Military force mounted on horseback, formerly an important element in the armies of all major powers. When used in combination with other military
forces, its main duties included gathering information about the enemy, screening movements of its own army, pursuing a defeated enemy, striking
suddenly at detected weak points, turning exposed flanks, and exploiting a penetration or breakthrough. In the late 19th century, largely because of the
introduction of repeating rifles and machine guns, cavalry lost much of its former value. By World War I, a cavalry charge against a line of entrenched
troops with rapid-firing small arms was suicidal. Armored vehicles soon replaced horses, and by the 1950s no modern army had horse-mounted units.
Today's units designated "cavalry" employ helicopters and light armored vehicles in ways analogous to horse cavalry.
In the European Middle Ages, a formally professed cavalryman, generally a vassal holding land as a fief from the lord he served (see feudalism).
At about 7 a boy bound for knighthood became a page, then at 12 a damoiseau ("lordling"), varlet, or valet, and subsequently a shieldbearer or esquire.
When judged ready, he was dubbed knight by his lord in a solemn ceremony. The Christian ideal of knightly behavior (see chivalry) required
devotion to the church, loyalty to military and feudal superiors, and preservation of personal honor. By the 16th century knighthood had become
honorific rather than feudal or military.
Man-at-arms (or sometimes armsman) was a medieval term for a soldier, almost always a professional. It was most often used to refer to men in
a knight's or lord's retinue who were well-equipped and well-trained (deriving from having men under arms - meaning to be trained in the use of
A squire was originally a young man who aspired to the rank of knighthood and who, as part of his development to that end, served an existing knight as
his attendant or shield carrier (hence the name). However, during the middle ages the rank of esquire came to be recognized in its own right and, once
knighthood ceased to be conferred by any but the monarch, it was no longer to be assumed that a squire would in due course progress to be a knight. The
connection between a squire and any particular knight also ceased to exist, as did any shield carrying duties.