Knights & Warfare

Main Points

-Warfare in the Middle Ages was instrumental to the development of Europe
-Knights were the most important soldiers, and led the infantry in war
-Knights had many weapons, pieces of armor, and battle tactics to help them succeed
-Knights were taught to be honorable, and followed the rules of Chivalry
-There were many differences between knights and normal troops/infantry


Warfare in the Middle Ages was instrumental to the development of Europe. Without it, lands would never have been conquered, heroes would never have risen, and important weapons would never have been invented. And at the center of all this were the knights. Towering above the infantry on an armored horse with a intimidating helmet and a spear under his arm, knights were much more than just an archer or an average foot soldier. From leading soldiers in battle to competing in tournaments during peacetime, knights had many important responsibilities.

Becoming a Knight

A child from a noble family who wished to become a knight left his home when he was about seven years old. He didn't immediately become a knight, though. First, he trained as a page. While a page, he learned good manners (the roots of chivalry), how to follow orders, and he also began learning how to hold a sword and ride a horse.
When the young knight turned fourteen, he became a squire. The word "squire" comes from a French word meaning "shield carrier". One of the main duties of a squire was to carry the shield of the knight who was training him into battle. The squire would also look after the knight's horses, armor, and weapons. When he wasn't helping his trainer in battle, a squire would practice hunting, wrestling, and using large weapons. He would also train using a quintan, which was a post with a target on it. The squire would charge at full blast on his horse and try to hit the target with his lance. If he missed, a counterweight on the quintan would swing around and knock the squire of his horse.
At last, when he turned eighteen, the squire would be dubbed a knight. Often times the dubbing would be a grand ceremony, in which the king would tap the squire on his shoulder with his sword, proclaiming the squire a knight. On rare occasions, a squire would be dubbed much more informally. For example, a he might be dubbed on the battlefield after exhibiting bravery and courage in the battle. Becoming a knight was very important to young men in the Middle Ages.
Learning social skills, horseback riding, and swordfighting.
Carrying his master's shield, tending to his master's horse, sword, armor, ect.
40 days of knight duty a year, having his own horse, armor, and weapons, and following chivalry.

This is a suit of plate armor from the Middle Ages
This is a suit of plate armor from the Middle Ages

Armor and Heraldry

The earliest armor worn by knights was simply linen that was stuffed with padding and hardened by being drizzled in oil. This armor offered minimal protection against attacks from enemies. Wealthier knights were able to afford chain mail, which consisted of thousands of small, metal rings linked together. Knights also wore a soft, leather aketon under their chain mail to prevent the rings from cutting themselves. By 1200, the idea of a coat of chain mail had expanded rapidly. The hauberk/coat of chain mail now reached below the knees, and the top formed into a coif, or hood, that protected the knight's head. Some hauberks even had mittens and leggings to protect one's limbs. By 1300, knights began to wear some pieces of armor over their hauberks in order to protect themselves from arrows, but it wasn't until the 1400s the knights wore plate armor. Plate armor was full armor that offered the best protection for wealthy knights. A full suit of armor weighed between 50 and 60 pounds, and consisted of 15-16 individual pieces of armor.
On the battlefield, dressed in full suits of armor, it was hard for a knight to ditinguish his enemies from his allies. So that knights wouldn't kill people on their side, heraldry was invented in 1150.Heraldry was a series of codes that a knight used to identify himself. Different designs and patterns were painted on a knight's shield, cape, and the robe of his horse. Sometimes patterns were inherited from a knight's parents, and other times they were created based on an attribute or a feat accomplished by a knight. Heralds were experts who kept track of different knights' patterns, and to identify knights that had fallen in battle.

On the Battlefield

Each knight belonged to a lord . The knights owed services to their lords in exchange for shelter, food, money, and glory. If a lord needed people to fight off his enemies, he would summon warriors from all over his kingdom in advance to prepare for battle.
Battles themselves took place in a variety of terrains that called for different strategies. For example, if an army observed the enemy going through a valley, they could set up an ambush with archers posted in convenient locations. Slow, heavily armored soldiers would have been preferable in some spots while quick, lightly armored soldiers would have been preferable in others. From archers to spearmen to Knights, there were many different kinds of troops employed in the Middle Ages. When paired and aligned in different formations, these troops could work together to repel the enemy more successfully.For example, if a front line of swordsmen used their shields to block charging soldiers, the archers in the back could send in a volley of arrows to wipe out most of the enemy, while the swordsmen drew their swords and fought the unsuspecting survivors. With varying weather conditions, formations of enemies, and the seemingly random outcome of hand-to-hand combat, it was very hard to predict the result of battles in the Middle Ages.


Soldiers and knights in the Middle Ages used many different weapons and wore many pieces of armor in order to be successful in battle. In fact, most warriors used more than one weapon for different situations. For example, a knight would fight with a long, sharp lance/spear while on his horse, but if he fell off he would have a knife or a short sword to fight hand-to-hand against his opponents. The versatility of weapons that the knights possessed was just one of the reasons that they were so successful in their time.
While many people are familiar with swords and spears, not as many people are familiar with more obscure weapons like caltrops or flails. The following list defines many of the weapons used in the Middle Ages.

Swords- Swords were one of the most common weapons that were used. They consisted of a handle, a hilt, and a blade. Longer swords were used for thrusting or delivering a final blow, while shorter ones were used for stabbing or slashing.
Spear/Lance- Spears were used by knights on horseback and sometimes the front line of an army. Their long range made them so successful. Spears were basically a wooden pole with a sharp, metal spearhead tied to the top.
Mace/Flail- Maces and flails were strong, heavy, metal weapons that could seriously injure an enemy with a heavy blow to the head or chest. Maces were metal poles with metal, studded balls at the tip, while flails had chains connecting the pole to the macehead that allowed for swinging.
Ranged Weapons-Ranged weapons played a huge role in warfare of the Middle Ages. The two main weapons that could kill enemies from a distance were the crossbow and the longbow. They were similar in effect, although crossbows were easier to use, shot harder, but took longer to reload.


Chivalry was a code of behavior that all good knights were supposed to follow. It was introduced around 1000 by the Christian Church in an attempt to stop knights from fighting one another, stealing, and killing peasants during peacetime, when they would often get restless. By 1250, almost all knights were taught to be chivalrous from a young age. The main laws of chivalry state that a good knight should:
-Defend his religion and protect the Church
-Protect the weak
-Keep himself fit
-Act in an honorable way
-Show devotion to his lady
-Never be satisfied with what he has already done, but always wish to do more
-Be brave, loyal, generous, polite, and honest, but never brag
-Not attack an unarmed knight
-Treat imprisoned knights well


During peacetime, tournaments were a great way for knights to stay in shape and win prizes. There were many different kinds of tournaments, including jousts and meeles . At first, tournaments consisted of two teams of knights fighting each other in mock battles, or meeles, that were supposed to be a friendly display of the knight's skill for the fans to enjoy. Unfortunately, the tournaments were often rough and disorderly, and knights were often injured and killed. Even when the tournaments went by the rules, the losers would have to surrender their horse, armor, weapons, and whatever else the winners requested. Sometimes the winning knights would even take the losing knights hostage for ransom. Finding this behavior too rough, the Church intervened, suggesting that the knights fight one-on-one battles, such as sword fights and jousts.The Church also suggested that the tips of the swords and lances be blunted, so as to further safen the lives of the knights.
Jousts quickly became the most popular of these new tournaments. Jousts were contests between two knights on horseback, each armed with a lance. The knights would charge at each other in long, narrow arenas called lists. The winner was the knight who stayed on his horse and knocked off the other knight. By the 1200s, tournaments became huge social events of the castles, complete with armorers, horse dealers, shoemakers, food sellers, acrobats, and storytellers. Knights would show up from near and far to show skills, hoping to win a prize. Tournaments were an important part of a knight's life, and are very similar to sporting events today.
This picture shows two armored knights charging at each other. Notice the patterns painted on the knights' shields, armor and horses' capes.


Eastwood, Kay. The Life of a Knight. Crabtree Publication Company, 2003.

Jousting Image:
Knight Image:

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