What Does It Mean to “Be Knighted”?

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Sir William Lucas has been knighted by the King for his service as to Meryton. But what exactly does it mean to be knighted?

David I of Scotland knighting a squire Unknown - http://manuscriptminiatures.com/3913/14012/ ~ Public Domain

David I of Scotland knighting a squire
Unknown – http://manuscriptminiatures.com/3913/14012/ ~ Public Domain

Knighthoods likely date back to ancient Rome. At that time there existed an order of mounted nobles referred to as Ordo Equestris. Knights became the standard of military excellence in European countries. Each “knight” practiced a strict military training from the time he was but a youth. He often learned his trade by serving as an “esquire” to a knight during war years. He would be expected to embrace the strictures of chivalry: generosity, bravery, self-denial, fighting skills, and faithfulness. He would also be expected to maintain the expenses of his trade: arms, armor, horses, assistants, etc., as well to provide followers who would also take arms in service to the King/Queen. Knights were not born; they had to receive their position at the disposal of their Sovereign.  Some of the kings of England were knighted after coming to the throne; they included: William I, Edward III, Henry VII, and Edward VI. (The Monarchy Today)

Strict religious rites were involved in the conferment of a knighthood. Those who received early knighthoods were expected to fast, to maintain a vigil, to bathe, to make a confession, and be granted absolution before the ceremony. Many received their knighthood as part of their military service. The person receiving the knighthood would kneel before the Royal commander of the army  and “dubbed” a knight by the touch of a sword upon the back and shoulders and the words “Advances Chevalier au nom de Dieu.” Starting with Henry VIII, the number of people who received knighthoods greatly diminished. “Eventually, it became the custom for monarchs to confer all knighthoods personally, unless this was quite impracticable. In a ceremony of knighting, the knight-elect kneels on a knighting-stool in front of The Queen, who then lays the sword blade on the knight’s right and then left shoulder. After he has been dubbed, the new knight stands up, and The Queen invests the knight with the insignia of the Order to which he has been appointed, or the Badge of a Knight Bachelor. Contrary to popular belief, the words ‘Arise, Sir…’ are not used. (The Monarchy Today

The Steps of Knighthood Picture #88009702 | Blingee.com blingee.com

The Steps of Knighthood Picture #88009702 | Blingee.com

“Since 1917, the British government has been awarding notable citizens with spots in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Although the Order was originally meant to honor top-notch civilian and military behavior during war, it quickly expanded to include peacetime achievements as well. The Order has five separate ranks: Knight Grand Cross (Dame Grand Cross for women), Knight Commander (Dame Commander), Commander, Officer, and Member. Achieving one of the first two ranks earns a person a slot in the knighthood, which means they can add ‘Sir’ or ‘Dame’ to their names. All members of the Order of the British Empire can add the initials of their rank to the end of their names, though, which is why you sometimes read about celebrities with ranks following their names, like ‘Roger Daltrey, CBE.’” (Mental Floss)

“What are the benefits of being a knight [in present time]? You don’t get to joust or wear armor, but you do pick up a few unusual garments. Knights and Dames Grand Cross get to wear special gear to formal events like coronations. This getup includes a pink-with-gray-edges satin mantle and a collar of six gold medallions. All members of the Order are allowed to wear the group’s badge. The badge is basically a cross hanging from a pink ribbon with gray edges, although various ranks wear their badges in unique ways. Members and Officers simply wear their badges like military medals pinned to their chests, while higher-ups wear theirs on sashes or around their necks. Other benefits include getting a spot in the British order of precedence, the arcane system that develops the hierarchy of ceremonial importance for things like state dinners. Furthermore, knights win their wives the right to be called ‘Lady,’ and Knights and Dames Grand Cross can modify their coats of arms to reflect the honor.” (Mental Floss)

“If we begin at the bottom rung of the ladder, the lowliest person of title amongst Jane Austen’s people, we must choose Sir William Lucas who had been knighted during his mayoralty, a practice which still obtains. The “Lord” mayor of London, for example, is always knighted. Knighthoods are bestowed for eminence or success in one’s field: Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Francis Austen.

“A knight is always addressed and referred to as Sir Firstname. Nothing more. This is not disrespect, but correct and proper usage. Sir Yehudi, Sir Winston, Sir Francis. Never, never, Sir Menuhin, Sir Churchill or Sir Austen. Wives of knights, on the other hand, are always addressed as Lady Husband’s Lastname: Lady Menuhin, Lady Churchill, Lady Austen. A knight’s title is not inherited. The young Lucas who would drink a bottle of wine a day if he were as rich as Mr. Darcy will never be Sir Firstname Lucas. If writing a letter to a knight and his first name is not known, the address is Sir – Lastname. Never, never Sir Lastname. These are things that used to be learned at one’s mother’s knee. All these forms of address apply equally to baronets, who are the next rung up the titled ladder.” (JASNA)

“Sir William Lucas had been formerly in trade in Meryton, where he had made a tolerable fortune, and risen to the honour of knighthood by an address to the king during his mayoralty. The distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly. It had given him a disgust to his business, and to his residence in a small market town; and, in quitting them both, he had removed with his family to a house about a mile from Meryton, denominated from that period Lucas Lodge, where he could think with pleasure of his own importance, and, unshackled by business, occupy himself solely in being civil to all the world. For, though elated by his rank, it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he was all attention to everybody. By nature inoffensive, friendly, and obliging, his presentation at St. James’s had made him courteous (19-20 beginning of ch. 5).

“Though Knights are very romantic and heroic characters throughout history, the Knighthood of Sir William Lucas works differently. Whereas Kinghts used to be born into nobility and trained to protect their feudal lords, in the 19th century, knighthoods were purchased as a symbol of status.

“In the case of Sir William, he spent all of his money on the title, then felt too good for his job in the city and moved into ‘Lucas Lodge.’ The irony in the purchase of his knighthood was that he spent all of his money on the title, and caused his family to be relatively poor because of it. Though he now has the symbol of status that Knighthood represents, he no longer has the wealth that is associated with this status. This was a selfish and vain decision by Sir William, because he sacrificed the comfort and security of his family as well as lowering the possibility of marrying off his daughters in order to boost his personal pride. (WHSHBLJaneAusten)

How did knighthoods work during the Regency Period? During the Regent’s years, Prince George’s powers to bestow titles were limited by Parliament. Such was one of the conditions of making naming him as Regent, so honors had to be approved by Parliament. It was assumed that Prince George would name a large number of Whig peers.

In reality, the Regent’s powers to grant peerages, as well as confer government offices and

The Age of Chivalry - CDA's World History Wiki cdaworldhistory.wikidot. com

The Age of Chivalry – CDA’s World History Wiki

pensions, was only restricted for the first year of his Regency. After 6 February 1812, the first anniversary of Prince George becoming Regent, he gained full power to grant any honors he chose.

Prinny could award titles during the Regency, but as mentioned above he was expected to have Parliament’s okay  (as with the current monarch, who can only bestow titles with Parliament’s approval). In 1820, Prince George was not crowned until mid July. Therefore, no baronies were created in 1820. One may view a list of what was created during the Regency and from 1821 and on HERE .

For information on knights invested By George IV, try: The Knights of England: A Complete Record from the Earliest Time by William Arthur Shaw, with information on investures from that book is HERE.

There is not just one type of knight. More information is HERE.

About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in Anglo-Normans, British history, Great Britain, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, real life tales, Regency era, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to What Does It Mean to “Be Knighted”?

  1. Jennifer Redlarczyk says:

    So now I want your take on Sir Lewis de Bourgh. Thanks, Jen

    • Sir Lewis was a baronet, not a knight, Jennifer, and so there are some distinct differences in their status in Society. King James I created the hereditary Order of Baronets in England on 22 May 1611. European Heraldry has a list of all the baronets (even those extant titles). http://www.europeanheraldry.org/united-kingdom/england/baronetage-england/baronetage-england-16/ Here is a History of the Baronetage on Google books: http://archive.org/stream/baronetageengla00unkngoog#page/n6/mode/2up I did some research for a scene in The Darcy Brothers where Anne De Bourgh could inherit her father’s property until she married or had a son who would then be the recipient of the title. The scene was never published because the others involved wished to take the story in a different direction, but it is possible for a female to inherit a baronetage. Some were not removed from the female line when they were created. A baronet (abbreviated Bart or Bt) or the rare female equivalent, a baronetess (abbreviation Btss), is the holder of a baronetcy, an hereditary title awarded by the British Crown. The baronetcy is the only British hereditary honour which is not a peerage, with the exception of the Anglo-Irish Black Knight, White Knight, and Green Knight (of which only the Green Knight is still extant). A baronet is addressed as “Sir” like a knight (or “Dame” for a baronetess), but ranks above all knighthoods and damehoods except for the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Thistle. However, the baronetage, as a class, are considered to rank above the knightage. A baronetcy does not confer nobility, and is not a knighthood, and the recipient does not receive an accolade. The Baronetage is of far more ancient origin than many people may think. The term baronet is believed to have been first applied to nobility who for one reason or another had lost the right of summons to Parliament. The earliest mention of baronets was in the Battle of Barrenberg [sic], in 1321. There is a further mention of them in 1328 when Edward III is known to have created eight baronets. Further creations were made in 1340, 1446 and 1551. At least one of these, Sir William de la Pole in 1340, was created for payment of money, presumably expended by the King to help maintain his army. It is not known if these early creations were hereditary but all seem to have died out. Under the two Royal Warrants of 1612 and 1613 issued by James I certain privileges were accorded to baronets of England. Firstly, no person or persons should have place between baronets and the younger sons of peers. Secondly, the right of knighthood was established for the eldest sons of baronets (this was to be revoked by George IV in 1827), and thirdly, baronets were allowed to add the Arms of Ulster as an inescutcheon to their armorial bearings. This last consisted of “in a field Argent, a hand Geules, or a bloudy hand”. These privileges were extended to baronets of Ireland and, less the Arms of Ulster, to baronets of Scotland. They continue to this day for all baronets of Great Britain and the United Kingdom created subsequently. Unlike knighthoods—which apply to an individual only—a baronetcy is hereditary. The eldest son of a baronet who is born in wedlock succeeds to the baronetcy upon his father’s death, but he will not be officially recognised until his name is on the Roll. With a few exceptions granted at creation by special remainder in the Letters Patent, baronetcies can be inherited only by or through males. Letters patent (always in the plural) are a type of legal instrument in the form of a published written order issued by a monarch, president or other head of state, generally granting an office, right, monopoly, title, or status to a person or corporation. Letters patent can be used for the creation of corporations or government offices, or for the granting of city status or a coat of arms. Letters patent are issued for the appointment of representatives of the Crown, such as Governors and Governors-General of Commonwealth realms, as well as appointing a Royal Commission. Although rare, it would have been possible for Anne’s husband or her sons to inherit her father’s property. Note these Special Remainders for Baronetages: (These are real situations.) Some are presented through the female line.
      Baronetcies with special remainders
      Baronetcies usually descend to heirs male of the body of the grantee, and thus cannot be inherited by females or collateral kins. However, some baronetcies were created with special remainders, for example:

      with remainder to heirs male forever (Broun Baronetcy, of Colstoun (1686), Hay Baronetcy, of Alderston (1703), etc.)
      with remainder to the sons of the grantee’s daughters, and the heirs male of their bodies (Hicking, later North Baronetcy, of Southwell (1920), etc.)
      with remainder to the grantee’s daughter’s son (Amcotts Baronetcy, of Kettlethorp (1796), etc.)
      with remainder to the grantee’s son-in-law (Middleton, later Noel Baronetcy, of the Navy (1781), Rich Baronetcy, of London (1676), etc.)
      with remainder to the grantee’s brother(s) (Chapman Baronetcy of Killua Castle (1782), Pigot Baronetcy, of Patshull (1764), etc.)
      with remainder, in default of male issue of the grantee, to the grantee’s brothers and to the grantee’s father’s second cousin, and the heirs male of their bodies (Robinson Baronetcy, of Rokeby Park (1730))
      with remainder to tailzie succeeding the grantee in the estate ( Dalyell Baronetcy, of the Binns (1685))
      with remainder specifically excluded the grantee’s eldest son (Stonhouse Baronetcy, of Radley (1628))

      The barony also has examples of females inheriting, In the peerages of the British Isles, most titles have traditionally been created for men and with remainder to male heirs. However, some titles are created with special remainders to allow women to inherit them. Some of the oldest English baronies were created by writ and pass to female heirs when a peer dies with daughters and no sons, while some titles are created with a man’s family in mind, if he is without sons and unlikely to produce any. The following is a list of women who have inherited titles with the British peerages. Go to this Wikipedia page to see a list of such titles: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_peerages_inherited_by_women

  2. junewilliams7 says:

    Wow, I didn’t realize Sir William had to purchase his knightgood; I thought it was given to him – risen to the honour of knighthood by an address to the king. Well, it figures…. Prinny was always in need of money. But that really did put his family in poor shape; sounds like Lucas Lodge didn’t come with farmland for income Thank you for the enlightening post!

    • Many think “risen to the honour of knighthood by an address to the king,” means Sir William was noticed by a public official and his service reported to the king, but a “knighthood” as think of it was service to King or Country. Being the mayor of Meryton would not necessarily bring such notice. And as George III was more than a bit batty at the time, those conditions would be circumspect at best. I suspect what Sir William received was what is now known as a Knight Bachelor.

  3. Sophia Rose says:

    I had the same reaction as June. I thought it was bestowed and he lost his money because he left his money source behind to buy Lucas Lodge. Though, I suppose if he had some farm land maybe he could regroup. That was a vain decision indeed. Thanks for the further insight into the knighthood.

  4. Diana Wilder says:

    Very enjoyable! I remember, studying European history, a professor talking about the varying ‘ranks’ in English nobility, and the real prestige attached to some of them. The example he gave was the Dukes of Devonshire and Lord Stanley. The Devonshire Dukedom was created in 1694 and awarded to the Earl of Devonshire, the title created in 1618. Lord Stanley, on the other hand is a lower title but an older one by 200 years. I suspect the Devonshires might disagree, but my professor seemed to think the Stanleys were more substantial. Being a Ricardian, I’m not so sure.

    • Such distinctions adds a whole new realm to the historical romance novels. One could certainly create a “juicy” scene with a baron of a longer held title claiming dominance over a newly minted marquess, for earl, for example. LOL!

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