Castle Corner: Who were the top five famous medieval fighters?

Fresco depicting John Hawkwood, 1436. Florence, Italy. Picture: Creative Commons Licensing.

Fresco depicting John Hawkwood, 1436. Florence, Italy. Picture: Creative Commons Licensing. - Credit: Archant

They were brave, they were prepared to fight to the death – and they have gone down in history as some of the greatest fighters of medieval times.

Paduan Bible Picture Book, c.1400. © British Library Board (Add MS 15277 f.046r).

Paduan Bible Picture Book, c.1400. © British Library Board (Add MS 15277 f.046r). - Credit: Archant

Although it was a knight’s duty to fight to defend the realm, there are famous examples of courage and chivalry from all walks of life through the middle ages.

When the renovation of the Keep is complete, visitors to Norwich Castle will be able to find out about medieval weapons, tournaments, and warfare, and get to know stories of people whose lives were defined by fighting.

Brooch depicting Joan of Arc from the museum's collection. Picture: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Ga

Brooch depicting Joan of Arc from the museum's collection. Picture: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. - Credit: Archant

The first British Museum medieval gallery outside London will have a dedicated ‘Those who Fight’ section, bringing treasures of international importance to the city.

Here are some names that stand out – and the museum’s top five famous fighters of the middle ages:

Picture: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

Picture: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.


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1. William Marshall

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that William Marshall is on this list, as he is widely regarded as the greatest knight that ever lived. A legendary knight who fought for four kings, became a tournament champion and rose through the ranks to become the Marshall of England, he defended the country from numerous invasion attempts. William’s achievements are particularly exceptional as he started out as an unlanded son of John Marshall, a lesser noble and harsh father.

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2. Jeanne Hatchett

Jeanne was the daughter of a peasant and rose to fame thanks to her act of heroism defending her home city of Beauvais, in France, from Burgundian attack. The 300 troops defending the city were overwhelmed by the attacking Burgundians until Jeanne, axe in hand, charged into the enemy, throwing some from the city walls and rallying the defenders. After the attack had been repelled, her bravery was celebrated by the French king, Louis XI.

3. John Hawkwood

Not all fighters fought to defend their lands or protect their people. John Hawkwood was a cunning and ruthless mercenary captain who commanded the famous White Company. His career began fighting as a longbowman for Edward III during the Hundred Years War. The White Company fought for whoever would pay them the most and, at its height, comprised 3,500 cavalry and 2000 infantry. Hawkwood and the White Company fought for kingdoms, kings and nobles throughout Europe as captain Hawkwood could earn up to 80,000 gold florins in a year. Each florin coin contained 3.5 grams of pure gold.

4. Joan of Arc

At 16 years old, Joan of Arc managed to rally the faltering French forces during the Hundred Years War after successfully predicting a French defeat at the Battle of Rouvray. Her prediction resulted in her meeting the French king and within months she was leading the assault on the English forces laying siege to Orléans. Her forces were ambushed by the English and Joan was captured. After a year of imprisonment she was burnt at the stake in 1431. However, her morale boosting leadership had a lasting impact and contributed to the French eventually being victorious in this long-running war against the English.

5. Saladin

Saladin, the sultan of Egypt and Syria from 1174 to 1193, led a fierce defence against the Crusader armies in the Levant. His powerful military leadership and masterful strategies made him a force the European Crusaders both feared and respected. In 1187, Saladin and his troops won a decisive victory at the Battle of Hattin and began the decline of Crusading control on the Middle East.

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Norwich Castle has reopened to the public, although the Keep itself, the café, shop and some galleries are closed due to the Royal Palace Reborn works. Admission is by advance booking only: norfolk-museums.arttickets.org.uk For more information visit museums.norfolk.gov.uk

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