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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.
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.
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.