Made from History
Tournaments were not the kind of events you’re thinking of.
BY TOM CROPPER
Knights in the Medieval period were pledged to their kings or lieges to carry out military service. In return they were granted a position in court, an estate and/or loot acquired in battle. Knights could either inherit their knighthood or earn it through deeds on the battlefield.
But how much much do we know about medieval knights? Here are 10 facts about knights and combat in the Middle Ages.
1. Tournaments were not what you think
We have a clear view of medieval tournaments, but they were not what you’re thinking. Instead they were vast recreations of battles and could last for hours and even days.
2. Tournaments were mass entertainment
These tournaments were wildly popular and successful knights became rich and famous. They earned their money by taking another knight hostage for ransom and stealing his horse.
3. William Marshal was the biggest hero in England
William Marshal as played by William Hurt in the movie Robin Hood (2010).
His name has slipped almost into obscurity, but William Marshal was the biggest hero of his day. He was the best tournament knight out there, unseated Richard I in battle, and drove the French away when they invaded. These days you normally get to see him as a bit part character in Robin Hood movies.
4. The longbow came from Wales
The longbow is thought to have been used most effectively by the Welsh before 1066. However, when Edward I sought to put down rebellion in Wales he was so impressed by the skill the Welsh archers ranged against him that he gave them jobs fighting in Scotland.
5. It was hard to become a knight
Becoming a knight was a long process, but could be worth the effort.
Every boy dreamed of becoming a knight, but it was a long road. First of all you’d have to serve seven years as a page followed by seven years as a squire.
6. The Term ‘coup de grace’ originates in the Middle Ages
Two knights coming to blows on the tournament field.
The term coup de grace refers to the final blow delivered to an opponent during a joust.
7. The code of chivalry was real
The classic idea of a Knight taking his vows.
When a man became a knight he took an oath to protect his king, women, the weak and to defend the Church. However, they did not always put this into practice.
8. Women sometimes did the fighting
In true Game of Thrones style some women were pretty handy knights. Countess Petronella of Leicester donned some armour and fought alongside her husband during a rebellion against Henry II. Another damsel, Nicolaa de la Haye, defended Lincoln Castle against the French invaders. With William Marshal, the most famous knight of the time, she fought them off and helped to save England for Edward III.
9. Knights were violent and anything but chivalrous
The idea of chivalry did exist, but it only extended to other knights. In reality there was nothing worse than a bunch of knights with no war to fight. They’d spend their time looting and pillaging and often massacring local villagers just for the pure fun of it.
10. Peasants killed off the knights
The Battle of Crecy where the longbow held the balance of power
When Edward III attacked France in 1337 he brought about a complete change in warfare. While the French had the finest aristocratic knights in the finest armour he scoured the prisons and backstreets for violent soldiers promising pardons if they came to fight. England’s trained longbowmen proved too good for the France’s knights at Crecy, Poitiers and, later, Agincourt.
Rumours about Richard I’s sexuality have persisted since his death.