The end of the knight errant: the medieval knights

The end of the knight errant: the medieval knights

Few images are as recurrent in popular iconography as that of medieval knights errant.

It is to mention concepts like "Middle Ages"Or"Feudalism”And the evocative image of the knight in silver armor, a tufted helmet and a spear at the ready will appear on the back of his rampant horse, silhouetted against the horizon.

This time I would like to try the decline of that symbol and with it, the beginning of the end of an era in the military and if you hurry me, in the social, although this still took a couple of centuries to consolidate.

The medieval knight

The medieval knight, far from the romantic conceptions that have reached our days of that virtuous cultured warrior, skillful in equal parts in the highest levels of knowledge, art, fencing and that gallantry that we know today as "Polite love”, Was an unparalleled combat tool, a brave warrior, hardened and hardened in dozens of battles, who knew little else apart from military tactics and the best way to annihilate his enemies by means of steel and the overwhelming load of his mount.

It is true that there are small exceptions to this rule, as they could be true European monarchs that addressing the combat as one of his noble vassals if they possessed certain linguistic, literary and rhetorical skills, or those religious-military orders such as the Temple waveHospitable what they combined the best of a monk's training with the skill and lethality of a warrior.

But, in any case, these exceptions were the fewest and they did not even come close to the "humanist gentleman" who has reached the literary pages of "Best -Seller”. There is no better evidence of this than the satire that Don Miguel de Cervantes made of chivalry in his international “Don Quixote de la Mancha” more than four centuries ago.

The knights: noble warriors

Stuffed in heavy armor, more or less armored according to the characteristics of the area and the period to which we refer, and with the impetus and inertia provided by a war horse of herculean proportions, the truth is that for a little over four centuries the medieval knight was the perfect killing machine on European battlefields.

If the reader will allow me a vague simile, we should imagine these noble warriors as authentic armored chariots. Imagine for a moment contemplating how barely a dozen knights canned entirely and on the back of a "Destrier" or "destriero" (known as such the horse bred especially for such functions, robust and of great height) spear charges at the ready to meet them as the earth rumbles under the weight of the hooves of the galloping mounts.

Most likely he fled in disarray and was ruthlessly run over by a moving block of steel and muscle, and this is what really happened, the charge of heavy cavalry it was unstoppable and yet, like everything else, it had its end.

Consequences of the end of the knights

Military advances

Military advances were perhaps the first of the reasons that contributed to the obsolescence of these noble men.

The bow can be understood as an effective weapon against the knight, a well-directed blast would bring down a few knights. However, despite what Hollywood has used to us, until well into the year 1300 the so-called “english longbow”.

Until that date, a closed volley could kill some knights, injure them with great ease of course, but shields, chain mail and metal plates served as effective protection, especially the closer the formations of these horsemen were.

However, the arrival of the English longbow was decisive, as was well reflected in the Battle of Crecy in 1346, where the cream of the French cavalry died that day at the hands of regiments of simple archers.

This new weapon provided a much more powerful tension force than the bows of the previous era, propelling the arrows more than 300 meters and with such power that they penetrated mail and breastplates with great ease.

The medieval crossbow, was also revealed as an effective weapon against cavalry.

With a shorter range than the English bow and with the disadvantage of its slow reloading, the crossbow pierced the metal plates even more easily than the bow and its handling required hardly any training, only aiming was enough.

The pike, popularized during the 15th and 16th centuries it was also effective against cavalry charges.

A steel-tipped weapon with a wooden shaft several times the height of a man was enough to impale the forefront of a charge and hinder and slow down the knights of the later lines, leaving them vulnerable once momentum was lost.

Undoubtedly, the military advances had a relevant importance in the disappearance of these noblemen and yet there were other factors, perhaps less well known, that gave the finishing touch to the era of supremacy of the medieval horseman.

The economic factor

The economic factor played an important role since the figure of the knight was linked to the noble vassal who had to pay for a very expensive military gear, the purchase of battle horses and their high maintenance, as well as the personnel at the service of the knight without whom he could not fulfill his functions, such as squires, blacksmiths, grooms, cooks, and of course the extra cost of inexpensive training that required most of the rider's life.

European kings depended on these nobles to sustain themselves in powerThey were their weapons for the conquest and defense of the territories that were annexed.

The feudal tradition required that the king pay them in lands or fiefdoms, whose administration endowed them with sufficient capital to pay for the aforementioned and even with everything, on occasions, it was insufficient.

It is understood then that the appearance of mercenaries with lower training and cheaper than that of nobles, with more effective weapons, inferior field maintenance and the unnecessary delivery of fiefdoms, tipped the balance in favor of the latter, in those days when the kings envisioned the way to get rid of those noble hidalgos with whom they had to share every day to a greater extent, his power and to which he became more subordinate every day.

The separation of the knights

And so, having dominated the elite of the military feudalism, the figure of the knight, changed the rules of the game as they were, was forced to wait his turn on the battlefield as a mere support to the infantry in very specific circumstances that most of the time they did not arrive, or forced to fight walk like one more infant.

Others, on the contrary, preferred the fame, fortune and lower risks of the tournaments and jousts and, despite this, all were relegated to a memory of past times. blurred with the romantic and romantic nuance of chivalric books.


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