Armoured knights and head injuries….



With all the recent publicity and very real worry over the head injuries that are part and parcel of physical sports such as boxing, football and rugby, I’ve been prompted to consider similar injuries that must have happened in earlier periods of our history, when activities such as tourneying were very much the vogue; a sign of true manhood even.

Yes, there were and still are dangers from horse-riding of any kind, hence the need to wear reinforced hats even today, but in tourneying hitting each other forcibly with weapons—lances, battle axes, clubs etc.—was the whole point. And this is to say nothing of what happened on an actual battlefield. I’m not talking about obvious physical injuries such as lances piercing visors, but the more subtle, unseen injuries that do silent unrealised damage.

Knights were protected by armour, it’s true, but a head encased in a helmet isn’t protected from a heavy blow that knocks it ferociously aside. The brain still gets thrown around within the skull. Ringing in the ears can’t have been the only damage!

So, if my reasoning is correct, there surely must have been brain injuries to armoured knights in the medieval period. Yet the only head injuries that come to mind are the terrible death of Henry II of France (see here) and the one suffered by our very own Henry VIII, which is supposed to have changed his personality much for the worse.

Was it maybe that a change in the character of knights who’d been knocked about in tournaments was never put down to the nature of the injury? When a lord returned to his lands from battle or tournament and was a whole different fellow from the one he’d been before, was a connection ever made with what had happened to him physically during his absence? Or was it put down solely to the terrible things he may have witnessed in battle and so on?

And if the change in him was so gradual as to only become apparent many years later, how could there possibly have been a link made to the violence he’d entered into as a younger man? After all, we today are only just beginning to wake up to the awful consequences of rough contact sports, so why would we expect people of the medieval centuries to be wise to it all?

I may be wildly off the mark with this line of thought, I admit, but now that it has occurred to me I have to wonder….

The Defeat of the Teutonic Knights by Dan Escott

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