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Ideal images of high medieval knights: Hartmann von Aue (depiction around 1300)
... and Ulrich von Liechtenstein ( Codex Manesse , around 1340)

Ritter ( Middle High German : rîtære, rîter, riter, ritter , mittellat . Miles , neulat . Eques auratus , French . Chevalier , English . Knight , Italian . Cavaliere , Spanish . Caballero , Polish . Rycerz , slav . Vitez , vityaz , Hungarian. Vitéz ) is originally the name for the well-armed, heavily armored, mounted warriors of the European Middle Ages .

The Roman " Equites " already represented a socially prominent equestrian class outside of the medieval knighthood discussed here .

From the 11th century onwards, in addition to noble, “ noble-free ” landlords, unfree court officials ( ministerials ) established themselves as knights. In the 14th century, their middle and upper classes, who usually lived on income from the feudal system like the old nobility , formed the main part of the emerging lower nobility , which was now defined as the knighthood . However, the majority of the high and late medieval knights could not establish themselves permanently in the lower nobility of the early modern period for economic reasons. The developing cities offered a new sphere of activity for these smaller knight families. Numerous castle stables in village surroundings and remains of late medieval self-fortifications in cities bear witness to their former existence to this day.

In the later Middle Ages , knighthood , i.e. descent from (lower) noble ancestors (“born to the coat of arms”) was mostly the prerequisite for attaining the knighthood. In a solemn act, originally the sword , later the accolade , one was made a knight by the ruler or another nobleman, provided that one had the required characteristics and qualities. Ultimately, only about a tenth of the people who were actually knightly received the knighthood. The remaining members of knightly families were in Germany a. a. referred to as " noble servants", "servants" (in the popular formula "knights and servants"), "knaves" or "armies". In the English section Ritter (be Knights ) and lesser nobility ( Esquires / Squires) for the late Middle Ages, contemporary and modern as " men-at-arms " summarized.

In the early modern period and until the end of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation , recognition as a knight - on the basis of having passed ancestral test - through revocation and entry (matriculation) in appropriate nobility registers - in addition to the possession of a so-called state parliament-capable manor - could be decisive for whether there was a right to a seat and vote in the state parliament or in a cathedral chapter. There were bitterly fought legal disputes such as the “ hereditary man's trial ” for recognition .

In monarchies , sovereign rulers were able to “ ennoble ” them; in the Austrian nobility the title knight was also possible here. This privilege was abolished there in 1919 by the Austrian Republic .

The ideal of chivalry and the orders of chivalry have cultural and social significance to this day.


The term knight denotes different aspects depending on the time horizon: a profession especially in the High Middle Ages , a social habitus or a newly accepted nobility since the late Middle Ages . Most of the cavalry warriors of the High Middle Ages were originally not considered to be nobles, but until the 13th century legally belonged to the ministeriality that was located between bondage and freedom . The conditions varied depending on the region.

From the late Middle Ages onwards, the term primarily referred to a special dignity that individual aristocrats and non-aristocrats could acquire. Most nobles in the 14th or 15th century did not even acquire this knighthood. For financial and family reasons it just moved the bulk of the low nobility before now, his life as lesser nobility (lat. Armigeri , "shield-bearer") occur. In contemporary armies of the late Middle Ages, they made up up to ninety percent of the cavalry warriors. They also belonged to the elite of the contemporary armies and, in terms of weapons technology and tactics, could hardly be distinguished from the knights of the time. When the term knight is used today for the Middle Ages, it is often not clear whether the large number of untitled servants is included or not. Incidentally, knighthood was by no means a matter of course for high nobility. Sometimes it was bought for a substantial sum.

Occasionally even tried and tested non-noble soldiers (i.e. not descended from knightly families) were knighted or girded with a sword . These awards were mostly of a symbolic nature, comparable to today's medals, because the servants who were honored in this way lacked the necessary financial means to permanently accept the knighthood. Some particularly brave warriors were even knighted several times, but continued to be noblemen.

Equestrian armor of Emperor Maximilian I († 1519)

Particularly in tournaments , a strict distinction has been made between knights (in the sense of knighthood) and servants since the late Middle Ages. For example, knights were allowed to appear on the tournament ground with three horses, servants were only allowed two. Before major battles, many feudal lords tried to strengthen the morale of their troops by giving noblemen in large numbers the dignity of knights. The Polish King Władysław II. Jagiełło is said to have awarded the knighthood to a thousand of his “ Szlachtschitzen ” immediately before the battle of Grunwald / Tannenberg . Of course, these “promotions” also occurred after the battle.

Historical, regional and political origins

The term "knight", derived from Germ. Ridare (= to ride) or Italian. Cavaliere, occitan . cavalièr , french chevalier , derived from late Latin caballarius (= rider), refers to the origin of knighthood from the armored riding that arose in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages . The origins of medieval knighthood lie regionally in what is now France, the "Franconian (French)" knighthood was then passed on to the east via the Dutch-Lorraine language area. According to some historians (such as Reitzenstein), “knight” is therefore a loan word from Dutch or its predecessor Low German dialects (Ridder) . From Germany , the knight culture spread far into Eastern Europe, especially Bohemia developed a late, but all the more impressive form. Even today, Bohemia is the area with the highest density of castles in Europe. The political basis of European chivalry was feudalism . "Chivalry and feudalism belong inextricably together in their history" (Josef Fleckenstein). In any other form of society, knighthood could not have developed in its historical appearance, as it is based on the social elevation of the warrior (including the “official”) from the masses. Here one can see clear parallels to the formation of aristocratic warrior castes in other cultures, e.g. B. the samurai in Japan .

historical development

Franconian armored riders with dragon standards, depicted in the Golden Psalter of St. Gallen, 9th century.
Equestrian warriors with band helmets , chain mail and round shields in the Leiden Maccabees Codex , around 925
Norman cavalry on the Bayeux Tapestry , around 1070

Armored riders armed with lances and long swords were already so successful with the Parthians and Sarmatians that such cataphracts were also used in the Roman Empire of late antiquity . Armored horsemen were also an important pillar of warfare with the Ostrogoths and Alans , who were often decisive in battles , for example in the battle of Adrianople . In the case of the Franks and Alamanni during the Migration Period , high-ranking warriors were also mounted and sometimes equipped with helmets and armor. In the Frankish armies of the Merovingian era , cavalry units were an integral part. However, they usually only supported the foot troops who formed the core of the army, and usually even dismounted before the battle to go over to foot combat themselves. Armored horsemen were only provided by a comparatively small class of aristocrats.

The origins of medieval knighthood go back to the 8th century. Often times, developments are associated with the appearance of new enemies. After the Moors had conquered most of Spain within just under three years and were preparing to cross the Pyrenees , the Franconian Empire was in acute danger. The mounted Arab fighters were much more agile than the clumsy Frankish infantry and represented a real danger. In the year 732 the Franks were able to defeat the Muslim Arabs in the battle of Tours and Poitiers , apparently mainly through their strong foot army, but the Frankish house marshals began Karl Martell has since built up a new branch of the army: the Franconian armored riders , who are the direct ancestors of the later knights. A connection between the build-up of these troops and the advance of the Arabs is sometimes doubted, since Arab armies only began to use horsemen on a large scale from the second half of the 8th century. The development of the Panzerreiter is often attributed to the spread of the stirrup , which slowly spread across Europe from the 6th to 7th centuries. He gave the riders a tactical advantage and made them safe in the saddle. By taking over the stirrup, riding was made easier and the horse's power could be transferred directly to the lance.

In the Frankish empire of the Carolingians , the armored rider became more and more the bearer of impact force in armed forces, although infantry and light cavalry continued to make up the bulk of the military power.

When the Vikings invaded Western Europe in the 9th century , the armored riders had the primary task of repelling the invaders. The Vikings came inland by boat on the rivers, set up army camps and launched cavalry attacks from the camps. The Panzerriders often succeeded in surprisingly catching and destroying the enemy.

At the end of the 9th century the attacks of the Hungarian cavalrymen began on Central and Western Europe ( Hungarian invasions ). In the East Franconian Empire , the old people's army was unable to offer sufficient resistance to attacking archers on their fast, agile horses. Therefore, the greats of the empire under King Heinrich I decided at the Reichstag in Worms (927) to build large state castles ( Hungarian walls ) and to set up an elite troop of armored riders based on the Carolingian model. An armistice was negotiated in exchange for high tribute payments. This time was used to build castles and to build up the riding troops. In 933 the tribute payments were stopped prematurely, which naturally resulted in new attacks on East Franconian territory. The East Franconian troops opposed the Magyars on the Werra and the Unstrut in Thuringia and in 955 on the Lechfeld and drove them to flight. Panzerreiterei had passed its great test.

In the subsequent Reconquista , the reconquest of the Spanish peninsula by the Christians, the light Iberian form of armored riders, the Jinetes, played an important, if not decisive, role.

The considerable material expenditure that the individual freelance had to make for military service already led in Carolingian times to the fact that only those freelancers who owned more than 9 farm positions were fully “conscripted”; Poor people had to send several fighters from their own ranks together (according to a detailed key) and finance their military service. This not only included equipment and armament, the "conscript" also had to provide for a living during the campaign.

Naturally, the effort for the Panzerreiter was even higher. A heavy and specially trained war horse (the dextrier ) and an expensive tank were needed, in many cases servants to accompany them. Accordingly, only the rich - from their own property ( allod ) or from royal or noble fiefs - were considered as armored riders . Sometimes the lands of the monasteries destroyed by the Hungarians were confiscated and distributed to the vassals.

However, in the high Middle Ages it was often unfree servants (ministerials, in the Middle Ages this also included, for example, an administrator of a Fronhof or a castle bailiff ) who were gladly used as knights by their masters, as they were equipped with sufficient fiefs. This resulted in a real social boost, which for many of these families above the rural bondage, especially in the 14th century, led to the lower nobility. At the end of the 12th century, however , Emperor Barbarossa had forbidden to raise the sons of priests and farmers to knighthood.

Through this division of tasks, a “warrior caste” emerged - only remnants of the Germanic people's army of the time of migration remained and the medieval nobility developed.

Equipment and armament

Depiction of a lance attack around 1200 (handed down in Liber ad honorem Augusti )

The training consisted of two stages and began at the age of seven. University subjects were taught here, as well as hunting, diplomacy and trade, languages, clergy, horse riding, various martial arts and warfare. When I was 15, I started swimming, dancing and climbing. The training ended with the 21st birthday.

The appearance of the knight and the nature of his weapons changed enormously from the early to the late Middle Ages. The riders of antiquity and the times of the Great Migration still used the spear . Only the introduction of the stirrup in the early Middle Ages made it possible to use an inlaid lance and thus transfer the full kinetic energy of the cavalry attack. It is not entirely clear when this fundamental change in war technology took place. Mostly the period around 1100 is assumed, and this is also one of the roots for the following social advancement of the newly deployable riding troops. The battle depictions on the Bayeux Tapestry soon after 1066, for example, still predominantly show the use of the spear.

Depiction of a knight with a sword, mid-13th century

Along with the lance, the sword was the knight's most widespread weapon. It developed from the Spatha during the Migration Period via Carolingian swords to the classic knight's sword of the High Middle Ages. Other weapons used by knights included the morning star , battle ax , war hammer, and mace . While the shields of the Carolingian armored riders were still typical round shields , teardrop-shaped Norman shields were used later , such as those shown on the Bayeux Tapestry. These had the advantage that, above all, the rider's legs were better protected. With the development of the pot helmet and the appearance of greaves in the high Middle Ages, the shields became smaller and developed into the triangular shield . The pot helmet, which completely covered the face, also promoted the development of the coat of arms in order to recognize one another despite armor. Therefore, these shields are also known as heraldic shields. Shields of the late Middle Ages were Tartsche and Buckler (Faust shield) .

Before the pot helmet emerged in the early Middle Ages, clasp helmets , Carolingian crested helmets, band helmets and finally nasal helmets were popular. The pot helmet changed in the late Middle Ages to helmet shapes with a movable visor, including the doggugel . The armor changed from the Carolingian scale armor to the high medieval chain mail , which was already widespread in earlier epochs. From the 13th and 14th centuries, the development and frequent use of effective long-range weapons such as crossbows and longbows made it necessary to have ever stronger body armor. Chest armor as well as arm and greaves were worn with chain mail until the plate armor that almost completely covered the body was developed.

Wearing a tunic over armor apparently only became widespread in the course of the 12th century during the course of the Crusades, originally probably as an adaptation to the hot desert sun, under which the iron armor could get very hot. However, coats were sometimes worn over armor much earlier. Franconian armored riders from the 11th century are depicted in this form.

Development of high medieval chivalry

Symbol of urban freedom and independence: the knightly folk hero Roland (Bremen)

The early knights often led feuds for various reasons , from which the population suffered particularly. They were trained to fight and ruthless in fighting behavior. So a connection of different interest groups developed that tried to counteract this. One of the most powerful of these groups was the Church, which was then introducing a series of reforms.

One of these reforms was the so-called God's Peace Movement , which formed from Cluny during the 10th century . The clergy secured the support of the high nobility, who also watched the increasing attacks by the knights with growing displeasure. So strengthened the Church, which in this context also appeared for the first time as a secular legislature, introduced a number of protective rules that every Christian had to comply with if he did not want to endanger his soul's salvation. The God's Peace Movement thus formed a basis for the development of the knightly code of honor.

In the heyday of chivalry, admission to the knighthood required many years of preparation. The future knight remained under the care of his mother until he was seven, who took care of his Christian upbringing. Then the training to become a knight began by sending the boy to the court of a prince or to a knight, whom he served as a noble boy (also known as "page" or "chamber boy"). He should also get to know the fine courtly customs there. At the same time he was instructed by clergymen, well-tried squires and traveling singers in the knowledge and skills that made up the higher education of that time.

One of the main tasks of the noble boys was to develop their physical strength and agility. They practiced running and jumping every day, learned to ride and swim, shot with the crossbow, threw “the heavy stone” and practiced the use of shield, sword and lance. At fourteen, the noble boy was raised to a squire and, after successfully passing the miners' service, usually a knight at twenty-one, initially by sword, later by accolade .

Knight in court literature of the high Middle Ages

The knight was one of the central figures in court literature in the high Middle Ages . In their works, the authors conveyed an ideal of chivalrous behavior that society should approach.

Development of the knight ideal - cultural influences from the Franconian Empire

Fixed gender-specific concepts about the role of men and women in the private and social sphere were at the center of the ideal. Different moral ideas met here. The classic Christian doctrine of virtues was retained, but new values ​​were added. In the high Middle Ages, the Franconian courts exerted a great influence on the leading classes in their neighboring countries. Many social conventions and behaviors were also adopted at the German courts. The social change is most evident in German chivalry. The literature of the high Middle Ages provides today's research with important information about the real life of knights at court. Parallels between Franconian and German culture can already be seen at the conceptual level. For example, it has been found that the Middle High German word ritter and the French word chevalier go back to a common origin.

The word ritter or rîter corresponds to the Latin miles and denotes a heavily armed cavalryman and soldier. The idea of ​​service, as one later finds it in the ministry , is already laid out here; militare means something like doing military service or simply serving . It was one of the duties of a knight at court to seek the favor of a lady. As a rule, however , the court ladies did not comply with the request for hearing and love . Courting women was equated with arduous service.

The term knight in German-language literature

From the surviving evidence we know that the German term ritter has been used since the 11th century. It is also assumed that the word has undergone a change in meaning through the courtly epic . It was carried over from the military to life at court and represented a new social ideal here. This clearly distinguished oneself from the idea of ​​the mounted warrior, which was previously used synonymously for a knight.

The first thing that a member of the court had to fulfill was an intensive study of literature. In the Younger Titurel Wolfram von Eschenbach there is a passage in the text that makes this clear: "swer chivalrously devoted sol chivalrous drifts [...] who should never like to stay there, hear about reading, saying, singing" . (New High German: whoever wants to practice knighthood in a knightly way [...] should never stop listening when it is read, spoken and sung , cf. Jüngerer Titurel 2958,1f).

However, the term ritter was not exclusively related to the male world. This is shown in the use of the adjective chivalrous . It meant as much as stately, beautiful or splendid and sometimes also served to describe court ladies. In the poem King Rother , for example, there is talk of the knightly garments of the ladies-in- waiting (Middle High German: si trogin ritarlich Gewant , cf. King Rother, v. 1824). Elsewhere it is said that the ladies at court were well built and slender and very chivalrous (Middle High German: wol gewassen unde smal and rîterlich ubir al , cf. Strasbourg Alexander, v. 6047f). Both the King Rother and the Strasbourg Alexander are written by unknown authors that were probably written in the middle of the 12th century. The Strasbourg Alexander is the revision of the Alexanderlied by Pfaffen Lamprechts .

The nobility of virtue

Don Quixote - the fictional "impeccable knight of the sad figure"

The so-called virtue nobility developed on the basis of the courtly social ideal. It was a new category that characterized particularly elegant and moral behavior and was used by poets to criticize the existing knighthood.

A true knight therefore does not have to be noble in terms of his social position. It was enough if his moral disposition was noble and pure.

Thus it is said by the poet Brother Wernher : “A poor man is born who has rehte vuore in virtues; sô is an unslaughtered gar, swie rîche he sî, who shames bî stât ” (New High German: A poor man who goes the right path of virtue is noble, while a rich man who has been shamed is from a very low sex, cf. . Brother Wernher, No. 22).

However, the idea that true nobility can only be acquired through the right disposition of a person and not through birth was rarely discussed in court literature. The ideal knight usually possessed both - nobility by birth and nobility of mind.

Radiance into the 21st century

Knight tournament in Munich, 1500

Since the late Middle Ages , the image of chivalry shaped not only the actual knighthood, but also the way of life of the entire Christian-European nobility . A central term in this context is chivalry to this day , also with regard to fairness and honesty. Medieval battles that were fought according to a knightly code were sometimes more like large tournaments and claimed comparatively few deaths. The nobles who fought like a knight were more anxious to capture their opponents in order to release them into freedom for a ransom. Since the Quattrocento , however, the duels were increasingly replaced by ambushes, mercenary battles and starvation of besieged cities, and with the advent of firearms and well-organized infantry, the knightly style of fighting completely lost its importance. When chivalry had long since degenerated into a fairy-tale illusion, the cavalry of the early modern era still clung to the old ideals when they had long been using firearms. And even the first fighter pilots of the First World War , who were often former cavalrymen, still resorted to chivalric ideas in the twentieth century in their duels in the sky, which were aimed at fairness and honesty.

In the religious orders of chivalry , the ideal of chivalry is connected in centuries of continuity with the ethos of Christian charity. The knight orders ran hospitals and referred to themselves as the servants of the "lords of the sick". They fulfilled these tasks not only to secure their military strength, but also, for. B. the oldest community of this kind, today's Order of Malta , for the sick and poor of all nations and denominations. Such orders of knights, like the Order of St. John , have retained their attraction to this day, they have even experienced worldwide expansion in the context of globalization. Out of this chivalrous ethos, they founded modern aid organizations and continue to make a contribution to the international community to help in wars, disasters and the poor and the sick. While on the one hand attempts are being made to revive or re-establish old knightly orders with the sole aim of gaining reputation, awards and financial benefits, on the other hand, old orders continue to exist or are activated and lived, especially around the ruling or formerly ruling noble houses. For example, the British Queen Elizabeth II regularly appoints new members to the Order of the British Empire , which has members such as Steven Spielberg, Nelson Mandela and Bill Gates. And even in republican France, to this day, deserving personalities are raised to the rank of Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honor ).

Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele, Procurator of the Habsburg European Order of St. George , goes back to Bernhard von Clairvaux , who as early as the 12th century the then new knights of the order as " Knight of the new type ”. This on the one hand in their self-image as an elitist Christian protection force and on the other hand in their striving to fulfill social tasks. Many orders of knighthood or their members that were founded later stood in this tradition. According to Stimpfl-Abele, this means for Ritter today to confess to Christian values ​​with an open visor, to be aware of history and its teachings, to maintain traditions and, in particular, to actively and not backwards-looking at the change in society for the better to contribute to the misery. According to his definition, values ​​today are the sword and posture the shield of a modern knight.

The journalist Alexander von Schönburg finds an emanation of chivalry into the 21st century in his book "The Art of Casual Decency: 27 Old-Fashioned Virtues for Today". In the case of a complete social disorientation diagnosed by him, he borrows from the old chivalry and calls for a return to virtues such as modesty, cleverness and above all loyalty. Because the general credo in today's "everything is okay present" is, according to him, raucousness, ignorance and egocentrism and "when everyone around us slips culturally and only rushes through the world with a screen in front of their noses and either sweatpants or trolley cases , that's no reason to slip away ". On the contrary: To be the custodian of traditional ideas is ... the more rebellious attitude.", says Schönburg.

Military decline

Early modern armaments in the
Graz armory
Gothic plate armor , around 1490
The seat of an imperial knight in the early modern period: the renaissance castle of the Lords of Rotenhan in Eyrichshof (Ufr.)
Depiction of a high medieval knight (13th century) with a pot helmet
One of the largest reenactment events in Europe: The Battle of Grunwald / Tannenberg in 1410 (Poland)
A trailing knight cavalry at an event in Koprivnica , Croatia

It was not, as is often wrongly assumed, the invention of gunpowder that ushered in the end of the military importance of the Panzerriders, but the establishment of well-organized foot troops. The Battle of Kortrijk / Courtrai 1302 represents a turning point in this regard: Flemish foot soldiers destroyed the French army of knights who were certain of victory and stole their golden spurs, which is why the dispute is also known as the battle of the golden spurs . In this battle, however, the landscape and weather had favored the foot warriors. The battle of Mühldorf / Ampfing in 1322 is considered to be one of the last "real knight battles " fought according to the "old rules" .

In 1386 near Sempach , Swiss farmers defeated the dismantled Austrian knight elite - after several attempts - in a frontal attack from a hill. The confederates with their spears and halberds would subsequently become the most bitter opponents of the knights. In the fight against knights on horseback in the open field, they were still inferior - that was to change when they lengthened the pikes (Swiss long spear) and perfected the tactics.

At Grandson , Murten and Nancy in 1476/77 they defeated with Burgundy that power that was considered the epitome of chivalry. Already during the Hundred Years' War , the vulnerability of the old knight armies to archers and a clever tactic that also took into account the weather conditions had proven ( Azincourt , Crécy ). This decided the struggle for supremacy on the battlefield in favor of the "modern infantry" ( pikemen ) and light cavalry.

The heavy cavalry adapted to the firearms that emerged in the 14th century with even more massive armor , with which they also protected their battle horses. As paid mercenaries ( lancers ), heavy riders still had an important tactical task in the 16th century. Due to the rapid development of weapon technology, the Panzerreiter soon proved to be too immobile, especially due to the elaborate horse armor . Sometimes the foot soldiers simply pulled them from their horses with the spears and captured or killed them.

The equipment of many poor knights also became obsolete. A tailor-made armor made surprising mobility and protection possible. However, many fighters wore composite armor, that is, armor of different quality and origin. These armors were often inherited from the ancestors, so they didn't fit perfectly. The cavalry of the early modern times was content (and for reasons of cost) with the half armor , which was later reduced to putting on a cuirass .

Economic decline and a fresh start

The economic decline of knighthood is also related to the suppression of natural economy by money economy , which, in relation to military obligations , resulted in the replacement of feudal ties by financial ties. The princes and kings of the late Middle Ages wanted to break away from their dependence on their sub- vassals , which is why they increasingly relied on mercenary armies . As a result, the knights, who were previously the most important support of the feudal army , lost much of their importance .

This development strengthened the power of kings and emperors and weakened the knights and their cohesion. Part of the knighthood became impoverished. In order to gain importance for themselves and to obtain a basis for survival at all, some knights went over to robber baronship by fighting and robbing other nobles and neighboring knights - also with reference to the old feudal law. Even the troops of the sovereigns or city leagues had to intervene here and occupy the castle of such a nobleman and place it under compulsory administration. However, the term "robber baron" is avoided by many historians as "ideologically burdened". Terms such as “robbers” or “raptores” can, however, clearly be proven historically. One of the best-known examples is probably Götz von Berlichingen , the “knight with the iron hand”, who even achieved literary fame. However, many knights also adapted to the changed circumstances by joining a lancer or cuirassier unit as highly paid mercenaries .

Many of the old servant families also managed to finally break away from their dependence on the nobility, monasteries and monasteries. This lower aristocratic class rose to become imperial knighthood, which in the 16th century organized itself into "knight places" and "knight cantons" to protect its rights and only recognized the emperor as overlord. In reality, however, they mostly remained associated with the old men as councilors or ministers and retained their privileged seats in the church. We cannot seriously speak of a general decline in chivalry at the end of the Middle Ages. Although the function as a warrior faded more and more into the background, the new conditions opened up completely new economic perspectives for many genders. The basis of the new prosperity was the extensive landed property of many families, as the old fiefs had mostly long since passed into property. The old castles were abandoned and new castles in the Renaissance style were built .

During this time of upheaval, Emperor Maximilian I was considered "the last knight", because on the one hand he embodied the already faded ideal of the old Burgundian knighthood and on the other hand he was considered one of the best tournament fighters of his time. In view of his modernization of warfare, however, he was also nicknamed "the last knight and the first gunner".

After the bloody suppression of the great peasant and civil revolts of the early 16th century, numerous noble families received large amounts of compensation from the towns and communities involved. These funds also contributed to the economic rise of such families and were often used to restore old castles in line with their status or for new buildings. With the end of the Holy Roman Empire between 1803 and 1806, however, the imperial knighthood lost its sovereign rights and privileges (see Reichsdeputationshauptschluss ). In some areas, however, extensive lands are still owned by the landed gentry.

Resonance and "rebirth"

With the Romantic era , the medieval ideal of knights was revived. In 1790 the Austrian Councilor Anton David Steiger founded the “ Wildenstein Knights on Blue Earth ” as “Hainz am Stain der Wilde ”. The old knightly society was dissolved in 1823 at the instigation of Prince Metternich . Presumably from then on the members met in secret. At the Congress of Vienna , as a result of the mediatization of principalities a. a. On the initiative of Joseph von Laßberg and Werner von Haxthausen, the secret knights' association was founded. In the middle of the 19th century, more knight associations emerged in Bavaria and Austria; In 1884 32 such associations are said to have existed, the last of which were dissolved by the National Socialists. Schlaraffia , founded in Prague in 1859, is an exception and still exists today as an international association. A few years after the Second World War, five knight associations met on June 24, 1950 to form the “Bavarian Alliance”. Later the " German Knight League" emerged , which still exists today and currently consists of 19 individual German knight leagues. Likewise in Austria on April 13, 1952 the "Austrian Knight Association" was founded.

In the course of a renewed interest in the Middle Ages there has been a "renaissance of chivalry" in recent years. In addition to the popular medieval markets and the knight festivals, for example in Kaltenberg, there are groups who want to revive the Middle Ages in historical depictions and often try to do justice to the model as much as possible. Often these groups see their practical work as an important addition to historians' research, which is perceived as too theoretical. Occasionally, these groups are also recruited by museums in order to make the living conditions of bygone times more vivid and thus arouse the interest of the visitors. Various groups deal with the reconstruction of historical fighting forms of knights, including the German fencing school .

Women in chivalry

Joan of Arc in armor

The role model of the Middle Ages generally did not allow women to become knights. There were exceptions, however. Count Raimund of Barcelona founded the Knightly Order of the Hacha (also known as the Order of the Ladies of the Ax ) in 1149/1150 . In the order were the women who had shown themselves to be courageous defenders during the siege of Tortosa against the Moors. In the early years of the English Order of the Garter, women could also become members of the Order. In 1488 64 women were members of the order. Probably the best-known female person who was militarily active is the French national heroine Jeanne d'Arc . During the Hundred Years War she led French troops des Dauphins victoriously against the English and Burgundians in a battle near Orléans . Overall, however, there were hardly any female knights. In the Middle Ages, women were not trained to fight. The chivalry obliged the knight rather to protect and worship of women who their most lasting expression in minstrelsy learned.

Knight in the media

Since the middle of the 20th century, knights and the ideas associated with them have been represented in the media in large numbers. Especially historical novels , fantasy - and historical films often take much the (modified) figure of the knight as protagonists. There have also recently been numerous popular scientific documentations that endeavor to provide a generally understandable representation of the historical knight. While novels, films and fantasy depictions generally do not claim to be historical authenticity, there are still many myths and misunderstandings that have even found their way into popular scientific documentation and noticeably reduce their quality. Although the representation of knights in the print media fluctuates a lot (the palette ranges from meticulous research to pseudoscientific claims), there are still popular ideas of the knight of the European Middle Ages that have no historical basis and still occasionally appear in scientific treatises . On the other hand, the easily accessible non-fiction book "Ritter" by Wolfgang Tarnowski still offers a technically flawless, material-rich representation of chivalry, which is particularly suitable for schoolchildren .

One of the best-known myths in the mass media is the claim that the medieval knight was a kind of “dull daredevil” who defeated his opponents solely through brutal force. This image was created not least through the historical novels by Walter Scott such as " Ivanhoe " and "The Talisman or Richard the Lionheart in Palestine", where Richard I of England , for example , could only operate a huge two-handed sword with tremendous physical strength. Although this depiction was largely a fantasy product of Scott, it was soon accepted as authentic by the readers of the 19th century, influenced by the opinions of the swordsmen of the 18th and 19th centuries who, according to the enlightened zeitgeist, the broad swords of the Middle Ages (im Contrast to light contemporary fencing epee) as heavy and unwieldy. The idea of ​​the knight as a “primitive muscle man”, however, lacks historical evidence. Most people of the Middle Ages of "noble birth" ideally had a solid education in the seven liberal arts . The typical knight of the 12th to 14th centuries can be compared with the modern officer , who had to have an appropriate education for his profession, which could only be achieved with a certain degree of intelligence.

Often, especially in popular science documentaries - for example offered by the Discovery Channel and History Channel - as well as numerous films, the armaments of European professional warriors are inappropriately depicted. Most common are anachronisms , e.g. B. Plate armor in the early or high Middle Ages. Knights of the High Middle Ages are often shown in Gothic plate armor , armed with a Norman shield and great sword of type XIIIa , which is historically incorrect. In many cases, even fantasy armor is presented as medieval. The heyday of chivalry began in the 12th century and ended in the 14th to 15th centuries with the military decline, so that a ring armor made the typical armor of the knight, which is usually light (12-15 kg), agile and effective was. Plate armor did not become widespread until the 15th century and can therefore be found on the border between the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance . The Gothic plate armor is a product of the Gothic in transition to the Renaissance and has little in common with the Middle Ages.

The knight's weapons, such as his sword , lance , falchion and the morning star, are often portrayed as primitive cudgel weapons, often accompanied by his smack image. The idea of ​​the knight's way of fighting resembles in most media the romantic ideas of the 19th century, where the knight was denied any skill and finesse. The fighting style, with sword on armor and shield including weapon of the opponent, comes from the stage fight, and is referred to as exhibition fight in the professional circles . Well-known from films, LARP and re-enactment , the choreographed exhibition fight is a modern sport from the 20th century and accordingly has no traditional historical roots. Late medieval and renaissance sources that give extensive information about the historical ways of fighting are the so-called fencing books ; in contrast to the popular mass media, these convey a completely different picture of the medieval ways of fighting. The oldest fencing book that has survived today, manuscript I.33 , shows a sophisticated knightly combat system with a fist shield and the sword customary at that time as early as 1300 . If you follow the first script of the Liechtenauer tradition , you will get a picture of the distinctive fighting culture and systematization of the knightly warrior elite. The image, according to which a knight struck his opponent with his battle sword like an ax and achieved victory through the knockout, is of modern origin and is not confirmed by any historical source. Due in particular to the great popularity of the Asian martial arts, numerous outdated sword myths are being discussed again today and are often taken for granted. However, there is historical evidence of a highly developed fencing and martial art that has been demonstrable since the late Middle Ages and was part of knightly training. The ambience of medieval markets is also ideal for addressing the "good old days of the knights".

Literary and cinematographic implementation

While the knight was seen as a romantically transfigured gentleman in the Victorian era and the first half of the 20th century, the cinematography of the second half of the 20th century brought a new postmodern view of the medieval era. The knight was more and more "barbarized" and the depictions contained more and more violence, with increasing recourse to the negative associations of the 18th and 19th centuries with regard to the Middle Ages. Today, a picture of the brutal, backward, uneducated and often fanatical medieval warrior is part of the standard repertoire of the historical and fantasy genre. The environment of such warriors is also staged as gloomy as possible, poor hygiene, wars and hunger are the most common. For dramaturgical and escapist reasons, science and education are faded out in favor of magic and alchemy .

However, ideas of a “barbaric Middle Ages” are entirely postmodern . As mentioned above, the often portrayed backwardness of medieval Europe has more dramaturgical reasons, because historically there has never been such a situation in Europe. The postmodern notions of the Middle Ages as a “dark time” also originate from the middle-class 19th century, whereby the historical sources of the 14th century are particularly popular as sources. The late medieval 14th century, however, was more an exception than the rule, because due to climate change , crop failures, famine, overcrowded cities (which led to poor hygiene) and epidemics occurred, which caused a lasting change in late medieval society, which ultimately led to the Renaissance culminated. From a scientific point of view, a prolonged warm period can be demonstrated between 1000 and 1300 , during which the frequency of epidemics and bad harvests was significantly lower than previously assumed.

According to these scientific and historical facts, the alleged “barbarism” of the knight and his way of life can be recognized as a product of postmodernism, which in turn is based on ideas of the 19th century. The actual way of life, appearance, religious life and fighting tactics of the knight do not correspond to the popular opinion discussed above. Literary and cinematographic representations of the present are primarily projections of the zeitgeist onto the past, which follow an escapist intention and thus have no claim to historical authenticity.

See also


  • Joachim Ehlers : The knights. History and culture . CH Beck. Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-406-50892-9 .
  • Rudolf Kilian Weigand: Half knights and servants. To categorize and illustrate marginalized social groups in Hugos von Trimberg's “Renner” . In: Hans-Jochen Schiewer , Karl Stackmann (Ed.): The presence of the Middle Ages in his manuscripts . Results of the Berlin conference in the Berlin State Library - Preußischer Kulturbesitz, April 6th - 8th, 2000. Niemeyer, Tübingen 2002, ISBN 3-484-10847-9 , pp. 83-105. (with an overview of the various uses of the term knight in the High Middle Ages)
  • Werner Paravicini : The knightly courtly culture of the Middle Ages (Encyclopedia of German History; 32). Oldenbourg-Verlag, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-486-55008-X . (fundamental to the courtly aspect of the aristocratic upper classes)
  • Joachim Bumke (Ed.): Court culture. Literature and Society in the High Middle Ages . 3rd edition Dtv, Munich 1986, ISBN 3-423-30170-8 (2 volumes). (Classics from a German perspective)
  • Johanna Maria van Winter : Chivalry. Ideal and reality. Munich 1965 (fundamental to the term knight of the aristocratic lower classes)
  • Michael F. Feldkamp : From the Jerusalem pilgrim to the grave knight. History of the Knightly Order of the Holy Sepulcher (= Propylaea of ​​the Christian Occident, Volume 1), Heimbach / Eifel 2016, ISBN 978-3-86417-055-3 .
  • Josef Fleckenstein : Chivalry and the knightly world . Siedler Verlag, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-88680-733-9 . (fundamental to the history of research)
  • Werner Hechberger : Nobility, ministerialism and knighthood in the Middle Ages . (Encyclopedia of German History; Volume 72). Oldenbourg, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-55083-7 (current and comprehensive overview of the current state of research on the subject and over 400 references to further literature).
  • Rainer Atzbach : Knight. The militia christiana as a way of life in the Middle Ages . In: Kai Thomas Platz , Konrad Bedal (ed.): Knights, castles and villages. Medieval life in town and country . Franconian Switzerland Regional Committee, Tüchersfeld 1997, ISBN 3-9803276-6-3 , pp. 48–51 (exhibition catalog).
  • Karl-Heinz Göttert : The knights . Philipp Reclam jun. Verlag, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-15-010807-9 .
  • Christopher Gravett : The Normans. Warrior knights and their castles . Osprey Publ., Botley 2007, ISBN 978-1-84603-218-9 .
  • Christopher Gravett: The world of medieval knight . Bedrich Books, New York 1996, ISBN 0-87226-277-4 .
  • Andrea Hopkins: Knights . Collins & Brown, London 1990, ISBN 0-89660-013-0 .
  • Maurice Keen: Chivalry . Bibliographer. supplementary edition Albatros Verlag, Düsseldorf 2002, ISBN 3-491-96065-7 .
  • Franz Kottenkamp, ​​Friedrich Martin von Reibisch: The knight's hall. A history of chivalry, its origins and progress, its customs and traditions . Melchior-Verlag, Wolfenbüttel 2009, ISBN 978-3-941555-14-3 (reprint of the Stuttgart 1842 edition).
  • Hans-Jürgen Kotzur (ed.): The crusades. No war is sacred . Verlag von Zabern, Mainz 2004, ISBN 3-8053-3240-8 (catalog of the exhibition of the same name, Cathedral and Diocesan Museum (Mainz) , April 2 to July 30, 2004).
  • Johannes Laudage and Yvonne Leiverkus (eds.): Knighthood and courtly culture of the Staufer period . Böhlau Verlag, Cologne 2006, ISBN 3-412-34905-4 (European histories; 12).
  • Heinz Meyer: History of the cavalry warriors . Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-17-007347-8 .
  • Ewart Oakeshott : A knight in battle . Dufour Editions, Chester Springs, Pa. 1998, ISBN 0-8023-1322-1 (reprint of the London 1971 edition).
  • Alexander von Reitzenstein : knighthood and knighthood (pictures from the German past; 32). Prestel Verlag, Munich 1972, ISBN 3-7913-0032-6 .
  • Andreas Schlunk, Robert Giersch: The knights. History, culture, everyday life . Theiss, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-8062-1791-2 (catalog of the exhibition of the same name, Historisches Museum der Pfalz , March 30 to October 16, 2003).
  • Alan Williams: The knight and the blast furnace. A history of metallurgy or armor in the middle ages and the early modern period . Brill, Leiden 2003, ISBN 90-04-12498-5 .
  • Karin Schneider-Ferber: Everything is myth! 20 popular misconceptions about the knights . Theiss, Stuttgart 2015, ISBN 3-8062-3105-2

Web links

Commons : Knight  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Ritter  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Rudolf Kilian Weigand: Half knights and servants. To categorize and illustrate marginalized social groups in Hugos von Trimberg's “Renner” . In: Hans-Jochen Schiewer , Karl Stackmann (Ed.): The presence of the Middle Ages in his manuscripts . Tübingen 2002, pp. 83-105.
  2. ^ Andrew Ayton: Knights and Warhorses. Military Service and the English Aristocracy under Edward III . Woodbridge, Rochester 1994.
  3. Reinhard Binder-Krieglstein: Austrian Nobility Law 1868–1918 / 19. Peter Lang, Vienna 2000, ISBN 978-3-631-34833-8 .
  4. ^ Johanna Maria van Winter: Knighthood. Ideal and reality . Munich 1965.
  5. Maurice Keen: The knighthood . Düsseldorf 2002
  6. For example, Prestwich in his popular science book refers to the knight in a more exclusive sense, but without addressing the alternative: Michael Prestwich: Ritter. The ultimate career guide . Darmstadt 2011.
  7. "caballarius" ,
  8. Herwig Wolfram: The Goths. CH Beck, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-406-33733-3 , p. 302ff.
  9. Karin Krapp: The Alemanni. Warriors - settlers - early Christians. Theiss, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 3-8062-2044-1 . P. 93f.
  10. ^ A b Matthew Bennett (Ed.): Wars in the Middle Ages Battles - Tactics - Weapons. Theiss, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-8062-2223-4 .
  11. Horst Fuhrmann: Invitation to the Middle Ages . 2009.
  12. Sport and Christianity . 2012, ISBN 978-0-8132-1993-6 .
  13. ↑ However, some scientists are of the opinion that the technique of the lance was already known from the 8th century; Matthew Bennett (Ed.): Wars in the Middle Ages Battles - Tactics - Weapons. Theiss, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-8062-2223-4 .
  14. The Knights. Handout for the exhibition in the Historisches Museum der Pfalz Speyer.
  15. Joachim Bumke (ed.): Court culture. Literature and Society in the High Middle Ages , p. 65.
  16. Joachim Bumke (ed.): Court culture. Literature and Society in the High Middle Ages , p. 68.
  17. Joachim Bumke (ed.): Court culture. Literature and Society in the High Middle Ages , p. 443f.
  18. Joachim Bumke (ed.): Court culture. Literature and Society in the High Middle Ages , p. 67.
  19. Joachim Bumke (ed.): Court culture. Literature and Society in the High Middle Ages , p. 422.
  20. ^ Johan Huizinga: Autumn of the Middle Ages . Stuttgart 1987, p. 67 ff.
  21. See z. B. Romina Spina "Knights and ladies in action for the community" in Neue Zürcher Zeitung on May 29, 2013.
  22. Irene Jung "The Knights in the 21st Century" in Hamburger Abendblatt from May 20, 2006.
  23. Hillevi Hofmann "Royale appreciation: These stars were ennobled by the Queen" in Kurier on July 23, 2018.
  24. "Elton John receives the highest award from France" in Neue Zürcher Zeitung on June 21, 2019.
  25. Klaus-Peter Schmid "The struggle for the red ribbon. The Legion of Honor - a chapter of French vanity." in the period of September 28, 1979.
  26. Cf. Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele "Knights today - an anachronism?" in magazine of the Union of European Defense Historical Groups No. 048/2019, p. 24.
  27. Cf. u. a. Andrea S. Klahre "Between casual and annoying: Why decency is cool" in Handelsblatt on July 14, 2019.
  28. Internal historical book "Der Ritter" of the German Knight Association
  29. On Women in Chivalry.Retrieved October 14, 2012
  30. Wolfgang Tarnowski : Ritter , in the series WAS IST WAS, Vol. 88, Nuremberg: Tessloff, 1990.
  31. John Clements: Top Myths of Renaissance Martial Arts .
  32. John Clements: Weight and Handling of Historical Weapons
  33. ^ John Clements: A Short Introduction to Historical European Martial Arts
  34. ^ Alan Williams: The Knight and the Blast Furnace .
  35. Craig Johnson: Some Aspects of the Metallurgy and Production of European Armor ( Memento of the original from April 22, 2002 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . In: Armored Proceedings Symposion , 1999.
  36. Historical overview of the technology of the ring armor (English)
  37. ^ The Armarium .
  38. Hanko Döbringer's fencing book from 1389 (PDF file; 227 kB)
  39. ^ S. Matthew Galas: Setting The Record Straight. The Art of the Sword in Medieval Europe .
  40. See [1]  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  41. ^ Christopher Gravett: The World of the Medieval Knight .
  42. Christopher Gravett: The Normans. Warrior Knights and Their Castles .
  43. See Dark ages # Modern popular use
  44. Ewart Oakeshott: A Knight in Battle .
  45. See Middle Ages in film
  46. Review
  47. Deutschlandradio Kultur from June 1, 2011: Review "Kulturgeschichte der Ritterfigur"