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A Knights Tale – Keep Fit wearing Armour in Medieval England

Updated on January 24, 2011

Basic 'Keep Fit' for Medieval Knights

Once upon a time in Merrie England, under the greenwood tree, when women span, and tended the hearth, and men did manly things with swords and castles and suits of armour, there lived a brotherhood of fine upstanding gentlemen, who were known as knights.

Knights were renowned for their gallantry and bravery. They were also famed for their skills on horse-back and with the sword, and in order to maintain these skills, they had to keep very fit indeed.

Durer; knight's helmets

Medieval muscle men and their Armour

If you've ever been to these mediaeval fairs that spring up from time to time you might have examined some of the armour worn for the battle re-enactments. It's seriously heavy, usually between 45-55 Ibs in weight, and you had to be a pretty fit guy to run around with that lot on your back. Of course armour was a necessity at a time when medical science was still a twinkle in an apothecary's eye. Even a small cut could kill if blood poisoning set in, and there was a justified paranoia about wounds from daggers, swords, axes, arrows, and other sharp objects. Hence the need for chain-mail vests, leather jerkins, full metal armour, and metal helmets with visors. Add to that lot the extra weight of a sword and a shield, and you are talking about the need for serious muscle!

 

Equestrian Skills for the mighty men of the Middle Ages

Now at this point I feel it is my duty to point out that your average knight did not trot around on a pretty little thoroughbred horse. Do not believe those romantic illustrations in the fairy tale books. Mediaeval knights rode on large, powerful horses similar to the Shire horse, or the Suffolk Punch. They were skilful horsemen. They needed to be to mount and ride a horse that size whilst encased in vast amounts of leather and metal.

Stomping around in armour also had the advantage of acting as a mobile sauna. It could get pretty hot in there!

Good reasons for a knight to keep his skills up. WARNING! Not for the squeamish!

The Cutting Edge of Medieval Combat

A knight spent a considerable amount of his training acquiring skills with a sword. He studied long and hard because he couldn't afford to get it wrong too many times. And we're not talking hand on hip, leaping about on tables or swinging from chandeliers here. That's just Errol Flynn. The mediaeval broad sword was a substantial weapon requiring the use of both hands to be really effective. Smaller swords could be used single-handed, but there would have been minimal leaping around in full, or even partial armour. The emphasis here would have been on speed and agility.

Jousting in armour

The Joust

In mediaeval Europe jousting was a popular form of entertainment. Two mounted opponents would charge at each other from a set distance armed with lances and shields. The aim of the exercise was to knock your opponent from his horse, but points were awarded for striking him with your lance whether or not he was unseated. Tournaments were a good way to showcase your knightly skills, and attract wealthy patrons should the need arise.

This gave a knight plenty of opportunity to reap the rewards of those long,hard hours spent in training.

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  • Amanda Severn profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Severn 

    3 years ago from UK

    'The Knight's Tale is one of my all-time favourite films. Of course its not at all true to history, but its still a great story with fantastic cast and brilliant music. You have great taste aesta1!

  • aesta1 profile image

    Mary Norton 

    3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Every summer, when our family gathers at the cottage, we have this tradition of watching our favourite movies and one of our favourites is, The Knight's Tale. We all have our favourite lines and we all sing to the tune of the song.

  • Amanda Severn profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Severn 

    8 years ago from UK

    Hi Betherann, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • betherann profile image

    Beth Morey 

    8 years ago from Montana

    This is quite the interesting hub!

  • Amanda Severn profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Severn 

    9 years ago from UK

    We went up to the Tower of London to see the exhibition of Henry Vlll's armour a couple of weeks ago. Some of his armour was beautifully engraved, almost a work of art in it's own right. As well as the actual armour, the knights wore densely padded underclothes. All in all it must have been very hot and must surely have inhibited their movements to some extent.

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 

    9 years ago from East Coast, United States

    I wonder how long and how often they actually wore that stuff. It certainly is attractive but seems like hell to wear. (Enjoyed the Monty Python bit)

  • Amanda Severn profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Severn 

    9 years ago from UK

    Hi Teresa

    I love the 'Once and Future King', and I prefer it to some of the more 'grown-up' versions around. Like you, I have fond memories of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and also Life of Brian! They don't make'em like that any more. do try A Knight's Tale. I've lost count of the times I've seen it, and I would still watch it again. Not too many films you can say that about!

  • Teresa McGurk profile image

    Sheila 

    9 years ago from The Other Bangor

    Amanda -- loved this stuff -- I just finished rereading The Sword in the Stone, from the Once and Future King, and so I feel at home with all this armour. Plus, like many a British citizen of our generation, I learned all my history from Monty Python ("it's only a scratch!") and have the annoying habit of quoting it any chance I get ("how d'ja know 'e's the king?" "'cos 'e ain't covered in shit, is 'e?").

    Glad I found this hub (thanks to Bristol Boy, and his great roll call of UK Hubbers) -- I haven't seen the Heath Ledger movie, but maybe now I'll give it a go. Great craic, Amanda.

  • Amanda Severn profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Severn 

    9 years ago from UK

    With such an interest in English history, you were probably a medieval knight yourself in a former life! Do we have sexy accents? Amazing! I shall tell my husband to be more appreciative!

  • Shadesbreath profile image

    Shadesbreath 

    9 years ago from California

    Nope, never been. England is the very top, numero uno item in my bucket list. I think I lived there in my last life at the very least if not for several of them. And British chicks have the sexiest accent on the planet.

  • Amanda Severn profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Severn 

    9 years ago from UK

    Not geeky, just knowledgeable. Perhaps you could write a real hub about it, and not just an off the cuff, hub mob hub. Have you been to London BTW? They have some fabulous armour in the Tower of London, and in the Wallace Collection.

    I can't begin to imagine how they coped with all that padding in the heat. Perhaps they should have taken a leaf out of the Scots book, and got them selves into kilts.. At least they would have had a bit of air circulating!

  • Shadesbreath profile image

    Shadesbreath 

    9 years ago from California

    During the crusades they actually didn't take it off for weeks at a time (can u imagine the stench alone? LOL). Actually, they were wearing 16 guage, riveted chainmail for the most part, very little plate, but the padded stuff underneath was really well developed based on learning they got from trade with Asia. ... lol.... Ok, I need to shut up or you guys are going to find out how geeky I am on this crap. lol

  • Amanda Severn profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Severn 

    9 years ago from UK

    It gives you a whole new perspective on the crusades, doesn't it? Suffering and endurance must have been very familiar to them for them to have chosen to make that long journey. Were they just a bunch of religious fanatics, espoused to what they believed was a noble cause, or was it the Middle Ages equivalent of a punch up on a football tour? After all there probably wasn't too much excitement in rural England at the time.

  • Shadesbreath profile image

    Shadesbreath 

    9 years ago from California

    I'm sure it was.  Not only were they wearing all that metal that weighed a ton and grew hotter in the sun (think how hot the roof or hood of your car gets in the sun), but beneath it they wore padded cloth armor to mitigate the force of blows (metal armor is to stop cuts and pokes, but getting hit with a big metal stick still hurts). I can't even imagine what the heat stroke factor was during wars.

  • Amanda Severn profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Severn 

    9 years ago from UK

    Shades, You make chain mail! Is there no end to your talents? 70ibs sounds like a lot of metal. Those guys must have been so strong, but I guess in those days it was survival of the fittest. Can you imagine how they went on in the Holy Land wearing all their gear. It must have been like fighting in a pressure cooker. LOL

  • Amanda Severn profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Severn 

    9 years ago from UK

    Hi Jim10,

    Thanks for stopping by. We went to a battle re-enactment with the kids at Herstmonceaux Castle, and the knights were very obliging about letting the kids try the kit on afterwards. That stuff sure does weigh a ton!

  • Shadesbreath profile image

    Shadesbreath 

    9 years ago from California

    Fun hub, nice angle. I make chainmail, and I can tell you, it's heavy as hell. Particularly if you make it like the old, old style stuff. The vikings wore a 14 guage variety... I made a short sleeved vest, thigh length... of that... hah, 70 lbs. Just a shirt. It's hard core. On the upsdide though, I don't think those guys spent much time sitting around typing on computers all day, so, they were probably less bothered by it than someone like me. Heh.

  • jim10 profile image

    jim10 

    9 years ago from ma

    Over the summer my son and I spent a weekend overnight at the Higgins Armory Museum for cub scouts. We had a great time and learned a lot. I had never realized that knights had different types of armor for combat, jousting and just looking good at parties. We tried on some helmets and boy were they heavy.

  • Amanda Severn profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Severn 

    9 years ago from UK

    Yup, I've had an interest in medieval knights ever since I saw Heath Ledger in A Knights Tale. They were the rock stars/ football stars/ movie stars of their era. Impossibly fit and glamorous, mounted on towering, powerful stteds, every damsel for miles must have swooned when they rode into town.

  • Ryan Hupfer profile image

    Ryan Hupfer 

    9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

    HubMobster AND a medieval knight? Sweet!

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