When we think of the Middle Ages, then we usually immediately imagine knights in shining armor charging into battle. And yes, the charge of a group of knights was highly effective. But one question usually comes up when we think about knights. How hard was it really to kill a knight? And did his armor make the knight invulnerable? Both questions shall be answered in the following.
It was extremely hard to kill a knight because of the knight`s fighting skills that were developed by constant training, his physical fitness, and also his highly effective armor (even though armor didn`t make the knight completely invulnerable).
Today we often have a quite romanticized picture of knights as gentlemen dueling each other in jousts and competing for the affection of noble women by making songs and poems. But before anything else knights were professional soldiers whose job it was to either go to war or train for going to war.
The training had two aspects.
On one side, the tournaments in which knights participated to train fighting in formations, is pretty well known. On the other side, the workouts that knights did to stay in perfect shape, are less well known. Both combined turned the knight into a highly trained elite warrior.
And while the year-long hard training provided the necessary skills to the knight, his armor provided him with the necessary level of protection.
Medieval armor was highly effective in keeping the knight safe! And especially during the Early and High Middle Ages (roughly 500-1250 AD), a time in which only knights wore full suits of armor, the armor gave the knights a huge advantage over the less armored regular soldiers who often had to rely on a shield as their only cover.
That however changed in the Late Middle Ages with the introduction of Plate Armor. Plate armor could be produced much cheaper and faster than mail armor.
So some degree of plate armor became common even among regular late medieval soldiers and mercenaries. Here you can find out more about just how common plate armor was in the Late Middle Ages and why citizens of late medieval cities had to own a more or less complete suit of plate armor depending on their net worth.
But even though plate armor became pretty common, knights could still afford better and more complete plate armor than the average late medieval infantryman. However, even the best and most complete suit of plate armor didn`t make a knight invulnerable (although it made killing him extremely difficult and dangerous).
There were actually two ways to kill a knight in a full suit of armor. However, especially the second one was mostly used by common soldiers since knights did usually try to not kill each other in battle. There were 3 reasons why knights tried to avoid killing other knights in battle.
One way was to use a percussion weapon like a mace (or the attack with an under-arm couched lance that had the full weight of a charging horse behind it) to crush through the armor. The other way, the way that most common medieval soldiers had to rely on, was to immobilize the knight and then attack the weak points in his armor.
I actually wrote an entire article on these two options, please feel free to check it out!
However, there was one problem with attacking the weak points and gaps of a knight’s armor. You had to get pretty close to the knight. And usually, the knight did not only have better armor, but he was also more experienced in using his weapons. So one single regular medieval soldier who fought against a knight had an extremely low chance of killing the knight (and the chances of surviving his fight with the fully armored knight were also pretty slim).
In order to be effective, regular medieval soldiers had to work together when they wanted to kill a knight. Here you can find out more about how they could do it.
Now you might ask hey, what about shooting the knight with an arrow? That must have pierced his armor and killed the knight, right? Well, no. The chance of an arrow piercing through a knight’s armor and killing the knight was actually pretty slim.
Even in the famous Battles of Crecy and Agincourt, it was most likely not the arrows that killed so many knights. But that is a story for another time, here you can find out more about how most knights at the battles of Crecy and Agincourt died.
Oh, and speaking of archers. Have you ever asked yourself whether or not archers really followed the nock-draw-loose command? Then I would like to recommend you my article here.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
Sabine Buttinger, Jan Keup: Die Ritter (Darmstadt 2013).
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