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Old 05-04-2019, 02:12 AM
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Were there real badass medieval warriors who were middle aged to old? (GoT related)


First of all, let me preface this by saying that I realize Game of Thrones is not real life and complete fantasy. However, it has parallels to medieval England and features a number of men pushing 50 and beyond (sometimes well beyond) in the capacity of professional warriors. Wearing full suits of armor and swinging around massive broadswords. They can fight off multiple people and really hold their own.

I would put Jorah on the less extreme end and Ser Barristan on the more extreme end. And there are plenty in between.

Were there any real life parallels to this? Was this in any way common?
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Old 05-04-2019, 02:58 AM
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The Fourth Crusade rivals GoT in being a messed up situation where allies turned on each other. The Doge of Venice, who helped the crusaders sack Constantinople, was 90+ Enrico Dandolo. While he may or may not have slain men there, he commanded them while being old and blind.

Many kings were warring in old age, e.g. Edward I at 68.

Swords weren't particulary heavy, nor was armor. They still had to be fit, but not superhuman.
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Old 05-04-2019, 03:16 AM
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Charlemagne was still kicking ass at 50, while Godefroy de Bouillon died at age 40, and Henry V at 35. In general, though, if you actually survived infancy you had a decent chance of making it into your 50s where you could continue to roll the dice on the battlefield.

ETA Genghis Khan made it past 60, for example. All that horse milk must have been good for him but you can only cheat death for so long.

Last edited by DPRK; 05-04-2019 at 03:20 AM.
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Old 05-04-2019, 04:37 AM
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Robert the Bruce fought some tough campaigns and lived to the age of 52.
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Old 05-04-2019, 05:22 AM
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John of Bohemia would fit the bill where badassosity is concerned. He wasn't really decrepit when he died (in battle) - a mere 50. OTOH, you have to know that he was blind and had been for over a decade. Which, I'm being assured, presents a slight handicap wrt:fighting. On horseback. For your life.

And so that's rightly what he's now famous for : being the "blind King of Bohemia", who was too stubborn to let a little thing like total blindness get in the way of his fun and told his people to lead him onto the battlefield so that he could hit people with his sword. They all died with him, BTW. Turns out lashing oneself to a blind idiot on a battlefield is also being an idiot.
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Old 05-04-2019, 05:44 AM
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John of Bohemia would fit the bill where badassosity is concerned. He wasn't really decrepit when he died (in battle) - a mere 50. OTOH, you have to know that he was blind and had been for over a decade. Which, I'm being assured, presents a slight handicap wrt:fighting. On horseback. For your life.

And so that's rightly what he's now famous for : being the "blind King of Bohemia", who was too stubborn to let a little thing like total blindness get in the way of his fun and told his people to lead him onto the battlefield so that he could hit people with his sword. They all died with him, BTW. Turns out lashing oneself to a blind idiot on a battlefield is also being an idiot.
I'll bet he didn't see that coming.
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Old 05-04-2019, 06:34 AM
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With good nutrition, lots of exercise, and a good deal of luck in avoiding debilitating injuries and diseases, it's easily possible to be in good enough shape to fight a battle well into old age. Even as old as 70, 75. Admittedly, that last requirement (avoiding injuries and diseases) was difficult in that era of poor medicine, but some people managed it.

We have the idea today that going over 50 or so means you get run down and can't perform physically anymore because most people don't get enough exercise. Get the exercise and you don't even notice your age.

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Old 05-04-2019, 07:06 AM
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The most Viking-est of them all, Harald Hardrada, died age ~50 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Here is what Wikipedia says about his death:

"Harald was struck in the throat by an arrow and killed early in the battle in a state of berserkergang, having worn no body armour and fought aggressively with both hands around his sword."

If you are sufficiently hardy to have fought successfully and lived thru a battle at age 40, the odds of you being fit to fight at age 50 are pretty good, etc.
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Old 05-04-2019, 09:12 AM
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We have the idea today that going over 50 or so means you get run down and can't perform physically anymore because most people don't get enough exercise. Get the exercise and you don't even notice your age.

A decent point, which made me remember that Schwrzenegger is seventy now. But still looks like he could punch my head clean off.
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Old 05-04-2019, 09:42 AM
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Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, known as "El Cid" (1043-1099), conquered the city of Valencia at the age of around 50. He died five years later when the Moors besieged it, probably of famine or other ill effects of the siege.

According to legend, after his death his wife had his corpse dressed in his armor and mounted on his horse to bolster morale. In some versions, the corpse was sent out at the head of a band of knights where they won a (temporary) victory against the besieging Moors, who were intimidated by the sight of their foe, so winning a victory even after his death.

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Old 05-04-2019, 10:03 AM
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Guillaume IV Bremond d'Ars was killed at the 1415 Battle of Agincourt while his father, Guillaume III, was killed at the 1346 Battle of Crecy! So Guillaume IV would have been 68 years old even if born posthumously. Thomas de Camoys was about 64 years old when he commanded the left wing of the English army at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. These and several knights in their 50's showed up with a cursory glance at Battle of Agincourt names.
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Old 05-04-2019, 04:46 PM
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Not quite medieval, but Francisco de Carvajal "the Demon of the Andes". Born in 1464, he had a long military career in Europe, culminating in fighting in the Battle of Pavia when he was already over 60. Two years later, he made a fortune in ransoms at the Sack of Rome, which he used to travel to Mexico.
Aged 70, he was sent to Peru in command of a relief force to break the Inca siege of Lima, he subsequently became one of Pizarro's lieutenants and fought both against the Incas and in the conquistador civil wars, still leading from the front and acquiring a reputation as a master of guerrilla warfare. At the battle of Chupas in 1542, he is said to have showed his contempt for the enemy by riding to the front line and taking off his armour.
In 1546 he fought a brilliant campaign in Gonzalo Pizarro's service but was finally wounded and captured two years later when unlike most of his comrades he refused to desert Pizarro. Unrepentant to the last, he was executed by the royalist forces. He was 84.
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Old 05-04-2019, 05:34 PM
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I'll bet he didn't see that coming.


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Old 05-04-2019, 05:51 PM
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At the age of 70, William Marshal, protector and regent of the 9-year-old King Henry III (the fifth English king he had served), fought at the head of the English troops, defeating the French at the Battle of Lincoln, preparing to besiege the French in London till the French capitulated.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willia...rl_of_Pembroke
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Old 05-04-2019, 06:11 PM
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With good nutrition, lots of exercise, and a good deal of luck in avoiding debilitating injuries and diseases, it's easily possible to be in good enough shape to fight a battle well into old age. Even as old as 70, 75. Admittedly, that last requirement (avoiding injuries and diseases) was difficult in that era of poor medicine, but some people managed it.

We have the idea today that going over 50 or so means you get run down and can't perform physically anymore because most people don't get enough exercise. Get the exercise and you don't even notice your age.
Speaking as someone who has arguably had good nutrition and medical care into my 50's, and engages in some fairly physical stuff... I don't care how well you've been taken care of, by your 50's you're starting to get wear and tear if you've been physically active for decades.

I also know a lot of athletic types, folks who engaged in manual labor for a living, etc. - the same applies. Back in the middle ages a big problem would be recovering from injury without modern medical care and rehab, but if you can power through a bit of pain you can keep moving and doing. If you've lost an eye or a couple fingers, maybe an ear or been scarred up... well, you just look more badass and you're still dangerous. Being on horseback could compensate for bad knees or ankles. If you were a warrior and made it to 50 you were probably in command or close to it, which meant that you might not need to do some of the physical grunt work of being in the military so you could save your strength for the fighting instead of the latrine digging (or whatever).

The biggest obstacle to guys being warrior in their 50's was not so much "can a 50 year old do swing a sword?" but rather the accumulated damage such a lifestyle incurred. As an example Henry VIII of England was still jousting at the age of 45, at which point he incurred severe injuries during a bout of same. Among other things, it left him with a chronic, non-healing wound that festered for the remaining 20 years he was alive - he would have stood a much better chance of getting that cured these days than back then. Then there was his gout - we treat that a lot better, too. He also had a head injury from that incident as well and it's debatable how well we could have dealt with that, but if nothing else getting his leg wound and gout taken care of would likely have meant he could have maintained a high level of physical activity and avoided the obesity of his latter life. In which case Henry probably would have still been able to swing a sword and/or lead an army into his 50's.
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Old 05-04-2019, 06:28 PM
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A decent point, which made me remember that Schwrzenegger is seventy now. But still looks like he could punch my head clean off.
I'll just note that Arnold has required not one but two heart surgeries, and broke a thigh bone while skiing in 2006. If he was living, say, 500 years ago even if his heart issue didn't kill him off in 1497 (at which point he was 50) the broken leg in 1506 (which in 2006 required surgery to fix) would, if he survived it, probably left him crippled and able to walk only poorly and with great difficulty, if at all. He's an able-bodied, active 71 year old largely because of modern medicine. Not as strong as when he was, say, 25 but so what? Like you said, he could probably knock your block clean off.

Even so - at 50 he would have been a bad-ass in battle, if that was the way he had gone. And maybe dropped dead at 51 due to a wonky heart valve.
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Old 05-04-2019, 06:31 PM
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King Edward I of England, known as "Longshanks" due to his height, a warrior all his life, personally led an attack on horseback on Berwick in Scotland in 1296 when he was about 57. He died of illness while leading another invasion of Scotland in 1307 when he was 69.

Speaking of Game of Thrones, he was probably one of the inspirations for Tywin Lannister.

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Old 05-04-2019, 08:01 PM
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Being on horseback could compensate for bad knees or ankles.
This is the one bit I disagree with in your post and I'll nitpick. Knees & thighs are really important in horse riding, even moreso presumably when both of your hands are busy trying to murder people with and/or not getting murdered yourself and you're mostly not using the reins to steer the horse at all.

I'd say knees and ankles would also both be important and take an absolute beating when your main tactic is the lance charge, which at its core is basically a deliberate high speed crash while you're standing in your stirrups. And you're expected to keep doing that all day long. Hopefully without unhorsing yourself in the process, because then it's not happy funtimes at all.
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Old 05-05-2019, 01:08 AM
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I'll bet he didn't see that coming.
So the lesson to be learned is that one might get away with turning a blind eye on one’s enemy, but not both.
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Old 05-05-2019, 02:00 AM
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GoT does better than most, but still includes several of the standard inaccurate tropes of how combat would have worked in this period.
If you're imagining guys in full plate armor swinging swords around at each other in long 1v1 fights...that's not how it was AIUI.

Battles were group affairs, swords were rarely the primary weapon, and plate armor would largely make swords useless anyway by the end of its evolution.

And dancing around doing spins and shit has basically never been a thing. So it's quite likely that superior experience and tactics could often win out against the reaction speed and strength of youth...guys in their 40s or even 50s often being on the right side of a poleaxe seems plausible to me.
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Old 05-05-2019, 03:27 AM
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This is the one bit I disagree with in your post and I'll nitpick. Knees & thighs are really important in horse riding, even moreso presumably when both of your hands are busy trying to murder people with and/or not getting murdered yourself and you're mostly not using the reins to steer the horse at all.
Depends on the type of joint damage you're talking about. While thighs, knees, and if you're using stirrups, ankles are all important while riding your joints are not subjected to the same sort of pounding they would be if you were running on foot, particularly while wearing armor of some sort. Joint problems that don't impede motion but do cause problems with weight-bearing might be an instance where riding works better than being on foot.

Hip problems would be a real impediment for horseback riding, as can some other disabilities. There are a few instances were riding side-saddle can help, but while there are a few instances of men riding side-saddle so far as I know no one has ever ridden a horse side-saddle into a battle.

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I'd say knees and ankles would also both be important and take an absolute beating when your main tactic is the lance charge, which at its core is basically a deliberate high speed crash while you're standing in your stirrups. And you're expected to keep doing that all day long. Hopefully without unhorsing yourself in the process, because then it's not happy funtimes at all.
But not all fighting from horseback involves lances and charging.

When you start talking about folks who have a permanent or chronic injury involved in battle it can get complicated. There's a long history of modifying saddles/other equipment and/or training horses to work with a rider with a disability, and certainly the higher up in society you were the more likely you could afford or justify such efforts. You're still talking about non-standard equipment and techniques so generalizing becomes hard.

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Old 05-05-2019, 07:06 AM
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Its ancient not medieval (though GoT takes plenty of inspiration from anceint history, as well medieval history), but the Argyraspides or Silver Shields are a good example.

They were Alexander the Greats elite troops. Long after Alexander died, and his successors were fighting over the remnants of his empire, they we're still around. Despise the fact that at that point they were all positively geriatric they still the deciding factor in many battles.
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Old 05-06-2019, 11:58 AM
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Enguerrand VII, the Lord of Coucy, died in 1397, sometime during captivity the year after he fought in the battle of Nicopolis at age 55 or 56. Coucy was regarded as one of the foremost warriors in Europe by his enemies as well as his own countrymen. Peculiarly for the Middle Ages, Coucy was held in high esteem for his maturity and cool judgement.


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Old 05-06-2019, 01:53 PM
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Sir John Hawkwood lived to be at least 71. Wikipedia says he was born c. 1323 but some sources have him born 1320.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hawkwood
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Old 05-06-2019, 02:07 PM
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Found this via Google:

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The average life expectancy for a male child born in the UK between 1276 and 1300 was 31.3 years. However, by the time the 13th-Century boy had reached 20 he could hope to live to 45, and if he made it to 30 he had a good chance of making it into his fifties.
So, it was possible and did occur, but it was certainly the exception to the rule.

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Old 05-06-2019, 03:04 PM
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Big difference between "commanding" an army and actually participating in the one-on-one skirmishes.
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Old 05-06-2019, 03:15 PM
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So the lesson to be learned is that one might get away with turning a blind eye on one’s enemy, but not both.
John Chandos was blind in one eye when he died in battle sometime in his late 50s.

He was one of the more significant badasses of the Hundred Years war.
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Old 05-06-2019, 03:48 PM
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Sir John Hawkwood lived to be at least 71. Wikipedia says he was born c. 1323 but some sources have him born 1320.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hawkwood
I was debating nominating Sir John, my main concern being how well he fit the definition of "badass" (while he started his career as a fighter during the Hundred Years' War, he's best remembered for his generalship in Lombardy). On the other hand, leading a bunch of cutthroat freebooters probably required being a better fighter than your second-in-command, at least.

One story that I tripped over about him involved an encounter with a couple of mendicant friars, to whom he gave a coin or two. When they thanked him and wished him peace Hawkwood threatened to take the coins back, saying that wishing peace to a man like him was the same as wishing him poverty.
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Old 05-06-2019, 09:29 PM
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Big difference between "commanding" an army and actually participating in the one-on-one skirmishes.
In this period of history? Not really. You weren't radioing in commands. Commanding often meant being at or near the very front.

Also in general if a battle has degenerated into one-on-one skirmishes then one or both sides would be looking to fall back and re-form lines.
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Old 05-07-2019, 12:05 AM
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Big difference between "commanding" an army and actually participating in the one-on-one skirmishes.
Tell that to Richard III.

Winning a battle often depended on killing or capturing the commander. Some commanders might have held back and been well protected by their knights, but the scale of battle was such that sometimes attackers were able to reach the commander and he would be involved in combat. And some definitely "led from the front" to inspire their troops, like Richard leading a cavalry charge at Bosworth Field and as mentioned above Edward I at Berwick.

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Old 05-07-2019, 07:36 AM
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Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, known as "El Cid" (1043-1099), conquered the city of Valencia at the age of around 50. He died five years later when the Moors besieged it, probably of famine or other ill effects of the siege.

According to legend, after his death his wife had his corpse dressed in his armor and mounted on his horse to bolster morale. In some versions, the corpse was sent out at the head of a band of knights where they won a (temporary) victory against the besieging Moors, who were intimidated by the sight of their foe, so winning a victory even after his death.
I could have sworn I read that El Cid was buried in a river bed after diverting it to dig the grave, then diverted back ... but I suppose seeing some person skewered with a hundred arrows still seated and heading my way would make me run like hell =)
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I'll just note that Arnold has required not one but two heart surgeries, and broke a thigh bone while skiing in 2006. If he was living, say, 500 years ago even if his heart issue didn't kill him off in 1497 (at which point he was 50) the broken leg in 1506 (which in 2006 required surgery to fix) would, if he survived it, probably left him crippled and able to walk only poorly and with great difficulty, if at all. He's an able-bodied, active 71 year old largely because of modern medicine. Not as strong as when he was, say, 25 but so what? Like you said, he could probably knock your block clean off.
Ivar Boneless was carried into battle [reputedly] so being crippled in some way wasn't a barrier if you were determined enough. An Indian had both his hands lopped off, and fitted himself with knives on his stumps and kept on fighting, as did several others in history [reputedly]
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Old 05-07-2019, 08:32 AM
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Big difference between "commanding" an army and actually participating in the one-on-one skirmishes.

Not back then, not really. Authority (political, social) and legitimacy, where the aristocracy was concerned, wasn't derived from a mandate from god regardless of their actions so shut the fuck up and know your place (that actually came much later, believe it or not, as a reaction to the early Enlightenment). Rather a noble was recognized as a noble (by his peers, by his underlings, and by god who had a vote back then) through his virtues ; the major of which were strength, courage and faith. Strength being paramount. Which means, basically: you got stuck in if you wanted your crew (and your peasants) to not replace you with someone else who did get stuck in and wasn't no pussy.


I joked earlier about John of Bohemia being a blind stubborn idiot, but the truth is, this is what was at stake for him. It was a chance for him to broadcast to his entire kingdom "hey, I know I'm old and blind and you lot have been talking about that, but I'm still a grade-A badass with the Lord on my side. Don't believe me ? Hold my beer, watch this.". His only problem was that the Lord wasn't with him that far .



And these social attitudes continued well into the Renaissance - Henri the IVth of France famously wore a distinctive white plumage on his helmet at the Battle of Ivry in 1590, and spurred his men onwards by telling them to "follow his white panache" that they would find "where the fighting is fiercest". And this was an early modern battle, with guns and cannon and grenades and all.



It's really after the Enlightenment and into the Napoleonic era that generals became primarily, well, what we think of as generals today : grand strategists looking at battles through a looking glass, from atop a hill 20 miles away. Because with the rise of science and the scientific method/way of looking at things, war also became a complex science. And they noted that wars are easier to win when the head honcho with the big plans doesn't get his head blown off - that his looking like a pussy was less important than winning the war. So that's when mentalities evolved.
And even then, while Napoleon sat cozy on his horse his field marshals for their part were still often stuck in with the boys and had to if they wanted to be respected by the boys.
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Old 05-07-2019, 08:55 AM
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I could have sworn I read that El Cid was buried in a river bed after diverting it to dig the grave, then diverted back ... but I suppose seeing some person skewered with a hundred arrows still seated and heading my way would make me run like hell =)
Like I said, the story about his corpse leading his knights into battle is legendary and probably not true. (It did make for a memorable ending to the epic movie about him starring Charlton Heston El Cid, though). I haven't heard the tale of El Cid being buried in a river but such stories are told about figures going back to Attila the Hun.
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Old 05-09-2019, 04:13 PM
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Sir David Mathew, a Welsh knight, was credited with saving King Edward IV's life at the Battle of Towton in 1461, and was appointed Royal Standard Bearer in return. He was sixty at the time.

He ultimately made it to the age of 84, but he didn't die in his bed - he was killed in a brawl with some neighbors
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Old 05-09-2019, 11:15 PM
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James IV of Scotland is another king that died in battle, aged 40, in 1513.
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Old 05-09-2019, 11:28 PM
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I would put Jorah on the less extreme end and Ser Barristan on the more extreme end. And there are plenty in between.
Lots of real life examples already given.

Bookwise Ser Barristan is one of the best fighters in the realm. In the TV show Jamie says he thinks there are maybe three people in the world who might be able to beat him. He does not say who they are but many believe Ser Barristan is one of them.

Sword fighting is a lot of technique so an older person with a lot of experience and practice can be very dangerous. What they lack is the speed and endurance of youth but experience counts for a lot.

I do not know but I would think a 30-ish sword fighter might be the best balance between youthful vigor and speed and well-earned experience.

But back in those days a well trained noble, if they practiced every day with sword masters/whoever, could be super lethal well into their 50's I would think.

If you were Robert Baratheon who drinks a few gallons of wine every day and gave up on martial practice and exercise you're going to slow down a lot and not be so dangerous.
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Last edited by Whack-a-Mole; 05-09-2019 at 11:29 PM.
  #37  
Old 05-10-2019, 12:54 AM
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
Like I said, the story about his corpse leading his knights into battle is legendary and probably not true. (It did make for a memorable ending to the epic movie about him starring Charlton Heston El Cid, though). I haven't heard the tale of El Cid being buried in a river but such stories are told about figures going back to Attila the Hun.
Given that he's buried in the cathedral of Burgos (his native village of Vivar is part of that diocese), burgaleses would be very surprised to discover that their most famous monument is underwater.
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Last edited by Nava; 05-10-2019 at 12:55 AM.
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