The English Samurai in search of gaudy goblets to call their own.
Knights were typically lords who had property and men under their command, not to be confused with men-at-arms, who were rich enough to afford armor but not good enough at murder/not religious enough to be called a knight. This was less of a class issue and more of an issue of expense, because strapping on a metric asston of metal plate onto your body was an expensive ordeal. If you can't imagine why, just think about how much it costs to get a tuxeudo made from scratch and personally tailored. Seriously, add up the costs of labor and materials, we have time. Done yet? Good, now you can multiply your findings many times because instead of working with say, wool, your tailor is working with metal that has to be forged. And you had better pay extra so he doesn't give you a rushed job, otherwise the spear that should have bounced off your chest will instead propel you into the next life! And does a tuxedo need a legion of underpaid serfs just to put on the cufflinks? No? Look at a breast plate. It can stop an arrow. You are not putting that suit on by yourself.
Now you might imagine a typical knight as King Arthur, or perhaps Lancelot or Gallahad, and such is a misconception. Knights were simply elite warriors, trained from birth to behave in a certain way and fight in a more certain way. Now, if your idea of King Arthur was a walking tank that stabbed, slashed, and crushed his enemies into pulp for God, you'd be closer in the right.
Remember that rich douchebag you went to high school with, the one with a red convertible his daddy bought him? To boil it down, he would have been a knight. While the image we all like to hold onto is that of the mighty standing up for the feeble, it was more along the lines of the mighty standing atop the feeble, barking orders. Such as, 'stop breathing so hard, you're swirling my chalice.'
If you've ever snuck into a middle school within the last decade or so, you would recognize the siloutte even through the impeeding beam of a night guards (pun!) flashlight. The armor, in all its Monty Python variations, could easily be identified, especially coming at you full throttle atop a horse.
But to rise into knighthood one had to be quite a veteran of combat. They were the special forces of their time, and you don't become special forces without becoming familiar with every method of life ending ordinance available to you. Here, we will specify the more popular weapons employed by knights and the role they played.
The Sword: The go to Knight tool of trade, it is the most iconic image associated with the brave lord. Usually paired with a shield for added defense. Of course, there were variations on the standard issue sword, ranging in size and manuvrability. The claymore, for instance, sacrifices blocking and finesse with the more subtle cleave your head thirty feet across the battlefield.
The Mace: Matching the sheer force behind the claymore with a concussive blow, as well as easily paired with your standard issue shield, the mace rewarded determination and never say die attitude. Perfect for the toddler knight, just looking to smash through your armor, despite your negative one to constitution.
The Spear: Cheap to make, easy to use, the spear is the go-to for the knight on a budget. Despite the fact that they are indeed cheaper than most weapons, spears are valued for the sheer amount of force in their thrusts. Not to mention the fact that you can hide behind your shield (if you bothered with one) and poke from a distance. Not only that, but it's a more subtle overcompensation for phallic shortcomings.
Various Axes: Also cheap and easy to use, they were primarily the thinking man's mace. A double-handed battle axe could remove limbes effeciently, and had enough force to either rend armor or at least deliver the concussive blast of a mace. Perhaps not the greatest of weapons, it was among the cheapest and easiest to train soldiers in. Also, it was scary as all hell when one was swinging at your neck.
The Dagger: More a last ditch effort, if you resorted to your dagger you were probably going to die, but you could at least take a few achilees tendons with you. But then the whole encased in tank like armor pretty much muted the dagger option. Maybe while the black knight was laughing, you could slip it through that tiny eye slot.
The rule of thumb when it came to being a knight was pretty much the Michael Bay factor; bigger, bigger bigger. And if maybe it exploded as you walked away, all the same.
"Protect the weak, defenseless, helpless, and fight for the general welfare of all," that was the creed the Knights of the Medieval era were asked to abide by. While history remembers it slightly differently, most knights might misconstrued the protect part for take advantage and TRY to kill as little of the weak, defenseless and helpless as you could. Hey, you gotta break a few eggs....
Much like their Samurai cousins, Knights found it kind of hard to accomplish all of these guidelines while staying true to their juggernaught urges. You really can't be expected to stop mid cleave just because a few orphan heads pop up in the way, are you?
Ironically enough, the code of chivalry didn't really take affect until well after the prominent era of knights, influencing more Victorian gentleman in the years to come. I would pay U2 arena prices to introduce a hey day knight to the Dorian Gray dandy he paved the way for. Gotta remember my Gallagher tarp for that one.
Some are famous. Some aren't even real. But when you mention Knights, a few faces are bound to pop up.
King Arthur- This is the big one. You say knight, we all collectively chime in Arthur. Even if you ask a blind, crippled, new born mutant it will at least tell you something. Excalibur, the lady in the lake, Wart; he's an icon among icon. And just like Holmes, Bond, and Santa Claus (sorry kidd-o's) he is absolutely not real. While this not the biggest revelation, especially compared with Holmes (http://urbanlegends.about.com/b/2008/02/04/more-than-half-of-brits-believe-sherlock-holmes-was-real-poll-says.htm), there are probably still people that buy the whole sword in the stone mythos. Portrayed across the board, the character has been interpreted as everything from a tyrancial lord that ruled over his kingdom with an iron gauntlet, to the lovable squire Wart, slapping post and apprentice to Merlin.
Lancelot- Sticking with the Arthurian canon already established above, Lancelot is argueribly the most famous of Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. While all the knights sit at a table that, by definition, has no head and thus are all equal, Lancelot edges out the rest by being the one to bone his lords main dame, Lady Guinevere. While he was key in finding the holy grail (though its never explained just how he got past those blasted knights who say NI) he will always be most remembered for his disregard to the clearly yet to be established broeths before hoeths.
The Black Knight- He is the template (get it? Templar, template, c'mon!) for all that is bad ass. The yin to every ladies White Knight yang, the Black Knight is the James Dean of knights. While not inherently bad, so to speak, he is as close to the text book example of what is was to actually be a knight back in the day. He didn't go out of his way to pillage, loot, and dick over every person that crossed his path, but he certainly enjoyed it when the opportunity arose.
William Thatcher- Oh, he will rock you. He will rock you, HARD. Portrayed by Heath Ledger during his hey day of 'just put my face anywhere,' this is the tale of Chaucer's 'A Knights Tale,' as performed by the CW's cast of ugly extras. While, by no means, historically accurate, we've already learned that when it comes to Knights history, a little fudging didn't hurt anyone. Plus, epic Queen sing-a-long, for the win.
Sir Patrick Stewart- The most honored for last. While he is certainly more reknown for captaining all over the greater cosmos as Captain Jean-Luc Piccard, Stewart has the distinct advantage at portraying two knights, in a single sitting. Hamming it up as King Richard at the end of Mel Brook's Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Stewart is also an actual Knight Bachelor for services to Drama. This could be due to his clear devotion to the dying art of the staged play, appearing in over 60 productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company, but I'm leaning more towards Masterminds.