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What is a Squire?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By 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.

Discussion Comments
By lluviaporos — On Jun 26, 2011

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.

By indigomoth — On Jun 24, 2011

@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.

By anon75446 — On Apr 06, 2010

Did the squire have any weapons of his own?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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