Famous Knights of the Middle Ages

Today, celebrities are more actors and actresses we admire, like Ryan Reynolds or Johnny Depp, maybe The Rock. Athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lebron James and Usain Bolt also have celebrity statuses. In ancient times, the equivalent of these famous figures were the gallant, captivating and strong medieval knights of the time. They were truly impressive, courageous warriors, wise leaders and scholars. The people’s admiration for them was evident in the novels and other literary pieces that featured them. With that, here are some of the most famous knights of their time who could possibly rival our handsome men today.

Guillaume Marshal

Sometimes also called William Field Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, he was an Anglo-Norman soldier and statesman. He spent his early years as a knight-errant and participating in tournaments before being knighted in 1166, and he was a famous fighter. His father’s family bore the hereditary title of Marshal. In his father’s time, he was considered a chief or master marshal, which involved managing other marshals and officials. As for William, he would be known as “Marshal”, although the role had already changed over his time, more to be a specialist representative.

Château de Tancarville in Normandy, where Guillaume le Maréchal began his training as a knight. (John Sell Cotman, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

He embarrassed himself with his impatient and impetuous behavior. William Marshal was our best boy, and Archbishop Stephen Langton could attest to that, as he said he was the “best knight that ever lived”. He rose to power from the gentry and became the most respected knight in all of England, which was truly exceptional.

On the death of the son of King Henry II, who bears his name, the marshal goes on a crusade in memory of his friend. When he came back. he fought for Henry II and helped govern the country. After the death of King John in 1216, he was appointed protector of Henry III. He was already 70 years old when he fought in the Battle of Lincoln but still managed to defeat the rebellion and the invasion of the French who threatened the young Henry III. Before dying, he became a member of the Templars and was buried in the Temple Church.

Geoffrey of Charny

The third son of Jean de Charny and Marguerite de Joinville, Sir Geoffroi de Charny, was a French nobleman known as the “true and perfect knight”. He also wrote about three books on chivalry, as he was a scholar of it. One of these was his semi-autobiographical poem entitled Le Livre de Geoffroi de Charny, as well as a series of questions on the question of chivalry for the Compagnie de l’Etoile, the French counterpart of the Order of the Garter.

Brass funerary effigy of the French knight Geoffroi II de Charny. (unknown (Image from “Unpublished French monuments to serve the history of the arts”, Nicolas Xavier Willemin, Paris, 1839.), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

He was part of the Hundred Years War against the English, where he was captured not just once but twice. Soon he was released from captivity to find his own ransom money, which doesn’t seem like a good idea, but his reputation for honesty made his captors trust him. Charny died fighting at the Battle of Poitiers after his advice was ignored. Thus, he died valiantly supporting the French royal banner called Oriflamme until his very last breath. King John had to surrender immediately afterwards.

James Douglas

Eldest son of Sir William Douglas, James Douglas was known as “le Bold” or “the bold”, who was a supporter of William Wallace. On the death of his father, he was sent to France for his own safety at the start of the wars of independence. In Paris he learned the ways of chivalry after William Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews, took him on as a squire. Upon his return to Britain with Lamberton, he discovered that his lands had been seized and awarded to Robert Clifford. Lamberton presented him to the English court asking for the lands to be returned shortly after Stirling Castle was taken, but in 1304 when Edward I found out whose son he was, he went mad and basically ordered Douglas out. Because of this, he decided to join Robert the Bruce in the First War of Scottish Independence.

Statue of Sir James Douglas, Scottish National Portrait Gallery. (Stephencdickson, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

He became one of Scotland’s leading guerrilla fighters and became known to the English as Black Douglas. Before King Robert I (Bruce) died, he asked Douglas to bring his heart to Jerusalem, and he did, but his crusade was then diverted against the Saracens in Spain when he saw a comrade knight surrounded by enemies at the Battle of Teba. He threw the heart of King Robert I before him among the enemy and said, “Now pass as you used to, and Douglas will follow you or die.” His men followed him and he was killed in action, but what a moment!

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