Sherman tank of the 3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) in the village of Milo near Catania, Sicily, August 1943.


The 3.7 inch howitzers gave what support they could, as did the Middlesex’ machine guns from the south of the river, but at extreme range they had little affect. The Shermans, despite efforts by the engineers to make the track suitable, were unable to move forward. By 1100 hours withdrawal was inevitable. This was far from easy because of the exposed positions, but seven hours later the battalion was back, some 200 yards across the river.

The other crossings to the east, at LION and JAGUAR, had some initial success but XXX Corps was not able to exploit forward from the bridgeheads. AT LION, the Highland Division had reached the outskirts of the Gerbini airfield, whereupon they had been counterattacked by tanks and driven back. This setback caused the British advance to be paused for a week to allow time for reorganisation and to give the troops time to gain a second wind.

Montgomery visited Wimberley at midday on 21 July. With the strength of the opposition facing the Highland Division and XIII Corps, he had come to the decision to stop attacking on these fronts, and was ordering 78th Division to Sicily from North Africa. Once they had arrived, the offensive would be resumed using the 78th and the Canadian Division. Meanwhile, the right flank of the Eighth Army would go on the defensive.

To the west, 1st Canadian Division had been moving on Leonforte and Assoro since 15 July. Its route had been through mountainous country, where the enemy had made good use of the small villages which sat astride the tortuous roads to make easily defensible redoubts. These were strengthened by use of demolitions, road blocks and mines, and had to be reduced by a series of small battles.

On 17 July 231 (Malta) Brigade was given the independent role of covering the gap between the 51st (Highland) and 1st Canadian Divisions, and moved northwards towards Raddusa. Its advance was held up by enemy demolitions, but the route was soon cleared and by 1900 hours that day contact was made with German forces on the line of the Gornalunga River, a mile or so south of Raddusa.

To the Canadians’ left, Seventh (US) Army advanced against less opposition, the Germans having abandoned any thought of defending the west of Sicily, and many of the Italians having no other thought but to surrender. On 17 July 1st (US) Division was abreast of the Canadians about eight miles to the west of Piazza Armerina, approaching Caltanissetta. 45th (US) Division was further west again, approaching the same town from the southwest. The race was still on between the Americans and the Canadians for Enna. The latter had the main road leading to the town from the southeast, but enemy resistance was stiffening, and was much more determined than the Canadians had experienced hitherto.

General Simonds directed 3 Brigade towards Enna and the 1st northeast towards Valguarnera. 3 Brigade were delayed at a narrow pass, the Portella Grottacalda, for some fourteen hours on 17 July until they attacked the enemy frontally with the Royal 22e Regiment, and from the flanks with the Carleton and Yorks, and the West Nova Scotia’s. At Valguarnera 1 Brigade entered the town, against resistance, after nightfall. The two encounters cost the Canadians 145 casualties.

The enemy – the 2nd Battalion of 1st Panzer Grenadier Regiment was thought to have been reinforced by the regiment’s 1st Battalion – held a position on a road junction southwest of Valguanera. Having had their advance held up by a blown bridge, 3 Canadian Infantry Brigade encountered the Germans here, and came under mortar and machine-gun fire. The infantry disembarked from their transport, the tanks took up hull-down positions to the west of the road, and the enemy were forced to retire, leaving three Italian guns and three small tanks out of action behind them.

At this stage Simonds decided to by-pass Enna. On 19 July he broadened his front by taking advantage of the road fork north of Valguarnera, sending 2 Infantry Brigade towards Leonforte and 1 Brigade to Assoro. The Canadians did, however, send a patrol from the Reconnaissance Squadron to try to enter Enna before the Americans, who were rapidly approaching it from the southwest. Halted about five miles from the town by a badly cratered road which prevented any further motorised progress, a group consisting of a sergeant, two corporals and a trooper proceeded to complete their mission on foot.

They had a walk of some four and a half miles to do uphill, but became ‘browned off’ after a short while, so commandeered a donkey to help them on their way. A patrol comprising a man mounted on a donkey, leading three others, proceeded with the mission of capturing Enna for the Canadians. In front of them they saw two truckloads of troops, but it was a little while before these were identified as being Americans rather than Germans. The GIs had just arrived, and gave the Canadians a lift into town, whereupon one of the Canadian corporals later claimed to be the first to dismount from the jeep in the town centre – thus claiming the honour of the capture for Canada. No doubt the Americans disputed this8.

Leonforte sat at the western end of the Etna Line before it turned northwards to the sea. Three battalions of the 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment of 15th Panzer Grenadier Division held the town and Assoro. The German defences were centred on demolitions and minefields, and small stay-behind parties armed with machine guns and mortars were deployed around destroyed culverts and cratered roads to further delay the Allied troops. The Canadian approach to the two towns had to cross the Dittaino valley, in full view of enemy observation posts, and artillery fire on them was continuous.

The route forward was hazardous. Although no enemy were encountered at close range, the Canadians were harassed by artillery, and C Squadron, 12th Canadian Tank Regiment (The Three Rivers Regiment) drove straight into a minefield, where nine tanks had their tracks blown off before the crews realised their predicament. They had to stay in their Shermans for nearly five hours while the Germans rained down mortar and artillery fire on them. The danger increased when the stubble on the ground around them caught fire, setting off petrol and ammunition dumps nearby. The Sappers distinguished themselves by starting to clear the mines while under fire, and it was yet another unpleasant experience in the campaign for those involved.

The lead battalion nominated for the attack on Assoro, the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, lost both its commanding officer and intelligence officer while carrying out a reconnaissance for a night assault on the village. The Canadians’ approach had been impossible to carry out unannounced, and the Germans were ready. The light was fading, but the Canadians could see that all along the horizon stretched an escarpment running from Leonforte through Assoro and on eastwards to Agira. Directly ahead the Assoro feature dominated, and it was clear that the Germans would have the only direct approach, a winding road, well covered. Major The Lord Tweedsmuir (the son of John Buchan, the author and former Governor-General of Canada) took command of the Hastings. He identified a route up a steep slope on the east of the feature to the 12th Century Norman castle which dominated the village, which might be practicable, and determined to attempt it. To divert the Germans’ attention from the Hastings’ approach, three carriers of the 48th Highlanders were sent down the road at dusk, with orders to swing about and return as soon as they came under fire, and artillery laid on harassing fire.

At 2130 hours Tweedsmuir led a hand-picked group of twenty men, followed by the rest of the battalion, up the terraces to the summit. Armed with no more than rifles and a few Bren Guns, they scaled the heights in bright moonlight, on their way awakening a sleeping boy on the back of a donkey, who closed his eyes and went straight back to sleep, not realising how tense the men around him were, and how close he might have been to being shot. The Hastings gained the summit a quarter of an hour before dawn, and the position was taken without a casualty. The enemy expected no-one but their own men to be there, and were completely surprised by the manoeuvre. The Germans mounted two counterattacks in attempts to dislodge them, but the Hastings held on until, on the morning of 22 July, the 48th Highlanders fought their way into the village through its western defences, which had been weakened in an attempt to dislodge the Canadians on the castle heights.

The fall of Assorto made it more difficult for the Germans to defend Leonforte. They had to hold the whole ridge, or withdraw from it altogether.

On 21 July the Seaforth of Canada had been halted in the steep approaches to Leonforte, but towards 2100 hours the Edmonton Regiment succeeded in gaining a foothold in the town. House-to-house fighting continued through the night, and early the next day the Canadians managed to repair a bridge over a ravine below the town, allowing four tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment, a troop of antitank guns and a company of the PPCLI to enter. After a morning of hard fighting the Germans were driven out. They retired to two hills, from where the PPCLI removed them at about 1730 hours. Leonforte cost the Canadians 175 casualties; Assorto nearly a hundred.

The Divisional Intelligence Summary of 23 July made the following statement:

For the first time, the Germans fought all three battalions of 1 Pz Gren Regt as one tactical formation. After the fall of ASSORO the coys (3 Bn?) fighting there were moved in to defend LEONFORTE. During 22 Jul all three bns were identified in and about the latter town. At first light 5 tks and about 75 inf penetrated back into LEONFORTE. This resolute defence is something new. Hitherto the German rearguard has pulled stakes cleanly and retired some 8 or 10 miles to a new posn. The fact that they are not voluntarily retiring from their latest strong point but are fighting for every yd of ground indicates that we are nearing something like a serious defence zone. Beyond doubt they would have held LEONFORTE had they not been driven out of it.


The point regarding nearing ‘a serious defence zone’ was not far off the mark. Ahead lay Agira.

While the Eighth Army was engaged in the events described above, Alexander was giving consideration to the future. On 19 July he signalled Montgomery, pointing out that the enemy defences stretching from the northern to the eastern coasts (in effect, the Hauptkampflinie) might prove to be too strong for the Eighth Army to pierce. He suggested placing one of the American divisions under Monty’s command, which would work in the northern sector. He still saw Seventh Army’s task as being to occupy western Sicily, very much a secondary role.

Montgomery’s reply enumerated the four thrusts that he had launched: Catania (which was now called off), Misterbianco, Paterno, and Leonforte-Adrano. He considered these to be very powerful, and if his troops could be in Misterbianco the following night (20 July), and Adrano the next day, he thought that he would be in a strong position to move around either side of Etna. The Americans, he suggested, might provide one division to push along the north coast towards Messina. This would stretch the enemy’s defences and might divert them.

After visiting Montgomery on 20 July, Alexander reported to Brooke that the Catania offensive was to be suspended because it would prove too costly. However, Agira had fallen, the Canadians had captured Enna and Leonforte, and the Americans were expected to be in Petralia that day. They would then provide one division to cut the northern coast road and to work to the north of the Eighth Army. His intention was for the Seventh Army to be based on Palermo, before operating to the north of the Eighth in the final thrust for Messina.

One has to question where Alexander got his information. Leonforte did not fall until the 22nd, and Agira on the 28th. Whether it was Montgomery’s over-optimistic view of things, or Alexander’s, is debatable – but the Eighth Army situation reports for 19 and 20 July gave the correct state of affairs, and it would appear that Monty’s rosy assessments were not checked before Alexander reported to the CIGS10.

During the evening of 21 July Montgomery again signalled Alexander, reporting that enemy resistance around Catania and in the foothills about Misterbianco and Paterno was ‘very great’. Although he ‘had won the battle for the plain of Catania… heat in the plain is very great and my troops are getting very tired’. He was therefore going to hold his right wing, while continuing operations against Adrano. XXX Corps would be strengthened by 78th Division, to assist in operations north towards Bronte.

Meanwhile the Americans should thrust along the northern coast road towards Messina, and the full weight of Allied airpower from North Africa should be brought to bear on the enemy in the northeast corner of Sicily. The four-thrust strategy which he had outlined only two days previously was no longer mentioned; the prospect of extending the battle on both sides of Etna with the assistance of an American division had gone. Instead, he was calling forward his reserve, 78th Division, from Africa, and XXX Corps would be committed to a ‘blitz attack’ on the line Adrano-Bronte-Randazzo, northwards up the western side of Etna. Possession of Adrano would put Etna between the two halves of the Axis forces, robbing them of their lateral communications on the southwest and south of the mountain. What Monty now wanted was more commitment from the Americans on the northern coast road.

Alexander accepted Montgomery’s fresh strategy. Patton had already been ordered to bring pressure against the enemy on Highways 113 and 120, the coast road and that some twenty miles inland, running west to east through Nicosia and Troina to Randezzo, On 23 July Patton was given directions to transfer his supply lines through Palermo, and to use the maximum strength he could maintain to thrust along these two roads, striking at the enemy’s northern flank while the Axis communications system in the north-eastern corner of Sicily was subjected to a bombing campaign.

He ordered the remainder of his reserve, 9th (US) Infantry Division, to the island (39th RCT had been brought over on 15 July, landing at Licata, and had been attached to 82nd Airborne Division to assist in clearing western Sicily). On 24 July, Alexander visited Montgomery, and the following day the two generals held a conference with Patton – the first time during the campaign that the land force commanders met together.

It is notable that the conference was held at the instigation of Montgomery rather than Alexander. Monty signalled an invitation to Patton and his chief of staff to attend the meeting, in Syracuse, to discuss the capture of Messina. Despite the campaign now being two weeks old, there was still no strategy agreed for its completion. Montgomery was coming to recognise that the enemy facing the Eighth Army was too strongly ensconced to push through, and that a greater degree of coordination was needed between Patton and himself to resolve the impasse. Alexander, on the other hand, was continuing with his ‘handsoff’ style of leadership, refusing to become involved in the detailed direction of the campaign. This may have been acceptable in North Africa when he let Montgomery run Eighth Army’s battles as he saw fit, but in Sicily there were two Allied armies operating, and thus far Alexander had rather ignored the American role in the campaign.

Patton’s – understandable – suspicions notwithstanding, the two army commanders quickly agreed that Seventh (US) Army was to have the exclusive use of Highways 113 and 120, and Montgomery even proposed that it should be Patton who was to have the privilege of taking Messina, and striking through Randazzo to Taormina, across the north of Etna. If necessary, the Americans were given full permission to cross the inter-army boundary in pursuit of this aim, which if successful would mean that two German divisions would be cut off from their line of retreat. With the legacy of Monty’s commandeering Highway 124 from the Americans only eleven days earlier, it was not surprising that Patton should be suspicious of Montgomery’s motives. But the Eighth Army commander was aware that his strategy of launching separate attacks by various divisions along the Catania front was proving unsuccessful and that the campaign needed greater inter-Allied cooperation.

Three days later Montgomery paid a return visit to Patton in Palermo, narrowly avoiding disaster when the airfield proved too short for the B-17 bomber in which the British delegation was travelling. An accident was prevented only by the skill of the pilot. At last, Allied strategy – at least on the ground – was coming together. But Alexander appeared to be taking little part in this, for he arrived late at the Syracuse meeting, to be told by Montgomery that everything had been settled by Patton and himself. In Palermo, the Montgomery-Patton agreement was confirmed, although Patton remained mistrustful. With memories of Anglo-American problems since TORCH, he had little faith in Monty’s good intentions, and saw Messina as the prize that must be competed for, as a way of establishing American military prestige.


Burgundian Army


The dukes of Burgundy were students of the art of war. They were the first to add gunpowder artillery units to a regular army, and the first to appoint salaried nobles as artillery officers (most nobles preferred to serve in the cavalry, the traditional arm of aristocracy). They were also the first to concentrate cannon in batteries, rather than disperse them evenly across a battle front. In a series of military reforms from 1468 to 1473, the Burgundian army was remade, partly on the French model but also making use of a unique four-man lance as its core unit. Subsequently, Burgundy fought with France (1474–1477), then with the Swiss (1474–1477), in the hope of becoming a full kingdom and one of the emerging Great Powers of Europe, stretching from Lorraine to Milan. Instead, the Swiss destroyed the Burgundian army and killed Charles the Rash.

Burgundian-Swiss War (1474–1477).

Burgundy’s conflict with the Swiss Confederation resulted principally from the effort by Charles the Rash to expand his domain and elevate his Duchy to the rank of kingdom and even one of the Great Powers of Europe. To connect his core holdings in the north with rich Italian lands to the south, he sought to carve a path of conquest and annexation through the Swiss Confederation. The inevitable clash came at Héricourt in 1474, where mature Swiss square tactics allowed the men of the Cantons to catch in a pincer maneuver a mercenary relief column, mostly comprised of armored cavalry, and destroy it. The next major encounter came at Grandson (1476), where the Swiss captured the Burgundian artillery train of over 400 very fine cannon and many more ammunition and support wagons. However, the Swiss pursuit floundered when it reached Charles’ hastily abandoned camp and a frantic and ill-disciplined scramble for booty began. The Cantons thereby missed a main chance to destroy the Burgundian army. The two forces met again at Morat (1476), where some 12,000 Burgundians and allied mercenaries in lance formation fell to Swiss ‘push of pike’ and the spears and pistols of allied cavalry from Lorraine. At Morat, a further 200 Burgundian cannon were lost to the Swiss, giving them one of the finest trains in Europe. This string of defeats unhinged what might have become a Burgundian empire. Along with mutinies and treachery by mercenary garrisons, Charles’ power and territorial holdings were alike eroded. The final act came at Nancy (1477), where Charles lost another battle through stilted tactics to a superior and more disciplined enemy, saw the Burgundian army built up over a century destroyed, and surrendered his life. The defeat ensured that Burgundy would not emerge as one of the Great Powers of the early modern age but would instead see its territory eaten by more powerful and militarily successful neighbors, especially Austria and France.

Battle of Grandson, (March 2, 1476).

After defeat of his relief army at Héricourt, Burgundy’s Duke Charles the Rash moved against Berne. The Bernese reinforced their garrison at Grandson but Charles overran it. He allowed his troops to massacre the garrison, which provoked the Swiss Confederation to rage. A confederate army moved to intercept the Burgundians near Concise, a village south of Neuchâtel a few kilometers from Grandson. The Swiss moved in their standard formation of three pike squares: the ‘‘Vorhut,’’ ‘‘Gewalthut,’’ and ‘‘Nachhut.’’ In the early hours of March 2, 1476, an advance column of Swiss foragers unexpectedly stumbled into the Burgundian camp set up in a shallow valley of small copses and vineyards. Charles hastily formed up his men while more Swiss arrived to take command of the sloped high ground above the camp. Some minor skirmishing by Swiss handgunners provoked Charles to order part of his infantry to attack up the valley side. Archers and gunners of both armies began to inflict casualties, but neither side gave ground. Then the Swiss Gewalthut arrived, raising the number of Swiss on the field to some 10,000. At mid-morning, the Swiss decided to move downslope toward the Burgundians. They formed a single massive square at whose center fluttered the great Banner of the Swiss Confederation along with cantonal standards and Fähnlein. Charles ordered his artillery to open a bombardment and sent his cavalry to attack directly. The Swiss set a Forlorn Hope of 300 crossbowmen and arquebusiers in front of the square to act as a light skirmisher screen. At their rear, atop the slope just descended, canon were manhandled into position and opened fire.

At first the Burgundian canon had the better of it, cutting gaping holes—as much as 10 or 12 files deep—in the Swiss ranks. Burgundian cavalry charged the Forlorn Hope, which scrambled for cover under the pikes in front of the square. Charles led a second charge of lancers from which he emerged sans horse and barely in possession of his life. Another company of cavalry tried to flank the Swiss, but could not navigate the steep slope. The result was sharp combat with lance, halberd, crossbow, pike, pistol, and arquebus. The fight lasted several hours, until the Swiss ran out of quarrels, shot, and powder. Charles’ artillery was still well-supplied and kept up a deadly bombardment while his cavalry rested and reformed. But then he repositioned the artillery and moved his infantry back, hoping to draw the Swiss off the sloping vineyards. This was a grave error, as at that moment two more Swiss squares arrived. Upon blowing of a Harsthörner (‘‘Great War Horn’’), all three squares advanced at once. This movement, along with the disorder of the retreat Charles’ men were attempting, spread panic in the Burgundian ranks. Particularly unruly were his German mercenaries. The flight of most of his foot left Charles exposed with only artillery and cavalry, and neither arm could hold the field against the Swiss ‘‘push of pike.’’ Charles considered the situation then wisely fled with his army, in part to save himself and partly in an effort to regroup his infantry. The Swiss fell upon the Burgundian camp and looted it, foregoing any advantage they might have had by pursuing a defeated enemy. On the other hand, they captured Charles’ superb artillery train of nearly 400 cannon along with many more supply carts. Given the duration of the fight, casualties were relatively low on both sides.

Battle of Morat, (June 9–22, 1476).

‘‘Murten.’’ Swiss lack of cavalry contributed to a failure to pursue and finish off the Burgundians at Grandson (March 2, 1476). That allowed Charles the Rash to withdraw and to reform an army of 22,000 ducal, Milanese, and mercenary troops (including English longbowmen and Landsknechte infantry). He also cobbled together a new artillery train to replace the 400 guns lost at Grandson. Within three months he was ready. On June 9, 1476, he besieged the garrison town of Morat. There he faced his old Grandson guns which the Bernese had emplaced atop the walls. Several rash Burgundian assaults were repelled by the guns, but Charles was able to get his largest siege pieces into position by June 17 and these blew great gaps in the city’s defenses. Into these breaches he sent infantry to take the city by storm. After a full day of hand-to-hand fighting the Swiss still held, guarding the smoking gaps. Meanwhile, a relief column of 25,000 tough troops from the Swiss Confederation and another 1,800 Lorrainer cavalry made for Morat. Learning this, Charles personally chose the ground for the coming battle and fortified it with a ‘‘Grünhag’’ (earthwork palisade) paralleling a forward-lying ditch. His rear rested securely at the foot of a wooded hill. For a week the Burgundians manned the Grünhag and waited as Charles grew ever more impatient with each false alarum. He sent out scouts to locate the Swiss encampment then rashly repositioned the bulk of his army in fields in front of the Grünhag, leaving just 3,000 men to hold the earthworks.

Seeing this, the Swiss seized the initiative. They sent a 5,000 man Vorhut (van) forward to pin the Burgundians down with harassing fire from crossbows and arquebuses. The Vorhut was supported by a 12,000-man Gewalthut (center) moving in echelon, which was highly unusual for the Swiss, on the left. Free to maneuver to either flank or to assault the rear of the Burgundian position was a third square,a 7,000-man Nachhut (reserve). The Vorhut, along with allied cavalry from Lorraine, attacked the Grünhag directly. The advance was slowed by sharp casualties inflicted by longbowmen and Charles’ artillery, which was in fixed position behind the Grünhag. The main square recovered and with ‘‘push of pike’’ swept over the earthworks, killing most of the defenders. This released the Vorhut to continue its advance toward the main Burgundian force. When the Vorhut collided with Charles’ men neither side was in tactically disciplined formation: the fighting was disorderly, hand-to-hand, and extremely bloody. Also charging into the Burgundians was the oversized Gewalthut, supported by hundreds of allied horse from Lorraine. In the interim, the smaller Nachhut completed a planned encirclement of the main Burgundian position aided by a distracting sortie by the Swiss garrison out of Morat. A mêlee ensued during which most of the Burgundian foot were slaughtered with the usual Swiss efficiency and ignorance of quarter. Many men-at-arms were driven into the water of nearby Lake Morat, where they drowned under deadweight of their own armor. Or they were cut down along the shoreline after discarding armor and weapons to better run from the pursuing Swiss foot and ruthless Lorrainer cavalry. Confederate casualties ranged between 400 to 500 men, whereas Burgundian dead reached close to 12,000. And Charles had again lost his artillery train, further weakening him even as its capture strengthened the Swiss. After Morat came the climactic battle of the Burgundian Wars, at Nancy (1477).

Pike and Shot: Campaigns


Soldiers of the Tsar [Czar] I


Battle of Kulikovo

The armies of north-eastern Russia from the Mongol conquest until the accession of Ivan the Terrible. Dvor were the paid troops of the prince and the more important boyars. This period saw the rise of Moscow to preeminence under the protection of Mongol overlordship. Muscovite rulers were said to be skilled in both ingratiating themselves with the Mongols and in discreetly leaving Mongol armies on the eve of battle. Open war in 1380 saw the defeat of the Mongols at the epic battle of Kulikovo. Russian armies of this period were predominantly of cavalry, and their tactics were similar to those of the Mongols. The usual formation consisted of an advance guard, a strong centre, the “bolshoi polk”, left arm, right arm and rearguard, the right arm having seniority over the other divisions. Infantry were first used for offensive campaigning by Ivan III in 1469 and provided almost exclusively by town militia in separate bodies of spearmen and bowmen and by Cossacks. Muscovite grand prince Ivan III began using the term TSAR to introduce an added level power and majesty to his rule. Cossacks (“adventurers”) were originally renegade Tartars and Russian peasants not on the tax rolls or who refused to work another’s land and were free associations who settled along distant borders in areas of uncertain control. Although we think of them today as light horse, they at this time provided many infantry and specialised in boat work, taking quickly to handguns when these became available.


The musketeers, or streltsy (literally “shooters”), were organized as part of Ivan IV’s effort to reform Russia’s military during the sixteenth century. In 1550 he recruited six companies of foot soldiers armed with firearms, organized into tactical units of five hundred, commanded and trained by officers from the nobility. These units were based from the beginning in towns, and eventually took on the character of garrison forces. Over time their numbers grew from three thousand in 1550 to fifty thousand in 1680.

Militarily, they were ineffectual, mainly because of their economic character. The musketeers were a hereditary class not subject to taxation, but to state service requirements, including battlefield service, escort, and guard duties. During the seventeenth century, the state provided them with grain and cash, but economic privileges, including permission to act as merchants, artisans, or farmers, became their principal support. One particular plum was permission to produce alcoholic beverages for their own consumption. They also bore civic duties (fire fighting and police) in the towns where they lived. Pursuing economic interests reduced their fighting edge.

Throughout the seventeenth century the musketeers proved to be fractious, regularly threatening, even killing, officers who mistreated them or represented modernizing elements within the military. By 1648 it was apparent that they were unreliable, especially when compared with the new-formation regiments appearing prior to the Thirteen Years War (1654–1667) under leadership of European mercenary officers. Rather than disband the musketeers entirely, the state made attempts to westernize them. Many units were placed under the command of foreigners and retrained. Administrative changes were made during and after the war, including placing certain units under the jurisdiction of the Tsar’s Privy Chancery, which appointed officers and collected operations reports. The Privy Chancery, and by extension, the Tsar, was at the center of the attempt to transform the musketeers into more thoroughly trained western-style infantry.


The Imperial Russian Army and Navy owed their origins to Peter I, although less so for the army than the navy. The army’s deeper roots clearly lay with Muscovite precedent, especially with Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich’s European-inspired new regiments of foreign formation. The Great Reformer breathed transforming energy and intensity into these and other precedents to fashion a standing regular army that by 1725 counted 112,000 troops in two guards, two grenadier, forty-two infantry, and thirty-three dragoon regiments, with sup- porting artillery and auxiliaries. To serve this establishment, he also fashioned administrative, financial, and logistical mechanisms, along with a rational rank structure and systematic officer and soldier recruitment. With an admixture of foreign- ers, the officer corps came primarily from the Russian nobility, while soldiers came from recruit levies against the peasant population.

Although Peter’s standing force owed much to European precedent, his military diverged from conventional patterns to incorporate irregular cavalry levies, especially Cossacks, and to evolve a military art that emphasized flexibility and practicality for combating both conventional northern European foes and less conventional steppe adversaries. After mixed success against the Tatars and Turks at Azov in 1695–1696, and after a severe reverse at Narva (1700) against the Swedes at the outset of the Great Northern War, Peter’s army notched important victories at Dorpat (1704), Lesnaya (1708), and Poltava (1709). After an abrupt loss in 1711 to the Turks on the Pruth River, Peter dogged his Swedish adversaries until they came to terms at Nystadt in 1721. Subsequently, Peter took to the Caspian basin, where during the early 1720s his Lower (or Southern) Corps campaigned as far south as Persia.

After Peter’s death, the army’s fortunes waned and waxed, with much of its development characterized by which aspect of the Petrine legacy seemed most politic and appropriate for time and circumstance. Under Empress Anna Ioannovna, the army came to reflect a strong European, especially Prussian, bias in organization and tactics, a bias that during the 1730s contributed to defeat and indecision against the Tatars and Turks. Under Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, the army reverted partially to Petrine precedent, but retained a sufficiently strong European character to give good account for itself in the Seven Years’ War. Although in 1761 the military-organizational pendulum under Peter III again swung briefly and decisively in favor of Prussian- inspired models, a palace coup in favor of his wife, who became Empress Catherine II, ushered in a lengthy period of renewed military development.

During Catherine’s reign, the army fought two major wars against Turkey and its steppe allies to emerge as the largest ground force in Europe. Three commanders were especially responsible for bringing Russian military power to bear against elusive southern adversaries. Two, Peter Alexandrovich Rumyantsev and Alexander Vasilievich Suvorov, were veterans of the Seven Years War, while the third, Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin, was a commander and administrator of great intellect, influence, and organizational talent. During Catherine’s First Turkish War (1768–1774), Rumyantsev successfully employed flexible tactics and simplified Russian military organization to win significant victories at Larga and Kagul (both 1770). Suvorov, meanwhile, defeated the Polish Confederation of Bar, then after 1774 campaigned in the Crimea and the Nogai steppe. At the same time, regular army formations played an important role in suppressing the Pugachev rebellion (1773–1775).

During Catherine’s Second Turkish War (1787–1792), Potemkin emerged as the impresario of final victory over the Porte for hegemony over the northern Black Sea littoral, while Suvorov emerged as perhaps the most talented Russian field commander of all time. Potemkin inherently understood the value of irregular cavalry forces in the south, and he took measures to regularize Cossack service and bring them more fully under Russian military authority, or failing that, to abolish recalcitrant Cossack hosts. Following Rumyantsev’s precedent, he also lightened and multiplied the number of light infantry and light cavalry formations, while emphasizing utility and practicality in drill and items of equipment. In the field, Suvorov further refined Rumyantsev’s tactical innovations to emphasize “speed, assessment, attack.” Suvorov’s battlefield successes, together with the conquest of Ochakov (1788) and Izmail (1790) and important sallies across the Danube, brought Russia favorable terms at Jassy (1792). Even as war raged in the south, the army in the north once again defeated Sweden (1788–1790), then in 1793–1794 overran a rebellious Poland, setting the stage for its third partition.


Military Parade of Emperor Paul in front of Mikhailovsky Castle painting by Alexandre Benois.

Under Paul I, the army chaffed under the imposition of direct monarchical authority, the more so because it brought another brief dalliance with Prussian military models. Suvorov was temporarily banished, but was later recalled to lead Russian forces in northern Italy as part of the Second Coalition against revolutionary France. In 1799, despite Austrian interference, Suvorov drove the French from the field, then brilliantly extricated his forces from Italy across the Alps. The eighteenth century closed with the army a strongly entrenched feature of Russian imperial might, a force to be reckoned with on both the plains of Europe and the steppes of Eurasia.


Soldiers of the Tsar [Czar] II



At the outset of the century, Alexander I inherited a sizeable and unaffordable army, many of whose commanders were seasoned veterans. After instituting a series of modest administrative reforms for efficiency and economy, including the creation of a true War Ministry, the Tsar in 1805 plunged into the wars of the Third Coalition. For all their experience and flexibility, the Russians with or without the benefit of allies against Napoleon suffered a series of reverses or stalemates, including Austerlitz(1805), Eylau (1807), and Friedland (1807). After the ensuing Tilsit Peace granted five years’ respite, Napoleon’s Grand Armée invaded Russia in 1812. Following a fighting Russian withdrawal into the interior, Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov in September gave indecisive battle at Borodino, followed by another withdrawal to the southeast that uncovered Moscow. When the French quit Moscow in October, Kutuzov pursued, reinforced by swarms of partisans and Cossacks, who, together with starvation and severe cold, harassed the Grand Armée to destruction. In 1813, the Russian army fought in Germany, and in 1814 participated in the coalition victory at Leipzig, followed by a fighting entry into France and the occupation of Paris.

The successful termination of the Napoleonic wars still left Alexander I with an outsized and unaffordable military establishment, but now with the addition of disaffected elements within the officer corps. While some gentry officers formed secret societies to espouse revolutionary causes, the Tsar experimented with the establishment of settled troops, or military colonies, to reduce maintenance costs. Although these colonies were in many ways only an extension of the previous century’s experience with military settlers on the frontier, their widespread application spawned much discontent. After Alexander I’s death, unrest and conspiracy led to an attempted military coup in December 1825. Tsar Nicholas I energetically suppressed the so-called Decembrist rebellion, then imposed parade- ground order. His standing army grew to number one million troops, but its outdated recruitment system and traditional support infrastructure eventually proved incapable of meeting the challenges of military modernization. Superficially, the army was a model of predictable routine and harsh discipline, but its inherent shortcomings, including outmoded weaponry, incapacity for rapid expansion, and lack of strategic mobility, led inexorably to Crimean defeat. The army was able to subdue Polish military insurrectionists (1830–1831) and Hungarian revolutionaries (1848), and successfully fight Persians and Turks (1826–1828, 1828–1829), but in the field it lagged behind its more modern European counterparts. Fighting from 1854 to 1856 against an allied coalition in the Crimea, the Russians suffered defeat at Alma, heavy losses at Balaklava and Inkerman, and the humiliation of surrender at Sevastopol. Only the experience of ex- tended warfare in the Caucasus (1801–1864) afforded unconventional antidote to the conventional “paradomania” of St. Petersburg that had so thoroughly inspired Crimean defeat. Thus, the mountains replaced the steppe as the southern pole in an updated version of the previous century’s north- south dialectic.


Alexander II’s era of the Great Reforms marked an important watershed for both services. In a series of reforms between 1861 and 1874, War Minister Dmitry Alexeyevich Milyutin created the foundations for a genuine cadre- and reserve-based ground force. He facilitated introduction of a universal service obligation, and he rearmed, reequipped, and redeployed the army to contend with the gradually emerging German and Austro-Hungarian threat along the Empire’s western frontier. In 1863–1864 the army once again suppressed a Polish rebellion, while in the 1860s and 1870s small mobile forces figured in extensive military conquests in Central Asia. War also flared with Turkey in 1877–1878, during which the army, despite a ragged beginning, inconsistent field leadership, and inadequacies in logistics and medical support, acquitted itself well, especially in a decisive campaign in the European theater south of the Balkan ridge. Similar circumstances governed in the Transcausus theater, where the army overcame initial setbacks to seize Kars and carry the campaign into Asia Minor.

Following the war of 1877–1878, planning and deployment priorities wedded the army more closely to the western military frontier and especially to peacetime deployments in Russian Poland. With considerable difficulty, Alexander III presided over a limited force modernization that witnessed the adoption of smokeless powder weaponry and changes in size and force structure that kept the army on nearly equal terms with its two more significant potential adversaries, Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary. At the same time, the end of the century brought extensive new military commitments to the Far East, both to protect expanding imperial interests and to participate in suppression of the Boxer Rebellion (1900).


Under Russia’s last Tsar, the army went from defeat to disaster and despair. Initially over-committed and split by a new dichotomy between the Far East and the European military frontier, the army fared poorly in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. Poor strategic vision and even worse battlefield execution in a Far Eastern littoral war brought defeat because Russia failed to bring its overwhelming re- sources to bear. While the navy early ceded the initiative and command of the sea to the Japanese, Russian ground force buildups across vast distances were slow. General Adjutant Alexei Nikolayevich Kuropatkin and his subordinates lacked the capacity either to fight expert delaying actions or to master the complexities of meeting engagements that evolved into main battles and operations. Tethered to an 8-thousand-kilometer-long line of communications, the army marched through a series of reverses from the banks of the Yalu (May 1904) to the environs of Mukden (February–March 1905). Although the garrison at Port Arthur retained the capacity to resist, premature surrender of the fortress in early 1905 merely added to Russian humiliation.

The years between 1905 and 1914 witnessed renewal and reconstruction, neither of which sufficed to prepare the Tsar’s army and navy for World War I. Far Eastern defeat fueled the fires of the Revolution of 1905, and both services witnessed mutinies within their ranks. Once the dissidents were weeded out, standing army troops were employed liberally until 1907 to suppress popular disorder. By 1910, stability and improved economic conditions permitted General Adjutant Vladimir Alexandrovich Sukhomlinov’s War Ministry to undertake limited reforms in the army’s recruitment, organization, deployment, armament, and supply structure. More could have been done, but the navy siphoned off precious funds for ambitious ship-building programs to restore the second arm’s power and prestige. The overall objective was to prepare Russia for war with the Triple Alliance. Obsession with the threat opposite the western military frontier gradually eliminated earlier dichotomies and subsumed all other strategic priorities.

The outbreak of hostilities in 1914 came too soon for various reform and reconstruction projects to bear full fruit. Again, the Russians suffered from strategic overreach and stretched their military and naval resources too thin. Moreover, military leaders failed to build sound linkages between design and application, between means and objectives, and between troops and their command in- stances. These and other shortcomings, including an inadequate logistics system and the regime’s inability fully to mobilize the home front to support the fighting front, proved disastrous. Thus, the Russians successfully mobilized 3.9 million troops for a short war of military annihilation, but early disasters in East Prussia at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes, along with a stalled offensive in Galicia, inexorably led to a protracted war of attrition and exhaustion. In 1915, when German offensive pressure caused the Russian Supreme Command to shorten its front in Russian Poland, withdrawal turned into a costly rout. One of the few positive notes came in 1916, when the Russian Southwest Front under General Alexei Alexeyevich Brusilov launched perhaps the most successful offensive of the entire war on all its fronts.

Ultimately, a combination of seemingly endless bloodletting, war-weariness, governmental inefficiency, and the regime’s political ineptness facilitated the spread of pacifist and revolutionary sentiment in both the army and navy. By the beginning of 1917, sufficient malaise had set in to render both services incapable either of consistent loyalty or of sustained and effective combat operations. In the end, neither the army nor the navy offered proof against the Tsar’s internal and external enemies.

Anglo-Saxon England and Welsh Armed Forces Against the Vikings




The core of an army in Anglo-Saxon England was the king’s military household, whose members served their lord in return for reward, by the seventh century increasingly given as landholdings. Nobles and royal officers had their own households, which could be summoned to the army. Young warriors served a form of apprenticeship in these households before they married and settled on their lands. In another parallel development with Francia, changes occurred in the methods of raising armies in England in the eighth and ninth centuries. At the time when the Viking “Great Army” appeared in England there may have been a problem with increasing amounts of land being donated to the Church, both by kings and by aristocratic families. In the late seventh century Bede had claimed that this was diminishing the amount of land providing warriors in Northumbria. It may be that ecclesiastical land was held by the family in perpetuity, rather than being dependent on good service to the king. Alternatively, many earlier landholdings were also held in perpetuity, but the granting of them by charter, which made them “bookland,” enabled a lord to bequeath it to a person or persons of his choice rather than being compelled to divide it amongst his inheritors.

Charters of late eighth-century Mercia and Kent make it clear that there were three common obligations to the king: fortress work, bridge work, and military service. Church lands were obliged to provide labor services such as repair of fortifications and bridges, even if they were exempt from military service. Whether any were totally exempt is unclear. Kings like Offa of Mercia began to specify in their charters that Church lands were not exempt from military service, in order to maintain their military manpower. Offa used the obligations to create a network of forts and probably the Dyke on the frontier with Wales as well. By the ninth century these charter practices had spread to Wessex. It seems that it was around the end of the eighth and the beginning of the ninth centuries that kings began to specify the amount of military service required from a given amount of land: for instance, a Mercian charter of 801 says the owner of a thirty-hide estate should provide five men to the army, in other words one man per six hides, or more likely the owner and five men, one man per five hides. The five-hide unit is referred to in early eleventh-century tracts on social status as a designation of thegnhood. It also appears frequently in the listed military service requirements in the Domesday Book of 1086, but the variations it records in military obligation between shires tell us that this was not a universal standard throughout England. Notably, the five-hide shires largely correspond with those of Wessex and western Mercia. Given these variations, it seems unlikely that the obligations of Edward the Elder’s time were identical to those of Edward the Confessor’s, even if there was considerable continuity.

Many of the Wessex charters purporting to be ninth-century are forgeries. However, the reference made in many of these to two decimations of land by King Æthelwulf in 845 and 855 may have a basis in truth, as the ASC and Asser’s Life of Alfred also refer to the 855 decimation. The object was to provide a tenth of his lands to the Church, but probably also to give lands to thegns, who were the mainstay of his army. He, Alfred and Edward the Elder almost certainly built upon the one man per five hide requirement when they reorganized the military defenses and forces of Wessex and Mercia. Both Asser and Hincmar of Reims say that Church lands were exempt from military service in Æthelwulf’s kingdom. It is likely that the increasing Viking threat brought about some of these changes in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. When they overran most of Northumbria, East Anglia, and a large part of Mercia, and almost defeated Wessex as well, the Vikings gave the impetus for even more far-reaching reforms by Alfred of Wessex. The basis was the construction of a series of burhs, so that no one lived more than a day’s journey from one. Each had an administrative district that was to provide its garrison and maintain its defenses. The Burghal Hidage, a document which dates from the reign of Alfred’s son Edward the Elder, indicates that each hide was responsible for defending and maintaining approximately 4 feet of wall. This appears to correspond well to the length of many of the known burh ramparts and their districts. In all likelihood the system, which Edward and his sister Æthelflæd extended into Mercia as they reconquered land from the Danes, was little changed from that instituted by Alfred after his victory at Edington (878).

Alfred also wished to have an army available at all times. According to the ASC: “The king had divided his army into two, so that there was always half at home and half out, except for those men who had to hold the burhs.” The entry is made under 894, but the reform, if it was more than a temporary arrangement, was presumably carried out before this and after Edington. It is more likely to mean a division of the army into three, rather than the two parts normally envisaged, in which case a man liable to service would spend a third of the year on his land, a third garrisoning the burh of his district and a third with the field army. As Guy Halsall points out, apart from making a reasonable demand on the thegn’s time, this would enable the assembly of the field army straight from the burhs, rather than from innumerable individual landholdings. This would save time and mean that the men of each district were already familiar with each other and had probably trained together in preparation for field service. The ASC entry of 917 mentions burhs as assembly points for armies. While garrisoning the burhs men could also carry out fortress and bridge work. Both the ASC and Asser mention on several occasions that these men rode horses. This is additional evidence that these men were a select levy (fyrd). The levy of one man per hide of the Burghal Hidage must have been something else, perhaps called up in situations of imminent danger. Alternatively, they functioned as a “support force” for the real warriors, sequestered on the basis of the burghal system. Each man was supposed to provide twenty shillings for two months’ maintenance in the event that he was called up: this was presumbly the payment raised from the five hides for the support of the warrior (the ‘man’), perhaps on the basis of one per hide. Æthelstan’s Grately law-code states that “each man” should have two mounted men per plow (sylh). The latter would have been a heavy burden, even if the sylh referred to is equivalent to the Kentish sulung of the Domesday Book, which was two hides, rather than a single hide or even less. Again it may refer to the support for the “man” (warrior), who needed to be mobile to keep up with the army. Æthelstan needed to respond to threats further afield and more often than any of his Anglo-Saxon predecessors.

Even the warriors who remained “at home” might be called upon to fight if their lands were threatened. The Vikings were a mobile enemy who could strike at various points along the coast with little warning. In late 893 three ealdormen, Æthelred of Mercia, Æthelhelm of Wiltshire and Æthelnoth of Somerset, raised the garrisons and the “king’s thegns who were at home near the burhs” to attack a Viking army encamped at Buttington by the River Severn. The problem is that the terminology used by those who wrote our records is rarely precise enough to tell us exactly who was being called up to fight—for instance, the other folc who joined the garrison of London to defend it in 895 need not be read as “common folk,” but as men required to do service as soldiers who were not “on duty” at the time, or as commoners who aided in various capacities other than combat. London appears not to have been included in the Burghal Hidage, perhaps because it was on the boundary between former kingdoms. Despite the problems and uncertainties, we can be sure that it was the wealthier men who were expected to serve as warriors. Thus the military system required the service of a large proportion of the male population of England, but the fighting was (preferably) done by a minority. As in the case cited in Germany above, when “support troops” did encounter the enemy they were not up to the task. For instance, ceorls working on a fortification proved totally incapable of defending it against the Vikings in 893.

Whatever the exact functioning of the system, what we do know of it does not suggest a mass peasant levy. There are no signs of exemption for harvesting periods and the like, which suggests that the levy was not primarily made up of those who labored on the farms. The need to cultivate the land cannot have been the primary reason for leaving some of the men subject to the levy at home for half the year, as this would still have seriously depleted the agricultural labor force when it was most needed. The idea was presumably that some thegns remained at home to keep order and ensure that normal farming activities could be maintained without internal disorder or external attack. At the same time the system ideally provided a fighting force that was sufficiently large as a field army, but not so large that it could not be provisioned for any length of time.

Alfred’s (or Edward the Elder’s) reforms represent an attempt to exact military service from a wide class of landowners. As in the case of the contemporary Franks, in the burhs and on campaign the troops are likely to have been commanded by officers of the royal household. The reform therefore represents a significant shift from a system in which the king was largely dependent on the highest nobility, who were summoned by him and then turned up with their households and any other men they chose to bring, which they then commanded. We know that there was some opposition to Alfred’s reforms: in the 870s there had been some who preferred to submit to the Danes, and there must have been many landowners who were displeased with the measures he took after Edington. It was presumably the scale of the threat to Wessex that enabled Alfred to carry out his reforms, which may have involved seizure of Church property as well.

Alfred’s reforms did not make the king less dependent on the nobility, but created a greater bond between many of them and his court. Those who served the household directly were provided for and in return would have owed service. Others may have been granted land in return for service. All this increased the status of the king. However, as Richard Abels made clear in his work on lordship and military obligation, many nobles were “sub-contracted” to raise fyrdmen in districts where they, and not the sheriff or other exactor of royal service, had jurisdiction. One such was the Bishop of Worcester, who held one hundred of three hundred hides at Oswaldslow in this way “by a constitution of ancient times” when the Domesday Bookwas compiled. Elsewhere abbots and other churchmen, as well as thegns, had similar rights, if generally over less lands and inhabitants.

There were thus two groups of fyrdmen: those who held their land of the king by book-right and had rights of jurisdiction by royal favor, and those who held land as a loan from another lord or under his seignory. The first category of fyrdman was heavily punished for not attending a summons by the king, usually with loss of his possessions. Although the word fyrdwiteappears in the Laws of Ine, it is not clear what this means, and no reference to it as a fine for failure to perform fyrd service (or as a commutation of it) imposed by the king occurs before Cnut’s time. Thereafter the term appears only rarely, suggesting that its use was infrequent. The second category of fyrdmen was not directly the king’s concern: all that concerned him was that the lord who was obliged to provide a certain number of men per hide fulfilled this provision one way or another. Abels emphasized that the situation in Worcestershire may not have been typical of England as a whole, but there are indications that it was similar to some other shires, if not necessarily the majority. There would have been important consequences of such a system—firstly, many of the king’s most important lieutenants would have had to command their own contingents in the battle line and could not have stayed close to the king, and secondly, a considerable number of those provided by lords with their own jurisdictions may have been mercenaries, paid for to make up the quota for their hides, but not necessarily levies of the hides. Such commands would also have perpetuated the existence of regional contingents that had a distinct identity and perhaps ancient privileges as to position in the battle line. John of Salisbury claimed that the men of Kent held the right to strike the first blow, and the men of London the right to protect the king.

The “men of London” may in fact have been the housecarls. This group of warriors has attracted a great deal of attention, without any certainty as to who they actually were and how they served the king. They have been seen as a form of military brotherhood like the Jomsvikings (in any case of doubtful historicity) or as an early standing army. Alternatively, it has been suggested that there was little difference between them and other thegns. There is no doubt that the term “housecarl” is of Scandinavian origin, and that Cnut’s conquest altered the nature of the king’s household. Even in Domesday Book sixteen of the eighteen thegns recorded as landowning housecarls had Scandinavian names, but this does not necessarily mean that that a new type of guard corps was imported wholesale to help Cnut maintain his rule over a conquered land. The question may simply be one of a change in terminology, as we know that previous English kings maintained royal thegns, for which “huskarl” may have been a translation. Domesday Book may similarly have used “housecarl” simply as a synonym for royal thegn. Like Cnut, his predecessors as king had sometimes had to use their followings to enforce their rule, and some of these were Scandinavians, at least at the courts of Edgar and Æthelred II. If not quite to the same extent as in heroic poetry such as The Battle of Maldon, chroniclers such as Asser probably gave a somewhat idealized view of the relations between Anglo-Saxon kings such as Alfred and their followings, representing them in terms of gift exchange rather than the hiring of soldiers. The import of men from “outside” had advantages, as they had no link to vested interests in the kingdom.

Housecarls, perhaps like the royal thegns before them, appear to have had a special relationship with the king and his immediate entourage. For instance, the “housecarls of her son the king” protected Queen Emma in 1035, and they were used to impose taxes by King Harthacnut in Worcestershire in 1041. As such they were provided with high-quality equipment, would have been well trained and must have lived within close proximity of the court. In this sense they were an elite and may have received a royal stipend, but their status need not have differed significantly from earlier royal household thegns who served as soldiers.

The Welsh

Despite the great outpouring of material that stresses supposedly pan-Celtic traits in warfare, religion and culture generally, it is debatable whether the remaining Celtic-speaking regions of the Viking Era—Ireland, the Pictish and Scottish kingdoms, Strathclyde, Wales, and Brittany—had much more in common with each other than they did with their Germanic neighbors, except their linguistic affinity. The evidence for military organization in all these regions in the early Middle Ages is sparse, but there is enough to show that there were many similarities with Frankish and English kingdoms.

The military household of the Welsh kings was the teulu, rendered familia in Latin, like the households of their English and later Norman neighbors. In early sources such as the Triadsand the Gododdin, we also find gosgordd: if not the same as the teulu, it may have been the household generally as opposed to the personal bodyguard. Here the term teulu will be used to mean “household.” As in the case of other early medieval households, the size of the teulu must have varied. Literary references sometimes give numbers in the hundreds, while the Brut says that Gruffudd ap Llywelyn lost 140 men of his teulu in 1047, clearly not all of them. However, even if this was not an exaggeration, it must be noted that he was a ruler of exceptional power (in Wales) at this time. Earlier sources give lower numbers—for instance, the ASC mentions that Brocmail of Powys fled the field at Chester with his fifty men. At Mynydd Carn in 1081 Trahaearn ap Caradog was killed alongside twenty-five of his teulu when many had already died in the battle, which indicates a similar strength.

Like the households of other Viking Age rulers, the teulu could include men of all ages and social rank, including leading nobles, with the probable exception of unfree bondmen. The members had horses, although their equipment may have varied according to wealth, and many had “squires,” such as the daryanogyon (shield-bearers) who attended uchelwyr, the aristocracy. These positions became offices, and were certainly of pre-Norman period origin. The teulu could also include foreigners, hostages from the households of other nobles or rivals, and, like the Frankish households, sons of nobles sent to receive training. Gruffudd ap Cynan seems to have employed an exceptional number of Irishmen, but it is not certain that these were thought of as teulu members: for instance, they are probably the “pirates” blamed for excessive ravaging in the Life of St. Gwynllyw.

The person responsible for mustering the teulu was the penteulu (head of the teulu), who was supposed to accompany the king at all times except when sent on a specific errand. Naturally, the office of penteulu had great prestige and the laws list many privileges, including a larger dwelling than others and a share of the proceeds from judicial proceedings paid to the king. Other members were appointed subordinate commanders of the llu, the military levy, should it be summoned. The teulu maintained the tradition of the comitatus, and Welsh poetry reflects the same traditions as Old English “heroic” poetry—it was supposed to stand by its lord to the last, as indeed Trahaearn’s seems to have done at Mynydd Carn. On the other hand the Triads describe the two war-bands which abandoned their leaders on the eve of battle as earning everlasting infamy. Since the teulu was also supposed to follow its lord even if he rebelled, this gave any lord the power to mount a rebellion, with consequent disruptive effects on Welsh society. A Welsh ruler had to secure the support of his nobles (uchelwyr)—as elsewhere in Europe, whatever the laws said about a king’s rights to summon his nobles and their followings, their support had to be earned. Many Welsh rulers ran into trouble while trying to impose their will on their subject lords. In 984 Einion ab Owain of Deheubarth was killed trying to do so.

As noted, the usual word for the general levy was llu, but a variety of other terms were used for “army,” such as byddin. Usually the levy was drawn only from certain districts, but Gruffudd ap Llywelyn may have been able to assemble a host from the whole of Wales at the height of his power, if this is what John of Worcester meant by “his whole realm.” Numbers are almost impossible to assess. Historia Gruffudd vab kenan gives figures that appear realistic, the highest being in the hundreds. Davies estimates his army as something under 1,000 in 1075, as he is said to have had 160 men of Gwynedd and numerous foreigners (perhaps 500), especially Irish and Danes, and suggests that the rival armies at Mynydd Carn were each over 1,000 men. Earlier, at the height of his power in 1055, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn had enough men to trouble the English and to force Edward to assemble the host of all England.

Although Wales was never unified, it did undergo a process of reduction of the number of kingdoms in the early medieval period, as happened everywhere in Europe. Several scholars have found evidence of a change in military organization around the beginning of the Viking Period: for instance, the abandonment of some political centers, including hill-forts. In poetry of this period there are hints that free men (eillion) were being called up for service. In the laws supposedly codifed by Hywel Dda (d. 950) freemen have to attend musters and pay duties. Not all the codes imposed this duty on free men, and while some spoke of a “levy of the land,” this must in practice have been selective, as in Anglo-Saxon England. Presumably the king called up those he needed. The Brutiau claim that Maredudd ap Bleddyn gathered “about four hundred kinsmen and comrades and a teulu of theirs” for a campaign in 1118. The same source makes one of the very rare references to a general levy (of Meirionnydd) in 1110, which may even have included bondmen. With the exception of one referred to in the Life of St. Cadog (a fifth-century saint), all general levies are recorded as meeting with defeat. Bondmen had certain duties to construct encampments for the king’s men and to provide pack-horses (and supplies?), but it is unclear whether they were expected to fight or not.

In Wales mercenaries (alltud—“aliens”) were certainly used in many armies. Apart from the Irish mentioned above, John of Worcester mentions Viking mercenaries employed by Gruffudd ap Llywelyn in his attack on England in 1055. The laws also mention the billeting of armed foreigners on the local populace.

There is little evidence that Church lands were exempt from military service in Wales. There are hints that the early medieval clas church functioned in a similar way to the Church in Ireland, its senior men maintaining retinues and providing military service. Given the amount of land owned by the Church and the limited resources available to any ruler, exempting it would have made the raising of forces almost impossible. Most claims to exemption are made in later saints’ lives and many of these are dubious.

The Armies of 1066 I



The predominating ethos of Dark Age societies was martial; the king functioned first and foremost as a war-leader and as the defender of his people, and the more effective he was in this capacity, the higher his standing with his own people and his enemies. It was King Alfred who, in his translation of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, first defined what he called the tools of his kingship by separating them into what would be the traditional three classes, the praying men, the fighting men and the working men; but there was never any doubt about which of them formed the aristocracy. In England, as in Normandy, the ability to fight was the most important qualification for life, and the reputation of a renowned warrior the most eagerly sought.

It may seem rather contradictory, therefore, to make the point that major pitched battles, like Hastings, were on the whole avoided whenever possible, and the most successful rulers of the day were generally those who were most efficient in avoiding them. It has been pointed out that the only major battlefield on which William had appeared before Hastings was that of Val-ès-Dunes, when he was only nineteen and where the commander-in-chief was his overlord, the King of France. Over the next twenty years until Hastings, he contrived with considerable adroitness to achieve his objectives by more indirect methods such as siege-work, in which in his early years at least he appears to have been masterly. The battle of Mortemer, in which the Normans defeated the French under the French king and the Count of Anjou, was captained on the Norman side by William’s cousin, Robert of Eu, and the battle of Varaville against the same opponents, where William managed to catch the French army divided in two on either side of a ford, indicates patience and clever tactics but can hardly be compared with a battle of the scale of Hastings. Harold, in his warfare against the Welsh king Gruffydd ap Llewellyn in 1062, showed something of the same tendency. He pursued an extremely effective campaign of harassment against him, but the hands that eventually killed Gruffydd were Welsh, not English. On the whole he appears to have preferred negotiation to battle and to have resorted to force only when diplomacy failed. Edward, on the other hand, despite his saintly reputation, seems to have favoured warfare rather than diplomacy on the occasions for which we have evidence (for example, the exiling of the Godwin family in 1051 and the Northumbrian rebellion in 1065): a not uncommon example of the civilian who knew little at first hand of war contrasted with the soldier who knew all too much about it.

The reason is not difficult to find. Far too much must be hazarded on the outcome of a single pitched battle, and, unless the odds on one side were overwhelming (in which case the lesser side would if it could find a way to avoid battle, such as retreating), the eventual outcome was far too uncertain for the hazard to be worthwhile. The principle was summed up succinctly by Vegetius in his De Re Militari, the military bible of the Middle Ages, probably written about AD 390: battle should be the last resort, everything else should be tried first. ‘The main and principal point in war,’ he went on, ‘is to secure plenty of provisions for oneself and to destroy the enemy by famine. Famine is more terrible than the sword.’lii The tactic of harrying and devastating the enemy’s territory (as Harold did in Wales and as William did when he landed in England) had the double advantage of damaging the enemy’s prestige and economy, and maintaining the invading army at no cost to the invader. As has been pointed out, one man’s foraging is another man’s ravaging. It was also a procedure much more popular with the individual soldier. In ravaging (or foraging), he not only looked after his own commissariat, he also had the chance of plunder. In battle, he was much more likely to be killed. It has been suggested that the harrying of Harold’s lands in Wessex was the most effective stratagem used by William to provoke Harold into confronting him at the earliest possible opportunity. And it was, of course, what the Viking raiders did in the ninth and tenth centuries. Apart from the five pitched battles of Edmund Ironside against Cnut and, of course, the battle of Maldon, there had been few major battles against the Vikings since Alfred’s conclusive victory at Edington. It follows that over the century before Hastings, the English defence capability had been geared more to combat guerrilla Viking invasions than to battles on the Stamford Bridge or Hastings scale, the one notable exception being Athelstan’s great victory in 937 at the battle of Brunanburh over the combined forces of the kings of Scotland and Ireland.

The myth of an Anglo-Saxon army primarily made up of peasants fighting with sticks and stones was exploded many years ago but dies very hard. Such an army could not have held back the Normans for half an hour, let alone a full day. Another myth, strenuously promoted in some circles in recent years, is that the victory of the Normans was that of a highly disciplined feudal force, composed in large part of well-trained cavalry, over some kind of home guard fighting on foot, enthusiastic but poorly equipped and largely untrained, called together in haste from the shires to meet the threat of invasion but hampered by obsolete organization in the face of the sophisticated opposition. In part, this is due to the retrospective effect of the outcome: the English army was defeated by the Norman army, therefore it must, ipso facto, have been inferior. This argument does not take account of the circumstances in which the battle was fought.

A good deal of research has been done on the composition of the two armies that met at Hastings, but in essentials there are several unknowable facts, the most important of which is our ignorance of the size of the two forces. Many efforts have been made to compute these, on the one side from the numbers of men and horses whose heads are shown above the gunwales in the Norman ships in the Bayeux Tapestry (and the belief that one can extrapolate from this a calculation based on the number of ships believed to have sailed), on the other on the assumed length of the English position and the probable depth of Harold’s deployment along it. Neither hypothesis can provide a reliable result. The depictions on the Tapestry are symbolic, not naturalistic, and we have no detailed knowledge of the types or sizes of the ships William built; and the topography of Harold’s original position has been changed so much by time and building work that it cannot support any reliable calculation. There is also the unreliability of the contemporary evidence. On the English side, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, corroborated by some later chroniclers, states that Harold fought before many of his troops had come up – contradicted by a different assertion, that in fact he had too many men for the position he occupied. On the Norman side, there are wildly unrealistic estimates of the size of the English army, designed in part, probably, to enhance the duke’s prestige in having beaten so colossal a force. As for the Norman army, William announced before the battle that if he had only 10,000 men rather than the 60,000 he had brought he would still fight Harold, but this was undoubtedly a rhetorical figure and 60,000 is not credible. The possibility of armies of 20,000 or more on each side has been suggested, but is unlikely. The best guesses of the best authorities, based on calculations of the size of the battlefield, the number of men it could accommodate and the space between them that would be necessary for them to fight effectively, are that the two armies were fairly evenly matched, at between 6,000 and 8,000 men on each side, and this is borne out by the length of the battle since one would not expect a battle where one side was demonstrably superior to the other to last so long. But they are no more than guesses.

Ironically, of the two forces we know far more about the obsolete English than the professional Norman, and what can be deduced from the written evidence available does not support the idea of an out-of-date amateur force, crushed by a highly trained professional army organized along feudal lines. This is not surprising, given the length of time over which the English system had evolved and the various Viking invasions to which it had been forced to react. There must always, from the earliest days and on both sides of the Channel, have been some arrangements, of varying degrees of formality, linking the defence of a country to the holding of land in that country, so that all free landholders had a responsibility to the king, or to some intermediary lord, to give armed service when required. Vestiges of such a system over the previous centuries can be found in many parts of Europe. England, by coincidence, provides more evidence of its development than Normandy.

Long before the advent of the Vikings, the rulers of the individual kingdoms of the Heptarchy had had occasion to call on their subjects for fighting men. It was as a result of the ninth-century raids that Alfred made the most far-reaching changes yet to the organization of that requirement. It was he who initiated the systematized construction of fortified towns or burhs (or boroughs, as they became) throughout his kingdom, to be permanently maintained in a state of readiness and defence; in theory no one was more than twenty miles away from a place of refuge in the event of Viking attack. The germ of this idea had been found earlier in Mercia, but it was Alfred who saw its relevance to the kind of hit and run raids to which so many parts of England had been subjected, though it was left to his son, Edward the Elder, to complete the scheme. Edward also produced the complicated Burghal Hidage document, which provided for the maintenance and defence of the burhs and has been described as a watershed in the history of Anglo-Saxon governance.liii The lack of castles in England has been seen as a sign of the general backwardness of the English in military matters, in comparison with the achievements of the castle-building Normans, and Orderic Vitalis ascribes the speed with which William was able to subdue the country after Hastings to the absence of English castles. But the virtue of castles lay chiefly in the part they could play in defending border territory (most of the few English castles that existed before 1066 were on the Welsh marches), or in holding down rebellious or conquered territory (the reason why William built so many of them) or in providing a focus for insurrection. In the centuries after the conquest, the many English castles held by rebellious nobles were to prove a mixed blessing to William’s successors. Alfred’s system of fortified burhs whose administration and upkeep were in the hands of their inhabitants, not of individual nobles, and into which country-dwellers could retreat for safety in time of danger represented a much nobler vision and proved an effective deterrent to Viking raiders.

It was Alfred, too, who solved the problem of raiders who could attack and disperse before the English shire levies could be called out; he arranged a rota, as described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, so that half the fighting force would always be on military duty while the other half remained at home for purposes of immediate local defence and maintaining the general affairs of the country. This produced what was, in effect, the first English standing army, and it worked. But in order for it to work, he had to tighten up the legislation that laid the duty on the land to produce the fighting men he needed. It is also Alfred who is credited with laying the foundations of the English navy when in 897 he commissioned the building of a fleet of longships to his own design, though in action these proved less successful than his other innovations, being too deep in the draught for the river work in which the shallower Viking ships excelled. None the less, his was the first recorded attempt to construct an official naval force for the defence of the nation, and his successors were to build on his achievements.

Naturally, there had been many changes in the detailed organization of the national defence between Alfred’s death in 899 and the mid-eleventh century. During the more peaceful years of the tenth century, the upkeep and manning of the burhs was not maintained with the same rigour as had originally been intended, and it was no longer necessary to keep a standing army in the field. As time went on, though the service due from landowners was strictly maintained, there was a move to allowing it to be commuted for a cash payment with which paid troops could be hired. The Danegeld or heregeld, in the reign of Æthelred, was not used exclusively for paying the Danes to go away; it often paid one lot of Danish troops to fight off another, as Æthelred paid the famous Viking Thorkell the Tall for many years. After Cnut’s introduction of the housecarls in 1018, and their development into the front-line troops of the English army, cash was needed to pay them. But the theoretical obligation of all free men to give military service remained, and could be and was called on. There were clearly enormous variations in detail in different parts of the country, but in general there seem to have been two different types of service: first, the system by which the king could call on a force of warriors for a particular purpose, based on the provision of a man for a certain unit of land; second, the responsibility of all free men to defend the country in an emergency such as an invasion. In the first case, the man was provided, armed, paid and provisioned by the lord, the abbey, the village, the hundred from which he was due, and was expected to serve anywhere needed, at home or abroad, for a certain period, usually sixty days. These would be the men who were normally referred to as the shire levies or the select fyrd. In the second, when all free men were expected to turn out for a national emergency, they were not normally expected to go beyond their own locality and had to be able to return to their own homes at night (there were exceptions on the Scottish and Welsh marches); this has been described as the general fyrd. When Byrhtnoth called together his force to meet the Danes at Maldon, he would have called out the shire levies and his own retainers, but he would almost certainly have regarded this as the sort of emergency in which all the local free men should come to the national defence. This might account for the presence of Dunhere, the ‘unorne ceorl’, the simple peasant, though he might just as easily have been there as part of the shire levies.

The provision of men for the shire levies was the most important part of the defensive system and was related to the tenure of land. The general basis (allowing for regional differences, for example in the Danelaw where the land was assessed in carucates, not hides) is set out fairly clearly in the account of Wallingford in the Domesday Book, and it was probably in accordance with this system that the summons would have been sent out in 1066:

If the king sent out an army anywhere only 1 thegn went out from 5 hides, and for his sustenance or pay 4s. for 2 months was given him from each hide. This money, however, was not sent to the king but given to the thegns. If anyone summoned on military service did not go he forfeited all his land to the king.liv

If the landowner went himself, he presumably paid himself from the profits of his land; if a man who was not a landholder (or held a unit of less than five hides) went, he would collect his pay or the balance of it from those who did own the land that he was representing. But there are indications throughout the Domesday Book that it was usually the same man who answered the call on any individual territory unless he was unavoidably prevented (perhaps by increasing age or by sickness), and that he went well armed and equipped, suggesting that he was a reasonably experienced fighter. The evidence of the Domesday Book indicates that in 1066 the summons was to the general fyrd, since it gives instances where more than one man had gone to the army for less than five hides; and in this case they cannot all have been able to return to their homes at night.

There is also evidence that in general, representatives from the same shire tended to fight together, and thus would have become accustomed to operating as a trained unit. Throughout the Chronicle there are reports that the men of this shire turned out on this occasion or the men of that shire repelled a landing on another or that an ealdorman opposed an enemy with the levies of such and such shires. Legend has it, for example, that the men of Kent traditionally had the honour of forming the vanguard in any campaign in which they fought and striking the first blow in any battle; the men of London traditionally fought around the king. It is tempting to see in these early arrangements the origins of the county regiments that mostly survived until the late twentieth century and were such a distinguished part of English military history. It was, on the whole, a remarkably efficient and sophisticated system. It could be abused, though there is little evidence that it was in pre-conquest days; the worst example is that of William Rufus who in 1094 summoned an army of 20,000 men and marched them to the coast where he demanded that each man gave him 10s. they were carrying out of the 20s. that they were due (they would have received the balance when they returned home), and then sent them home again, thus raising the enormous sum of £10,000. This is recorded by several chroniclers. The story does nothing for William Rufus’s reputation but it does indicate that if that number of men had set out each with the same sum of money, there must have been a fairly uniform system in operation and that it had outlasted the conquest. There is no reason to see why it should have produced a less efficient or well-trained force than any other. It has been well described by C. Warren Hollister:

The personnel of the select fyrd was heterogeneous because the obligation was based upon units of land rather than social rank. Throughout much of England, each five-hide unit was obliged to produce a warrior-representative. The miles who was produced was normally a thegn, but if no thegns were available he might be a man of lower status. He might be a member of one of the intermediate groups – a cniht, a radmannus, a sokeman. And he might, if necessary, be a well-armed and well-supported member of the ordinary peasantry. The important thing was that he represented an appreciable territorial unit which was obliged to give him generous financial support. As such, he belonged to an exclusive military group which can, in a sense, be considered a class in itself. And he may well have taken considerable pride in his connection with the select territorial army of Saxon

The Armies of 1066 II


There is no reason to suppose that the shire levies were any less well equipped than the Norman infantry they would have encountered at Hastings. There is plenty of evidence that those who served were expected to present themselves with body armour and appropriate weapons. Perhaps the best evidence of this is found in the heriot or tax that was payable on the death of a thegn to his lord; this was, in origin at least, less a tax than a restitution of the arms and equipment with which he had been provided by his lord during his life and which presumably would be passed on to his successor. The word ‘heriot’ itself derives from the term here-geat or war gear. The rules of this are set out in, for example, Cnut’s second code of laws, and are well illustrated in the will of a fairly modest thegn named Ketel (one of the people who made their wills before undertaking a pilgrimage to Rome) in the years shortly before the conquest:

And I grant to Archbishop Stigand, my lord. . .as my heriot a helmet and a coat of mail, and a horse with harness, with a sword and a spear.lvi

This is clearly the average equipment that the shire levies would be expected to turn up with; a nobleman would have been expected to produce more: at least four horses, more armour and a cash payment as well. We cannot now confirm whether or not Stigand had provided Ketel’s equipment in the first place but it is perfectly possible that he did, and it is certain that in most cases it was the lord’s responsibility to ensure that the fighters he was responsible for were properly turned out. It is noticeable that, although the Bayeux Tapestry shows what may be unarmed peasants hurling missiles at the battle, there is no indication that most of the regular English troops were less well equipped than their opponents. If it were not for the lavish English moustaches shown by the embroiderers, and for the battle-axes that Normans did not use, it would frequently be difficult to distinguish one side from the other.

All the evidence suggests that the military duty that the shire levies had to provide included service at sea as well as on land, and there are many indications that the men who were summoned to the king’s standard were able to fight afloat and that their commanders were as experienced at sea as on land. During the wars against Gruffydd ap Llewellyn in 1062, Harold sailed with the English fleet into Cardigan Bay to attack from the sea while his brother Tostig invaded from Northumbria with land forces, and this was a tactic that had also been used by Athelstan in his campaigns against the Scots. In fact the English did not fight on sea often, and in 1062 Harold may have sailed into Cardigan Bay but then disembarked his men to fight on land. The occasions on which King Alfred tackled the Danes on the water were not his most glorious successes. Nevertheless, Harold was more experienced than Duke William in naval matters, and William of Poitiers emphasizes the fear of the Normans at the prospect of encountering Harold by sea:

They said. . .he had numerous ships in his fleet and men skilled in nautical arts and hardened in many dangers and sea-battles; and both in wealth and numbers of soldiers his kingdom was greatly superior to their own land. Who could hope that within the prescribed space of one year a fleet could be built, or that oarsmen could be found to man it when it was built?lvii

There were complicated regulations governing the provision of ships, but it was clearly a duty that, in an island nation, was laid on all landowners, secular or religious, though many of the great bishoprics and abbeys, especially the inland ones, appear to have commuted their obligations for cash payments with which the king could have ships built on the coast. The last recorded instance of a major ship-building exercise before the conquest is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (E) in 1009, when Æthelred gave orders for ships to be built all over England, one ship to every 300 hides of land, resulting in a fleet ‘greater than any that had ever been seen before in England in any king’s day’. He was clearly expecting a new invasion since he ordered them to be built quickly, but, according to the Chronicle, he got little benefit from the expenditure. He and his successors had also relied on mercenary ships, although Edward the Confessor paid off most of these to save money in 1051 and 1052.

Despite the supposedly highly organized feudal nature of pre-conquest Normandy, we know much less about how its armed forces were assembled. It is clear that William had no navy; all Norman accounts emphasize that his first action after taking his decision to invade was to order ships to be built, and it is fairly clear that he also hired and commandeered some. The so-called ship list, which gives details of the numbers of vessels to be contributed by his various nobles, indicates that he must have started pretty well from scratch, and we have to assume that the fleet eventually assembled was varied, some large ships, some small, some transports for stores and equipment, others presumably designed for carrying horses. According to the ship list, about a thousand ships were to be contributed by his nobles, apart from any he may have hired or commandeered, though many of the latter may have been transports; the probable total certainly casts some doubt on the figure of 696 that Wace gives in his Roman de Rou, which he tells us he got from his father who was an eyewitness, though Wace is probably nearer the truth than William of Jumièges’s 3,000. It may seem strange that a people so recently descended from sea-pirates should apparently have so completely lost touch with the sea, but by the mid-eleventh century Normandy was to all intents and purposes a French province, happy to accommodate the Viking raiders who visited her harbours with booty gained in England and elsewhere but preoccupied with threats from further inland. In this respect, Harold, as William’s nervous followers pointed out, had a decided advantage in the possession of a fleet manned by an amphibious force that was certainly more experienced than the Normans were in naval warfare.

Much has been written about the army William raised and its training but in fact little is known of the actual contractual arrangements that produced it. It has been too often supposed that to say that the Norman army was feudal and relied heavily on highly trained cavalry (the existence of the latter being regarded as proof of the former) was sufficient to account for their victory and their imposition of the feudal system on England after the conquest. In essence the feudal system meant that a man paid dues, which could be in services or in grain or some other kind of produce or goods, in return for the land with which he was enfeoffed by his lord, and in this sense the Anglo-Saxon system, as we have seen, was as feudal as the Norman. There would have been in Normandy, as in France generally at the time, the custom of arrière-ban by which a ruler could summon his vassals and their own feudatories to battle, but it is uncertain precisely what this meant in pre-conquest Normandy and what it would have produced. There certainly seems to have been some doubt whether it would have obliged vassals to fight overseas. In eleventh-century Normandy, and doubtless in other French provinces, there was a contract between a ruler and his tenants- in-chief by which they would undertake to supply him with a certain number of fighting men when required to do so, but the evidence, pre-1066, for the types of service a tenant was supposed to provide for the ‘feudom’ he held is extremely sparse, and surviving charters give a very varied and (in military terms) unsatisfactory view of the kind of service likely to be required. There is a dangerous tendency to extrapolate from the more formalized and better recorded systems after the conquest (which, in England at least, were much influenced by pre-conquest English customs) to arrangements in Normandy before 1066, which appear to have been vague and indefinite. In practical terms, as far as the battle of Hastings is concerned, the difference between the so-called Norman feudal system and the English five- hide system seems to have been minimal, and it may be fair to say that the average English and Norman men-at-arms at Hastings would probably not have detected much difference in their conditions of service, except that the Englishman might have been better paid. The difference is that, whereas it is possible to make a theoretical calculation from the hidal system of the maximum number of men an English king could have raised in an emergency, no such calculation is possible in Normandy. The development of the feudal system in England after the conquest owed as much to the pre-conquest English system as to the Norman, William and his immediate successors having found a lot in the English tradition that they did not wish to dispense with – as is indicated by the money-raising machinations of William Rufus already referred to.

The biggest difference between the two armies was the heavy Norman use of cavalry. Much has been made of the absence of English cavalry at Hastings, and of this as further proof of an outdated and obsolescent form of warfare. There was certainly no tradition of cavalry charges in the Anglo-Saxon army, though it is clear from the Chronicle that horses were used to get to the battlefield and to pursue the enemy off it, as at Stamford Bridge. It should be noted that Snorre Sturlason’s account of Stamford Bridge in Heimskringla says quite clearly that the English fought on horseback there. Snorre’s account, however, is so late and in many respects so unreliable that no confidence can be built on his report. Harold could hardly have covered the ground between London and Stamford Bridge as fast as he did if he had not had mounted troops (we have seen that Ketel and his colleagues, if Ketel was typical, were equipped with horses), but to what extent he used horses in the battle that followed is another matter and of that we have no firm evidence. Certainly the account of the struggle to take the bridge over the river implies a fight on foot; if the English had been fighting on horseback, they would surely have been able to have ridden down the lone warrior defending it. Byrhtnoth and his followers rode to the battle of Maldon; but when they got there, Byrhtnoth dismounted and commanded his men to drive away the horses and fight on foot, and this seems to have been the routine procedure. J. H. Clapham, in his essay, ‘The Horsing of the Danes’,lviii which gives an interesting summary of what can be gleaned of the extent to which mounted troops were used throughout the Anglo-Saxon period, maintains that the fighting habits that remained so strong in the century before the conquest represent the racial tradition, unaltered to the end. It should be remembered that, for the past century, the enemies the English had usually had to meet in the battlefield were either Welsh (guerrilla foot fighters par excellence, often fighting in hilly country where cavalry would operate at a disadvantage) or Danish or Norwegian raiders who also had the tradition of fighting on foot and certainly did not normally bring warhorses with them, as the Normans did. They helped themselves when they got here when they needed to move fast, as J. H. Clapham points out. If the English had not developed the art of fighting on horseback by 1066, it was largely because they had never needed to.

It should be remembered that when Harold went on campaign with William’s troops in Normandy he would have fought on horseback, like his peers, and apparently acquitted himself with distinction. It was probably his first experience of cavalry in action, and it may have had considerable influence on his tactics at Hastings two years later. Even if, after his return to England, he had wanted to create a corps of cavalry to rival the Norman knights, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for him to do so in time for the invasion. The Norman knights rode stallions (the Bayeux Tapestry makes this unambiguously clear), specially bred over many years and specially trained for fighting; it is unlikely that many comparably suitable horses existed in England at that date, quite apart from the problems there would have been in training their riders in the time available. None the less, Harold’s first-hand knowledge of the cavalry tactics he knew he would have to face at Hastings may account in part at least for the defensive position he adopted there. Whatever contempt the Norman cavalry may initially have felt for the English infantry at Hastings, it did not last. In many of the most important battles that the Norman kings were to fight after 1066, they fought on foot – as Henry I did at Tinchebrai, as Stephen did at the battle of Lincoln (though with cavalry on the wings). The lesson of the English shield wall had been learned.

There were differences of approach between England and Normandy. All societies in Europe at this time were military to some extent (it was an aggressive and belligerent period) but not all were obsessed with fighting to the degree that the Normans were. It has been said that ‘If not all Norman knights in 1066 were men of substance, it is already true that all great men were knights’.lix The corollary is also true: all great men may have been knights, but all knights were certainly not great men nor men of substance. If ‘substance’ is to be defined here as ‘property’, most of those who enlisted in William’s army, particularly those who were not Norman, certainly weren’t. It was property they were signing up for. Many ‘knights’ were little more than mounted thugs. Precisely how to define the word ‘knight’ in 1066 is controversial – it was certainly not as formalized as it would be by the time of Malory or even Chaucer – but it did indicate a man who fought on horseback and had undergone a long and arduous training to do so. Whether he did so as a condition of the land he held or was a sword for hire was immaterial. Indeed, the very derivation of the word ‘knight’ is suggestive. There seems to have been no precise Norman-French equivalent for it other than the purely descriptive word ‘chevalier’, one who goes on horseback – who need not, of course, be a military man at all. In the Latin chronicles, which are what we have principally to rely on, a knight would frequently simply have been referred to as miles, a word with a wide range of possible applications (William of Poitiers uses miles and equites indifferently). The word ‘knight’, so redolent of chivalry and romance today, derives from the Old English cniht, a serving man or serving boy, possibly because that was how they were seen, post-conquest, by the English in their relationship to the lord who employed them.

Yet, for a people so obsessed by war, the overall picture regarding obligations for military service in Normandy before the conquest does seem to be obscure and messy, by comparison with England. The situation has been summarized by Marjorie Chibnall who, after describing the general arrangements as far as they can be deduced, points out that

there is no clear proof of any general system of military quotas imposed from above; or of an accepted norm for feudal services and obligations, legally enforceable on the initiative of either side in a superior ducal court – and this surely is a necessary corollary for any accepted general norm. It is at least arguable that the services owed were either relics of older, Carolingian obligations, or the outcome of individual life contracts between different lords and their vassals, and that their systematization was the result only of the intense military activity of the period of the conquest, and the very slow development of a common law in the century after it.lx

In other words, the feudal customs to which William’s victory has often been ascribed were the result, not the cause, of the conquest. This makes the calculation of what William might have been able to call on within his own duchy very difficult; that it was insufficient for the enterprise we know, since he advertised widely for mercenaries throughout Europe. It is hardly surprising if one compares the size of Normandy with the size of England: William, the vassal of the King of France, controlled an area only a little larger than the earldom of East Anglia held by Harold, the vassal of the King of England, before the death of his father and smaller than the earldom of Wessex he held after it, let alone the totality of the kingdom of England. In theory, since the size of territory had a direct effect on the number of men who could be expected from it, Harold should have been able to raise an army many times the size of anything William could bring against it from Normandy. In fact, the situation at Hastings was com- plicated by many other factors, as we shall see. One document does give a rough indication of the components of William’s army: this is the penitential code drawn up in 1070 by Bishop Ermenfrid, according to which the sins of those who fought in the Norman army were to be expiated. It distinguishes between those who William had armed, those who had armed themselves, those who owed him military service for the lands they held and those who fought for pay. There is no way now of establishing how many men fell into the various categories; the Bretons seem to have formed a large contingent, presumably fighting for pay, and it is notable that they continued to fight as mercenaries for William in his later career and for his sons.