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A knight-villein[1] (Cavaleiro-vilão[2] in Portuguese, caballero villano in Spanish) was a free plebeian horsemen who owned land, weapons and a horse, despite not being part of the nobility, being prominent in medieval Portugal, Castile and Leon.

Knights-villein provided military service directly to the king, and in exchange were entitled to the same set of privileges as minor nobles for doing so: among others, they did not pay scutage, and their testimony was considered proof in courts.[3]

Commoners usually fought on foot, but if their property indicated a certain level of affluence they were obligated to own a horse and considered knights-villein, the highest class of free commoners, just below the nobility.[2] The town charter of Penela reads: "all those that dwell here and have two yoke of oxen and ten sheep and two cows and a bed of cloth, he that has more, let him get also a horse".[2] In medieval Portugal, two-thirds of knights-villein were obligated to partake for a set number of weeks in a fossado (raid) on Muslim territory, being entitled to a share of captured loot, but fined 15 soldos if they did not respond to the call to arms in case of foreign invasion.[4]

They often organized raids on Muslim lands of their own initiative, and settled in or around the frontier towns in southern or eastern Portugal, giving them a military character.[5] Between the capture of Coimbra in 1064 and the capture of Lisbon in 1147, the conquest of land from al-Andalus to Portugal was mostly undertaken by minor nobles and knights-villein from the towns or rural communities.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ A. H. De Oliveira Marques: Daily Life in Portugal in the Late Middle Ages Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1971, p. 122.
  2. ^ a b c H. V. Livermore: A History of Portugal, Cambridge University Press, p.148.
  3. ^ Cavaleiro-Vilão in
  4. ^ JOSÉ AUGUSTO DA CUNHA FREITAS DE OLIVEIRA: PEÃO OU CAVALEIRO: a fortuna de um pequeno proprietário de Sesimbra, em 1369 pp. 271-275.
  5. ^ H. V. Livermore: A New History of Portugal, 1976, p. 68.
  6. ^ José Augusto de Sotto Mayor Pizarro: The Participation of the Nobility in the Reconquest and in the Military Orders, University of Porto, at