A knight is a member of the warrior class of the Middle Ages in Europe who followed a code of law called "chivalry". In other Indo-European languages, cognates of cavalier or rider are more prevalent (e.g., French chevalier and German Ritter), suggesting a connection to the knight's mode of transport. Since antiquity a position of honour and prestige has been held by mounted warriors such as the Greek hippeus and the Roman eques, and knighthood in the Middle Ages was inextricably linked with horsemanship.
The British legend of King Arthur was popularised throughout Europe in the Middle Ages by the Welsh cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain"), written in the 1130s. Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur ("The Death of Arthur"), written in 1485, was important in defining the ideal of chivalry which is essential to the modern concept of the knight as an elite warrior sworn to uphold the values of faith, loyalty, courage, and honour. During the Renaissance, the genre of chivalric romance became popular in literature, growing ever more idealistic and eventually giving rise to a new form of realism in literature popularised by Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote. This novel explored the ideals of knighthood and their incongruity with the reality of Cervantes' world. In the late medieval period, new methods of warfare began to render classical knights in armour obsolete, but the titles remained in many nations.
Some orders of knighthood, such as the Knights Templar, have themselves become the object of legend; others have disappeared into obscurity. Today, a number of orders of knighthood continue to exist in several countries, such as the English Order of the Garter, the Swedish Royal Order of the Seraphim, and the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav. Each of these orders has its own criteria for eligibility, but knighthood is generally granted by a head of state to selected persons to recognise some meritorious achievement.
The word knight, from Old English cniht ("boy" or "servant"), is a cognate of the German word Knecht ("servant, bondsman"). This meaning, of unknown origin, is common among West Germanic languages (cf: Old Frisian kniucht, Dutch knecht, Danish knægt, Swedish knekt, Middle High German kneht, all meaning "boy, youth, lad", as well as German Knecht "servant, bondsman, vassal").
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