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?
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)
“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
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.