On a medieval battlefield, the knights were the warriors feared by all and, at the same time, protected by all. 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 regular training on the battlefield from an early age, being born to an aristocratic family, chivalrous notion knowledge, armor, squires, and horses.
In addition to this, they were meant to be well-dressed, look good, recite poems, and also be able to sing.
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 was born in 1043 CE and lived until 1099 CE. He was known by the name El Cid and was one of the most well-known medieval knights.
The moniker, El Cid, is derived from an Arabic word – Assid, meaning god or lord. Perhaps players of the PC game “Age of Empires” would know of him.
He gained fame after he became the commander of Castile’s King Ferdinand I. He was also the commander of the Army of Leon, and his sword was named Tizona.
He rose to the position at the young age of only 22. However, in 1081 CE, the king exiled him after getting into a dispute with one of the enemy commanders.
However, he continued serving Kings even after his exile. He started serving al-Mu’tamin – a Moorish King, between 1081 and 1085 CE.
During his decade of serving Kings, he proved himself an efficient commander by bringing victories from battles against Spanish Kings and rival Moors.
These victories gave him fame and a new title El Campeador, the Champion.
But fighting battles for kings did not sit well with El Cid, who later decided that fighting for himself would lead to more profitable results holding more meaning.
Hence, in 1090 CE, he ruled the city of Valencia on his own.
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.
And in 1099 CE, his army admired his dead body during the parade after his death. Later, the body was buried in a Castile at San Pedro’s Monastery.
11. Richard I – The Lionhearted
Famously known as Cœur de Lion, England’s Richard I, born in 1157 CE, was a medieval knight whose fame has probably reached legendary status.
He reigned as England’s King from 1189 CE until 1199 CE and gained fame during his 1180s attack, where he ended a rebellion of barons in Aquitaine.
He then captured Western France’s castle of Taillebourg.
Richard I had problems with the ongoing complexity of intermarriages among the royals, as they created harmful consequences and quarrels. For that, he rebelled against King Henry II, his father, with the support of his mother and two other French Kings.
However, this matter did settle, and in 1189 CE, King Richard II nominated him as his successor.
True to his name, Richard the Lionhearted captured the city of Messina and acres in the Jerusalem Kingdom, becoming the Third Crusade’s most prominent leader.
However, all was not well as Richard suffered from scurvy. Despite this, the king managed to garner his subsequent victory against Saladin’s Arab Army.
10. Sir William Wallace
Sir William Wallace, born on 1270 CE, was a medieval knight from Scotland. He gained fame after he fought against the English for independence.
His first notable attack was in 1297 CE in Scotland, where he took revenge on his wife, Marion, by killing the sheriff of England.
He also followed this with more raids at garrisons, after which his men and he withdrew toward the safety of the Scottish Highlands.
William’s most remarkable victory was 1297’s Battle of Stirling against the English Army. This victory led him to be knighted by the future Scottish King Robert Bruce and become the Scottish government’s guardian.
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.
Legends say 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 of 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 for 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 ‘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 England’s highly celebrated medieval knight. When he was 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, 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, born 1286 CE, was a medieval knight from Scotland. His dark complexion earned him a famous name – the Black Douglas, meaning jape.
In his native home, however, the Scots appreciated him more and gave him the title of Good Sir James.
Sir James recaptured Douglas Castle in 1307 CE, which had once belonged to his own family but was taken over by King Edward – an English King.
James took advantage of the defenders at church and attacked the castle on Sunday. The survivors were beheaded and put in a massive fire. This horrific raid is called the Douglas larder.
3. Bertrand du Guesclin – The Eagle of Brittany
Bertrand du Guesclin, born on 1320 CE, was a medieval French knight and a national hero. He gained fame in 1354 CE after stopping the English raiding team in Brittany.
He was nicknamed the Eagle of Brittany and was knighted by the King for this brave and heroic deed.
Furthermore, the Scottish king also made Bertrand the Constable of France in 1357 CE, after he achieved victory over the battlefields of Rennes.
And again, in 1364 CE, he got his successive victory at the Battle of Cocherel against King Charles II, leading to him holding the position for over a decade.
He played a vital role in Hundred Years’ War with England as the commander of the French Army and recaptured Britanny during the war along with a massive portion of southwestern France.
2. Edward of Woodstock – The Black Prince
Edward of Woodstock, born on 1330 CE, was the first son of King Edward III – the English King. He was known for his unique shield and black armor, which also gave him the nickname Edward the Black Prince.
He became the prince of Wales in 1343 CE and rose to an early knighthood in 1346 CE after fighting confidently at the Battle of Crecy. At an early age, he supported his father – the English King- in gaining victory against a powerful French army.
Likewise, with the progression of the Hundred Year’s War, he gained more successes against the French. Edward, however, treated the captured French King with chivalry, which led to him being given the title of a noble knight and much recognition.
Not only that, he donated to the church around his kingdom and distributed gold to the commanders along with some respectful titles.
1. Sir Henry Percy – Hotspur
Sir Henry Percy, born in 1364 CE, was a medieval knight who cherished victories on the tournaments and the battlefields. He belonged to Northern England’s Percy family and was knighted in 1377 CE by Edward II – the English King.
He played a vital role in the recapture of Berwick Castle, which the Scots had taken over. And in 1380 CE, he went to Ireland for a campaign, became a part of the crusade in 1383 CE, and fought against Prussia’s pagan Lithuanians.
He returned home to England and patrolled the borders of the Scots becoming East March’s Warden.
Medieval knights’ stories, myths, and legends are still relevant today’s story-telling. They are a massive part of the mythic lore when discussing medieval cities and legendary battles. Most of all, their chivalry and honor as knights still stand out.