Warriors and the Tools of Their Trade II

Daggers were important, too. A dagger has a double-edged blade and is primarily designed for stabbing or thrusting. A knife has a single-edged blade, which is best at cutting, although some daggers and knives can be used for stabbing, thrusting, and cutting. In the Middle Ages—and, indeed even today—daggers and knives are usually backup weapons designed for last-ditch personal survival.

With the appearance of plate armor during the Middle Ages, however, the dagger came into its own as a very useful offensive weapon. It could be used to stab through the gaps in an enemy’s armor, e.g., under the arm, with the objective of piercing the heart. One type of dagger—the stiletto—was known as the “misericorde,” meaning “mercy.” Its pointed, strong blade was used to give a fatally-wounded opponent the coup de grace (“mercy strike”) to end his suffering. A rondel dagger could penetrate a suit of armor either through the joints or under the visor of a helmet. This dagger had a long, slim blade tapering to a needle point. “Rondel” means round or circular; the weapon gets its name from its round hand guard and pommel. It could be used to force a wounded knight, or one who had been thrown from his horse and was stunned by the fall, to surrender and be held for ransom.

A mace is a strong shaft with a heavy head made of metal or stone. During the Middle Ages, mail and later plate armor protected the wearer from edged weapons and projectiles, e.g., arrows and crossbow bolts (crossbow bolts were also known as quarrels). Solid metal maces were able to injure or kill an armored man, bloodlessly, because the shock of a heavy blow from a mace was enough to cause a concussion (a traumatic brain injury) without actually penetrating the armor or tearing the flesh. Flanged maces, however, had protruding edges which allowed them, when swung by a strong arm, to dent badly or even penetrate the very best armor.

In the Bayeux Tapestry (an embroidered cloth, made in England in the 1070s, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England in 1066), Bishop Odo of Bayeux is shown swinging a mace at the battle of Hastings in 1066. Clergy often used maces in warfare to avoid the religious prohibition of clerics shedding blood: maces caused wounds or death by concussion. Clergymen fought on the battlefield in person until about 1540. William the Conqueror is also depicted in the Tapestry carrying a mace. Finally, the mace was a favorite weapon of the Italian mercenaries in the 14th century.

The bayonet on a modern rifle is the descendant of ancient polearms, such as the spear. After the waning of the Roman Empire, the spear continued to be used by almost all Western European cultures. Cheap and easy to make, it remained the main weapon of the common soldier in medieval times. To withstand cavalry attacks, the butts of the shafts could be set into the ground, with the spearheads sharply angled upward toward the enemy. In the 11th century, when used on horseback with stirrups and high-canted saddles to help the rider keep his seat, the spear—now in the form of a nine-foot-long lance—became a most formidable weapon.

We must note here, in the interests of historical accuracy, that the word “lance” was also used in Italy in the mid–15th century to describe a three-man combat team. This consisted of a man-at-arms, who was the lance-bearer and sometimes—but not always—a knight; his sergeant, and his page. Outfitting a lance was always expensive: in early 15th century Poland, for example, it cost the equivalent of 30 head of cattle.

In the “couched lance” technique, a mounted knight would grip his lance firmly with one hand, tucking it securely under his armpit, and would use his other hand to guide and control the horse. When mastered after long years of practice, all the momentum of horse and rider was focused on the tip of the lance. The medieval sport of jousting help knights to practice and perfect their skills with the lance.

A pike is a very long thrusting weapon used by infantrymen, both for attacks on enemy foot soldiers and to defend themselves against cavalry charges. Ranging in length from 10 feet to over 20 feet, a pike had a wooden shaft with a metal spearhead attached to its end. The great length of pikes presented an oncoming enemy with a formidable concentration of spearheads, while at the same time keeping the pikemen themselves at some distance from their targets. Pikes were too long to use in close combat, however, so a pikeman also had to be armed with a sword, mace, or dagger to defend himself if enemies broke through the wall of pikes. By 1600, musketeers had driven all but the pikemen from the battlefield because the musket was able to pierce armor at 80 meters.

In the Middle Ages, urban militias such as the Flemings (natives of Flanders) and the lowland Scotts were the principal users of pikes. So long as pike formations stood their ground, mounted men-at-arms could not overrun them, but these densely-packed formations were very vulnerable to massed fire from archers and crossbowmen. If the pike formations could be weakened or broken in this manner, they could then be attacked by dismounted men-at-arms. Knights fought on foot either when the terrain was too difficult for combat on horseback or when they wanted by their example to stiffen the ranks of the foot soldiers and to encourage them. The soldiers understood very well that, when dismounted, the knights were as fully committed to the fight as they were: they had no way to escape.

The deep pike attack column was very effective in the late medieval period. The Swabian War of 1499 between the Old Swiss Confederacy and the House of Habsburg involved both Swiss and Swabian pike-armed mercenaries and in all but a few minor skirmishes the more experienced Swiss soldiers defeated the Swabian and Habsburg armies. The Swabian War was the first conflict in which both sides deployed large formations of well-trained pikemen, but the ever-improving skills of artillerymen and arquebusiers proved, later on, that the time of the pikeman was already passing.

We turn now to two of the most famous weapons of medieval warfare and thus of medieval mercenaries—the English longbow and the Italian crossbow. Both are weapons that project arrows by means of their elasticity, i.e., they are a type of spring. As the bow is drawn, energy is stored in the limbs as potential energy. Physics teaches us that potential energy is the stored energy of position possessed by an object. When the bow is not drawn, i.e., when it is in its usual equilibrium position, there is no energy stored in it. But when its position is altered from its usual equilibrium position, i.e., when an archer is ready to shoot, the bow is able to store energy by virtue of its new position. This stored energy of position is referred to as potential energy.

Draw weight is a measurement of how much effort is required to bring a bow to full draw. The most powerful English longbows had a draw weight of up to 200 pounds at 32 inches of draw. They were thus far more powerful than the average hunting bow, which traditionally had a draw weight of only about 50 pounds at 28 inches of draw. Because of their constant practice since youth, English archers could handle very heavy bows. Ninety-two fairly complete English skeletons recovered from the wreck of the warship Mary Rose, which sank in the Solent (a stretch of sea separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland of England) in 1545 and was raised in 1982, give proof of repetitive stress injuries of the shoulder and lower spine—almost certainly the result of constant practice with such bows. English (and the Welsh) archers used their powerful longbows to great effect in the civil wars of the times and in the Hundred Years’ War against the French. A skilled longbow man could release 10 to 12 arrows per minute. A modern commentator has remarked, “The longbow was the machinegun of the Middle Ages: accurate, deadly, possessed of long range and rapid rate of fire, the flight of its missiles was likened to a storm.”

There are many contemporary reports about the tremendous power of longbows in the hands of experts. In one such account, we are told by the archdeacon Giraldus Cambrensis that during the siege of the Welsh castle of Abergavenny in 1182, arrows pierced an oak door four inches thick. The arrows were left sticking in the door, their tips being just visible on the inner side of the door. In another account, a knight was pinned to his horse by an arrow that went through the flap of his mail shirt, pierced his mail breeches, his thigh, his wooden saddle, and came to rest in the flank of his horse.

Good as the longbow was, the crossbow had its merits, too. The Saracens called the crossbow qaws Ferengi (“Frankish bow”) because the Crusaders used it with such great success against Arab and Turkish horsemen. A crossbow had a short, very powerful bow (known as a prod), made of wood or steel and mounted on a wooden stock made of yew, ash, hazel, or elm. Crossbow bolts were much shorter than arrows. Unlike a longbow, which was extremely difficult to draw and which could not be held at full draw for more than a second or two seconds, a crossbow was cocked by means of a mechanical device (a lever or a crank on a ratchet) and did not require a great deal of strength to operate.

It was thus an ideal weapon for a young soldier or even for a boy (it required much less upper body strength than a longbow) or for an exhausted adult soldier. Moreover, thanks to its trigger mechanism, it could also be kept cocked for a long period of time with no effort on the part of the crossbowman. This permitted more accurate aiming when it was finally time to shoot: there were two or three notches on the stock in which to rest the thumb, which could then be lined up with the crossbow bolt to form a rudimentary sight. Early wood crossbows in the Middle Ages had an effective range of about 350 yards; the later powerful steel crossbows were more accurate, had a flatter trajectory, and a longer maximum range (of up to 500 yards).

On the battlefield, a crossbowman was very vulnerable when reloading his weapon—a slow and complicated process. He therefore protected himself by ducking behind a broad, four-to-five-foot-high convex shield known as a pavise, which when marching he carried slung across his back. Before a battle began, he propped up the pavise in front of him so that it would stay put. A pavise could also be used as part of a defensive screen called a pavisade, which was formed by setting up a row of pavises side-by-side. In this whole process, the medieval crossbowman was often assisted by one or more helpers.

Crossbows could not be fired as rapidly as longbows (their rate of fire was only about two crossbow bolts per minute) but they released more kinetic energy. Most of these crossbow bolts could penetrate mail; sometimes, with a solid hit at close range, they could even kill a knight in full armor. Moreover, a raw recruit could be taught how to use a crossbow in only one week, whereas combat competency with a longbow required many years of constant practice. The ability to use the crossbow was widespread. For example, all Venetians learned how to fire one as part of their civic obligations, and it was the usual weapon of garrison troops and town guards.

Anna Comnena (1083–1153), a remarkable Greek aristocrat who was the daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium (and also, in her own right, a scholar, a doctor, and a hospital administrator) gives us, in her book the Alexiad, a description of a very powerful crossbow. It was, she says, a fearsome new weapon:

The crossbow is a weapon of the barbarians, absolutely unknown to the Greeks. In order to stretch it one does not pull the string with the right hand while pushing the bow with the left away from the body; this instrument of war, which fires weapons an enormous distance, has to be stretched by laying almost on one’s back; each foot is pressed forcibly against the half-circles of the bow and the two hands tug at the bow, pulling it back with all one’s strength toward the body…. Along [a groove in the stock of the crossbow] arrows of all kinds are fired. They are very short but extremely thick with a heavy iron tip. In the firing the string exerts tremendous violence and force, so that the missiles wherever they strike do not rebound; in fact, they transfix a shield, cut through a heavy iron breastplate and resume their flight on the far side…. Such is the crossbow, a truly diabolical machine.

Although in the 12th century the crossbow almost completely replaced the longbow in most European armies, this was not the case in England. The English preferred their tried and true longbows. Under King Edward I’s sponsorship, Welsh and English archers perfected, through long arduous years of frequent practice, the strength, technique and discipline required to draw the longbow to the ear and then send storms of accurately-aimed arrows into advancing cavalry and infantry formations. Indeed, during the battle of Crécy in 1346, English archers may have fired as many as half a million arrows during the course of this fight. Arrow wounds made horses unmanageable, thus deflecting a cavalry charge; ranks of lightly-protected foot soldiers could easily be decimated.

In the armies of Europe, mounted and unmounted crossbowmen, often supported by archers and javeliners, were assigned to a central position in battle formations. Mounted knights armed with lances were ineffective against formations of pikemen who were combined with crossbowmen, whose weapons could penetrate the armor of many knights. As better mechanisms for cocking crossbows were developed, they could also be used on horseback, leading to new cavalry tactics. Knights and mercenaries were deployed in triangular formations, with the most heavily armored knights in the forefront, some of them carrying small but very powerful all-metal crossbows.

It is interesting to note that crossbows are still said to be used today by commando forces in Serbia, Greece, Turkey, and Spain. Chinese armed forces use crossbows at all unit levels, from traffic police to the elite Snow Leopard Commandos of the Chinese army. One reason for this is the crossbow’s ability to stop persons carrying explosives without the risk of causing detonation. Another is that they kill silently and at a distance—a combination which may be an asset for authorities if they are trying to break up a terrorist or criminal attack.

The rank of commanding officer of the crossbowmen was one of the highest positions in a medieval army. In most European armies, mounted and unmounted crossbowmen, together with archers and javeliners (a javelin was a light spear thrown by hand), were assigned to a central position in battle formations. The crossbowmen would open fire on enemy forces before an attack by the crossbowmen’s forces of mounted knights. Crossbows were also used in counterattacks to protect one’s own infantry.

The arbalest was a later and much more powerful version of the crossbow. It had a steel prod, i.e., a steel bow; was bigger and heavier than earlier crossbows; and, thanks to the greater tensile strength of steel, it delivered far greater force. A large, windlass-cocked arbalest could have up to 5,000 pounds of power and could be accurate (against a very big target, such as a fortification) at more than 900 yards. Arbalests were sometimes considered to be inhumane and unfair weapons because they allowed a lightly-trained commoner to kill, safely and at relatively long range, a noble knight who had perfected his own fighting skills over the course of a lifetime of tournaments and battles.

The same charge must have been levied against the men who learned how to use the first firearms. Soldiers using earlier weapons had needed fitness and skill to operate them effectively. When such men were killed, wounded, or simply ran away, they were very hard to replace on short notice. Gunpowder, i.e., firearms, changed all that. The earliest firearm was known as a hand cannon or as a “gonne,” i.e., a gun. It was a very simple device, consisting of a barrel with some kind of handle attached. In order to fire it, the gunner held the hand cannon in both hands and pointed it in the general direction of the enemy. His assistant then ignited the charge of gunpowder in it by applying a live coal to it, a slow-burning match, or a red-hot iron rod. Alternatively, the hand cannon could be secured to a rest and the gunner could fire it by himself. Projectiles used included small rocks, shaped balls of stone or iron, or very sturdy arrows.

The earliest reliable evidence of the use of gonnes in combat in Europe comes from the 14th century, but it was not until about 1450 that technological advances made them effective on the battlefield. The value of these early firearms was four-fold:

• Unlike the longbow and the crossbow, they could be used effectively by relatively unskilled soldiers. (Flemish and German mercenaries, however, may have been the first men to master these new weapons.)

• At close range, they could pierce heavy armor plate.

• They terrified men and horses that were not used to their fiery, smoky blasts.

• They would contribute greatly to the importance of the infantry, since they spelled the beginning of the end for the armored knight astride his warhorse. In the early 1600s, the Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright Miguel de Cervantes would denounce artillery (and, by extension, firearms in general) as a “devilish invention allowing a base cowardly hand to take the life of the bravest gentleman.”

In the Middle Ages, gunpowder was made from sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal, the proportions of each varying according to different recipes. The earliest manufacturing process used lime saltpeter, which produced calcium nitrate rather than potassium nitrate. Calcium nitrate absorbs moisture very easily, so gunpowder made with it did not last very long. By the 15th century, new techniques for making potassium saltpeter were being developed and gunpowder was being “corned” into granules. This made it a much better propellant, and huge quantities were produced. In 1477, for example, the Duke of Burgundy paid for more than 14,000 pounds of gunpowder. Generous supplies of it were indeed necessary because a large bombard (discussed later) burned about 80 pounds of powder at each shot.

The successor to the hand cannon was the arquebus. This muzzle-loading matchlock weapon was fired from the shoulder, rather than from the hip, which had been the practice with earlier firearms. Used from the 15th to the 17th centuries, it was the forerunner of the musket and the rifle. Good suits of armor might stop arquebus balls at long range but at close range they could penetrate even the toughest armor of knights and other heavy cavalrymen. The first European use of the arquebus in large numbers came about in Hungary under King Matthias Corvinus (r. 1458–1490): every fifth infantry soldier in the mercenary Black Army of Hungary carried an arquebus.

Medieval artillery included various kinds of stone-throwing mechanisms and, later, devices using gunpowder, e.g., petards and cannons. A traction trebuchet (a trebuchet is a type of catapult) had a range of up to 1,000 yards and could hurl stones weighing up to 750 pounds. The counterweight trebuchet, developed in the 12th century, could throw 300 pound stones—or, in an early version of biological warfare, the corpses of people who had died from contagious diseases. In 1191, at the siege of Acre in what is now Israel, the English king Richard the Lionhearted had two trebuchets built. One he named “God’s Own Catapult”; the other, “Bad Neighbour.”

When gunpowder weapons were first used in combat, they often had more of a psychological than a physical impact. The First Italian War (1494–1498), for example, pitted Charles VIII of France against the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, and an alliance of Italian powers under the leadership of Pope Alexander VI. Charles VIII assembled a large army of 25,000 men and invaded Italy with 8,000 Swiss mercenaries. Both sides claimed victory after a bloody fight at Fornovo, 18 miles southwest of Parma. In that battle, which was largely a stalemate, Charles VIII deployed 3,000 Swiss mercenaries and 28 pieces of artillery. The physician Alessandro Beneditti, who was an eyewitness at Fornovo, tells us in his Diaria de Bello Carolino (Diary of the Caroline War) that at the battle of Fornovo in 1495

on every side the sky repeatedly flashed with fire and thundered with artillery and was filled with wails and cries. Iron, bronze and lead balls sped hissing aloft, and these threw the ranks of cavalry and infantry into turmoil even without slaughter.

Designed to hurl heavy stone balls, a bombard was a large-caliber muzzle-loading cannon or mortar. (A mortar is a short range weapon with a very high-arcing ballistic trajectory.) Perhaps the best surviving example of a bombard is the huge mortar named “Mons Meg.” Built around 1449 and now on public display at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, it could fire balls weighing up to 396 pounds and was designed to bring down castle walls.

Petards, on the other hand, were small gunpowder-filled bombs which were placed against gates and walls to blow them open. In Hamlet, Shakespeare used a now-proverbial phrase: “hoist with his own petard.” This means that if a petard exploded prematurely, the man who placed it would be “hoist,” i.e., blown into the air and possibly killed, by the force of the explosion.

Armor in various shapes and forms was used extensively in medieval warfare. The most familiar (to modern viewers) style of armor is the all-encompassing plate armor associated with the knights of the Late Middle Ages. A knight thus equipped has been wonderfully described by an anonymous contemporary source as “a terrible worm in an iron cocoon.” Common soldiers were not fitted out in full armor because it was much too expensive. They usually had to make do with a metal helmet—known as a “kettle hat,” or chape (or chapel) de fer, literally an “iron hat. They also had padded clothing and, in some cases, a mail shirt.

Contrary to what we might think, a website on medieval weapons and armor assures us that

while it looks heavy, a full plate armour set could be as light as only 20 kg (45 pounds), if well made of tempered steel. This is less than the weight of modern combat gear of an infantry soldier…. The weight was so well spread out over the body that a fit man could run, or jump into his saddle. Modern re-enactment activity has proved that it is even possible to swim in armour, though it is difficult.

Armor was not light but did not slow down a very athletic man too much. A biographer of Jean le Maigre (d. 1421), marshal of France and governor of Geneva, depicts him as being able to jump onto his warhorse while fully armed, without using the stirrup, and as being able to do somersaults in full armor (except for the helmet). Wearing a mail shirt, Jean le Maigre could also climb up a tall ladder leaning against a wall without using his feet, i.e., relying only on his hands. He could then take off the mail shirt with one hand, while hanging on to the ladder with the other hand. He even is said to have worn a mail shirt when he was dancing.

Armor was so critically important to medieval and Renaissance soldiers—their lives literally depended on it—that they devoted a great deal of thought and experimentation to perfecting it. One result was an extensive technical vocabulary from the early 12th to early 16th centuries. The knights and the men-at-arms of the mercenary companies would have been very familiar with all this gear.

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, enemy forces wanting to besiege a well-situated, well-provisioned fortress or castle needed to have the right men and the right machines. Their siege devices could include scaling ladders, battering rams, and catapults. In addition, sappers (today we would call them combat engineers) were skilled at digging a tunnel under the wall of a fortress and propping up the tunnel temporarily with wooden beams. When the tunnel was judged to have reached the wall, it was packed with combustible material, the sappers withdrew, and the combustible material was set alight. In due course, the beams burned through and the tunnel collapsed, hopefully (from the attackers’ point of view) bringing a big section of the wall down with it. Infantrymen and archers could then pour through the opening and capture the fortress.

Because a siege was likely to stretch out over a considerable period of time and because it required highly specialized capabilities, the attackers were happy to enlist the help of skilled mercenaries whose time and abilities were for sale. To get some idea of just what siege warfare required, let us meet a remarkable woman: Christine de Pisan, or Pizan (ca. 1365-ca. 1430). She was a poet who has been acclaimed as the first professional woman writer in Europe and even as the founder of the feminist movement.

Born in Venice, raised in Paris, married at the age of 15, and widowed 10 years later at the age of 24, Christine spent all of her adult life in France, first living in Paris and then at the Dominican abbey at Poissy, which is now a suburb of Paris. She wrote poetry because she needed to earn a living for herself and her three children. In addition to her poetry, she also wrote a treatise in Middle French on the art of war: the Livre des faitz d’armes, ci de chevalerie (Book of Feats of Arms and Chivalry). This was based on Vegetius and, we can guess, on the details of siege warfare she gleaned from the French and English officers she met in Paris.

In 1408–1409, drawing from the descriptions given her by the officers who were her informants on current military practice, she compiled a list of the items she judged were necessary for a siege. In her time, it was normal to give names to large artillery pieces, whether cannons or stonethrowers. Christine tells us the names of a few of these weapons and the weight of the shot that they threw: “Garite,” 400–500 pounds; “Rose,” 300 pounds; “Montfort,” 300 pounds; and “Artique,” 100 pounds.

Much like ships and bells, great cannons had their own personalities and thus, in a figurative sense, they were somehow “alive” in the minds of their users. They could bear inscriptions in verse, such as this one, translated from the French:

I am Dragon the venomous serpent, who desires with furious blows to drive off our enemies. John the Black, master gunner, and Conrad, Coin and Cradinteur, all of them master founders, made me on schedule in 1476.

All told, in her discussions of siege warfare Christine refers to some 248 cannons and 30,000 pounds of gunpowder. To move this huge mountain of gear from one place to another required a large number of men, horses, and carts. Christine also tells us that a besieging general would need 330 crossbows with 2,000 crossbow bolts, and 300 longbows with 1.2 million arrows.

Many different kinds of horses were used during the Middle Ages, e.g., chargers (war horses), palfreys (riding horses), and carthorses or pack horses. The best-known war horse of the medieval era was the destrier, a word derived from the Vulgar Latin dextarius (“right-sided”). This may refer to the fact that it was led by a squire at the knight’s right side; that it was led with the right hand; or that, in its gait, the horse led with its right leg.

Contemporary sources describe the destrier as “tall and majestic and with great strength” and refer it as the “great horse.” However, medieval horses were not huge by modern standards, so it was probably smaller than these words might suggest. What is clear is that a good destrier was very expensive. Its price varied from between 20 and 300 livres parisis (Paris pounds), compared to only 5 to 12 livres parisis for a normal courser, i.e., a light, fast, strong horse. In 1277 Florence hired a number of Provençal (French) mercenaries with clauses in their contracts that each of them must have a horse, presumably a destrier, worth at least £30, i.e., the equivalent of 133 days’ wages. In fact, although the destrier was highly prized by knights and men-at-arms, it was not very common and may well have been best suited to the joust.

Cavalry could be extremely important in battles and in sieges for sallies or countering them. As a website on medieval warfare explains,

Once one side coaxed their opposing infantry into breaking formation, the cavalry would be deployed in an attempt to exploit the loss of cohesion in the opposing infantry and [would] begin slaying the infantrymen from horse-top…it is much easier to kill a man from the top of a horse than to stand on the ground and face a half-ton destrier carrying an armed knight.

A cavalry charge by knights must have been (for an observer standing in a very safe position) an exhilarating spectacle. For the knights and particularly for the foot soldiers who were facing such a charge, it must have been a terrifying and sometimes fatal experience. A key element in a successful charge, and one which required great practice, disciple, and favorable terrain to pull off, was for the charging knights to ride roughly abreast of each other and gradually to accelerate to their top speed until they crashed into the enemy’s battle lines. The modern scholar J.F. Verbruggen describes such a charge. He says:

Even if some of the knights did not carry on the charge to the utmost [it was very difficult for them to force their horses to charge into formations of foot soldiers who were armed with long pikes, the butts of which rested solidly on the ground and the sharp points of which faced the horses], a terrible shock followed. This came with a hellish din when the armoured formations charged a wall of foot-soldiers, exactly as when two knightly armies met each other.

[Verbruggen uses the following first-hand quotes from contemporary chroniclers to describe such a charge.]

• “Four hundred carpenters would not have made so much noise.”

• “They closed in with such force that the clash of weapons and the din of blows made the air ring, just as though trees in the forest were being cut down by innumerable axes.”

• “The fighters were like woodcutters, chopping down the trees of a forest.” “The din was so frightful that one could not have heard even God’s thunder.”

• “It was as though all the smiths in the world in Brussels and Bruges were striking their anvils.”

Often the knights would charge in several successive waves, at full gallop. If the couched lance of a knight hit the shield or the armor of an enemy knight, it might easily knock him off his horse. After their initial charge, the knights would drop their heavy lances and would continue to fight on with whatever secondary weapons they had, such as swords and maces. If a foot soldier was hit by a couched lance, he would be knocked backward with such force that several of his fellow soldiers might well be killed or wounded, too.

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