Beyond Horseback: The Ground Fighting Techniques of Medieval Knights

When people think of medieval knights, they often imagine them charging into battle on horseback with a lance or sword in hand. While this is certainly an iconic image, it is only one aspect of how knights fought.

“Knights were trained to be versatile on the battlefield, and their ground fighting techniques were just as important as their mounted combat skills. They were skilled in hand-to-hand combat with swords, daggers, and other weapons, and knew how to use their armor to their advantage.”

Kelly DeVries, Professor of History at Loyola University Maryland.
Knights duel with swords at ancient city4 Copy 1

On the ground, knights had a variety of weapons and fighting techniques at their disposal. Let’s explore the different ways knights fought on the ground and the weapons they used.

The Longbow and Crossbow

While knights were known for their prowess on horseback, they were also skilled with ranged weapons such as the longbow and crossbow.

The longbow was a powerful weapon that could shoot an arrow over 200 yards with deadly accuracy. English knights were particularly adept with the longbow, and they used it to devastating effect in battles such as Agincourt.

Medieval longbowmen medieval archers image

The crossbow, on the other hand, was a slower but more powerful weapon that could penetrate armor. Knights used crossbows in sieges and other situations where accuracy and power were more important than speed.

Crossbows were also easier to use than longbows, making them a popular choice for knights who were not as skilled with ranged weapons.

Crossbow Weapon Information

Ground Fighting – Close Combat Weapons

When it came to close combat, knights had a wide range of weapons at their disposal. Swords were the most common weapon, but knights also used other weapons such as axes, maces, and warhammers. These weapons were designed to crush or penetrate armor, making them ideal for fighting other heavily armored opponents.

maces main image

Knights also used shields to protect themselves from enemy attacks. Shields were made of wood or metal and were often decorated with the knight’s coat of arms. They were not only used for defense but also for offense, as knights could use them to push and knock down their opponents.

Warhammer Weapon Parts

Ground Fighting with Swords

Knights were skilled warriors who were trained in various combat techniques and weapons, including swords. When fighting on the ground, knights typically used a combination of different sword techniques, depending on the situation.

One of the most common techniques used by knights was the “thrust and parry” method. This involved thrusting the sword forward in a quick motion towards the enemy, while simultaneously using the other hand to parry or deflect any incoming attacks. The goal was to get close enough to the enemy to land a decisive blow while avoiding being struck.

Knights Falchion Swords

Another technique used by knights was the “overhand chop.” This involved raising the sword over the head and bringing it down with force, aiming to strike the enemy’s head or shoulders. This technique was especially effective against opponents wearing heavy armor, as the force of the blow could penetrate the armor and injure the enemy.


Additionally, knights often used a technique known as the “half-swording,” which involved gripping the sword halfway up the blade with one hand while using the other hand to control the point.

This technique allowed the knight to have greater control and precision when striking specific areas of the enemy’s body, such as joints or weak spots in their armor.

In general, the fighting style of knights emphasized agility, quick reflexes, and a deep understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their weapons and opponents.

Knights Fight With Bastard Swords
Two Medieval Knights in Close combat fight with Bastard Swords

In What Warfare Situation would a Knight use a Crossbow?

Knights used crossbows in a variety of situations, both on the battlefield and in sieges.

In battles, crossbows were often used by knights in defensive positions such as behind walls or in fortified positions. This was because the crossbow had a longer range than most other weapons of the time, including the longbow. This meant that knights could fire at their opponents from a distance, which gave them an advantage in battles where they were outnumbered or outmatched.

Medieval Crossbow Weapon

Crossbows were also used by knights during sieges, where they were used to attack castle walls or defend castle gates. In these situations, accuracy and power were more important than speed, which made the crossbow an ideal weapon for knights who were defending a castle or trying to breach its defenses.

It’s worth noting that while knights did use crossbows, they were not as popular among knights as they were among foot soldiers. This was because the crossbow was seen as a weapon for common soldiers, and it did not have the same level of prestige as weapons such as the sword or lance.

However, knights were not above using the crossbow when they needed to, and many of them became quite skilled with the weapon.

Knights Ground Fighting with Daggers

Daggers were often used by knights as a secondary weapon in ground fighting, either as a backup weapon or as a tool to finish off an already-injured opponent.

Rondel Dagger
The Rondel Dagger was a late medieval Dagger

When using a dagger, a knight might try to get close to their opponent and thrust the dagger into a weak spot in the armor, such as the armpit or groin. The dagger was also useful for grappling and close combat situations, where the knight might use the blade to create an opening in their opponent’s defenses or to strike at vulnerable areas.

Another technique that was commonly used with daggers was called “half-swording.” This technique involved holding the dagger in one hand and gripping the sword halfway up the blade with the other hand. The knight could then use the sword as a kind of short spear to thrust at the enemy while using the dagger to parry or counter-attack.

“In medieval warfare, the ability to fight on the ground was just as important as being able to fight on horseback. Knights had to be skilled in all aspects of combat, from the use of various weapons to grappling and wrestling techniques.”

Matthew Bennett, Professor of Military History at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Overall, the use of daggers in ground fighting by knights was based on a combination of quick thinking, skill, and the ability to exploit any weaknesses in the enemy’s defenses.

“The art of medieval ground fighting was a complex combination of physical strength, tactical awareness, and the ability to read an opponent’s movements. It required a deep understanding of one’s own weapons and armor, as well as an intimate knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy.” – Tobias Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armor at the Wallace Collection in London.

Matthew Bennett, Professor of Military History at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.


Knights were known for their skills on horseback, but they were also formidable fighters on the ground. They used a variety of weapons and techniques to defeat their opponents, from the longbow and crossbow to close combat weapons such as swords and maces.

Knights were trained to fight in a variety of situations, from open battles to sieges, and they knew how to adapt their tactics to suit the circumstances. While the image of a knight charging on horseback is certainly impressive, it is important to remember that there was much more to a knight’s fighting skills than just riding a horse.

A Medieval Castle Being Defended Under Siege

5 Great Books – Knights Ground Fighting Techniques

“Medieval Warfare: A History” by Maurice Keen
This book provides a comprehensive overview of medieval warfare, including detailed information on the weapons, tactics, and training of knights on the ground.

“The Knight and the Blast Furnace: A History of the Metallurgy of Armour in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period” by Alan Williams
This book explores the development of medieval armor and weapons and their impact on ground fighting techniques.

“The Art of Sword Combat: A 1568 German Treatise on Swordmanship” by Joachim Meyer
This is a translation of a 16th-century treatise on sword fighting that provides insight into the techniques and strategies used by knights on the ground.

“The Medieval Soldier: 15th Century Campaign Life Recreated in Colour Photographs” by Gerry Embleton and John Howe
This book provides a visual representation of medieval knights and their ground fighting techniques, using photographs of reenactors in full armor.

“Knight: The Warrior and World of Chivalry” by Robert Jones
This book explores the culture and practices of knights, including their training in ground fighting techniques and their role in medieval warfare.