During the medieval ages we had the knights as the "noble" soldiers(although more akin to a commander or a general I think) of their king.

But I'm not interested on the knights.

What I want to know is how an elite group would function in this time period?

What kind of protection and weapons would they use?What would be their fighting style?What would be their position in the feudal system?How they would be seen by their peers(if their identities were known) and even the nobility and royalty?Should there be restrictions of the sorts for joining?What kind of training they would have to go through?

And for this question I am presenting two groups.

One is designated to deal with internal issues, be they political or physical, they are the ones protecting the regent family from inside attacks and are also the ones dealing with more dangerous "elements" that might infiltrate or betray the town/city/village.They investigate and diffuse a situation before it happens, or try protect as many innocents as they can.

Think of them like a medieval equivalent to the SWAT or an elite police force.

The other group is made of people that deal with outside issues, other nations, dangerous beasts, recon and silent war(killing without being seen).They are the ones sent to rescue those that were taken from the town/city/village, the ones to go after precious knowledge and objects and secure them for their lord and the ones sent to put down those that could become(or already are) a danger for their people.

They are the medieval equivalent of a military special forces.

  • $\begingroup$ This seems to be a historical question, rather than a wordbuilding one. Are you asking about whether or not these existed and what they did, or are you asking with the intent to create one even if none existed beforehand? Because what you're describing seem to just be assassins and scouts. $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Dec 27, 2019 at 3:22
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    $\begingroup$ This is a matter of understanding the development of social organization through history. SWAT Teams & elite police units didn't emerge until the last century (an overestimate, but still). They weren't needed previously. Ditto the medieval period. The nearest thing would be a bunch of close pals to the regent or aristocrat. The kind who do dirty work on behalf of their boss. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Dec 27, 2019 at 3:46
  • $\begingroup$ Elite like efficiency and especially deadly or like effective and indistinguishable from a Gopro(for the powerful)? $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Dec 27, 2019 at 4:54
  • $\begingroup$ Read "The Black Company by Glenn Cook". It's about an elite mercenary company, which prefers fighting dirty and smart. Their core is a group of highly skilled individuals, who often perform critical tasks in a subtile manner. They abduct enemy mages, assassinate enemy generals and flush out The Rebel without too much of a fuss in the service of the evil empire. Pretty much the closest thing to special forces in any setting I've come across. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2019 at 5:03
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    $\begingroup$ Knights were the elite military group. "Knight" is the lowest title of nobility; it's not even hereditary. (Hereditary titles start at baron, next higher.) Most certainly a commander or a general would have a (much) higher title -- count, duke, prince. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 27, 2019 at 9:42

6 Answers 6


They'd be knights, or some cultural equivalent thereof.

Basically every medieval society wound up developing a class of heavily-armed and armored professional warrior class, which usually played the battlefield role of heavy cavalry. In Medieval Europe, they were knights, and before that, they were the Germanic thegns; the Muslims had the mamluks, the Byzantines had their cataphracts and Varangian Guard, and so on and so forth. Many of them had very similar equipment, as well, though there were outliers such as the Japanese samurai who had different equipment due to the differences in available natural resources and technologies.

In general, they were men who were trained in combat since childhood, and equipped with the best equipment they could afford (because in almost every case, pre-modern armies relied on their soldiers paying for their own equipment) - usually, it involved chain hauberks, helmets of some description, and usually either a sword or axe and a shield, or a two-handed polearm and a backup weapon like a sword. Additionally, they were often heavy cavalry units, since that allowed them to amplify their effects on the battlefield considerably.

Modern special forces arose as a result of weapons technology making massed charges of soldiers non-viable, which in turn allowed for elite groups of skirmishers to rise to prominence. Without the advent of the machine gun making massed charges suicidal, however, medieval forces were fought in large, organized groups of soldiers, and skirmishers who fought outside these formations would be very vulnerable. As a result, the sorts of elite skirmishing forces exemplified by modern special forces groups like the British SAS or the US Navy Seals would not really be viable in a medieval military context.

The social structures surrounding them are more variable than their baseline equipment is (the mamluks, for instance, were technically slaves owned by the sultan), but you have to keep in mind that they were often in charge of procuring their own equipment, and that means that they needed their own independent sources of income. This is untimately how European feudalism worked - the king's knights weren't paid directly by the crown, but were instead given areas of land to administrate in exchange for being given the right to take a portion of those lands' proceeds for themselves.

However, an elite group of knights dedicated to serving their king in a role analogous to a SWAT team would be entirely viable; witness tales of groups like the Knights of the Round Table or the Paladins of Charlemagne - indeed, "paladin" shares a root word with "palace". The mamluks also filled a similar role in their Muslim culture, though they wielded considerable political power as a result of their military power and the threat of them launching a palace coup.


There is no need for SWAT in medieval times

Today, armed hostilities strongly depend on the availability of firearms (and, to lesser extent, body armor) to the combatants. If regular police is armed with handguns and protected by little body armor, confronting similarly equipped criminals would put them in danger, and when the criminals have army weapons, police would be at clear disadvantage. Hence, we need a team with better weapons, trained to fight against opponents armed with similar weapons.

Not so much back in the knights day. A regular city watch guardsmen were already wielding swords and wearing some armor. True, a skilled and armored knight can wreak havoc among a number of city watch patrolmen, but they won't have a need to summon a knight of their own. A small group of medium infantry can surely overwhelm an unmounted knight.

If city guard is facing a number of knights (however unlikely that is), this is again not a job for a special "knight SWAT team", but rather for the whole city garrison to be summoned.

"Special Ops" scenario is quite different from SWAT one. While SWAT operates on friendly territory close to home, special ops typically need to infiltrate enemy camps or strongholds. Here we have a different set of requirements for the members, with good fighting skill perhaps the only one that is common. Knights would definitely don't do this in full armor. I would second @Redbud201 suggestion of using ninjas for special ops.

P.S. There may a need for "special police" to investigate and prevent threats to the royal family and critical infrastructure - but this is definitely not a "SWAT" team. Special police should rely on a network of informants and their own detective skills, not on some kind of enhanced enforcement power (though the threat of this special enforcement power should loom high among the population).


In a feudal system, knights were both a warrior class and a layer of the ruling class. They held "lands" or more generally rent-producing rights to pay for their gear and training time and to support them and their family in an appropriate style. In return, they owed their feudal overlords service in war and peace.

For both the SWAT and SpecOps role, one could envision a group of warriors who disconnect the military role from civilian and administrative jobs. That means they can effectively police the nobility and their loss in combat doesn't leave much of a hole in civilian society.

  • Retainers of the king, without intermediate feudal levels.
  • Not related to any family which has a stake in the politics of the kingdom.
  • Not born into a social class where a knighthood was almost mandatory.

Recruited at young adult age from the commoners of the kingdom, selected for fitness or intelligence, called "sergeants at arms of the crown" or perhaps "agentes in rebus".

They would be trained to fight not as heavy cavalry. Swordsmen, perhaps, or elite halberdiers.


Samurai and Ninjas

Immediately what came to mind after reading your question was the Samurai and Ninja / (Shinobi) in feudal Japan. The samurai would fit your definition of an elite warrior culture perhaps used for peacekeeping at times and protecting important families.

But the second part of your question seems to fit the Ninja's purpose and methods quite closely. "The other group is made of people that deal with outside issues, other nations, dangerous beasts, recon and silent war(killing without being seen).They are the ones sent to rescue those that were taken from the town/city/village, the ones to go after precious knowledge and objects and secure them for their lord and the ones sent to put down those that could become(or already are) a danger for their people."

As for public perception, there was certainly a big difference between the perceived honor of the two groups, the previous being held in a similar regard to knights, and the other being somewhat or (very) dishonorable. But both groups were employed by many Japanese feudal lords, although I apologize, this is about the extent of my knowledge of the subject.


IRL there alway were such a forces.

One of the most famous are russian Cossacks. They were so widly used for crowed contorol and "anti-terrorist" activites that their name became denominative : even groups consited completly on locals were called "Cossacks". They had a special tactics and weapons (special wips and clumbs) and were quite effective in suppresig riots. Of cause there were "military cossacks" as a part of an army and a quasy-nation - they are completly different story (with the same name). Russia had an characteristic that most of it's "feods" with peasants belong to goverment (not the crown! Crown in Russia owned everything and everyone) and church. So for up to 70% of peasants there were no "Black Baron" to suppress them. And any goverment solves it's problems with "angencies" - wich were this "cosacks gruops"

For Europe it were well known "Swiss guard" (as with cossaks - it were not composed on Swiss in many cases), especially those who served Pope. But there were other groups of mercenaries for exactly this role. They were used by nation-cities (mostly in Italy) for suppresing riots or block-to-block wars as a "neutral force", when there were not trust in town gaurd, and they also had special non military tactics and equipment.

There were never "pure feudalism" when every village had a lord. In many cases this "lords" were collective and civil: free city, guild, church. And those "collective lords" did need those "special forces" to control crowds and hunt down robbers and bandits.

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    $\begingroup$ Both Cossacks and Swiss guards are post-medieval. And Cossacks originally was semi-nomadic sometime lawless people, that were sometimes recruited by all states that had borders with the steppes north of Black Sea. $\endgroup$
    – user28434
    Dec 27, 2019 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ @user28434, Pope SG, established at 1506 - is medeval. And they are tip of the iceberg in both time and fame. There were countless numbers of such mercanary guard groups from (and including) Roman Empire times. Ex., before X-XII centures vikings were doing this job. $\endgroup$
    – ksbes
    Dec 27, 2019 at 10:18

Team 1 : The Secret Police

  • The Fool or the Natural Fool : this role is probably your group director or assistant Director in the organization. This member of your team has either dwarfism, a deformity, or appears to be mentally ill or slow. Fools were traded among nobility like presents, were given a great deal of access without any consideration if they should be trusted with that kind of access. Fools were so close to their noble families that the were sometimes included in the family portraits. Because of this near-family relationship with their House, fools were used as messengers among the nobility, because they were not often stopped or questioned, and were sometimes used by the court to deliver bad news.
  • The Polymat : This role is probably your team lead or assistant lead in every team under the Director. This member of your team is fluent in several languages and a master of multiple sciences. There were some general ideas about investigative and forensic technique since Aristotle's logic and Plato's testing for a fraudulent crown by checking how much water it displaced. Additionally, polymats were often beloved by members of the court who wanted to learn from them, and thus were not uncommon to find going from noble house to house and having the kinds of privileged conversations that many guests shouldn't.
  • The Lectors and Players : this is the basic line officer role on the team. Lectors were hired to read (a role akin to living television set) for entertainment purposes. Joseph Stalin used a similar role to spread the gospel of Marxism. In addition to influencing crowds by selected content, they are listening to what the people are saying.

Team 2 : Clandestine Assault Forces

  • Cannoneer : the lobster (a knight in full plate) was bullet proof. Proof meaning there was a little ding on the armor showing it could take a rifle shot without breach. The only solution to a lobster was a cannon. And cannons came in the single and 2-man portable variety. If you are going after dangerous beasts, other nations, or the wealthy (who might have some lobsters in their employ), having a cannon is a requirement.
  • Polyglot : there must be someone on the team who speaks the tongue like a native, wherever you are.
  • The Noble : most royal families were intermarried, and most kingdoms were related to the same family tree. As long as your team's noble hasn't been outed as belonging to this team, he or she can probably travel - with companions - without much harassment : every city had a baron, most counties a count. Many of these lesser nobles were very eager to marry up, so a Noble from a duchy or even distant royal is going to be a welcome guest.
  • The Alchemist : the team is going to need someone who can give them the best possible advice on conditions such as plague, medicines, and other ways of quietly achieving goals.
  • The Thugs : these will be a handful of people that do most of the fighting, but aren't in some other role.

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