Sword line

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Depiction of a sword line (Statutes of the Order of the Knot , 1352)

The knighting was the original form of the Knights promotion that later mostly from accolade was ousted. It probably goes back to older Germanic initiation rites, but developed in the High Middle Ages to an actual increase in status.


The armor bearer King Wenceslas II of Bohemia presents a sword belt to a nobleman ( Codex Manesse )

The sword line seems to go back to pre-Christian Germanic manliness rites. By handing over his weapons, the young warrior was admitted to the group of conscripts and adults.

The knighthood only developed in the course of the High Middle Ages from a "profession" to a birth class. Originally, " knight " only meant the mounted warrior, not automatically the noblewoman. Since the equipment of such cavalry warriors was very expensive, but the military readiness had to be given even in times of peace, the knighthood closed itself more and more to climbers from poorer classes. If the warrior did not have a sufficiently large fortune, he was given a fief , i.e. a piece of land or an estate was given to him for cultivation or administration. Many of these fiefs turned out to be too small or not profitable enough. With the ascension of knighthood, the number of knights decreased significantly: only the wealthy managed to rise to the lower nobility , countless families of knights fell back into the bourgeois or peasant class from which they originally came. The sword line was now mostly seen as a real increase in rank, as acceptance into the increasingly closed knighthood. It was by no means always young men who let themselves be girded with a sword.

The sword line does not seem to have been a mandatory requirement for the attainment of the knighthood. It was not a matter of course even among the nobles. Admission to the knighthood was certainly the goal of every knightly noblewoman, but in reality it was quite dispensable.

The ritual

Sword line

To reconstruct a medieval sword line, we rely on contemporary literature and miniature painting. One of the best-known depictions can be found in Gottfried's Tristan from Strasbourg (verse 5012-5049): The party attended first the mass in the cathedral and received the blessing, then Tristan's uncle Marke girded the hero with the sword and put his spurs on him, admonished him to respect the knightly values ​​and "also offered him the shield". The "new knight" Tristan then passed on the knighthood in the same way to his companions.

In addition to girding with the sword belt and putting on the spurs, there are often references to "accolades" as part of the ceremony. The following saying has been passed down from the beginning of the 13th century: zê gôtes and Marien êr, this slac and no mêr . The squire received a real blow with the sword or the flat of the hand, but it was supposed to be the last unrequited blow in the life of the new knight (see accolade ). This blow may also go back to an old Germanic legal act that has been handed down in the Sachsenspiegel , for example . The blow on the neck here meant acceptance into servitude and thus created a connection between the master and the servant.

In the course of a sword line there must have been great regional and probably also temporal differences. In addition to the individual doctorate, which was often undertaken by the miner 's father or uncle , the mass doctorate increasingly spread. Several squires or servants were made knights at the same time . This seems to have had financial reasons as well, the graduation ceremony was very expensive, and of course there was also the “knightly equipment”. Ideally, people would like to join the sword leadership of a high nobility, so they could save considerable costs and avoid unnecessary effort. Sometimes the new knights wore uniform clothing and also received their share of the numerous, sometimes very valuable, promotional gifts. However, one can only speculate about the actual course of such a mass doctorate; also the number of those who were raised to knights is usually exaggerated.

To finance such sword lines, a special tax was often levied on the population, as compensation, lavish folk festivals, tournaments and booths were organized . Such mass events usually took place near larger cities, sometimes the main square was the center of the celebration or the venue.

Later, the ritual was increasingly combined with church ordinations, such as the blessing of the sword or the ordination of knights . The ritual baths mentioned again and again, especially in popular scientific literature, and the subsequent night watch in a chapel or church are only seldom passed down from the Reich. This custom was more common in France and England.

Sword leadership and accolade

Sword leadership and accolade cannot always be clearly distinguished from one another, the ceremonies often mixed up or occurred at the same time in the same region. However, the simplified ritual of the accolade proved to be an advantage, especially in the case of mass promotion before or after a battle.

In Central Europe, the old ritual of guiding the sword lasted until the middle of the 14th century, only then was it superseded by the “French” accolade, which can be proven there as early as the 12th century. However, the sword line was evidently still in use in France in the 13th century, as evidenced by a - often reproduced - representation from the Chronicle of Matthaeus Parisiensis . In French, the term adoubement today describes both forms of knight promotion, which corresponds to English dubbing . In German, these terms are usually simply translated as “Ritterschlag”, which has led to some confusion. Even the term "knight" is ambiguous, it can mean the mounted warrior, the noble servant or the members of the knighthood. “Ritterschlag” mostly stands for the knight's doctorate or even just the solemn military detention of a warrior.


  • Wilhelm Erben : Sword leadership and accolade. Contributions to a legal history of weapons . In: Zeitschrift für Historische Waffenkunde , 8 (1918/20), pp. 103–170. Internet Archive archive.org ; MGH library
  • Josef Fleckenstein : Curialitas. Studies on basic questions of courtly-knightly culture . Göttingen 1980.
  • Werner Hechberger : Nobility, ministerialism and knighthood in the Middle Ages . Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-55083-7 (paperback), ISBN 3-486-55084-5 (hardcover).
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