|Guide to the Middle Ages||
The Medieval period was dominated by the feudal system and the role of the Medieval knights and their servants. It was the duty of a Medieval Knight to learn how to fight and so serve their liege Lord according to the Code of Chivalry. But this was an extremely violent era in European and English history. Weapon practise included enhancing skills in the two-handed sword, battle axe, mace, dagger and lance. A Knight would be expected to guard a Castle and support his liege lord in Medieval warfare. Details of the life of Medieval knights in a castle, together with castle warfare, are covered in the section about Medieval Castles.
Becoming a Medieval Knight
There were two ways that a man could become a knight during the Middle Ages. The first was earning the right on the battlefield. If a soldier fought particularly bravely during a battle or war, he may be awarded knighthood by the king, a lord, or even another knight. The second way was to become an apprentice to a knight and earn the title through hard work and training.
Who could become a knight?
No doubt many young men growing up in the Middle Ages dreamed of becoming a knight, but only a few could afford to become knights. The first requirement of a knight was someone who could afford a knight's weapons, armour, and war horse. These items weren't cheap and only the very rich could pay for them.
Daily Life of a Knight in the Middle Ages
The daily life of a knight in the Middle ages followed a similar schedule to that of his lord or the noble he served. The Daily life of a Knight during the Middle ages centred around castles or Manors or fighting for his lord and the King during times of war. Much of his time was spent on honing his weapons skills and keeping his levels of fitness high.
Armour and Weapons
The most valuable items to a knight were his armour, weapons, and his war horse. These three items were very expensive, meaning that only the wealthy could afford to be knights. Many knights hoped to regain some of the cost through plunder when they conquered enemy towns and cities.
During the Middle Ages knights wore heavy armour made of metal. There were two main kinds of armour: chain mail and plate armour.
Mail was made from thousands of metal rings. The typical mail armour was a long cloak called a hauberk. Knights wore a padded cloak underneath the armour to help them carry the weight of the armour. A mail hauberk could weigh as much as 30 pounds.
Although mail was flexible and offered good protection, it could be pierced by an arrow or thin sword. Some knights began to put plates of metal over vital parts of their bodies for added protection. Soon they were completely covered in plate armour and they stopped wearing mail.
By the 1400s most knights were wearing full plate armour. This armour offered better protection, but it was less flexible and heavier than chain mail. A full set of plate armour weighed around 60 pounds. Many pieces of the armour had a unique name.
Here are some of the different pieces of plate armour and what they protected:
Greaves - ankles and calves
Sabatons - feet
Poleyns - knees
Cuisses - thighs
Gauntlets - hands
Vambrace - lower arms
Pauldron - shoulders
Breastplate - chest
Rerebrace - upper arms
Helmet - head
Knights of the Middle Ages used a variety of weapons. Some weapons were more effective when charging on a horse (like the lance), while others were better for hand to hand combat (like the sword).
One of the knight's most important possessions was his war horse. This horse was trained for battle. It wouldn't shy away from blood or combat. A good war horse could mean the difference between life and death for a knight.
The knight's war horse was called a destrier. The horse also wore armour for protection including metal plates to cover its neck, head, and sides.
Knights also had to know how to use siege weapons. These were special weapons used to capture castles.
Coat of Arms
Knights and nobles in the Middle Ages often had a coat of arms. This was a special symbol that represented their family. Having a special symbol or coat of arms is often called "heraldry".
How did having a coat of arms get started?
The first coat of arms was used to distinguish one knight from another. When a knight had on his full armour, including plate mail and helmet, even his friends couldn't recognize him. Because of this, knights began to paint symbols on their shields. They eventually began to put the symbol on their banner and the coat they wore over their armour. This is how it got the name "coat of arms".
Each coat of arms needed to be unique. However, there were so many knights that it was tough to keep track of who had what symbol. It became the job of people called heralds to keep track of the different coats of arms. They made sure that new coats of arms were unique. They also kept track of who each coat of arms belonged to.
Over time, there became strict laws in applying for a new coat of arms. Each new coat of arms needed to be registered with the government. A coat of arms belonged to the family of the knight. He would pass the coat of arms down to his eldest son.
Designing a Coat of Arms
The original coats of arms had fairly simple designs. As there became more and more coats of arms, the designs became more complicated in order for each one to be unique. All coats of arms have certain elements, however.
What did the colour mean?
Different background colours came to have different meanings. Red was the colour of a warrior and nobility. Other colours included blue for truth and sincerity, black for piety and knowledge, and green for hope and joy. The colours in heraldry are called tinctures.
What did different charges mean?
The charges used as the main figure in the coat of arms had different meanings as well. For example, the lion stood for majesty and strength, the elephant for wit and ambition, the boar for courage and ferocity, and the sun for power and glory.
Tournaments, Jousts, and the Code of Chivalry
When not fighting wars, knights needed to hone their skills. One way to do this was through tournaments and jousting. These events were a great way to keep in shape during times of peace.
Tournaments were pretend battles between groups of knights. When a town or area would have a tournament they would invite knights from other areas. Typically the local knights fought against the knights from outside the area.
The battle took place on a large field. On the day of the tournament a large crowd would gather to watch. There would even be stands built where the local nobles could sit to watch. Both sides would parade past the spectators shouting war cries and showing off their armor and coat of arms.
The tournament would begin with each side lining up and preparing for the charge. At the sound of a bugle each side would lower their lances and charge. The knights that were still on their horses after the first charge would turn and charge again. This "turning" is where the name "tournament" or "tourney" comes from. This would continue until one side won.
As you can imagine, tournaments were dangerous. The lances used were blunted so that knights would not be killed, but many were still injured. The best knight from each side was often awarded a prize.
Jousting was another very popular competition among knights during the Middle Ages. A joust was where two knights would charge each other and try to knock the other off their horse with a lance. Jousting was the highlight of many games and events. The winners were heroes and often won prize money.
The Ideal Knight
Knights were expected to behave a certain way. This was called the Code of Chivalry. The ideal knight would be humble, loyal, fair, Christian, and have good manners.
Code of Chivalry
Here are some of the main codes which Knights tried to live by: