Knight's Loyalty - historical writing question

Hello everyone,

I tried to google before making this thread, but I don’t find a good explanation about this certain topic

to whom the knights are supposed to loyal to?

to the king only?
to a certain royal family member?
can they sworn loyalty to the church / pope figure?
or to certain powerful lord?
or loyal to the commoners?
or even loyal to an ideology, deities and other non-physical things?

if it’s possible for knights to sworn loyalty to other figures aside of the king, how do knights from different master within the same kingdom communicates without conflicting?

I know I can add some fantasy flavor but I need to know the real life / historical version to make it believable


In medieval England, I believe Knights typically swore allegiance to a feudal lord or a monarch. They were considered petty nobles and provided military services in exchange for holding land. (All this is off the top of my head)

But if you’re writing a fantasy story in a fictional world, throw all that out the window. A knight could be sworn to a religious figure, military order and so on. Make the rules.

I’m not sure about this question. In theory, if every lord was on an equal wavelength with their monarch, with every knight dutifully following their lord, and in turn, the monarch, the system would work as intended and conflict would not be an issue.

My entirely uneducated guess would be that there could be rivalries between different lords in the same Kingdom, with Knights possibly being pawns of these lords in such a conflict. It could make for a good choice-based story.

  1. There are many different types of knights – here are some historical examples to get you started:
    • Regular feudal knights who swore oaths to those higher up in the pecking order than they were. If this knight was an Earl, they would swear to a Duke, or if they were a Duke, they swear to their King.
    • Religious Orders had knights who swore their oaths to the leaders of their Order.
      • Knights Hospitalars and the Knights of the Temple, or Templars are examples here. The former swore to administer aid to pilgrims, while the latter swore to protect pilgrims on pilgrimage to the Holy Lands.
    • Hedge Knights – mercenaries with no Lords or Ladies who roamed the countryside and pledged their services to the highest bidder
    • Samurai who followed the bushido code and swore their servicesa to their Shogun. or local fuedal leader.
    • Ronin who were the Japanese version of the Hedge knight
    • Imperial Soldiers in China who swore their oath to the Imperial Emperor (Look at the Tale of Two Cranes for more precise terminology and even an idea of training etc)
    • Praetors, the Roman version of Imperial Guard knights
    • Immortals, the Persian Empire version of Imperial Guard knights
    • Varangian Guard, the Eastern Roman Empire/Byzantine version of Imperial Guard knights.

These are all off the top of my head, so some details might be fuzzy. Nevertheless, this should give you a sold foundation to do your further research on.


It depends. Knights of the realm would be loyal to the monarch, although they’d generally be directly working for individual lords on the assumption that said liege lord would be loyal to the monarch. That said, there were definitely knightly orders who swore allegiance to the Church, most famously the Knights Templar. I would say you wouldn’t need to bend history too much to end up with orders loyal to various ideologies, individual deities in a polytheistic world, or even the people of the land.

That said, exactly how loyal the knights were would depend entirely on the knight in question. Some would be as loyal as the knightly ideal, while others would be loyal only to themselves.

I’m not aware of any historical conflicts among individual knights, but I imagine there were plenty, even outside of the tournaments that were the official way for knights to conflict.

There were also definitely times when knights loyal to different masters would come into conflict, for example civil wars, and knights who had sworn themselves to the Church would not have been loyal to their king at all (beyond normal patriotism). This led to at least one major conflict between a king and a knightly order (specifically King Philip IV of France and the Knights Templar), in which the king accused the knightly order of devil worship, and had them imprisoned and executed on very little evidence.

I would also suggest you look into Japanese samurai, who were very similar to European knights, although with a far stricter code (including suicide as a method of regaining lost honour), but would also lead to more “fallen knights” (or ronin) who had broken their code, and lived without any master or loyalties.


Yes and no on that one. Up until the Sengoku Jidai, generally speaking, the samurai are actually pretty flexible in their conduct. It’s worth pointing out that the relation between a vassal and its liege is a purely contractual affair (when European kingdoms tried to make it a religious - and thus sacred - bond), making switching aliegances not only common, but almost expected. Obviously, knights also switched aliegances from time to time, but in Japan, it came with no particular social stigma.

However, it changed after the end of the unifications wars, leading to 300 years of peace for Japan - which for the Samurai warrior cast, comes with a few issues. In order to stay relevant, they began to put forward the Bushido code, as a way to distinguish themselves from the common masses. Thus strict adherence to a honor code is seen as the highest virtue, complete with suicide as the ultimate form of loyalty (and for the Shogun, it’s the perfect way to enforce obedience on otherwise unoccupied soldiers).

Obviously, I’m simplifying in the extreme (summing up a thousand years in two paragraphs will do that), but, as usual in history, it’s complicated.


Pretty sure knights were sworn to either a feudal lord from whom they were granted land in exchange for service, the sovereign above their immediate lords or directly to the sovreign if they happened to not have any lord above them. Some were landless and traveled around as marginally more respectable mercenaries I believe.

And knights were sworn to the church (sort of) through orders like the Knights Hospitaller, the Templar, the Knights of Calatrava, Order of St. John, Knights of Malta, the Teutonic Knights and a few others. Mostly to defend Christian states and pilgrims in the holy land

Then again, it’s been a while since I actually read about that stuff and I’m probably all warped by movies and such haha

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The vow of loyalty, or fealty, was a crucial aspect of the relationship between a knight and his lord during the medieval period. This vow was important for several reasons:

Military Service: The knight pledged to fight for and protect his lord in times of conflict, forming the backbone of the lord’s military forces.

Economic Support: The knight often provided financial support to his lord, contributing to the lord’s wealth and ability to maintain his position of power.

Social Structure: Feudal society was based on a system of mutual obligations and loyalty, and the vow of fealty reinforced the hierarchical structure, with the lord providing protection and land in return for the knight’s service and loyalty.

Personal Honor: Taking a vow of loyalty was seen as a matter of personal honor and integrity for the knight, reflecting the values of loyalty and duty that were highly esteemed in medieval society

Overall, the vow of loyalty was a key element in maintaining the stability and functioning of feudal society, ensuring the mutual support and protection of both the lord and the knight

A knight (generally speaking) obeys his feudal superior - that is, either the one who pays for his horse and arms, or the one who grants him land. That’s the default contract.

A knight of a religious order is sworn to the order, through the order’s hierarchy. @ParrotWatcher, minor correction: Religious orders are sovereign princes in their own right, and owe fealty to nobody except their Grandmaster and their own charter. They owe religious allegiance to the Pope, but so does every Christian - they are not feudal vassals of the Church.

(“The Church” is not a single organization. If a knight is sworn to “the Church”, they might be a knight of a religious order, or they might owe feudal duty for Church land, in which case their feudal superior is likely the bishop of a diocese or the abbot of a monastery.)

A Spanish caballero villano does not owe feudal duties as such, but due to his wealth, owes certain duties to the town he lives in.

Knights errant (what Eiwynn called hedge knights), as mentioned, serve no master and fight as mercenaries, or on the tournament circuit.

(I’m skipping over any form of knighthood east of Italy or prior to 476, as “knight” usually refers to forms of military service in feudal Western Europe.)


Also all aside being chivalry won’t earn you anything,so knights had to either choose between church or lords in the mediaeval era, Also knight can’t choose another lord if they are dissatisfied by the current lord they are serving the only cases they can might include

-death of the lord they served and they have no heirs left

-Also lords giving away knights as a gift mostly to another lord who’s marrying their daughter or something (mostly as protectors fr their daughter or some spy who knows the chilivary thing only applies on movie’s i don’t think there were any chilivary sht in middle ages , everyone might have some motives)

Also running away from their lord or church might be not an option to them Unless u wanna get labeled as hertic and get hunt down

None of this is accurate. A knight could absolutely leave the service of their lord for a variety of reasons. It wasn’t done very much but that’s because the knight would lose their lands and income. They also had very strictly delimited duties and obligations.

Also, running away won’t get you hunted down and certainly won’t get you labeled a heretic.


Damn nice didn’t know that thx for the corrections,so those hunting things might be only for witches :thinking:

Heretics are Christians who reject the authority and beliefs of the Church. For an example, the Cathars held an unorthodox theology including reincarnation and including women in the priesthood (among other things - it’s a complicated subject and not really on topic) and, more importantly, rejected the authority of the Catholic priesthood, including the obligation to pay their tithes. That is what got a crusade declared against them.

Witch burnings were way later - during the Middle Ages, it was actually heretical to believe that witches existed at all. :slight_smile: There were issues with Christians in some areas holding on to pagan beliefs, but that wasn’t something they killed people over.


Sigh religion is one of a kinda thing having both pros and cons, on one side religion gives hope and salvation to people,on the other side how many atrocities are done in the name of religion and still happening taking innocent lives for what having different views or belief,some fucked up world we live in

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thank you guys, that’s a lot of information to digest :pray:

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