Knighthood training took years of intense practice. It began in early childhood when a basic education, good manners and rules of etiquette were taught at home. At the age of 7, young boys were sent away to the castles and homes of wealthy lords or relatives to embark on their knighthood training. From the age of seven to fourteen these young boys were given the role of a medieval page. From fourteen to twenty-one these apprentice knights were referred to as squires . The different types and styles of Knighthood training depended on the age and strength of the apprentice knights. Knighthood training focused on weapon practice, which included skills in horsemanship, riding while using the two-handed sword, battle axe, mace, dagger and lance.
Knighthood Training – The Medieval Page
The Medieval Page of the Middle Ages was little more than a child. But his training commenced from the age of seven. The duties of a knight were seen as the combat duties and those duties related to serving the lords and ladies. The Knighthood training began in earnest as a Page when all their games and sports were geared towards learning skills related to horsemanship, the two-handed sword, battle axe, mace, dagger and lance.
Obviously dangerous weapons were not used by these young boys! Great emphasis was placed on physical fitness and strength. A Page would start to acquire the skills required of a Knight by practising the skills of tilting a lance during their knighthood training. A target was erected and the Page would mount a wooden ‘horse’ on wheels holding a lance. The wooden horse would be pulled along by two other pages towards the target and the page would aim the lance.
The Page was expected to learn the technique called the ‘couch’ where the lance is held under the arm to steady it during a course, substantially reducing the amount of flex and increasing the accuracy of a lunge. Sword play was practiced using wooden swords and shields. Fighting on piggyback introduced the young knights to the balance and skills required in mounted combat. Knighthood Training in other physical skills included climbing, swimming, throwing stones, javelins, archery and wrestling.
Knighthood Training – Equestrian Skills
The knighthood training of both the Pages and the Squires of the Middle Ages continued with acquiring excellent equestrian skills. A horse played an extremely important part in the life of a knight. A knight would own several horses which were built for different duties. These knights ranged in various sizes starting with a palfrey, or an ambler for general travelling purposes. Bigger and stronger horses were required as warhorses.
The Courser was the most sought after and expensive warhorse, owned by the most wealthy knights. The more common warhorses were like modern hunters, known then as Destriers. The apprentice knights would learn how to ride and control their horses and the art of this type of warfare. Starting with small ponies they would hone their equestrian skills in their Knighthood training. The pages and squires were also expected to play their part of caring for the horses in the stables.
Knighthood Training – The Medieval Squire
Somewhere between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one a page would become a squire. By this time, the page-turned-squire had learned the basic skills required during their Knighthood training. As a squire, he was seen as a man capable of fighting in battles. His Knighthood training became far more dangerous. Injuries were a common occurrence during their knighthood training. Skills with the lance must be perfected. The tool used in the practice of the lance was called called the quintain.
The quintain consisted of a shield and dummy which was suspended from a swinging pole. When the shield was hit by a charging squire, the whole apparatus would rotate. The squire’s task was to avoid the rotating arms and not get knocked from his saddle. A variation of the quintain added heavy swinging sandbags which also had to be avoided.
Accuracy was also an important factor and squires practised “Running at the Rings” where the lance was aimed at a target in the shape of a ring – these rings were obviously much smaller to lance than a man and this skill was therefore difficult to master. Fighting with quarterstaffs could also result in injuries. Fighting with swords and other weapons were strictly supervised and only wooden, blunt or covered weapons were used. General fitness levels had to be high and the strength of an apprentice knight was expected, regardless of size.
Knighthood Training – Castle and Siege Warfare
Siege warfare was a common occurrence during the Middle Ages. An important requirement to capture the enemies power base – their castles. Knighthood Training included learning about the strategy, process and weapons used in siege warfare. Siege Warfare during the Middle Ages was conducted according to Chivalric Rules and a truce or settlement would always be attempted, according to the Chivalric Code before Siege Warfare commenced. Knighthood training included all of these aspects of siege warfare.
The Squires would be expected to understand the options available when defending a castle – the layout and traps included in the castle design. A young squire, or even a page, would be expected to defend a castle according to their skills and strength. A crossbow might be issued to a squire or page as it required minimum strength and few skills to operate. Attacking a castle would also be studied. This would include learning about Siege Weapons – the Trebuchet, Ballista, Mangonel, Battering Ram and Siege Towers. Skills in climbing were important – scaling castle walls. Knighthood training would also include the process of undermining a castle.
Knighthood Training – Qualities of a Knight
During his long period of Knighthood training a squire or page must also learn bravery and the ability to withstand extremes in cold and heat, tiredness and hunger. It was not all hard work. The apprentice knights also enjoyed attending tournaments – great fun for these young men