Legendary Knights And Warriors That Changed History

In popular culture and stories, knights are often depicted in shining armor, pulling magical swords from stones and saving maidens from foul beasts. Yet, these warriors are not pure fiction but were a real class of skilled soldiers from the medieval period that were sworn by oath to serve their lord and protect his land, as well as his subjects. While becoming a knight was no easy task or even a possibility for most people, it was even rarer to make it into the history books for one’s service as a knight. Here are the knights that made a name for themselves and are recognized as the greatest ever to pick up a sword.

Hugues de Payens Was The First Grand Master Of The Knights Templar

Painting of de Payen
Pinterest/Lord Davis Teller
Pinterest/Lord Davis Teller

Although little is known about de Paynes’ life, it’s believed that the French nobleman fought in the First Crusade and played a key role in the capturing of Jerusalem by the European Christian Armies. During that time, European Christians were constantly making pilgrimages to the holy city, only to be attacked on the roads.

So, de Paynes and eight followers asked permission from Jerusalem’s king to create a protective service for the pilgrims. These soldiers became known as the Knights Templar, which eventually grew to become a strong economic and physical force. After the French lost Jerusalem in the late 12th century, the Templar lost their power as well. King Philip IV had many of the members tortured and killed, including its last leader Jacque de Molay.

William Marshal Played A Role In The Signing Of The Magna Carta

Picture of William Marshall
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

William Marshal was the fourth son of a minor noble, John Marshal. He made a name for himself fighting in organized tournaments, earning his wealth by doing so. On top of serving five English kings, he played a vital role in the signing of the Magna Carta between King John and rebel barons in 1215.

When King John died in 1216, William became the Regent of England, at the age of 70. Marshal led the young King Henry III’s armies victory over French forces and the rebellious barons the next year.

Edward The Black Prince Commanded Forces At A Young Age

The Black Prince in battle
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

Edward of Woodstock, otherwise known as the Black Prince Prince, lived between 1330-1376 and was one of the famous commanders of the Hundred Years’ War. The heir apparent and son of Edward III of England, he served in his first position of military command when he was just 16 years old.

One year later, he became a commander and captured King John II of France at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. He returned the king for 3 million crowns and was granted English territory, in what is now northern France.

El Cid Earned Fame Later In His Life

Statue of El Cid
Cristina Arias/Cover/Getty Images
Cristina Arias/Cover/Getty Images

Rodrigo Diaz, otherwise known as El Cid, is best known as a hero of the Spanish Reconquista, who led Christian forces against the Muslim rulers in Spain. Born into an aristocratic family, El Cid served two different kings before acting as a mercenary for more than ten years, making quite a name for himself.

According to historian Simon Barton, El Cid’s legend grew near the end of his life when his forces captured the city of Valencia from the Morrocco-based Almoravid dynasty in 1094. Three years later, he defended Almoravid dynasty in their attempt to retake the city.

Joan Of Arc Wasn’t Technically A Knight

Joan of Arc with flag
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Although Joan of Arc was born to a humble family in France, in her teenage years, she received a vision from God to free the people of France from English occupation. Eventually, she led French armies alongside King Charles VII and was beside him when he was crowned in 1429.

In 1430, she was thrown from her horse and captured, charged with heresy among other crimes, and was burned at the stake in 1431. Although she may not have technically a knight, she still wore plate armor, devised battle plans, and her family received titles and land from King Charles VII as the result of her heroism.

William Of Poitiers Was Close To William The Conqueror

William serving a goblet
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The Norman Conquest was one of the most notable victories in the Middle Ages, and we know a lot about the invasion from the knight William of Poitiers. As a young man, he was trained as a knight as well as a priest and a squire. When William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066, William of Poitiers was by his side as his chaplain.

William of Poitiers gave detailed descriptions about the Battle of Hastings as well as what William the Conqueror was like. William of Poitiers’ eye-witness description of the Battle of Hastings is considered to be one of the most important sources for modern historians.

Guy Of Lusignan Essentially Lost The Holy Land

Painting of Lusignan
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Unfortunately for Guy of Lusignan, his name is known not for his heroic victories, but his catastrophic failures. A French knight, he eventually moved to Jerusalem and married the sister of Baldwin IV, eventually becoming the king of Jerusalem, although not without any issues. In July 1187, Saladin’s attacked the crusader in Tiberias.

Confident in himself, Guy mobilized his forces in what became known as the Battle of Hattin. With little water, rest, and a lack of knowledge of the land, Guy’s army was annihilated, eventually leading to the Muslim conquest of other Christian centers, including Jerusalem itself. Although Guy was captured at Hatton, he was released by Saladin, and Richard I named him Guy, King of Cyprus.

Geoffroi de Charny

Picture of Geoffroi
Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Known as an exemplary knight that lived his life strictly by the code of chivalry, Geoffroi de Charny fought for King Jean II of France and carried the standard of the crown into battle, a position of great honor.

He was also a founding member of the Order of the Star, an elite group of knights formed in 1351. He wrote several books on the concepts of spirituality and knighthood, which he believed were key aspects ]not just life but battle as well. A highly pious individual, he is believed to be the first recorded owner of the Shroud of Turin, a piece of cloth said to have the image of Jesus Christ on it.

Saint George Is Regarded As The Patron Saint Of All Knights

George fighting a dragon
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Although the Eastern Orthodox Saint George, or George of Lyddia, was not necessarily a knight himself, he is regarded as the patron saint of all knights. George was a soldier in the Roman Army and was martyred for his Christian briefs and setting the standard for the valiant knights of the medieval period.

He eventually grew into legend, with the image of him riding his white horse, Bayard, into battle against a dragon as a metaphor of good versus evil. The legend of George also involved him saving a maiden from the dragon, therefore becoming the image of a knight that protects the innocents.

William Wallace Is A Scottish Martyr

Statue of Wallace
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born in the late 13th century, William Wallace became a leader in the fight for independence after he killed the High Sheriff of Lanark in 1297. After gaining a large following, along with the help of some Scottish nobles, Wallace defeated the far superior English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

However, around a year later, he was defeated at the Battle of Falkirk and was forced into hiding. By 1305, he was eventually captured and tortured and executed for treason. Wallace’s story inspired the film Braveheart.

Alexander Nevsky Is A Russian Hero

Painting of Nevsky
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Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Living between 1220 and 1263, Alexander Nevsky was the Prince of Novgorod, Grand Prince of Kiev, and Grand Prince of Vladimir. One of the most celebrated leaders of the Russian military, he took on the name Nevsky after defeating the Swedes on the Neva River and preventing an invasion of Russia from the north. Just two years later, he also defeated the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, destroying most of their forces at the Battle of Ice.

Regardless that he was unable to prevent the Mongol invasion of Rus’ from the east, he was successful against the Mongols. After his death, Nevsky was regarded as a national hero and was canonized by the Orthodox Church.

Henry “Hotspur” Percy Rebelled Against The King Of England

Picture of Hotspur
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Sir Henry Percy was nicknamed “Hotspur” for his quick temper, and was knighted by King Edward III when he was just 13 years old. In the mid-1380s, he spent his years under Richard II through Scotland, proving his military prowess.

Eventually, he made his way to France, where his reputation grew. Yet, his family came into conflict with the new King Henry IV, and he took up arms, rebelling against the king. In 1403, he was killed by royal forces at the Battle of Shrewsbury.

Bertrand du Guesclin

Picture of du Guesclin
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Living between 1320 and 1380, Bertrand du Guesclin is considered to be one of the greatest knights of his time after defending Rennes in 1364 against the English, his actions helped to inspire the French as well as attracted the attention of the king.

Shortly after, Charles V of France sent du Guesclin on a campaign to fight Charles II of Navarre, which proved to be successful. Du Guesclin would go on to fight in countless other successful military campaigns although he was captured and ransomed twice. He lost his life while on a military campaign in Languedoc in 1380.

John Hawkwood Was Internationally Renowned For His Skill

Fresco of Hawkwood
Alinari Archives/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
Alinari Archives/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Both before and after his death in 1394, John Hawkwood was considered one of the most famous and successful warriors of his time. Serving the English crown during the Hundred Years’ War, he became famous and is said to be knighted although it is unknown by whom or when.

In 1362, he fought with his White Company of mercenaries, which offered their services to whoever gave them the most. Given his reputation, various Italian republics attempted to outbid each other for his loyalty. Following his death in 1394, the Florentines commissioned Paolo Uccello to make a fresco of him at the Basilica di Santa Maria, commonly known as the Duomo.

King Arthur Is More Legend Than Man

Painting of King Arthur
The Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Getty Images

Although many historians have come to agree that King Arthur is a historical figure, his life and legacy are shrouded in myths and legend. According to medieval histories, he led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and 6th centuries.

However, many of the other Arthurian legends, such as his magical sword Excalibur, his relationship with the wizard Merlin, and his Knights of the Round Table, are considered to be highly embellished myths.

Richard The Lionheart Spent More Time At War Than In His Own Country

Richard on a horse
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

Also known as Richard I of England, Richard the Lionheart succeeded his father as king in 1189. However, he spent the majority of his time as king abroad, setting off on the Third Crusade where he earned a reputation as a great military commander. Returning to England, he was captured and given to the Holy Roman Emperor who released him after a ransom was paid in 1194.

After spending a short time in the country he ruled, he went to France to fight Philip II. In 1199, he died after being hit by an arrow while besieging Chalus-Chabrol castle. It is believed he died from gangrene or sepsis from the wound.

Robert Guiscard A.K.A. “The Crafty”

Painting of Guicard
Culture Club/Getty Image
Culture Club/Getty Image

Robert Guiscard was a Norman knight that fought against the Byzantine and Arab Empires from 1057 to create his own territory in southern Italy and Sicily. He extended his control of Italy after capturing Bari in 1071, Palermo in 1072, and Salerno in 1076. Still in search of more, he took Corfu in 1081 after defeating an army led by the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos.

Unfortunately, he died on his way to attempt to take the city of Constantinople, yet from typhoid, not battle. His nickname “the Crafty” comes from his surname’s relation to the old French word viscart, meaning “wily as a fox.” Dante Alighieri named Sir Robert as one of the greatest knights in his Divine Comedy.

James “The Black Douglas”

Douglas and Robert The Bruce
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Sir James Douglas was a Scottish knight whose darker complexion earned him the nickname “the Black Douglas” from the English and “Good Sir James” from his Scottish people. In 1307, he recaptured Douglas Castle, the land that once belonged to his family, but was seized by King Edward I of England. The attack took place on Palm Sunday, and Douglas and his men beheaded any survivors and burnt their bodies in a fire.

The raid went on to be named “the Douglas larder.” He also captured Roxburgh Castle on Shrove Tuesday in 1314, uprising the garrison with a feast the last night before Lent. Believed to have won over 70 fights, he was killed on his way the Holy Lands to bury the heart of Robert the Bruce, which he had promised to do.

Robert The Bruce Is Considered A Savior Of Scotland

Statue of Robert the Bruce
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Robert the Bruce was one of the most formative figures in the First War of Scottish Independence in the early 14th century. Aside from fighting alongside his fellow Scots, in 1306, he was named the King of Scotland.

Under his leadership, Robert the Bruce managed to help Scotland maintain its independence regardless of England’s relentless attempts to bring the country to heel. Not only did Bruce hold back England from invading his homeland, but he also took the war to parts of northern England and Ireland, thereby putting the English on the defensive.

Godfrey Of Bouillon Was A Major Part Of The First Crusade

Painting of Bouillon
Edward Gooch Collection/Getty Images
Edward Gooch Collection/Getty Images

Remembered as one of the great leaders of the First Crusade in the 11th century, Godfrey of Bouillon was originally a Frankish knight with little to his name. However, after serving the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, he was rewarded with the duchy of Lower Lorraine.

When the First Crusade was announced in 1095, Godfrey sold his lands and collected an army of knights to head for the Holy Land. After several victories against the Muslim armies, Bouillon was one of the first to enter the city of Jerusalem after it was taken over by the Christian forces.