Category Archives: Medieval Warfare

How to Train a Knight

This video from English Heritage relates to fifteenth-century jousting, but it wouldn’t have been that different a century earlier. I hope you enjoy it.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Knight’s Fee

I’ve often come across the term ‘knight’s fee’ in my reading and not known what it meant, so this week I decided to do some reading in order to find out. You’re probably already wondering how the picture of peasants working in a field above has anything to do with knights. I hope all will become clear.

Knight’s fee is a term that applied mainly in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and was the amount of land that came with the obligation of military service. All land in England was held, in theory at least, by the king. William the Conqueror gave large chunks of it to his tenants-in-chief in return for military service. The tenants-in-chief, in turn, gave bits of land to men further down the chain who owed them military service. This obligation was inherited and confirmed by their descendants. The military service was up to forty days a year, which is why you’ll occasionally read about men returning home on the forty-first day. This service was unpaid. It was, of course, the king’s option to pay for more. The knight wasn’t obligated to accept, but it probably wasn’t a wise move to turn the king down.

These knights should not be thought of in the same way as the knights who trained for war since childhood and went off to fight in armour on the backs of magnificent horses, although some of them were that sort of knight. Many of them turned down the opportunity to become a knight of this kind, as the costs were too high. They were, rather, the lowest level of the landholding classes and were sometimes not much wealthier than the peasants who worked their land.

These men usually had one manor from which they had to raise enough money to look after their family and meet their military obligation. Fairly quickly this requirement to go to war themselves was replaced by a tax or fine known as scutage. Henry II collected it as a tax every four years; under other kings it was simply a way in which the landowner could pay for a knight to fight in his stead, either by hiring a knight himself or paying the money to the king.. These men would not all have been trained knights, so paying the king so that he could employ trained soldiers was probably a good option for many of them.

Even in the twelfth century there was no realistic expectation that the tenants-in-chief would be able to call on as many knights as their landholdings indicated should be available. The knights themselves must rarely have performed military service as they might have been too old, too young, too ill or disabled. Scutage, the tax or fine, allowed them to pay for someone else to go in their place.

Towards the end of the twelfth century the size of a manor sufficient to require a knight’s fee was five hides. A hide was generally considered to be 120 acres, but in this context it was usually understood as an amount of money rather than the size of the land itself. A hide was the area that would support a family for a year or that could be ploughed by a team of eight oxen. Both measures would indicate different amounts of land in different parts of the country, since a family could live for a year on a smaller piece of land in an area where the soil was good than they could where it was poor. The hide was a taxation tool more than anything else.

Around 1300 there were about 1,100 to 1,500 knights who technically owed the knight’s fee. By the start of the Hundred Years War in 1327 the vast majority of soldiers, including knights, were paid. In 1352 Edward III stopped trying to call men for their obligatory service and all soldiers who served thereafter were paid.

Sources:
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams
A Social History of England 1200 – 1500 ed. Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod
The English Manor by Mark Bailey
Making a Living in the Middle Ages by Christopher Dyer

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Life, Medieval Warfare, Thirteenth Century, Twelfth Century

Medieval Routiers

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.

Sources:
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams
Trial by Fire by Jon than Sumption

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Spear or Lance?

I’ve just written a scene in my current work in progress in which the hero defends the heroine against an attack by outlaws. In my novel all the soldiers on the hero’s side are using spears, but, even as I was writing it, I was wondering about the differences between spears and lances, if any. I know it won’t matter in the least to my readers. It’s a romance and they’ll be happy that the hero finally has the chance to show his lady what he’s made of. I was interested, though, so I pulled a few books off the shelves to see what they had to say.

You’ll know what a lance is from all those films and documentaries that show knights jousting in the lists. The lance is the long pole with a point that they carry underarm as they thunder towards one another on huge horses. The underarm hold is known as couching. In a joust the object is to hit the opponent, break the lance or push the opponent off his horse and points are awarded for each of these. Killing the opponent was not a goal, although that often happened. If you’ve watched Wolf Hall or read Bring up the Bodies, you’ll know that there was a half hour or so when it looked as if Henry VIII had been killed in a joust.

In a battle, or any kind of fight, killing the opponent, or maiming him, was most definitely the point. Not only did the lance in these circumstances have a point, but it had a sharp metal tip as well. The idea of this wasn’t to penetrate an opponent’s armour, but to get into the places where the armour was jointed or where the body was only protected by mail, such as the neck, the armpit and the groin.

You may wonder why they were using spears and not swords. Both were used in a fight, as you can see in the illustration at the top of the post. It depended on the circumstances and the person. The lance was the weapon of the mounted soldier. It was made of ash and was about fourteen feet long. Since it was quite thin, it was easy to break and wasn’t much use in a mêlée. The spear was the weapon of a foot soldier and they were about five feet long, although they look much longer in some of the medieval illustrations.

Surprisingly, the lance was the mounted soldier’s primary weapon. Once it broke, which must surely have been very early in the battle, he moved on to other weapons, such as the sword, the mace or the flail.

In the final quarter of the fourteenth century the lance rest was developed. It was a ledge on the soldier’s breast plate that allowed his body, rather than his arm, to take the shock of the impact. I imagine that the force of the impact could break an arm, although none of the sources says this. It could definitely take the lance out of his hand or throw him from his horse. It could also bring them both to a complete stop, which wasn’t good if the success of your charge depended on you getting past your enemy. It was all about timing and overlooking the natural inclination of both horse and rider to shy away from the target. Both had to be well-trained. In Knight, Robert Jones says that using a lance “… tested courage, skill and physical strength in equal measure.” I certainly wouldn’t want to face a fully armoured knight charging towards me with just fourteen feet of tree in one hand and the reins of my horse in the other.

In a battle or fight, the horse was often the initial target rather than the rider. An injured horse might fall on its rider and remove them from the fight. You had to be good to kill a horse with a single thrust of a lance which, of course, my hero manages to do, although I might have to rewrite that bit, since he’s on foot at that point.

I’ve learned that I’ve got a bit of rewriting to do if I want the details to be correct. Fortunately, my hero can still be suitably heroic and I’ll have a better idea of what’s going through his mind during the fight. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not his lady will be impressed.

Sources:
Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages by Michael Prestwich
European Arms and Armour by Tobias Capwell
Knight by Robert Jones

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Pardon Recipients

I read some time ago that some men were pardoned for serious crimes if they served in one of Edward III’s armies during the Hundred Years War and I wondered how it worked. Fortunately Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345-46, the book I’m reading at the moment, has some answers.

I first came across this when I was reading about the Folville gang. They were basically gangsters who kidnapped people for ransoms and weren’t above the odd murder, rape and theft in the 1320s and 1330s. They were pursued all over the country and eventually caught, or killed. Some of them were pardoned by Roger Mortimer, acting in the name of Edward III, on condition that they fight against Mortimer’s enemies in England. Crime had become a way of life, however, and they returned to their former ways. They were so successful that people were afraid to testify against them when they were caught and tried.

It seems strange that a man could receive a pardon for such serious crimes, but it would be a win-win for the king and the criminal. There was, of course, no benefit to the victims.

It was a benefit to the king because the pardon recipient paid his own costs of serving in the army for a year. If the man was a knight that would save the king at least £36 10s per annum, more if the man lost a horse or two in the course of a campaign, as the king paid compensation for horses killed in his service. Even if the pardoned man was an archer the king saved £9 2s 6d.  Edward III was constantly in debt at the beginning of the Hundred Years War and needed to save as much money as he could.

The pardon recipient, of course, received his pardon. It also gave him the chance of what we would call rehabilitation. Eustace Folville, for example, was knighted by Edward III for his services in the war during the early 1340s. As the leader of the Folville gang, Eustace had spent two decades terrorising, robbing and murdering Edward’s subjects. He was also used to commanding men and making both strategic and tactical decisions, exactly the skills needed in a soldier.

As I’ve written before, there was always the chance for soldiers in successful armies to take home plenty of booty and the campaigns of 1345 to 1346 in both the southwest of France under Lancaster and the north under Edward III were particularly successful in that regard. That might also have helped these men to decide to seek a pardon.

There was more to it for the pardon recipient, however, than paying his costs for a year. These men were outlaws and the king needed some means to make sure that they didn’t just jump ship when they reached France. The pardon recipient also had to find someone to guarantee their good behaviour. The guarantor presumably stood to lose something if the pardoned man didn’t behave. I can’t help thinking that men like the Folville gang could probably have found a guarantor simply by threatening them, or a member of their family, with physical harm. In Eustace’s case, however, it seems that he and some of his men had already decided that their lives of crime had come to an end. This doubtless had something to do with the fact that they were fast approaching middle age in the 1340s. Unlike most members of his gang, Eustace died a peaceful death the year after he fought at Crécy.

The members of Lancaster’s retinue are listed in the book. There were a surprisingly large number of pardon recipients. There were five men from Northamptonshire who had been found guilty of murder and two men from Somerset who had also been found guilty of murder. What I found interesting is that in two cases two men with the same surname had killed (or been found guilty of killing, which isn’t the same thing) a man. Although it’s possible that the men had been killed during the course of robberies, something that wasn’t that unusual in the fourteenth century, I also wonder if the victims had not done something dreadful to a member of the family, and their death was an act of revenge. I don’t know. The only information in the book is their names, their county of origin and the names of their victims.

Sources:
Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345-46 by Nicholas A. Gribit

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Rates of Pay for Medieval Soldiers

Medieval Indenture

If we think about it at all we probably think that medieval armies were feudal and unpaid, that is that the soldiers were in an army because they owed a certain number of days service to their lords. This would be true for some times in some places in medieval Europe and there are stories of men who took their retinues home halfway through a siege because they’d given their required number of days of service. In England under Edward III, however, that had mostly ceased to be the case, and soldiers and their captains were paid.

They served under a contract called an indenture, which I wrote about here.

In the book I’m reading at the moment, Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345-46, the indenture between Edward III and Lancaster requiring the latter to go to Aquitaine in 1345 is given in full in Anglo-Norman and modern English. It’s very specific about what Henry of Lancaster is to do and how much he is to be paid to do it. He was to go to Aquitaine as the king’s lieutenant and take 500 men-at-arms, 1,000 archers (500 mounted and 500 on foot) and 500 Welsh archers on foot. He also had to leave Southampton on 14th May and stay in Aquitaine for six months.

The indenture set out how the earl was to be paid and how horses were to be assessed for compensation should they be killed. It also covered what was to happen about ransoms and booty taken in the course of the campaign. For the avoidance of doubt, should there have been any, the indenture made it clear that what was to happen to anything that the earl received that wasn’t connected with the campaign, which was as well, since his father died while he was in Aquitaine and he inherited money and properties in England.

The earl, of course, had similar indentures with each of his bannerets and knights and esquires, some of whom, in turn, had indentures with the soldiers they employed in their retinues.

Lancaster’s campaign was well-documented and there are extant records of the men who went with him in his retinue. I’ve looked and there are no Mundays on the list, which is not surprising as Lancaster’s men came mostly from places where he had properties such as Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire. My ancestors were in Hampshire, but there were certainly Mundays at Agincourt for which there are also extensive records about the ordinary soldiers.

What I really wanted to cover in this post is the sums paid to the soldiers. I always use the daily rate for a skilled labourer (4d) as an illustration of how much things cost in the fourteenth century, but not everyone was a skilled labourer. Some men earned more, others earned less. For those earning less, serving in a retinue during the Hundred Years War wasn’t just a useful way to earn a good daily rate of pay, provided you lived to spend it, but there was always the chance of a share in booty or a ransom.

Lancaster’s indenture didn’t just set out how much money he was to receive, but also the daily rates for his men. The earl had 6s 8d per day, a banneret 4s, a knight 2s, an esquire 12d, a mounted archer 6d, a foot soldier 2d. There were 12 pennies (d) to a shilling (s). As you can see, if you were an unskilled labourer, the daily rate for a foot soldier might make it worth the risk to go to war.

Sources:
Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345-46 by Nicholas A. Gribit

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Ransoms Part 3

This post is less about ransoms as such than the conditions under which medieval prisoners of war were kept whilst waiting for their ransoms to be paid. Fragglerocking asked last week if they were kept in prisons. Sometimes they were, but mostly they weren’t. This could have something to do with the status of the prisoner, or with the ability of the captor to pay for secure accommodation.

During the fourteenth century, there really weren’t that many places to keep prisoners. Criminals were usually kept in town gates whilst awaiting trial. There were always guards there to check on people coming in and going out of the town who might have to pay a toll, so they could also keep an eye on the prisoners. As you can see from the photograph of Southampton’s town gate above, though, there wasn’t room to keep many prisoners. It didn’t fit well with the chivalric code, either, to treat men who had been captured in a battle like common criminals. Then there was the problem of status. You might want to keep a man who was a servant or a minor knight in a place like this, but you wouldn’t want to keep a knight from whom you were hoping to receive a large ransom here. Some men did, though, in the hope of extracting an even larger ransom from them. Generally speaking, though, the higher status a prisoner had, the better his accommodation.

Town gates weren’t the only places with prisons; some castles also had them, like this one at Portchester Castle.

The Prison, Portchester Castle

As you can see, it’s little more than a pit. Sadly none of the children in the castle that day got down there to give you an idea of scale, but it’s small. It’s probably about six feet wide by eight or ten feet long, which would be reasonably comfortable for one man, but there might be more than one prisoner to be kept. The pit is certainly secure (although prisoners managed to escape from both town gates and castles, mainly because they weren’t kept in good repair or because they bribed their keepers), but it’s not somewhere you’d want to keep an honoured prisoner, especially if there was the possibility that you might be his prisoner in a few years.

Unless you were the holder of the castle, accommodating your prisoner there or in the town gate was expensive, especially if their captivity was lengthy. We looked at some of the reasons why it could take a while for a ransom to be paid last week.

Captured knights were often left in the hands of other people in prisons like these, but many were kept in their captors’ own homes. Not only were landholders very mobile, moving frequently between their properties, but fighting was probably continuing elsewhere. Someone might be prepared to take one or more prisoner with him from place to place, but he wouldn’t want to take them somewhere where they could provide assistance to their own side, either by escaping or by acting as spies.

Some knights were allowed quite a bit of freedom within the bounds of their captivity. They were allowed to move freely within the building where they were kept and some were allowed to walk around outside, with a guard, of course. Some were even allowed their own servants and horses. At least one man was allowed to have his wife with him.

I don’t know yet how my protagonist, Geoffrey, will spend his captivity. It will, I think, suit his personality to spend his first weeks in the castle in close confinement, but that won’t help at all with building the relationship that will be at the centre of the novel.

Sources:
Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War by Rémy Ambühl

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Ransoms in the Hundred Years War

This week I’ve been working on the plot of a novel in which the male protagonist is one of the few English knights taken prisoner at the battle of Poitiers. I reached the part of the story where he and his captor are negotiating his ransom and thought that it would be interesting to work out what a prisoner like him would have been worth.

Geoffrey, his name at the moment, is the second son of the second son of an earl. With his older brother, he serves in the retinue of his cousin, who is the current earl. He has taken some booty whilst on chevauchée with the Black Prince, so he’s not entirely without financial resources. He and his brother have decided what they think they’re each worth if either of them has to pay a ransom for the other and they have the funds to cover this.

Calculating a ransom could be a complicated business and fortunes could be made and lost, depending on the prisoner’s ability to pay. There could also be arguments about who had taken someone prisoner. Legal cases could go on for years to sort this kind of thing out, even for prisoners who weren’t really worth very much, but the man who has captured Geoffrey has taken his sword, so there can be no questions later.

In addition to a ransom, the prisoner, or his friends or family, had to pay for his accommodation and food. It was, therefore, in his best interests, to ensure that the ransom was paid as quickly as possible. Costs could mount up quickly over the months and years (possibly) that a man was held while he was raising the money to pay his ransom. The figures that I have, from Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War, relate to ransoms demanded by the English for their French prisoners, since there were many more of these after the battle of Poitiers. This is the kind of information that would have guided Geoffrey and his brother when they decided how much they might have to pay for their freedom if they were captured.

The first category of prisoner is rather shocking, as it covers earls, counts and bishops. I suppose a king might take a bishop to war with him and I know that a bishop did lead an army against the Scots when they raided the north of England while Edward III was in France, but it’s still a bit of a surprise that bishops were taken prisoner and ransomed. They were not supposed to fight and non-combatants weren’t supposed to be captured. Men of this rank were worth between £2,000 and £8,000. This is an eye-wateringly large amount. As always, I’ll remind you that a skilled labourer earned about 4d a day. For those of you not familiar with the workings of pounds, shillings and pence that’s 120,000 days of labour for the lower ransom. If our skilled labourer worked every single day, it would take him 330 years to earn that amount. Fortunately, earls, counts and bishops were usually fabulously wealthy. Even so, a ransom of this size would put a serious dent in that wealth.

Men in the next category, barons, could expect to pay a much lower ransom. They were worth £500, or 30,000 days of labour. Knights and esquires were worth between £50 and £500. Other high-status servants were valued at £50 or less. Eight years of labour.

In 1360 a ransom of £16 was paid for Geoffrey Chaucer, who was captured by the French while he was out foraging. This was still 960 days worth of labour and clearly impossible for even an important and trusted servant like Chaucer to raise. Four years earlier he had been a page and it’s unlikely that his position in Lionel of Antwerp’s retinue was much more than that. Fortunately for him, the ransom was paid by the king, which makes me wonder whether Chaucer really was foraging or doing something entirely different on the king’s behalf.

Although he has no land, my Geoffrey has rich relatives and a name that his captor recognises, so he can expect his ransom to be more than that for other knights of similar wealth. His only hope for a quick release is that his captor won’t be too greedy, because Geoffrey knows that there’s no hope of any help from his cousin. I think he might have valued himself at about £175.

Sources:
Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War by Rémy Ambühl
The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer by Derek Pearsall

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Mercenary versus Condottiero

John Hawkwood

It’s not often that I go into my local and the barman greets me with “what’s the difference between a mercenary and a condottiero?”, but since Greg asked, I thought about it and said that I thought a mercenary was someone who sold himself to the highest bidder, but a condottiero was someone who was part of a group that sold itself to the highest bidder in Italy. Then I thought about it a bit more. We bandied some names about. I mentioned John Hawkwood, the famous fourteenth-century mercenary who is celebrated by a painting in Florence Cathedral. He mentioned Richard I’s head mercenary and right hand man, Mercadier, who is said to have avenged the king’s death by murdering the man who had killed him, before being assassinated in turn by a mercenary employed by King John.

As it turns out, my initial answer was incorrect. According to Treccani.it, the great Italian online dictionary and encyclopaedia, a condottiero was the leader of a group of mercenaries. John Hawkwood was, therefore, both a mercenary and a condottiero.

Mercenaries have a bad reputation today and it wasn’t much better in the fourteenth century, at least among the people they terrorised for money. Among knights, however, it was different. Being a mercenary was a perfectly respectable way to make a living. What else was a knight supposed to do when he wasn’t required by his king? Geoffroi de Charny, who wrote the book on chivalry, said that it was a good way for a knight to gain experience.

Most knights didn’t come from a noble background and didn’t have a large sum of money to fall back on during the very long periods when wars weren’t being fought. Although the name the Hundred Years War implies that war was being waged continuously, it wasn’t. There were treaties that meant that there was a peace of sorts for several years at a time and there were other times when Edward III simply couldn’t afford to take an army to France. A professional knight had no other skills than fighting. He had trained hard to become a knight and he had many expenses once he became one. Apart from his armour and his arms, he had to have horses and he had to have servants who needed to be fed and clothed. A pause in the fighting in France meant that he was no longer being paid, but his expenses continued. Some men banded together to hold local towns to ransom, but others decided to go to Italy where there was very good money to be made.

Italy wasn’t a single state in the fourteenth century: it was many, often small, states based around cities. In the north and centre of Italy those states were almost constantly at war. The large states overpowered the small states, who employed mercenaries to fight back on their behalf. The large states fought one another by proxy, employing mercenaries. Even the papacy employed mercenaries, whilst at the same time deploring their activities. There were fortunes to be made here, even for men who didn’t end up leading their own company of mercenaries.

Italy’s situation was a bit of a vicious circle. The fighting had been going on for some time, making Italy so unsafe that Clement V decided in 1309 that it would be sensible set up the papal court in Avignon. The fact that he was French played no part in this decision, allegedly. Most European armies employed a few mercenaries, so it wasn’t unusual that some English and German mercenaries went to join Italian armies. I’ve been to Italy and fallen in love with it, so I can easily believe that these northern Europeans did the same and encouraged others to join them, until the numbers of mercenaries in Italy became a real problem. They formed themselves into armies called companies and the city states found that they either had to employ them or have them as their enemies.

A mercenary company in Italy was a business. It made contracts with its clients, necessitating the employment of lawyers, usually Italian. It had full-time accountants who were responsible for collecting the fees and dividing them up among the members of the company. The condottiero, of course, received the largest share. The company also employed women to do the washing, cooking and, as my source puts it, provide other services.

Being a condottiero was far from safe, even when they weren’t fighting. Some were assassinated by their own men, who had ambitions to lead the company themselves. Others were assassinated by a former employer they had abandoned when they received a better offer. A few, like John Hawkwood, managed to grow old. He lived into his seventies, having served a single employer, Florence, for several years. Some condottieri even became heads of states: Biordo Michelotti became lord of Perugia, but he was ultimately assassinated.

English mercenaries did rather well in Italy. They had a reputation for being very loud (how little times change) and being able to shout was useful for frightening the opposition, apparently. Loud music was also used. I’m beginning to suspect that my neighbours are descended from mercenaries. English mercenaries also had the useful ability to travel long distances, sometimes overnight, which some of them probably learned whilst on chevauchée with Edward of Woodstock (the Black Prince) in the south-west of France in the 1350s. This meant that they could appear somewhere long before they were expected and take the enemy by surprise.

At the end of the fourteenth century there was very little work for English knights in France. The young Richard II preferred peace and his uncle, John of Gaunt, was nowhere near the soldier Richard’s father had been. It wasn’t until the time of John of Gaunt’s grandson, Henry V, that English knights were needed in France again. Most English knights in Italy remained loyal to their king and John Hawkwood even had it written into his contracts that he wouldn’t fight against England’s allies.

Sources:
Knight by Michael Prestwich
Hawkwood by Frances Stonor Saunders

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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TheHeirsTale-WEB

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A Brief History of the Hundred Years War by Desmond Seward – A Review

Pages: 296
Published: 1978

You will be able to tell from the number of pages that Desmond Seward’s A Brief History of the Hundred Years War really is brief. In his Trial by Battle, the first volume of his five volume history of the Hundred Years War, Jonathan Sumption takes 200 pages just to cover the causes of the war, so it’s fairly obvious that a book of this size isn’t going to help anyone understand why things happened. I still don’t really understand the political situation in France in the first half of the fifteenth century that allowed both sides in a civil war to ask for Henry V’s help, only for one side to assist him later in his goal to obtain the French crown. I do have a better idea of the battles and sieges of that period, though.

The book is a chronological telling of the events of the Hundred Years War, with the exception of the chapter in which Joan of Arc appears. As it must have seemed to the English and Burgundian armies at the time, she appears out of nowhere and Seward goes back in time to explain her arrival. In many ways this underlines Seward’s bias towards the French. Joan appeared as a kind of saviour figure outside the walls of Orleans, which was besieged by the English and the Burgundians.

I found this bias quite tiring, as the worst thing Seward (who was born in Paris) has to say about any French king, save Charles VII, is that he wasn’t a very good soldier (all of them except one) or that he had a taste for luxury. Charles VII, he says, was physically and mentally weak, and his confessors thought he was a heretic. Edward III, in comparison, was a womaniser who spent his senile last years drinking. Richard II became ‘insanely tyrannical’ and Henry V is compared to Napoleon and Hitler. English soldiers carried out atrocities, while French soldiers, presumably, behaved like perfect gentlemen. Seward also says that Roger Mortimer was ‘perhaps the nastiest man ever to rule England’. I’m fairly certain there would be more votes for John Lackland on that score.

The only Englishman for whom he has a good word is the Duke of Bedford, Henry V’s brother and regent for Henry VI in France, who ‘loved the French’. The French apparently loved him in return, but that’s possibly because there was order and, more or less, peace in the part of France that he controlled.

1978 was a long time ago and Seward includes a few things that contemporary historians would feel less able to be dogmatic about. He states confidently, for example, that Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella were lovers and that the queen was carrying his child. He’s also happy to write that Edward II was killed by a red hot poker and that Isabella spent the rest of her life after Mortimer’s fall as a prisoner. I suspect there are similar bald statements about the fifteenth century part of the war, but I know a lot less about what was going on then to be able to know.

As you can tell, the book doesn’t have a huge amount to recommend it, other than the brevity which is mostly the reason for for its faults. It is easy to read, which is a plus and it does include all the major battles and a few of the sieges in the war. If you want something that you can read in a couple of days that will give you an idea of what happened during the Hundred Years War, this might be the book for you. If you want to understand why and how things happened, I’d recommend saving your pennies for Jonathan Sumption’s more comprehensive history of the war.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Book Review, Hundred Years War, Medieval Warfare