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What is a Squire?

A squire in medieval times was a young apprentice to a knight, learning the ways of chivalry, combat, and courtly manners. This role was a crucial step towards knighthood, blending education with service. As squires grew, they carried their lords' shields, cared for armor, and prepared for their own moment of valor. How did this tradition shape the knights of old?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The meaning of the term “squire” has shifted greatly over the centuries. When people use this term in reference to historical squires, they are usually talking about the apprentices who served knights on the way to their own knighthoods. In the modern sense, a squire is a member of the landowning gentry in England; the term is also sometime used in familiar slang, generally in an ironic sense.

Historical squires were young men, usually around the age of 12 or 13, who were interested in becoming knights. Initially such men worked as pages, glorified messenger boys who would carry messages, serve at the table, and perform an assortment of other menial tasks. While working as a page, a prospective knight would also begin training in the use of weapons, often absorbing this knowledge while watching the practice of older pages, squires, and knights.

Squires served knights as pages and servants in exchange for military training.
Squires served knights as pages and servants in exchange for military training.

Once a page had reached an appropriate age or level of training, he would be promoted to a squire. Squires acted as personal attendants for knights; they were also known as men-at-arms. A squire was responsible for keeping a knight's armor, weapons, and other supplies in good order. Squires also accompanied their knights on journeys to ensure that their needs were met, and in return for their service, they were offered advice and training. Squires also had the symbolic duty of carrying the knight's shield.

Squires were entitled to their own coats of arms.
Squires were entitled to their own coats of arms.

Once a squire was trained enough, he would have an opportunity to qualify as a knight. If he was deemed suitable for knighthood, he would begin a career, and sometimes be assigned a squire of his own. As a general rule, squires were members of the nobility, and part of a long tradition of learning through service, with an emphasis on using actual experience, rather than classroom learning, to educate young men and women who wished to pursue careers.

In the Middle Ages, the concept of knighthood began to shift. Formerly, knights were simply well-trained warriors who fought for specific lords. In the Middle Ages, however, knighthood came to be a conferred rank granted by the king, as part of an overall shift meant to centralize power in the hands of the monarch, rather than allowing regional lords to maintain their own private armies. Because knighthood was no longer an automatic rank, the squire came to be recognized as a distinct social rank, and squires were entitled to privileges like their own coats of arms.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the historical role of a squire in medieval society?

A squire was a young man in medieval Europe who aspired to become a knight. Typically, squires were of noble birth and served as an attendant to a knight before earning their own knighthood. Their duties included caring for the knight's armor and horses, accompanying them in battles, and learning the code of chivalry and the art of warfare. The role of a squire was a crucial step in the social and military training of the nobility during the Middle Ages.

At what age did one typically become a squire, and how long did the training last?

Boys usually became squires at the age of 14, after serving as a page from around the age of 7. The training to become a knight was rigorous and could last until the squire reached the age of 21. During this period, they would learn horsemanship, weaponry, and the codes of conduct expected of a knight. The exact duration of training could vary based on individual ability and the discretion of the knight-master.

How did the role of a squire evolve over time?

Over time, the role of a squire evolved with changes in military technology and social structures. Initially, squires were integral to the feudal system, but as professional armies became more common and the importance of heavy cavalry declined, the traditional path of the squire diminished. By the late medieval period, the title 'squire' became more of a social rank rather than a step towards knighthood, often associated with landowners or local leaders.

What were the educational aspects of a squire's training?

The education of a squire was multifaceted, including both martial and courtly training. They learned combat skills such as jousting, swordsmanship, and archery, as well as the strategies of warfare. Additionally, squires were taught the social graces expected of a knight, including dancing, music, and the art of conversation. They were also instructed in the moral and ethical codes of chivalry, which emphasized honor, bravery, and courtesy.

Did squires participate in battles, and what was their role during warfare?

Yes, squires did participate in battles alongside their knight-masters. Their role during warfare was multifaceted: they served as armor-bearers, assisted in arming the knight, cared for the horses, and carried messages between commanders. In the heat of battle, squires often fought as light cavalry or infantry. Their battlefield experience was a critical component of their training and a proving ground for their eventual knighthood.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

lluviaporos

I used to love the idea of being a squire when I was a kid. I read a lot of books about it, although mostly fiction books.

One really good series for girls who are interested in this kind of thing are The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce.

This is a series of four books that follow a girl who pretends to be a boy so she can train as a knight. It's the first series in a bigger group of books based in that world.

It goes into detail about the training she has to do, like different kinds of fighting, literacy, government and history, horse riding, marksmanship and so on.

I loved these books and maybe your kids will love them too.

indigomoth

@anon75446 - The squire was supposed to protect the knight if the knight was in trouble, so yes they did carry weapons. They'd also have to just generally get used to carrying weapons, and using them as well.

I think they were supposed to carry a sword, a knife (most people back then would have carried knives anyway) and maybe a bow and arrow.

Although the bow and arrows might just as easily be used to hunt, rather than as weapons.

I think the main weapon that was for knights only was a lance.

I read an article about squires who couldn't really afford to become knights, or who grew too old to be knights and they were often given a lesser title and allowed to carry a lance, which implies that they weren't allowed to when they were still only a squire.

Although I think a lance is mostly a ceremonial weapon used in tourneys, so there wouldn't be all that much point in being able to use one as a squire anyway.

anon75446

Did the squire have any weapons of his own?

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    • Squires served knights as pages and servants in exchange for military training.
      By: Karen Hadley
      Squires served knights as pages and servants in exchange for military training.
    • Squires were entitled to their own coats of arms.
      By: Renars2014
      Squires were entitled to their own coats of arms.