Knighthood was introduced to England at least as early as the reign of Alfred the Great. When Alfred made his grandson, Athelstan, a knight, he gave him a scarlet mantle set with precious stones, and a sword with a golden scabbard.
The birth and growth of the concept of knighthood in Europe is obscure but from its earliest days the word knight had an affinity with horsemanship. Knighthood eventually became associated with the medieval institution of chivalry, which was both religious and military in character. With the arrival of the Normans, knights formed an integral part of the feudal system. In William the Conqueror’s time there were about 5,000 knights, who served as fighting men under the command of the king’s barons, in return for grants of land.
Two main methods of conferring knighthood prevailed in the Middle Ages. The simpler form, which was used on the battlefield, was for the knight elect to kneel before the commander of the army, who struck him with the sword on his back and shoulder whilst uttering words such as ‘Avancez chevalier au nom de Dieu’. Such knights became known as ‘Knights Bachelor’.
The more elaborate method of knighting included the presentation of robes, arms and spurs, and the dubbing itself was administered by the Sovereign. The ceremony was preceded by a vigil and ritual bathing, and such knights became known as Knights of the Bath. The first record of these knights is at the coronation of King Henry IV in 1399, but (unlike the Knights of the Garter) they were not banded into any society or order until the reign of King George I (1714–1727). Such Knights became known as Knights of the Orders of Chivalry.
A knight bachelor is someone who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the orders of chivalry. He therefore ranks below knights of the orders of chivalry.
There is no female equivalent of the knight bachelor; women deserving the rank are appointed Dame Commanders of the British Empire (DBE) instead.
In legal and official documents ‘Knight’ may be added after the name of a knight bachelor. The letters ‘Kt’ and ‘KB’ are not appropriate and should not be added as post-nominal letters.
Knighthood does not affect the use of letters already borne, eg if Mr John Waverton, CB, CVO, OBE, is created a knight bachelor, he becomes Sir John Waverton, CB, CVO, OBE.