A Knights Tale – Keep Fit wearing Armour in Medieval England
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
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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