Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, had quite a string of bastards, but only one legitimate son, who would later be known as Charles the Bold. The latter’s mother, Isabel of Portugal, cherished him. He was the only son she had who survived beyond infancy.
Charles would later on prove to be a very skilled tactician and fighter. Yet, at the prime age of seventeen, he still pretty much had everything to prove. No surprise there, young noble lads were only supposed to start their proper military training between fourteen and sixteen years old. They usually didn’t launch their chivalrous career before they reached eighteen.
Nevertheless, as Charles was in Brussels with his father and mother, it was decided he would engage in his very first official jousting event. That was well beyond what was expected from someone his age.
One question was on every lips. Who would face the heir apparent to Philip the Good, the mightiest Duke of Christendom? It had to be an honourable knight, for sure. Yes, well, certainly someone of note!
After much deliberation, it was concluded that the young Charles would face Jacques de Lalaing, the most adored knight of the court, but not only that, Jacques was the best knight of his time. His skills were so unparalleled that no-one, in the whole kingdom of France, dared to challenge him when he had called out for people to meet him on knightly venues.
Jacques de Lalaing had had to go all the way to Spain to find worthy opponents!
That day on
the Grand’Place of Brussels, which was very different to the one we know today —for
the French hadn’t bombarded it yet—, Charles of Burgundy met Jacques of Lalaing
on the jousting field.
Jacques of Lalaing was a careful man. On the first charge he didn’t lower his spear, yet the heir of Burgundy shattered his on Jacques’ shield. When he witnessed such a thing, Philip the Good was much displeased. “Don’t spare my son, go at it!” The Duchess Isabel didn’t like such an idea. On one hand she wanted her son to be safe. Jousts were not always the merriest business. On the other hand the Duke wished his son to prove his strength. The noble couple argued. Nevertheless, Jacques of Lalaing fulfilled his Lord’s wishes. The second time he charged the young Charles, he lowered his spears. The heir of Burgundy showed no fear. Both spears shattered on Charles’ and Jacques’ mutual shields. None of them fell from his steed. Philip the Good gloated with pride and everybody applauded at Charles’ prowess, happy to see that their Duke had a strong and healthy successor.
Philippe le Bon, duc de Bourgogne, eut une ribambelle de bâtards.
Toutefois, il n’eut qu’un seul fils légitime – que l’on surnomme aujourd’hui
Charles le Téméraire. La mère de ce dernier, Isabelle de Portugal, le
chérissait particulièrement. Deux de ses fils étaient morts en bas âge, Charles
était le seul à avoir survécu.
De son vivant, l’héritier de Philippe le Bon démontra à
maintes reprises ses talents de combattant et de tacticien. Néanmoins, au jeune
âge de dix-sept ans, il avait encore tout à prouver. Alors qu’il se trouvait à
Bruxelles avec son père et sa mère, il fut décidé qu’il se lancerait dans sa
première joute officielle. Une question pendit toutefois à toutes les lèvres.
Qui aurait l’honneur de l’affronter en premier ? Ce devrait être un preux
chevalier, quelqu’un de remarquable. Après moult délibérations, il fut arrangé
que le jeune Charles affronterait Jacques de Lalaing en personne, le chevalier
le plus adoré de la cour de Bourgogne, un chevalier tel qu’aucun, en France, n’avait
osé relever ses défis. Il avait dû se rendre jusqu’en Espagne pour trouver des adversaires
dignes de l’affronter. Enfin, donc, Charles de Bourgogne rencontra Jacques de
Lalaing sur la Grand’Place de Bruxelles, prêt à en découdre.
Jacques de Lalaing était un homme prudent. Quand il chargea la première fois, il ne baissa pas sa lance, bien que celle du jeune héritier de Bourgogne se rompît sur son écu. Quand il constata la chose, le duc de Bourgogne s’avéra bien mécontent. « N’épargne pas mon fils, va donc ! » La duchesse Isabelle n’appréciait guère une telle idée. Elle eût préféré que son fils restât en parfaite sécurité, mais le son époux désirait que son fils prouvât sa valeur. Le noble couple se disputa. Cependant, au second envol, Jacques de Lalaing respecta les vœux de son suzerain et abaissa sa lance. L’héritier de Bourgogne de montra aucun signe de faiblesse. Les deux lances se rompirent sur les boucliers respectifs de Charles et Jacques. Aucun d’eux ne chut de son destrier. Philippe le Bon exulta de fierté et tout le monde applaudit la prouesse du jeune Charles, bien heureux d’observer que le duc avait pour lui succéder un héritier aussi vaillant qu’en parfaite santé !
Source: Olivier de la Marche, Mémoires. Edited by Henri Beaune & J. d’Arbaumont. Paris: Renouard, 1883-1888. Cf. t. 2, p. 214-215.
I really wanted to answer to that question on the AskHistorians subreddit. For two reasons: first, the scene referred to in the question really struck my feelings when I watched it because of how well acted and written it was; second, I had the knowledge and the necessary books at my disposal to answer in a fashion that would respect the AskHistorians community rules and expectations. Enjoy!
The Very Short Version
answer is that any knight could dub a squire to elevate him to knighthood. The
long answer offers more contrast. The dubbing ceremony came into fashion in the
11th century. Originally it constituted in very little: a lord gave
arms and armours to his vassals to help him into battle. This would also serve
as a rite of passage into adulthood and to some extent, we can trace that rite
all the way back to Germanic tribes (Keen, 1984, 66-67).
Early Mass Promotions to Knighthood
In the 12th
century we observe ceremonies of mass promotions to knighthood. Therefore the
knight becomes really distinct from the vassal. The dubbing ceremony gains in
complexity and the multiplication of knights give them the feeling to belong to
a social order apart from the rest of society. The techniques of warfare would
however evolve drastically from the 13th to the 15th
century. Crossbow became deadlier and firearms made their introduction. The
knights therefore improved their physical protection and adopted the plate
armour, which kept on being improved generation after generation.
Only the Best and Wealthiest
To be made
a knight became a very pricy thing. Moreover the idea of knighthood was the
object of more and more sophisticated theories. The behaviour expected from a
knight, in and out of the battlefield, was codified to an extent that made it
impossible for anyone to be randomly dubbed. At this point, I’d like to quote
the Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval
Warfare and Military Technology (2010, vol. 2, p. 468-469):
All knights were warriors, but not all warriors were knights. […] The concept of the knight as a distinct elite group of warriors began to emerge in the eleventh century. The words used to designate members of this group indicate that the origins of this class lay with the armed and mounted servants who formed a lord’s entourage, or comitatus. The latin word used for a knight from the eleventh century on was ‘miles,’ which in classical Latin meant a soldier and by the tenth century a servant. […] As church attitudes toward violence changed and certain sorts of warfare became theologically acceptable, the warrior rose in status, provided he fought for the right cause. Kings and other rulers made increasing use of knights as administrators. […] Knights regarded knighthood as a separate order in society. Knightly status became a sort of institution, with its own literature, ideals of behaviour, and rituals, such as the tournament and the ceremony of dubbing into knighthood. Initially, dubbing was simply a ceremony in which the lord presented his warriors with weapons and armor, but during the twelfth century the ceremony expanded to include a blessing of the new knight’s sword. […] As the defining characteristics of knighthood developed, the numbers of those entering this elite class of men declined. By the mid-thirteenth century in England and northern France, warriors of lesser means could no longer afford to undergo the public ritual that would make them knights. The social expectations of knights and the public responsibilities that they were expected to take on exceeded their means. Knighthood became an exclusive caste, limited to those who were descended from knights and had the means to maintain the status.
A Knight Always Pays his Debts
became a capital requirement for anyone to be elevated to knighthood. In a 15th
century manuscript that describe how emperors and kings must be enthroned to
power, we also find a paragraph on the making of knights (Paris,
BnF, MS fr. 5930, f. 3r-4v):
Comment se doit faire ung chevalier
Escuier quant il a bien voyagie et esté en plusieurs fais d’armes et qu’il a bien de quoy maintenir | son estat ou qu’il soit de grant hostel et de riche et qu’il se tienne en une rencontre ou bataille doit adviser le chief ou ung vaillant chevalier de la compaignie et lors doit venir à luy et lui demander et requérir chevalerie ou nom de Dieu et de saint Gorge. Et celui doit tirer son espee et le doit faire chevalier en disant : « Je te fay chevalier ou nom de Dieu et de saint Gorge, pour la foy et justice loyaulment garder, et à juste querelle soustenir loyaulment à ton povoir, en gardant l’Eglise, femmes, veusves et orphelins. » Et s’il advient qu’il soit noble homme ou vaillant et qu’il soit povre, le prince ne le doit laisser estre fait chevalier s’il ne lui donne de quoy il se puisse vivre honnestement pour l’onneur de l’ordre de chevalerie
How to dub a knight
When a squire has travelled much and been part of feats, if he has enough to provide for himself or if he is part of a great and wealthy house, he must advise his commander or a valiant knight at the beginning of a battle and request to be dubbed in the name of God and saint George. The latter must then draw out his sword and say: “I elevate you to knighthood in the name of God and Saint George, so that you would loyally defend the faith, fight honourable causes, and protect the Church, women, widows and orphans.” If the squire is a noble or valiant man but has no money for himself, the prince must not let him be elevated to knighthood unless he grants him enough to live a decent life.
Who’s Knighting Who?
also confirms that any knight could dub a squire. However, as Keen notes, “We
have noticed in many early texts the anxiety of aspirant knights to receive
knighthood at the hands of some lord of particular distinction or repute. In
the later middle ages a still more particular dignity was associated with
receiving knighthood at the hands of one who had established a name for himself
as a knight of prowess by deeds recognised as outstanding.” (Keen, 1984, 77) My
personal favourite promotion to knighthood is the one held for Philip the Good,
Duke of Burgundy. Since his father had passed away, he turned to the most
skilled, feared and respected knight of his court: John of Luxembourg, lord of
I will translate Chastellain directly on that one: “The Duke required the order of knighthood to John of Luxembourg while riding next to him, showing no emotion and talking in a cold manner, handing to the latter his sword: ‘Dear cousin, in the name of God I ask of you to grant me the title of knight.’ The foresaid Luxembourg received the request as a high mark of honour. He dubbed him, saying: ‘My Lord, in the name of God and Saint George, I elevate you to knighthood; may your Grace therefore become a knight as you and all of us will need you to be.” (George Chastellain, Oeuvres. Edited by the Académie royale de Belgique. Brussels: F. Heussner, 1863, p. 259) Afterwards, Philip the Good went on his way to dub other valiant squires in his ranks.
A Dubbing Was Pretty Much a Christening
We tend to
forget however that the Church could also dub knights. Monstrelet’s son was
dubbed knight of the Order of Jerusalem by the canons of Cambrai in 1444; read J. B. Dacier, « Mémoire
sur la vie et les chroniques d’Enguerrand de Monstrelet » (1826). Keen
addresses that matter quite extensively in his chapter “The ceremony of dubbing
to knighthood”. He explores as to why and how the Church became the sole
institution to anoint kings and emperors, but failed to monopolize the dubbing
of knights. Yet, he observes: “The fact that so often knights were dubbed in church impressed on all minds that
knighthood was a Christian calling, imposing broad obligations of Christian
observance and morality, whether it was given in a church or not. Under the church’s influence, crusading,
the martial pilgrimage, established itself firmly as the highest mode of
expression of the chivalric virtues of courage and endurance. Ecclesiastical
teaching also gave definition to the idea of chivalry as an order, possessing,
as every order should, its rule of life, and instructed the knight about how he
should view his individual discharge of his office as a Christian duty.” (Keen, 1984, 76)
When is it Good to be Knighted?
Any knight could therefore dub another knight, but the prerequisites to become a knight made it impossible for any “insane knighting inflation” to ever happen. Matters of wealth, moral code and lifestyle strictly limited the access to knighthood, more and more so from the 12th to the 15th century.
I’d like to end this post as it should with a last observation made by Keen: “A number of late medieval sources mention three normal occasions for receiving knighthood. It may be given, they say, when the emperor or a king holds a solemn court, or at his coronation; usually the ceremony will take place in a church, after the bath and vigil, and the prince himself ‘or some other lord who is a knight’ will gird the aspirants. […] The second occasion for taking knighthood that they mention is on pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, the rise of which practice we have also traced. The third occasion for taking knighthood that they all mention is on the eve of battle, or of the storming of a city, when men seek knighthood ‘in order that their strength and virtue may be greater’. From the latter part of the thirteenth century on, this became a very common occasion for the taking of knighthood. […] In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the making of knights became almost a regular feature of the eve of battle, and the pages of such chronicles as Froissart [and Monstrelet] are in consequence full of references to such creations.” (Keen, 1984, 79-80)
Literature on Knighthood:
Bernard of Clairvaux, In Praise of new knighthood (1129) Ramon Llull, The Book of the Order of Chivalry (1279-1283) Honoré Bonet, The Tree of Battles (1382-1387) Christine de Pizan, Livre des fais d’armes et de chevalerie (1410)
Modern Studies on
Peter Coss, The Knight in Medieval England, 1000-1400. Stroud, U.K.: Alan Sutton, 1993. Georges Duby, The Chivalrous Society. Translated by Cynthia Postan. London: Edward Arnold, 1977. Maurice Keen, Chivalry. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984. Malcolm Vale, War and Chivalry. Warfare and aristocratic culture in England, France and Burgundy at the end of the Middle Ages. Liverpool: Duckworth, 1981.