As a result, it was usual for knights in the medieval period to be men who had trained for warfare from an early age. However, the situation wasn’t quite so clear-cut.
Any man who held enough land to afford the cost of arms and armour, and to take time away from his estates to join the army, was expected to be a knight. He would have to turn up at any military muster, mounted and armed, and very often would bring a retinue of men at arms or archers.
The king also expected knights to maintain law and order, ensure taxes were paid, and keep roads repaired and river crossings usable. When a dead knight’s land passed to his wife or daughter, these duties were imposed on that woman. In England the title of Lady was usually given to such a woman, but in France, Tuscany and Romagna she was given the male title.
In 1358, women finally gained full knightly acceptance in England when they began to be admitted to chivalric orders – though they are called dames, not knights.
This article was first published in the January 2015 issue of BBC History Revealed magazine