These medieval knights were the 'superheroes' of their time

Epic tales, poems of praise, and fantastic legends swirled around famous knights in the Middle Ages. Their bravery in battle and tournament victories inspired incredible accounts of both fact and fiction.

Full metal jacket

A knight’s plate armor consisted of riveted sections, which offered greater freedom of movement than rigid armor. It was widely used in 14th-century combat.
Warpedgalerie/Alamy/ACI

Knights are among the most iconic characters from the Middle Ages. Their origins harken back to the fall of the Roman Empire in western Europe whose last emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was toppled by a Germanic warlord in A.D. 476. The vacuum left by Rome’s destruction was partially filled by the Roman Catholic Church, and also by relationships between the church and the dominant local lords. 

The church supported the lords, in part by anointing kings and lords as God’s chosen rulers, but also controlled them through fear of cutting off God’s approval through interdict and excommunication. The alliances between the papacy and the king of the Franks lasted 500 years. Over time, this was replicated across Europe and both led to and supported the rise of feudalism, a system dependent on knights to support the realm and the church, and a way for society to recruit them.

(Medieval elites used handwashing as a shrewd ‘power play.’ Here’s how.)

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