Knighthood is the lowest of the ranks of nobility that may be passed through the blood to one’s children. It is exclusive even among the ranks of nobles. While all knights are nobles, not all nobles are knights. Among the nobles, the knights cannot be said to stand among the “baronage” because this implies the holding of land by military tenure (servicium debitum), specifically a lordship or castle-honor, and there are more knights who do not than those who do. While any of the ranks of nobility are eligible to be knighted, not all achieve knighthood, even if they have trained for it. Without other income, such as heirs of lordly titles can count on, the mantle of knighthood is costly and the life is hard, the extra expenses of armor, weapons, and maintaining even a small retinue being prohibitive. Knights alone have the right to enter a church in full armor, to wear the gilded spurs, to be addressed as “Sir”, or wear the furs known as “the vair and the grey” (the mottled belly and the gray back furs of the northern squirrel). All lesser men must rise when a knight enters the room, and may not be seated until after he takes his seat.
The name of Knight of the Bath marks the line drawn between knights who fight for their bread caring for horse, weapons and arms (Knight of the Sword or Knight Simple) and their counterparts the Courtier-Knights, also known in the period of the game as “Holy Mary’s Knights”, thrown into the cult of those who were dedicated to the kind, gentle Lady Mary. Even the law acknowledged the difference between these two breeds of knight. The financially insolvent fighting Knight, or Knight of the Sword, can NOT be deprived of his war-harness or steeds by legal distraint of his moveable property to pay his debts, where the Knight who earns his bread by (political) service at Court rather than arms, a Knight of the Bath, would be allowed to retain only his horse under the same circumstances.
Battle-seasoned Knights of the Sword will always hold in a certain amount of contempt their gentler counterparts who have either no battle skills or little or no actual battle experience. Those who merely profess to fight will be considered to be men of no honor by those who exercise their ancient right and privilege, the original source of their power and authority. It is an expression of the conflict between their martial roots and the trends in gentle society during the medieval period.
Among the ranks of knights there are a number of other titles distinguishing standing and accomplishment: Knight Simple; Knight in Sergeanty; Knight Bachelor; Law-Worthy Knight; Knight Banneret
A Knight Simple is a Knight of the Sword with no lands to administer in his own right or fief-rentes to support him, also known as a Knight Errant, particularly when he is wandering in search of adventure, fame and fortune to aid him in securing a position in the retinue of a lord, hoping to become a household knight.
A Knight in Sergeanty holds less than a full knight’s feof, down to as small as 1/10th, with a similarly reduced feudal obligation, or even an equivalent in a money-fief, but holds this in return for a lesser form of service, commonly limited to garrison duty (a week to a fortnight) in a particular post at a specific castle nearby, some to carry a lord’s banner on the field of battle, or lead local forces at need, or provide infantrymen, archers, or crossbowmen when Crown or lord call. These will stand as the light cavalry used in reconnaissance and skirmishing, taking part in cavalry actions with other knights, though not as wealthy or well-equipped as some. Tenure by Sergeanty has a variable value. Thus, the title of Sergeant is not indicative of social class and station. A knight is still a knight, a squire still a squire, a gentleman still a gentleman and a commoner still a commoner, regardless of holding tenure in property by sergeanty.
A Knight Huntsman or Beastmaster is a knight with a prestigious post in Sergeanty as an officer in one of the royal forests. In the case of the Beastmaster, the individual will be distinguished by the specific beast of the hunt with which his skills are associated (Master of Horse, Falconer, Bracheter, Lymer or other Master of Hounds).
A Knight Bachelor is a Knight who has been taken into the household of a lord. He is generally supported by a combination of estates (a Knight’s feof) and feof-rentes (the income of lands of which he has no say in the management) or wages and feof-rentes with yearly gifts of robes and shoes, and the occasional largesse of the lord. The standard feof for a knight is a single manor of roughly 10 hides of land (1200 acres). Between 15 and 30 tenant families are required to support one knight’s family in their manor.
A Law-Worthy Knight is able to acquit himself in the language of the courts and to read and write and have mastered basic mathematics. To stand as a law-worthy knight carries with it the requirement to hold land worth 40s. per year in income within a given shire where his services will be sought to aid in local government. In practice, the knight is usually required to hold property not only within the shire, but in the same neighborhood (usually the same hundred, or bordering hundreds). He may also be referred to as a Knight of the Shire.
A Knight Banneret is a seasoned knight distinguished for his service in the field by the specific royal grant of the right to lead a company of troops during time of war under his own private banner showing his armorial bearings (coat of arms). This banner is marked by its square shape, in contrast to the tapering standard or the pennon or pennoncelle flown by the lower-ranking knights. Bannerets are eligible to bear supporters in English heraldry. In heraldry, supporters are figures usually placed on either side of the shield and depicted holding it up, as the lion and the unicorn in the arms of the English crown.
No knight banneret can be created except in the field of battle, and then only when the king is present, or at least where his Majesty’s royal standard is being carried on the field by his appointed representative (a campaign sponsored by the Crown, at the least).
After all of these, below even the Knight Simple or even the Knight of the Bath, are the Esquire and the Gentleman.
An Esquire, or Squire, is the title by which the next social rank below a knight is called, known as “gentry” as opposed to nobility. The title Squire is applied to all those descended of noble blood who have trained for knighthood but who have not yet been granted or sought out that rank. This title may also be hereditary, in the same manner as knighthood. The hereditary title implies noble descent, but the hereditary Squire is only eligible to raise his blood back to that of knighthood again. He doesn’t have it; he must earn it. Otherwise, he is primarily a wealthy landowner of noble descent. The eldest son of a knight bears the title Squire until he should train at arms and earn his knighthood (if ever). The eldest sons of all a knight’s younger sons are all accorded the title “Squire” – all others are referred to as “gentlemen”. Those who bear this title should be addressed as “”Squire” in the same way Knights are hailed as “Sir”.
The average esquire might have a yearly income of about £25. According to the Assize of Arms, any at this income level may be compelled to take up arms and the mantle of knighthood and serve in the Crown in time of war, or pay a stiff fine as high as one year’s income. By ancient custom, a family or a branch of a family passing over their right to knighthood for more than three generations in succession is considered to have abandoned that dignity ever after. Custom hath the force of law.
A gentleman is a lapsed knight, a cadet line of a noble house or a knight’s blood, one who has the capacity to seek knighthood through arms, to enlist in service as a Squire, but has no such nobility of his own currently, as discussed above. He may be a farmer working a farm as a yeoman or franklin, may also be a shire official, steward/bailiff or other castle or village official (GM’s discretion).