On the Field and in the Castle

This Italian suit of armor was meant to be used, most likely in practice sessions or for ceremonial use, by a child of about seven years old. Made of steel, brass, and leather, this suit of child’s armor was different from a full suit of armor only in size. Throughout the Middle Ages, knighthood was not just a societal function. Knights were more than just warriors who picked up the sword and lance when called upon to fight. Knighthood was a way of life; for those who were privileged enough to be a member of that greatly vaunted warrior class, warrior life started early. In allowing a child of a very young age to be able to participate in knightly endeavors, as a young boy would have with this armor, it is clear that knighthood was a way of life that started virtually from birth until death. Like other parts of the middle ages (swords, lances, horses), armor was a quintessential piece of a knight’s life, even from the tender age of seven.

This suit of armor was made around 1500 AD in Nuremberg, Germany for use on the battlefield (Source: PMA). Made of steel, brass, and leather, this field armor would likely have taken hits to the body on the battlefield, al the while protecting its wearer from physical harm across his entire body. There are two notable exceptions: the inside of the elbow and the groin were less protected than other areas of the body, most likely for mobility while on the battlefield. As can be seen by the helmet, the knight’s vision was almost totally obscured, largely for the protection of his eyes on the battlefield. One other feature of the knight’s armor is notable; the area around the abdomen bends outward. Knights were a wealthy class during the Middle Ages; the fact that they were able to afford armor is proof enough of that. The knights were also clearly well fed and would need some extra room in their armor to breathe comfortably, hence the outward curve in the abdominal region. The knight’s armor goes a long way to showing knighthood’s form on the battlefield: a fully trained, well-equipped, dangerous fighter.

Halberds and other polearms allow a careful eye to show how best to defend oneself from a knight. Halberds were meant for a soldier standing on the ground to defend themselves from a mounted knight. The axe, or in some cases the hook on the side of the weapon would be well suited for unhorsing a mounted knight, or the spear would be used to stab the horse, stopping the momentum of a knight’s charge. The extra length of the weapon prevented the knight from being able to reach the soldier on the ground with a sword, making this a fairly versatile weapon of choice for those who had the misfortune to fight a fully armored mounted warrior. As the halberd was useless to a mounted knight, these weapons would most likely have been used by men at arms, peasants who were not as well trained to fight, and who were not warriors by profession. The halberd and other similar polearms provide an insight into not just knighthood, but how militaries developed to deal with their knightly counterparts.

In the Poem of the Cid, El Cid spends an immense amount of time traversing across Spain, capturing various castles. As such, it is prudent to examine siege warfare in the Middle Ages. The knight not only had to worry about how to fight on the battlefield, against other knights and soldiers, but also about how to defeat his enemies in the castle. More often than not, siege engines were used in warfare against castles. This diagram shows the ballista, a war machine designed to send large, heavy darts at castles. This weapon would likely have been used against soldiers standing on top of the battlements of castles, or against wooden castles that existed during the early part of the Middle Ages, as even the ballista’s projectiles would not have been able to destroy the stone walls of a castle. This diagram provides an insight into what a knight’s warfare would have looked like against a castle, as was often the case.

Siege engines developed greatly over the Middle Ages, from the ballista to the trebuchet. The trebuchet, depicted in this diagram, uses a swinging arm to throw large projectiles. Most of the time, the trebuchet used weight differentials to swing a rock at high velocity to batter down the walls of a castle. The trebuchet and similar siege engines (mangonels, catapults) formed the mainstay of siege warfare in the Middle Ages. The trebuchet relied on a heavy weight at the bottom of the arm, in some cases larger piles of rocks, to move the rock in the sling with high velocity and throw it at a castle, battering down the walls so mounted knights and foot soldiers could move in. This gives modern viewers an insight into the life of a knight; he would not only be required to master hand-to-hand combat from an early age, but would likely have been required to understand tactics, strategy, and siege warfare.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the mounted knight became less of a figure in battle, as gunpowder weapons made armor redundant on the battlefield. Artillery became the focus, as seen by the artilleryman with his cannons. Much more powerful than the ballista and the trebuchet, the cannon could be used, with a small amount of training, to collapse the walls of a stone castle. The richness of the man’s clothing suggests he was wealthy, as dyed cloth was expensive in the Middle Ages. This illustrates a transition, not just in military styles, but also in social status. The days of the mounted swordsman were being slowly eclipsed by he who could accurately fire a cannon. Siege warfare began to be more of science, as seen by the cannons, as opposed to an art, as it would have been for a mounted warrior. The wealth and social status would likely have shifted to those who were able to use trained eyes and minds to accurately use gunpowder weapons, as illustrated by this picture.

On the Field and in the Castle