A Knight ther was, and that a worthy man,
— Geoffrey Chaucer, Cantebury Tales
Heavy cavalry, with powerful attack, exceptional armour, but far more limited mobility compared to more agile medium cavalry or horse archers.
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The archetypical unit of mediaeval Christendom, the Knight is both a sight to behold and to beware. With a fully caparisoned horse, a full-face helmet and a small but hardy and agile shield, the knight brings glory to your armies and strikes fear in those ill-prepared to face a charge. Knights thus present a powerful shock element that if deployed properly, can deliver a powerful blow against an opposing force, like a sledgehammer against an egg. All this power, however, costs a great deal regardless of how greatly it corrupts its wielders and so players who intend to train these monstrously powerful units must pay attention to their ability to churn out enough ore and coin to equip their men as knights.
Not all factions recruit knights for heavy cavalry. however — Muslim and Asian factions (along with the Welsh and Norse) however do not recruit knights, but instead recruit weaker but cheaper Retinue Cavalry to do the bidding of their masters, which may or may not follow the same ethos of honour and service to a lord or strongman. Equally, not all Knights are made alike — the French breed of Knight, the Frankish Knight, continues the tradition of fast-moving, hard-hitting cavalry, while Byzantine Pronoiar Cataphracts have better armour ratings, making them all superior to Knights in may ways. Similar to Knights in may ways, Transoxanian Cavalry have the advantage of better training and acquaintance with the Knight's equestrian skills, thus granting them a "first strike" ability in all melee engagements.
- He Who Liveth By The Sword ... — As always, knights have sufficient armour and punching power to plow through hails of arrows, but not a wall of determined pointy objects. Thus while they are most effective against enemy archers and infantry, their worst enemy will forever be pikemen.
- Pronoiar Cavalry — Byzantine heavy cavalry is known for its armour which is superior to normal lancers. This type of heavy cavalry is also available to factions who historically had interests in the Balkans and Mainland Greece, such as Venice.
- Retinue Cavalry — In areas where Western feudalism does not penetrate, whole communities on the peripheries of Europe are capable of raising bodies of retainers on horseback to do the dirty work of fighting for them. Although weaker than Knights, they are still cheaper to train.
- Frankish Knight — The French propensity for fast and hard-hitting heavy cavalry continues in the Castle Age with the gendarmes, or men-at-arms. These are the men most loyal to the crown, and have thus been elected as the escorts for the Crown Prince, or Dauphin as he is known.
- Transoxanian Lancer — In the lands of Islam, a new people have arrived, the Khwarezmians. Armed with heavy lances and trained from birth to ride on the haunted steppes, these warriors from beyond the Oxus River in Central Asia are capable of a reach unknown to most melee units, and are capable of hitting archers from behind a spear or shieldwall.
- Várispán Lancer — Although now a Christian people, the Hungarians still maintain the cavalry traditions of their Turkic forbears. This means that while they are far more lightly armed, they are capable of untold destruction when flanking an opponent and thus cannot be underestimated.
- Freelancer — Knights too poor to afford the maintenance of their equipment and mounts may sell their services as mercenaries. These men are not only recruitable by most European factions but can also be raised by Muslim Moors thanks to contacts with Christian counterparts in Spain.
By the end of the 10th century, European magnates had realised that a man on horseback with a spear moves faster than one on foot, making him far more useful, and soon heavily armed horsemen began to take precedence over elite footmen. Even the Viking kingdoms soon learnt to use cavalry to their advantage, with their Gallicised Norman descendents soon learning to transport horses by ship to where they were needed. The cost of raising horse and rider and then arming them however was problematic to the extreme in the mostly agrarian societies of Dark Age Europe, and so it was that only people of means could furnish cavalry units to fight for their kings, meaning the ruling aristocracy (and in more modern times, yeomen as well).
These aristocrats were often landowners and in good time evolved into the warrior known to us as the knight, and were often found in the most warlike of societies. The French, Russians and Hungarians had good lands that allowed for the rise of an efficient feudal society to sustain a heavy cavalry tradition, a system that was soon adopted by the increasingly strapped-for-cash Byzantines, whose lands covered present-day Italy and the Balkans. Although knights were often expected to be landowners, not all of them were always sufficiently rich to do so, much less afford the sums required for maintenance of their equipment and mounts — the very embodiment of their own livelihoods. Towards the Modern Era, feudalism increasingly fell out of favour, and many knights, especially in Germany, were soon forced into becoming bandits or selling their services as mercenaries. Such a warrior, independent of land, custom and even fealty, were often called "Freelancers", and they were not only recruited by most European factions but were also raised by Muslim Moors who had contacts with their Christian counterparts in Spain.