At what date is it appropriate to start using Sir for English knights?

+3 votes
132 views
When I tire of sourcing I look around to see what's going on. Came across this recently worked on profile and couldn't at first work out what made me feel uncomfortable. With the prefix Sir and that gorgeous image it simply didn't feel like a Norman profile. Wikipedia says "The form Sir is first documented in English in 1297" it adds that from about 1205 Sire was used. Does it matter? Not for me to decide but I was disorientated when I looked at the page.
WikiTree profile: Robert Corbet
asked in Genealogy Help by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (122k points)
The Normans had knighting ceremonies. We know Henry (later Henry I) was knighted by his father, William the Conqueror, in 1086. You're right that the use of "Sir" is anachronistic but it doesn't seem overly important to me.

2 Answers

+4 votes
Perhaps you need to go back a stage and ask about Norman 'Sieur'?
answered by Martin Allen G2G6 Pilot (251k points)
+7 votes
Hard to say when a French word became English, because people spoke franglais - they peppered their English with French words.  And very little English writing survives anyway, especially if you discount later copies that might have been modernized by the copyist.

Routine formal knighting started about the mid 13th century, give or take.  There are few early records, but people started appearing in legal documents with miles or chivaler after their names.  It was going out of fashion by 1400.

Earlier, a few very important people were knighted by elaborate ceremonies - the forerunners of Knights of the Bath. One theory says this was a prerequisite for an earldom.

But "Sir" wasn't always linked with knighthood as such.  That usage probably settled about 1600.  A century earlier, you can find clergymen called Sir although they weren't knighted.  In the Agincourt roll, a variety of people are called Sire or Msgr but it's hard to see what it signifies.

Going back as far as Wace (time of Henry II), sire was used for landowners - sire of this place or that.  (Later, knighthood was never territorial - nobody was "Knight of" anywhere, although you see it all over the net.)

The obvious Latin translation of sire was senior, but they don't seem to have used that.  They just slapped dominus on everybody from a squire to a parliamentary peer.  Peers are often called Seigneur in early records of parliament.

But common genealogical practice is to ignore the imponderables and use Sir to translate the postnominal miles or chivaler or knt.
answered by RJ Horace G2G6 Pilot (416k points)

Good answer! I'll just add that once English society had become stratified into precise ranks: yeoman, gentlemen, esquire, knight, etc the Latin word for soldier: miles (pronounced "meel-ez") was used in records to denote a knight.

"Later, knighthood was never territorial - nobody was "Knight of" anywhere, although you see it all over the net."

Essentially true, but the usage is not invariably incorrect, it's sometimes a matter of understanding the intent and context. The phrase "knight of [location]" was commonly used to designate the location of the knight's principal residence. He was not the knight of that particular location but, rather, a knight who resided at that location. The usage is also found in ancient legal documents as a means of more particularly identifying the knight referred to in the document. It was commonly used to differentiate between two contemporary knights of the same given name or surname. For example, Sir Walter Reade, knight of Wapping, and Sir Walter Reade, knight of Risely, might be differentiated in that manner.

Thanks RJ & Patrick!

Going back as far as Wace (time of Henry II), sire was used for landowners - sire of this place or that.  (Later, knighthood was never territorial - nobody was "Knight of" anywhere, although you see it all over the net.)

Until I read that, I had no idea that the interpretation should have been as Patrick pointed out - a knight whose principal residence was the "of" location.

Personally I'd use the common medieval style, "Walter Reade of Wapping, knight", or modernize it as "Sir Walter Reade of Wapping".
yup - either works better than Walter Reade, Knt., of Wapping.

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