n recent years there has been a growth in the number of knights within the Zabi Demesne, the sources of this can be laid squarely at the ‘Zabi Civil War’ that until my father’s generation blighted our Grand Duchy and caused much death and destruction. In this time of conflict many new baronies were created and many new knights were enfeoffed, and many esquires given grants of land. Now that the Civil War is over and peace has once more returned to the Demesne the time has come for a study to be enacted into the knight and the esquire, their training, their lifestyles, and the groups to which they belong.
Who Becomes a Knight?
Before we talk about what a knight does we must talk about the class of person who becomes a knight. This class of person is called an esquire, an esquire is any person who holds at least ten contiguous acres of land within the Demesne or the child of a person holding at least ten contiguous acres of land within the Demesne. These landowners tend to make up the aristocracy and nobility of the Grand Duchy and their families.
It is important to note that not all esquires become knights, nor desire to do so and a good many fine esquires dot the countryside as major landholders or minor administrators without joining the retinue of a lord or banneret.
What is a Knight?
Gone are the days when knights were purely military in nature the peace imposed by my father has for the last twenty years led to a rise in the number of knights who have not engaged in war, instead administering their lands and engaging in politics. Instead it is best for us to define a knight as a person who has been enfeoffed by a Duke who serves in the retinue of a lord or a more senior knight either as a military leader or as an administrator.
It is this service in a retinue that truly makes a knight for an oath of fealty to ones lord is an important part of the enfeoffing ceremony though often this ceremony will take place before a knight has chosen (or been chosen by) his lord. This oath combined with the good birth of the esquires lends itself towards a code of conduct. This code along with the ceremony of enfeoffing is part of what differentiates the knight from the common soldier or mercenary. While esquires can and often do join military ventures or mercenary companies they are different from knights who all share a bond of enfeoffment and the knightly code.
Becoming a Knight
There are two ways for an esquire to become a knight, pay the enfeoffing fee to the Dukes, persuading a count to request the Dukes (and pay the fee) to knight you by joining his retinue, or by engaging in an action or actions that makes the dukes wish to suitably reward you. Obviously the third option is the most difficult though it is not limited to esquires and is the method by which many of the great aristocratic houses of the Zabi Demesne first gained their lands.
Due to the significant costs involved in enfeoffing and the risks involved in being a knight with no retinue many esquires choose the second option, often serving for a time as knight-candidates in the retinue of a noble or in a knightly order having part of their wages go towards their enfeoffment.
The actual process by which an esquire becomes a knight is called enfeoffing, there are two forms to this ancient ceremony. The first and most common of the forms is a religious ceremony, candidates are assembled at dawn on the steps of the Grand Duchy’s cathedral dressed in black wearing neither cloak nor belt. The candidates are given the blessings of the Qin on the steps of the cathedral before entering in procession, a short service follows during which the candidates swear an oath to be loyal to the lord of their retinue or order and to uphold the knightly code. After this service each prospective knight is announced in turn before the Dukes and any witnesses that have assembled in the cathedral, the prospective knight announced before the Dukes is given a blow by one of the Dukes who then attaches a belt and sword to his waist saying their name with the knightly appellation of Sir or Dame for the first time and wishing that the blow delivered be the last to ever strike them. The other Duke then presents the knight with a cloak placing it on their shoulders while being the second person to say their name with the knightly appellation and wishing them good service and great deeds.
The second form is more common in wartime and consists of one dukes attaching a belt and sword to the knight’s waist and having them swear and oath to their lord shortly before battle. This much simplified ceremony is often used as a reward for good service, and to allow an esquire to fight the battle as a knight.
The Knightly Code
The knightly code is part of what binds all knights and consists of a common pledge to be the embodiment of the five knightly virtues these virtues are:
Loyalty: The most important of the virtues is loyalty to ones Lord or Order, for a man can be forgiven for impatience or greed but can only be condemned for treachery.
Forbearance: Forbearance means self control towards your equals and mercy towards your lessers.
Hardihood: A knight must be hardy, able to put up with the stresses of campaign and maintain their good humour and ability to fight in battle.
Largess: A knight must show generosity to his followers and servants and must set no store on greed or desire ornate gifts, and should in all cases look with contempt upon bribery in all its forms.
Good Rule: A knight must seek to rule his lands wisely and with the benevolence of the strong towards the weak.
Most knights tend to embody certain virtues more than others and the ‘perfect’ knight who is the embodiment of the knightly code is very rare indeed.
Most knights are part of what is called a retinue. Retinues are in their most simple form a group of knights and esquires sworn in service to a lord. These knights and esquires provide service as officers or administrators to their lord in exchange for a stipend. The number of people in a retinue varies with each lord having their own idea of what they want from their retinue and what they can afford. I shall describe as far as possible a typical retinue of a noble though each lord tends to place their own ‘stamp’ upon their retinue. The typical retinue for a count will consist of around 20 knights and several esquires, only about half of these knights and esquires will be militarily active with the rest fulfilling land management and administration roles. While the role of the militarily active knights is relatively obvious, being to lead the armies of their lord and to undertake general law enforcement duties, the role of the land management and administrative knights can be more complex. These knights and esquires can be placed in charge of a wide variety of tasks, from maintaining the lord’s treasury to overseeing a village or large public works project and often share law enforcement duties with the military knights. All the knights in a retinue are generally required, when their other duties allow, to accompany the noble to court, often forming the core of the noble’s own court, and to provide counsel. Within a retinue some of the most senior knights will be bannerets who have their own retinues, often of between three and five knights. Who becomes a banneret is at the discretion of their lord though the main rule is that to become a banneret a knight must on their income be able to support his retainers without assistance from his lord, though many nobles provide extra conditions on those wishing to become bannerets. It is also common for retinues of particularly religious nobles to have a priest or lay preacher to their retinues.
There are some knights who do not swear and oath to a lord, have separated from a lord for a myriad of reasons, or operate as independent bannerets collectively these are all known as independent knights and range the gamut from rich landowners to mercenaries to itinerant adventurers. Of the various types of independent knights the two most common in the Zabi Demesne are successful mercenaries and adventurers due to the martial nature of the Demesne.
There is only one knightly order currently in the Zabi Demesne, although the national orders have their presence of course. This knightly order, The Order of the Hare, was set up in the middle of the Zabi Civil War and is the only order to have survived the peace enforced by Lord Sasro Zabi.
Order of the Hare
The Order of the Hare takes its name from an even that occurred at the “Battle of Byron’s Field” when the Zabi and Seldon forces arrayed to do battle a hare ran between the two lines causing both sides to let out a mighty cheer. Mistaking this noise for the battle being joined the then Duke of Munzo, Lord Amuro Zabi, quickly knighted fourteen esquires. The battle did not take place and the knights were mockingly known as the Knights of the Hare, Lord Amuro set up a knightly order to maintain these knights, partly it is believed out of a sense of guilt. Over the course of the Civil War the order grew in numbers and prestige and were involved in many of the deciding battles of Lord Sasro’s era.
Admission into the Order of the Hare is at the sole discretion of the Dukes and is in most cases a reward for loyal service to the Demesne as a whole. There are three grades to the Order of the Hare, Knight Commander is a senior member of the Order, Knight is a general member, and Member is someone who was not an esquire yet still was rewarded for loyal service.