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The accolade is a solemn initiation rite , with which a man was raised to the knighthood by a ruler or another nobleman . In the later Middle Ages, “knighthood”, that is, descent from aristocratic, knightly ancestors, was usually a prerequisite for admission to the knighthood. The accolade replaced the sword line as the common form of knight promotion in Central Europe from the 14th century . Sword leadership and accolade are two different initiation rites, especially in popular scientific works both forms are often wrongly equated. In the United Kingdom , the accolade is an award that has been preserved to this day for special achievements in science, culture, art, etc., which can only be bestowed by the current British monarch.

Johann II. (1319–1364) when he was knighted, illuminated manuscript around 1400

Sword leadership and accolade

From the 12th century the sword line can be proven in written sources, the new knight was girded with the sword belt and received his spurs . The sword belt (next to the spurs) was originally the actual symbol of knighthood, non-knightly warriors usually attached the weapon to the saddle. In reality, however, this distinction was quickly abandoned.

The accolade can be proven for the first time in France in the early 13th century. It may have been "imported" into the Reich by the Bohemian King and German Emperor Charles IV . Karl, who was actually baptized in the name of the Bohemian national saint Wenceslaus, was brought up at the French royal court, took the name of his royal godfather and only returned to his homeland as an adult.

Originally, the sword line seems to have been just a rite of manliness, which was due to every free man who was capable of holding arms, but later developed into an actual increase in status, acceptance into the knighthood. Persons raised to knights by the ruler were referred to as knights of the golden spur or knights of the golden spur .

The future knight also often received a real slap in the face, on the neck or on the shoulder, either so that he would remember the ceremony better (similar to the custom of slapping witnesses when a contract was signed), or there were magical slaps Notions that the power of the hitting passed over to the struck. This blow can also be interpreted as a kind of test, the beaten person was able to prove his ability to control himself, which differentiated the adult from the youth. However, this would be the last unrequited blow in the new knight's life. It is controversial whether such a blow was part of the original ritual of guiding the sword. Certainly there were clear regional differences here, also with regard to the connection with a church ordination, which was often an integral part of the ritual. This was carried out by clergymen. If a knight of an abbey belonged to a bishopric, the accolade could be performed by the deacon or priest. For professed knights only a bishop could propose.

King George VI knighted General Oliver Leese during World War II in 1944

The accolade replaced the real, painful blow on the cheek by tapping the neck or shoulder area with the point or blade of the sword, as is still practiced in Great Britain today. In Germany there are different versions of the formula: "Better knight / master than servant". Sometimes, however, touching with the hand was enough, as is said to have been the case with the sword. It can be assumed that both forms were practiced side by side for a long time.

Usually the squire or nobleman knelt in front of his liege lord, a priest, deacon, nobleman or even bishop when he was knighted; the simplified ritual was an advantage for mass promotions, especially before a battle. According to some historians, the "knighthood" increased the chances of survival, since wealthy warriors were usually captured and ransom was demanded for them. However, the question arises here, how the opponent could recognize the position of the adversary in the fight, he should have judged him more according to his equipment.

Usually the knight's doctorate was preceded by a long apprenticeship as a page and squire. The boys were torn away from their mother or wet nurse at the age of six or seven and given to a knight related or friend for training. Often this was the mother's brother, but many feudal lords took charge of the sons of their vassals themselves . Apparently the bond with the liege lord was to be strengthened, for many of these young aristocrats the training knight became a father substitute, to whom one remained unconditionally devoted his entire life. Until about the age of 14, the boys served as pages at the castle of their "surrogate father", after which they were practically of legal age, were able to marry and even take the oath of allegiance. From this age on they served their master as squires, so they were responsible for the maintenance of the horses, the transport and maintenance of the weapons and armor. They accompanied the knights on campaigns and tournaments , also on the hunt, learned to ride and to wield the sword and lance . Around the 21st year, sometimes earlier, they received their doctorate as knight if they were suitable. Such promotions often took place in conjunction with other celebrations, such as weddings or baptisms. Usually several squires or servants were raised to knights at the same time, mass promotions were common. The organization of the graduation ceremony alone brought many knights to the edge of their economic efficiency, it was an advantage if one could share the costs with numerous other new knights. Here people gladly joined the doctorate of a wealthy nobleman. Such celebrations were often associated with a tournament or boourt .

The ritual of the accolade is also preserved in the custom of the hunters in some regions. Whoever wanted to become a hunter received basic training (today the hunter course) and thus became a young hunter. He had to do another time under the guidance and supervision of an apprentice prince (today the “young hunter time” lasts three years without the accompaniment of an apprentice prince, after three years the young hunter can be leased). At the end of the young hunter's time, the young hunter was beaten to a hunter: During a meeting, his shoulders were touched with the hunting prince of his apprentice prince. It was also common to hit the bottom with the woad leaf . As with the accolade, there was an occasional blow with the flat of the hand in the face as the last unrequited attack.

Knight and noble servant

However, the accolade did not always mean the actual status elevation, often it was more like an award of an order. The awardees often lacked the economic basis to permanently accept the knighthood.

In the later Middle Ages, most of the knightly aristocrats had to renounce their knighthood for financial reasons, so they remained servants without a sword or accolade. In France, the integration of the “ministerial” nobility was already completed in the 11th century, in Central Europe this lasted until the 13th century. Possibly one of the reasons for the rapid spread of the “French” knighthood is to be found here, the sword belt was certainly also worn by most of the noblemen, so it could no longer serve as a clear distinguishing feature between knight and nobleman. This distinction becomes particularly clear in the witness lists of the contemporary documents : There the few knights are always listed as a separate group before the far more numerous noblemen.

The accolade on the Angel's Bridge , mostly only handed down as the "Tiber Bridge ", was after the one on the Holy Sepulcher , which was most valued. Numerous men, often in groups, were "knighted" here. Examples are Wolfgang III. Chamberlain of Worms or Heinrich von Pappenheim .

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