In a medieval battlefield, the knights were the best-protected and most-feared warriors. Often clad in high-fashion armor, medieval knights were supposed to uphold the notion of chivalry, justice, and heroism.
As the sands of time marched on, however, achieving the status of a knight became a sturdy uphill battle. This elevated position and status became exceedingly challenging.
As such, attributes to become a knight included a plethora of check-boxes, such as having an aristocratic birth, training in the ways of a battlefield from childhood, money for the armory, horses, and squires, and knowledge of chivalrous notions.
Knights also often needed to have good looks and fine clothes. The customs required knights to have a striking coat of arms. Additionally, reciting poetry and songs were also highly desirable facets.
Here are the top 12 famous and well-known medieval knights who played critical roles in medieval warfare and helped change the course of history.
What is a group of knights called?
Collectively, knights were referred to as an order. This term described them as a military unit regarding their alliance—for example, the order of the Round Table.
What is a female knight called?
Sir is used for men titled as knights. Likewise, the female equivalent for knighthood is damehood, and the suo jure female equivalent term is Dame.
Who was the most famous knight?
King Arthur is the most famous knight in history and modern folktale.
12. Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar – ‘El Cid’
A famed Spanish knight and general, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (1043-1099 CE), better known as El Cid, is one of the most well-known medieval knights.
His moniker comes from the Arabic word Assid, which means ‘lord.’ Perhaps players of the PC game “Age of Empires” would know of him.
His sword was named Tizona, and he first came to prominence as a commander of King Ferdinand I (d. 1065 CE) of Castile and Leon’s army.
He rose to the position at the young age of only 22. However, the king exiled him after a dispute with a rival commander in 1081 CE.
During his exile, El Cid served the Moorish king al-Mu’tamin (1081-85 CE) at Zaragoza. He spent almost a decade gaining victories against rival Moors and Spanish kings.
This led to him acquiring another nickname- El Campeador, meaning ‘The Champion.’
But fighting battles for kings did not sit well with El Cid, and he later decided that fighting for himself would be more profitable. It would also hold more meaning.
El Cid then took the city of Valencia in 1090 CE. In theory, however, he still represented the Spanish king Alfonso VI (r. 1077-1109 CE), but in practicality, El Cid became a ruler in his own right.
Before his death, El Cid also had a dream where he saw Saint Peter instruct him to command his army to parade his dead body around to ward off an Arab attack. The great general died in 1099 CE, and just as instructed, his body was paraded before his army.
This trickery worked, and the city of Valencia withstood the Arab onslaught, albeit temporarily. Later, however, it did finally fall to the Muslim Almoravids. His body was buried at the monastery of San Pedro in Castile.
According to legends, after El Cid’s death, his horse Bavieca never let anyone else ride him. El Cid’s legend only swelled following his demise, mainly due to Cantar del Mio Cid’s 1142 CE epic poem (Song of the Cid).
11. Richard I – ‘The Lionhearted.’
Famously known as Cœur de Lion, Richard I of England (1157-1199 CE) was a medieval knight whose fame has probably reached legendary status.
He ruled England from 1189 to 1199 CE, with his first success coming in the form of the 1180’s attack, where he put an end to a baron’s rebellion in Aquitaine.
Soon after, he went on to capture the impregnable castle of Taillebourg in western France.
After garnering the support of two French kings and his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard rebelled twice against his father- King Henry II of England (r. 1154-1189 CE).
He did not take a good liking to the complex royal intermarriages of the period as they caused nothing but petty squabbles that led to harmful consequences.
However, this matter did reach a settlement when the king officially nominated Richard as his successor, which he became in 1189 CE.
True to his name, Richard the Lionhearted was one of the leaders of the Third Crusade (1189-1192 CE). During his years, he captured the city of Messina (1190 CE) and Cyprus (1191 CE).
He also captured acres in the kingdom of Jerusalem, which had been under siege for months before Richard’s arrival.
However, all was not well as Richard suffered from scurvy at the time. Despite this, the king managed to garner another victory against the Arab army of Saladin (r. 1174-1193 CE) at Arsuf.
Ultimately, the Crusade wore out, with Jerusalem still in Arab hands. Nevertheless, Richard negotiated a safe passage to the Holy Lands for Christian pilgrims. The British royal family’s coat of arms originates from the three lions of Richard’s coat of arms.
10. Sir William Wallace
Sir William Wallace (c. 1270-1305 CE) was a medieval knight from Scotland. He was a national hero who fought against the English for independence.
His first notable attack was in 1297 CE on Lanark in Scotland, where he killed the English sheriff as revenge for his wife, Marion.
He also followed this with more raids on English garrisons. William and his men then retreated to the safety of the Scottish Highlands.
William’s most famous triumph was his battle with the English army at the Battle of Stirling in 1297 CE.
After this victory, Robert Bruce- the future Scottish king (r. 1306-1329 CE) knighted William and made him the guardian of the Scottish government.
9. Saint George
Although not strictly a medieval knight, Saint George of the Eastern Orthodox is the patron saint of all knights. The legendary figure of Saint George is based on a martyred soldier in the Roman army in 303 CE.
According to legends, he was martyred in Lydda (modern Lod, Israel) for his Christian beliefs. After his death, he became the example for all chivalrous knights in the medieval period.
By the time the 8th century rolled around, the legend of Saint George had reached Europe. Likewise, by the 12th century, his parables and stories were well-established.
His lore often speaks of him famously riding his white horse, Bayard, into battle against a dragon and slaying it. This triumph of Saint George killing the beast became a lasting metaphor for good against evil.
George also saved a princess in the process, and her rescue by the knight became a symbol for protecting the innocent.
8. Sir Galahad
Sir Galahad, a medieval knight of King Arthur’s round table, is known to people as one of the perfect knights. Son of Sir Lancelot of the round table, Galahad had a lineage that supposedly stretched back to King David.
Similarly, legends speak of Sir Galahad’s weapons as the spear pierced Jesus Christ at the Crucifixion. His sword was also the one that belonged to King David. Besides being a great jouster, Sir Galahad was humble, innocent, and pure.
That is why Sir Galahad was the only knight the Round Table considered worthy of pursuing the Holy Grail. This pursuit is often seen as an allegory of the Christian path to salvation.
Siegfried is a legendary medieval knight from Germany. His legends pertain to more myth than reality, and his first appearance is as a prince in the 1200 CE German epic poem- the Nibelungenlied.
The figure of Siegfried is based on old Norse and Germanic folklore, but many believe that a martyred Frankish knight of the 7th century CE is what inspired his legends.
Similarly, like Saint George, Siegfried’s legends make him appear as a polite version of earlier legendary figures. He, too, successfully fought and slew a dragon.
Legends say that the knight bathed in the dead dragon’s blood and, as a result, became immune to weapons, except a tiny patch on his back where the blood had not touched his skin because a leaf had stuck.
6. Robert Guiscard – ‘The Crafty.’
Robert Guiscard (c. 1015-1085 CE) was a medieval knight of Norman who successfully fought against the Byzantine and Arab Empires. His victory against them helped him create his duchy in southern Italy and Sicily.
Endorsed by the papacy, Robert’s territorial claims led to his recognition, and he garnered his title as the Duke of Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily.
After capturing Bari in 1071 CE, he extended his control over Italy. After a three-year siege in 1072 CE, he captured Palermo and annexed Salerno in 1076 CE.
After capturing Corfu in 1081 CE, Robert then defeated the army of the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118 CE) at Dyracchion, Dalmatia.
His nickname of ‘the Crafty’ originates from his surname’s kinship with the old French word ‘viscart,’ which means ‘wily as a fox.’ Dante Alighieri, the famous writer of The Divine Comedy, also has Sir Robert as one of the great knights in his epic.
5. Sir William Marshal
Sir William Marshal (c. 1146-1219 CE) was a highly celebrated medieval knight of England. When he was just six years old, his father had to give him as a hostage to King Stephen (r. 1135-1154 CE) after the king besieged William’s family castle.
Fortunately, though, this was a good turning of the leaf for William as the king made him a royal ward and set him off on the road to becoming a knight.
Impressing everyone with his martial skills and love of feasts, he earned the nickname Gaste-Viande. The king knighted him in 1166 CE, and Sir William grossed a massive fortune through his victories on the tournament circuits.
He held the victory title for 16 undefeated years and had over 500 captures.
4. Sir James Douglas – ‘The Black Douglas.’
Sir James Douglas (c. 1286-1330 CE) was a medieval knight from Scotland. The English gave him the nickname “The Black Douglas” due to his dark complexion, no doubt, meant as a jape.
In his native home, though, the Scots were more appreciative and nicknamed him “Good Sir James.”
In 1307 CE, Sir James recaptured the Douglas Castle. It had once belonged to his own family but was lost due to the English king Edward I. He attacked the castle on Palm Sunday when most of the defenders were at church.
The Scottish knight then beheaded any survivors and immolated their bodies on a massive fire. This raid became known as ‘the Douglas larder.’
3. Bertrand du Guesclin – ‘The Eagle of Brittany’
Bertrand du Guesclin (c. 1320-1380 CE) was a medieval French knight. Known as the ‘Eagle of Brittany,’ he was regarded as a national hero. He stopped an English raiding party in Brittany in 1354 CE, and the king knighted him for this brave and heroic deed.
Furthermore, the Scottish king also made Bertrand the Constable of France after he achieved victory over the battlefields of Rennes in 1357 CE, as well as a success over King Charles II of Navarre at the Battle of Cocherel in 1364 CE. He held this position for a decade.
Bertrand consequently also commanded the French army during the Hundred Years’ War with England (1337-1453 CE). Later, he recaptured Brittany during the war and a large chunk of southwestern France.
2. Edward of Woodstock – ‘The Black Prince.’
The eldest son of the English king Edward III, Edward of Woodstock (1330-1376 CE), was a prince of Wales from 1343 CE and the scourge of the French nobility. He was called ‘Edward the Black Prince’ for his unusual black armor and shield.
He rose to an early knighthood in 1346 CE when he fought with aplomb at the Battle of Crécy. While still only a teenager, Edward helped the king win a victory against a comparatively superior French army.
He also garnered more successes against the French as the Hundred Years’ War progressed.
After the French king was captured during the war, Edward treated him with chivalry, a deed that earned him accolades and a reputation for benevolence, one of the main qualities of a noble knight.
He also distributed gold and titles to his commanders and donated handsomely to churches.
1. Sir Henry Percy – ‘Hotspur’
A very well-known member of the Nobel Percy family of northern England, Sir Henry Percy (1364-1403 CE), was a medieval knight who enjoyed victories on the tournament circuit and the battlefields.
The English king Edward II knighted him in 1377 CE when he was just 13 years old.
After knighthood, he helped his father recapture the Berwick Castle from the Scots. In 1380 CE, he also went on a campaign in Ireland, and in 1383 CE, he was a part of the Crusade against pagan Lithuanians in Prussia.
He returned home to England and patrolled the Scottish borders after the king made him the Warden of the East March.
Medieval knights’ stories, myths, and legends are still relevant to today’s story-telling. They are a huge part of the mythic lore when discussing medieval cities and legendary battles. Most of all, though, their chivalry and honor as knights still stand out.