Men who fought together against a common enemy could become very close. Sometimes they forged partnerships and became brothers-in-arms. Although these relationships were often based on friendships, they could equally be little more than business arrangements. If they were the former, they could last for a long time, if the latter, they could last for the length of a campaign or even a single engagement.
The two men who became brothers-in-arms agreed that they would watch out for one another when they were fighting and provide help and advice when they were not. The men involved might agree to share the financial gains (or losses) arising from the campaign or engagement.
Some of the relationships between brothers-in-arms were contractual and a contract from 1421 has survived. It was between John Winter and Nicholas Molyneux. The contract sets out the assistance that they were to provide to one another. It also details what the one who remained free should do if one of them was captured. Up to a certain amount of money he was to pay the ransom demanded by the captors. If the ransom was higher than the sum agreed, he was to become the hostage of those who had captured his brother-in-arms so that the latter could go and raise the ransom from his family and friends. If both were captured, one would remain as hostage, while the other raised the ransoms. Essentially they had to do everything they could to secure the other’s release.
Where there was a true bond of friendship between the two men, it was unlikely that the agreement was written down, but the obligations would be similar.
It is believed that there was such an agreement between Edward II and Piers Gaveston. If there was, it would have been very unusual, for brothers-in-arms were supposed to be of equal status.
Hugh Calveley (d.1394) and Robert Knollys (1330 – 1407) were probably brothers-in-arms. Their arms appear on alternating sections of Calveley’s tomb (pictured above). Both were renowned soldiers in the latter half of the fourteenth century. Calveley was more or less a mercenary, joining a free company in the 1360s. He was briefly a brother-in-arms of Bertrand du Guesclin, who later commanded the French army, when both were employed by Enrique de Trastámara. Calveley changed sides when he learned that Edward of Woodstock (the Black Prince) was leading an army into Spain to fight against Enrique. Knollys’ history was just as colourful and he was also occasionally a mercenary. He was a man of low birth who rose to a high position and many nobles complained about serving under him. Knollys and Calveley served together on and off during the Hundred Years’ War. Both became wealthy by taking booty and receiving ransoms for men they had captured.
Chaucer presented a fictional view of brothers-in-arms in the Knight’s Tale. This is about Palamon and Arcite, two brothers-in-arms who are captured and kept in prison. They are presented in the tale as the epitome of knighthood and being brothers-in-arms for them is simply a part of being a knight.
Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience – Michael Prestwich
Knight: The Unofficial Medieval Warrior’s Manual – Michael Prestwich
Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years’ War – Rémy Ambühl