Fantasy Ritter

For centuries, Middle Ages enthusiasts have been intrigued by knights, who make an appearance as noble warriors in many stories in a novel, a book, a videogame or a LARP, where they usually are depicted wearing shining armor, riding on glorious warhorses, and looking down upon the peasants—at least that’s the prevailing cliché in people’s minds. But where do the lines between historical fact and fiction start to blur?

Depending upon the historical epoch, the term “knight” indicates the profession of an official and a mounted man-at-arms, a man of reputable demeanor or—later—of noble rank. Contrary to the popular belief that a knight is wealthy and passes his rank down to his progeny, there were quite a lot of destitute knightly families who couldn’t even raise the money for their own or for their sons’ knightly accolade. Those were called noblemen. The tradition that has come down to us speaks of even more kinds of knights. Some failed knights eked out a living by hiring themselves out as mercenaries (“hedge knights”). Others occupied castles they couldn’t afford to maintain, forcing them to plunder the surrounding area (“marauding knights”). Still other groups of knights carried their own religious symbols and followed their own codices (“knights of the order”). So, as you can see, historical facts alone provide plenty of inspiration for fantastic knights.

The knight on his quest

With their roots in the rank of officialdom (and later nobility), knights enjoyed societal privileges such as access to better education. They usually could read and write, and were, in addition to swordfighting, trained in rhetoric, etiquette, dancing, and military maneuvers. They were mainly proficient men-at-arms, but, thanks to their education, they could also aspire to become skilled diplomats and leaders.

Knights join an adventuring party for a variety of reasons: some hope to gain fame and glory; some wish to restore the reputation of their family; some, quite traditionally, strive to impress their beloved with hero’s sagas praising their glorious deeds, while others just hope to accumulate gold and riches. Either way, a knight can be a valuable member of a questing party—or its worst adversary.

What makes a compelling costume for a knight?

Since knights arose from the ranks of officialdom in the 11th century, evolved more and more into nobility (“knights’ rank”) during the High Middle Ages, and were later recognized as such, the archetypical knight consequently wears garb from the High and Late Middle Ages in central Europe. Generally, knights were mounted, and thus they dressed themselves in clothes suitable for riding: tunics slotted in the middle or loose coats, for instance. Ideally, a family crest—designed following the strict rules of medieval heraldry—is part of a believable depiction as well, but for a fantasy knight these rules can be somewhat relaxed in order to allow a more personalized escutcheon.

Fantasy knights may be able to exploit the freedom of the fantasy genre, but reading up on basic historical facts can be tremendously helpful depicting a knight as authentically as possible, and to avoid being falling for Hollywood myths.

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