Educating the Medieval Athlete: Quintain and Pell Training by Karyssa Chan

Karyssa Chan 

Teresa Russo 

MARS 2P95 

18 February 2021 


Educating the Medieval Athlete: The Benefits of Quintain vs. Pell Training 

This research project will explore a knight’s training in quintain and on the pell and examine which, if any, is more beneficial for a knight in battle. This research was conducted by Karyssa Chan, a third-year concurrent education student. She is in the process of completing a major in English and a minor in Geography. She is a member of Brock University’s Varsity Ultimate Frisbee team, going on her third year in Brock’s Concurrent Education Student Association and has worked for BUSU for the past two years in the club’s department and is going into the 2021-2022 school year as the Vice-President of Student Services. Today she will be presenting her research conducted on the medieval training that squires and knights encountered when preparing for battle. She will first build up the base of knowledge of the two means of training and then proceed to take a more in-depth look at if one form of training was more beneficial than the other. 

Having an understanding of each form of training is important to fully grasp the argument made within this research assignment. Quintain and pell training was used to train medieval knights and squires for battle and helped to enhance and strengthen one’s ability to perform on the battlefield. Quintain training consisted of a knight on a horse charging at a rotating device, sometimes with sandbags attached to it or a ring to provide a sharper target (Cartwright). The goal of the activity was to strike the rotating apparatus with one’s lance and maintain their balance after impact and ensure they were not hit with one of the wooden arms that spun after being hit (Walker, 1840). Pell training differs because it focuses on the closer range weapon, the sword. This type of training was simple but effective. It involved striking a wooden post with one’s sword or shield to develop a better sense of control, strength, accuracy, and agility (Clements, 1999). The Medieval Ages were violet times that required men to be well versed in a variety of weapons and battle tactics. Quintain and pell training transformed squires into knights, and the question posed in this research paper is whether one was more beneficial than the other. 

The study focused on the knights and squires who trained although these forms of training were also used as pastimes for the common folk. The focus of this study is not to compare the two in their similarities, but to examine if one was more useful when it came to the battlefield. In order to successfully complete the research project, articles surrounding quintain and pell training were examined to provide a strong base of knowledge. Some of the articles lead to an interesting discovery about how each weapon was viewed within society which will be touched on later on. The heroic poems, The Battle of Brunanburh and The Battle of Maldon serve as proof that certain weapons were glorified more than others meaning that one type of training of a certain weapon may have benefitted one’s social standing. 

After investigating multiple medieval-centric articles and heroic poems, one can begin to see a pattern in tone in which a knight with a sword was spoken about, and the pattern in which a lance was spoken about. Training in quintain and on the pell was beneficial to the common medieval knight on the battlefield because each developed a crucial skill when battling. The two differ in the way each weapon used in training was discussed in the literature. Cartwright argues that the skill of guiding one’s horse while carrying a lance and the other a shield involved maintaining balance in the saddle, striking a moving target, and staying on the horse were “all necessary for survival” (Cartwright, 2021) He then goes on to explain how “a mounted knight wielding a lance was a fearsome enough sight but a dismounted one swinging a sword that could sever limbs with one blow was an awesome psychological weapon in itself” (Cartwright, 2021). The sword was not only a physical threat to opponents but also a psychological one. The use of the medieval sword was perfected from pell training which is equally as important as quintain to protecting oneself in battle, but the social view of a sword as the weapon of choice was much more valuable than that of a lance or spear. This can be seen in heroic poems such as The Battle of Brunanburh. The poem opens by explaining how the King and the Prince earned their fame with the blades of their swords (Crossley-Holland, 19). In contrast to the glorification of the sword, the lance, or spear, was brutalized. One of the battles described a knight flinging “his spear in fury” (Crossley-Holland, 15). In another one of the poems that can be found in The Anglo-Saxon World, An Anthology, is the Battle of Maldon. In this text, readers discover that a knight “feared no foe/for as long as he could lift up his shield and wield a sword” (Crossley-Holland, 11). Although the sources found for this research did not directly discuss the use of training for preparation of sports activities, one can see that pell training was more beneficial because the use of a sword in battle was held to a higher standard and glorified more than the use of the skills learned in quintain training. 

To conclude, the glorification that a knight with a sword receives to that of a knight with a lance is what differentiates one from the other. The aim of this study was to examine if either quintain or pell training were better than the other, or more effective in the training process of a knight. The study allowed access to multiple articles and two heroic poems which proved that both training in quintain and on the pell was important for a knight because of the skills developed. The difference between the two is that the sword received higher praise for it symbolizes the knight’s chivalric and noble status.


Works Cited 

Cartwright, Mark. “Medieval Knight.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 7 Feb. 2021,

Cartwright, Mark. “The Weapons of an English Medieval Knight.” Ancient History

Encyclopedia, 8 Feb. 2021.

Cartwright, Mark. “Medieval Tournament.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 7 Feb. 2021,

Clements, J. “On the Pell.” Arma, 1999. aANKhEN.

Crossley-Holland, Kevin. “‘The Battle of Brunanburh’ and ‘The Battle of Maldon.’” The

Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology (Oxford World’s Classics), 1st ed., Oxford

University Press, 2009, pp. 11–21.

Walker, Donald. Defensive Exercises: Comprising Wrestling, Boxing, &c. 1840. 

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