A Knight & His Weapons & Chivalry

knightly-armorA Knight in Shining Armor is probably one of the most memorable images that comes to mind when thinking of the Middle Ages. A knight defended his king or feudal lord, sometimes riding to battle, going on a crusade, or defending a castle. And just how does he fit into our quest to see if it’s an age of Chivalry or Medieval Madness? Read on…

The path to knighthood was rigorous and not allowed for just anybody. Once he attained warrior status, the knight had to be ready to use his weapons in defense of honor and chivalry. Chivalry – that strange term I keep using…well, today I’m going to define it in the Medieval definition.

The Making of a Knight

As the Middle Ages progressed and feudalism became deeply engrained in society, rules were made. Typically, only a young man of noble family could train to become a knight.

Around age seven, noble boys would be sent away from their families to live in a relative or ally’s castle as a page. The duties of a page usually included serving food to the lord at meals, learning to hunt and train hawks, possibly learning to read or receiving religious instruction, beginning to ride, and mock fighting with wooden swords and shields.

A highly idealized/romanticized (and beautiful) painting of the a knighting ceremony.

A highly idealized/romanticized (and beautiful) painting of the a knighting ceremony.

Generally, around age fourteen the page would be promoted to squire. As squire, he served one knight – taking care of horses, cleaning weapons and armor, carrying messages, serving meals, and arming the knight before battle. In exchange for this work, the squire received training in horseback riding skills, tournament techniques, and battle skills from the knight.

Sometimes a warrior would be knighted before or after a great battle. Other times, he went through an elaborate religious ceremony and was knighted by the lord or a ruler. It just depended on the circumstances. Usually, a knight was given (or won) spurs and a special sword.

Some religious orders – like the Knights Templar of the Knights of the Order of St. John – accepted boys into their semi-monastic life and trained them through the same page/squire/knight phases. But then those knights were suppose to serve the religious organization for a certain amount of time.

Weapons

There were various types of weapons carried by knights; they vary through the decades. But here are some of the more common weapons used:

Notice the large swords used by these knights. They are single-hand swords, typically used for fighting on horseback.

Notice the large swords used by these knights. They are single-hand swords, typically used for fighting on horseback.

Sword – short sword, broadsword, two-handed sword, single-handed swore…take your pick! A sword is the weapon most associated with knights. Some swords – like Excalibur, supposedly carried by the legendary King Arthur – were famous and mythical.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Battle Axe, Flail, and Mace - Yikes!

Battle Axe, Flail, and Mace – Yikes!

“Sophisticated Clubs” – more properly called battle axe, mace, or flail. Sometimes combinations of these weapons were made – like a “mace and chain”, which was a combination of a flail and mace. These were great weapons for bashing the other guy’s armor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lances and little tournament shields

Tournament lances

Lance – knights were supposed to fight on horseback and lances were used to charge into infantry formations or charge against other horsemen. Usually in the tournament setting, “blunt” lances were used.

Shield – a defensive block against an opponents sword, club, or lance. Shield usually had a heraldic symbol on them to help knights identify each other during combat.

suit-of-armorArmor – for protections against all these weapons and against arrows and other flying projectiles, knights wore armor. It started out as heavy cotton tunics with metal rings sewn on. Then it progressed to chain mail – lots of little metal links hooked together to make a kind-of flexible protective mesh. And finally suits of plate armor – what’s most associated with “knights in armor.”

 

 

 

Chivalry

Okay, while exact definitions are going to vary from century to century, here’s the basics.

Chivalry was a “knight’s code.” It required him to respect the church, honor his commitment to his feudal lord, protect the weak and helpless, show mercy, and respect ladies. Good idea…but…

Now, there were knights were who did and bravo! I’m not saying chivalry wasn’t real. I’m just saying they didn’t always live up to their creed (or at least not all the time).

As time progressed, the Middle Ages got romanticized. (Thank you, Sir Walter Scott, especially. He was a 19th century writer, if you didn’t know.) I’m all for have ideals and chivalry is a great goal for guys. But when studying history we have to be careful not to overly idealize the ideals.

Hopefully that makes sense?

Thoughts

Knights, Weapons, Armor, and Honor Codes – so was really Chivalry or Medieval Madness?

For a time, knights and their clanking armor had their place, but toward the end of the Middle Ages, they were starting to become obsolete as armies of foot-soldiers could defeat the nobility of a kingdom. (Think Bannockburn and Agincourt – more on that next week.) The knight has become a symbol of Chivalry, but he’s also a symbol of Medieval Madness since he was often the instigator of quarrels and fights.

I have a fondness for the idea of chivalry and the gallant knight in noisy armor, but it has to be tempered with the realities of the past historic era.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I’d like to know – do you think the Medieval idea of chivalry can translate into the modern era? (Without the clanking armor, of course!)

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, living history enthusiast, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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2 Responses to A Knight & His Weapons & Chivalry

  1. I think knighthood can be easily translated to this day and age.
    Ofcourse without the weapons and armor (it would’ve been awesome though) let’s be honest it’ll be impossible passing security checks with these.

    I think it’ll be more than enough doing some little gestures as a start (if one is not doing them already) like holding doors,respecting all beings,defending the weak,standing up for what is right ..the list goes on and on.

    Yeah some of these actions won’t be accepted by some and by others they are considered a bit old fashioned but that shouldn’t stop a knight from trying anyways.

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