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What is a Courtier?
contrast with the late medieval ideal of knighthood as
a hereditary military caste, the Renaissance saw the
rise of the courtier. Increasingly,
common-born professional soldiers (such as the Italian condottieri,
Welsh bowmen, and Swiss pikemen) replaced knights as
unit in national armies. The rising nation state required
numerous and cheap infantry--not expensive, hard-to-maintain
Another factor bringing about the demise of
the knight was improving military technology. Although the
church condemned the use of crossbows, these popular mechanisms
allowed even untrained peasants to shoot down men in chainmail.
That led to the use of platemail. Then, as alchemists perfected
gunpowder, increasingly early guns and cannon developed the
ability to penetrate platemail--rendering the armored knight
obsolete. Finally, improvements in sword-making techniques
led to fast, swift, and deadly sabers and rapiers. These
replaced the bulky, slow,
and heavy swords. Early knights favored two-handed swords
swords because their sheer weight would allow them to cut
through enemy armor through sheer force. However, a skilled
swordsmen with a delicate, thin rapier or saber could be
trained to quickly stab through even
chinks in armor (or even through slits in a visor!) to dispatch
a heavily armored foe before he could even begin to swing
the heavier weighted sword.
So, what do all those
aristocrats change into if they are no longer suitable
as the primary unit in an army? They become courtiers.
Suddenly, the dominant traits of the knight change.
Consider the modern quotation below. It is
not a contemporary document, but it illustrates something
of the change from the knight to the courtier:
"My heart delights to
see the young nobles at feasts!
How gracefully they
dance! How smooth their motions!
Their wit displays
itself in a thousand jests,
And they sing a thousand
songs with lute
Young ladies at
court sigh, for honey drips from their lips.
They speak all polite
languages of Greek and Roman tongues,
And know the ways
of France and Italy.
discourse is filled with zest and wisdom
They have skill in
chess and backgammon,
And they write letters adorned with every pleasantry.
They know arithmatic and logic as well as any clerk.
They have their lord's left ear,
And they serve the count as his right arm."
--attributed to Guido de Pisan
While early medieval knights recieved praise
for their military exploits, their great-great grandchildren
recieve praise for their manners, diplomacy, and education
in a courtly setting. Of course, bravery is still valuable,
and courtiers still involve themselves in duels (using
rapiers rather than jousting lances)--but for the most
are bureaucrats, scholars, and poets rather than
warriors. They appear at court to win favor with more powerful
government officials and receive posts in national offices.
Their skill at multiple languages, their ability to engage
in harmless flirtation with the wives of ambassadors and
allies, and their ability to entertain with music, poetry,
and dance are seen as vital skills. The meaning of nobility
has definitely changed from the twelfth century.