12 Knights and Famous Figures from Medieval Times that Will Blow Your Mind
12 Knights and Famous Figures from Medieval Times that Will Blow Your Mind

12 Knights and Famous Figures from Medieval Times that Will Blow Your Mind

Khalid Elhassan - December 3, 2017

12 Knights and Famous Figures from Medieval Times that Will Blow Your Mind
Edward II. Behind the Curtain

Edward II

Edward II of England (1284 – 1327) was the anti-knight and the opposite of the chivalric ideal, who stood in jarring contrast to his father Edward I, one of England’s greatest monarchs. A weak and flighty king, Edward II raised favorites who misgoverned the kingdom in his name, and compounded the problem by doing little to counter the perception that those favorites were his gay lovers. Poor government and perceived effeteness in a homophobic age were a toxic mix, which earned Edward the contempt of his barons and subjects, and brought him to grief in the end.

Early in his reign, Edward II enraged his barons by making an earl out of Piers Gaveston, a frivolous favorite and his rumored lover. The barons demanded that the king banish Gaveston and assent to a document limiting royal power over appointments and finances. Edward caved in and banished Gaveston, but soon thereafter allowed him to return, only for the exasperated barons to seize and execute the royal favorite.

In 1314, Edward led an army into Scotland, but was decisively defeated at the Battle of Bannockburn, losing at a stroke all the hard-won gains his father had made with years of great effort and expense to assert English control of Scotland. Humiliated, he was unable to resist his magnates when they formed a baronial committee that sidelined the king and ruled the realm. It lasted until Edward found another favorite and rumored lover, Hugh Despenser, and raised him. As with Gaveston, the barons demanded that Edward banish Despenser, but this time the king fought back, and with the Despenser family’s support, defeated the barons and regained his authority in 1322.

However, his public displays of affection for Hugh Despenser humiliated and alienated Edward’s queen, Isabella. While on a diplomatic mission to Paris in 1325, she became the mistress of Roger Mortimer, an exiled baronial opponent of the king. In 1326, the couple invaded England, executed the Despensers, deposed Edward II, and replaced him with his 14 year old son, who was crowned Edward III in January, 1327, with Mortimer as regent.

That April, Mortimer heard of plots to rescue the deposed king, so had him relocated to a more secure site, and reports of fresh plots to free Edward caused Mortimer to order him moved to various locations during the spring and summer of 1327. Eventually, the fear that one of the numerous plots might finally succeed led Mortimer to decide on ending the problem once and for all, and putting Edward II beyond rescue, by having him killed.

Not wishing to leave marks of murder on the body, and contemptuous of Edward and his perceived effeminacy and homosexuality, his killers did him in by holding him down and shoving a red hot poker up his rectum to burn his bowels from the inside. Another version has it that a tube was first inserted in his rectum, then a red hot metal bolt was dropped down the tube into his bowels.

12 Knights and Famous Figures from Medieval Times that Will Blow Your Mind
Robert the Bruce. Ancient Pages

Robert the Bruce

Robert I of Scotland, commonly known as Robert the Bruce (1274 – 1329), King of Scots from 1306 until his death, led Scotland in the First War of Scottish Independence from England. He won a decisive victory against king Edward II of England at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, which secured Scottish independence for centuries thereafter.

The Bruce family were Anglo-Normans who came to Scotland in the 1100s, and became related by marriage to the native Scottish royal family. When the Scottish throne was left vacant in 1290, Robert the Bruce’s grandfather claimed it, but king Edward I of England declared himself feudal overlord of Scotland and awarded its crown to John de Balliol.

When Balliol was overthrown in 1296, Bruce and his grandfather supported Edward I when he invaded Scotland to assert his authority, hoping to gain the crown after Balliol’s fall. They were disappointed, however, when Edward proceeded to crown himself King of Scots. In 1297, Bruce raised a rebellion, but it failed. In the meantime, Scottish rebel and Guardian of Scotland, William Wallace, of Braveheart fame, had won a stunning victory against the English at Stirling Bridge. Rather than join Wallace, Bruce kept a low profile while waiting to see the English reaction.

In 1298, Wallace was defeated at the Battle of Falkirk, after which Bruce and John Comyn replaced him as Guardians of Scotland. The duo soon fell out, however and went their separate ways. Bruce continued the fight for a while, but eventually submitted to Edward I, hoping for recognition of his claim to the Scottish throne, but to no avail.

In 1306, Bruce murdered Comyn in a church, then rushed to crown himself king. He was excommunicated and declared an outlaw, and Scotland was plunged into civil war. He was defeated in battle and forced to flee, hiding in the wilds of western Scotland and on islands off Ireland. Changing tactics, he launched a guerrilla campaign, and discovered that he excelled in that style of fighting.

Aided by the death of the formidable Edward I and his succession by the inept Edward II, Bruce racked up a series of small victories, and by 1308 had seized Aberdeen and ruled the north of Scotland. From that base, he gradually expanded his territory, until finally, in 1314, he seized Edinburgh. The unwarlike Edward II was forced to react, and did so by leading a large English army to invade Scotland. Bruce chose his ground carefully, and at Bannockburn, near Stirling, he destroyed the invaders.

He spent most of the rest of his reign consolidating his control over Scotland. In 1318, he captured Berwick from the English, and in the years after Bannockburn, he conducted damaging raids into England to compel recognition of his position. Finally, after the deposition of Edward II in 1327, the regency government of Edward III signed the peace Treaty of Northampton in 1328, recognizing Robert the Bruce as King of Scots, and abandoning all English claims to overlordship.

12 Knights and Famous Figures from Medieval Times that Will Blow Your Mind
Edward, the Black Prince, paying his respects to the corpse of king John the Blind of Bohemia after the Battle of Crecy. Imgur

The Black Prince

Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, known to history as the Black Prince (1330 – 1376), was the son and heir apparent of England’s warrior king, Edward III. A chip off the old block, the Black Prince proved himself a brilliant military leader and one of the greatest commanders of the Hundred Years War, playing a prominent role in his father’s great victory at the Battle of Crecy in 1346, and winning a brilliant victory on his own at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356.

Born in Woodstock in 1330, Edward’s father made him Earl of Chester in 1333, Duke of Cornwall in 1337, and Prince of Wales in 1343. From an early age, Edward took after his father in his tastes for all things martial, and in 1346, he accompanied him on his Crecy Campaign. At the Battle of Crecy that August, the 16 year old prince was put in charge of the English vanguard, and the teenaged commander distinguished himself. When the prince’s force was hard pressed and reinforcements were requested, king Edward III responded: “I am confident he will repel the enemy without my help. Let the boy win his spurs“. Win his spurs he did, and during the fighting, the Black Prince’s forces killed king John of Bohemia.

In 1355, he was put in charge of Gascony and ordered to lead a grand Chevauchee – a burning and pillaging raid – to despoil French possessions in Aquitaine, which he successfully carried out. The following year, he led another Chevauchee, but was cornered and outflanked by a larger army led by king John II of France. The Black Prince offered peace terms, but when the French insisted that he surrender himself as the price for acceptance, he balked. The result was the Battle of Poitiers on September 19th, 1356, a stunning English victory in which the Black Prince distinguished himself by personally leading a charge that caught the French off guard and routed their larger army. The Black Prince captured the French king, his son, and much of the French nobility.

He is supposed to have earned the nickname Black Prince because of the color of his armor. However, an alternative explanation has it that the nickname is owed to the cruelty he inflicted upon the French during the war. The latter explanation is possible, for the Black Prince’s first act of independent command upon arriving in France in 1346 was to ride through Cotentin, ravaging and burning as he went. He also led chevauchees to ravage enemy lands – raids whose very raison d’etre was to terrorize and weaken the French with acts of cruelty.

The blackest stain upon his reputation, however, was his sack of Limoges in 1370. That year, the bishop of Limoges, a friend of the prince and the godfather of his son, betrayed him by defecting to the French, opening the city gates, and allowing them to garrison the town. That enraged Edward, who responded by marching on Limoges, storming the town, and massacring its inhabitants. As described by the chronicler Jean Froissart: “It was a most melancholy business – for all ranks, ages and sexes cast themselves on their knees before the prince, begging for mercy; but he was so inflamed with passion and revenge that he listened to none, but all were put to the sword. Upwards of 3,000 men, women and children were put to death that day“.

The Black Prince was created Prince of Aquitaine in 1362, but while brilliant as a military mind and battlefield commander, his governance proved a failure. His court was extravagant, he imposed heavy taxes upon his subjects, his administration failed to foster loyalty to English rule, he did not get on well with bishops, and his French nobles were hostile.

It all came to a head in 1367 when he undertook to restore Peter the Cruel of Castile to his throne. Although he won a brilliant battlefield victory, the campaign ruined his health and finances, and bankrupted Aquitaine. By 1369, his principality was in open revolt, and he could not afford to pay troops to put it down. He returned to England sick and broken in 1371, and devolved Aquitaine to his father in 1372. In ill health, he then faded into the background until his death in 1376.

12 Knights and Famous Figures from Medieval Times that Will Blow Your Mind
Sir Henry Percy. Light and Lenses

Sir Harry Hotspur

Sir Henry Percy, commonly known as Sir Harry Hotspur, or just Hotspur (1364 – 1403), was an English nobleman and commander who distinguished himself fighting against the Scots, and led successive rebellions against king Henry IV of England. He was immortalized by William Shakespeare, who made him a prominent character in his play, Henry IV.

The eldest son of Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, Sir Henry Percy was knighted by king Edward III in 1377 along with future kings Richard II and Henry IV. He earned the nickname Hotspur from his Scottish enemies because of his diligence in patrolling the border between England and Scotland, and “[a]s a tribute to his speed in advance and readiness to attack“. In recognition of his military service in Scotland, as well as France, where he was sent in 1386, king Richard II made Hotspur a Knight of the Garter in 1388, and showered him with royal favors in the form of grants and appointments.

Despite Richard II’s largess, Hotspur and his father played a key role in helping Henry Bolingbrook, the future king Henry IV, to overthrow king Richard II in 1399 and replace him on the throne. Henry IV lavishly rewarded Hotspur and his father with titles, lands, and offices, but the Percys grew discontented with the new king after he failed to pay monies owed them for defending the border the Scotland, as well as other slights, real and imagined.

In 1403, the Percys rebelled and sought to depose Henry IV, with Hotspur raising an army in Cheshire while his father raised another in Northumberland. However, the king intercepted Hotspur near Shrewsbury before he could join forces with his father, and in the ensuing Battle of Shrewsbury, Hotspur was killed. King Henry was reported to have wept upon seeing Hotspur’s body, and he ordered it buried with honors. However, when rumors started circulating that Hotspur was still alive, the king put them to a rest by having his corpse exhumed and displayed at the Shrewsbury marketplace. He then had Hotspur’s head severed and displayed on a pike on York’s main city gate, while his body was quartered, with the pieces displayed around England.

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