Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Common Misconceptions About Knights: True Dark Knights

We have read a lot on this blog, from the horse breeds used in medieval times, to the weapons used by, and on knights. I think it is time for us to explore the knight himself.

As I write on my blog, we must realize the time and location of medieval Europe. The time frame goes from generation to generation and across the entire Europe itself. So when I write about knights, remember I may be referencing a specific period in time and a specific place, this means generalization is not possible. A knight in a specific area at one time may act differently than another in a different time or place.

The knight was a warrior plain and simple. He was made a knight by a sovereign for the sole purpose of fighting for that sovereign. When a knight worked for a king directly, he often lived in a castle, owned land, other times he had no home.

Kings were sometimes obligated to provide his knights to fight in other battles. This sometimes occurred when there was alliance to another kingdom, or the knights had to be provided to the church.

It was this obligation to the church that caused, and tried to resolve the issues of conduct by knights.

During the crusades knights were allowed to pillage and destroy cities throughout the Middle East. These knights looted gold and other valuables and sometimes became as rich as kings themselves. After they returned from the crusades, these knights no longer had a substantial income.

After they returned home these knights continued there pillaging and plundering. In fact, knights had been doing this before the crusades, but afterwards it became more rampant.

It was also after the crusades that the knights also became more dedicated in fighting other knights alone. If a knight fell in combat and was not killed, he may be taken hostage. The fallen knight would be treated kindly, and his family or kingdom would give a substantial amount of money for his return. A ransomed knight was a good way of earning money.

To a knight, a civilian or uncounted soldier was nothing but an inconvenience to him. These inconveniences were just a road block for the knight to face another knight. The knight treated these human roadblocks with no mercy that he showed other knights.

The Catholic Church tried to restrain the knight in attacks on civilians. The church implemented codes trying to reign in the knight’s bloodlust in battle. One of these codes indicated that the knights defend the weak, unforcedly, many knights believed the weak to be woman and children of NOBLES, and that peasants did not fall in this category.

In reviewing the knight’s actions during the Middle Ages, we also have to take in account what was occurring during this time.

There were numerous peasant revolts, which leaders had to put down to stay in power. It was during this time that the brutality of the knight truly was displayed.

I spoke earlier in my blog about how Edward the Black Prince slaughtered the citizens of the cities of Limoges and Caen. This was not the only time he attacked civilians, his strategy during his life was called chevauchée. It was basically to burn and pillage every town or farms they encountered. This strategy included sending mounted horses in mass number and driving the population ahead, herding them and forcing them into the sanctuary of castles.

The middle ages were also a time of religious confrontation. The Catholic Church held a grip on all political activities in Europe, was now facing opposition from the newly formed protestant movement. Islam was also a concern, Middle Eastern cities and countries were now becoming more and more Muslim, this led to the crusades. We all know too well even today, that when war and religion mix, the outcome is anything but civil.

At the end of the medieval era, Niccolo di Bernado dei Machiavelli wrote “The Prince”. This was a political theory dealing with the unscrupulous control of the masses. This became a handbook for many rulers in Europe.

My above point is this; although a knight was a heartless monster on the battle field, he was also a soldier. He took orders, and those he took orders from were also heartless monsters. In the middle ages refusing an order from a monarch meant death, many atrocities by knights may have been simple orders from those above him.

So when we look back at the knights, do not look at them as chivalrous protectors of the poor and weak. Look at these knights as men, who were hired soldiers. Some of them were good, some were bad. The knight was a product of a violent age of the human race, and they reflected that attitude that they lived in.

Next time: Some news about my upcoming novel


  1. Kind of shattered my illusions of the 3 Musketeers! But I can see you are likely correct and I have simply been a victim of the romanticizing of the era. King Arthur, Sir Lancelot etc. Another very interesting post. Thanks.

  2. Even the idea of courtly love and the knight's role has changed drastically over time. It's always interesting how such stories will reflect the morality of the times they are written in.

  3. Your post reminded me of what I have seen in watching the various documentary channels. As far as I remember, they tell of the good and bad of knights like you point out here.

    Over from LinkedIn group BHB

  4. You make a good point about morality of the times they are written in. I often wonder too if it is also the time we read them. Think of the westerns of the 1950's, where the cavalry rides in and saves the day. Then the environmental movement took place in the 70's and now Native Americans are viewed as victims of our expansion in the west. Do we read these stories and judge when they were written, or when they were read.

  5. The period y,our talking about is almost incomprehensible in the way people lived. Bit you make a good point that they were soldiers who like many soldiers today have little choice in what they do.

  6. I don't believe all that much has changed from yesterday's knights to many who fight for a cause of their own today - I'm thinking about the terrorists - to their thinking they are fighting for a cause - to our thinking they are horrible, brutal monsters just out to kill. Just a thought.

  7. It is interesting how when most of us think of a knight we think of gallant men protecting the realm. Reading the Game of Thrones books definitely made me start looking at knights from a different perspective. Even though the books are fiction, they still make you realize that knights are just men doing their job.

  8. Knights: hired killers not committed to "chivalry," code or no code. Your comments remind me of my visit to Warwick Castle in England. Branded in my memory is the view of the gibbet hanging from a rafter, a brutal way to dispose of prisoner knights. Thanks for the myth busting.

  9. This was eye-opening and a bit of a shattering of my "dreams" of the knight! LOL But so must of history has to be separated from historical fantasy, right? Thanks for setting me straight:)

  10. Hi william; an educational post. while reading it i was thinking how knights weren't so different than soldiers in modern armies. yes soldiers can refuse an order, but those actually doing it during a combat situation are rare. how much different is there between the pillaging of the middle ages and some of the stories we have heard about world war II or viet nam. thanks for helping us to understand, max

  11. Thanks to everyone who has posted comments.

    Maxwell you are correct, knights were soldiers of their time. Atrocities do occur in battle, the big difference between today and then is; we have rules of law dealing with combat. We also have courts and punishment for those who attack unarmed civilians (if these people get caught). Back in medieval times, it was seen as normal for a knight to kill a civilian; there was no penalty for this type of action.

  12. Well, so much for Sir Lancelot! It's easy to romanticize those days, but life was incredibly harsh if you weren't born into the right family. Wonder how people survived? Lawlessness, disease, war - so many threats to one's existence.