I’ve written about mercenaries and condottieri before, but there’s another name for them. This time it’s French: routiers.
Routiers were rarely French, though. It was just one of the names that the French gave them. Like all bands of mercenaries, though, the ruta (band of routiers) tended to be made up of men from many different countries. Some of them were outlaws, others defrocked priests, and yet others were adventurers. Overall they were simply men who would not do well in the ‘normal’ civilian world.
Routiers were paid to fight the enemies of the people who paid them, but they could be, and were, distracted by targets that looked more profitable. As a group, they were impossible to control and their method of fighting was simply to pillage and destroy, usually against those who were undefended.
They were mostly recruited from the Low Countries (Flanders, Hainault, Brabant, Luxemburg). For this reason they were also known as Brabanters. They were so terrifying that they were condemned at the third Lateran Council in 1179. I’m fairly certain it made no difference to them at all, although it might have worried some of their employers.
Although routiers operated mostly in the twelfth century, the term was also used later to describe bands of roaming soldiers during the early part of the Hundred Years War. The French they were terrorising, however, just as often referred to them as ‘English’. To be fair, they were mostly wrong about this, although there were some short periods when English soldiers did use these tactics.
Mostly these routiers were Gascon soldiers who had been released during a period of truce, or who had discovered that they could make a lot of money by terrorising the local inhabitants when they formed part of the garrison of a captured castle, a practice that led to many men leaving France much wealthier than when they had arrived.