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Eight Knights Who Changed History

January 28, 2019 in History

By Livia Gershon

Well-trained, heavily-armored knights represented a triumph of military might during the Middle Ages.

There’s no more iconic symbol of medieval Europe than the knight: clad in shining armor, jousting with his rivals, wearing a token of his lady love. But knights were far more than romantic figures—they were a triumph of military technology. Accounts from the Middle Ages describe the well-trained, heavily-armed warriors trampling through enemy forces while chopping off limbs and heads.

The resources needed for horses, armor and

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William of Poitiers

One of the earliest and most significant victories for knights in the Middle Ages was the Norman conquest of England, and a lot of what we know about that fight comes from William of Poitiers (c. 1020 – 1090). Trained as a knight in his youth, William went on to become a priest and scholar. When William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066, William of Poitiers was his chaplain. Later, he provided a well-known account of the king’s life and the conquest.

The priest didn’t hesitate to flatter his king in his writing, describing his charge into battle with gleaming shield and lance as “a sight both delightful and terrible to see.” But, despite his biases, William of Poitiers worked hard to get his facts right. For example, his account of the Battle of Hastings—a triumph of mounted knights against an Anglo-Saxon army made up mostly of infantry—is based largely on eyewitness accounts from soldiers who fought there, providing one of the most important sources for modern historians.

El Cid (Rodrigo Díaz)

(c. 1043-1099) Rodrigo Díaz, more popularly known by his title, El Cid, is best-remembered as a hero of the Spanish Reconquista, leading Christian forces to victory over Muslim rulers in Spain. But his real story is a bit more complicated.

Rodrigo Diaz, also known as El Cid.

Born into an aristocratic Castilian family, Díaz became a prominent military leader serving two kings of Castile. Later, though, he spent more than a decade fighting mostly as a mercenary, putting himself at the service of a number of Muslim leaders and earning great wealth and fame. As a commander fighting for the taifa of Zaragoza, an Arab Muslim state in what’s now Eastern Spain, he defeated both Muslim and Christian armies.

Historian Simon Barton writes that it was only near the …read more


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