During the Middle Ages, travel between villages and towns was rare, a privilege of the very wealthy, or the occupation of soldiers or travelling tradespeople. The vast majority of the peasant folk and villagers would never leave the province where they were born.
As a result, ordinary people would be hungry for news of other places, and the tales that these valued travellers shared as they moved from one location to another would be highly prized entertainment. The stories that spread across the lands via the travellers were the medieval equivalent of a newspaper or gossip column.
Tales of Knights in Shining Armour
One of the favourite topics of these primitive sagas was the lives and loves of medieval knights, tales that enchanted and beguiled during their own lifetimes as much as they continue to capture the collective imagination today.
Perhaps the appeal of knights in shining armour is their stereotypical bravery, courage and gallant chivalry. Or maybe it’s the stories of romance, with the chivalrous knight rescuing the latest damsel in distress.
The fascination with knights would have been fuelled by the great jousting competitions so beloved of royalty and common folk alike. In these contests, the victorious knights would be heralded as heroes, lauded and applauded in a similar way to the movie stars and sports stars of modern times. So, it’s hardly surprising that these medieval superstars would be the favourite talk of the town whenever news travelled across the land.
Many of these tales endured across generations, being passed down from parents to their children as morality fables or purely for entertainment. And while the nature of medieval storytelling was subject to much hearsay and dramatic embellishment, many of the tales of the greatest knights would endure beyond family stories, making their way into the history books, or even evolving into timeless legends.
The Greatest & Toughest Medieval Knights
While history is rife with legends of medieval knights, there’s one particular brand of fearless warriors whose renown has endured for centuries, regarded by many as the greatest and toughest of all medieval knights.
The Knights Templar.
In recent times, the legend of the Knights Templar was famously revived in the public imagination when it was a core thread of the blockbuster novel, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, which was later made into a Hollywood film starring Tom Hanks.
Yet the Knights Templar have held a fascination for centuries, with history lovers and storytellers alike sharing and studying the adventures of these famous medieval knights.
The Original Knights Templar
While the most beloved legends and tales of the Knights Templar would go on to include fearsome warriors and wealthy nobles, this order of knights actually had much more unassuming origins.
The order that would become known throughout the world as the Knights Templar began in the early 12th century.
Its official title was the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, and these courageous military men were commissioned with the formidable task of protecting pilgrims from bandits and thieves as they journeyed to the Holy Land or made their way home again.
These original knights were deeply religious and devoted to their cause, taking vows of poverty, chastity and various honourable commitments, all in service to the protection of their fellow Christians.
The deeply held values and moral codes of the early Knights Templar set the stage for a new era of noble knights. Prior to these devout Christian warriors, knights were widely regarded as unscrupulous and violent bullies, who used their military might to their own advantage in acquiring power and amassing riches.
With the emergence of the early Knights Templar, the public perception of knights was restored to reputations of honour, courage, bravery, protection, devotion, and noble Christian values.
The Rise to Wealth & Riches
While the origins of the Knights Templar may have transformed the image of knights in positive ways, over time, there were occasions when the ethos of the order moved in less altruistic directions.
One of the main responsibilities of the Knights Templar was to guard the possessions of the pilgrims, or to ensure the safekeeping of valuables en route to the Holy Land.
This proximity to such wealth and riches gave many knights opportunities to line their own pockets, and as the order evolved, a great number of the Knights Templar grew wealthy, often amassing vast fortunes – a far cry from the original Poor Knights of Christ and their deeply-held vows of poverty.
This is not to say that all the later members of the Knights Templar were corrupt, as they undoubtedly provided a valuable service and many grateful Christians would have gladly paid well for such protection.
Yet the treasures accumulated and acquired by these knights grew to mythic proportions, with tales of vast fortunes and secret sites of buried treasures, including the infamous Holy Grail.
Nobility & Valour
As the Order of the Knights Templar grew in both size and power, a hierarchy began to emerge within the order itself. As with many evolving social systems, the stronger members rose to the top of the hierarchy, and these powerful knights became hugely influential, both within the communities they protected as well as with the mighty Roman Catholic Church.
The political and social eminence of the greatest knights ensured an elevation in their status within society, with the most esteemed knights integrating into the aristocracy, as the status of knight came to align with the nobility of the times.
These great knights were also renowned for their bravery and courage in carrying out their duties of protection. Dealing with the so-called infidels of the Holy Land required a high degree of military prowess, which led to the legends of the Knights Templar ranking among the toughest military forces of the Middle Ages.
History & Legend
Set against a backdrop of dangerous lands, nobility and honour, vast riches and powerful allies, it’s little wonder the tales of the Knights Templar were favourites among the medieval story-lovers.
This iconic order of knights did much to shape the myth and legend of medieval knights, with fables that endure even to modern times.
While the stories may not all be classic fairytales of honour triumphing over fearsome challenges, there’s no doubt that many of the members of the legendary Knights Templar were among the greatest and toughest medieval knights.