The Roots of Paladin

The life of the historical knight was less romantic than fictional accounts would have us believe. The word cnhit was first used to describe the sons of the French peasants who arrived in England following the Norman conquest in 1066. Crude in manner and appearance, the cnhit soldiers attracted attention because of their expensive armor and horsemanship, a skill held high regard. Despite these advantages, the cnhit were still second – class citizens, a notch above peasants but decidedly inferior to the aristocracy.

With feudalism that status of cnhit (eventually Anglicized to knights) improved dramatically. The feudal era began when wealthy lords gave small pieces of land to groups of peasants in exchange for their labor, and struggling land owners signed over their property to a lord in return for protection. The relationship was secured by a bond of honor and a clear understanding of their mutual responsibilities. In time, all parties in feudal relationships became part of the nobility, and feudal offers were extended only to those of a acceptable stature.

As a lord’s holding grew, so did his need for skilled warriors to defend against foreign invaders. Knights made ideal candidates. In the feudal tradition, lords secured their services by offering them property, grand estates including much farmland, many buildings, and even the peasants who provided the labor. As the knights acquired wealth, they also gained prestige, becoming a distinct and honored social class that was usually restricted to the sons of aristocrats.

The status of the knights solidified in the 11th century when the church, prompted by self- interest and a genuine desire to promote order in an increasingly anarchicsociety, gave it’s official sanction. Knighthood was declared a sacred calling, and the ordainment of new knights became a holy ritual. With this new accreditation came new responsibilities, formally defined in the code of chivalry, set of principles based on religious ideals. While continuing in the lower ranks of the privileged class, the knight now symbolized the highest standards of moral behavior and was admired by peasants and royalty alike.

Though the knight commanded respect, he was rarely envied. His life was dangerous and brutal, marked by incessant confrontations and the constant threat of humiliation. Rather that adventuring for honor or pleasure, most engaged in a constant struggle for income, desperately seeking any and all opportunities to earn an honest living. The rigid chivalric code, which made abstract principles of loyalty more important than life itself, resulted in a death sentence for most knights. Few lived beyond age 30. Those who survived often spent their remaining years penniless and broke, depending on the charity of society that had all but forgotten them.