The Page – a Military Apprentice

In the Middle Ages, some of the boys destined to become knights trained from early childhood in the knightly arts. The first stage in their military apprenticeship was served as a page in a noble’s household. A page learnt not only about military matters but also about honour and courteous behaviour, especially towards women.

The son of a knight spent his earliest years with his nurse and the other women in the castle. During this time, he learnt something about manners and how to behave. Sometimes he was taught to read but rarely to write. In addition, he started to learn to sing and play a musical instrument. The turning point in his life came when he was given his first pony. He was taught to look after horses and to ride them expertly.

When he was about seven or eight, he was sent away from home to be a page at the court of the king or some great lord. A page’s main duties were to run errands, help the lady of the household with her duties, learn to come when he was called and to wait patiently when there was nothing for him to do. As he grew older he was trained in the use of weapons, especially the sword and bow. He learnt to handle a lance by tilting at the quintain. The quintain was an upright post with a pivoted crossbar. There was a shield on one end of the bar and a heavy sack on the other. The idea was for the page to ride full speed or tilt at the quintain, hit the shield a resounding blow with his lance and duck under the swinging sack. The unfortunate beginner was usually swept out of the saddle time after time by the swinging sack, but this was all part of the training.

The page also started to learn the art of venery or hunting. He had to be able to recognise the spoor, the footmarks, and the fewmets, the droppings, of the forest animals so that he could track them to their lairs. To find his way safely through dense forest, he had to know how to follow and leave a trail.

Medieval men admired the courage and faithfulness of their dogs. Each lord had a dogboy who lived with the hounds in their kennels, learnt their characteristics and looked after them in every way. The page too had to know the ways of dogs so that he could get the best out of them when hunting.

A knowledge of falconry and hawking was also part of his education. Falcons and hawks are birds of prey which can be taught to hunt game for their masters. Medieval falconers trained their hunting birds to come to a lure (a dummy bird containing a piece of meat which was whirled around on the end of a piece of rope. Except during hunting, these fierce birds were kept hooded and had tiny bells attached to their legs so that their every movement could be heard.

Pages spent a good deal of their time hunting or waiting upon the huntsman. Anything that could run or fly was hunted by the members of the knightly class with the greatest enthusiasm.

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