Flemish mercenaries – twelfth-century England


The period when Flemish mercenaries are most often mentioned by twelfth-century English sources—the civil wars of King Stephen’s reign (1135–54)—there is no evidence of a treaty having been concluded between Stephen and Count Thierry. Yet we know that Stephen employed the services of Flemish mercenaries, and relied in particular on Thierry’s illegitimate cousin, William of Ypres, who was one of the king’s most prominent supporters from 1137 until his retirement from active duty in the late 1140s. Though later chroniclers took pains to paint the Flemish mercenaries as the standard bearers of strife and to specifically associate them with Stephen, the king’s rivals, the faction supporting Empress Matilda, employed them just as readily. Robert fitzHubert, the most infamous Flemish mercenary-turned- robber-baron, once served Earl Robert of Gloucester. Yet another employer of unruly Flemish retainers, Geoffrey of Mandeville, fought on both sides of the conflict. In this turbulent political climate, the ability to draw military strength from places outside the divided kingdom was a powerful advantage. Flanders, alongside Brittany, was the most important sources of mercenaries. The absence of any mention of a formal agreement with Count Thierry, however, leads one to suspect that mercenary recruitment occurred informally, through the channels provided by the Anglo-Flemish community or through personal connections with the Anglo-Norman aristocracy. Geoffrey, for instance, even sent his son William to be reared in Thierry’s court.

Whatever the reason for Thierry’s reticence, it ended with the triumph of Empress Matilda’s faction. Thierry met with King Stephen and Matilda’s son, the future King Henry II (1154–89) in Dover in February 1154, again with Stephen in Dover in October, and was present at Henry’s coronation ceremony in December. In 1156 he and his wife Sibyl met with Henry II in Rouen. The royal Pipe Rolls show annual payments of c. 400 pounds being made to the count between 1156 and 1160. It is very probably that these reflect the re-establishment of the Anglo-Flemish money fief. If Flemish mercenaries served in the king’s armies on his continental campaigns in Brittany and Toulouse in 1158 and 1159, then a diplomatic contract would have formed a useful channel through which to conduct the recruitment. The count of Flanders was an important political ally to the young king on the international scene, but Henry II must have also looked for his help in dealing with Flemings already in England. In the late 1150s he expelled or neutralised many of King Stephen’s Flemish supporters. Many of these Flemings had arrived to England as mercenaries but relatively recently, and so must have maintained connections to the continent in the form of property or family. Henry’s ability to call upon Thierry’s aid in handling their cases was thus a useful tool. An equally pressing concern must have been the wrestling of control over mercenary recruitment from the lower rungs of the aristocracy back into the hands of rulers. For Henry II, this consolidated royal power and diminished the threat of a potentially dangerous accumulation of independent military might among his vassals. For Thierry, this meant the re-establishment of a lucrative money fief and a greater degree of control over Flanders’ free-floating military resources. The amount of diplomatic traffic that is evident during these years suggests that both sides were eager to create firm relations, and mercenaries continued to play an important role in the military and political relations between the two realms.

Hussite Wars–Warfare




By the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, the era of heavy cavalry in the form of the armored knight was declining. In France the English longbow was reestablishing the dominance of the infantry; the Swiss pikemen were doing the same with a reborn but more effective phalanx. Neither of these developments, however, had reached eastern Europe by the time of the Hussite wars, so the German aristocrats still dominated the invading armies. On the other hand, they were hardly the only military arm deployed in combat; infantry, especially cross-bowmen, outnumbered the mounted knights.

The relative importance of the knights is the subject of much debate. Some scholars have argued that in spite of the increasing number of infantry from the lower classes, the aristocrats were still the dominant arm with their heavy cavalry. The charge of the heavy horse breaking through anything in its way was receding, but it could still play a decisive role in coordination with the other arms. The early Middle Ages (up to about 1300) actually saw few wars and few battles outside the Crusades, so the knights suffered few casualties in European warfare, which may have given impetus to the concept of their bravery and overall success.

The knights had reached the apogee of body armor by the time of the Hussite wars. Chain mail continued to be used by soldiers in the fourteenth century, but as longbows and crossbows were able to break the rings and penetrate, new, more capable defensive wear was needed. Ultimately, this led to the development of plate armor, initiated in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries and lasting well into the sixteenth century. Plate armor was developed first for the upper body and later for the limbs as well. The suits of armor for which knights are today best known were a trade-off between protection and weight. A standard suit of armor weighted fifty to sixty pounds. Thus, an unhorsed rider was at the mercy of swarming infantry, especially on muddy terrain. While astride his charger, however, armed with a strong straight sword and with a lance supported by a bracket fastened to the breastplate (an arrét de cuirasse), the heavy cavalryman of the fifteenth century remained a formidable warrior when intelligently used.

Siege warfare dominated the era, and infantry was a vital component. After the start of the fourteenth century, as battles became more frequent and casualties mounted, what had once been chivalric combat between Christian soldiers became class warfare. Perhaps the most convincing reason for the increased numbers of battles after 1300 is that infantry was beginning to dominate the battlefield. Although several battles during the Middle Ages had been fought using primarily infantry and in some instances these troops had been victorious, the myth of cavalry superiority prevailed. Perhaps the fact that the defeated aristocrats were saved for ransom while defeated peasants were without financial worth finally motivated the peasants to see killing knights as retribution for being ignored. Certainly the increasing sense of freedom and self-worth felt by Hus’s peasant followers could account for their disregard for the lifestyle, and the lives, of their “betters.”

Infantry training came from an almost guild-like organization in the cities and towns. As military historian Dennis Showalter suggests, “If each task had its specific skill, taught and supported by specific guilds and craft brotherhoods, was it not correspondingly reasonable to divide up the labor of military service, and to provide specialists in this craft as in all the others? From a few experienced captains and armorers held on retainer, the permanent armed forces of Europe’s cities and city-states tended to increase during the fourteenth century.” Infantry levies were expected to provide their own weapons and acquired some training either at fairs or under the direction of local commanders. As in all militia, training standards varied wildly and there was no training in cooperation with the cavalry. In Germanic states the basic unit of manpower was the gleve, numbering up to ten men with at least one horseman in the group. This varied, however: in Swabia a gleve denoted four horses; in Nuremberg, it meant two horses and a spearman; in Strasbourg, five horses; in Regensburg, one spearman, one archer and three horses. Further, there could be a variety of attendants, servants (who may or may not have fought), and archers. Each city had a set number of gleven they were to provide when called upon. Ten gleven were commanded by a hauptman (captain), a hundred commanded by an oberhauptman.

Infantry tended to carry what weapons were handy: townspeople used clubs or spears, peasants employed farm implements. The only infantry technology was the bow and crossbow. Although crossbows were easy to use and required little training, there were still some professionals (like the Genoese) who were specialists and widely used as mercenaries. By the early 1400s the crossbow had evolved into a sophisticated weapon made of steel. Although it could launch a bolt at a high velocity, the increased power required increased technical measures to cock the bow, which lowered the rate of fire. The crossbow’s penetrating power versus the knight’s armor led to a constant game of tag through the medieval period, and a crossbowman had minimal time to launch a bolt and reload with a cavalry charge approaching at high speed. Only large units of crossbowmen behind some sort of protective screen could hope to break a charge once it was under way. Generally, crossbowmen tried to prevent cavalry’s forming-up process with harassing fire, for they were lambs at the slaughter in an open field.

It was these types of soldiers and weapons the Hussites faced: heavy cavalry to break an enemy’s line followed by infantry to take advantage of the disorder. Thus, the best way to defend against such an assault was, as noted above, from behind some sort of protective screen. Žižka made defense the key to his battles, but kept his defense mobile by employing wagons that had been specially adapted to stop arrows or bolts and to provide a position for missile fire to cause disorder among the attackers. The concept of circling wagons to provide a quick defensive position had been used at least as early as the Roman experience in Gaul. A Gothic wagon fort was employed at the Battle of Adrianople in 378, and the practice was used regularly by the Byzantines. The Mongols likewise used the tactic, and brought the practice into Eurasia. It has been suggested that the Teutonic Knights at Tannenberg retreated into what came to be called a wagenburg, or wagon fort. The formation was also called a tabor, from the Czech word for camp. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor Dupuy call it “one of the simplest and most effective tactical systems in history.”

Žižka’s contribution was to use wagons as specially constructed war machines that could create a sophisticated defense; this became the main part of his tactics. He started with common baggage wagons and modified them for maximum defense. First, he had a quick release harness developed to get the horses away from the wagon and the harness poles made removable to get the wagons end to end as close to each other as possible. The wagons were then chained together and any gaps between them covered with a removable shield called a pavise. An extra wall of boards was suspended from the side facing the enemy, with the bottom board covering the wheels and access underneath. This board had loopholes for crossbow fire. On the opposite side an opening, often with a ramp, facilitated reinforcement and resupply. Each wagon was ten feet long and held a crew of sixteen made up of crossbowmen and hand gunners as well as soldiers with threshing flails and polearms such as halberds. Completing the wagenburg were small cannon placed between the wagons.

Even though the concept of a wagenburg was not new, Žižka perfected it by constantly training his drivers. On hand or flag signals they could very quickly deploy into circle, square, or triangle formation. Signal flags raised on the leading and trailing wagon of each file controlled the maneuvers. The wagon line moved ahead in four columns: two outer ones and two inner ones. The wheels of the tabor were large and usually iron rimmed. The front pair projected out slightly from the body, allowing one front wheel to be locked into place with the rear wheel of another tabor and chained together. The forming up and chaining together took one to two hours. Given more advance notice of the enemy approach, the Hussites would strengthen the position with ditches and throw the excavated dirt under the wagons for extra security against infiltration. The first time Žižka used the formation he had but seven wagons, but as his army grew he regularly deployed 180 wagons, which created a position some 2,500 yards in circumference.

While peasants provided the bulk of the manpower, Žižka did have some nobles in his army with cavalry expertise. They stayed within the wagenburg until the enemy charge had been broken; then the defenders would open a gap and the cavalry would engage in pursuit. The infantry were the backbone of the army, however. They were protected by whatever armor they could scavenge after the battles, so there were no standardized uniforms. Since most soldiers did their fighting behind wagon walls, helmets were the most necessary armor. The broad-brimmed iron “kettle hat” was the typical helmet of the Germanic lands and appeared in many slightly varied forms. Weapons included standard swords and maces, supplemented with peasant farm tools: knives, hatchets, pitchforks, and scythes. The threshing flail, with spikes added, became the Hussite trademark weapon. In yet another change from normal warfare, peasant women also aided in building defenses and even engaged in combat. After one battle in 1420, Hungarians captured 156 armed Hussite women dressed as men. In another battle in 1422, Hussite women fought openly alongside the men, often with the same intensity and ferocious zeal as the men, for they were involved in a holy war. The last reference to Hussite women in battle was in 1428.

Perhaps most important in the Hussite arsenal was the use of gunpowder weapons. While they certainly did not invent them or even improve on them, almost all use of such weapons to this time had been only in sieges. The handguns were basic in construction: an iron tube some sixteen inches long was fastened to the end of a short wooden pole, long enough to hold firmly under the arm but short enough for the gunner to reach the rear of the tube with a smoldering wick to light the touchhole. The weapon was somewhere between .50 and .70 caliber. It was virtually impossible to aim, so only had any effect when fired at a crowd. In German sources these are referred to as Pfeifenbüchsen or “pipe guns,” a reference to the musical instrument rather than to a tobacco pipe. In Czech the expression is pistala or pischtjala, meaning a fife. This may be the origin of the word pistol.

Some sources say slightly larger guns were mounted within the wagons, but the cramped conditions make this unlikely. The somewhat larger tarasnice (a small cannon) was mounted on a stand and placed behind the pavises between the wagons. Later, the even larger houfnice (from which comes the word howitzer) was mounted on wheels. Both handguns and tarasnice had been in general use since the 1380s, and it should be noted that Žižka didn’t make any innovations in gunpowder weaponry. It was his tactical exploitation of the devices from mobile bases that mark his contribution to warfare. As Charles Oman comments, “It was evident that these war-waggons, when once placed in order, would be impregnable to a cavalry charge: however vigorous the impetus of the mail-clad knight might be, it would not carry him through oaken planks and iron links.”

The Longbow in the Wars of the Roses

At the time of the expulsion of the English from their Continental possessions, no blame was laid at the door of the longbow, nor did there seem to be any permanent discrediting of its power. Nevertheless, as future events proved, in spite of the triple victories of Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt, to say nothing of many lesser successes, archery as a weapon of war was on the downgrade in the mid-fifteenth century. The bow still retained its supremacy as a missile weapon over the clumsy arbalest, with its complicated array of wheels and levers. In fact, the testimony of all Europe was given in favour of the longbow – Charles of Burgundy considered a corps of 3,000 English bowmen to be the flower of his infantry; thirty years before, Charles of France had made the archer the basis of his new militia in a vain attempt to naturalise the weapon of his enemies beyond the Channel. After a similar endeavour, James of Scotland had resigned himself to ill success and so turned the archery of his subjects to ridicule. Before that, however, he had ordered a law to be passed by the Scottish Parliament in 1424:

‘That all men might busk thame to be archares, fra they be 12 years of age; and that at ilk ten pounds worth of land, thair be made bow makres, and specialle near paroche kirks, quhairn upon hailie days men may cum, and at the leist schute thrusye ab out, and have usye of archarie; and whassa usis not archarie, the laird of the land sail rais of him a wedder, and giff the laird raisis not the same pane, the kings shiref or his ministers sail rais it to the King.’

In England Edward IV proclaimed that every Englishman and Irishman living in England must have of his own a bow of his own height ‘to be made of yew, wych, or hazel, ash or auborne or any other reasonable tree, according to their power’. The same law provided that buttes or mounds of earth for use as marks must be erected in every town and village, and listed a series of penalties for those who did not practise with the longbow.

Richard III was one of the kings who recognised the value of the archer; Shakespeare makes him say, just prior to the Battle of Bosworth: ‘Draw archers, draw your arrows to the head!’ There are also records telling that Richard sent a body of 1,000 archers to France to aid the Duke of Brittany. Henry VII also provided anti-crossbow legislation and sent large levies of English archers to fight for the Duke of Brittany. During this entire period English longbowmen served in many parts of the then-known world.

The introduction of gunpowder was the beginning of the end for the archer; although over 400 years were to pass before the bow and arrow were finally overcome by gun-fire, the seeds were sown in the fourteenth century at Crécy and Sluys. The making of a skilful archer was a matter of years, but an adequate gunner could be produced in a few months – it was far too easy to attain a certain amount of proficiency with the new weapons for the bow to remain highly popular. At first the longbow was vastly superior to the newly invented handguns and arquebuses, which did not attain any great degree of efficiency before the end of the fifteenth century. When they did, the bow – the weapon par excellence of England – fell into disuse, although the archer could discharge twelve or fifteen arrows while the musketeer was going through the lengthy operation of loading his piece. The longbow could be aimed more accurately and its effective range of 200 – 240 yards was greater; the hitting-power of a war-arrow, weighing about two ounces, was far greater than that of a musket-ball, weighing from one-third to half an ounce. Archers could be lined up as many as ten deep and shoot together over each other’s heads to put down an almost impassable barrage; and it was a terrifying barrage that could be seen descending. It is not outside the bounds of possibility to claim that the musket used at Waterloo in 1815 was inferior to the longbow used at Agin-court in 1415, both in range and accuracy.

Early firearms were reasonably good weapons of defence when they could be rested upon ramparts and their powder kept dry, otherwise they were far less deadly than the longbow in competent hands. In 1590 Sir John Smyth, a formidable military writer of the time, in his work The Discourse presented a wholesale condemnation of the new weapons, the mosquet, the caliver and the harquebus. The book was hastily suppressed by English military authorities; the stern, lone voice, crying for a return to the older and more effective ways of the longbow did not coincide with current military thinking. One also had to consider that the merit of early firearms lay in the prestige which they brought to the princes who armed their men with them.

In many of the battles of the Wars of the Roses, artillery was combined with archers, so that the enemy was put in a position where he had either to fall back or to charge in order to escape missile fire – just as similar tactics had won the field of Hastings for William in 1066. Edgecott Field was notable as a renewed attempt of spearmen to stand against a mixed force of archers and cavalry. Here the Yorkists were entirely destitute of light troops, their bowmen having been drawn off by their commander, Lord Stafford, in a fit of pique. This meant that Pembroke and his North Welsh troops were left unsupported. The natural result followed; in spite of the strong position of the King’s son, the rebels, by force of archery fire, quickly caused them to descend from the hill into the valley, where they were ridden down by the Northern horse as they retreated in disorder.

During the period of this war, armour had possibly reached its elaborate peak, as an old description of a knight arming for the Battle of Tewkesbury indicated: ‘… and arming was an elaborate process then, as the knight began with his feet, and clothed himself upwards. He put on first, his sabatynes or steel clogs; secondly, the greaves or shin-pieces; thirdly, the cuisses, or thigh-pieces; fourthly, the breech of mail; fifthly, the tuillettes; sixthly, the breastplate; seventhly, the vambraces or arm-covers; eighthly, the rerebraces, for covering the remaining part of the arm to the shoulder; ninthly, the gauntlets; tenthly, the dagger was hung; eleventhly, the short sword; twelfthly, the surcoat was put on; thirteenthly, the helmet; fourteenthly, the long sword was assumed; and, fifteenthly, the pennoncel, which he carried in his left hand.’

Notwithstanding the undoubted strength of this array, the archer still appeared to achieve sufficient penetration with his shafts to be considered a worthwhile part of the forces.

At Towton, on Palm Sunday, March 29th, 1461, Lord Falconbridge, commanding part of the army of Edward IV, used his archers in an interesting tactical expedient which sufficed to decide the day when both armies were employing the same weapon. The snow, which was falling very heavily, was being blown by a strong wind from behind the Yorkists and into the faces of the Lancastrians; it rendered the opposing lines only partially visible to each other. Falconbridge ordered his archers to the front, to act more or less as skirmishers. It must be explained that two types of arrows were then in use – the flight arrow and the sheaf arrow; the former was lightly feathered, with a small head; the latter was high-feathered and shortly shafted with a large head. Flight arrows were shot at a great distance and, at proper elevation, could kill at 240 yards. Sheaf arrows were for closer fighting, requiring but a slight elevation, and were often shot at point-blank range.

The advancing archers had been carefully instructed to let fly a shower of sheaf arrows, with a greater elevation than usual, and then to fall back some paces and stand. Aided by the gale, the Yorkist arrows fell among the Lancastrian archers, who, perceiving that they were sheaf arrows and being misled by the blinding snow as to their opponents’ exact distance from them, assumed that the enemy were within easy range. They commenced firing volley after volley into the snowstorm, all of which fell sixty yards short of the Yorkists until the snow bristled with the uselessly expended shafts like porcupine quills. When the Lancastrians had emptied their belts, the Yorkists moved forward and began firing in return, using not only their own shafts but also those so conveniently sticking out of the snow at their feet. Their shooting had great effect and men fell on all sides as the wind-assisted shafts came hissing into them; in a short time it was possible for the billmen and men-at-arms of Warwick and King Edward to advance comfortably forward without receiving any harassing fire from the Lancastrian archers. Needless to say, the Yorkist archers then laid aside their bows and went in with the more heavily armed infantry. It was a strategem that won the battle, and was one that could only be used when the adversaries were perfectly conversant with each other’s armaments and methods of war.

Even in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries the longbow still retained its supremacy over the arquebus and had yet some famous fields to win, notably that of Flodden in 1513, where, as will be seen from the next chapter, the old manoeuvres of Falkirk were repeated by both parties, the pikemen of the lowlands once again being shot to pieces by the archers of Cheshire and Lancashire. As late as the reign of Edward VI we find Kett’s Insurgents beating, by the rapidity of their archery fire, a corps of German hackbuteers whom the government had sent against them. Nor was the bow entirely extinct as a national weapon even in the days of Queen Elizabeth. It was in the reign of the Virgin Queen that the first really great archery writer appeared on the English scene. Roger Ascham, tutor to Elizabeth when she was a princess, was the author of the book Toxophilus, which remains the classic in the field. Allowing for certain minor differences, the phraseology and certain advances which have been made in equipment, Ascham’s book is as valuable to the archer today as it was when it was written four centuries ago. His ‘instructions’ can be, and are, used today in teaching novice archers. Ascham’s relation to the bow corresponds to that of Izaak Walton to the rod and reel.

Mughal Empire


Detail from the first Battle of Panipat, 1526, fought between Babur and Ibrahim Lodi. AKG Images/National Museum of India, New Delhi.

During its peak the Mughal Empire (1526-1857) flourished as a result of a strong centralized government, an increase in trade, and the rise of new markets in urban centers such as Delhi, Agra, Lahore, Dhaka, Surat, and Masulipatnam. Indo-Islamic architecture reached its apogee under the empire, with opulent palaces, tombs, forts, mosques, and gardens.

The Mughal Empire ruled the area of present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and much of northern India from 1526 until the official defeat of its last ruler, Bahadur Shah II (1775-1862), by the British in 1857, though its true decline dated from the death in 1707 of Aurangzeb (1618-1707), the last of the great Mughal emperors. The years of Mughal preeminence saw extraordinary developments in art, architecture, civil administration, and efforts at religious tolerance.

Establishment and Golden Era

Babur (1483-1530), the ruler of Fergana in present-day Uzbekistan, founded the Mughal Empire when he defeated Ibrahim Lodi, the ruler of the Delhi sultanate (1192-1526), in the first battle of Panipat in 1526. With Delhi under his control, Babur proceeded to vanquish the Rajputs of central and northern India, and the Afghans. Babur’s successor Humayun (1508- 1556) was not able to check Sher Shah (1486-1545), the powerful Afghan ruler of Bengal (present-day Bangladesh and northeastern India), and after defeat in the battle of Chausa in 1539, Humayun took asylum at the court of Persia. Humayun eventually returned to power but ruled for just a year before dying. He was succeeded by his son Akbar (1542-1605), one of the greatest kings of India, who ascended the throne in 1556. Akbar cemented relations with the Rajputs through matrimonial alliances while defeating recalcitrant rulers, and he overhauled the administration of the empire. His major contribution was his policy of religious eclecticism-an enlightened vision of religious tolerance.

Akbar bequeathed his son Jahangir (1569-1627) an empire stretching from Kabul in the northwest, Kashmir in the north, Bengal in the east, and beyond the Narmada River in the south. Jahangir’s reign was marked by political conspiracies; his queen, Nur Jahan (d. 1645), was the true power behind the throne from 1620, acting through her clique of male supporters. The Mughal Empire’s golden age was the reign of Jahangir’s son, Shah Jahan (1592-1666), under whom such monuments of world architecture as the Taj Mahal and the Great Mosque at Delhi were constructed.


Shah Jahan’s successor, his son Aurangzeb (1618- 1707), was an Islamic puritan and orthodox by temperament; his reign marked the beginning of the end of the Mughal Empire. His relentless campaign in the Deccan (in central India) and wars against Rajputs, Sikhs, Marathas, and Jats drained the royal treasury. Crises in the bureaucracy, weak successors, provincial governors’ assertion of independence, and the invasion of the Persian king Nader Shah (1688-1747) in 1739 all contributed to the erosion of the empire. The absence of central authority resulted in the rise of provincial kingdoms, in whose political affairs European traders began to take an active interest. The British East India Company began to strengthen its military position, and ultimately the whole of India came under the British rule.


A centralized administration beneath an all-powerful emperor provided stability to the Mughal Empire. Land revenue was the main source of income, and elaborate arrangements were made for collection and assessment. Many of the administrative features of Akbar’s administration, such as division of the empire into provinces, districts, and villages, were retained by the British when they took power.

Urban centers such as Delhi, Agra, Lahore, Dhaka, Surat, and Masulipatnam flourished under the Mughals as a result of trade and the rise of new markets. The Mughal aristocracy took active part in trade and shipbuilding activities, and the mercantile community accumulated wealth and prospered. India’s trade relationships with the outside world expanded; Indian textiles, indigo, and saltpeter were in great demand, while for its part the empire imported bullion and spices. Indian Muslims settled in Southeast Asia, which helped encourage trade with that region. Although Asian merchants initially controlled a major share of oceanic trade, gradually from the eighteenth century onwards European shipping dominated the scene.

Indo-Islamic architecture reached its apogee under the Mughals. The palaces, tombs, forts, mosques and gardens reflected the aesthetic sense, opulence, and settled condition of the great Mughals. The monuments constructed by Akbar were magnificent structures of red sandstone, with pillars along many sides and both carved and painted designs. Under Shah Jahan Mughal architecture made use of marble inlay, foliated arches, mosaic work of precious stones, and copious ornamentation. The Taj Mahal stands apart in architectural splendor and is one of the most beautiful tombs in the world. Landscape architecture, especially gardens, also flourished under the Mughals. Keeping in tune with the liberal religious outlook of Akbar, manuscripts of Hindu classical texts such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana were illustrated. Portrait paintings and scenes of hunting, battle, and court life reached their pinnacle under Jahangir. In the arena of music, the musician Tansen (1520-1589) is remembered; his ragas are still popular.

Although Persian was the court language, regional languages developed. Urdu was very popular. The lyrical stanzas of the famous Hindi poets Tulsidas (1543-1623) and Surdas (1483-1563) are recited in northern India even today. The historian Abul Fazal (1551-1602) created the magnum opus Akbarnama, an important source material for the reign of Akbar. The vibrant intellectual life of the great Mughals was reflected in the huge imperial library, where records of religious debates that took place at the time of Akbar were preserved. Conflict between liberalism and orthodoxy permeated the Sufi movements also. The concept of the unity of beings, as advocated by Akbar and some Sufi saints, was challenged by strict adherents to traditional Muslim law. Sufi saints such as Ahmad Sirhindi (1564-1624) and Abdul Kadir (1459-1533) endeavored to purge Sufism of liberal practices.

The Mughals had left an indelible mark on the history of the Indian subcontinent. The composite culture that had started under the Delhi sultanate took a firm shape, and a national culture for the whole of India continued with the Mughal fusion of old with new.

Further Reading Basham, A. L. (1992). The wonder that was India (Reprint ed.). Kolkata (Calcutta): Rupa. Chandra, S. (1998). Medieval India: From sultanate to the Mughals. part 11. Delhi: Har Anand. Islam, R. (1999). Sufi sm and its impact on Muslim society in South Asia. Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press. Kulke, H., & Rothermund, D. (1994). History of India. Kolkata (Calcutta): Rupa. Majumdar, R. C. (Ed.). (1984). The history and culture of the Indian people: Vol. 8. The Mughal Empire, 1526-1707 (2nd ed.). Mumbai (Bombay): Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Mishra, P. P. (2002). India-medieval period. In D. Levinson & K. Christensen (Eds.). Encyclopedia of modern Asia (Vol. 3, pp. 22-25). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Mujeeb, M. (1967). The Indian Muslims. London: George Allen & Unwin. Nehru, J. (1991). The discovery of India (3rd ed.). New Delhi, India: ICCR. Sarkar, J. (1972-1974). History of Aurangzib: Mainly based on Persian sources (Vols. 1-5). Bombay (Mumbai), India: Orient Longman. Spear, P. (1977), A History of India: Vol. 2 (Reprint ed.). Aylesbury, U. K.: Penguin.



Battle of Zierikzee

Rainier I of Grimaldi, victor of the naval battle at Zierikzee

The French victory over the Flemings at the Battle of Zierikzee in Zeeland (1304) may have assuaged the bitterness of defeat at the Battle of Courtrai (the Battle of the Golden Spurs) two years earlier but seems not to have been conclusive, despite the peace treaty signed at Athis-sur-Orge in 1305, since the efforts by Philip IV of France to extend control over Flanders continued until at least 1320. Perhaps because only two contemporary vernacular chronicles provide accounts of the battle, it has been little studied since a single article by Pierre J.-B. Legrand D’Aussy in the late eighteenth century – a study which until recently had dictated subsequent understanding of the naval tactics deployed in the encounter and of the course and outcome of the battle. The better known of the two vernacular authors is Guillaume Guiart, a former soldier who served in the French army at Mons-en-Pévèle (1304). He composed his memoirs toward the end of his life and thus at some distance from the events at Zierikzee, which he did not personally witness. Even less mined by historians than Guiart’s rhymed chronicle, at least beyond Netherlandic studies, is that by the Utrecht author Melis Stoke, writing about these same events from an even more proximate point in time.

In 1303 and 1304, the city was besieged several times by Flemish troops over a territorial dispute between the Count of Flanders and the Count of Holland going back to the 11th century. They couldn’t let bygones be bygones. The Flemish failed to take the town and were eventually defeated at the Battle of Zierikzee in August 1304. This two-day sea battle was a global clash. The winning side had 30 French and eight Spanish cogs and 11 Genoese galleys. (Cogs and galleys were Medieval merchant and warships). The Dutch contributed five ships from Schiedam. The losers had a fleet of 37 Flemish, English, Hanseatic, Spanish, and Swedish ships, as well as numerous smaller vessels from who knows where.

The major battle to consider in detail occurred in 1304 in the waterway leading to the town of Zierikzee in Zealand. The protagonists were Philip IV of France and Guy de Namur the Count of Flanders. The French had been attempting to extend their control over Flanders at least since 1297; the situation was complicated both by the involvement of the English, the major trading partners of the Flemish towns and the semi-independent status of the major cloth-producing towns of the region. In 1302, a major rebellion against French rule in the region had led to the defeat of the French land forces at the battle of Courtrai. The English had used this moment of weakness on the part of France to conclude a treaty with them. Thus when the French began a new campaign in Flanders in 1304 the English were at least temporarily allies of France while the Flemings had turned to Scotland for support. Guy de Namur had in the meantime attempted to take over the lands of John d’Avesnes, the Count of Holland and Hainault. These included Zealand while John himself was also allied with the French. Guy’s forces were laying siege to the town of Zierikzee, part of d’Avesnes’ territories, when the French fleet approached.

The events of the battle were recorded in a metrical history written c. 1306, by one Guillaume Guiart who seems to have had access to good information. 18 The attacking French fleet consisted of two diverse squadrons. One consisted of what the author calls `grands nefs’, one variation on the round sailing ship type of northern Europe; this was led by Pedrogue from Calais and consisted of eight Spanish ships and French vessels arrested along the Channel coast. The other was made up of 12 galleys hired from Genoa under the command of Renier Grimaldi who also had overall command. Five further ships commanded by Count William, the son of John d’Avesnes joined them at the mouth of the Scheldt. Here the wind and tide turned against them and it took at least eight days to bring all the ships up the waterway to the besieged town. The plan, according to Guiart, was to divide the ships into three groups of about 15 each while the galleys also stayed together. The ships were equipped not only with fore, aft and top castles for the mast but also with springals; a white banner was flown as a recognition signal. The first move was made by Pedrogue who moved forward with his own and three other ships to within crossbow range of the Flemings. The tide, however, was ebbing and all ran aground becoming easy targets both for the Flemings on shore and those on their ships who greatly outnumbered the French. According to Guiart, the response of the remainder of the French fleet to this emergency was to form into one squadron and anchor to avoid being swept on shore by the tide or the wind. He also states that the ships passed cables from one to the other as did the galleys which were behind the nefs, tying them into a block. Guy decided to send fireships towards his immobilised enemy but the wind shifted allowing them to drift back towards the town. In the ensuing confusion Guy’s shipmasters seem to have realised too late that the tide had turned and Pedrogue’s ships were on the move again. The battle now became a confused melée with the air thick with missiles of all kinds from the springals, crossbows and archers. Two of the largest Flemish ships were boarded and taken. By this time darkness had fallen but neither side broke off the battle. Grimaldi, whose galleys had taken no part in the fighting as yet, saw that the enemy was in confusion, and now attacked with great success taking at least three more Flemish ships. Guy steered his ship, now under full sail towards Grimaldi’s own galley, broke up its oars but failed to grapple it successfully. A second attempt also failed and by this time it was clear that the French had won the day. The account concludes with the lifting of the siege and the return of Pedrogue to Calais.

How much credence can be based on this account and what does it tell us about battle tactics at this date? The account is very nearly contemporary but there is no evidence that the writer had any direct experience of war at sea. An eighteenth-century commentator on the poem pointed out that the tactic of `bridling’ warships or tying them together can be found in Livy and thus may be here no more than the conventional following of a classical model. Other aspects of the account are more valuable. Although the battle took place near the shore the action of wind and tide was crucial to the outcome. The ability to handle a vessel under sail in difficult circumstances could decide the issue. Guy’s desperate attack on Grimaldi’s galley could have turned the fortunes of the battle if it had succeeded. Even if the closing stages were marked by boarding actions the exchange of fire, whether by bowmen or by those operating the big catapults, was of great importance. The overall consequences of the French victory are less clear-cut. The peace treaty signed in 1305 at Athis-sur-Orge was unfavourable to the Flemings but this in no sense resolved the conflict which continued intermittently until at least 1320.

Late Armor


This late 15th-century suit of Italian plate armor covers the entire body. During the late 15th century and the early 16th century the art of the armorer reached its peak.


Model by Peter Wroe of Richard Beauchamp’s armour, which is in the Milanese style of about 1450.

Body protection for soldiers in the 14th century saw a general trend away from the use of mail and towards the use of plate. In Scandinavia and eastern Europe lamellar armor composed of small plates laced or riveted together became widespread; it was worn under a leather jerkin. Elsewhere soldiers increasingly wore pieces of solid plate strapped onto their mail hauberks or attached to the inside of a leather jerkin to protect vulnerable joints and limbs. For mounted soldiers, whose legs were an easy target for foot soldiers, plate leg protection was evolved, comprising sabaton (foot), greave (shin), poleyn (knee), and cuisse (thigh) sections. By the end of the century armorers were attaching the pieces of limb protection to each other by metal strips known as lames, rather than to another garment. Leather straps and loose riveting provided the necessary flexibility. Armorers also began to demonstrate their skill in designing surfaces curved in such a way as to deflect an enemy’s weapon point away from vulnerable body areas.

Two distinct styles in western European armor emerged during the 15th century-the Italian and the German. Italian armor is characterized by smoothness and roundness in the modeling of the individual pieces. Milan was an important center of manufacture. The German style, more angular and spiky, is often referred to as “Gothic”; its main centers of manufacture were Innsbruck, Nuremberg, and Augsburg. These differences are exemplified in two common forms of head protection: the smooth cylindrical shape of the Italian barbut, based on ancient Greek helmet designs, and the prominent projections of the German sallet with its pointed neck guard. However, as both countries exported armor and armorers (HENRY VIII employed first Italians and then, from 1515, Germans in his Greenwich workshops) elements from both soon blended in European armor.


KD garniture of Charles V, by Kolman Helmschmid – Augsburg, 1525.

In Germany in the early 16th century the armorers’ craft received strong encouragement from the informed patronage of Emperor MAXIMILIAN I. Among the famous makers who worked for Maximilian and his successors were the SEUSENHOFER FAMILY of Innsbruck and the HELMSCHMIED FAMILY of Augsburg. Maximilian’s name is associated with the type of ridged plate that represented the most advanced scientific design attained in European armor, combining strength and flexibility to a marked extent. A curious vagary in this period was the attempt to reproduce in metal the puffed and slashed garments of contemporary civilian fashion, even down to simulation of the stitching. From the mid-16th century changes in military strategy and increasing deployment of firearms made mobility more desirable than all-over body protection; plainer suits, often without the lower leg protection, became more common for practical purposes, while the parade or ceremonial armor of princes became increasingly ornate. The use of etching (in northern Europe) or embossing (predominantly an Italian fashion) for decoration naturally negated one of the primary functions of plate armor-to present a smooth surface off which a weapon point would glance.

Besides suits of armor for the battlefield, armorers also evolved specialist equipment to meet the rather different demands of the tournament. Heavily reinforced pieces protected the knight’s left shoulder and arm, as the side that would take the brunt of his opponent’s attack. A premium was placed on helmet design that protected the wearer against an opponent’s lance; the English great helm and German frog-mouth helm are examples of this specialist type. For foot combat this kind of helmet restricted visibility to an impractical degree, so a helmet with a visor was used instead. The need to adapt armor for different purposes led to the evolution of the garniture, in which the basic suit of armor is provided with additional matching pieces for special applications, such as a tournament or a parade. Garnitures such as those made for Henry VIII of England and Emperor Charles V and preserved in such collections as the Tower of London or the Armeria Real, Madrid, exhibit the armorers’ ingenuity in the design and decoration of these sets, which of course only the rich and powerful could afford or needed. Sometimes matching sets of horse armor were provided as well; one such set was the ceremonial armor made for Eric XIV of Sweden in 1563.

Missaglia family Italian makers of weapons and ARMOR. In the 15th century their workshop in Milan was a European leader in this field. Tommaso (died c. 1454), who retired in about 1451, handed over to his son Antonio (died c. 1495), who fulfilled commissions for a number of important clients. Some of his work is preserved in the Wallace Collection, London. After Antonio’s death the family’s place as leading armor manufacturers in Milan was taken by the NEGROLI FAMILY.

Negroli family Italian makers of weapons and ARMOR. They succeeded the MISSAGLIA FAMILY as the leading Milanese manufacturers in this field in the first half of the 16th century. Leading members were Jacopo and Filippo (active 1525-50) who made embossed parade armor as well as more practical suits. Among their clients were Emperor Charles V and Francis I of France.

Helmschmied family (Kolman family) A family of Augsburg armorers, successive generations of which worked for emperors and princes from the last quarter of the 15th century. Their work is signed with the mark of a helmet. Lorenz Helmschmied (1445-1516) made a complete set of ARMOR for horse and rider for Emperor Frederick III (1477; Vienna) and in 1491 was appointed chief armorer to Frederick’s son Maximilian (I), for whom he made many fine pieces. Lorenz’s son Kolman (1471- 1532), who worked independently from 1500, produced complete garnitures for Charles V, such as the “K. D.” garniture (c. 1526), parts of which survive in the Armeria Real, Madrid. The family workshop’s tradition of creating richly decorated parade armor was further developed by Kolman’s son Desiderius (1513-c. 1578) under the patronage of Philip II.

Seusenhofer family One of the most important German families of armorers in the 15th and 16th centuries. Konrad Seusenhofer (1460-1517) moved from Augsburg to Innsbruck in 1504 to set up a court armory for Emperor Maximilian I, and was later succeeded as court armorer by his brother Hans (1470-1555) and Hans’s son Jörg (c. 1505-80). During the 16th century, when plate ARMOR had become ceremonial rather than practical, the family made richly elaborate armor, often decorated by inlaying, gilding, etching, or carving, for the European monarchies. Konrad was instrumental in evolving the type of fluted armor, known as “Maximilian,” popular in the first three decades of the 16th century (a fusion of the German and Italian styles of armor). A fashion in armor during the 1520s was to simulate the puffing and slashing of the dress of the period, an early example being the armor made by Konrad for Archduke Charles in 1514. Other clients of Konrad’s included Henry VIII of England and James IV of Scotland.

Another fashion of the mid-16th century was for garnitures- complete “wardrobes” of matching pieces of armor for different occasions. A famous example of this is the “Eagle” garniture made by Jörg Seusenhofer for Ferdinand, Archduke of Tyrol, in 1547, which comprised over 60 separate pieces.

Further reading: David Edge and John Miles Paddock, Arms and Armor of the Medieval Knight: An Illustrated History of Weaponry in the Middle Ages (New York: Crescent Books, 1988); Alan Williams, The Knight and the Blast Furnace: A History of the Metallurgy of Armour in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period (Leyden, Netherlands: Brill, 2003).

Mercenaries in the age of the Crusades



Mercenaries sometimes appear as the outcasts of twelfth-century society along with Jews and lepers. The Lateran Council of 1179 excommunicated them and their employers, explicitly associating them with heretics of southern France, an association later echoed by Walter Map and Innocent III. The decree promised to all who fought against them some of the privileges of the crusader to Jerusalem, laying the juridical foundation for the later Crusades against heretics. But they were a fact of life. The Council of Anse in 990 mentioned them at about the same time as Richer of Rheims, at the very beginning of our period. They were much used by the Conqueror and his sons, formed an important part of the armies of Henry II, Frederick Barbarossa, Richard the Lionheart, Philip Augustus, John and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, and served the Hohenstaufen and the Italian cities in the thirteenth century. Our sources sometimes convey the impression of mercenaries as a people set apart by their brutality and barbarism, killers of the innocent and robbers of churches. They were often called by the names of the places they came from – Aragonese or Basques but most commonly Brabanters, a word which became a synonym for mercenary. The general terms Cotereaux or Routiers were applied to them, recalling their purpose as destroyers and pillagers and their wandering, rootless way of life.

Churchmen excoriated mercenaries because churches were so often attacked. The protests of ecclesiastics, coming from a particularly disturbed area of central France, prompted the Lateran Council decree of 1179. Once this situation was brought to its notice, the papacy was anxious to play to the full its role in establishing social order: it is no coincidence that the same council passed decrees against tournaments and reaffirmed the Truce of God. 15 Noone can doubt that mercenaries were savage and destructive, but there was nothing peculiar to mercenaries about such behaviour. The Chanson des Lorrains, written between 1185 and 1213, describes an army setting out through enemy territory:

The march begins. Out in front are the scouts and incendiaries. After them come the foragers whose job it is to collect the spoils and carry them in the great baggage train. Soon all is tumult . . . The incendiaries set the villages on fire and the foragers visit and sack them. The terrified inhabitants are either burned or led away with their hands tied behind their backs to be held for ransom. Everywhere bells ring the alarm; a surge of fear sweeps over the countryside. Wherever you look you can see helmets glinting in the sun, pennons waving in the breeze, the whole plain covered with horsemen. Money, cattle, mules and sheep are all seized. The smoke billows, flames crackle. Peasants and shepherds scatter in all directions.

Mercenaries were often employed as ravagers, and the very word raptores is used as a synonym for them, but they were not alone in this. William Marshal was a great ravager, and delight in this savage business is often to be found in the Chansons de Geste, which were written for the consumption of the upper class. But although such gentry were also responsible and, as the ultimate commanders of ravaging armies, were at least as guilty as those they commanded, it was difficult for the Church to bring pressure to bear, and its efforts against the great were limited, to say the least. The mercenary was the surrogate for the wrath of the Church, which accepted the violence of the upper class in an effort to control it. Of course, the Church could justify its unequal treatment of the mercenary and his master by reference to intention. The famous penance imposed on the victorious Normans after the Conquest of England fell more heavily on those who served for gain than on those who served by way of duty to a lord, and this was echoed in canon law. But in the end this was an evasion, because all conditions of men fought for gain. Churchmen were prisoners of one of the basic conditions of medieval society. The Church was staffed and run very largely by the upper class; it was part of that immense structure of power which sustained a very small proportion of the population in dominion over the rest. In a sense, ravaging was part of the taxation paid by the clerical aristocracy for the support of their lay colleagues, so there was a limit to criticism; after all, what the mercenary did, his master was usually responsible for.

Our view of mercenaries as deeply hated alien presences in Christian society is derived from particular incidents which have been given enormous prominence. There was alarm in the 1180s when large numbers of mercenaries paid off from the wars of Angevins and Capetians and the conflicts in Languedoc gathered in the Limousin and Auvergne and began to dominate the area. The Church encouraged confraternities of local people – peasants and gentry alike – to resist. A famous body of peasants, the “Capuchins”, was led by the visionary carpenter, Durand, and they played a notable role in destroying the mercenary hordes. For relatively humble men in the form of mercenary bands to take power was entirely unacceptable – it is worth remembering that it was the raising of men of low status under King John that so aroused anger in England against mercenaries. Ultimately, the lords, with the support of the Church, employed the remaining mercenaries to destroy the peasant militias who had acquired a taste for freedom in arms. A century before, when Archbishop Aimo of Bourges had formed a peasant militia to enforce the Peace of God, that too had been destroyed. In the early thirteenth century, Innocent III launched the Albigensian Crusade, denouncing the mercenaries in the pay of the heretics as subverters of the social order. The “Brabanters” were feared and hated, as were all soldiers, but this was given a different dimension when they went into business on their own account. In an armed society, that was a threat to the social order: it is very notable that the English barons complained bitterly about the mercenary leaders of King John, but it was those of low birth who were most hated and most harshly treated.

Underlying feudal society and its celebration of noble chivalry was the blunt fact that armies needed large numbers of lesser men to perform necessary tasks, ranging from feeding horses to operating specialized siege machinery. Yet the arming of the “poor” was to be feared, and permitted only under controlled circumstances. The peasants who joined the peace militias of the early eleventh century ultimately inspired deep hatred, while the contempt of clerical writers for the masses of the “Peasants’ Crusade”, allegedly led by a goose and a goat, is well known. In the mid-twelfth century the movement of Eudes l’Etoile was savagely put down. On the Second Crusade, Odo of Deuil was shocked “For lords to die that their servants might live” when the humble escaped in the partial rout of Louis VII’s army on Mount Cadmus. The peasant militias who helped to defeat the mercenaries of the Auvergne and the Limousin in the 1180s were crushed when the taste of armed freedom went to their heads. On the Third Crusade, the author of the Old French Continuation of William of Tyre expresses satisfaction about the defeat of his own foot, who had become so proud that they had tried to do in war what their betters, the knights, had refused to contemplate – to seize Saladin’s camp. In the thirteenth century the “Childrens’ Crusade” of 1211-12 and the “Pastouraux” of 1251 were put down by main force. In Flanders the affair of the “Pseudo-Baldwin” in 1224-5 precipitated social conflict. In these cities, the militias were reorganized along occupational lines, so that they could the more easily be controlled by the urban patricians, who were increasingly in league with the rural aristocracy.

As long as they did not threaten the accepted social order, mercenaries were such an accepted part of contemporary armies that they were often not clearly distinguished from others: some writers who described the Archbishop of Cologne’s attack on Saxony in 1179 noted the presence of mercenaries, while others simply remarked on the number of foot, or even the total number of armed men. At the same time, there are casual references to them in the armies of Frederick I. It is interesting that medieval writers adopted generic descriptions such as Routiers and regional designations such as Brabanter, rather than use blunter terms which intimately connected such people with money. They did so because so many others, often of gentle origin, were paid for fighting. John of Salisbury refers bluntly to “mercenary knights”, but this is very rare. The plainer terms for mercenary were highly pejorative: mercenarius is the word for the self-serving hireling of John 10:11-14. Marianus Scotus did use the term in a neutral sense to describe the armed followers of an archbishop but, far more typically, Aimo of Fleury applied it to the inconstant Franks of an earlier generation, hiring themselves out to one side or another in royal feuds, while Robert Curthose rebelled against his father who, he claimed, treated him as a mere mercenarius by refusing to give him land to rule. Stipendiarius carried with it the overtones of clerical income and it could imply one who held a fief; its frequent use as an adjective to describe knights suggests honourable connotations, and indeed Peter Cantor tells a very flattering story about story of a miles senex et stipendiarius. However, William of Tyre clearly intended an insult when he so described Reynald of Châtillon, as did Ordericus when he referred to Geoffrey of Anjou claiming Normandy as a stipendiarius of his wife. Robert of Torigni equated stipeniarios et mercennarios with the sole followers of Henry II in the Toulouse campaign. The almost equally blunt solidarius seems to have developed in the later twelfth century. In 1168, Baldwin V of Hainaut sent a force to aid Henry of Namur against Godfrey of Louvain: it consisted of 700 knights, all of Hainaut, except for two mercenaries who were carefully distinguished as duobus suldariis. However, the term enjoyed little popularity until the thirteenth century, when it gave us the English word “soldier” and the French soudoyer. This relatively mild and evasive language is simply a reflection of the fact that, in war, cash relationships were common and extended to the ranks of those considered honourable. Moreover, some mercenaries were mounted, and therefore doubly difficult to distinguish from their social betters. They were accepted to the extent that they could rise high if they were lucky. Mercadier lived to be the famous leader of Richard I’s mercenaries and a baron of the Limousin, but we first hear of him as a leader among the notorious mercenary bands who were attacked by the “Capuchins”, who they were later used to destroy. His association with Richard and his apparent conformity to aristocratic norms seems to have made him acceptable in a way which others were not.

It is clear that the Routiers were peasants, the kind of people who were dragged into war by their lords anyway. What distinguished them was that they were willing to fight. Their regional designations have aroused much attention; our sources offer various lists, but always the most prominent are the Brabanters and other Flemings, closely followed by those from Gascony and Aragon. Overpopulation and the search for a living is a possible explanation, for Flemings were prominent in the colonization of eastern Germany. But what the areas mentioned all have in common is that they are zones of political turbulence, where an armed way of life was probably more than usually necessary. It is worth noting that, in the estimation of the twelfth century, the Count of Flanders could raise more knights than the king of France; this was the fruit of living in a disputed and fragmented border area. For the same reason, there were plenty of armed infantry – because war bred soldiers. Gislebert of Mons probably inflates the numbers of footmen in the armies of the various principalities of the Low Countries, but we can see these as indications of substantial numbers.

Some confusion has been caused in thinking about mercenaries by an undue emphasis on their military qualities and organization. Despite assertions to the contrary, all the signs are that mercenaries throughout this period were recruited as individuals and were somewhat fallible as soldiers. In August 1173, a substantial number of Henry II’s Brabançons were defeated at St Jaques-de-Beuvron by local peasants; in 1176, a peasant militia destroyed another group at St Mégrin, while in the following year those licensed by Richard of Aquitaine to ravage the Limousin were defeated by a local force. A few years later, as we have noted, large mercenary forces were defeated by peasant militias in the affair of the “Capuchins”. Mercenary infantry of this type seem to have had their greatest successes when used with other forces and under proper leadership. For mercenaries were only retained for as long as they were needed, and this must have meant that, like all other forces, they lacked the cohesiveness which only corporate identity over a long period can bring. Everything points to mercenaries being raised as individuals or in small groups. Even in thirteenth-century Italy, where we hear an enormous amount about mercenaries, both infantry and cavalry, they continued to be recruited only to supplement the native forces of the cities and so retained their essentially casual nature. In England and elsewhere, the thirteenth century saw the raising of large infantry armies, but their quality was generally poor. The “Grand Catalan Company” is famous for its conquest of Frankish Greece after 1303, but it was formed in the long war of the Vespers, which came to an end with the Peace of Caltabellotta in 1302 – continuous existence gave it cohesion. It is interesting that the social inferiority of the company seems to have been the main reason why it was so universally hated. In the fourteenth century, with the development and frequent use of Commissions of Array in England, forces which were in some real sense regular began to appear.

The ruling elite of the West controlled war. The ethos of decentralized political structures required them to be militarized as the guarantee of their social position. This is the obvious reason why all ruling castes must control the apparatus of war, but what is peculiar about the medieval situation is that the elite were not merely an officer caste. They claimed a monopoly of war, and this was accepted and legitimized by the Church. The system of landholding, by which men held of the great lords and castellans and in return were rendered military service, only worked very imperfectly as a military structure, and throughout this period household and paid knights remained common, while even those who did serve by reason of a tenurial connection came to be paid for their service. The real function of the tenurial system was political – to control the countryside. Its essential military function was to generate a sufficient supply of armed men who shared the honourable concerns of their social superiors. Social mobility meant that the ranks of the cavalry were filled by a wide variety of people who, by one means or another, could afford the right kind of equipment and find employment. From about the mid-twelfth century, the aristocracy increasingly closed ranks, but continued to employ cavalry from the ranks of the gentry below, who were associated with them. Cash was a vital element in the relationship between lord and armed follower, but it was modified by gentility and a common way of life, although the importance of the need for reward on top of it should never be overlooked. The growth of wealth and the development of states, opened to the elite and their followers new paths to fame and fortune; and, increasingly, those who adopted the military life were a specialized group, pre-eminently of the relatively young. But this was a group through which many passed to later eminence in civil life and, in any case, all who were of the elite had to remain militarized to a degree, because that was a mark of status.

This self-conscious military elite needed the services of others. Infantry could provide simple mass, which was at times useful, although they tended to play a more passive role in combat, where the initiative usually lay with the cavalry. Bowmen and crossbowmen added power to any army, while even in this age certain kinds of technicians were needed, to build and operate machines or dig mines. Such ranges and numbers of people could not be provided generally from the entourages and estates of even great lords and so had to be hired when needed. However, the episodic nature of war, and the obvious contempt of the ruling elite for all others, meant that such forces were rarely provided with the continuity that they needed to become coherent forces. Even in the thirteenth century, when royal and princely states waged war on a considerable scale, it was only rarely that units were kept together long enough to realize their military potential. This was largely the result of financial circumstance, but social exclusivity played its part: the Grand Catalan Company was universally hated when it destroyed the flower of the chivalry of Frankish Greece. This period witnessed an aristocratic domination of war, but the official doctrine of a monopoly was a myth. War demands excellence, and this is rarely confined to a convenient social group. By the end of the thirteenth century in England, we find that catch-all term, “man-at-arms” emerging. The wide diffusion of good weapons and the growth of royal arsenals was expanding the range of those admitted to the military elite, but social exclusivity continued to influence armies throughout the Middle Ages.

The Medieval Siege

In ancient times, cities often had strong walls around them, and warfare against these cities had always involved the basic tasks of breaking the walls, going over or under the walls, or starving the defenders into surrender. In the Middle Ages, Europe’s decentralized political structure put a new twist on the siege by planting heavily fortified castles all over the landscape. Constantinople’s thick city walls were similar to the fortresses of Roman, Greek, and more ancient times. Northern Europe, on the other hand, had several hundred small fortresses that were designed to hold off disproportionately larger attackers. In order to capture a region, an invader would need to besiege more than one fortress.

After the period of the First Crusade, knights returned with much grander ideas of defensive fortification. They had seen Byzantine fortress designs and had participated in attacks on Antioch, Acre, Jerusalem, and Tyre. Crusaders had built their own fortresses to hold the new territory, and they had used local engineering and labor to build much larger stone fortresses than Europe had at the time. When they came home, many rebuilt their family castles to incorporate the new defensive features. Castles became harder to capture by direct assault.

Sieges, attacks that stretched out over a long period of time, were the only way of capturing a castle unless it was taken by surprise. Sieges were expensive for both sides. The attackers had to sustain an army in hostile territory for a number of months, while the defenders had to make their food and water last. Both sides worked hard to attack or defend the walls. Walls could be broken down or surmounted by going over or under the walls. Siege machinery falls into three basic types. Catapults threw projectiles over the castle walls, either into the castle or from the castle toward the attackers. Rams battered the walls to make them fall down. Siege towers lifted attackers to the top of the wall so that they could enter.

Because of the high stakes and expense, sieges were not governed by the polite rules of chivalry. No trick was too dirty, gross, or savage. Treachery was one of the best ways of breaking a siege, if an insider could be bribed to open the gates or tell of a secret weak point. Poison or bacterial contamination of food or water was a popular way to break a siege.

Climbing, Ramming, and Digging

The simplest siege weapon was the ladder. The attackers wanted to get into the fortress, and one way was to go over the walls. Siege ladders had been used against city and fortress walls since ancient times. Basic facts that governed the construction of siege ladders began with length: if a ladder was too short, it would not allow the attacker to go over the top, but if it was too long, its top would stick up where defenders could shove it away. The ladder had to lean enough to be stable, but it had to be vertical enough to be strong. The ideal siege ladder came to just below the top of the wall, and its foot was placed at a distance from the wall equal to about half its length. Since the walls of a town or castle were of varying heights, and were surrounded by varying terrain, the attackers had to build custom siege ladders for each position.

A refinement on the simple ladder was a ladder with a bridge. The bridge was a sturdy plank hinged at the top of the ladder, raised by ropes. The ladder had to be somewhat freestanding, like a platform, since it could not lean against the wall. Some engineers designed folding ladders that could be made in advance and carried with the army or ladders that could be assembled from short sections. Some sieges also used ladders made of rope or leather, with hooks at the top. These ladders were for quiet night attacks, when the ladders could suddenly appear hooked on top of the walls by long poles without the defenders having seen any ladders.

Defenders tried to repel attackers on ladders by using the force of gravity. Standing at a higher level, they could drop harmful substances on the climbers. Most often, they threw large rocks to knock the attackers off the ladders or force them to cover their heads. Sometimes they threw or poured boiling water, oil, or any other hot substances they had on hand, such as tar. They could also throw quicklime, a highly caustic, alkaline material that burned on contact. In sandy places, they could heat sand to red-hot and fling it down. In some cases, they could fling nets onto the attackers when they reached the top and trap them.

To protect against all these defenses, attackers used heavy shields. Since classical times, there had been siege shields made tall, curved back, or with a small roof, and at times on wheels. Many shields were large enough for more than one man. Medieval sieges used all forms of wooden shields, covered with leather. In the 15th century, the tall siege shield was called a pavis. It often had a spike to drive into the ground and a pole to hold it up.

Of course, the first defense against siege ladders had been put in place before the siege began, when the fortress was designed. Most fortresses used a ditch or moat that came as close as possible to the outer walls. Attackers had to fill in the ditch with sacks or barrels of rocks and earth. In some cases, they resorted to using catapults to land rocks and dirt in the moat. Unless the ground was reasonably level approaching the wall, their use of siege machines would be limited.

If the attackers continued to try to go over the walls, but needed more than ladders, the next logical step was to make portable sheds. Sheds could be made fi re resistant with water and fresh skins. Sheds could also disguise or protect structural attacks, such as digging or battering rams.

The purpose of a ram is simple. It is a strong tree trunk that hits a wall, gate, or door repeatedly until the object is smashed. The design of a battering ram had three aims: to strengthen the ram itself, to increase its force, and to protect its operators from counterattack.

The end of the battering ram was strengthened by a metal tip. Sometimes this was actually in the shape of a ram’s head, invoking the ram’s butting strength and using the ram’s extended snout as the focal point of the battering force. More often, it was a blacksmith’s iron binding so that the wood did not shatter as easily from the force put on it. The ram’s bulk was suspended by ropes that could swing it, so the operators of a battering ram did not need much human power to strike with it. Longer ropes, of course, gave it more swinging power. The frame that suspended the ram was usually roofed so that its operators were protected from arrows or stones. Finally, the roof was often covered with damp animal skins as fire prevention.

Defenders dropped projectiles and hot liquids on the operators of battering rams. They could also try to disrupt the action of the ram, if the ram’s housing was too well defended to be vulnerable to rocks or fire. When the ram struck the wall, they could try to hook it and pull it up, either deflecting its blow or flipping its shed over.

Battering ram technology had been well explored during classical times, and, although rams were still used, castle designers built walls to withstand them. The thickest parts of the walls were at battering level, and gates, the main target of rams, were protected by gatehouses and moats. Attackers had to find new ways to use rams during the Middle Ages. Small rams could be mounted on ladders and lifted up to smash parapets. Attackers could build an earth ramp to a higher point in a wall, where it was likely to be thinner.

Attackers could also try to drill holes in the walls. Borers, too, had to work in the shelter of sheds and shields. It was not easy to drill holes in stone walls, so borers were more commonly used against brick. They were not a large feature of Northern European siege warfare, since most French and English castles were made of limestone and granite. A strong brick wall could be sufficiently weakened by holes that a ram could bring it down. Holes could have wood pushed in and set on fire, and the heat further weakened the walls.

By the 14th century, castle walls were built to be too high and thick for ladders and rams to be effective. If ladders and rams could not boost attackers over or batter walls down, a more elaborate machine could be built. A siege tower was a heavy, cumbersome machine, not designed for a lightning attack or for secrecy. It was part of an all-out assault on a weakened castle. The tower was a tall wooden structure on wheels; it was sometimes called a castle or a cat. It had protective walls and a roof and was fi reproofed if possible. Inside, it had wooden floors as stories where attackers could stand. A ladder led from bottom to top, so each layer of attackers could climb the ladder in turn. A top floor allowed archers to give further defensive cover to the attackers. The siege tower also had a bridge to cross to the top of the wall. This bridge could be a drawbridge, operated by a windlass in the bottom story.

Certain engineering issues governed the construction of siege towers. They had to be tall enough to reach the walls and stable enough not to tip when loaded with climbing soldiers. They also had to be portable, usually on wheels. Medieval siege towers were as tall as 75 feet high, but they were often shorter. Designs in medieval illustrations appear to favor a small fortress on a rolling platform, reached by one or more ladders. The attackers expected a tough fight before they could cross a bridge, and they designed it to have walls or even a roof. Other siege towers were more like rolling platform ladders with bridges. The builders had to think about fire, since the most common way to defend against a siege tower was to set it on fire. In the Byzantine region, siege towers became obsolete when it became clear the defenders would hurl Greek fi re at them. Northern Europe was able to use siege tower tactics longer, since it was easier to defend wood against ordinary fire. The tower could be roofed with fresh turf or newly skinned wet hides.

Siege towers were heavy and could easily tip over. It was difficult to move them into position from the safe distance where they had been built. The ground had to be level, and many teams of oxen were needed to move them. They also needed to be moved close to the walls, which normally meant that pushing, not pulling, force was required. One way to move a very heavy siege platform was to sink one or more posts into the ground by the castle walls and loop heavy pulleys and ropes around them. The platform was then attached to the ropes, and it could be moved forward by oxen walking away from the battle. The siege tower inched closer to the fortress walls, but the muscle power moving it only moved farther out of range. The tower could come right up to the pulleys, if the defenders had not disrupted them. Towers could also be moved with levers, but, in any case, they moved very slowly because of their great weight.

Undermining a wall could be the most successful attack, and there were fewer ways for the defenders to work against it. Ideally, the defenders would not know that sappers were digging a tunnel under the walls. The first somewhat successful underground attack in medieval times was carried out by the Vikings when they besieged Paris in 885. After the Norman conquest of England, mining was part of many sieges. The siege of Rochester Castle in 1215, when King John of England was putting down a rebellion, was one of the few times when mining was a key factor in the castle’s surrender. Miners dug under two outer walls so that the defenders were trapped in the keep. Chateau-Gaillard, built by King Richard I of England, was designed to be impregnable, but miners collapsed its walls twice. Mining was a large part of Crusader warfare, on both sides.

The best location to begin a sapping operation was in a place where the defenders could not observe what was going on without leaving the fortress. Sappers sometimes needed to start some distance away, on the other side of a hill. The attackers could put up a wooden palisade so that the defenders could not see what they were doing on the other side. If the diggers had to start in a place where the defenders could observe them, they needed a strong shed to protect them. The shed was sometimes nicknamed a “tortoise” or a “sow.”

An attacking army drafted industrial miners to dig their siege tunnels. Since stone was tunneled from deep underground, even from under the city of Paris, miners knew how to dig any length of tunnel required, through any materials. Beginning in a safe place, they dug underground and moved in a carefully planned direction toward the walls. Sometimes, two tunnels were dug as parallel galleries. As the miners tunneled, they shored up the walls of the mine with strong timbers. Mining was an operation that required a large number of laborers, which made it difficult to carry out deep in hostile territory.

When a tunnel successfully reached a point under the defensive wall, the miners nearly always started a fire. The intense heat caused the ground to expand, which cracked the walls and collapsed the tunnel. Added to the wood carried into the tunnel, oil and fat made the fire burn hotter; one mine fi re, in the siege of Rochester, used 40 pigs as sources of fat. The wood props securing the tunnels also burned, allowing the tunnels to collapse faster.

Once gunpowder was in use, it was even easier to produce a hot blast. It was harder to get away safely, since the combustion happened so quickly and the blast collapsed the tunnel. The best way was to approach the wall with snake-like curves and then use the curved passages to set a long fuse, out of sight and reach of the blast. As the fi re crept along the fuse, the miners could escape out the end of the tunnel. Since gunpowder came into use at the end of the Middle Ages, it did not become a major force in siege mining until the Renaissance period.

Most walls collapsed when the ground supporting them caved in. There were few ways to build walls that were not vulnerable to sapping. One way was to reinforce the walls with stone columns laid like pegs through holes in the building stones. Places with ruined Roman or Greek columns could use them this way, but most places did not have ruined columns. The fortress design could also use very deep digging to place a moat or a wall in vulnerable places.

Defenders tried to detect tunnel digging when they could not see it. A bowl of water, set over an area being mined, quivered with the vibrations of the tools. If they could tell where the miners were approaching the wall, the defenders could dig down to meet and surprise them with combat. They could sink a hole nearby and try to set the attacking tunnel on fire, or they could flood it if they had a moat or river inside the walls. The attackers tried to make their tunneling less predictable by making decoy tunnels or by making the tunnels take unexpected paths. Tunnels could branch out, or they could zigzag or curve.

Working trebuchet at Château des Baux

Ballistic Machines

Machines that threw projectiles were known by many names in their time, although today we refer to them all as catapults. There are a few simple forces that can provide ballistic power without explosives or motors. Levers and gravity can be harnessed to provide flinging power. The power of both tension and torsion derive from a material being bent so that it will spring or unwind back to its original state.

Tension engines worked by bending wood; it would spring back to shape when the tension was released, thus flinging a projectile with the force of its movement. Crossbows and longbows work on this principle, and some larger forms of crossbows could act as siege weapons, throwing larger projectiles. These great crossbows were built on a frame and used a windlass at the back of the frame to wind the bolt on its string far back. When the windlass was released, the wooden bow’s tension thrust its heavy bolt forward with speed and great force. But wood’s ability to bend and snap back is limited by its tendency to crack. Wooden bows could not throw anything larger than a bolt and could not take aim at walls, but only at people.

Torsion is the force exerted by a rope that has been twisted tightly and tries to untwist. It is the principle of a child’s toy boat or airplane that uses a rubber band wound up tight to drive paddles or propellers as it unwinds. Torsion had been used to drive throwing machines since ancient times. The Romans had a throwing machine called an “onager,” a wild donkey. It used a very thick band of rope, highly resistant to being twisted, as the torsion spring. When a lever was inserted into the torsion spring and cranked back so that the rope was forced to twist, on release it sprang into the air. The lever had a sling on the end with a heavy stone. As it sprang into the air, it struck a bar that stopped its movement, and the stone flew out of the sling. The onager’s simple torsion spring provided great velocity and force.

Medieval uses of the torsion spring are not as clear. There is evidence that torsion machines of this kind were known in the time of Charlemagne. Artists’ illustrations show a machine similar to the Roman onager, but instead of a sling at the end of the lever, there is a spoon-shaped cup for the rock to be placed in. It was probably called a mangonel. Turkish medieval sources picture a device similar to the Roman one, called a manjaniq, used by Muslim armies.

In the 14th century, there were large crossbows that did not use bent wood, but rather had two separate arms with torsion springs. Different types were known variously as ballistae and espringals (and in other languages, springarda or springolf). They were more often used by a fortress’s defenders, since they shot bolts at individuals, rather than rocks at walls. The espringal was built into a wooden frame, mounted on a tower. On each side, the frame had a torsion spring made of very thick horsehair rope that was resistant to twisting. Levers inserted into each spring were pulled back by ropes attached to the firing mechanism. The espringal’s firing system was like a crossbow, with a long groove for a bolt. The operator cranked the bolt back, pulling on the levers and the torsion springs. Released, the torsion springs untwisted and the levers shot the bolt forward, through the groove and out toward the target. The bolts were long and heavy. They could be expected to pierce wooden shields, steel armor, and sometimes more than one body.

The third type of throwing machine used levers and gravity. Since ancient times, people had known that if a lever is put over a fulcrum, like a seesaw, and the lengths are not equal, it takes a much heavier weight on the short end to balance a lighter weight on the long end. If the short end is suddenly weighted, the long end will fly into the air very fast. Unlike tension and torsion, which depend on the strength of bent wood or twisted rope, lever-based machines can throw very heavy objects with relative ease. As long as the lever’s arm and the stand with the fulcrum hinge are strong enough, there is no load limit.

The perrier used only the lever to fling large stones. The perrier depended on a sudden downward pull by men or horses. Its frame lifted the lever’s short arm above the men’s heads, with a rope dangling down, and the long end rested on the ground with a sling. They could load a heavy rock into the sling. When the payload was in place, men with ropes pulled the short end down, as hard as they could, and the long arm with its rope swung upward suddenly, flinging the projectile into the air. In order to achieve significant force, the pull had to be both sudden and hard. Many ropes attached to a bar allowed many men or horses to pull. Sudden pull could be achieved by having the throwing arm restrained by a latch as the men began pulling, so the latch could suddenly be released. The perrier may have been in use by the 11th century.

The trebuchet used a lever with a very heavy counterweight on its short end. The long arm, with a sling on the end, was winched to the ground, forcing the boxy counterweight to lift into the air. Men loaded a large stone into the sling as the long end was held down firmly. When the long arm was released, the counterweight fell to the ground, suddenly lifting the long throwing arm and releasing its sling-propelled payload into the air. Because the machine’s power depended on gravity to pull the counterweight down, not on men or horses to tug it hard, the trebuchet was the strongest of the throwing machines.

Trebuchets could be built larger and stronger to throw ever-larger payloads. Instead of a windlass, the winching could be accomplished by one or two wheels, the way the tallest cranes raised loads. Several men stood inside the wheel and walked on its steps, using their weight and a pulley system to magnify the force. The counterweight, perhaps by now a large wooden bucket filled with many large stones, slowly lifted into the air. The throwing arm was lashed down, the men got out of the wheels, and the counterweight could be released.

Rocks are the best-known catapult payload, and they were the most commonly used. A machine could deliver a series of rocks to the same spot on a wall if the rocks were the same weight and the machine had not been moved. This pounded the wall over and over, increasingly weakening it. Iron shot was even better than stone shot, but it was more expensive.

As a siege went on, trebuchets were loaded with new payloads that were intended to frighten or harm the people inside. The trebuchet was now aimed to fling over the wall, not at it. Most often, armies threw dead animals or even dead human body parts. Severed heads were a common payload. Corpses spread disease, a deadlier attack than any rock. An assault with corpses was also a psychological terror weapon, especially if the heads or other body parts belonged to the targets. Trebuchets could also fling manure.

A shrapnel effect came from “beehives”-clay pots packed with rocks. They burst open on contact, and the rocks flew into the town to smash windows and injure people. Armies also threw incendiary mixes, such as hot tar and quicklime. Incendiary mixes were often called naphtha; there are a few existing recipes. Quicklime was the key ingredient, because water causes combustion on contact. Other ingredients were flammable substances: pine pitch, tar, oil, animal fat, and dung.

Greek fire was the most famous incendiary compound of the time. The name “Greek fire” caught on because it was invented in Constantinople, after they had lost territory to the invading Muslims. Byzantine soldiers used catapults to fling pots of Greek fire at besieging Muslim armies. It caught fire on contact, and even water did not put it out. They could pump it at attacking ships and burn up whole fleets; in this way, they saved Constantinople in the seventh century when other cities were conquered by the invading Arabs. The secret composition of Greek fire was carefully guarded for a long time, but eventually first Muslims and then Christian Europeans learned how to make it. It became a component of trebuchet attacks during sieges. However, there is no surviving account of what was in Greek fire. Many scholars speculate that it must have contained quicklime or saltpeter, and others believe it had to use petroleum as a main ingredient. The use of petroleum in some form seems very likely, since Greek fire was described as a liquid that burned even on top of water.

After the introduction of gunpowder, cannons became the main siege breaking weapon. The largest cannons, called bombards, required large trains of horses and oxen to move their parts and heaps of stone shot. They had to be moved off their wagons with large cranes, and they were fired either from heavy wooden frames or from trenches dug into the ground. The idea was not to fire the stones or iron balls into the fortress, but to fire them straight at the defensive walls. A bombard that was placed lower to the ground could aim right at the ground level. It was most effective when it was close to the wall, its operators defended with wooden walls.

Further Reading Bennett, Matthew. Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World: Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2005. Carey, Brian Todd. Warfare in the Medieval World. Barnesly, UK: Sword and Pen, 2006. Donnelly, Mark P., and Daniel Diehl. Siege: Castles at War. Dallas: Taylor Publishing, 1998 Keen, Maurice. Medieval Warfare: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Nossov, Konstantin. Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2005. Partington, J. R. A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. Payne-Gallwey, Ralph. The Book of the Crossbow: With an Additional Section on Catapults and Other Siege Engines. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2009. Rihll, Tracey. The Catapult: A History. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, 2010. Wiggins, Kenneth. Siege Mines and Underground Warfare. Princes Risborough, UK: Shire Publications, 2003.