I posted this on the k-8 writing board, but nobody is responding. I understand the length of this writing piece might be intimidating. I'm not asking for a line by line analysis, just some general ideas.
My son (10.75) worked on a big project on Knights of the Middle Ages. We tried to include as many subjects as possible into this project. He did a diorama, made weapons, wrote a oral presentation, created a slide presentation, etc. It was our first foray into PBL and I think it went pretty well. He found it enjoyable, for the most part.
This was our first attempt at writing a long report. He worked on it a little, day by day, over the course of about 2.5 weeks. I'm just including he main writing portion, but he also has a bibliography, glossary, appendix, pictures and maps to go along with this.
My question is this: Did we bite off more than we can chew? Should I work on more basic projects instead of something of this scope? I speak English as a second language, and I would only consider myself a fair writer, even in my first language. I'm just trying to figure out how to best support him, and what we should do next. We have been hovering around this level (writing not as long) for a while now, just because I don't really know what next.
I have heard about "Thesis Statements" - is this were he needs to go? Scary that I should know so little.
I tried to follow along with a theme book form IEW as a guide on structure, but I'm still not sure we did it right, or right enough.
I know it's very long. Your comments and suggestions, even on just a bit of it, are much appreciated.
The most powerful and revered military unit of the middle ages wore shiny plated armour, wielded frightening weapons, and were mounted on mighty battle horses. For fourteen long years, a young man had to master the skills needed to survive on the battlefield, and learn of the Code Of Chivalry. Knights’ purpose were to serve in the front line of battle, to protect the weak and to aid their king or lord. Knights fought wars in the name of Christianity, employing deadly weapons that ranged from battle axes to the pointed ahlspeiss. When not at war, they entertained in jovial tournament events. Honourable men and women are still knighted by the Queen of England annually, but serve no purpose during times of war. Knights were the warriors and peacemakers of the middle ages.
The Training of a Knight
Becoming a knight did not happen overnight. It took immense practice and patience. The average knight would train for fourteen years before having the honour bestowed upon him. A young boy would begin his practice at the age of seven as what was called a page. When he was fourteen years old, he would become a squire. At the age of twenty one, a squire would become a knight by the ceremonial tap of a sword on his shoulder.
Seven year old pages would serve their lord and their ladies by running errands in and out of the castle. These errands would include tasks such as sending messages, cleaning, preparing food, and helping in the general day-to-day needs of the castle and its inhabitants. In their spare time, pages would hunt small animals with bows, knives, and spears. They would be educated in arithmetic, astronomy, and Latin. Pages practiced combat with blunt wooden swords, and were taught basic warfare skills they would need in the future. After seven years, a page was promoted to a squire.
Squires because the charge of a specific knight. The boys did all sorts of chores, from preparing food, to cleaning swords. Squires dressed their knight, and made their bed. At the dinner table, they even sliced their master’s meat! Squires followed their knight everywhere, including on the battlefield. When a knight lost his sword, his squire would take instantaneous action to replace the knight’s weapon. In order to become a knight, a squire was required to memorize the code of chivalry and live a virtuous life.
At the age of twenty one, a squire would become a knight. Before the dubbing ceremony, the young man would stay up all night, bathing and praying in preparation for the most important day of his life. At daybreak, he would dress in a white linen robe. As the monarch’s sword was tapped on his shoulder, the knight would promise to use his sword only for God and king. Knights served their purpose as the guardians and protectors of their time, and were always willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.
Code of Chivalry
All of the knights in the middle ages were bound by the Code of Chivalry. The Code of Chivalry was a set of standards that controlled the behaviour of knights. At the time, Chivalry meant “horse soldiers.” In war, the code stated that knights were to be brave, loyal, and willing to sacrifice for the greater good of king, God, country and fellow man. Chivalrous knights were not to attack unarmed men and would never attempt to hurt a soldier that was unprepared for battle. Knights also would not target archers, for they thought bowmen weak for attacking from a far-off distance. Chivalrous knights would treat people of the lower class with respect, even on the battlefield. Unfortunately, small groups of “robber knights” roamed the countryside and would plunder villages for wealth and power. Luckily these bandits did not spoil the idea of a knightly gentleman for the people of the middle ages, nor for us.
Knights were trained as elite killers. These armour-plated warriors were ready to break into battle at a moment’s notice. The way to victory was often thickly walled and well protected by the enemy’s best soldiers. Knights were not always the attackers in troubled times. They were also tasked with defending their lord’s castle when the enemy attempted to take control over it. When this happened, according to the code of chivalry, knights were intended to defend the poor, the weak and their lords.
As a way of defending the lord’s castle, heavily armoured knights would charge ferociously into the enemy lines, their sharp lances pointed forwards. This deadly move was called a conrois. If the cavalry ran low on knights, squires would charge into battle with weapons of their own. Hostages were captured to interrogate. Despite the bravery and efforts of squires and knights, they did not always succeed in beating the enemy back. If this was the case, the enemy would surround the castle in a siege.
Controlling the kingdom meant controlling the castle. To obtain control of the castle, it was placed under siege by the enemy soldiers. Inhabitants of the surrounded castle were not allowed in or out. They faced being killed if they attempted to leave the walls of safety for food or water. While the men and women inside the castle starved, the besiegers would devise an attack plan.
Armies had numerous ways of breaching tall castle walls. Using something as simple as a ladder was usually not an option, as the attackers would be showered with arrows from above. To solve this problem, medieval engineers devised monstrous siege weapons to bypass castle walls.
Some siege machines were so gargantuan that it would take thousands of men to move. Wooden siege towers, also known as belfries, were over one hundred feet tall! They were split into multiple floors, each with slits in the walls for archers to shoot through. Soldiers would roll the belfry into place, and would then lower a drawbridge on the upmost floor onto the castle wall. With an easy way in, soldiers would storm the castle while archers from both sides would fire flaming arrows at each other.
Another way of breaching castle walls was by using a trebuchet. These oversized catapults had a movable arm with a projectile at one end, and a hefty weight at the other. As the weight was lowered, the trebuchet would launch four- hundred pound boulders at the castle walls, crumpling them into rubble and opening up an easy access point into the castle.
Despite the amazing wall-breaking power of the trebuchet, the battering ram was the most powerful wall-breaker of all. The battering ram was an iron tipped tree trunk that was repeatedly smashed into the thick stone walls of the castle, shattering the obstacle and allowing enemy soldiers to enter the castle.
In combination, these tactics, machines and weapons could easily devastate and overwhelm a castle’s defences, opening up a path to victory.
To the Christians and the Muslims, Palestine was a Holy Land, a destination of numerous pilgrimages for hundreds of years. After the Arabs conquered Palestine in 637, the Christian pilgrims were still able to visit Jerusalem safely, but this was soon to change.
In 1095, Pope Urban II called on the Christians to free Palestine from the rule and religion of the Muslims. Knights set out, led by Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless. Most never reached Palestine, but the survivors turned into a wild, hungry mob of Christian pilgrims. In 1099, a brave attempt by a well-disciplined Crusader army recaptured Jerusalem and massacred most of the Muslim inhabitants. They established four so-called “Latin States” near Palestine, in Syria. For a while after this, the Seljuk Turks left the Christians alone.
Most crusader kingdoms treated the Muslim people with immense disrespect. In 1187, a Muslim army leader named Saladin defeated the Christians at Hattin and recovered Jerusalem for Islam. In 1197, Richard I, known as “Lionheart,” led an army to the Holy Land. He captured the cities of Cyprus and Acre, which had been under siege at the time. However, he failed to capture Jerusalem. Richard and Saladin then signed a treaty to share the Holy Land, including Jerusalem.
In 1202, the Christians tried for a fourth time to capture Jerusalem for themselves. However, they did not have a large enough fleet, nor did they have enough money to pay Venice for Naval transportation. In exchange for Venice’s fleet, they agreed to raid Constantinople on Venice’s behalf.
In 1212, 50,000 children from France and Germany set off for Palestine. Children led this journey, as their elders knew that they would never live long enough to complete the arduous trip. Unfortunately, most children died en route to their destination. In their honour, this was named the Children’s Crusade.
The fifth Crusade to Egypt also failed. In 1291, Palestine was finally conquered by the sultan of Egypt.
To this day, Islamic, Christian, and Jewish armies are still fighting for control over the Holy Land and Jerusalem. Millions of people have died in the name of their religion, each holding fast to their own.
When we think of knights, their shining armour and vicious weapons immediately come to mind. Knights wielded these tools of their trade in search of victory for God and king. Their weapons may have been as simple as a club, or as intricate as a billhook or crossbow. Some required mastery and talent to use, others simple brute force.
During the the middle ages and to this day, plate armour is the sign of a knight. In today’s money, the cost of a full set of armour would be equivalent to the price of a modern tank. This valuable battle suit was made up of dozens of thick steel interlocking plates. At over a hundred pounds, it could really wear you down! There were only a handful of weapons that could effectively be used to penetrate this unassailable suit of steel.
Chain mail was usually worn underneath a full suit of armour. Unfortunately, it was not impenetrable. Constructed of small interlocking rings, a well-crafted longbow could send a sharp arrow cutting through it and a heavy battle axe could easily sheer cleanly through it. However, it still offered valuable protection to poorer knights who could not afford body armour.
The battle axe was a formidable and terrifying weapon, but not without its weaknesses. It had to be wielded with two hands and was hefty. Knights using this as their weapon of choice had to be strong and clever, since swinging such a weight around left most men vulnerable to faster-moving enemies.
Despite the effectiveness of the bow, the falchion was the most useful weapon for penetrating chainmail. The falchion was a single bladed sword, similar in shape to a scimitar. This weapon was wielded with one hand as one would a sword, but it had the weight of an axe. This combination would cleave through mail easily. Was it effective against the thick steel of plate armour? It probably could not even make a dent in it!
A war hammer was an effective weapon against a wearer of plate armour. It did not resemble a hammer, but instead looked more like a pickaxe. At one end it had a long, sharp spike to impale the armour, and at the other, a serrated hammer to bite into the steel plates. If one were hit with the serrated end, it would crumple the armour leaving a vulnerable spot for other weapons to pierce. If one were struck with the spike, one would be pierced and likely die of blood loss before having the time to get out of one’s armour.
Similar to the war hammer, a mace was greatly effective against plate-armoured knights. It consisted of a heavy spiked iron ball or a four-bladed axe attached to a rod of wood or iron. This frightening weapon could severely dent armour or stun an enemy through his helmet. It was usually swung using two hands, and could weigh as much as fifteen pounds. One-handed maces weighed up to eight pounds. A flailed mace was constructed by attaching the spiked ball to the rod with a chain. These could be extremely dangerous to use. Getting in the path of the spiked iron ball would be deadly to the wielder.
The most useful thrusting weapon used during the middle ages was probably the ahlspiess, a 6 foot long lance-like weapon. It had a long, slender blade with an armour-piercing tip. The spike was sharp enough to go straight through a steel ring of chain mail, and as the blade grew wider, the ring would simply snap, allowing the ahlspiess to penetrate the flesh. It was extremely heavy, and the wielder had to fully commit himself on every strike. If one missed, one was left vulnerable to the enemy’s weapon.
Medieval knights needed a weapon that could both be thrust and swung. The answer lay in an ancient agricultural tool called a billhook. It was used to trim high branches on trees and to harvest crops. The billhook was curved at one end with a spike at the tip and a fluke at the back. This infantry weapon could reach lengths of up to eight feet!
When comparing the various weapons used during the the middle ages, the godendag was likely the most terrifying of all. The godendag was a pole with a spiked rectangular prism at the tip. In Flemish, Godendag means, “Good day.” Around 1100, an army of 300 French knights invaded a town of poor peasants. Trying to defend their town, a group of 50 peasants armed with godendags drove away 300 armed, armoured, and horse-mounted knights! If hit by one of these, one would die a quick, but painful, death.
When not at war, knights took part in various games, much to the amusement of their villages. These games were not just meant for entertainment, but also served in keeping the knights fit and ready for bloody battle at a moment’s notice.
During tournaments, knights treated each other as if they were moral enemies. This drew crowds from all over the countryside. People traveled miles by foot, horse or cart to witness two great knights duel.
Until 1200, tournaments were made up of one main event, melee. Melee entailed knights battling hand-to-hand without the use of horses. In these mock battles, opponents would sometimes take each other hostage before the match even began! Melee battles may have thrilled spectators, but they were extremely dangerous, usually leaving a participant severely injured or killed. Authorities later instituted rules which made these events safer. It limited the areas where knights could strike each other, and blunted weapons were introduced.
Melee may have been thrilling to watch, but jousting was by far the most popular tournament event. In a joust, knights charged each other on horseback, carrying wooden lances. To be victorious, a knight had to be a skilled horseman and had to be able to withstand the impact of an opponent’s lance. Jousts, which were peaceful, were fought with blunted lances. During war jousts, however, knights used sharp, metal-tipped lances and aimed to kill, rather than just to knock the opponent of his horse. When the Church learned how many people died in tournaments, they tried to stop all games by outlawing them. However, they were so popular that they continued for years after the Church instituted the ban.
When not in battle or in tournaments, knights kept order in the kingdom. They managed affairs of the estate, and practiced their combat skills. They settled disputes, managed farming land, and enforced the law. In short, knights’ lives were spent in service of their lord.
Knights have not seen the battlefield in many centuries. The former days of warfare, the Crusades, and the deadly melees, are all long gone. Yet, people still cherish the ideals of knighthood.
In recent years, people have tried to bring medieval history to life. Fans dressed in chain mail and armour, would construct various weapons uses by medieval knights. With these, they would hold jousting, melee, and other tournament events. These medieval festivals draw crowds from all walks of life.
For many years the entertainment industry has captured the medieval magic of knighthood. The stories of Robin Hood and King Arthur has been told many times over and continues to delight moviegoers.
The code of chivalry is still honoured. Every year, the Queen of England chooses men and women to receive the accoladed title of “Sir” or “Dame”. These titles are bestowed on the recipients for their valuable contribution to their area of expertise, be it entertainment, music or science.
Being the warriors and peacemakers of the middle ages, these steel clad heroes had numerous responsibilities. Knights, who were expected to be chivalrous towards all people around them, had to undergo many years of training in order to safely and efficiently wield their ferocious weapons. They fought to the death for their believes, but also entertained crowds in such a spectacular way that we still recreate these games today. When we think of the middle ages, knights in shining armour are placed upon a pedestal in our minds. By learning from their bravery and loyalty to their God and king we can find inspiration in building a better modern civilization.