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Lordship and Feudality

War & chivalry

The Norman warrior was generally designated by the Latin term "miles / milites", usually translated as "knight". The 11th and 12th c. knight was first and foremost someone wealthy enough to supply the essential equipment of his profession, namely war, and more particularly mounted combat.

The Norman horsemanís armour in the Mezzogiorno is well-known, if only through the remarkable carved capitals of the cloister at Monreale or the illuminations in Peter of Eboliís chronicle. It is striking to find more or less the same characteristics as in the well-known Bayeux Tapestry : coat of mail covering the body from head to knees ; large wooden shield barded with iron and leather ; helmet with nasal ; large sword and long lance for the head-on charge. The heavy cavalry charge was in fact the Normansí secret weapon, as some of their enemies, in the Byzantine army for instance, had learnt to their cost.

The ritual handing over of arms already existed in this warrior class, the most important being the handing over of the sword (the dubbing), derived from a Germanic tradition marking admission into a privileged class, but one also often disobedient and rebellious towards the central authority. From the time of Roger II, the king sought to restrict access to the knightly class to descendants of this aristocracy.
After Roger II of Hautevilleís accession to the monarchy in 1130, the king endeavoured to channel this warlike energy by tying his enfeoffed knights down within the workings of a hierarchical "civil service". He restored the use of force as the exclusive prerogative of the royal power, based on a network of fortified towns, and the monopoly of calling up men into the army according to the services owed by each fief (forty days for an ordinary knight, as in the duchy of Normandy).

In the Mediterranean, the Norman warrior was never again a sailor, still less perhaps than he had been at home. For his naval expeditions, the Norman king had to rely on his Greek or Moslem subjects, or on an alliance with the Italian sea-going towns.
 

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