March 5, 2024 | Stephanie Kelsey

Valiant Facts About Medieval Knights


“Most have been forgotten. Most deserve to be forgotten. The heroes will always be remembered. The best. The best and the worst. And a few who were a bit of both". ―George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows

There have been hundreds of portrayals of medieval knights in popular culture, but how many get it right? Was my last visit to Medieval Times historically accurate? Were medieval knights as handsome as Heath Ledger in A Knight’s Tale? Should we all maybe learn about real medieval knights and stop going with idealized Hollywood portrayals? Probably. On that note, here are 44 valorous facts about medieval knights.


1. Peasants Need Not Apply

Let’s start with the basics. You probably have a vision of an army of men all gathered together wearing armor and wielding swords and shields, all while maneuvering on a horse. Well, you’re right. But not just any man could apply to be a knight. Only the wealthy were able to afford such an honor, as all of the above came at a hefty price tag.

Medieval Knights

2. You Gotta Look Good

Just like with anything, the evolution of a knight’s armor took a lot of time to get right. Originally, it was just a lot of strategically placed padding and chain mail, but eventually evolved into something sturdier that would actually protect them in battle. A knight who wore full armor would have an extra 50 pounds or so of weight on him, and would also be considered more important. And don’t forget, it all had to be custom-made for each knight.

Crusades FactsPxfuel

3. How Many Were There?

Depending on who you ask, there were eight or nine major crusades that took place over a 200-year period. It was devised by the Church to regain the Holy Land from the Muslims, with more, smaller ones interspersed. The Church and the knights who fought in the battles ultimately failed, but Pope upon Pope still kept the fight going.

Crusades FactsGood Free Photos

4. I’ll Give You Some Land, But…

The best knights were rewarded in the form of land. The only stipulation? The knight would have to be ready to fight whenever his King called on him. This give-and-take between king and knight would go on over the next 700 years under countless rulers.

Crusades FactsWikimedia Commons

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5. Let’s Go Back Even Further

Some believe that knights go back to the Roman Empire. We all associate knights with their horses and the Romans were very well known for equestrian order, the Ordo Equestris. There’s no absolute link between the order and knights, but there are too many similarities to count any possibility of influence out.

Wedding Objections factsPixabay

6. Which Horse Would You Be?

Warhorses were bred specifically for battle. On average, a warhorse would be up to five feet and four inches high and was usually a male. You’d never see a warhorse being paraded around, though. There were special horses just for those scenarios.

Spartacus FactsPicryl

7. Fact or Fiction?

King Arthur. You know the name, you’ve seen the movies and TV shows and heard the myth surrounding him. But was he real? Truth is, no one really knows. What we think we know of Arthur is that he lived in about the fifth or sixth century and led the Brits into battle against the Saxons. All the extra stuff: his knights of the round table and that famous sword of his, Excalibur, probably didn’t actually exist. Now, if you’re like me, you might want to believe in the even more fantastical part of the story: where magic and Merlin come into the picture.

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8. History Skewed Things a Little

Someone who was very real was Richard the Lionheart, or Richard I of England. He lived from 1157 to 1199, which really isn’t that long by today’s standards, but he was also shot with an arrow and that doesn’t exactly happen these days either. Modern-day research on his remains suggests that he probably didn't succumb due to the arrow that struck him, but rather it was likely more of an untreatable infection.

Richard I of England.Getty Images

9. Absentee Ruler

Richard the Lionheart’s reign lasted only 10 years, starting in 1189, and his people really didn’t see too much of him. The first three years, he was engaged in the Third Crusade, enhancing his reputation, but he was captured when he returned to England. The Holy Roman Empire only released him after the ransom for his release was paid.

Medieval England FactsGetty Images

10. The Family Business

If you were born a son to a knight, chances are you became one too. You were also able to become a knight by earning it on the battlefield.

Knights Templar Facts

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11. Not for the Faint of Heart

It was hard work though. Boys who wanted to be knights had to serve as a page for seven years, then as a squire for another seven years! And yeah, even the knights’ sons had to go through the long process. When it was all said and done, they took part in the accolade, or dubbing, ceremony, with a sword touching the neck or shoulder to declare him a true knight.

Knights Templar Facts

12. Now That's a Warrior

From there, du Guesclin was sent to take care of Charles II of Navarre. Following that, he was detained by the British, with Charles V settling the demanded ransom before he was then dispatched again to Spain. Yet again, the British took him captive, and Charles paid the ransom. Du Guesclin successfully reclaimed much land from the British for the French over the next decade or so, until he met his end in 1380.

Medieval Knights FactsWikimedia Commons

 

13. The Scottish Rebel

Have you watched Braveheart with Mel Gibson as the lead? It loosely draws inspiration from William Wallace, who tragically didn't live very long. The Scot was alive somewhere between 1272 and 1305 and made quite a name for himself in his short years. In 1297, he ended the life of an English sheriff and was one of the primary contributors to the Scottish rebellion. That same year, he and another rebel joined their forces and won a pretty big battle against the British at Stirling Bridge.

Braveheart FactsBraveheart ,Paramount Pictures

14.Died for the Cause

Unfortunately, Wallace also saw major defeat the following year at Falkirk, which forced him to go into hiding. He was found in 1305 and taken to England where he was found guilty of treason, and ultimately executed.

Braveheart FactsBraveheart ,Paramount Pictures

15. Church and State

With the Church heavily influencing kingdoms and knighthoods, it's really no surprise that they had a say in how swords were to be shaped. If you notice, they look like the cross. Eventually, knights also carried other equipment like maces, spears, and lances.

Marilyn Manson FactsPixabay

 

16. Vowing Their Allegiance

The Knights Templar set up their headquarters on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, with help from the ruler at the time, Baldwin II. That was when they changed their name, and vowed their service to the Christians coming into the city. It wasn’t until 1129 when they received formal support from the Catholic Church.

Herod The Great factsWikimedia Commons

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17. League of Their Own

Just 10 years after receiving that acknowledgment, Pope Innocent II allowed the Knights Templar their own set of rules. Things like not having to pay taxes and only having to listen to the Pope and no one else. The Knights took oaths, which included poverty, chastity, and obedience and would pray every day. But what really set them apart? The red cross on their attire.

Knights Templar FactsGetty Images

18. No Cavalry Too Big

Known for their unwavering resilience, the Knights Templar once engaged in a conflict against over 25,000 Muslim warriors at the Battle of Montgisard. 500 of the Knights and just a few thousand other men were able to defeat their foes.

Knights Templar FactsWikimedia Commons

19. Driving Out the Defenders

The Knights Templar were driven out of Jerusalem in the latter half of the 12th century, with most ending up in Paris. There, they endured harsh treatment and torment. Some were even burned alive. They officially disbanded in 1312, though reluctantly. Some believe the survivors went underground, but even now, the Catholic Church agrees that the treatment they faced while in France was not justified.

Knights Templar FactsPixabay

20. The New Knights

The Knights Hospitaller, who were related to the Templars, defended sick and poor pilgrims during the Crusades and wore a white cross on their clothes instead. They eventually moved to Malta and Rhodes island after the battle over Jerusalem.

Crusades FactsPixabay

21. Hospitality in Another Form

The Knights Hospitaller had an offshoot in Germany. The Teutonic Knights tried to take over Prussia, and though successful, were also eventually defeated by the Polish.

Medieval Knights FactsShutterstock

22. Was He or Wasn’t He?

John Hawkwood achieved his prominence during the Hundred Years’ conflict while battling on behalf of the British. No one knows who knighted him, or when, so his role as a knight is a little up in the air. The Italian republics also essentially had open competition for Hawkwood, given his prominent reputation. Hawkwood and his White Company as they were known would fight for whoever paid them the most. When his life ended in 1394, the Florentines paid homage to him through a painting at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore.

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23. El Cid at Your Service

Let’s face it, when we think of knights, we think more of the British or French versions. El Cid was a Spanish knight, whose real name was Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, and he lived from 1043 to 1099. He mainly fought opposite Spain’s Muslim rulers, but sometimes he fought with them. El Cid helped to gain the kingdom-city of Valencia in 1094, one of his biggest triumphs. He indeed held dominion over the city, but following his passing from natural causes, quite unexceptional as opposed to something dramatic like an arrow to the heart, his widow relinquished control of it.

Medieval Knights FactsWikimedia Commons

24. What’s in a Name?

There were Russian knights too! Case in point: Alexander Nevsky, who lived between 1220 and 1263, more or less. He was also known as Prince of Novgorod or Grand Prince of Vladimir but decided to change things up after overcoming the invading Swedes on the Neva River.

 

Medieval Knights FactsWikimedia Commons

25. They Really Like Him

Nevsky was revered by his people. After stopping the invasion from the North by Sweden, he also battled and won against one branch of the Teutonic Order during the Battle of the Ice. The Mongolians managed to overcome him though, Nevsky was intelligent and negotiated with them to diminish their influence. Upon his passing, the Russian Orthodox Church acknowledged his support for them through canonization.

Medieval Knights FactsWikimedia Commons

26. Courage, Valor, Bravery – Shall I Go On?

Chivalry was also an order amongst knights. They arrived following the Crusades and mirrored the structure of armed forces orders. The highest level considered in the United Kingdom was the Order of the Garter, founded in 1348 by King Edward III.

 

History's Upper Class factsGetty Images

27. You Give Knighthood a Bad Name

Chivalry was somewhat non-existent, however. Sure, the knights took their oath to protect women, the weak, the Church and their king, but a lot of knights took advantage of their roles. You would frequently see them causing havoc in towns and even bringing harm to innocent people when there were no battles to engage in.

Crusades FactsPxfuel

28. The Underworld Has No Wrath

Not all women needed protecting. History shows some female knights who stood their ground and fought alongside the men. Case in point: Countess Petronella of Leicester and Nicolaa de la Haye. Countess Petronella fought with her husband against Henry II while de le Haye fought alongside William Marshal against the French.

Dark Ages factsPixabay

29. No Knights Needed

By the end of the Middle Ages, knights were eventually replaced with regular combatants. Most countries had formed armies, paying and training men to fight so that the nobility didn’t have to anymore.The dynamics of combat were also transforming, with the introduction of new weaponry that challenged the knights' mobility in their armor.

Medieval Knights FactsPeakpx

30. Killers Wanted

Edward III was the first king to go to the streets to recruit new fighters in 1337. He decided to gather all the violent men he could find, even forgiving those who were in confinement if they pledged to battle for him.

Medieval Knights FactsWikipedia

31. A Knight Who Writes!

Sir Geoffroi de Charny wrote the book on knighthood. Literally! The French Nobleman, also a knight, penned three books that we are aware of prior to perishing on the battlefront in 1356. His most famous book was The Book of Chivalry and was an important resource for those seeking to become a knight. He also engaged in combat during The Hundred Years' conflict and was captured twice. He even managed to talk his way out of it, saying that he would pay his own ransom!

Medieval Knights FactsWikipedia

 

32. A History of the Black Prince

Ah, Edward, the Black Prince. He’s a character in A Knight’s Tale, you know. But I digress. The real Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales lived from 1330 to 1376 and likely earned his nickname because he wore black armor. He engaged in several significant combat scenarios, including the Battle of Crecy during the Hundred Years' conflict, and also with Edward III, his father, during the Battle of Poitiers. He even helped get Peter of Castile back on the throne in Spain. He would never become king, though. He became extremely ill and succumbed one year prior to his father, hence the crown was passed on to Edward's son, Richard II.

Portrait of Edward of Woodstock.Getty Images

33. Hotheaded

Sir Henry Percy was actually knighted by Edward III and went with Richard II after he became king on an expedition to Scotland. Henry was known for his bad temper and was nicknamed “Hotspur” as such. After Scotland, he went to France, and his status grew. Unfortunately, his family had some conflict with the new king, Henry IV, and he was essentially forced to rebel against the king, much to his detriment. He succumbed after being conquered during the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.

Medieval Knights FactsGeograph

34. That Doesn’t Sound Nearly as Fun

You would think that tournaments were kind of like the Olympics of the Middle Ages, kind of like how A Knight’s Tale portrays it, with a number of different events. In fact, tournaments lasted for hours for days and were basically just enactments of battles.

Close up of Medieval Knight HelmetЕгор Белов, Pexels

35. Informed You Chivalry Was No More

Tournaments also helped make knights famous and richer. They would seize the horses of their fellow knights and even capture other knights, insisting on ransom money!

Medieval Knights Facts Pxfuel

36. A True and Noble Knight

In the context of tournaments, the earlier mentioned William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, made his name through participation in tournaments and even confrontations. King Henry II originally made Marshal guardian for his oldest son, but when Henry’s sons revolted against their father, Marshal stayed true to Henry and helped end the rebellion.

Medieval Knights FactsWikimedia Commons

37. Never Wavering in His Duties

Remember Richard the Lionheart? He kept Marshal on when he took over as king, much to his benefit. Richard’s brother, John, tried seizing the throne, but Marshal put a stop to that. However, upon Richard's demise, Marshal assisted in ensuring John's successful succession to the throne, becoming one of John's most trusted advisors. After John's passing, Marshal remained loyal to the family, ensuring that John’s son Henry III would succeed his father.

Medieval England FactsWikimedia Commons

 

38. Let’s Joust!

You could also see knights jousting with each other when there were no battles to be fought. It was something like a sport (think Medieval Times) but it would never be the main event. Usually that would be a melee, where two groups of knights would fight against each other.

Roman Emperors FactsPxfuel

39. A Knight With Force

One of the greatest knights of France is largely believed to be Bertrand du Guesclin. He caught the attention of Charles V, who sent him around to deal with men Charles didn’t want around. Du Guesclin had helped keep morale in France high after defending against the British in the battle at Rennes in 1364.

Medieval Knights FactsPicryl

40. Score One for the Defenders

Castles were made with knights in mind. Those spiraling staircases? Made that way for a reason. Just imagine trying to wind your way up one to attack, wearing all of that armor. Not to mention, you were going clockwise up the staircase (almost all castle staircases turn the same way), which meant your left side was exposed. Most knights fought with their swords in their right hand, which gave the defending knights the advantage.

Castles FactsWikimedia Commons

 

41. Serving the King, Indeed

Those weren’t the only reasons for the end of the knight. You see, knights had the freedom to loot without reason, frequently contributing a portion of their plunder to the king. That money was then utilized to pay the newly recruited personnel. Oddly enough, knight is just an Old English term for servant.

Hidden Treasures FactsPxHere

 

42. Church and State

Mysterious as they may be, we actually know the exact origin of the Knights Templar. The need for a group of knights arose after Jerusalem came under Christian control in 1099 during the Crusades. Many pilgrims were robbed or even lost their lives as they tried crossing through areas still controlled by Muslims. Hugues de Payens, a French knight, started up the original Knights Templar somewhere around 1118. Back then, they were recognized as the Poor Comrades of Christ and the Temple of Solomon with only eight other participants.

Philip IV, The Iron King factsGetty Images

 

43. Let's Take It Way Back

The King of the Franks, Charlemagne, was the first to introduce the world to a knight, all the way back in the eighth century. He required dependable individuals capable of engaging in horseback combat throughout his territory.

Medieval Beliefs factsFlickr, hape662

 

44. End of an Era

The era of the knight came to an end with a simple invention: the arbalest. What’s an arbalest? I asked myself the same question. It was a super-crossbow made of steel and came about towards the end of the twelfth century. Since it was quite a lot sturdier than your average bow and arrow, it could accurately shoot up to 300 meters away and was a lot quicker to reload. Oh, and the major selling point? It could pierce through a knight’s armor. Someone who was really good at using the arbalest could take down two knights a minute. Crazy!

Byzantine Empire FactsWikimedia Commons, Gts-tg

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9


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