Knights – After the lord on the social ladder came the knight. The path to knighthood began at the age of seven, when a vassal sent his son to the lord’s house to become a page. For seven years a page was cared for by the women of the house, who instructed him in comportment, courtesy, cleanliness, and religion. At 14, the page became a squire, a personal attendant to a knight. From the knight he learned riding and all the skills of war, as well as hunting, hawking, and other sports.
The Knightly Code – At age twenty the squire was knighted in a religious ceremony after spending the night guarding his armour before a church altar. He had to swear to the knightly code which asked him to “protect the weak, defenceless, and helpless, and fight for the general welfare of all.” This code was rarely lived up to, but it remained the standard for chivalry and proper behaviour amongst the nobility for centuries. In theory the squire could be knighted on the battlefield for exceptional valour, but this event was much rarer than Hollywood would have us believe.
Fighting – Battles were usually small affairs, fought between the knights of individual lords. The object in a fight wasn’t necessarily to kill an opponent, but to capture and ransom him. Your foe was worth more to you alive than dead.
The Tournament – The object of the tourney was simply to unhorse your opponent, though often the fighting was so fierce that men were killed. Challengers erected tents at one end of the ground and hung a shield outside. A knight accepting the challenge rode up and touched his lance to the shield. The winner of the jousts was awarded a prize by the Queen of Beauty, elected for the occasion from amongst the women present.
By the 14th century tournaments became rousing fairs complete with singing, dancing, and feasting which might last for several days.
Most noble girls were also carefully trained. They were usually taught at home by their mothers, often with the help of tutors or governesses. Some girls went to convents for their education and later became nuns, while others went to court of another noble. She was trained in good manners, hospitality, and household management. These skills were learned by observing the lady of the castle and following her example.
It was also common for the daughters of lords to learn to read and write. Some mastered other languages while most were expected to be able to do arithmetic and be familiar with land laws. They were taught to ride, to train and hunt with falcons, and to play chess. The ideal lady also knew how to embroider and weave, sing and dance, play a musical instrument, and tell stories. Having some medical knowledge was also thought to be useful for the future wife of a knight.