The Emergence and Formation of the Second Estate as the Knightly Class in France, 814-1230
By Christopher Connor
Distinguished Senior Thesis, Pacific University, 2006
Introduction: The knight is one the most prominent archetypal figures of the medieval period; he not only dominated warfare, but the political and cultural spheres of society as well. The knightly class began to emerge in the splinter kingdoms of the Carolingian empire during the ninth century. The general decline of central royal authority during the early middle ages led to increasingly powerful local lords and endemic private warfare. Localized political authority and private warfare continued to characterize medieval France in the following centuries and allowed the knightly class to coalesce into a self-aware group within society. The knightly class was defined by their function in war, their landed wealth, their titles, their lineage and in the high middle ages chivlary. This self-awareness and sense of identity only became fully defined as “chivalry” at the end of the eleventh century and grew more defined in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. A significant reason for chivalry developing when it did was the slow acceptance of the second estate by the church. It was this gradual acceptance by the church that allowed the knightly class to develop its culture and identity as a class, integrated within medieval culture as a whole.