Info Favorites Register Log in
myArmoury.com Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Why were Medieval knights so small? Reply to topic
This is a standard topic  
Author Message
William Aers




Location: England
Joined: 29 Jul 2019

Posts: 3

PostPosted: Wed 31 Jul, 2019 12:44 pm    Post subject: Why were Medieval knights so small?         Reply with quote

Hi all,

This is my first post on these venerable forums, I've been lurking for a few months after stumbling here from a google search about Medieval armour. I read one particularly erudite and well informed post so I looked to see who wrote it and immediately recognised the avatar from elsewhere. Some of you may also recognise my own avatar from 'another place' and as everyone seems so well informed I thought I'd hang around, and now I've joined!

With regards to my OP, I've been fortunate enough to see a few Medieval knight statues and armour IRL with the Black Knight at Canterbury Cathedral and a few other places. One thing that has recently left my mystified is their small stature. The obvious answer is that Medieval people had a poor diet, but I was under the impression from my reading around the topic that noblemen were actually quite well fed compared to the peasantry, and it was also seen to be polite to leave food left over for the poor to eat. If that was the case then why were Medieval knights so slender and svelte?

One would have thought, with a fairly robust diet and presumably non-stop combat sports with the weight of heavy armour/padding/whatnot that your average knight would resemble something off the Gladiators TV series or a gym queen, but instead they come across as very skinny, even when padded out in their armour.

What are your thoughts, ladies and gentlemen?

Yours &c,

William/Rochester

For where thou art, there is the world itself.
View user's profile Send private message
Hector A.





Joined: 22 Dec 2013

Posts: 141

PostPosted: Wed 31 Jul, 2019 3:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

No steroids and no hormone laden food makes for athletic and slender humans with far more endurance and strength than modern humans.
Big muscles are not a competitive advantage, they consume more oxygen, are less flexible (which in turn makes for less explosive movements) and what is required to sustain* them makes them close to useless unless your juicing.

*Long heavy exhaustion based workouts that leave your knotted up and cramped for days, along with a heavy sustained diet that makes you tired and drowsy.

Try working out your gluts then riding a horse.
Try doing 3-4 hours of modern gym work then go fight the next day in an afternoon long battle in heavy armor.

Modern humans with our modern cushy life have completely lost it in terms of direction in regards to being fit, practical and being able to literally survive in a hostile environment, all that matters now is size and definition, both things that require you being exhausted and weakened daily to achieve.
View user's profile Send private message
Anthony Clipsom




Location: YORKSHIRE, UK
Joined: 27 Jul 2009

Posts: 16

PostPosted: Thu 01 Aug, 2019 1:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

We should be careful in addressing this one, to avoid the myth of all our ancestors being tiny . Look at any of Henry VIIIs armours, even before he ran to fat, and they show a big frame. But on average, people were a few inches smaller than the modern average and carried less surplus weight, at least in their younger, more active years.

In terms of armours we might also need to be aware of fashions. The Black Prince's effigy , for example, belongs to a period when an hour-glass figure was in fashion for men. So this was emphasised in armour styles as well as clothing.

From what I've read of the workouts of men-at-arms, they were often directly related to fighting, rather than on building certain muscles. So men ran and leapt and climbed in armour or fenced with heavy practice weapons.

Anthony Clipsom
View user's profile Send private message
Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 1,008

PostPosted: Thu 01 Aug, 2019 2:07 am    Post subject: Re: Why were Medieval knights so small?         Reply with quote

Look at, say, Thai boxers and MMA fighters rather than body builders. The good ones tend to be quite slender and svelte, indeed.
The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
View user's profile Send private message
Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

Posts: 1,353

PostPosted: Thu 01 Aug, 2019 7:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Also, armor is often displayed not quite realistically, with too much overlap between the pieces, so it may very well fit someone taller than it looks.

In addition, we may have more small-size armor surviving today because it *was* too small for many men to wear! There was a lot of recycling and upgrading done to armor while it was in use, and pieces that fit were used and reused, often to death. Pieces that were too small were more likely to end up shoved aside. So it may be like getting to a shirt sale late--all that's left is "small" and a couple of "extra-large".

Bottom line, they weren't midgets!

Matthew
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Graham Shearlaw





Joined: 24 Oct 2011
Likes: 1 page

Posts: 85

PostPosted: Thu 01 Aug, 2019 7:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Armours can be misleading there not a body in side it to spread it out.
There certainly no major height loss during the period, a few inches at most from modern height, the average of 173cm
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/09/040902090552.htm

They were certainly training more towards actually fighting then training for raw strength, six pack abs or bulging biceps.
View user's profile Send private message
William Aers




Location: England
Joined: 29 Jul 2019

Posts: 3

PostPosted: Fri 02 Aug, 2019 5:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks, I'm most obliged by your well thought out and informed replies. One can't help but wonder how a medieval knight world fare against a modern boxer or MMA fighter. The modern counterparts still look large and bulky compared to most 12thC knights.



I imagine you've all seen this image a million times, his armour appears quite slight IRL too.

Mind you, the MMA fighters are far less bulky than professional body builders.


MMA

This also raises the curious question about modern body image, I wonder why Hollywood insists on muscle bound heroes when the real fighting men had a more lithe and agile appearance? Presumably it also helped with the speed of attack too.

For where thou art, there is the world itself.
View user's profile Send private message
T. Kew




Location: Cambridge, UK
Joined: 21 Apr 2012

Posts: 186

PostPosted: Sat 03 Aug, 2019 6:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

"Hulking and muscle-bound" is the modern shorthand for what a strong fighter looks like. That's the visual expectation people have, it's the way movie stars tend to be built, so it's what gets shown on screen.

Additionally, it's important to be clear that being strong does not make you a bad fighter. If you're so overbuilt and inflexible you can't move, that makes you a bad fighter, but there's a reason most serious HEMA fencers these days do at least some weightlifting as part of their training programme. Being stronger lets you train harder for longer, get injured less, move faster, etc. Maintaining excess muscle development requires specific training and diet, though - maintaining a slighter but still athletic figure is generally sufficient and much easier if you're on campaign or similar.

Instructor and scholar, Cambridge HEMA
View user's profile Send private message
Perry L. Goss




Location: Missouri
Joined: 15 May 2004
Likes: 2 pages

Posts: 110

PostPosted: Thu 08 Aug, 2019 2:27 pm    Post subject: Well take a look at         Reply with quote

Have not posted in a while, but do browse.

Take a look at WW2 "GI" pictures. Especially those in the SoPac theater. Since they had their shirts off due to the heat. And I must say that these young men...got the job done.

None of them look like some of the pics above.

Also good comments on the type of muscle needed.

I also recall a picture of my ggrandfather's brothers. All Union Cav Civil War. Big German boys, but not bulked up.

There was also a History Channel show on a Confederate sub crew. The researchers determined that the average prson of the day was about 25% stronger than today. They worked physically and did not sit in an AC office in front of a laptop for a living. Just saying, as I type this in my home office, AC is on using my new laptop! Worried

Another and last comment. Cannot recall the source but when the Brits got here. Red Coats. They were amazed at the overall height and frame of their recent cousins who served in the Patriot army. Being taller by enough to notice. The reason was...diet. More protein here in the USA compared to downtown Liverpool.

Sorry, surly wish I had the sources. Apologies tendered.

Scottish: Ballentine, Black, Cameron, Chisholm, Cunningham, Crawford, Grant, Jaffray, MacFarlane, MacGillivray, MacKay-Reay/Strathnaver, Munro, Robertson, Sinclair, Wallace

Irish/Welsh: Bodkin, Mendenhall, Hackworth

Swiss: Goss von Rothenfluh, Naff von Zurich und Solland von Appenzel
View user's profile Send private message
Anthony Clipsom




Location: YORKSHIRE, UK
Joined: 27 Jul 2009

Posts: 16

PostPosted: Fri 09 Aug, 2019 1:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

We should be cautious with 18th - early 20th century comparisons. Urbanisation and associated stresses of poverty and disease had dropped the average height of soldiers considerably since the Middle Ages. We might note that the British army in WWI had to introduce "bantam" battalions for men between 4ft 10ins and 5ft 3 ins. Over that height they were eligible for normal units. These men would have been considered poor stuff by our medieval ancestors. As we read in the Paston Letters , Norfolk wrote to John Paston just before Bosworth and asked him to "brynge with yow seche company of tall men as ye may goodly make ". Even in a crisis, Norfolk could be selective about the soldiers he wanted.
Anthony Clipsom
View user's profile Send private message
Mike Janis




Location: Atlanta GA
Joined: 26 Feb 2007

Posts: 30

PostPosted: Fri 09 Aug, 2019 12:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Our concepts of what is normal have evolved. We think of historical figures in terms of the Rock, Arnold or NFL/NBA players. We think of Daniel Boone as being: "a man, yes a BIG man...with an eye like an eagle" Actually, he was, by today's standards, short slender and wirey. He made his own casket, kept it under his bed and tried it on every birthday. When a poor woman died, he donated his casket which fit her, and made a new one for himself. As someone said, think of a Thi kick boxer, not a Mike Tyson.
MikeJ
View user's profile Send private message


Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Why were Medieval knights so small?
Page 1 of 1 Reply to topic
All times are GMT - 8 Hours

View previous topic :: View next topic
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum






All contents © Copyright 2003-2019 myArmoury.com — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Basic Low-bandwidth Version of the forum