What If You Met a Knight?

What If You Met a Knight?

by Jan Adkins

NOOK Book(eBook)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
Want a NOOK ? Explore Now


What If You Met a Knight? by Jan Adkins

Forget jousts and quests and dragons—a real knight had real work to do, lots of mouths to feed, and trouble could ride over the hill at any moment. Castles were dark, armor was uncomfortable, and jousts and tournaments (not to mention real battles) were dangerous—and expensive. As in the popular and successful What If You Met a Pirate? an informative, entertaining text and energetic illustrations, diagrams, and cross sections combine to explore a subject with loads of kid appeal.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626726598
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: 12/29/2015
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 32
File size: 9 MB
Age Range: 6 - 9 Years

About the Author

Jan Adkins, called "the consummate teacher" by David Macaulay, is the author and illustrator of more than three dozen books covering history, technology, and many other topics. They include Bridges: From My Side to Yours ("An outstanding book for reference and enjoyment"—The Horn Book) and What If You Met a Pirate? (see page 30). Jan Adkins lives in Novato, California.

Jan Adkins is the author of books including Bridges: From My Side to Yours and What if You Met a Cowboy? He lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

Read an Excerpt

What If You Met A Knight

By Jan Adkins, Laaren Brown

Roaring Brook Press

Copyright © 2006 Jan Adkins
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62672-659-8


you know all about knights

You know all about knights, right? You've seen plenty of them in movies and books.

Best of all, you know about King Arthur and the Round Table at Camelot, with seats for the best knights in the world: Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, Sir Tristan, Sir Bors, and a lot of other handsome guys with long, curly hair wearing polished armor. They were loyal, brave, trustworthy, kind, fair, pure of heart, and cram-full of chivalry, the code of knightly conduct. Very nice fellas. Their business was adventure.

There was plenty of adventure to go around. The knights carried swords as big as parking meters and toured the countryside on truck-sized horses. They rescued fair maidens, found Holy Grails, put down evil giants, and did some pest control — slaying troublesome dragons.

Often they would meet an evil false knight and challenge the cad to a joust. The jousters would ride to opposite sides of a meadow, then wheel and charge at each other with lances like flagpoles. Whammo! The less virtuous knight went down like a sack of potatoes!

Naturally, those boys had fair ladies of their own — sweet and delicate women in long gowns, veils, and high pointy hats. Normally valiant knights got cow-eyed around ladies — writing poetry, singing under their castle windows, and dedicating spectacular victories to their ladies' virtue.

It was generally a good life of outdoor fun and high deeds for dedicated heroes.

Sure, you know all about knights.


meet the real deal

I apologize if Sir Guy of Wareham doesn't appear especially noble or adventurous. He looks upset and irritable. That's because he has a lot on his mind. Being a knight could be a dismal job. A real knight (the word comes from Old English cniht, meaning servant) had real work to do and a lot of mouths to feed — and trouble could ride over the hill at any moment.

Forget jousts and quests and dragons. Sir Guy was caught in the middle between warlords and peasants. When he was made a knight, his warlord assigned a big piece of land to him. As rent, the lord requires that Sir Guy supply a quantity of armed men, gold, work on the lord's projects, and food every year.

Guy has hundreds of peasant families living on his land. He keeps them safe from bandits and raiders, and he manages the land (really a vast farm). In turn, the peasants give Guy part of their crop, a number of days of work, and — when the warlords act up — they become soldiers for a certain number of days.

This arrangement is part of feudalism. Complicated? It was Guy's headache, season by season, to figure out how to supervise his peasants, how to satisfy his warlord, what crops to plant, when to harvest, how much to train his soldier-farmers, and how to bring in enough food and firewood to last through the winter. But Sir Guy was worried about more than that.

Force majeure — "greater force" — is the only law. If other lords or knights want Sir Guy's land or castle, their raiders could strike without warning.

Sickness has been reported in one of Sir Guy's villages. No one knows how illness spreads or what to do about it. "Doctors" are useless; they have no medicine that prevents or cures disease. Often, they make it worse. The sickness in the village could be a mild fever. Or it could be the dreaded Black Plague. Sir Guy knows that just one of Europe's many plagues killed hundreds of thousands, maybe millions. He's worried.

Sir Guy doesn't have long, curly hair because he has fleas, just like everyone else.

Late in the day, he may be a little muddled. This is because he drinks gallons of ale and wine. Most of the water supply is infected by human and animal poop. People who drink plain water die. Tea and coffee from boiled water (a little safer) won't be popular for centuries.

His teeth hurt. He will lose most of them in time. There are no dentists. The only way to fix a toothache is to pull the tooth.

Stand upwind of Sir Guy. He smells. Everyone knows that baths are unhealthy. His woolen outer clothes are never washed, and he sleeps in his linen underwear for a week at a time.

Sir Guy owes money. His suit of armor and his weapons cost more than one of his peasants could make in years. He is also bound to provide his farmer-soldiers with helmets, shields, and weapons. He needs horses and wagons to move his men and their supplies. He's had to borrow money to outfit his little army.

Tithing means giving the Church a tenth of all his earnings. This is what a good Christian knight must do. On top of that, the priests are thinking of enlarging the local church. They expect him to pay for it.

Writing it all down might have helped, but Sir Guy probably couldn't read; most knights were illiterate. Their records were kept by scribes or priests.

The Christian Church insists that lending money, like a bank does today, is immoral. Jews could lend money, and they charged interest: To borrow 100 gold coins, Sir Guy paid back 110 gold coins. Sir Guy owes Jewish lenders a fortune. He hates them for not being Christian. They hate him for hating Jews. It's a bad situation.

Sir Guy's warlord or even (oh, no!) his king might visit his castle. Dozens of officials, priests, wives, children, servants, and courtiers (people who loaf around "noble" courts) would arrive with him. Sir Guy would be expected to provide food, wine and ale, rooms, beds, and entertainment for all of these houseguests. They could stay for weeks. The visit could ruin Sir Guy.

Edith is pregnant. Sir Guy married Edith for her dowry (a wedding gift from her family) — land that bordered his lands. His warlord and the peasants are pleased: They want him to have a son to take over the family lands. But he's learned to like Edith. So many mothers die at childbirth or shortly after. Half of all children die before the age of five. Guy is worried for his wife and his baby.

Sir Guy's warlord is bored and has started thinking about holding games for Midsummer's Eve. This would require new clothes and traveling to the warlord's castle with pregnant Edith. Sir Guy will be expected to bring servants, scribes, priests, and some of his farmer-soldiers (who should have been tending the crops). Sir Guy will be obliged to fight in mock battles. Sometimes the mock battles aren't so mock. He will certainly be bruised, perhaps injured, even killed. He hopes the warlord will put it off.

Horses are ridiculously expensive. They're great for plowing fields, but they're delicate and require daily attention. They need specially fitted shoes made by a blacksmith several times a year. As a knight, Sir Guy needs a stable full of horses for war and travel. And stable boys and blacksmiths. He is learning to hate horses.


so what about king arthur?

As pretty as Camelot might have been, there isn't a shred of evidence for Arthur and his Round Table. So where did all those tales come from? The south of France.

It had a mild climate, rich fields, and plenty of wine. It also had plenty of wealthy, bored noblemen and gentlewomen drinking the wine. In the fourteenth century (when the importance of knighthood was already fading), they welcomed singing poets called troubadours or minstrels to entertain them with stories that flattered their rich hosts and their romantic fantasies.

The troubadours invented King Arthur and other airy stories. They wove fantastic adventures around folktale characters, magic castles, dragons, and wizards. They might not have known one end of a sword from the other, but they knew how to wow an audience.

They sang about a way knights should act, creating a Code of Chivalry. This was the way the lords and ladies saw themselves — virtuous, pious, loyal, helpful, elegant. But it wasn't the way knights did act — the Middle Ages were full of betrayal, plots, assassinations, rebellions, and almost constant war. Real knights were more often tough, scheming brutes. At best they were professional warriors eager to fight battles and win glory.

The Code of Chivalry was very sweet, but an ambitious knight went about whacking off arms and heads as often as possible.

Troubadours sang about "courtly love" that placed women on an unreachable pedestal. A good knight dedicated his life to an ideal lady love. According to the troubadours, she should actually be married to someone else, and the knight should never expect more than a smile for his adoration. This kind of love was bittersweet, theoretical, pure. Pure soap opera. Knights thought it was cool. Noble ladies swooned over this foolishness and paid the singers well. Then they went on about their less-than-pure lives of court scandals.

middle ages? in the middle of what?

The Middle Ages were in the middle — between the end of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, or "rebirth," of the fifteenth century. Knighthood — the need for local warlords to protect local territories — was a natural result of the dark Middle Ages. (They were also called medieval times.)

Rome didn't fall; it moved. In the fourth century, the Christian emperor Constantine shifted the capital of the Roman Empire and most of its forces to the narrow Straits of Bosporus between Europe and Asia. He modestly called the new city Constantinople. It became the center of power for a new "Rome" that was more concerned with Asia than with Europe.

After the capital moved, the provinces of Europe were no longer protected by powerful Roman armies. The vast network of all-weather Roman roads and bridges fell into disrepair. Europe dissolved into a hodgepodge of desperate little kingdoms struggling for survival against Viking raids, local wars, and bandits. It was an age of famines, plagues, dim hopes. We have good reasons to call the Middle Ages the Dark Ages.

The skeleton left from the old Roman Empire was the Rome-based Roman Catholic Church. (The Church in Constantinople became the Eastern Orthodox Church.) Politically, the Roman Catholic Church was weak, but it offered the only thread of communication and unity for hundreds of little European territories.

Chivalry meant more than a code of conduct. It also meant the knightly class, from chevalier (horseman). A warlord's chivalry was the group of knights under him. Chivalry could also mean the agreement giving a knight his land in return for service to his warlord.


not even a little bitty king arthur?

Maybe. A native Briton leader fighting the invading Saxons (from northern Europe) in the fourth or fifth century may have been the model for the tales. This Arthur wouldn't have been a king, but a local warlord, perhaps a leader of cavalry trained by the departed Romans.

Arthur and his warriors (probably tribal chieftains) certainly didn't wear shining armor. They probably had metal helmets and mail shirts with heavy leather collars and armpieces. Each carried a sword, a shield, and a lance about eight feet long. They rode from one place to another on small but sturdy horses without stirrups, but they fought on foot in a group. Afoot, they could defend one another and do more damage to undisciplined individual attackers. A mounted charge wasn't practical unless Arthur's enemy was running away.

Did Arthur become King of England by drawing the magical sword Excalibur from a stone? Puh-lease. No one thought of "England" then, or of any nation. Just local territory held by force. The real stories about the real Arthur would surely have been grittier, less polite, bloodier, and more heroic than minstrel's tales.

Camelot would not have been a grand stone palace with lofty towers. It would have been a motte-and-bailey hill fort made of earth and wood. It had a dry ditch (the motte, or moat) around an earthen wall topped by palisades — wooden tree trunks lashed together. The court inside the walls was the bailey. The fort-within-a-fort was the keep, or donjon (using the dungeon for a jail came much later).

In the "great hall" of the keep was an open fireplace on a stone hearth. Chimneys wouldn't be invented for hundreds of years, so smoke would have found its way out through windows and holes in the walls. Everyone ate and lived in this common room. Arthur's warriors would have slept there with the servants and dogs near the fire. No privacy. Arthur may have had his own room at the top of the keep.

The real model for the myth of Arthur was probably a tough, successful warlord of mounted infantry in the western hills of England sometime after the fifth century. His "shining armor" may have been bronze or boiled leather. To inspire such a myth, he must have been an extraordinary leader.

What about Merlin? People believed in magic, then. Our Arthur may have trusted an old man to tell the future or at least give him good advice. The stories of Merlin are from old Irish and Scottish tales of wild forest men with magical powers.

DONJON (later written as dungeon), or keep, the fortress within a fortress, where the warlord, his family, and his soldiers lived


what was feudalism?

Sir Guy always had the uncomfortable feeling that trouble was on the way: Vikings from the north, Muslims from the south, mounted invaders from the east. He lived in a dangerous time. The only way he could defend his land was to join other warriors. Feudalism was a primitive form of government that connected bands of warriors to hold off trouble.

It was a top-to-bottom system based on trust. Fealty was the trust and obedience a warlord owed his king. A knight owed the same fealty to his warlord, and peasants owed fealty to their knight. This feudal ladder was wide at the base (peasants — there were a lot of them) and narrow at the pointy top (the king — just one). The person above you was your lord. People below you were your vassals.

Fealty worked both ways. A peasant (sometimes called a serf) owed his lord service as a soldier. And rent, and taxes. In return, the peasant was given a fief, a piece of land or a yearly sum of money. The knight also owed his peasants protection and support. If a peasant lost everything in a fire, his lord was obligated to help him, just as the peasant owed service to his lord if the castle burned.

The feudal ladder could have complicated rungs. A lesser king might owe fealty to a king with more land. A knight could owe fealty to more than one lord. It was a tangled web of obligations, loyalties, traditions, and practical necessities.

Scutage, or "shield tax," was a way peasants could buy their way out of army service. The tax paid for a professional soldier. Knights preferred this because peasant soldiers were poorly trained and seldom reliable. If they saw armored knights riding down on them with big swords, they ran. They were peasants, but they weren't stupid.

Noble families in the Middle Ages put their faith in breeding. Some dogs were bred for herding sheep and other dogs for hunting. A colt from a strong mare and a fast stallion should be strong and fast. Shouldn't a child from a "noble" family be superior? Nobles were sure kids from a "low" family couldn't be smart or virtuous. They built a high barrier between the high-born and the lowborn. Today we try to judge each person by what he or she can accomplish, but in the Middle Ages climbing the ladder was nearly impossible.

another ladder

The Church had its own rungs, starting with monks and priests at the lowest level and rising through bishops and cardinals up to the big holy cheese in Rome, the pope.

Many men and women took holy orders: They became monks and nuns, living lives of prayer and service to others in monasteries or nunneries. Some orders cared for the sick, some for travelers. It was a life of obedience with strict rules, but it was often better than the uncertain life of peasants.

The Church was less interested in breeding than in ability. True, there were few cardinals and virtually no popes who weren't rich, politically influential men. But it was possible for a bright young man or woman of a humble family and no wealth to rise through the ranks of the church to an important position.


Excerpted from What If You Met A Knight by Jan Adkins, Laaren Brown. Copyright © 2006 Jan Adkins. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
You Know all about Knights,
Meet the Real Deal,
So What about King Arthur?,
Not Even a Little Bitty King Arthur?,
What Was Feudalism?,
What Did Knights Do all Day?,
Just How Fair Were Those Ladies?,
Did Knights Slay Dragons?,
Sounds Good! How Can I Become a Knight?,
Did Knights Live in Castles?,
Who's Who in the Castle?,
Enough Castle Business! What about Those Big Swords?,
How Did They Walk around in all That Armor?,
What Were the Crusades?,
Knights and Lords,
About the Author,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews