Medieval Knights Armor History, Facts, Information - Helmets, Shields, Symbols, Chivalry, Secular Orders

Research Topics Presentation Tips History Essays Medieval Time Period   Knight Armor

A Knight's armor was made to protect him in battle. The armor weighed between 60 - 90 pounds. To dress for battle, the knight had to sit while his squires pulled his steel mailed hose onto his legs. He stood while the straps and buckles of the armor were fastened.

The Knight wore a coat of mail also called a hauberk. The coat of mail was a long shirt consisting of steel links that were riveted together. It reached to the knees. The Knight wore an undershirt under the coat of mail. This undershirt was usually made from cotton or hair.

As with fashion, armor changed over the years adding more protection and more weight. Coifs were added to protect both the head and neck. Guards were added to protect the knees and elbows.

A complete suit of Armor in 1510 consisted of a skull cap, sight visor, breaths, Gorget, Pauldron (covers shoulder area), Besagne, Lance rest, Breast plate, couter (elbow cover), Vambrace (wrist area), Gauntlet (hand area), Tasses (hip area), Cuisse (thigh area), Poleyn (kneecap), Greave (shin) and Sabaton (foot).

Knight's Helmets

A Knight's Helmet evolved overtime to cover the entire head. Slits for the eyes resulted in poor visibility.  The helmets were heavy and could cause injury so Knights bandaged their head to prevent a concussion should they fall. Other problems from wearing the heavy helmets occurred. The sun beating down on the metal of the helmet and the armor caused heat strokes. The helmet muffled orders and prevented commands from being heard.

Symbols: Shield, Mantle, Coat of Mail

The Coat of Arms or Heraldry  was developed to identify who was who in battle. It was worn on a mantle, the coat of mail or on a shield or all three.

Problems with Armor

The weight of the armor was the biggest problem of the Knight. The Knight was a formidable foe as long as he was mounted on a horse. If he fell off his horse, the knight could not get up very fast leaving him vulnerable to attack. He could not move easily wearing the suit of armor. Some fell in small streams and drowned. Some were killed by the enemy as they struggled to get up. A common strategy was to aim for a knight's horse. Once on the ground, the knight was either taken prisoner or killed. Only those who were high ranking or nobility were taken prisoner and held for ransom.

Military Service

A Knight was given a Fief in the 13th and 14th centuries in exchange for military service of about 40 days out of a year. He owed loyalty to the Lord who gave him the land. A man could move up the social ladder by going into knighthood.

Knights practiced their skills in tournaments. These tournaments were sports entertainment for the people. It was fought that the tournaments kept the fighting down among knights as it used up their energies and channeled their hostile feelings elsewhere.

Chivalry

Chivalry was a code knights tried to follow. It involved being brave, loyal, generous and honest. It also meant being respectful of women. Romantic fantasies always included a knight in shining armor rescuing a damsel in distress. In the 12th century, the ideal of knightly behavior was widely accepted. A knight was only asked to respect the teaching of the Gospel, the church laws, be loyal to his superiors and keep his honor. It also involved protecting the weak (women, children, orphans, etc). It involved being obedient, courageous and pursuing glory. If a knight was found guilty of an infraction of this unwritten code, he would be publicly humiliated by having his weapons and shield smashed and his spurs smitten off.

Secular Orders of Medieval Christendom

Eventually an exalted form of knighthood evolved. Secular orders were founded by kings The attraction of the chivalrous idea was great among the nobility. It was a means of exploitation the kings could use without giving any real power to noble. As a result, the nobles were bound by devotion to the kings person. Secular orders spread throughout Europe.

Order of the Garter is an English order established by King Edward III in the 14th century. Legend says the King founded it, after he picked up a garter dropped by a countess of Salisbury while dancing. When others laughed at this, the king merely said "Shame on him who thinks ill of it." A prerequisite of membership was knighthood. Its annual feast day was on April 23rd, St. George's day.

The Order of the Collar was a Savoyard order established by Amadeus VII. It was the highest order in Italy. It was renamed the Oder of the Annunziata.

The Order of the Golden Flees (la Toison d'Or) was founded by Phillip the Good, the Duke of Burgundy at Bruges in Flanders in 1430 to commemorate his wedding.

The Order of St. Maurice was established by Amadeus VIII  in 1434. It was another Savoyard order. Later it merged with a branch of the Order of St. Lazarus.

The Order of St. Hubert was established by Gerhard V, duke of Julich in 1444. Today, it is the highest order of the kingdom of Bavaria.

The Order of St. Michael was established by Louis XI of France in 1469.

John II Order of the Star founded in 1351 merged with the Order of the Holy Spirit (Saint Esprit) which was established by Henry III in 1578. Together, they were known as les ordres du roi. The insignia worn for the order was a blue cordon. These two orders were the most coveted of any of the French orders.

British Orders of Knights

  • The Most Noble Order of the Garter
  • the Most Ancient Order of the Thistle
  • The Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick
  • The Most Honorable Order Of the Bath
  • The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George
  • The Most Exalted Order of the Star of India and Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire
  • The Royal Victorian Order
  • The Order of Merit
  • The Distinguished Service Order
  • The Imperial Service Order
  • The Royal Order of Victoria and Albert
  • The Imperial Order of the Crown of India
  • The Order of the British Empire
  • The Order of Companions of Honour