There's no such thing as an adventure tale without a villain. Fortunately, in the Middle Ages practically anyone with a sword was a villain - at least, by our standards.
Nobleman? Elitist bastard.
Man at arms? Thug.
Knight? Thug with a horse.
Of course, there was chivalry, a strict code of behavior for the noble classes. Knights were expected to protect the weak and fight for the general welfare. But if you weren't a noble yourself, you couldn't hope for all that much. Knights captured on the battlefield could expect to be treated well and then ransomed back to their own side; but if you were a foot soldier (or, God forbid, a non-combatant) the men on horseback wearing the good armor often saw you as nothing more than a man-shaped blob standing between them and a share of the spoils. Edward the Black Prince, considered one of the greatest knights of his day, was also the commander of the forces that sacked Limoges and massacred its inhabitants after the city had surrendered.
But even on the colorful (mostly scarlet) tapestry of Medieval history, there are some folks who stand out. For instance, Western Europe had one family whose power and morals matched anything you'd find on a prime-time soap opera today: the Plantagenets. (Ed the BP was one of them, by the way.) So tune in next post for the story of the Second Henry, the Cougar in the Castle, and the Four Clawing Eagles.