Knights and Ladies

Knights and Ladies

Every little girl has imagined herself  in fairy tales where the lady has a knight in shining armor that comes to rescue or fight for her. Many of us still love reading (and writing!) books about knights and ladies.  But when you read of knights and ladies in historical novels, do you wonder what, exactly, those terms mean? Here’s a quick explanation of how those titles were in play in England during the Tudor years.

During the Middle Ages (500s through 1500s), knighthood was awarded to men who fought well for their monarch’s causes. These men were also those who had the means to support the necessities of the noble military class, including horses, armor and servants which could be rallied to the monarch’s military causes.

Another route to knighthood was to follow the Five Steps to Knighthood:

1) Have a connection to a noble family
2) Be trained in chivalry, loyal to your liege lord and practice mock battles as a young child
3) Serve as a Page from age seven to fourteen at the castle of another Lord, learning battle skills and serving your training Lord
4) Serve as Squire from the fourteenth year until knighted, learning the social graces required at Court, the art of chivalry and necessary battle skills; go to battle with training Lord as required
5) Knighthood could then be conferred on a young Squire after exemplary service in battle, or after years of faithful service.

By the time of Henry VIII, knighthood had come to mean an honor conferred to bind a man’s loyalty to the monarch. Once a man was knighted, he was referred to by the title ‘Sir’. Henry VIII, in particular, limited the ability to award knighthood to the British monarch, as opposed to the earlier practice of military leaders being able to knight a man on the battlefield for exemplary service. “Sir” is normally followed by a man’s first name. For example, Anne Boleyn’s father was referred to as “Sir Thomas,” not “Sir Boleyn.”

The use of the title Lady, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. It has been used for centuries in Great Britain to denote nobility. The feminine equivalent to Lord, it can be used by women born into or marrying into noble rank. The woman is referred to as ‘Lady’ followed by her husband’s family name, for example, Lord Thomas and Lady Boleyn. The wife of a younger son in the same family would be known as ‘Lady’ followed by both her husband’s first and last name to avoid confusion with the higher ranking lady in her family.  The term ‘Lady’ is also given to the wives of knights, even if those knights don’t hold a noble rank.

In literature or conversation, however, precise titles may take a backseat to ease of speaking, so that it will be obvious who is being addressed or who is speaking. We readers want things to be accurate but more importantly, we want to get lost in the story, not in the titles!

Research Sources: Heraldica.org; HeraldicSculptor.com; HMSRichmond.org; Middle-Ages.org.uk. “Lady” Sandra Byrd with “Lady” Kate Eaton.

{Main photo credit: Henry Hustava @ Unsplash, https://unsplash.com/search/knights?photo=j_Ch0mwBNds}