The soldier in the Hundred Years War

Since the beginning of warfare there have been standing armies. In each time there have been different way for a king to be supplied with troops and arms. I will discuss two, namely England and France.

The formation of the Medieval French Army

The system by which armies were formed in France was feudal. in other words the King bestowed a 'benefice', (lands, castle and rents) on his vassal. The vassal was then obligated to provide some sort of service to the lord. This system worked very well during the Caroligian dynasty. It had the advantage of attaching to the King by close personal bonds a devoted following. Unfortunately it had a disadvantage in that it also allowed a subordinate vassal to stand between him and his soldiers. Thes soldiers were also vassals of this subordinate lord and in every practical way they owed allegiance to that lord and not to the King.

Capetians appealed both to their own vassals of the royal domain and to the feudatory lords of the crown and their vassals to obtain any needed troops. From both these sources they could only expect limited support. The fact was that the 'benefice', which could be withdrawn and which implied an unconditional military obligation, had been replaced by the hereditary 'fief', to which only an intermittent military obligation, (fixed at an average of forty days in the year) was attached.

Because these were not a military force worthy of the name the king relied on a new option, mercenary troops. From the twelfth century, whether among the king's knights, of more or less noble descent, or among his "sergeants" on foot or on horseback, or among the light-armed troops, cross-bowmen or archers, professional soldiers are numerous in the armies of the Capets. A bad side effect of this new mercenary force was, while mercenaries fight well when being paid they often turned to pillaging villages when they were out of work. They were called 'routiers'.

Importance has sometimes been attached to the part played in the king's army during this period, particularly under Philip Augustus, by the militia of the non-noble villages of the royal domain. These villages were required to rise in a mass and come to the king's help on proclamation of the levy of vassals and sub-vassals. But the king was not inclined to resort to this extreme measure, which might offer more drawbacks than advantages, and he declared himself satisfied on receiving from the communities contingents of men-at-arms recruited and equipped by them or, instead, the money required to raise and pay them. thus it was by this double principle, that military service was owed to the king or that exemption from it could be obtained for money, that the French kings succeeded in creating a standing army and a royal system of taxation at one and the same time. Farms must be farmed, crops must be reaped and the collection of rents must be paid.

In 1302 a great need of troops arose from the rebellion in Flanders. This is how Philip the Fair (IV) met it. He first called up for a period of four months all commoners possessing a stated minimum of wealth, either in goods or property. Next, at the close of 1303, in view of the next year's campaign, a fresh summons was issued, by which commoners of the domain and of the kingdom had to serve either in person or in the proportion of so many men per group of householders. This was appealed against, and the king moderated his demands, allowing, in particular, the townships and villages of the domain to pay for exemptions at the rate of two sous a day per man. These exemptions proved numerous and the money which they brought in was used for the enrolment, at half a sou a day per man, of infantry from Dauphiné and the South of France and of cross-bowmen from Italy. The army so constituted and numbering 60,000 infantry won the battle of Mons-en-Pévèle.

To make the army a reliable (read loyal) instrument of warfare the king's army still needed organisation by statute. This was to come, under the stress of necessity, in the Hundred Years' War. In 1351 under John the Good, by an ordinance which determined the organisation of all troops, infantry were to be formed into connétablies of twenty-five to thirty men. Their equipment and pay were fixed.

They consisted first of all in permanently establishing in the king's army a preponderance of mercenary bands. The king scarcely made any further attempts to enroll men-at-arms individually. Rather, extending a practice which appeared as early as the thirteenth century, he relied on 'routiers', leaders of mercenary bands, for the hire of their troops to him. He had, indeed, no choice in the matter, for the state of war had become almost permanent since the middle of the fourteenth century and greatly increased the number of the mercenary companies, which were joined by all whom thoughts of battle and plunder attracted. They were with difficulty brought under control.


The Knights armor has been covered in a a previous article, here

so I will briefly describe his arms.

First was the sword.

The sword was a standard fighting weapon long before the evolution of the medieval knight. Nevertheless, the medieval knight found the sword to be an effective weapon. Medieval swords usually were made from a mild steel (low carbon steel). Most swords were double-edged, and featured a crossguard, hilt, and pommel. Many surviving examples of medieval swords feature some form of engraving, such as a prayer, or the sword owner's name. How elaborate the sword was decorated depended upon its owner's wealth, with some of the more intricate ones encrusted with jewels and fine engravings.

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