A discussion started on the named profile about use of the term "knight bachelor" which has a Wikitree category. I suggested that this is inappropriate in the 12th century (or earlier), and I would go further and say that even terms like knight and lord and baron are over-used on wikitree in a pre-1300 profiles, and for pre-1200 I doubt they should ever be used in our fields. I thought it best to write notes here instead of continuing discussion on that profile. The focus is England 1066-1300, in other words Anglo Norman titles. Perhaps it might be helpful for writing up recommendations etc. (If it is not all covered somewhere already.)
First, please note that I am aware of the following:
*There are already some recommendations around Wikitree. (But here I am focusing on specific early periods, where things were changing, and where also one very reasonable option is going to be simply avoiding titles. I am guessing we might be able to refine concerning that.)
*Modern writers, including here on Wikitree, can not always be 100% "authentic" in the naming systems they use for historical people who lived in times when names and titles were changing and unclear. Clear communication is of course a good aim in itself. (But we should never forget that it is important that we never make the communication easier by making the information being communicated wrong or misleading. Otherwise we make a fool of ourselves and the people who trust wikitree.)
So here are some notes based on David Crouch, (1992) The Image of Aristocracy in Britain 1000-1300.
1. First, the highest titles are relatively clear in sources, and there were very few people in England who had any such titles: A King, the ideas of Princes and Dukes, an evolving concept of Earls based on European Counts, etc. (Duke and Prince were known titles, normally only used for foreigners.) Use good sources such as Complete Peerage.
Note on Complete Peerage: if you are working on things like this you should have downloaded all of the 2nd edition on to your hard drive from familysearch. There is no excuse not to.
2. Barons. This is where things get messy. There really is no simple definition at all for the three centuries we are talking about. Kings did not start declaring people to be barons until later. The term was still a bit flexible, and though it had legal and taxation implications, these were mainly all seen as being flexible rules. In practice:
a. The easy ones are the parliamentary barons, who get defined in Complete Peerage. There are no parliamentary barons in the 11th or 12th century. In the 13th century after Magna Carta, it begins in fits and starts, people start being recognized as being of an important enough inheritance to automatically be invited to parliament. It was still messy and unclear, not a real system, but again we have a good reference work we can defer to. (Is it perfect and never anachronistic? No. If you read Complete Peerage it is full of qualifications, such as "and thus he is held to have become Lord Smith, according to modern doctrine".)
Comment on titles, such as Lord Such-and-such. Whatever our rules are for parliamentary barons, I suppose it is hard to avoid they can apply to these folks.
b. Before those invitations start giving us the Parliamentary barons, there are attempts especially by Sanders (English Baronies) to define an earlier type of baron. There is no simple consensus among historians about this, but Sanders is a reasonably standard list. Everyone working in this area should understand that this is not a clear system of titles. The word "baron" in this period can be thought of as similar in meaning to "magnate", a "big man".
The debatable and flexible ways of defining them used by people like Sanders depend on such things as (a) how much land did they possess (b) did they possess it direct from the king or at least a very important magnate such as a Bishop (c) did they get called baronies in things like fiscal records.
What titles to use? I would say none. These are not the Lords Such and such of Complete Peerage anymore. These are people who were seen as being important in several different fuzzy ways. Baron was not yet a real title at all but just a word for a mature man: the senior members of a specific group or community. I think we can better identify them using good categories and by careful writing and sourcing.
This is the background indeed to my recent work on the Early English Feudal Baronies category. Some of these lead to parliamentary baronies. In the 1200s some men who started life as a feudal baron ended up being parliamentary baron.
c. Knights. I believe there is really no call for "Sir knights" in this period. It might seem strange but in most of the real middle ages a knight was a military man, mostly someone serving others for reward and pay. They were respected sometimes and disrespected as violent men other times. For the Norman aristocracy at least it was no insult to be called a knight, because they were proud soldiers, but being a knight was not what made you noble. It seems the French speaking aristocracy were also developing initiation ceremonies for their fighting sons, but these were not initially for the majority of knights, so not what made most people a knight. Many knights held no land. The church, legal advisors to all of Europe, who did not like knights much at first, saw an opportunity with the Crusades to start turning them into christian orders, and this trend intertwined with the initiation ideas of the richer knights, and slowly a concept developed of a knight being a kind of lowest level noble. It took a long time.
Still for the period we are talking about many knights were not really noble, and so a concept developed which is now basically forgotten of knights who had their own banners: bannerets.
When the parliamentary invitations for barons started, it was sometimes mentioned that they were going out not only to barons, but also to bannerets. Crouch thinks barons were people powerful enough that if you left them off the list as king you might regret it, whereas with bannerets you could be on and off with your favours.
So bannerets are an area where I have no clear advice. But these were certainly seen as people of a higher class. It was not yet a perfectly clear system, and it disappeared. Furthermore, we also have no Complete Peerage or Sanders to help us define them. It was a kind of temporary phase. Later as a system developed in the 14th century, the banneret families tended to be slotted into the increasingly clear baronial class, or else the new knightly class which finally started to exist only then
The poor knights who did not manage to step up into one of these new categories are a semi-forgotten class. If you could not afford to be a knight of independent financial means, then people tended not to consider you a knight anymore, because ideas had changed.
But to come back to the original concern, before 1300 (roughly) there were poor knights. Being a knight did not make you noble. It made you a military man. All the later ideas of different orders and types of knight was a completely different world.