Skip to main content
A medieval knight holding a large sword

6 little known facts about medieval knights


When we think about knights, we often think of the Templars, King Arthur, Lancelot and bloody jousting battles. European knights were much more than a gimmick however, they were central to warfare and society for almost all of the medieval period.

Knights were noble cavalrymen who fought for their country and their god. Here we’re exploring some of the lesser-known facts about medieval knights and the things they got up to.

1. Licensed to kill

The medieval period saw knights stand out as the best combatants on most battlefields. Knights benefited from the best weapons, sophisticated armour and high levels of training for both themselves and their horses. They were from the country’s most affluent families and were almost always noblemen.

Knights also benefitted from letters of protection, essentially giving them a license to kill. These letters gave the knights full immunity from legal proceedings that might arise as a result of any bloody battles or necessary fatalities.

2. The power of the lance

Knights were trained to use a wide range of different weapons but their primary power was through their lance. As shown in jousting exhibitions, knights would use their lances to pierce, spear and disarm the enemy. Once the lance was lost or broken, knights would turn to their swords. Exceptional swords became a symbol of knighthood and were imbued with legendary status due to the tales of King Arthur and Excalibur.

3. Extensive training

While knights were essentially those rich enough to equip themselves with the best horses, armour and weaponry, their path to knighthood was not completely smooth. Training for knights began aged seven and it would take fourteen years before they were ready to battle.

Potential knights would first serve as pages, running errands, acting as a servant to their lord and beginning to understand how to become a squire and the knightly duties they may take on in the future.

Most of the training for pages was in the form of games, but not the usual games you’d expect. Young pages would get to grips with maces and develop their horseback skills. At fourteen, pages would become squires if they were still in good physical health and of the right mindset. They would have learned some fighting skills and horsemanship as a page and then this was built upon. Training became much more serious as a squire and fighting was part of the daily training regime before squires were knighted at 21.

4. Tournaments of life or death

The competitive spirit was built into young knights and tournaments were a vital part of this. Knightly tournaments were part of the noble culture and a hugely popular spectator sport. In the 13th century, tournaments were particularly bloody and death was not uncommon. One notable tournament took place in 1274 when King Edward I was pitted against the Count of Chalons. As the King and Count battled it out things soon got nasty and dozens of soldiers from each side got involved and lost their lives.

5. Chivalry and the church

Becoming a knight was as much about loyalty to the church as it was about loyalty to the crown. Knights were defined by their moral beliefs and the concept of chivalry was closely linked to the growing popularity of the Christian church. Pope Urban called for a great crusade to free the Holy Lands in 1095 and this triggered the knightly connection to the church.

The church also made the knighting ceremony much more elaborate and ornate than it traditionally was. Pledging your loyalty in pomp and circumstance helped to drive home the point of its importance as a commitment of the knight to his god.

6. When knights fell out of fashion

As warfare evolved and machinery became more advanced, the skills of the knight were less in demand. Some defining moments in history also led to the demise of the knight.

In the 16th century, many leaders, including James IV of Scotland, were recognising the genuine power and strength of the phalanx and particularly the phalanxes of pikemen. Huge swatches of pikemen properly armoured and protected were unbeatable by even the most talented knight.

Similarly, as wars became bigger and bigger armies became necessary the training required to become a knight became too expensive and too extensive. Soon after muskets were also introduced and there was simply no need for the skills and experience of the knights on the battlefield.