Weird History
276 voters

14 Medieval War Stories That Sound Made Up - But Aren’t

February 19, 2021 2.1k votes 276 voters 10.7k views14 items

List RulesVote up the medieval war stories so outlandish they seem like a work of fiction.

A blind king rode into battle, two armies clashed over a stolen bucket, and a severed head got its revenge by killing an earl. These medieval war stories sound completely fake - but they're all real. 

Take, for example, the Battle of Hastings, one of the most important battles in medieval history. It's also one of the strangest battles of the Middle Ages, since William the Conqueror almost lost because of a rumor. William had to take off his helmet and shout "Look at me! I live!" to convince his men not to flee. Or how about Richard the Lionheart, who fought a crusade while lying on a stretcher? And it turns out ice battles aren't an invention of Game of Thrones; medieval Russians fought a massive battle on a frozen lake.

These crazy medieval battle stories weren't invented by George R.R. Martin - they're all 100% true. 

  • A Viking Leader Was Slain By The Severed Head Of The Man He Just Defeated In Battle
    Photo: Abbey of Saint-Aubin / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    A Viking Leader Was Slain By The Severed Head Of The Man He Just Defeated In Battle

    Sigurd Eysteinsson was the first Earl of Orkney in the ninth century, but he didn't hold on to his earldom for very long. During a battle, Sigurd took on an enemy named Maelbrigte and took his life.

    But Maelbrigte had the last laugh. After Sigurd sliced off Maelbrigte's head and tied it to his saddle, Maelbrigte's tooth scratched Sigurd's leg.

    The wound became infected and ended Earl Sigurd. It was perhaps the only time in history that a severed head defeated an earl.

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  • 2,000 Men Perished In A War Over A Bucket
    Photo: Marzia58 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
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    2,000 Men Perished In A War Over A Bucket

    In 1325, Modena and Bologna fought a war over a bucket. The War of the Oaken Bucket started when the Modenese snuck into Bologna and stole the bucket from the town well. They put their spoils on display at the city hall of Modena to mock the Bolognese.

    In response, Bologna declared war. They mustered a force of 32,000 men to invade Modena, and two massive medieval armies clashed near the town of Zappolino. At the end of the day, 2,000 men perished over a stolen bucket. 

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  • A Blind King Wanted To Go Into Battle, So His Men Tied His Horse To Theirs To Guide Him
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    A Blind King Wanted To Go Into Battle, So His Men Tied His Horse To Theirs To Guide Him

    King John of Bohemia wanted to ride into battle. There was just one problem: John was blind. He had lost his eyesight after the Northern Crusades, when John led troops against Lithuanian peasants. When a doctor couldn't cure the king's blindness, the angry monarch ordered the physician's death.

    In 1346, John mounted his horse and declared he would fight in the Battle of Crecy, one of the first clashes in the Hundred Years' War.

    Since John couldn't see, his men lashed his reins to their horses, promising to guide the king onto the battlefield. The plan failed, however. John and his men were slaughtered by the English. 

    In one account, John spoke these final words after learning his side would lose the battle: “Far be it that the King of Bohemia should run away. Instead, take me to the place where the noise of the battle is the loudest."

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  • Spectators And Merchants Gathered To Watch An Arranged Fight In The Middle Of A War
    Photo: Octave Penguilly L'Haridon / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    Spectators And Merchants Gathered To Watch An Arranged Fight In The Middle Of A War

    In 1351, two factions fought for control over Brittany. After numerous battles created a stalemate, the two sides decided to arrange a fight to keep themselves entertained.

    Known as the Combat of the Thirty, the chivalric showdown wouldn't determine the outcome of the war. Instead, men on both sides simply set aside the war for a day of combat.

    The Combat of the Thirty turned into a spectator sport, with refreshment stands and viewing areas set aside for visitors. At the end of the day, however, at least 11 men perished, proving that even combat for sport came at a high price. 

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