Pirate vs Knight Review

June 5, 2010

In my first review I address the pirate's victory over the knight. Who should have won and what questions still linger after the show.

Who should have won

Within the confines of the show (weapons and armors shown): Pirate

13th century Knight vs 17th century Pirate, not only is there a 400 year difference but during this time period, society jumps from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance. The weaponry gap was just too wide to bridge in this time.

Saying the pirate won because he had a gun is somewhat of an understatement, the knight might have done much better if his opponent had only a gun. Instead the pirate came to the table armed with about 6 pistols, a blunderbuss, and a handful of grenades. There just wasn't any way for the knight to get close enough to use his best weapons.

The knight's armor proved surprisingly effective at stopping bullets and shrapnel but I'm afraid I'll have to agree with the aftermath here, only one penetration was needed to secure a kill. It should also be pointed out that they tested the breastplate which was historically the thickest part of the armor, the limbs or joints would have fared much worse.

Despite showing some of the best non-gunpowder weapons yet seen as well as the best armor, it just wasn't enough to bridge the massive technology gap.


In real life: Knight

Knights did not hide in their shells and refuse to adapt for centuries. For a more realistic match I would submit a 17th century pirate against a 17th century Maltese Knight armed with his own musket and grenades. The remnants of the Knights Hospitaller held Malta against numerous invasions and remained in power until finally being removed by Napoleon. They maintained their armor over vital areas and their skill with the musket would have easily outdistanced anything in the pirate's arsenal.

Alternatively you could pit a 13th century Knight against a 13th century Pirate which would essentially be the fully armored knight against a pirate with no armor and no guns. The knight would still win with ease.


Complaints about the show (found in 'the aftermath' comments)

"The flintlock pistol was not able to penetrate the knight's armor."

It did not, and I feel the results reflected that with the pirate's pistols only getting 41 kills. But why did it get any kills at all? Again, a lucky shot to the joints or limbs might still penetrate the armor. A shattered elbow would put the Knight out of action almost as easily as bullet in the gut. Not to mention that since the pirate had multiple shots he had a much greater chance of getting a hit.


"The shield was not tested."

I'm not sure whether wood or leather would have helped much against bullets, perhaps a metal buckler like was used by later knights would have helped more. The problem is that the pirate's two most powerful weapons had a wide spread, they were able to kill because they were able to exploit any weakness in the knight's defenses. Unless the shield covered the knight entirely it would not have helped much.


"The knight was much better trained than the pirate."

Yes, but it wasn't enough to bridge the technology gap. The pirate needed only to know how to use his weapons. Once a bullet is fired all the training in the world won't stop it.


"The knight wouldn't have been able to run or pick himself up in his armor. The helmet also would have hurt his vision."

No, some tournament armor may have been that heavy, but not real battle armor. Going off of both historical and reenactment accounts, the knight would not have had any trouble with movement, visibility, or even doing full gymnastics. Unfortunately, he's still not fast enough to beat a bullet (no one is).


"The blunderbuss was extremely unreliable."

We saw on the show that sometimes the blunderbuss would not have gone off and I think that was factored in. But the fact remains that most of the time it would not have misfired, and most of the time it did fire it would have killed.


"Padding and chain mail were not tested underneath the armor."

I think that the padding may have helped a bit, but I don't think chain mail was worn everywhere underneath the armor in order to save weight. In either case the limbs and joints still would have had less protection.


"The cutlass was not tested against the knight's armor. How did it get any kills?"

By any other measure the cutlass and boarding axe were curb stomped by the knight's weapons. I think that the few kills these weapons got could probably be put down as luck or an instance where he finished off a wounded or disoriented knight.


"The grenado would have been too difficult light or to time correctly."

Back then grenades were generally lit by holding the fuse up to a slow burning match worn on the belt, so I don't think lighting it would have been a problem. As for accuracy, this was probably the best argument against the pirate. This may have been an instance of the lethality making up for the inaccuracy combined with the fact that the knight had no good counter (with modern warriors we have seen grenades preforming somewhat poorly due to the fact that they were outdistanced by rifles and other firearms). I still think that the grenades would have gotten about 100-150 kills so even then there would not be much change in the overall outcome.

Edit: I just rewatched the episode and it has come to my attention that the grenado was made of clay (the same as those used by the Hospitallers to hold off the Ottoman army) and would have exploded on impact.


"What about the crossbow?"

It was a very effective weapon and I'm surprised how few kills it got, the conclusion I come to is that in this instance the problem was that the knight was using a smaller bow. As a result he failed to deal out the massive damage and accuracy needed before the pirate got close enough to use his own weapons. The 2.5 inches of penetration as well as the accuracy failed to impress (the shot wound up hitting low in the gut rather than in ribcage where it would have been most effective).

Arbalests are extremely powerful steel crossbows and remain one of my favorite pre-gunpowder ranged weapons. Some of the largest ones have been said to generate more than 1000 lbs of force. But the one shown on the show was just to small to get the power or accuracy needed


"Pirate vs Ninja please?"

Yeah! Supposedly they held back on this match-up because they were afraid of the controversy, but come on! They did an IRA vs Taliban episode (which was not aired in the UK) yet they're afraid of a bunch of internet people?



Hopefully this helped explain a little bit more about both warriors. If you have any more questions about this episode or any of the other episodes I promise to respond the best I can or I will concede the point.

Coming up: Viking vs Samurai and Aztec vs Zande