Medieval Knighting Ceremony of Edward the First

I researched high and low in order to get the ‘feel’ and splendor of the ancient ceremony of knighthood. Some ancients tracts say ‘this’ and others say ‘that’. By judicious study I feel I came up with the correct ‘feel’ for the subject and below is an extract from The King’s Jew – Book One when Edward is received into the order of Knights by Alfonso X at Burgos. As far as I can ascertain this is a pretty definitive version and I hope it gives an insight into the pomp and splendor of the day as our ‘hero’ Cristian Gilleson, companion to Edward witnesses the event from start to finish. To see more about the book please click here

Sunday. 1st November 1254.

All Saint’s Day

Hebrew: 19th Heshvan 5015.

Burgos. Castile Spain

With luck things would soon take a change for the better for today was the most important day in Edward’s life; he was to be initiated into the ranks of knighthood by Eleanor’s half-brother, King Alfonso X of Castile and perhaps then Edward would remember he was a man and stop acting like a love-sick youth.

The morning had started with a frenzy of activity, a far cry from the previous night which had been spent in prayer and contemplation – except for the times when Bartholomew Pecche and other notable Lords had left Edward to his own devices during which time Edward had sneaked off to the chamber of his new wife, not the slightest bit embarrassed by the coy glances of Eleanor’s handmaidens as he sought entry to his young bride, only to be hustled back a half hour later by a concerned Cristian – the Prince was supposed to be meditating on the duties and responsibilities of Knighthood, not snatching kisses from a girl.

Bartholomew Pecche’s stern visage hovered over the night’s proceedings as Edward took a ritual bath to wash away any sins he may have committed in his fifteen years on this earth. The Prince was then clothed in white garments and laid on a freshly made bed to ponder throughout the night on his knightly obligations.

As dawn spread over the hills Bishop Boniface had come to hear Edward’s final confession before the ceremonies began. Then more knights came to talk with Edward, to instil in him the gravity of the event. Cristian had sat on a chest in a corner of the room, eyes wide with wonderment and ears wide open as he stored wisdom away to use for another day; the day of his knighting whenever Edward decided that would be.

Edward looked the part, alert, freshly shaved, hair washed and cut, and anointed with sweet smelling potions that made Cristian sneeze. Servants brought breakfast of sweet spiced wines and freshly baked bread and the Prince and his advisors shared this meal then said their farewells until they met again in the Monastery of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas.

More servants enter carrying newly-made clothes and Cristian helped his friend to change into those he would wear for his ride to the monastery. When he is fully garbed Edward turns around and looks at Cristian saying,

“Well, do you approve? Am I not the best looking Prince in Burgos?”

Never being one to shrink from the truth Cristian nodded his head in agreement.

“Indeed, Lord,” he said with a mischievous grin, “but methinks you are the only Prince in Burgos.”

Edward made a move towards his friend as if he would wrestle him to the ground for his impudence but Cristian stepped nimbly away.

“Take care, my Prince. We do not want your fine clothes getting creased and torn do we?”

Edward continued his appraisal of himself and Cristian had to admit he looked magnificent in his scarlet robe draped beautifully over a white undershirt with matching black hose and shoes. Cristian knew the white shirt symbolized the hoped-for purity of Edward’s future and the scarlet symbolized the blood that he would shed for God and honour; the black hose and shoes representing the earth from which he came and the death of us all which we must prepare to face without fear.

When Edward and his party reached the castle courtyard an expectant hush descended on the assembled knights, squires, Lords and Barons assembled there. As ever Sir Bartholomew led the way and motioned Edward to a fine horse caparisoned in the colours and motifs of England and King Henry. A servant placed a padded stool on the ground but Edward leapt onto his charger effortlessly and the crowd erupted in cheers and shouts of encouragement as some of the castle workers began a slow dance accompanied by fast stamping of the feet and wild cries. Edward was just about to put spurs to his horse when Bartholomew stayed his hand and looked toward the castle entrance where a small palfrey had suddenly appeared. It was Eleanor dressed in blue, her shapely young head gilded by a fine golden circlet; she had come to escort her new husband to the ceremony and Edward was both moved and shocked by her appearance for he had no prior knowledge of it.

All the company were now mounted and four horsemen rode up, two on each side of Edward, their long lances supporting a cloth of gold that hovered above the Prince like a veil from heaven. Bartholomew raised his arm and the horses walked slowly through and out of the gates and down to the Monastery. Eleanor’s horse fell in beside Edward’s and, hand in hand they rode together towards Edward’s destiny.

All along the dusty road people sang and cheered their Princess and her husband the young Prince of England who, with God’s help, would one day be crowned King.

The monastery chapel was almost full to overflowing with the brave knights and nobles gathered to witness this holy occasion when Boniface, the overweight Savoyard Bishop of Canterbury puffed his way slowly up the altar steps dressed in his full regalia of mitre, cope and flowing robes.

Lying on the altar were the symbols of Edward’s knighthood; a beautifully wrought double-edged sword glittering and shimmering in the light streaming through the ornate window glass whose colours enhanced the majesty and power of the blade that contrasted with the dull brown leather hilt and black iron pommel.  King Henry had paid a colossal sum to provide his son with such a magnificent weapon. Next to this was an ornate full-face helm polished mirror-bright by many hours of rubbing with sharp sand by a master armourer. The helm incorporated the three lions picked out in gold atop of which was a burnished circlet of silver denoting the status of the wearer. Lying next to these precious artefacts was a casket containing a piece of the true cross, a holy relic to bear testament to the solemn nature of the proceedings and strengthen the vows and promises of the participant.

On the left of the altar table  were a pair of golden spurs, on the right a golden finely-worked chain, the links measuring a half inch wide and half as thick, beside this a plain white linen belt.

Bishop Boniface paused, bowing to the assembly as a priest took the crook from his outstretched hand. A deeper bow towards King Alfonso acknowledged him as the highest in the company after God. The bishop motioned the King to approach the altar and stand by his side then grasping the sword in both hands he held it aloft intoning a prayer.

“Grant, we beseech thee oh Lord, Your blessing on this holy sword that your servant, Edward, wishes to wear and use in your service. Bestow on him the power of your love that he may wield it righteously for the protection of your Holy church, the good of the poor, the protection of women and those too weak to take up arms on your behalf. We do pray this blade strike down your enemies bringing death and destruction to all pagans that dwell in the dark recesses hiding from your munificence. Let your hand guide his in the prosecution of his enemies and aid him in the defence of all that he holds dear. Amen.”

He placed the sword reverently on the altar and grasping the helm turned once more to face the congregation saying,

“Grant, Heavenly Father, Lord God, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit, that this armour be strengthened by your love and protect the wearer from his enemies, both spiritual and temporal that he may overcome your foes and his own for the glory of God. Amen.”

The Bishop then nodded in the direction of Sir Bartholomew Pecche who stepped forward to address the King.

“My Lord King Alfonso, in my capacity of liege knight to my King Henry and that of my Lord Edward, I do beg the boon of knighthood for my Lord and do ask that my noble Lords and knights here present be asked to pronounce on my request.”

Alfonso gazed around the assembly,

“Is there any man here present who objects to the candidate Lord Edward of Gascony fair Prince of England?”

You could have heard a pin drop, even those gathered outside in the monastery gardens seemed to hold their breath and those stood in the knight’s chancel had ceased their restless rustlings.

Alfonso’s sharp, dark eyes looked from Bartholomew to the Bishop and thence to the assembled Lords,

“All in favour of admitting this noble Lord to our august company say aye.”

As the sounds of assent echoed round the church Sir Bartholomew hushed them all by saying,

“Summon Lord Edward to this Holy place.”

Suddenly the chapel resounded to the sound of tambourines, drums, flutes and dancers that swept into the holy place in a cacophony of noise. The ranks of the congregation parted to make way for the maelstrom of merrymaking and, following behind the gaudily dressed throng, came four squires chanting the titles held by Edward as they led him towards King Alfonso who thanked them and when the minstrels had finished their lays he dismissed them from the company.

Edward knelt before the King. Cristian, standing in the third row, realised a gulf was opening between them as his friend knelt in such splendour before him. Surely Cristian could never attain such a hallowed position.

Sir Bartholomew Pecche now stood to the left of Alfonso with the splendid sword gripped in his right hand and resting on his left forearm and declaimed on the significance of the sword,

“This double-edged sword kills and wounds with both edges, and its point can end life. The sword is your most gallant weapon; it serves in three ways just as you must do.  You will defend the church, killing and wounding those who oppose it. You must also defend the poor and weak against the powerful influence of the rich. Just as a sword pierces, likewise you must pierce the bodies of heretics and villains, attacking them without mercy wherever you find them.

“The pommel symbolizes the world, for a knight is obliged to defend his King. The guard symbolizes the cross, on which Our Redeemer died to preserve mankind, and every true knight should do likewise, braving death to preserve his brethren. Should you perish in the attempt, your soul will fly straight to heaven.”

The sword was handed reverently to Bishop Boniface who blessed it and returned it to the altar.

King Alfonso’s champion knight now stepped to the altar and turned holding the white belt, as he explained its meaning,

“This sword belt tells another story and if you deny its meaning then God will surely punish you for just as you carry your sword bound to your body, so you must be girded with chastity, keeping yourself only to your given wife; its colour, white, signifying purity and truth. Remember this always”

Cristian was convinced he saw Edward smile at the idea of keeping close to his ‘given wife’; he couldn’t keep away from her! The belt was again blessed by the Bishop.

A Gascon knight now stepped forward and retrieved the spurs from the altar. Holding one in each hand he addressed Edward.

“A knight’s golden spurs symbolize many things. By placing the precious metal at your feet, close to the earth we walk upon, you show your contempt for worldly wealth. You are duty bound to commit no evil that may bring disgrace on our knightly order. These spurs are sharp, they will goad your steed just as you must urge others towards good deeds and make yourself feared by the wicked.”

The spurs were blessed and passed to two knights from England who held them close to their chests at the altar side.

Finally William de Beauchamp stepped forward to retrieve the chain, and turning to Edward said,

“The golden chain of a knight symbolizes the chain of fealty that binds him to his King. The chain is made of the purest of all metals, gold, and is made without end symbolizing the pure and eternal nature of the bond of fealty. I and all assembled here do urge you to remember this day and these gifts and to live your life according to the Holy tenets of the Church and our sacred order of knighthood.”

King Alfonso now addressed Edward and a flash of annoyance crossed his bearded face as the sounds of song could be heard from without.

“For what purpose, Lord Edward, do you wish to join our company of knights? I command you to speak in all honesty and reflect on your reasons, for if riches, comfort and honour are your desires, then you are unworthy.”

Edward took a deep breath before replying,

“I desire to be a knight that I might serve my God, honour my King and love my Lady wife to the best of my abilities.”

A round of cheering followed this remark which Bishop Boniface silenced with a look as he signalled Edward to rise.

It was then that Edward’s new wife Eleanor walked slowly and regally through the assembly towards the candidate. She came to his side and Cristian saw such a look of love pass between the young couple that his warrior heart all but melted at the sight. Even the hardened knights of four countries could see the show of devotion in the couple. Bishop Boniface harrumphed loudly and King Alfonso smiled at the match he had made for his half-sister who he held in such high regard.

Edward turned to Eleanor and held his arms above his head as she removed the scarlet robe.  Eleanor placed upon him a herigaut of blue velvet lined with linen that signified the colour of servitude for Edward was about to become the servant of the King. Amidst much fussing and pulling accompanied by girlish giggles Edward stood newly garbed.

The four knights that had officiated then approached to place the regalia of knighthood on him and when the belt, chain, spurs and sword had all been placed on his body and Edward resumed his kneeling position King Alfonso administered the Colee by tapping him on the shoulders with the flat of his sword saying,

“In the name of God, I create thee knight. Be valiant, fearless, and loyal.”

He then struck Edward on the face and taking Edward’s two hands in his swore an oath of peace to which in reply Edward swore an oath of fealty to Alfonso.

The King then lifted Edward to his feet and bade him greet his fellow knights as an equal. A huge cheer rolled around the chapel to be taken up by the people in the corridors and all those in the monastery gardens and those without the walls. The sound echoed as far as the castle over a mile away.”


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