The Household Knights of King John

By S. D. Church | Go to book overview

3
MONARCHY IN ACTION: THE FUNCTIONS
OF THE KING's HOUSEHOLD KNIGHTS

The knight in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, whatever he was going to become later in the middle ages, was first and foremost a man trained in the profession of arms. He had to begin his training before the age of puberty and his apprenticeship was long and arduous. The king had need of such men, both to proclaim his dignity and to maintain his authority in a potentially violent society. The royal household knights provided the king with a permanent body of trained warriors upon whom he could draw in times of need. But once a knight had entered royal service, he was expected to become more than a simple fighting man. As J. E. A. Jolliffe long ago pointed out, the Angevin kings were demanding masters and they expected an extraordinary degree of flexibility in the men who served them.1 The household knights, too, were expected to turn their hands to any task to which the king wished to assign them. Versatility was the key attribute required of all royal servants in the middle ages, and the household knights were no exception in this regard. These men were multifunctional servants of the king who, as we shall see in a later chapter, owed everything to their lord.2

The first function performed by the majority of John's household knights related to the business of fighting. War was, after all, the knight's special calling, and during John's eventful reign, there was enough conflict to keep even the most bellicose knight amused: the defence of the Angevin continental lands (1199–1204); two campaigns in Poitou to begin the process of regaining those lands (1205 and 1206); organised campaigns in Scotland (1209), Ireland (1210), and Wales (1211); a raid against the French king's fleet at Damme (1213); a further campaign in Poitou and one of the most significant battles of the middle ages at

____________________
1
Jolliffe, Angevin Kingship, p. 212.
2
See ch. 4.

-39-

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