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Medieval Lives: The Knight and Going Medieval Movie Notes
1. Chivalry is the code of knighthood set up by the Catholic Church to control the behavior of knights. The word comes
from the French word for horse rider, or chevalier. To most knights, what did chivalry mean?
For knights it meant to learn to fight, to become famous for skill in battle, and to become rich and powerful.
2. What was the most important, powerful weapon a knight had? His horse(s), because they gave him an advantage
over foot soldiers in size, speed, mobility, and strength.
3. What sorts of things did knights train their horses to do? Horses were trained to kick enemy shields with their legs,
stay calm despite the noise and confusion of battle, start or stop moving instantly, move slightly sideways to give
knights a better attack angle, and generally respond to every command as if they were part of the knight’s body.
4. What was the purpose of tournaments? How could a knight make money at them?
Tournaments helped knights practice their fighting skills, win glory and make a name for themselves in front of
spectators, and earn money by winning prizes. Another way to make money was to capture another knight by making
him yield (surrender) during combat and demanding a ransom from his family.
5. The Catholic Church had a very different idea of what chivalry meant than knights did. Raymond Lull said all knights
must defend the Christian faith, his earthly lord, women, children, and orphans.
6. Why did medieval knights wear coats of arms/crests? What kind of symbols appeared on a coat of arms? Coats of
arms became popular due to the lack of photography or any electronic media—people had no idea what another
person looked like unless they had met him or her personally. A famous knight’s coat of arms, however, could be
known, and anyone wearing it would able to advertise his identity proudly (and knights lived for that sort of fame).
Heraldry (the art, design, and meaning of these symbols) frequently includes animals, flowers, weapons, religious
symbols, castles, armor, and dozens of decorative blazons (bars), all with symbolic meanings.
7. Why were coats of arms especially important for knights on the field of battle? Knights wore coats of arms as a way
to identify themselves to both friends and enemies on the battlefield. Since it was impossible to see another knight’s
face due to his helmet, these crests helped avoid fratricide (killing one’s ally). They also told enemy knights that you
were worth capturing for ransom (if you were deemed wealthy enough to be worth the trouble).
8. How were peasants treated differently than knights after many battles? Despite chivalry’s prohibition on killing
women and children, knights did slaughter peasants by the hundreds and even thousands after some successful sieges.
Chivalry’s values really only applied between knights and nobles, whereas peasants might or might not be abused.
Going Medieval
9. The earliest “castles” were simple forts with a wooden palisade fence on the perimeter. What purpose did these
bases serve, and who used them the most? These were quickly constructed bases to allow cavalry (horse mounted
warriors) a place to feed, water, and rest their horses in a protected environment. Mounted patrols from these bases
could cover about 15 miles of territory in a day, allowing them to detect and destroy any enemies that might be
moving against their fort. Although they had foot soldiers guarding them, these forts were really more like “aircraft
carriers” for the horse mounted knights, and it was the knights that made them so deadly effective.
10. Knights training: Name as many ways knights trained as you can, how often they trained, etc.
A good knight (there were lazy ones) would run at least a mile a day wearing his gambeson and mail coat and perform
other physical exercises such as throwing a heavy “medicine ball” back and forth with other knights. Fighting could go
on for hours and he needed to be in top physical condition. He would perfect his fighting technique against a post sunk
in the ground called a pell, which he would batter with his shield and a wooden sparring sword that was twice as heavy
as his real sword. He used another type of dummy to practice using the lance (a long, spear-like weapon) while on
horseback. Lastly, he sparred with his fellow knights in “unarmed” combat like grapples, holds, throws, kicks, punches,
and ground based wresting moves, all while wearing his full armor kit.
11. It’s a myth that knights mostly fought just with swords, or just on horseback. What other forms of fighting did
knights study for close-in combat? Since knights were social equals, they may have preferred to capture enemy
knights alive instead of killing them. More importantly, they were also able to ransom captured knights for big money.
But getting a knight to yield (surrender) meant beating him without killing him, which was very difficult (knights didn’t
give up easily). This led to an advanced system of nonlethal takedowns like wrestling moves, holds, grapples, blocks,
arm-bars, and so forth which could be used to force a knight into submission through pain.
12. What would a knight have to know about his opponent to decide to capture instead of killing him? He would have to
believe the enemy was a fellow knight or lord (not just common soldier with armor), and that he was wealthy enough
to be worth ransoming (it wasn’t unheard of for families to not pay the ransom, either).
13. Who was the most important person in the castle building process? What were a few of his jobs? The chief mason
(stone cutter) was the most important figure. He chose the stone quarry that would supply the stone and marked out
the sections he wanted cut, and oversaw the measuring and shaping of the stone while deciding where each block
would go in the castle structure. He also dictated how the mortar was to be made, inspected the blocks as they were
placed, and made sure the blocks were plumb, level, and square. Even small imperfections would ruin the structure.
14. What type of crane did medieval people use (and is very similar to one used by the Romans)? They used a double
drum treadwheel crane with two “hamster wheels” and a system of block and tackle/pulleys to lift up to ~1300 lbs.
15. How long could a well-built castle last if it wasn’t destroyed in a siege? Castle designs using all stone begin ~1000CE
with the biggest and most complex coming in the 13th and 14th centuries (1200-1300s), so 700 to 800 years is common.
There are some smaller hilltop stone fortresses that are over 1000 years old and still standing.
16. Soldiers wore heavy quilted garments under their mail or plate armor. What benefit did these fabric coats provide?
Mail and plate armor protect against many attacks, but they don’t cover everywhere, are uncomfortable to wear, and
don’t protect against weapon impact very well. To address these concerns, soldiers wore a garment made of linen or
wool fabric called a gambeson (or aketon or arming doublet) under their armor. They were quilted, meaning made
using many layers, which made the cloth thick and strong, padding the wearer from blows against the armor and giving
some protection from slashing/piercing attacks.
17. Many arrows didn’t penetrate a knight’s chain armor, but they still caused injury. How did they do this?
Even if armor blocked or deflected the tip of an arrow, the energy of these impacts was still transferred to the body.
Although the gambeson helped by cushioning the blows and spreading the energy over a wider area, there was enough
energy in such a small area (some war bows produced over 120 pounds of force) that internal injuries could and
probably did occur as a result. There are stories of knights with dozens of arrows stuck in their armor, many of those
lodged in their gambesons.