2 Ways A Medieval Peasant Or Commoner Could Become A Knight

Further ReadingThe 2 Ways Medieval Knights Got Paid Across Europe and The Heaviest Medieval Armor

Across medieval Europe one of the main aspirations of any commoner or peasant was to become a knight of their realm. Knight’s were noble lords who could hold land and raise a unit of soldiers to defend their home. However, what was the probability of becoming a knight or how would a commoner/peasant become one?

In reality it was highly unlikely that a medieval commoner or peasant could become a knight. However, on occasion it did happen. Often a commoner or peasant could become a knight by performing extraordinary deeds while in an army. One such example of a commoner becoming a knight in medieval Europe happened in 1327 when an English commoner, Thomas de Rokeby became an English knight.

Most commoners or peasants in medieval Europe would have never had the chance to become a knight. Over multiple generations a family might have been able to break into the upper level of society. To do this in one lifetime however in medieval society was difficult. However, on special occasions it did happen.

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Without further ado, here is the way that a medieval peasant or commoner could become a knight.

The First Path For A Commoner Or Peasant To Become A Knight Was Through Military Service

One of the main ways that a commoner or peasant could become a knight was through military service on their own merit.

Often the only chance a peasant or commoner would get to serve in the military was through obligation by their lord. This would not give the commoner the ability to become a knight as they were obligated to serve.

However, on rare occasions a commoner would raise a band of troops on his own and join their lords military campaign. While this was incredibly rare it did happen from time to time.

An example of this can be seen in the 14th century mercenary Sir John Hawkwood. During the hundred years war Hawkwood served as a longbowman under King Edward III. Sometime around 1356 Hawkwood joined a mercenary company called the White Company which became famous for their skill.

After some short time with the mercenary company Hawkwood would come to lead it. Sometime after becoming the company’s leader he would be knighted by Edward the Black Prince after the Battle of Poitiers. We know that Hawkwood was one of the most successful military commanders of his time because he was paid extremely well as a mercenary commander.

John Hawkwood demonstrates to historians that it was possible to be knighted as a commoner during the medieval era. The most popular route was to distinguish oneself in battle as a leader. If done properly this would give the peasant the opportunity to become a knight.

The Second Path For A Medieval Commoner Or Peasant To Become A Knight Was Through Helping The Monarch Directly

The second way that a medieval peasant or commoner could become a knight was by helping the monarch directly.

This was extremely rare but under unusual circumstances a king might reward a commoner or peasant the right to become a knight after they helped the monarch.

In all of history we only have a handful of accounts of this happening. One of the most well documented examples is the story of English commoner Thomas de Rockby.

Thomas de Rockby lived in early 14th century England during the height of the medieval era. During this time King Edward III was attempting to gain control over Scotland. King Edward III could not locate the Scottish army and offered to make anyone a knight who could lead him to the Scottish army.

Thomas de Rockby managed to escape a Scottish prison in 1327 and locate King Edward III. Thomas told the king where to find the Scottish army and as a reward he was knighted and given land.

Over the course of his life Thomas de Rockby would become one of England’s bravest knights who was routinely rewarded more land by the English king. As a reward for his lifetime of service he was given the title of Justiciar of Ireland making him one of the most powerful knights.

To this day Thomas de Rockby remains one of the most interesting examples of a commoner or peasant becoming a knight during the medieval era.


There you have it; an entire article that goes over the 2 ways that a medieval peasant or commoner could become a knight.

The chances of a commoner or peasant getting the opportunity to become a knight was small. Often over the course of one’s life it might only happen once. However, if the stars aligned then a commoner or peasant could become a knight.

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