Wednesday, February 13, 2013


When considering the Medieval Period in Europe, one of the first things many people think of are Knights.  Many of the best stories of the Medieval Period are legends of Knights.  The stories might be myth and legend such as those of Arthur's Round Table, St. George, or based in reality such as tales about Sir William Marshal.  This page will offer up all kinds of information about how Knights dressed, how they trained for the job, what they did and the tools they used.

The word knight itself, comes from an Anglo-Saxon word that originally meant servant.  Knights had other names in other countries.  In Germany, they were referred to as ritters, in France as chevaliers and in Spain as caballerosSince knights were part of the cavalry, many associated them with their horses, so many of their names originate in the fact that they were owners of horses (for example, in French, Cheval, means horse).  The Warrior class in Japan named their top warriors Samurai.  Samurai can't be forgotten when considering the great Knights of the Medieval Period.  

Chivalry came to refer to the "Chivalric Code" or a Knight's code of conduct.  There were certain rules a knight was expected to obey.  For example, when he captured an enemy, that enemy was supposed to be treated as an honored guest - even if he was a captive.  In return, captured knights were supposed to remain "captured" until released or a ransom was paid.  In other words, a knight wasn't supposed to run away or try to escape once captured.  Chivalry was not a common expectation during the early middle ages, but by the late middle ages, there were clear and definite rules of war to be followed by all knights participating in a conquest or battle.


Heraldry was how different people announced who they were.  This was really important to Knights who were covered in armor, so their colors and symbols were worn on their shield, shown in banners, and used on their outer garments and the blankets worn by their horses.  There is a whole system of proper symbols and by the end of the Medieval period, one had to register their "coat of arms" officially with the ruling government.  
Many families can actually find an official family crest assigned to their name generations ago.  There are also many companies that will allow you to "purchase" a copy of your family crest.  Unfortunately a lot of these companies are charlatans.  Making sure the crest you find for your family is the correct crest can be difficult and far fewer of us actually have an official family crest than these companies would like you to know.  Still, if you'd like to do a search and learn what your family crest might have looked like, this can be a fun activity.

It might be more fun to allow your child to create his/her own family crest and/or coat of arms.
First, you'll want to learn some of the symbols and  color and backgrounds used in heraldry and share an appropriate amount of detail with your child.  A very small child may only need to see some examples and be imaginative, while a much older child can get very serious on his/her quest to make the coat of arms a very meaningful symbol of self.  An individual had special symbols he/she might use as well.  For example a third son might have included a molet (or five-pointed star) on his shield while a second son would have worn a crescent (opening upward) on his.

Training To Be A Knight:

A boy from a family of wealth, would frequently been sent to train under a knight at around the age of eight.  He would begin as a page.  Loyal and obedient service to your knight was rewarded with more lessons and eventual advancement to squire.  Pages and squires had numerous jobs that involved cleaning and caring for the knight's equipment, learning the art of falconry and aiding in hunting, and helping a knight to dress.  There were games for pages and squires to play that also helped them learn key strategic and fighting skills.  Squires also began riding lessons, drills on horseback and horse care.  An experienced squire even rode into battle to help make sure his knight had renewed supplies and he could offer quick repairs to weapons if needed.   As always, please preview videos.

In this museum minute you'll see the steps to getting a Knight dressed for battle or a tournament.  Something a squire would have been in charge of doing for his master knight.  The company makes replicas, so it is really an ad, but it doesn't come across strongly as one and still shows the process nicely.

Tournaments were a big deal and a chance for knights and squires to practice as well as show-off their skills.  If you live near a Medieval Times, or a Reenactment Group, I definitely recommend going and taking in a tournament together.  There are a few myths about how things really were during  the period, and Medieval Times in particular, is all about the show and entertaining its audience (who can blame them, that is what they are for) but it will be a fun experience and an older student can compare what they see with their research while evaluating for accuracy.

Knight's Clothing And Tools:

Parts of a Knight's Armor:

Armor fashions and technology changed over time but here are some of the main pieces a knight might wear for protection.
  1. Arming Cap - tie that keeps coif attached.
  2. Breastplate - cover chest.
  3. Chainmail - "fabric" made of thousands of tiny linked loops of metal shaped into protective garments.
  4. Chausses - chain mail worn over legs.
  5. Coif - chain mail covering for head worn under helmet.
  6. Cuisse or Kneecup - cover kneecap and upper leg.  
  7. Faulds or Tassets - cover hipbones. 
  8. Gambeson - shirt.
  9. Gauntlets - cover wrist and hand. 
  10. Gorget - covers neck. 
  11. Greaves - cover lower leg. 
  12. Hauberk or Haubergeon - chain mail tunic worn under plate armor. 
  13. Helm - Helmet.  
  14. Pauldrons or Shoulder Plate - cover shoulder.
  15. Sabatons or Solorets – cover feet.
  16. Shield - carried for additional protection against blows to the body or head. 
  17. Spaulders - cover upper arm and outer elbow (elbow cap).
  18. Vambrace - cover forearm. 
  19. Visor - portion of a helmet that covers the face and is move able. 
Dress a Knight Game - Practice vocabulary of the parts of Medieval Armour

There were also bits of armor and equipment worn by the horses.  For those knights that could afford such extravagant protection, horses had armor too.  Since, a knight's most valuable companion was his horse, they hoped to protect their brave, well-trained, animals too. 
  1. Bridle - straps holding the bit in place and allowing for reining (reins attach to the bridle and are held by rider to help in directing the horse.
  2. Shaffron - covered forehead of horse
  3. Spurs - a piece of metal worn at the heel of the knight creating a protuberance to goad the horse into moving forward and help in steering a horse using foot commands.  Some spurs are equipped with a rowel or rotating wheel of small spikes.
  4. Stirrups - loops of metal the knight set his feet in while he rode helped the rider stay in the saddle.  

Tools and Weapons:

Of Course a knight carried his sword, shield and lance.  These were the most important tools of the knight, but he also may have used a battle-axe or pollax, mace, flail, war club and a variety of other hand-held weaponry.  Of course, the Knight was the cavalry so he used weapons suited well to his position on horse-back.  There were other warriors that used bows, crossbows and even operated such war technology as the trebuchet.

History Channel's Modern Marvels: Battle Gear - Fast Forward to 10:00 and you'll get a little more info about the knight and his gear (Middle Aged section actually begins at 9:00, but there is some incorrect information about when Medieval Knighthood began as well as how likely a knight was to kill his opponent).  Starting at 10:00 still means seeing chainmail, and plate armor and learning how and why each was made.

You might also like Weird Weapons of the Middle Ages.  It even indicates some of the evolution from farming tools to war technology.  The Host makes advantages and disadvantages of each weapon very clearly.  You will want to discuss the difference between cavalry and infantry before viewing.  The movie will show some of the vulnerabilities a Knight had to face.

Alice is Knighted by the Queen.

Additional Book Resources:

Eyewitness Guides are always wonderful.  DK has published Knight as a part of this series and I highly recommend taking a look at it with your knight enthusiast.  It doesn't really stick to information about the night only and includes information relevant to the whole knightly lifestyle.  This includes a break down of castles from all three time periods within the medieval era, weaponry used by other warriors that would have entered into battle, the chivalric code, heraldry, and information about tournaments and jousting.  True to DK fashion, the book is filled with helpful and clear images and diagrams.  Gravett, Christopher. NY: 2007.

 Knights in Shining Armor by Gail Gibbons is a fabulous read for your preschool or early elementary(primary) knight enthusiast.  This book is clear, simple and brief for the shorter attention span.  I just read it to a two-year-old today that got really mad at me when I stopped reading half way through to attend to something else.  The illustrations are bright and include just the right amount of detail.  The text and pictures compliment each-other in a way that gets tons of information across in very few words.  1998.

Knights: Fearsome Fighters by Rachael Hanel is a great resource for the amateur historian of about 8 or 9 and up.  The images in the book are rich and varied as the book includes artistic depictions, photographs and even an image of a knight shown on a playing card.  The text offers descriptions with details you won't find in the other books listed here.  It even includes information about how much a Knight ate, and what his medical care would have been like.  At the same time, since it is considered, "juvenile literature" it should be an easy read for your intermediately skilled reader - even a younger reader will enjoy looking at the pictures while you read it.  

Life as a Knight is also by Rachael Hanel and is a "you choose" fictional novel where the reader comes to the end of a passage and makes a choice to determine what happens next.  Along the way, the reader also picks up a number of facts about the life of a knight, what responsibilities he had, a little something about the crusades, and the kinds of choices a Knight (or page or squire) might have to face.  Read it multiple times and make a different set of decisions with each read.

Many of the books that purport to discuss Castles really spend a lot of time also discussing the Knight and his role since the Knight played such a huge role in warfare and protection of the castle, the resources it stored and the people that lived within it.  Check out this link for resources on Castles and their Knights. 

More Knights and their Tales:

King Arthur and his Knights - 
Fiction or Biography? Links and resources regarding the history - or lack thereof behind Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable
A Literary Unit - Reading the Legends. Reading Arthurian Legend with your kids: a few resources.

William Marshal -
The Greatest Knight BBC: The story of William Marshal is told while a modern journalist tries to learn the skills of the Knight
William Marshal; Earl of Pembroke: an online article about this real-life legend. 

Additional Online Resources:

Middle Ages.Org - A knight's Armor 
Castles of the World - Knights 

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