fall of Rome. They
generally fielded armies composed of large masses of infantry, with infantry elite, the
comitatus, which often rode to battle on horseback rather than marching on foot. Riding
to battle had two key advantages: it prevented fatigue, particularly when the elite
soldiers wore armour and it gave the soldiers more mobility to react to the raids of the
enemy, particularly the invasions of Muslim armies which started in the 7th century. So it
was that the armies of the Frankish ruler and warlord Charles Martel, which defeated the
Islamic Umayyad Arab invasion at the Battle of Tours in 732, were still largely infantry
armies, the elites riding to battle but dismounting to fight in order to provide a hard core
for the levy of the infantry war-bands.
These types of knights were increasingly seen as the only true soldiers of Europe.
Knightly Chivalric Code
Knights of the medieval era were asked to "Protect the weak, defenceless, helpless, and
fight for the general welfare of all." These few guidelines were the main duties of a
medieval knight, but they were very hard to accomplish fully. Rarely could even the best
of knights achieve these goals. Knights trained, inter alia, in hunting, fighting, and riding.
They were also trained to practise courteous, honourable behaviour, which was extremely
important. Chivalry (derived from the French word chevalier implying "skills to handle a
horse") was the main principle guiding a knight’s life style.
The code of chivalry dealt with
three main areas: the military, social life, and religion.
The military side of life was very important to knighthood. Along with the fighting
elements of war, there were many customs and rules to be followed as well. A way of
demonstrating military chivalry was to own expensive, heavy weaponry. Weapons were
not the only crucial instruments for a knight: horses were also extremely important, and
each knight often owned several horses for distinct purposes. One of the greatest signs
of chivalry was the flying of coloured banners, to display power and to distinguish knights
in battle and in tournaments. Warriors were not only required to own all these belongings
to prove their allegiance: they were expected to act with military courtesy as well.
In the years of boyhood, these future warriors were sent off to a castle as pages, later
becoming squires. Commonly around the age of 20, knights would be admitted to their
rank in a ceremony called "dubbing". Although these strong young men had proved their
eligibility, their social status would be permanently controlled. They were expected to
obey the code of chivalry at all times, and no failure was accepted.
Chivalry and religion were mutually influenced. The early Crusades helped to clarify the
moral code of chivalry as it related to religion. As a result, Christian armies began to
devote their efforts to sacred purposes.