What is known about Late Medival battlefield Combat?

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Marcus Woodhouse
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What is known about Late Medival battlefield Combat?

Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Sun May 11, 2008 12:03 pm

This may have been something discussed to death by those maore knowledgable than myself, in which case I look forward to being taught. I know that re-enactment fighting has little to do with the way we percieve the actual weapons would be used, but how were they used? From various sources, written and verbal, which I admit may have been misunderstood by myself I have gathered the following. Archery, wreastling and quarter-staff fighting were popular sporting activites in the middle ages and these have some military appliactions. That it would appear that most of the polearms and some of the "sidearms" (ie the falchion) used by the average soldier were derived from common agricultural tools and that this might have been reflected in the way they were used (every peasant knows how to chop wood and use a scythe). That there are fight manuals and were fighting instructers that could be used to teach the well to do how better to apply their arms, however the instructions they contain may have been intended for judical or tournament style fighting rather than on the battlefield. I have undertaken medieval sword and dagger fighting lessons and can see how some of the moves could be used in a battlefield situation while imaging that for other moves there would not be the time, space or opportunity to employ them. Thanks.


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Postby Phil the Grips » Sun May 11, 2008 12:48 pm

OK monomachia and C16th onwards is my specialisation but I'll have a crack at this :)

Most soldiers would be mercantile class by this era so able to afford decent kit and to fulfil their obligations either by buying their way out or turning up to fight for their boss.

The "they know how to chop wood so could use a polearm" thing is very debatable-yes it would promote strength and fitness but the actual techniques of fighting with a bill, that we can extrapolate as there are no extant specifics, are very different from using it to work lumber.

We do know that there was sporting applications of weapons play across Europe which would develop and educate peopel to a base level of weapons use, however this would be of limited use initially in the press of massed combat.

The polearm is useful in that it can be used according to need- held steady as a big spear in the initial press where standing matters and not letting the bad guys near, then , as thing open up it, it can be used for swinging and chopping, then, finally, it can be used to its full potetnail using hand and foot changes, parries etc once room to do so is finally available.

The nearest modern thing I can think of is thta all modern soldiers have to achieve some standard of shooting, and some go on to become marksmen due to natural talent and a bit of extra training, but being able to maintain the weapon, not kill your mates wih it and use it only at the correct time is far more important.

The huge difference is the psychologocal edge which is why I personally hold that units wer in massed "hedgehogs" in order to maximise the number of spiky bits in one place and increase morale- turning battles into a massive game of chicken.

Wrestling would add to this psychological edge much as having the Regimental Boxer on your side does today-not much actual use but a boost that you have Big Frank and they don't.

The senior bods would have their training due to scoial expectation- however this would always be a privae enterprise and remained so right up untilt eh C19th in amilitary context. It was assumed that they knew how to do all this stuff because of their rank, just as it would be asumed that they knew how to ride or serve a decent dinner.

The skills they used privately would be practiced in sporting events through the years ( tournaments, melees etc) and applied to the battlefield as appropriate.

Again the massed ranks thing makes a huge difference- they would be the "front row" designed to smash though an opposing hedgehog, using experience, confidence and better kit, along with fear of opprobrium if they didn't do it, to break the opposition.

Personal skill at arms comes when things are broken down in the final stages of the battle and inidividuals would be scattered nad beter to take on one-on-one.


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Postby guthrie » Sun May 11, 2008 5:54 pm

Phil the Grips wrote:
The huge difference is the psychologocal edge which is why I personally hold that units wer in massed "hedgehogs" in order to maximise the number of spiky bits in one place and increase morale- turning battles into a massive game of chicken.

In the medieval period, it was more because if you didn't, the cavalry would ride straight over the top of you.



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Postby Phil the Grips » Mon May 12, 2008 8:23 am

Depends if the horse are used, or, more effectively, threatened to be used as a "chisel" (sent in hard to shatter a line and disrupt morale and cohesion-traditional role of heavy horse) or as a "mop"(to follow up and wipe out troops without cohesion-traditional role of light horse).


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Postby Fox » Mon May 12, 2008 10:47 am

My understanding is....
It's complex question because it depends where in Europe you are.

The British Isles is completely unique, because of overwhelming use of the long bow and a prolonged state of civil war.

The black death in the 14thC breaks down our fuedal system more than in other parts of Europe; combined with activity of the 100 years war gives a level of semi-proffesional soldiery. By the 15thC there is a system of indenture rather than a simple fuedal system.

The English are also using black powder from it's early days (siege of Harfleur, for instance), but I don't thinks it's entirely clear how this moves later into the century. Through the century the "Hussite method" travels west, Austro-German armies even adopt the wagonberg, but by the late 15thC the Burgundians are the primary source of mercenaries in Western Europe (although it's documented that the Duke of Burgundy himself hires hussite mercenaries, probably to train gunners).
Nevertheless there are records of hand gunners at battles like Barnet and Second St.Albans and probably in larger numbers than most people would expect.

The use of longbow, cannon and handgun pretty much remove the use of cavalry as a "chisel" in this country, both because of the vulnerability of horses and having other tools for the job.
That doesn't mean heavy cavalry doesn't exist, but that the use is more subtle (both sides appear to list heavy cavalry at Tewkesbury, for instance).



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Postby Allan Harley » Mon May 12, 2008 11:34 am

One other issue is the possibility of so may semi-permanent troops coming back to the british Isles at the end of the HYW . Whose major skill was garrison work/raids/weapons etc.. So in the early part of the WOTR most commanders would have a split force e.g
Old-hands seen it, done it bought the pavaise
Levies - Coo look at that!

Blore heath is a possible example of what happens when a smaller experienced force engages a much larger but levied/"feudal" army.

Now we come onto the next discusion points
What exactly were feedmen?
and
A Retinue - this would consist (for a Duke) of between 100 and 200 men each of which would probably have their own retinue (5, 10 to 20?) So does this mean that a noble was capable of raising up to 4,000 semi-trained men at quite short notice?


Finally depth of units is very important - anything less than 4 and its quite easy for units of armoured men to burst through (in reenactment terms probably Tewkesbury offers you best options for seeing someything like this). And also keep a reserve


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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Mon May 12, 2008 9:23 pm

Would they only be bringing a retinue of their own if they were men of rank themselves though Allan? I may be retained to my Lords service as his valet, his scribe, his cook, his vintner, his chamberlain. That may require me to don harness and fight with him. I might even have pretty good armour if my lord is wealthy enought to furnish me with it and rather likes me in one peice, but that doesn't make me a soldier in the sense that the Italians were able to adopt it as an actual profession rather than "most of the time I'm a scribe but once in a blue moon I have to swing a sword around" manner. It certainly would not allow me to have the resources to raise troops of my own.
Sir John Dunne raised troops on behalf of Lord Hastings in 1475. They consisted of 104 poorly equipped archers and one man at arms-himself. (And I believe the ratio 1:104 was not the favored proprtion of MAA to archers even in the 1470's!)


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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Mon May 12, 2008 9:27 pm

And two thirds of the Burgundian army were made up of mercenaries, mostly from Italy with smaller numbers coming from England, France and Germany.


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Postby Fox » Tue May 13, 2008 7:27 am

Fox wrote:... but by the late 15thC the Burgundians are the primary source of mercenaries in Western Europe.

[...for gunners, implied by the original context]

Marcus Woodhouse wrote:And two thirds of the Burgundian army were made up of mercenaries, mostly from Italy with smaller numbers coming from England, France and Germany.


Perhaps because Burgundians were busy elsewhere blowing things up. :wink:



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Postby Fox » Tue May 13, 2008 7:30 am

Marcus Woodhouse wrote:Sir John Dunne raised troops on behalf of Lord Hastings in 1475. They consisted of 104 poorly equipped archers and one man at arms-himself. (And I believe the ratio 1:104 was not the favored proprtion of MAA to archers even in the 1470's!)


That just means Dunne is raising archers.

The Hasting indentures were large and complex, and I believe are an area of research in their own right.



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Postby Colin Middleton » Tue May 13, 2008 1:38 pm

The Howard accounts list over 700 men that he had sworn to support him and Richard III and that was prepared something like 18 months before Bosworth. A qucik scan over them didn't list many as knights.

Also, remember that a Duke's staff will contain many knights who may have their own manors else-where and only work 'part-time' for the Duke. They can then raise their own men to add to his own (Lord Cobham was retained to the Duke of Norfolk in such a way at Bosworth).

My own oppinion (looking at it from an English point of view) is that Phil has found the key, not skill so much as psychology. Most soldiers are poorly to moderatly armoured and equipped and have little or no battle experience or training, perhaps one day a month at most. I'd compare them to a modern levy army.

Gentlemen would be expected to own full harness and to train with if for tournaments if nothing else. I would expect them to be more comfortable with combat. Aditionally they still have the idea of being 'chosen by God', so even with the increase in threat from the commons, that makes them feel invulnerable compared with the commoners around them. As the commoners also look upto the gentry, this will enhance the psychological impact. They can possibly rove the battlefield like tanks (or at least armoured vehicles for the lesser gentry) amongst the levy infantry above. The descriptions you hear of Edward IV in combat are explaned quite well by this psychology.

You've also got professional mercenary soldiers. They've seen the fight. They know they can kill an armoured man, but they may not be as well equipped and they are just fighting for cash. They won't be subject to the fear and awe effect of knights, but also aren't going to dye for mear cash. This is clearly shown by the Italian mercenaries at Crecy who exchanged a couple of voleys with the English and said "we can't win this, we're going home...". I'd look at them as modern soldiers and allied contingents.

So, fear and expectation will rule the battlefield, those who have faith in themselves can acheive great things, the rest just getting run down.


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Postby Allan Harley » Tue May 13, 2008 4:29 pm

This is an interesting topic and definitely worthy of further investigation.

In answer Marcus - you may be listed as a valet - but a valet to a major noble may bring (probably) at least 2/3 further indentured men with him (Howard prime example, plus indentures for Late HYW and Edward IV's French expedition).

All of which builds a force very quickly

So you could have mercenary contingents who only fight when lkely to win then either retire or stop (only fighting if attacked themselves).
Professionals, raw troops (shat themselves, run into each other and charge the wrong way etc..)

So what type of unit is your household, or are you going to allow more than one type?


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Postby StaffordCleggy » Tue May 13, 2008 7:14 pm

Marcus,
Let's also remember that a valet to a leading Noble of the First Rank (Duke/Earl) would in all likelyhood be a Gentleman himself (Knight of the Body/Chamber etc.) & would therefore not only be expected to bring his own retinue to the party, he would be in a financial position to do just that and equip them as well.
In a re-enactment sense those of us who attempt to portray a Household Retinue of a Leading Noble are well off-base for the simple reason that we don't have some 500 (minimum) people around to portray one Household on the move/at war.
My Lord of Buckingham (one of the dead ones) had some 2'000 Knot badges made to be given out to his men. This must mean that he had some certainty of bringing that number to a general muster. If there are 3/4/5+ Nobles of similar stature attending the King/King Presumptive then you have not only a large army but a force that already has a modicum of a sense of unity about them.
As for how they fought, there is little actual evidence to go on, but i think Phil has hit upon something fairly close to what i would consider to be a practical method of using semi-trained men.
Of course English Medieval armies are very different in make up to those of our Continental cousins, even with the cross-pollination of ideas & written texts.


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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Tue May 13, 2008 9:54 pm

Using a valet was a bad example. :oops: I was trying to get across the belief I have that by presenting a "household" as many WOTR groups do they seem to put across the notion that retained men were all soldiers. Any one whose services were employed by a gentleman or noble was retained, including the vast numbers of accountants and lawyers they took on. Some of these men would be expected to fight to uphold their masters honour, rights whatever but this would not make them into professional or even semi-professional soldeirs.
I'm enjoying what you're saying though and it is making me think more. I missed the link between the Burgundians Fox talking about being gunners, though as most of them were Flemish they might well have regarded themselves as German rather than Burgundian.
It's never clear if Duke Charles is loaning mercenaries to Eddie who are mercenaries in his service or his own ducal forces who are then mercenaries in english service. I think it's quite possible that some of the "Burgundian" mercenaries who join Edwards campaign were Englishmen serving as mercenaries in the "Burgundian" army. :?


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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Tue May 13, 2008 9:57 pm

Didn't think of Sir Dunne being tasked to just raise archers, it would make a lot of sense given his Welsh background and base. Sometimes you need to talk to others to put these little things into perspective. Maybe he was asked to do that so someone else could concentrate on raising gunnery specialists/men-at-arms/sappers whatever. Thanks.


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Postby StaffordCleggy » Tue May 13, 2008 10:37 pm

Gentlemen being 'tasked' to raise a certain number of a certain type of soldier would be nothing unusual in my opinion, it's all down to specifics.
Gentleman 'A' may have most of his strength in the mercantile towns & therefore will theoretically be able to produce well armed & armoured men. Lord 'B' on the other hand may have most of his assets in the wool-producing countryside & has more archers to hand. A clever overlord will balance the force being raised by demanding his indentured men bring a certain number of troop types rather than 'bring what ya got boys'.


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Postby Fox » Wed May 14, 2008 8:50 am

Marcus Woodhouse wrote:I missed the link between the Burgundians Fox talking about being gunners, though as most of them were Flemish... they might well have regarded themselves as German rather than Burgundian.

....certainly handgunners often seem to be recorded as flemish , you're right.

Anyway, I was just rambling in an irrlevant sort of way; I was trying to discuss the types of soldier in an English army, but my train of thought pulled into a siding on the way.
Last edited by Fox on Wed May 14, 2008 8:58 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Postby Fox » Wed May 14, 2008 8:54 am

Marcus Woodhouse wrote:Didn't think of Sir Dunne being tasked to just raise archers....


Possibly he wasn't, but that's what he did [apparently] do.

The point is you can't judge the make up fo an army from how a single obligation is fulfilled and it makes sense that some people would "specialise" in particualr types of troops; you provide the resources you have.



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Postby Ghost » Wed May 14, 2008 9:16 am

Marcus Woodhouse wrote:(And I believe the ratio 1:104 was not the favored proprtion of MAA to archers even in the 1470's!)


Although earlier than the current discussion it may be of interest to note that in 1416 the English Army in France comprised 2,221 men-at-arms and 7,794 archers commanded by 83 captains giving an average "Company" strength under a Captain of 26 men-at-arms and 96 archers - this ration appears quite commom for field units but garrisons appear to shift to more 1 in 10 presumably because it is cheaper to maintain a standing garrison of archers than more expensive men at arms.

However this was a managed army employed by the crown and therefore the ratios appear to be the preferred option during this phase of the HYW and the ratio is apparent elsewhere in musters of the period - during the WOTR things would be more random, especially with tye more well to do (men at arms) trying to avoid involvement and i agree with Cleggy's comment about landowner, local nobles bringing what they have be it lower quality billmen/archers wher others whould be able to call on merchants who may own their harness (such as Elizabeth Shores wool merchant father in london who's ownership of harness appeared to be a status symbol and did not necessarliy equate to his expertise in arms)

During the period 1461 to 1469 The Duke of Somerset appears to have a permanent retinue of 500 men despite his being in exile (during his brief association with Edward IV these acted ats the King's BodyGuard) so this 500 would be the elite of his retinue (on a professional standing ?) with the remainder of his available resources made up of "as required" men at arms (merchants, landowners ) and billmen/archers

now rambling


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Postby Colin Middleton » Wed May 14, 2008 1:25 pm

Just to be awkward, Ghost, are you certain that all (or even any) of that retinue was armed? A retinue was a group of retained people, they may well have included his cooks, cleaners and what ever other servants he could bring along and may even have included children.

Cleggy, I was under the impression that Valets was a very wide ranging term and included staff who would definitely not be gentle, as well as a good number of gentlemen. In Sir John Howard’s household in 1467, there were 7 gentlewomen, 16 gentlemen, 49 yeomen and 27 grooms and the term Yeoman seems to be rather interchangable with Valet in this context (though of course Yeoman also indicated a social rank... :roll: ).


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Postby StaffordCleggy » Wed May 14, 2008 6:38 pm

Colin,
For 'Valet' i was referring to the idea that a Leading Noble would have Gentlemen as his personal attendants - Knights of the Chamber etc. - but yes, the term Valet is somewhat vague in it's meaning between the C15th & today.
Good point though.

Aren't we all going a little off-topic though?

The question was 'what do we know of late medieval combat' as opposed to the old argument about army strengths. Of course, one is inextricably linked to the other but let's not go off on one of our tangents here! :lol:


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Postby Ghost » Thu May 15, 2008 8:41 am

[quote="Colin Middleton"]Just to be awkward, Ghost, are you certain that all (or even any) of that retinue was armed? A retinue was a group of retained people, they may well have included his cooks, cleaners and what ever other servants he could bring along and may even have included children.

We'll dealing with the 15th C i am of the opinion i'm not certain of anything


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Postby Chris, yclept John Barber » Thu May 15, 2008 12:19 pm

StaffordCleggy wrote:My Lord of Buckingham (one of the dead ones) had some 2'000 Knot badges made to be given out to his men.


Does this need a new thread: "On the Activities of Zombies in the Wars of the Roses"?

How did they resolve the problem of inheritance when the late former Lord is still around giving orders?

Was there a particular differencing mark used to indicate that your allegiance is to the Zombie Lord rather than his living descendant?

I think we need to know more...


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Postby Ian Macintyre » Thu May 15, 2008 1:07 pm

One thing to remember is that many if not most military engagements of this period where sieges through most of Europe as opposed to pitched battles.

Frankly digging trenches and latrines is more the basic work of a "soldier" than hacking at other chaps.


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Postby Adam R » Fri May 16, 2008 11:55 pm

On a more 'skills' level of weaponry - a thought for a bloke with a 'bill' - if that bloke used an agricultural bill as a part of his 'civilian' job (and I'm guessing many would) they would be extremely deft with them - able to skillfully turn, chp, poke etc - the use of them for hedge trimming etc would definately IMHO help in the use of military style staff weapons of the period. I've watched modern folk use bills for hedge work - very deft tools they are!

This says nothing of the psychological abilities of the same chap though.


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Postby StaffordCleggy » Sun May 18, 2008 6:41 pm

Chris, yclept John Barber wrote:
StaffordCleggy wrote:My Lord of Buckingham (one of the dead ones) had some 2'000 Knot badges made to be given out to his men.


Does this need a new thread: "On the Activities of Zombies in the Wars of the Roses"?

How did they resolve the problem of inheritance when the late former Lord is still around giving orders?

Was there a particular differencing mark used to indicate that your allegiance is to the Zombie Lord rather than his living descendant?

I think we need to know more...


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Postby Colin Middleton » Mon May 19, 2008 12:30 pm

Adam R wrote:On a more 'skills' level of weaponry - a thought for a bloke with a 'bill' - if that bloke used an agricultural bill as a part of his 'civilian' job (and I'm guessing many would) they would be extremely deft with them - able to skillfully turn, chp, poke etc - the use of them for hedge trimming etc would definately IMHO help in the use of military style staff weapons of the period. I've watched modern folk use bills for hedge work - very deft tools they are!

This says nothing of the psychological abilities of the same chap though.


I'll admit little knowledge of hedging bills, but I thought that they were shorter hafts and not used against moving things. I also didn't think that they had the stabbing point.

On the other hand, weapons were used in brawls at the time, so familiarity with them would be higher than today.

I agree with your point about the psychology though, I beleive that is where the edge lies.


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Postby Phil the Grips » Mon May 19, 2008 1:08 pm

Except most people would be relatively well off folk from the artisan and mercantile class so unsused to being in the rural trades (maybe why Foresters etc were prized troops in a fray- just as gamekeepers were in WWII) and likely to have never seen a bill, let alone hefted one, especially not in anger.


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Postby Fox » Mon May 19, 2008 3:37 pm

Colin Middleton wrote:I'll admit little knowledge of hedging bills, but I thought that they were shorter hafts


...on both long and short hafts.

As I understand it, short hafted ones are typically for the "weaving" type management of hedges; longer ones are typically for management of trees and taller hedges, usually those produced as or producing a crop.



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Postby Jim » Mon May 19, 2008 4:16 pm

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