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The Black Knight

...ride forth on a jet black steed, murder your enemies in one fell blow, and bring nightmares to every corner of the land. If this sounds good to you, consider the career of black knight.
~ How to Be a Villain, Neil Zawacki.

Black Knights, also referred to as "Dark Knights" (not to be confused with the DC Comics superhero Batman's nickname "The Dark Knight"), is a literary stock character who masks their identity and that of their liege by not displaying heraldry. Black knights are usually portrayed as villainous figures who use this anonymity for misdeeds. They are often contrasted with the knight-errant. The character appeared in Arthurian literature and has been adapted and adopted by various authors, in cinema and popular culture. The character is sometimes associated with death or darkness.

An enigmatic warrior, clad head to toe in armor black as night, which he is never seen without. Usually ridiculously powerful, he is feared by all who know of him. Wielding a sword, speaking in a low monotone or sinister growl, and looking really tough while doing it, he is almost always a major antagonist. Commonly filling the role of The Dragon in fantasy stories. The Hero probably has a score to settle with him. The mystery surrounding his true identity is often a main plot point. Given his armor, he can show up and fight in The Tourney without betraying it. Sometimes there's nothing but the suit of armor. Sometimes, they're even a girl.

A Black Knight is usually found in settings in which a Knight in Shining Armor is also present. Frequently, they revel in combat. A common subversion is that they're not actually evil, but merely a Self-Proclaimed Knight.

The trope name comes from the black knights of feudal Europe, men who would paint their armor and shields black for a number of reasons. One reason to do this was because they had no liege, making them analogous to Ronin Samurai. The black paint prevented the armor from rusting, which made life moderately easier for knights without a squire.note A more sinister motive for the paint was to disguise who it was they served. A knight could move freely and serve his lord's wishes without bringing him blame by painting over his coat of arms, one of the few ways to reliably identify a man in full platemail. This is Older Than Print, going back at least to Arthurian legend. Note that, in its original usage, a Black Knight was not necessarily villainous, though he was dishonorable, which in "The Dung Ages" was barely a step up.

Note that, although being a black knight, this character is still a knight. This places them rather high among the list of potential candidates for Dark Is Not Evil, or at least a sympathetic form of villainy. While that can take a variety of forms, they rarely are the Knight in Shining Armor. More likely, they can be anything from a Knight in Sour Armor to a Noble Demon. This character very rarely is a total villain, but also only rarely The Hero. If they are villainous and end up fighting another bad guy, the chances that they are A Lighter Shade of Black in that situation are extremely high. They might also be the holy, chosen guardians of The Sacred Darkness or a Magic Knight who uses that power alongside their sword.

A Sub-Trope of "Evil Wears Black". A Monster Knight has a high chance of being a Black Knight. If the Black Knight is in service to a female villain, then it may be a case of Dark Lady and Black Knight. See also Darth Vader Clone, because Darth Vader himself is an example of this trope. As well as Tin Tyrant when an Evil Overlord dons a set of black armor covering the entire body. Contrast The Paladin.