The 3 Ways Medieval Knights Fought With Swords In Combat

Wolfenbüttel Picture Book at the  Herzog August Bibliothek
Wolfenbüttel, Germany
Further ReadingThe Top 5 Fun Facts About Medieval Knights

Over the course of the medieval era knights would be taught to fight with several weapons including swords during combat. Like most professional warriors throughout history, medieval knights would begin to develop their own fighting styles.

When it came to fighting with swords medieval knights employed 3 distinct fighting styles. First, was a sidearm style of combat where the sword was reserved for unarmored opponents. Second, was a grappling style where the medieval knight would use the sword as leverage to push the opponent to the ground. Third, was a shield type of combat where the knight would use a shield to deflect incoming blows and retaliate with a piercing thrust.

The primary source for these fighting styles comes from 11th-15th fighting manuals and documents that detail how to properly train a medieval knight for both combat and tournaments around Europe.

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Without further ado, here are the 3 ways medieval knights fought with swords in combat.

The Sidearm Style Of Combat Where The Sword Was Reserved For Unarmored Opponents

Nuremberg Turnierbuch at the  Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York City, New York

One of the main ways that knights fought with swords in combat was the sidearm style.

Generally swords were ineffective as a military weapon against other knights. This was because of the plate armor the knights wore. This armor made both sword piercing and slashing attacks ineffective as the blade would just bounce off the heavy armor.

Further, during medieval military combat most knights would be armed with either a lance or poleaxe of around 4-6 feet. This gave the knights considerable range. Compare this with a knight armed with just a sword who had a range of only around 2-3 feet.

As such, swords were typically carried as sidearms to be used against unarmored opponents. During combat a knight would carry their sword on the left side of their hip. The knight’s primary weapon would either be a lance or a poleaxe.

If the knight was going up against a poorly armored opponent who managed to close the gap between the knight and their lance/poleaxe then the sword would be drawn. However, in the field this would have been a rare occurrence.

This style of sword combat of medieval knights is called one-handed arming sword combat. A medieval knight using this form of sword combat would rarely draw their sword and when they did it was often a close engagement or when they became disarmed from their primary weapon.

As such the first way that medieval knights fought with swords in combat was to have the arming sword in case they were disarmed or they engaged an unarmored opponent in close combat.

The Grappling Style Of Combat Where A Knight Would Use The Sword To Force The Opponent To The Ground

Wolfenbüttel Picture Book at the  Herzog August Bibliothek
Wolfenbüttel, Germany

The second way in which medieval knights would use a sword in combat would be in a grappling technique. This style of medieval sword combat would begin to form during the late medieval era.

Normally, this style of sword combat would require substantial technique and training to accomplish by a medieval knight. Often during large scale military engagements this style would have been used as a last resort after two knights became disarmed from their longer armaments such as the poleaxe or lance.

Knights would train in this style of sword combat to be able to use the leverage of their sword to push the opposing knight off balance. Here the goal was to force the knight to the ground where their armor could be more easily pierced.

The reason this style of medieval sword combat evolved towards the end of the medieval era was due to 2 reasons.

First, this style of combat was particularly effective during the tournaments of the late medieval era when solo combat was a sport. Medieval spectators watching a tournament would see several events. One of the most popular was individual combat where knights would demonstrate their sword combat abilities.

Second, towards the end of the medieval era plate armor would become widely available for even infantry troops. As such almost every opponent was armored and a medieval knight would have to be trained on how to best use his sword against another armored knight. As such the grappling style of medieval sword combat became well taught.

Because of this the 2nd way that medieval knights fought with swords in combat was to employ a grappling style of swordsmanship. The goal here was to force an opponent to the ground to better navigate their armor.

The Sword And Shield Style Of Medieval Knight Combat

The 3rd way that medieval knights fought with swords in combat was to employ a sword and shield style of sword combat.

Using this method a knight would be armed with a shield in his left hand and a short sword in his right. Here the knight would use the shield to deflect incoming blows and open up his opponent to piercing thrusting attacks from his side-sword.

Historians know of a couple major battles were medieval knights fought primarily with a sword and shield. One of the most famous was the Battle of Poitiers where over 10,000 French and English men-at-arms fought each other.

The English knights were equipped with heater shields and small arming swords. This proved to be extremely effective when the English medieval knights engaged in close combat.

However, a large-scale military engagement where dismounted knights used a sword and shield was rare. Normally most knights would prefer to use longer weapons like a poleaxe to keep their opponent away from them.

Typically you would see a knight using a sword and shield to fight in combat during a tournament. When facing another knight the sword and shield technique proved effective when the knight was properly trained.

As such using a sword and shield would be the 3rd way medieval knights fought and trained with swords for combat.


There you have it; an entire article dedicated to the 3 ways medieval knights fought with swords in combat.

Medieval knights are a fascinating subject of study. While most of the legends and tales you hear about medieval knights are false there are several other fascinating things about them that historians know are true. Any prospective graduate student looking for a research subject will find substantial material on the medieval knight.

Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history article on the internet. If you enjoyed this article consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the internet.

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