The Sea Warriors: The Thrilling Tales of Knights Battling the High Seas in Medieval Times!

When we think of knights, our minds often conjure up images of armored men on horseback charging into battle on land.

knights tournament jousts

“The naval battles fought by knights in the Mediterranean during the medieval era were a crucial part of their military campaigns, and often determined the outcome of wars.”

John H. Pryor, Professor Emeritus of Medieval History at University of Sydney.

However, knights also played a crucial role in medieval naval warfare, and their contributions to maritime combat are often overlooked.

Famous Medieval Naval Battles Battle of Sluys

In this article, we will explore the little-known history of knights at sea, and their role in shaping the course of medieval naval warfare.

Naval warfare has been a part of human history since ancient times, but it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that it became more sophisticated and strategic.

viking warrior boat 1

First Recorded Naval Force

The first recorded use of a naval force by the English was in 897 AD, when King Alfred the Great used ships to defend his kingdom from Viking raids.

Over time, the use of ships in warfare became more prevalent, and the development of new technologies and tactics allowed naval warfare to become more complex.

Knights as Mercenaries at Sea

Knights, who were the elite warriors of medieval Europe, were not initially associated with naval warfare. However, as the importance of sea trade and control of the seas grew, so did the need for skilled fighters on board ships.

Knights were often employed as mercenaries by wealthy merchants or powerful rulers, and they brought their expertise in fighting and leadership to the high seas.

One of the most famous examples of knights at sea was the Battle of Sluys in 1340. This naval battle between the English and the French took place during the Hundred Years’ War and was a decisive victory for the English.

Battle of Sluys

“Knights at sea were often the key to success in naval warfare, with their expertise in close combat and their strategic prowess on the battlefield.”

Eric Christiansen, former Professor of Medieval History at University College London.

The English fleet was commanded by Edward III, who had brought along a contingent of knights. These knights, who were accustomed to fighting on horseback, adapted their skills to fighting on ships.

They were armed with lances, swords, and bows, and were able to board and capture French ships with ease.

Medieval Crossbow Weapon

“The chivalric code of the knights was especially evident during their naval battles, as they displayed courage, loyalty, and honor in the face of danger.”

David Nicolle, British historian and author.

The success of the English at Sluys marked a turning point in naval warfare, and it paved the way for a new era of naval tactics. Knights were no longer seen as just land-based fighters, but as valuable assets in naval combat.

They were able to use their skills in close combat and their experience in leadership to turn the tide of battles at sea.

Battle of Lepanto

Another notable example of knights in naval warfare was the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. This battle was fought between the Ottoman Empire and a coalition of European powers, led by Spain.

The Spanish fleet was commanded by Don Juan of Austria, who brought along a contingent of knights. These knights were heavily armored and armed with swords and lances. They fought alongside Spanish marines and were instrumental in repelling Ottoman boarders.

Medieval Spanish Ships Battle of Lepanto
Medieval Spain Spainish Battle Fleet Battle of Lepanto

“Knights fighting at sea were a formidable force to be reckoned with, as they combined the skills of land-based knights with the expertise of seafarers.”

Stephen Turnbull, historian and author specializing in military history.

Knights were also employed by the infamous pirates and privateers of the medieval period. These seafaring outlaws would raid ships and coastal towns, often with the backing of wealthy patrons. Knights were prized members of pirate crews, as their skills in fighting and leadership were essential to their success.

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In addition to their combat skills, knights also played a key role in the logistics of naval warfare. They were often responsible for the provisioning and upkeep of ships, and their expertise in horse husbandry and other land-based skills were put to use on board ships.

Knights were also skilled navigators and could assist in steering and navigating ships.

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“The sea battles fought by knights were a reflection of their culture and values, as they sought to defend their lands and maintain their honor in the face of adversity.”

Kelly DeVries, Professor of History at Loyola University Maryland.

Despite their contributions to naval warfare, knights were not without their limitations at sea. The heavy armor that made them so effective on land was a liability on board ships, where the cramped conditions and constant movement made it difficult to move around. Additionally, knights were not trained as sailors, and their lack of experience in seamanship could be a hindrance in certain situations.


In conclusion, knights played a crucial role in medieval naval warfare, despite being more commonly associated with fighting on land. Their skills in combat, leadership, and logistics were invaluable to the success of naval campaigns, and their contributions to maritime history should not be overlooked.