Ten years ago, my local library held a Medieval-themed summer reading event featuring a group of real knights. Of course, I was all over it and jazzed when I saw these knights go steel-on-steel in full armor. This is no reenactment – it’s the real deal. That day I met Buck Holmes. He and his current group, The Knightly Order of the Fiat Lux, use their talents to raise money for charity. In addition, they help me choreograph fight scenes for my stories and answer my questions about weapons and tactics. It is an honor to welcome him to Oath of Iron.com.

Sir Buck at Festival of Legends Renaissance Fair
Sir Buck at Festival of Legends Renaissance Fair

Karen: All hail Sir Buck! The obvious first question is when and how did you become interested in being a knight?

Sir Buck: I got into Dungeons and Dragons when I was 12 which got me interested in legends and lore, especially from the Middle Ages. Once I started reading stories about King Arthur, I was hooked.

Karen: I know you’re an avid reader – how much does your interest in Medieval times affect what you read? Favorite authors and books?

Sir Buck: The vast majority of things I read is Fantasy or Medieval (fiction and non-fiction), so quite a bit. I have a lot of favorites: Ray Bradbury, Tolkien, the history books of Barbara Tuchman. I highly recommend Chretien de Troyes as well.

Karen: Does the armor you wear reflect a specific time period? If so, why did you choose that time?

Sir Buck: Our primary concern in KOFL is safety – we try to avoid historically accurate injuries as much as possible. So we often have to suspend historical accuracy for safety and cost concerns. Keeping up your harness (suit of armor) is time consuming and expensive. As much as possible, my armor is based after 13th century English knights. In my opinion that was when knights were the coolest. And the period was when a lot of the Arthurian and Robin Hood myths were created (basically). I love the barrel helm and surcoat look.

Sir Buck suited up.
Sir Buck suited up.

Karen: It’s very impressive. How much weight are you carrying when you are fully suited up?

Sir Buck: Only 60 to 80 pounds.

Karen: Only? That sounds like alot!

Sir Buck: It’s well distributed across my body so it’s not too bad. I would rather walk around with 60 pounds of armor than carry a 30 pound backpack. Plus, when you are wearing full armor, it makes you feel really macho or something so the joy is bigger than the burden. Until the temperature gets over 85 degrees.

Karen: How much does your sword weigh?

Sir Buck: Only 2 to 3 pounds. Swords were not as heavy as a lot of people believe.

Karen: What are your favorite weapons to fight with?

Sir Buck: My two favorites are longsword and sword & shield. German Longsword has a a rich history as a martial art. But sword and shield feels the most “knightly”.

Sir Buck doing battle.
Sir Buck doing battle.

Karen: What pieces of your armor wear out or break the most from battle?

Sir Buck: Interesting question. The cloth, I think. You wear padding or heavy cloth under your maille so that padding and the surcoat often rips. It also gets funky smelling and stained due to sweat and rust (just to be honest). Pins and straps break a lot as well, making the piece of armor useless until fixed. Butted maille (as oppose to riveted) will break easily so you need to be careful how you use butted maille. We tend not use it.

Karen: What is the visibility like from inside your helm?

Sir Buck: Once you train yourself how to look out, it’s pretty good. It’s similar to wearing glasses or watching action on a stage. You lose peripheral vision and some low vision (along the ground), you have to learn to adjust your head movements to compensate. I think the helm interferes with hearing more than vision. Most of us are wearing two layers of padding under the helm and over our ears so the marshals have to shout and repeat themselves to make sure everybody hears what is being said.

Karen: What does it feel like to take a blow to the head? Do you feel the hits to your body?

Sir Buck: If your helmet is set up right, a blow to the head will feel like a punch to the head. Not comfortable but not bad. A really good hit will “ring” you, much like what you see in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. But those are rare. I guess I feel about half of the hits on the body. Mostly it depends upon the exact location and the angle of the attack. Gussets (spots where the armor isn’t as strong, like the inside of the elbows, back of the knees, and the armpits) are the worst spots to get hit in. A really good hit will leave a bruise, even where the armor is strongest.

Karen: Have you ever been injured to the point of needing medical attention?

Sir Buck: I broke my collar bone fighting a woman once. I have also probably broken my fingers and toes but I didn’t go to the doctor for that.

Karen: You’re tough. How long can you do battle before your arms give out?

Sir Buck: Going full out, only two or three minutes. Past that you need to stop, readjust, grab a breather, etc. After about 30 minutes of being in the field, I’m done. It’s about the same as a boxing match: you rush in, take a rest, wind down as the fight goes on and by the end of it, you just want to collapse.

Karen: We’ve all heard myths about knights and/or their armor – which is your favorite? What is the truth?

Sir Buck: My least favorite is the one that comes to mind first: that knights waddled out into battle and bashed each other until somebody fell down. Knights were mobile, could easily get up if they fell, and relied on speed and skill as much as brute force. In KOFL, we run around, fall, get up, and jump around in our armor. And if overweight, middle-aged guys from the 20th century can do all that, I know medieval knights could do more.

Karen: I’ve seen you guys dance in your armor so I know that to be true! You and your fellow Knights of the Fiat Lux fight for charity – which ones?

Sir Buck: Just about anything that helps the needy. We donate to Autism Society of NC a lot; they are a great organization that does a lot of good. We are also proud to donate to Wounded Warrior Project to try to repay a little of the debt we owe wounded veterans. Each year we set up charity goals called “Dragons.” So our charities change from year to year and chapter to chapter.

Karen: That’s awesome. Tell everyone about your fundraiser coming up this weekend, the Fantasy Gamers’ Conclave.

Sir Buck: We try to use all of our nerdly talents to help the community. So we also play games for charity. Our 7th annual Fantasy Gamer’s Conclave is on July 25 and 26 in Cary, NC. All proceeds from this event will be donated to the Autism Society of NC. We will have fight demonstrations, RPGs, board games, card games, miniature games, a Retro Video Game Museum, and an Anachronic Tea on Sunday.

Karen: Sounds fun! Anything else you might want to add?

Sir Buck: I am very proud of the Knightly Order. We are from many different backgrounds, lifestyles, and faiths. And yet we respect each other and work together to help the community (and bash each other in the head). My hope is that we can show others that it is possible to make things better.

Karen: Well met! Thank you, Sir Buck and my best to you and all the Knights.

Even more information can be found on the Fantasy Gamer’s Conclave facebook page and on the KOFL (Triangle Chapter) facebook page.  Huzzah!




The medieval flail – does any other weapon conjure up gruesome battle the way it does? Who can forget that scene in Return of the King when the Witch King swings his heavy flanged-headed flail and smashes Eowyn’s shield to bits? He chose wisely in picking a weapon of intimidation – flails just look nasty.

Modern rendition of medieval flail
Modern rendition of medieval flail

The flail was a wooden handle with a spiked ball or balls attached on the end by either a flange or chain. A single-balled flail was known as a morning star, and while other models featured more balls, they were all rare weapons, only appearing in art in the very late 15th century. Hence, they were likely never used in medieval battles.

The more common type of flail came from the peasantry, namely from harvesters of grain. Used for threshing, the long wooden stick had a flange at the tip which connected to a smaller wooden club. The peasants would beat the grain on the threshing floor to separate the useable wheat from the chaff. When it came time to fight, the peasants would grab whatever weapons they had; hence the flail developed its second purpose. Often, spikes were added to the club end.

The ball-and-chain flails proved just as dangerous to the wielder as to the enemy; due to the chain that could go slack, these weapons were unwieldy (as anyone who’s ever messed with nunchucks can attest). The pole versions were not much better in the hands of a novice, but the peasants who used them day in and day out brought their experience to wielding them as a weapon, and proved formidable indeed.

Peasants threshing wheat with flails
Peasants threshing wheat with flails
Book print, c. 1545-1547  Photo credit: britishmuseum.org © The Trustees of the British Museum
Book print, c. 1545-1547
Photo credit: britishmuseum.org
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Basically a club with a decorated head, a mace served as a cheap weapon that was simple to make. Maces date back to ancient times when the heads were made of stone, which easily broke. In the Middle Ages, maces were comprised of copper or bronze heads atop wooden shafts. The shape of the head could be starred or flanged, the point, literally, being to concentrate the blow into a small area. With the short points and wide base, the heads withstood the blows without breaking.

Metal mace with flanged head, 1500-1550
Metal mace with flanged head, 1500-1550

Used as early as the 11th century, maces rose in popularity as more plate armor was worn, but they proved effective against all types of armor. The crushing blows inflicted by a mace could break bones even through chain mail. Against plate armor it was less effective, serving to dent, damage, and deform or better yet, to penetrate the joints, all in hope of immobilizing the enemy.

Often used by clergy in the desire to avoid the shedding of blood, the mace evolved into an all-metal weapon. Perhaps due to the position of the clergy who wielded them, maces became a symbol of authority. Favored by kings, maces were constructed less as weapons and more as showpieces for royal ceremonies.


No doubt, being a knight was a serious business. In populated towns, knights were the only ones authorized by the king to carry weapons. Hence, they were the law enforcement officers of the Middle Ages.  Certainly it was an honor to serve their sovereign lord on earth, but their responsibility stretched beyond, to serving their heavenly Father as well.

13th C. Arming sword with double fuller.Photo credit: britishmuseum.org © The Trustees of the British Museum
13th C. Arming sword with double fuller. Photo credit: britishmuseum.org
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The knighting began with a cleansing bath, followed by all-night prayers, and the ceremony taking place in a church the next morning. Men who proved themselves in battle could be knighted on the field or on “the fly” due to war, but such occasions were rare. In any case, the knight-to-be swore fealty to his lord and to God before witnesses. A knight’s duties included defending the weak, orphaned, widowed, and oppressed, giving special care and good counsel to women, defending his fellow knights and never running from a fight. During knighting, his sword and shield as well as his person were prayed over, so that God would grant him the strength to hold to his oath, and wield his weapons appropriately. His sword was then girded to his waist.

Thus, knights were viewed as God’s judicial arm on earth.  If any of their vows were broken, it was an affront not only to a knight’s sovereign lord but more importantly to God; broken oaths held divine retribution and eternal consequences.

The hilt of the Christian knight’s sword, with its straight cross guard perpendicular to the blade, created a cross that he wielded and carried on his person at all times.  It was a constant reminder of the duties he had sworn to fulfill.

Pommel decorated with the arms of Pierre de Dreux, Duke of Brittany, 13th C. Photo credit: metmuseum.org
Pommel decorated with the arms of Pierre de Dreux, Duke of Brittany, 13th C.
Photo credit: metmuseum.org
12th c. bronze pommel.Photo credit: britishmuseum.org  © The Trustees of the British Museum
12th c. bronze pommel. Photo credit: britishmuseum.org
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The hilt is comprised of the grip, the cross guard, and the pommel. The grip for the hand measured 6 to 8 inches (approx. 15 to 20 cm) long in proportion to the length of the blade; the longer the blade, the longer the grip (and hence more room for a second hand to wield the sword). Hidden beneath the grip was a pointed extension of the blade known as the tang. The cross guard, affixed perpendicular to the blade at the head of the tang, created a foil to protect the hand(s).

Swords made during the 10th to 13th centuries were designed for slashing and cutting and thus proved “blade heavy” compared to the length of the hilt. The trick was to counter balance the blade without diminishing its striking force. Hence, the pommel was added at the end of the grip as a counter weight. Pommels came in assorted shapes such as disk, wheel, triangular, fish-tail, and plummet, as well as those looking like a mushroom, tea-cozy, or brazil nut. Nobles sometimes added a jewel into the pommel or had it engraved with their coat of arms.

Any part of a sword could be used as a weapon, and many a knight found himself in a situation that forced him to get creative. The pommel, grip, or cross guard could be employed to great effect. It should also be noted that in medieval times there was no such thing as fighting “dirty”; any and all maneuvers were on the table. The idea was to defend oneself while spotting and exploiting vulnerability at a moment’s notice.


Crossbows could shoot bolts just as far as longbows, but were impossible to reload as quickly. The concentration necessary, as well as the odd position the wielder had to bend into in order to draw back the bowstring (foot in the stirrup at the end, engaging a lever or crank, or using a claw strapped to the waist) left the crossbowmen open to attack. Hence the pavise, a large curved shield placed on the ground and able to stand on its own via props, provided a barrier that the crossbowmen could hide behind while reloading.

These shields ranged in size from 16 to 20 inches (42 to 45 cm) wide, and 22 to 42 inches (57 to 107 cm) high. The larger size weighed roughly 17 pounds (7569 g).

Pavise: Bohemian (now Czech Republic) ca. 1450
Photo credit: metmuseum.org

Pavises were first employed by the Genoese crossbowmen, the highly experienced professional soldiers from Genoa, Italy. Knights despised crossbows, as the bolts could pierce even the finest armor. So deadly were crossbows in fact, the Pope outlawed them at one time. Popular in the 14th and 15th centuries, pavises were carried on the backs of the crossbowmen, set down, then moved closer as the battle progressed. Often times, a second man, called a paviser, moved the shield, freeing the crossbowman of the burden. Thus, these shields were large enough to protect one to three men, protecting them as they took turns hiding and firing. An ingenious invention, provided that the pavises were not stuck on the baggage wagons like they were at the Battle of Crecy (1346), where, unprotected, the Genoese crossbowmen took a beating first from the opposing English army, and then from the French nobles who had recruited them.


Most popular from the mid-14th through the early 16th century but used beyond this range, the buckler was a small metal shield fitted with a central metal boss and held by a strap in the fist. Wielded in combination with a sword, its small size of 16 inches (35.5 cm) or less posed little to no defense against arrows or bolts, but provided several other uses for the common soldier and knight.

Bucklers - From the Royal Armouries Ms I.33 c. 1300
Bucklers – From the Royal Armouries Ms I.33 c. 1300

The buckler’s main function was to protect the sword hand in close hand-to-hand fighting. Lightweight and versatile, the buckler proved a quick defense to block and deflect blows via the curved central boss. On the offense, it acted as a “metal fist”; its wielder could punch with it straight on or with the rim. In addition, the buckler could be used to bind the opponent’s weapon or grapple his arm, creating an opening to do further damage. And unlike wooden shields, the opponent’s sword would not get stuck in the metal.

While octagon, square, and trapezoid bucklers existed, round seems to have been the most popular shape. Some models featured a central spike, making the punch even more deadly, while others possessed hooks for snaring swords. Other small hooks at the edges are believed to have held lanterns, to light the bearer’s way at night.

Sword and buckler training was an established tradition in Europe. For example, English longbowmen carried bucklers and swords into battle just in case the fighting drew near. Yet, bucklers are a topic not generally documented, perhaps because the larger wooden shields carried the heraldry and thus got all the glory.

For an excellent source see http://www.thearma.org/essays/SwordandBuckler.htm


From ancient times until the late Middle Ages, a shield was a soldier’s standard equipment. During the years from the 11th to the 15th century, shields evolved side-by-side with armor and other weapons.

Many people think medieval shields were made of metal, but the reality is that metal was too scarce, expensive, and heavy for this purpose. Shields were actually made of planks of wood bonded together and reinforced across the back by strips of wood or metal. Over the course of time, the planks of wood were replaced by layers of thin planks of wood, with the grain turned 90 degrees from the preceding layer; the layers when glued together took advantage of the natural strength inherent in the wood grain, much in the same way plywood is made today. Metal staples and fasteners were added to attach the straps and the grip, and perhaps a metal edge to deflect cuts. Often, shield-makers would cover the front of the shield in cloth.

7th century shield boss
Photo credit: metmuseum.org

From the fall of the Roman Empire until the 11th century, shields in Europe were circular or oblong, with a central grip on the inside and a dome covering on the outside (known as a boss). The longevity of this shape was likely due to its practical application in combat on foot.

Mid-11th century, the shape elongated into an inverse teardrop; modern historians refer to this shape as the “kite shield”. The Norman cavalry used this shield to cover the left-side of the body from shoulder to ankle. Being rather unwieldy due to its size and bulkiness, arm straps were added to the hand grip. Added support also came via a body strap that wrapped over the shoulder and under the arm, thus allowing a knight to relax his arm.

In the 12th century, the kite shield lost its rounded top in favor of a flat, straight edge. The advantage to the knight was the ability to hold the shield high without compromising his field of vision. The late 12th to early 13th century produced a smaller version that modern historians call the “heater shield”, since it looks like the bottom of an iron or “heater”. The other significant characteristic is that the shields’ body changed from flat to curved, to better enclose the knight’s side. These smaller shields, about three feet in length, were easier to use in combat and remained in use until the mid-14th century.

Kite Shields depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry
Heater shield, effigy of armed knight










At that point, the progression of plate armor made shields obsolete, although knights still used them in tournaments. There were two other types of shields used in this later time period through the end of the Middle Ages: the buckler and the pavise. More on those later.

Reference: Daily Life in the Middle ages, by Paul B. Newman
Here’s a website showing shield construction: http://www.yeoldegaffers.com/project_shield.asp


Swords did not evolve in a smooth transition from one form to the next, but early versions of this sword seemed merely to be an elongated version of the arming sword. The longsword, with its 36 inch double-edged blade and 10 inch hilt, weighed in at 4 to 6 lbs. While lighter versions yielded the option of using one or two hands, heavier ones necessitated two.

Knights often carried shields into battle, but as plate armor grew to cover larger areas of the body, shields grew obsolete, since basically, knights were wearing them. Hence, the shield hand was freed up to grasp the longer hilt and the knight wielded the longsword with double-fisted force.

While it can be said that all parts of any sword can be used offensively, the oversized pommel and crossguard of the longsword proved quite effective. And any advantage may lead to victory.

In tightly compressed combat however, the sword could be rendered useless as knights struggled to find room to swing this longer weapon. This was a factor in the defeat of the French knights at the battle of Agincourt. Well that, and a whole lot of mud.

Swiss longsword, ca. 1500
Swiss longsword, ca. 1500
British Basket-hilted Sword, circa 1600; photo credit: MetMuseum.org
British Basket-hilted Sword, circa 1600; photo credit: MetMuseum.org

A funny thing happened when I started researching the weapon for last week’s blog post, that is, the arming sword. I, like many other novices in the medieval arena, thought the usual sword carried by knights was called a broadsword.

Well, after hanging out with some knights and writing my first book, I thought that I had learned a thing or two about weapons. How did I miss something as important as that?

None of my research materials name the sword as arming or broad. My guess is that perhaps “broadsword” became part of the medieval nomenclature due to the blossoming world of video games, but in reality, it’s a misnomer when used as a general term for any sword with a wide blade.

The term ‘broadsword’ actually refers to a distinct sword of the 1600-1700s, with a basket-hilt, such as the weapon pictured in this blog post.

This is a much later time period than my book, so imagine my horror that I armed my knights with the wrong swords.

No harm, no foul. Not yet anyway.

If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some editing to do.