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A paladin is the prototypical knight in shining armour, a hero of sterling character and courage, who rights wrongs and defends the weak and oppressed.

The word comes from Latin palatinus, "attached to the palace." The original paladins of legend were the heroes of the Chanson de Roland and the other romances of chivalry told about the legendary court of King Charlemagne. There were originally twelve paladins attached to Charlemagne's court. The best known list comes from the Italian epics of Tasso and Ariosto and their successors; it includes:

A different and much earlier listing of the twelve peers of France is contained in the Chanson de Roland; this list names:

Tales of the paladins of Charlemagne once rivalled the stories of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table in popularity. Ludovico Ariosto and Torquato Tasso, whose works were once as widely read and respected as Shakespeare's, were the principal poets who wrote tales of the epic deeds of the paladins. The tales that were told of the paladins revolved around the wars between the Franks and the Moors during the Islamic conquests of Spain and their invasion of southern France. Their adventures were known as the "Matter of Charlemagne" or "Matter of France," even as the adventures of King Arthur and his knights were known as the "Matter of Britain."

The late nineteenth century Celtic revival benefitted the Arthurian material and caused it to be reworked and recirculated. No such aura of latter-day romance could assist the Charlemagne material, which was strongly Christian and triumphalist in its presentation. As a result, in the twentieth century Arthur and his Camelot are well known while the paladins of Charlemagne, who once enjoyed equal renown, are mostly forgotten.

The paladin has recently been revived in the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game as the character class archetype of a heroic knight devoted to a sacred order.