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"While evil flourishes and wrongs grow rank, while men are persecuted and women wronged, while weak things, human or animal, are maltreated, there is no rest for me beneath the skies, nor peace at any board or bed. Farewell!"—Solomon Kane, The Blue Flame of Vengeance
The medieval Knight Errant stems from the Chivalric Romance, where individual Knights In Shining Armor would wander the land, searching for evil to slay and ladies to rescue and whatnot, guided by the Damsel Errant. Since then, knights have declined in popularity, but the Knight Errant is still around in full force -- instead of knights, they are now often cowboys, samurai, or Samurai Cowboys.
Historically a knight errant would refer to a landless knight who would travel with his lord in service and hope of earning his own land. If he is traveling because he was sent by someone it might be a case of My Master, Right or Wrong.
Knights Errant have some or all of the following traits:
- They, by definition, have Chronic Hero Syndrome. They may or may not request compensation, but will always try to do the right thing.
- They have no fixed home, and spend their lives Walking the Earth (Errant means "wandering"). When they're finished smiting the local evil, they'll up and leave.
- They have a code of honor. If they are heroes, they can be a Knight in Sour Armor, but will always have some degree of idealism inside. On the rare occasion they're a villain, they're usually a Noble Demon or He Who Fights Monsters.
- They seek out wrongs to right, generally on a small scale -- a town beset by bandits, a dragon preying on the locals, etc. Only occasionally will they be pitted against an Evil Overlord with earth-conquering ambitions. They often have one specific quest they are on, but you can count on them running into unrelated trouble along the way.
- They are loners. They do not have any True Companions and are not part of a Five-Man Band. They may travel with a squire or two, but not with peers; they leave allies behind when they leave town. Their love interests, if any, are left behind or bumped off by the bad guys.
- Sometimes, they are The Stoic, almost to the point of being less a character and more a physical incarnation of justice. They are very prone to having a Mysterious Past. This type generally overlaps with The Drifter.
- The classic Knight Errant of Chivalric Romance is often accompanied by his Distaff Counterpart and complement the Damsel Errant. He is seeking adventure and she knows where adventures are to be found.
There are many variations on the Knight Errant outside of Knights In Shining Armor. The Western very often stars a Knight Errant in the form of a wandering gunslinger or cowboy. Samurai are often, and Ronin are almost always, Knights Errant. Wuxia heroes are Knights Errant. Because of the shared archetype, stories about one type of Knight Errant can easily be Recycled in Space -- New Old West and Space Western are examples of this.
Compare The Drifter, an accidental Knight Errant.
Anime & Manga
- Ash Ketchum from Pokémon.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima, this seems to be the job description of a Magister Magi.
- Kenshiro of Fist of the North Star is definitely one of these.
- As were Goku and his True Companions during the early parts of Dragon Ball.
- Tenma in Monster, especially as he decides to join the MSF.
- Porco Rosso.
- Rurouni Kenshin did this for ten years prior to the series, which starts with him temporarily suspending his Walking the Earth to stay in a dojo in Tokyo. His variation is that unless he's actively kicking butt, his looks, natural personality, and Obfuscating Stupidity work together to make sure nobody takes him seriously.
- The anime version also wears pink. (Based on color spreads, manga Kenshin has a red haori and a blue haori. Where he carried the one he wasn't currently wearing in his traveling days is a question for the ages, since he had no baggage.)
- Vash the Stampede does this, too, Obfuscating Stupidity turned Up to Eleven. He's a little less formal about it than Kenshin, because he hasn't got a vow, this is just his lifestyle, and he only learned to fight out of necessity, so he doesn't have quite the same type of warrior ethos as a proper knight or samurai.
- Jin of Samurai Champloo, prior to the series. After objecting to his master's choices, he was forced to kill him in self-defense and flee. Rejecting bushido as a code that binds people to mindlessly follow villains and idiots, he wanders around Japan searching for a purpose until Fuu makes him her bodyguard.
- The Elric brothers seem like this at the beginning of Fullmetal Alchemist, before the wider-reaching plot arcs start up--they travel from place to place, righting wrongs and searching for leads on how to get their bodies back.
- Especially true in the 2003 anime version, which had a few extra filler episodes near the beginning that consisted almost entirely of the Elrics going somewhere, righting some wrong, and going along their merry way, with the episode tying in minimally or not at all to the long-term plot.
- Miyamoto Usagi from Usagi Yojimbo.
- The titular character of Lucky Luke embodies this, to the point where the last panel of every album is him riding off into the sunset, singing I'm a lonesome cowboy.
- Dark Horse and Star Wars are coming out with a comic book series called Knight Errant. What's known is that it will have a lone Jedi Knight during the dark time before the final battle of Ruusan, where the Sith outnumber the Jedi, and the Republic has been whittled down to just the areas around the core. The lone Jedi will be going around to planets in the Sith zone and fighting the good fight.
- DCU's "The Warlord" seems to be based on this trope. Travis Morgan, aka "The Warlord", was a USAF lieutenant colonel who crash landed in Skartaris, a world inside the hollow Earth. A modern man injected into a world of sword & sorcery, he falls in love with and marries Tara, the warrior-queen of Shambhala. The character avoids a bad cliché by not becoming Skartaris’ leader and attempting to impose his values on it, but neither can he sit idly by at the royal court whilst knowing how much is 'wrong' in the rest of the world. As a result, he is constantly absent- journeying around Skartaris as a knight errant, enjoying the role of an adventurer far more than that of a king.
- Invoked by Gilbert in The Sandman, who insists upon being Rose Walker's "Knight Errant" in her search for her brother.
- The Seven Samurai are organized by a Knight Errant, and have a very Knight Errant-y M.O. despite their team size.
- The Magnificent Seven is a Western adaptation of The Seven Samurai.
- The Jedi from Star Wars often act as Knights Errant. Star Wars itself was adapted from The Hidden Fortress, a samurai movie. By the book Obi-Wan is a good specific example because he is an ideal Jedi Knight.
- Shane may be the Ur Example of cowboys as Knights Errant.
- Every Spaghetti Western.
- Sukiyaki Western Django
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
- The Forbidden Kingdom
- The Book of Eli
- William Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet has Romeo symbolically dressing up as a knight errant at the Capulet's party as he calls himself a pilgrim who has traveled to the shrine of Juliet.
- The Knights of the Round Table were a squadron of Knights Errant. Even though they were a team, they typically adventured alone.
- Don Quixote is a Deconstruction of, among other things, Knights Errant.
- The musical based on the novel is less tragic, and more of an Affectionate Parody.
- Wuxia novels, films, plays, etc. are full of such figures, and the term even translates to something like "wandering knight." This derives from Chinese knighthood, which isn't a widely-known subject in the West.
- The protagonist of The Last Knight is a knight errant who lives about 200 years after errantry has gone out of fashion. His squire is a former con man who at first comes along mostly because it keeps him out of jail, and later to look after his employer, who's prone to Honor Before Reason.
- Roland Deschain embodies this trope. Although he has a very specific mission/obsession, he explains that he'll never get to the Dark Tower unless he acts as part of "The White." This means he's obligated to fight evil wherever and whenever he finds it.
- Colonel Next from Thursday Next is consistently described as a "time-travelling Knight Errant", usually turning up in the nick of time to save the world.
- Malik ibn Ibrahim from the ebook anthology Wandering Djinn seems to fall into this category constantly.
- The Knights of the Cross in The Dresden Files fit this archetype; even Michael, who has a home, a wife, and a small army of potentially wizardly children spends much of his time traveling the globe, righting wrongs and fighting evil.
- The Prophecy of the Stones seems to have a whole class of Knight Errants. Not all of them are admirable, however.
- Alana from the Tortall universe starts out in The Woman Who Rides Like a Man to escape court and find adventure.
- Miles Vorkosigan has been diagnosed as having Knight Errant tendencies - by his mother.
- Simon Templar, more commonly known as The Saint, is this in many of creator Leslie Charteris's stories (one story collection was even titled Saint Errant) and in some episodes of the TV series that starred Roger Moore. Not so much in the Val Kilmer movie.
- Keith Laumer's Bolo series has the titular Bolo's, self-aware ultratanks with enough firepower to wipe a planet clean of life. They are openly stated as being Knight Errants, and in many cases are more "Human," than those they protect. Many Bolo stories involve a Bolo sacrificing itself to save the lives of innocents, or about them trying to understand their human companions.
- One story ends with the Bolo literally getting knighted.
- A very tiny knight errant is the subject of a poem by Tolkien, aptly titled "Errantry." The poem includes descriptions of his marvellously shiny armour, his attempts to woo and marry a butterfly, and his epic battles with dragonflies and bumblebees. Also, perhaps coincidentally, you can sing it to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan's "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General".
- "Saint George and The Dragon", taken from an old poem from The Faerie Queene begins with the Red Cross Knight riding across a plain, bound on a great adventure, sent by the Queen of the Fairies to fight the dragon.
- The Knight and Rogue Series is more or less about a young man who decides to make this his occupation in spite of knights being a thing of the past.
- A rare anti-heroic version appears in the form of Richard Sharpe. Lampshaded by Major Hogan in Sharpe's Havoc:
Hogan: King Arthur, God rest his soul, would have loved you. He'd have had you rescuing every maiden in the land.
- John Shannow, the eponymous Jerusalem Man in David Gemmel's series of that name, starts by wandering a post-Apocalyptic Earth in a vague search for Jerusalem, but is repeatedly distracted by evil.
- The first novel in the Mechwarrior: Dark Age series centers around a Knight Errant, essentially a Mech Warrior who had the job of traveling to trouble spots around the galaxy and basically lying low to gather information and take action in case something came up.
- Solomon Kane.
Live Action TV
- The A-Team, similarly: the knight-errant needs to be solitary.
- Angel Parodied when Wesley attempts to be this when first introduced.
- In Doctor Who, the Doctor often fits this trope, even if he's not actively seeking wrongs to right, he seldom hesitates to get involved when he runs into one. He's had many companions, but they act more like "squires" than true partners and none of them stay with him forever. His sixth incarnation outright calls himself a Knight Errant at least once.
- Dr. Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap is a time-traveling Knight Errant who "strives to put right what once went wrong" one life at a time.
- Paladin, the protagonist of Have Gun Will Travel.
- Brisco County and Lord Bowler fit this perfectly. Bounty hunters travelling the West looking for bad guys, and usually finding them.
- Both Gwaine and Lancelot at times in BBC's Merlin
- Sam and Dean in Supernatural fit this trope, especially the former. While they may have other goals during the series - finding their father in Season One, trying to negate Dean's contract in Season Three - they always stop by in whatever wayward towns are being haunted even if they don't have personal reasons to, and deal with the supernatural threats there. Although they ARE involved in criminal activity - false credit cards, fake IDs - this is done for sustanance and to further their goals each time, as they don't get paid for their work. Other Hunters probably count as well - particularly John Winchester before his death, Bobby Singer, and Ellen & Jo Harvelle as of the Season Two finale.
- The Master, a show about an aging ninja master and his apprentice, traveling in a van a righting wrongs.
- Caine from Kung Fu.
- Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
- RPG adventuring parties aren't normally an example of this; a key part of this trope is that the knight is solitary. "Solo" campaigns, with a single player and a DM, are not uncommon however.
- Bretonnia, one of the factions in Warhammer Fantasy Battles, has a unit type called Knights Errant, representing the young, impetuous knights whose courage sometimes outpaces their skill. Their special rules reflect these details. A better example of this trope, Questing Knights, are knights who have given up their feudal responsibilities to quest for the Grail and the Lady of the Lake; their oaths command them never to stay in one place for too long, and they keep righting wrongs until they die or drink from the Grail.
- Magic: The Gathering has Gideon Jura. Elspeth Tirel as well, who actually bears the title of Knight-Errant. Elspeth's defining trait is that she doesn't want to planeswalk; she just wants to find paradise and stay there.
- Of course, this is Magic. Her first home was destroyed by Phyrexia, and her adopted home of Bant became culturally contaminated when the shards of Alara merged. Now she's trying to take the fight to Phyrexia, and the outlook is very bad.
- And then of course there is the vanilla card from even further back Knight Errant.
- Samara, an Asari party member in Mass Effect 2 is a Justicar. According to her "the closest human equivalent would be a knight errant, with perhaps a bit of samurai".
- Paragon Shepard can spend most of their time travelling the galaxy and selflessly going out of the way to put right any wrong they encounter.
- Sanger Zonvolt from the Super Robot Wars series, the Sword That Smites Evil who will show up whenever evil arises. And will do anything to protect his girl, namely Sophia Nate.
- After performing a service for the city of Leyawiin, you and a jovial NPC receive this title.
- The Warden from Dragon Age, who goes where they must and where they are most needed.
- Samus is often seen as one.
- Adol Christin of Ys decided when he was a kid that he'd travel the world, righting wrongs and nailing chicks. Well, the second part's mostly inferred.
- Kingdom Hearts gave us Sora, who constantly travels from world to world, never stopping or staying very long, righting whatever wrongs he happens to come across along the way, from finding lost dogs to toppling local tyrants. He might have a few too many friends to count as a truly classical example, but 90% of them are the "leave them behind when you leave town" variety.
- Besides his Quest for Sex, Rance qualifies. He's a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, so while he'll claim everything he does is for his Quest for Sex, he's usually nice enough to help out a Damsel in Distress or A Friend in Need. For the right price, of course.