A Knight's Weapons

Gunpowder was a part of medieval warfare beginning in the 14th century, with the emergence of early European cannons and hand cannons, but grenades never really became a staple of European warfare. That being said, knights and those who wished to eliminate knights were always searching for an edge on the battlefield, and so interesting new weapons were developed, not the least important of which was the hand grenade. The concept for the hand grenade had been at least available to the warriors of medieval europe for as long as gunpowder had been available to them, as powder stores for their cannons would sometimes catch fire and cause large explosions. Before long, creative soldiers and knights had filled ceramic jars with gunpowder and added fuses to their new devices, creating a new weapon which would being continually renovated, even in the militaries of today. Although the hand grenade was never “standard issue” or widespread by any means during the Middle Ages,, inventive medieval knights engineers and soldiers created a weapon which would stand the test of time and is a staple of modern warfare.

The broadsword was the weapon of choice for knights all around Europe, but had been widely used beginning in the 6th century, well before the emergence of knights. The broadsword was a double edged sword used for cutting and hacking as opposed to stabbing. The medieval knight could use his trusty broadsword to fight his enemies either from horseback or on foot, although knights often preferred to fight from horseback whenever possible. As was the case with many different pieces of the medieval knights fighting equipment, the broadsword became almost part of the knight, and the knight was seldom depicted without his blade, whether it was out and gleaming in depictions of battle, sheathed but ready in depictions of courtly atmospheres, or even held tightly by a knight after his death, as was shown on the tombs of most knights. Some swords owned by particularly honorable or pious knights were given names and even told to be imbued with magical properties, some of which are still part of western culture today, such as Excalibur, the sword of King Arthur. Swords were the livelihood of their knights in many cases, and were thus depicted as extremely important in all aspects of the life, death and afterlife of knights.

Crests served many purposes even off of the battlefield. By the 13th century, crests had evolved from battlefield emblems into a way for royal and affluent or knightly families to distinguish themselves and their history. These crests were created and then passed from father to son, son to grandson, etc. with tiny alterations along the way. Along the course of time, different traditions of crests developed in general regions of Europe, such as Scotland, England, France, and the domain of the Holy Roman Empire. These different traditions were regulated in their respective regions by institutions like the College of Arms in England. Other than regional institutions however, there was not formal regulation of crests that spanned the entirety of europe, save the regional traditions which kept regional crests unique. Crests were plastered on almost all aspects of courtly life during the 13th and 14th centuries, and this tradition continued for a long time and eventually turned into the flags which are spread along the nations of the modern world. Crests celebrated the history of important European families and helped to spread the influence of these families by associating the family with anything they had put their crest on, and thus were an essential part of knightly, lordly, and medieval life.

Crests were an integral part of medieval knighthood and warfare, and every self respecting knight or lord had one. The crest was particularly interesting as a tool on the battlefield. On the fields of Medieval Europe, crests adorned banners, shields, breastplates, and tabards across all armies, making colorful and splendorous displays throughout the continent. These displays served more than an aesthetic purpose however. Crests served as invaluable tools of identification throughout Europe. Kings, knights and lords would have their crests painted on the armor and armaments of the troops under their command. During the chaos of battle, one could easily distinguish friend from foe by simply looking at the colors which coated the fighter in question. From a tactical standpoint, crests and the banners they adorned were also extremely important. If a commander of a large army was watching a battle transpire, crests would make it exponentially easier for the commander to distinguish whose troops were whose, and thus make informed tactical decisions which could mean the difference between victory and defeat. Although crests served purposes outside of warfare, they were an invaluable resource for any fighter or commander during the medieval period, and added to both the practical effectiveness and the legend of the knight.

The history of chainmail in Europe is believed to date back to the Gallic Celts of antiquity. While fighting the Celts, the Romans adopted the technology and incorporated it into their legions, which spread its use throughout Europe. After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and throughout the Dark ages, a lack of smithing infrastructure meant that chainmail was often the most effective armor one could come across. After the emergence of the knight as a force to be reckoned with on the field of battle, almost all knights were armored with at least a set of chainmail. Later on, with the development of effective plate mail and the emergence of weapons such as crossbows, chainmail remained important to knights as a secondary layer of armor to help defend against the many dangers of the ever evolving European battlefront. Chainmail also became integral in how the medieval knight was depicted. During the middle and latter stages of the medieval period, one would be hard pressed to find any depiction of a knight in anything but his chainmail (Given the knight is not in plate armor), no matter what setting the depictions of the knights were in. Knights in chainmail can be seen in all aspects of medieval art, from historical depictions such as the Bayeux Tapestry, to religious depictions of knights on church windows and stone coffins throughout Europe. Such widespread depiction only highlights the importance of chainmail to the medieval knight.

Barding, or armor for horses, became prevalent in Europe during the 14th century. During that period, battlefield tactics were beginning to shift and foot soldiers made it a practice to attempt to kill the horse on which a knight rode in order to kill or at least injure the knight. Archers had begun to target the horses of knights en masse in battles such as Crecy during the Hundred Years War, in which English longbowmen felled French knights with great efficiency. After this revolution of tactics, knights sought ways to further enhance their prowess in battle, and the most obvious way to do that in this critical junction of history was to armor the steeds which they rode into battle, making themselves harder targets and thus more effective and worthy of honor. Styles of barding varied just as styles of armor for knights varied. Barding for use in the field was simple, yet usually covered the entirety of the steed while allowing relatively unhindered mobility, although the increased total weight of the armor would mean a slight reduction in the speed of the horse. Tournament or parade armor was much more extravagant, with intricate patterns and colors worked into the metal or shown in cloth draped over the armor. This was meant to highlight the wealth and status of the knight in question, and served no other real practical purpose.

A Knight's Weapons