Poland was one of the strongest states in Europe during the Middle Ages. This position was influenced not only by its favorable geopolitical location and strong royal power but also by well-trained polish knights. At that time, they ranked among the best in Europe. Here I present 3 of the best knights of medieval Poland who fought for money, yet they were not at all ashamed of it.
Zawisza Czarny – The Most Famous Polish Knight
This is the most famous Polish medieval knight. He spent a great part of his military career working under foreign flags. He began his career as a knight in the service of Margrave Prokop of Luxembourg. We do not know much about this period of Zawisza’s life. In 1399, Zawisza and others occupied the estates of the bishop of Olomouc, for which he was threatened with a curse.
Once Prokop ended up in prison, Zawisza changed his employer. This time he recruited himself to serve the Hungarian King, Zigmund of Luxembourg. At that time, many Polish knights decided to join the army of this emperor. They were lured not only by the hope of an adventure but primarily by the desire to improve their financial status. His service to the King of Hungary did not mean giving up his care for the Polish national cause. When King Jagiello was preparing for war with the Crusaders in 1409, Zawisza joined the troops of Polish warriors.
The Knight Who Saved The Flag in Grunwald
The legend states that it was Zawisza Czarny who defended the Polish flag in the Battle of Grunwald (1410). This had strategic meaning. If the Crusaders had captured the flag, they would have rolled it up, which would have meant an order for the Polish troops to turn back. The intervention provided by Zawisza made it possible to change the outcome of the battle in our favor.
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The war with the Teutonic Order allowed him to demonstrate not only his military skills but also his political talents. Zygmunt of Luxembourg, who was Zawisza’s personal friend, was tied to the Teutonic Knights by a strategic alliance. He was obliged to invade Poland as soon as the Crusaders failed at Grunwald. Zawisza convinced him not to do it, so he concluded a new treaty at Lubowla (1411), favorable to the Polish state.
Death of The Knight
The Polish knight remained faithful to his sword and friendship until the last days of his life. It was in 1428, during another expedition of Zygmunt of Luxembourg against the Turks, Zawisza was leading mercenary troops. Things went wrong. He was ordered to cover the royal escape from Golabec. Zygmunt managed to cross the river, and he sent a boat to pick up his friend, Zawisza. However, Zawisza preferred to confront the Turkish troops.
Enemy forces turned out to be too strong. Zawisza Czarny was taken hostage. Turks planned to take a ransom for him. They argued over who deserved the largest share of the money. After a while, there was a struggle, and one of the angry soldiers beheaded Zawisza. The Knight of Garbowo was symbolically buried in November 1428. The funeral took place at the Franciscan church in Cracow.
This aristocrat from the Tuchola district began his military career at a very young age. He quickly earned the trust of King Stefan Batory. The king sent him to the Turkish court as his deputy – Nowodworski completed the journey between Inflants and Istanbul in just 15 days. In 1582, he killed Biedrzycki, a valet to King Stefan Batory. He was under the threat of the death penalty, so he escaped. He fled to the court of Henry III, King of France. He was also the former king of Poland, known as Henry Valois.
The Polish aristocrat turned out to be a versatile man. He first served in Henry III’s army against the Catholic League, then in the Catholic League against the next king, Henry IV. Finally, in the service of Henry IV again, against the League. He spent seventeen years of his life as a French mercenary. Then he became a Chevalier of Malta, and finally returned to his homeland and wrote his biography.
Sapper in Smolensk
Upon his return to the country, he served King Zygmunt III. He took part in the Smolensk expedition in 1609. The siege of Smolensk lasted a long time. Residents did not want to surrender this fortress city, while morale among the besiegers became weaker. Nowodworski, an experienced soldier, came up with a solution. He dressed in camouflage clothes (white in winter, green in summer), and he even wore dog skins. He crawled up the city walls and successively placed explosives under a canal. Overall, he managed to put enough explosives to create a breach in the wall. He used 3 tons of gunpowder. Thanks to that, the Polish army managed to capture Smolensk. It was on June 13, 1611.
He is one of the most famous Polish commanders who took his first steps in fighting the enemies of the Austrian emperor. The famous diarist Jan Chryzostom Pasek mentioned that „He was looking for death from his early years”.
He became famous for his bravery in 1637 when near Kumiejki he led a charge and attacked a Cossack convoy. That was when Czarniecki became confident he could accomplish everything he wanted with his cavalry. He was one of the survivors after the tragic defeat of the Crown Army at Batohem in 1652. A year later, he became an independent commander. He was shot in 1653 after being the first to climb behind the palisades protecting Monasterisk. After the incident, medics had to replace a part of his wounded upper palate with a steel plate.
He remained loyal to the Polish king, even though many magnates turned away and joined the Swedish army. On January 3, 1656, Czarniecki was appointed as a regimental officer. Jan Chryzostom Pasek wrote about him: „He jumped, chopped, shot and risked not like a hetman, but like a simple soldier”.Nevertheless, he was accused many times of not paying attention to the losses he suffered in combat. During numerous wars, he showed no mercy to the local civilians. His troops committed massacres and burned villages and churches.
He almost became Crown Hetman for his excellent performance during the Swedish Deluge. King Jan Kazimierz wanted to give him this title but was outvoted by the senators. He received the Hetman’s mace later in 1665 when he suppressed a rebellion in Ukraine. However, he was at the end of his life and did not manage to celebrate the title. He died on his way to Warsaw on February 16, 1665.
What Armor Did Polish Knights Wear?
The wealthiest, heavily-armed Polish knight from the period between the 12th and 13th centuries was armed with a heavy spear, approximately 2 meters long. In the case of princes and aristocrats, the weapon often had a small flag, which was attached below the spearhead. Another weapon was a simple two-edged sword, shorter than its late-medieval equivalent. Its length reached about 1 meter. The knight also used a battle axe as well as a dagger.
The best-armored man wore chainmail, which covered almost his entire body. Protective armor for the body, arms, and legs was worn on top of a leather or woolen bodysuit.
Additional protection was provided by a spiked hood and the same type of gloves as well as legwear. The weight of such equipment would sometimes reach 20 kg (about 10 kg in the basic version). Interesting is that nowadays, polish soldiers usually wear equipment that weights up to 25kg as well.
What were the most famous knights of the Middle Ages in Poland Called?
The most famous knights were:
- El Cid (El Cyd)
- Godfried of Bouillon (Godfryd z Bouillon)
- Wilhelm Marshal (Wilhelm Marshal)
- Ulrich von Liechtenstein
- Edward the Black Prince (Edward Czarny Książę)
- Zawisza Czarny of Garbów (Zawisza Czarny z Garbowa)
In the past, What Qualities Should a Knight Have Had?
The old stories described the attributes of the ideal knight as well as the principles he should follow. He had to be brave, remain faithful to his master, defend the Christian faith, and keep his word. There was no glory in victory over a defenseless and weak opponent. It was dishonorable to escape from the battlefield.
Who Performed The Knighting Ceremony?
After a while, the knighting ceremonies became more complex and elaborate. The fact is that a formal ceremony was never established. It was not even established who could make a young man a knight. Sometimes it was another knight, sometimes a priest.
What Was the Weight of Medieval Armor?
Contrary to popular myth, full plate armor provided relatively high mobility, allowing for dynamic combat. Its total weight usually did not exceed 20 kg (by comparison, the full equipment of a Polish infantry soldier in 1939 reached 30 kg).
From What Was Armor Made?
The first armor that men made was crafted from animal leather, which is thicker and tougher than human skin. Such protection for a warrior worked very well against small weapons. However, stabbing weapons (such as spears or arrows shot from a bow) already win out over this type of body protection. Later on, the armor became more and more sophisticated. It was created mainly from iron.