Armory Logo Graphic

Have Sword, Will Travel - the Cost of a Knight

B ack in the early centuries of our millennium, it was not that cheap to employ the services of a knight. For a start, horses were expensive at £9 apiece (one could employ a strongbowman for £7, making it cheaper to ride one of those instead of a horse). [I wish I could be credited for that pun, but it is from Baigent and Leigh]. Furthermore, a knight also needed a squire, and a knight-squire pair carried a price tag of £55 per year at the beginning of the 14th century. To put this in perspective, the same source puts the price of a modest castle at £500, and amazingly, the income produced by the Templar properties in Hertfordshire alone at £1130 for the year 1308.

T he knight usually owned his equipment. In the first half of the thirteenth century, a good Genoan helmet cost between 16 and 32 shillings, a hauberk from 120 to 152 shillings. With accessories, the bill ran to about 200 shillings, or, 800 grams of gold. Thus the initial outlay of armour and accessories could eat up a year's income. In Gies's book there is a description of knights crossing a "damnable mountain in the Anti-Taurus range in the heat of summer 1097", when the knights decided to sell off their hefty equipment "for a few deniers, or whatever they could get... later they undertook to buy arms and fit and repair them". This must have been quite a dangerous thing to do, as much of a knight's usefulness arose from the superior equipment he carried.

O n the other hand, knights were not employed by the dozen. Indeed, in 1295 there were only 24 active knights in Essex, a highly feudalized county. In addition there were eleven who were too old or ill for active duty. Putting knights in battle was also dangerous from the viewpoint that they could be captured alive and then put up for ransom. Knights Templar made a point of not paying out to anyone or for anybody, but other knights were bought off their capturers for hefty sums of money, such as in 1372 when Edward III agreed to pay 130,000 pounds to free the earl of Pembroke. (A minor legal dispute arose when the earl died in captivity before being freed, but in the end Edward paid up anyway).

A nother thing is that knights were not that likely to die in battle as everyone else. Since knights were so hard to keep, all monarchs tried to maintain them in good fighting order and not waste them in battle. Indeed, in one of the major battles in England, the battle of Lincoln in 1271, there were about 800 knights on one side and 600 on the other. One knight died in battle, and both sides were equally appalled at this senseless waste of human life.

Armory Bailey Barracks Chapel Dungeon Library Pub

Portcullis | Quick Tour | Search the Preceptory