The Age of Chivalry

13.3 the age of chivalry

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The Age of Chivalry

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Chivalry was the code of conduct by which a knight was supposed to abide.

• Be loyal to his feudal lord, obey God, and be nice to the ladies.

• Some took it seriously, others didn’t. It tended to break down especially towards the later Middle Ages.

• The Middle Ages wasn’t a time of fairy tale castles and noble, honorable knights. It was a nasty time of political intrigue, bloody wars, and brutish men exercising their limited power in order to gain more power. Just like any other time.

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The prospective knight went through three stages:

1. Page

• Younger years. Would go off to other noble’s castle, learn war arts.

2. Squire

• Was Robin to a knight’s Batman. His assistant/lackey.

• The knight had a lot of heavy and expensive equipment. The squire took care of it.

3. Knight

• When he becomes a full-fledged soldier who officially enters into a feudal arrangement with a lord.

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The point of a knight is that he was a mounted soldier

• And he was a professional soldier. We’re long past the days of the citizen soldier.

• The knight was also heavily armed and armored.

• This was due to an effective saddle and, more importantly, the stirrup.

• We mentioned before how the stirrup strangely didn’t exist in Europe (I know, it seems like an obvious item). Without it, you couldn’t be too heavy or use weapons like lances, that would risk knocking you off your horse.

• With stirrups, you could support yourself in the saddle, stand up, turn around, etc.

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• The knights were the most important part of the army.

• They were also expensive. Suits of armor, the weaponry, and large war horses that could carry them all weren’t cheap and the knight had to buy everything on his own.

• That’s one reason why the knight was granted his own land and revenue. You had to be able to afford being a knight.

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So, chivalry’s boring. Let’s talk about the armor and weapons of the Middle Ages instead.

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1. Chainmail

• We’ve seen this before. It’s a bunch of interlocked rings. It’s good against slashing attacks, but bad against stabbing attacks and blunt force.

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• The chainmail would be long and a piece would sometimes cover the head.

• This is mostly replaced by plate armor, but was still worn by some lesser soldiers. Was also often worn underneath the plate armor for extra protection, especially where there were gaps at the armor’s joints.

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2. Plate armor

• Actually come into use rather late in the Middle Ages, around the 1200’s. Especially the full suits.

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• The plate armor was very good against slashing and cutting weapons. This spurred the development of different weapons, specifically smashing weapons that would disorient the soldier and special thrusting swords designed to exploit the armor’s weaknesses.

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3. Shields

• Triangular shields meant to repel blows.

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1. Longswords

• Became popular around the 1300’s.

• The blade length could be around 4 feet.

• Could be used one or two-handed and for slashing or thrusting.

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2. Claymore

• Primarily Scottish sword.

• Lighter and shorter than standard longsword.

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3. Broadswords

• Long, heavy, broad-bladed swords.

• Designed to be swung with force and penetrate armor.

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4. Others

• Some swords were designed to relatively small triangular blades that were specifically designed to exploit gaps in the plate armor.

• In fact some styles of swordplay were oriented around aiming for armor gaps. Thus, they would have looked quite different (and perhaps sillier than) from normal swordplay styles.

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Battle Axe

• Between 1 and 5 pounds.

• Usually one bladed and one-handed, but sometimes had two-bladed, two-handed models.

• Could be swung with force to penetrate mail and armor.

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• Some models had spikes on the back or top. This was for penetrating armor at a point as well as making the axe offensive from every direction.

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• The handle was most often iron or wood with iron bands.

• This was to keep the handle from breaking from use or from getting chopped by an enemy’s weapon.

• The axe blades all have that curved design so that it’s easier for the blade to slide out of flesh post-slash. You don’t your weapon getting stuck in somebody.

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Bludgeon Weapons

1. War hammer

• Hammer about 5 pounds and of varying length. Had a hammer on one side and a spike on the other.

• You could use the hammer to seriously disorient somebody in armor (and kill anybody else) and the spike could easily pierce armor.

• Could also use the spike as a hook for reins or armor.

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2. Mace

• Simple club-type weapon. Used to disorient armored foes and kill the rest. If spiked, could penetrate armor.

• Advantage in that there was no “front” or “back” to the weapon so it didn’t matter which was it was facing when you swung it. Didn’t need a lot skill to use either and was relatively cheap.

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3. Flail

• Spiked ball attached to a stick by a chain.

• Could provide more force than mace or hammer due to leverage.

• Didn’t transfer vibration to user.

• Hard to block since chain will curve around shield or other defense.

• Good defensive use since people won’t get in its way.

• But it was tiring to use (had to be in constant motion) and could be dangerous to friends.

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1. Lance

• Used underarm by knights in charges and could break almost any infantry formation.

• Made out of wood with spear tip. Between 9 and 14 feet long.

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2. Pikes

• Basically, some kind of very long spear, about 10 to 15 feet in length.

• Good for distance work, especially against mounted knights. Provided for a stiff defense but bad for close-in work.

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3. Halberd/glaive/voulge

• Like a pike, but includes an axe or blade portion.


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• The halberd could also be swung with extreme force and could easily cleave armor and helmets.

• Didn’t take a lot of skill to use either.

• Note the hooks on some of them. That’s so that even if you missed with the spike or blade, you could hook the knight’s armor and drag him off his mount. You might also snag the horse or his reins and again neutralize the mounted knight’s advantage.

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Range Weapons

1. Longbow

• Wooden bows popularized in England.

• Typically about 6.5 feet in length.

• Effective range of about 250 yards.

• Fired in mass volleys for distance and at shorter distances for accuracy.

• With proper arrowhead, could easily pierce armor at short distances.

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2. Crossbows

• Fired small projectiles called bolts that were shorter but heavier than arrows.

• Could have a draw weight of up to 350 pounds. Because of this, there were specialized methods for pulling back the string. Some used cranks and gears. The simplest method involved you putting your foot in that loop at the end, hooking the string with a special tool on your belt and then pulling your body up.

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• Advantages

• Didn’t take the skill to use that a normal bow did.

• Could be kept cocked and ready.

• Extremely powerful and armor-piercing.

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Siege Weapons

1. Battering ram

• A log, sometimes with a metal tip.

• Suspended by rope or chains within sheltered structure to protect soldiers from arrows and other nasty stuff.

• Wheel it up to the door or gate, pull back and swing.

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2. Siege tower

• Wheeled tower that would be pushed towards castle walls.

• Often with archers and crossbowmen to fend off attackers.

• Would get to wall and drop gangplank, allowing soldiers inside to pour over the walls.

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3. Trebuchet

• Like a hybrid catapult and sling.

• Projectile (could be stone, beehives, Greek fire, various corpses [bonus if diseased], grapeshot, etc.) would be launched either over the walls or at them with the purpose of breaking them down.

• Used counterweight and rope system that produced great leverage and force – much greater than a standard torsion catapult.

• Modern recreations can easily launch cars several hundred yards.

• The big ones could be used two or three times an hour. Smaller ones could be used several times per minute.

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Castle builders responded with defensive efforts.

1. Moats

• Artificial bodies of water around the castle. This prevented the undermining of walls, kept siege towers away and, if wide enough, could keep artillery like trebuchets out of range.

2. Battlements

• Notched structures at the top of walls that, as a wall, formed a parapet.

• Allowed both defense of defenders while allowing them spaces to shoot arrows.

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3. Turrets

• These are the rectangular or circular tower structures that are often at castle corners.

• Allow defenders at the top and there are often small slit windows in the tower that allow archers to shoot out of them.

• Early versions were rectangular. They start using circular ones because then archers have a wider angle of fire. The corners of the rectangular ones limit the available firing angle.

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