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A.D. 37^—15^5 


C. W. C. OMAN, B.A. 








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The Author desires to acknowledge much kind help 
received in the revision and correction of this Essay from 
the Rev. H. B. George, of New College, and Mr. F. York 
Powell, of Christ Church. 


05 , 



Introduction ' . . . . i 


The Transition from Roman to Medieval forms in 
War (a.d. 378-582). 

Disappearance of the Legio n. — Co nstantine's reorgaj iization. — 
The German tribes . — Battle of Adrianople. — Theodosius 
accepts its teaching. — Vegetius and the army at the end 
of the fourth century. — The Goths and the Huns. — Army o f 
the Easter n Empire. — Cavalry all-important . . . 3 — 14 


The Early Middle Ages (a.d. 476-1066). 

Paucity of Data for the period. — The Franks in the sixth cen- 
tury. — Battle of Tours. — ^Armies of Charles the Great. — 
The Franks become horsemen. — The Northman and the 
Magyar. — Rise of Feudalism. — The Anglo-Saxons and their 
wars. — The Danes and the Fyrd. — Military importance of 
the Thegnhood. — The House-Carles. — Battl e of Hastings . — 
Battle of Durazzo 15 — 27 



The Byzantines and their Enemies (a.d. 582-1071). 

§ I. Character 0/ Byzaniine Strategy. 


Excellence of the Byzantine Army. — Scientific study of the art 
of war. — Leo's ' Tactica.' — Wars with the Frank. — With the 
Turk. — With the Slav. — W ith the S aracen. — Border warfare 
of Christendom and Islam. — Defence of the Anatolic 
Themes. — Cavalry as a defensive force. — Professional and 
unchivalrous character of Byzantine officers . . 28 — 38 

§ 2. Arms, Organization, and Tactics of the Byzantines. 

Reorganization of the Army of the Eastern Empire By Maurice. 
— Its composition. — Armament of the Horseman, a.d. 600- 
1000. — Armament of the Infantry. — Military Train and En- 
gineers. — The Officers. — Cavalry tactics. — Leo's ideal line of 
battle. — Military Machines and their importance . . 38 — 48 

The Supremacy of Feudal Cavalry (a.d. 1066-1346). 

Unscientific nature of feudal warfare. — Consequences of head- 
long charges. — Tactical arrangements. — Their primitive 
nature. — Non-existence of strategy. — Weakness of Infantry. 
— Attempts to introduce discipline.— Rise of Mercenaries. — 
Supreme importance of fortified places. — Ascendency of the 
defensive. — The Mediaeval siege. — Improvement of the Arts 
of Attack and Defence of fortified places. — General character 
ojXain paigns . — The Crusades ... . 49 — 61 



The Swiss (a.d. 13x5-1515). 
§ I. Their Character, Arms, and Organization. 


The Swiss and the Ancient Romans. — Excellence of system 
more important than excellence of generals. — The column of 
pikemen. — The halberdier. — Rapidity of the movements of 
the Swiss. — Defensive armour. — Character of Swiss 
armies 62 — 69 

§ 2. Tactics and Strategy. 

The ' Captains ' of the Confederates. — The Echelon of three 
columns. — The 'Wedge' and the ' Hedgehog ' formations 70 — "j-}, 

§ 3. Development of Swiss Military Supremacy. 

Battle of Morgarten. — Battle of Laupen. — Battle of Sempach. 
— Battle of Arbedo.— Moral ascendency of the Swiss.— Battle 
of Granson. — Battle of Morat. — Wars of the last years of the 
fifteenth century ^"^ — ^7 

§ 4. Causes of the Decline of Swiss Ascendency. 

The tactics of the Swiss become stereotyped. — The Lands- 
knechts and their rivalry with the Swiss. — The Spanish 
Infantry and the short sword. — Battle of Ravenna. — Fortified 
Positions. — Battle of Bicocca. — Increased use of Artillery. — 
Battle of Marignano. — Decay of discipline in the Swiss 
Armies and its consequences 87 — 95 



The English and their Enemies (a. d. 1272-1485). 


The Long-bow and its origin, Welsh rather than^Nqrman. — 
Its rivalry with the Cross-bow. — Edward I and the Battle of 
Falkirk. — T he bow and the pike. — Battle of Bannockburn 
and its lessons. — The French Knighthood and the English 
Archer y. — Battle of Cressy. — Battle of Poictiers. — Du 
Guesclin and the English reverses. — Battle of Agincourt. — 
The French wars, 141 5-1453. — Battle of Formigny. — Wars 
of the Roses. — King Edward IV and his generalship. — 
Barnet and Tewkesbury. — Towton and Ferrybridge . 96 — 123 


Zisca and the Hussites. — The Waggon-fortress and the tactics 
depending on it. — Ascendency and decline of the Hussites. 
— Battle of Lipan. — The Ottomans. — Organization and 
equipment of the Janissaries. — The Timariot cavalry. — The 
other nations of Europe. — Concluding remarks . . 124 — 134 


The Art of War has been very simply defined as 'the art 
which enables any commander to worst the forces opposed to 
him.' It is therefore conversant with an enormous variety of 
subjects : Strategy and Tactics are but two of the more im- 
portant of its branches. Besides dealing with discipline, organ- 
ization, and armament, it is bound to investigate every means 
which can be adapted to increase the physical or moral effi- 
ciency of an army. The author who opened his work with a 
dissertation on ' the age which is preferable in a generalissimo,' 
or ' the average height which the infantry soldier should attain ^' 
was dealing with the Art of War, no less than he who confined 
himself to purely tactical speculations. 

The complicated nature of the subject being taken into con- 
sideration, it is evident that a complete sketch of the social and 
political history of any period would be necessary to account 
fully for the state of the 'Art of War' at the time. That art 
has existed, in a rudimentary form, ever since the day on which 
two bodies of men first met in anger to settle a dispute by the 
arbitrament of force. At some epochs, however, military and 
social history have been far more closely bound up than at 
others. In the present century wars are but episodes in a 
people's existence : there have, however, been times when the 
whole national organization was founded on the supposition of 
a normal state of strife. In such cases the history of the race 
and of its ' art of war ' are one and the same. To detail the 
constitution of Sparta, or of Ancient Germany, is to give little 
more than a list of military institutions. Conversely, to speak 
of the characteristics of their military science involves the mention 
of many of their political institutions. 

* Cf. Vegetius and Maurice. 


At no time was this interpenetration more complete than in 
the age which forms the central part of our period. Feudalism, 
in its origin and development, had a military as well as a social 
side, and its decline is by no means unaffected by military con- 
siderations. There is a point of view from which its history 
could be described as ' the rise, supremacy, and decline of 
heavy cavalry as the chief power in war.' To a certain extent 
the tracing out of this thesis will form the subject of our 
researches. It is here that we find the thread which Hnks 
the history of the military art in the middle ages into a con- 
nected whole. Between Adrianople, the first, and Marignano, 
the last, of the triumphs of the mediaeval horseman, lie the 
chapters in the scientific history of war which we are about to 



The Transition from Roman to Mediaeval 
Forms in War. 

A.D. 37S-582. 

[From the battle of Adrianople to the Accession of Maurice,] 

Between the middle of the fourth and the end of the sixth 
century lies a period of transition in military history, an epoch 
of transformations as strange and as complete as those contem- 
porary changes which turned into a new channel the course of 
political history and civilisation in Europe. In war, as in all 
else, the institutions of the ancient world are seen to pass 
away, and a new order of things develops itself. 

Numerous and striking as are the symptoms of that period of 
transition, none is more characteristic than the gradual disuse 
of the honoured name of ' Legion,' the title intimately bound up 
with all the ages of Roman greatness. Surviving in a very 
limited acceptance in the time of Justinian \ it had fifty years 
later become obsolete. It represented a form of military effi- 
ciency which had now completely vanished. That wonderful 
combination of strength and flexibility, so solid and yet so 
agile and easy to handle, had ceased to correspond to the 
needs of the time. The day of the sword and pilum had given 
place to that of the lance and bow. The typical Roman soldier 

s no longer the iron legionary, who, with shield fitted close 
his left shoulder and sword-hilt sunk low, cut his way 

^ Lord Mahon in his Life of Belisarius is wrong in asserting that the 
legion was no longer known in Justinian's day. The term is mentioned, 
though rarely, in Procopius, who more frequently calls the legionary troops 
ol CK tS)v KaraXoyaiv. 

B 2 


through the thickest hedge of pikes, and stood firm before 
the wildest onset of Celt or German^. The organization of 
Augustus and Trajan was swept away by Constantine, and the 
legions which for three hundred years had preserved their iden- 
tity, their proud titles of honour, and their esprit de corps, 
knew themselves no longer ^ 

Constantine, when he cut down the numbers of the military 
unit to a quarter of its former strength, and created many scores 
of new corps ^5 was acting from motives of political and not 
military expediency*. The armament and general character 
of the troops survived their organization, and the infantry, the 
* robur peditum,' still remained the most important and numer- 
ous part of the army. At the same time, however, a tendency to 
strengthen the cavalry made itself felt, and the proportion of 
that arm to the whole number of the military establishment 
continued steadily to increase throughout the fourth century. 
Constantine himself, by depriving the legion of its complemen- 
tary 'turmae,' and uniting the horsemen into larger independent 
bodies, bore witness to their growing importance. It would 
seem that the Empire — having finally abandoned the offensive 
in war, and having resolved to confine itself to the protection 
of its own provinces — found that there was an increasing need 
for troops who could transfer themselves with rapidity from 
one menaced point on the frontier to another. The Germans 
could easily distance the legion, burdened by the care of its 
military machines and impedimenta. Hence cavalry in larger 
numbers was required to intercept their raids. 

But it would appear that another reason for the increase 
of the horsemen was even more powerful. The ascendancy 
of the Roman infantry over its enemies was no longer so 

* Cf. Tacitus, Annals, ii. 21. 

^ The old legions of the first century are found in full vigour at the end of 
the third. The coins of the British usurper Carausius commemorate as serv- 
ing under him several of the legions which, as early as the reign of Claudius, 
were already stationed in Britain and Gaul. 

* He had 132 legions and 'numeri,' besides 100 unattached cohorts. 

* See Gibbon, ii. cap. xvii. 


marked as in earlier ages, and it therefore required to be more 
strongly supported by cavalry than had been previously neces- 
sary. The Franks, Burgundians, and Allemanni of the days of 
Constantine were no longer the half-armed savages of the first 
century, who, 'without helm or mail, with weak shields of wicker- 
work, and armed only with the javelin ^,' tried to face the embattled 
front of the cohort. They had now the iron-bound buckler, the 
pike, and the short stabbing sword (' scramasax'), as well as 
the long cutting sword (' spatha'), and the deadly ' francisca' or 
battle-axe, which, whether thrown or wielded, would penetrate 
Roman armour and split the Roman shield. As weapons for 
hand to hand combat these so far surpassed the old ' framea/ 
that the imperial infantry found it no light matter to defeat 
a German tribe. At the same time, the morale of the Roman 
army was no longer what it had once been: the corps were 
no longer homogeneous, and the insufficient supply of recruits 
was eked out by enlisting slaves and barbarians in the legions 
themselves, and not only among the auxiliary cohorts^. 
Though seldom wanting in courage, the troops of the fourth 
century had lost the self-reliance and cohesion of the old 
Roman infantry, and required far more careful handling on the 
part of the general. Few facts show this more forcibly than 
the proposal of the tactician Urbicius to furnish the legionaries 
with a large supply of portable beams and stakes, to be 
carried by pack-mules attached to each cohort. These were 
to be planted on the flanks and in the front of the legion, 
when there was a probability of its being attacked by hostile 
cavalry : behind them the Romans were to await the enemy's 
onset, without any attempt to assume the offensive ^ This 
proposition marks a great decay in the efficiency of the imperial 

^ See Tacitus, Annals, ii. 14, 

"^ When the Romans entirely abandoned the offensive an increased army 
became necessary, as a frontier held against raids requires to be protected on 
every point. Hence the conscriptions and large composition money of Con- 
stantine's epoch. He is said to have had nearly half a million of men in 
his forces. 

» See 'OTPBIKIOT 'EHITHAETMA, a fourth century work, printed at the 
end of the Paris, 1598, edition of Arrian. 


foot-soldier : the troops of a previous generation would have 
scorned such a device, accustomed as they were to drive back 
with ease the assaults of the Parthian and Sarmatian * cata- 

This tendency to deterioration on the part of the Roman 
infantry, and the consequent neglect of that arm by the 
generals of the time, were brought to a head by a disaster. 
The battle of Adrianople was the most fearful defeat suffered 
by a Roman army since Cannae ; a slaughter to which it is aptly 
compared by the military author Ammianus Marcellinus. The 
Emperor Valens, all his chief officers ^ and forty thousand men 
were left upon the field; indeed the army of the East was 
almost annihilated, and was never reorganized upon the same 
lines as had previously served for it. 

The military importance of Adrianople was unmistakable ; it 
was a victory of cavalry over infantry. The imperial army had 
developed its attack on the position of the Goths, and the two 
forces were hotly engaged, when suddenly a great body of 
horsemen charged in upon the Roman flank. It was the main 
strength of the Gothic cavalry, which had been foraging at a 
distance ; receiving news of the fight it had ridden straight for 
the battle-field. Two of Valens' squadrons, which covered the 
flank of his array, threw themselves in the way of the oncoming 
mass, and were ridden down and trampled under foot. Then 
the Goths swept down on the infantry of the left wing, rolled it 
up, and drove it in upon the centre. So tremendous was their 
impact that the legions and cohorts were pushed together in 
helpless confusion. Every attempt to stand firm failed, and in 
a few minutes left, centre, and reserve were one undistinguishable 
mass. Imperial guards, light troops, lancers, foederati and in- 
fantry of the line were wedged together in a press that grew 
closer every moment. The Roman cavalry saw that the day 
was lost, and rode off without another efi"ort. Then the aban- 
doned infantry realised the horror of their position: equally 

^ The Grand Masters of the infantry and cavalry, the Count of the Palace, 
and 45 commanders of different corps. 


unable to deploy or to fly, they had to stand to be cut down. 
It was a sight such as had been seen once before at Cannae, 
and was to be seen once after at Rosbecque. Men could not 
raise their arms to strike a blow, so closely were they packed ; 
spears snapped right and left, their bearers being unable to lift 
them to a vertical position : many soldiers were stifled in the 
press. Into this quivering mass the Goths rode, plying lance 
and sword against the helpless enemy. It was not till two- 
thirds of the Roman army had fallen that the thinning of the 
ranks enabled a few thousand men to break out ^, and follow 
their right wing and cavalry in a headlong flight. 

Such was the battle of Adrianople, the first great victory 
gained by that heavy cavalry which had now shown its ability to 
supplant the heavy infantry of Rome as the ruling power of war. 
During their sojourn in the steppes of South Russia the Goths, 
first of all Teutonic races, had become a nation of horsemen. 
Dwelling in the Ukraine, ihey had felt the influence of that land, 
ever the nurse of cavalry, from the day of the Scythian to that 
of the Tartar and Cossack. They had come to ' consider it 
more honourable to fight on horse than on foot 2,' and every 
chief was followed by his war-band of mounted men. Driven 
against their will into conflict with the empire, they found them- 
selves face to face with the army that had so long held the world 
in fear. The shock came, and, probably to his own surprise, the 
Goth found that his stout lance and good steed would carry 
him through the serried ranks of the legion. He had become 
the arbiter of war, the lineal ancestor of all the knights of the 
middle ages, the inaugurator of that ascendancy of the horseman 
which was to endure for a thousand years. 

Theodosius, on whom devolved the task of reorganizing the 
troops of the Eastern empire, appears to have appreciated to its 
fullest extent the military meaning of the fight of Adrianople. 
Abandoning the old Roman theory of war, he decided that the 

1 Cf. Ammianus Marcellinus with accounts of the Egyptian crowd at the 
first battle of El Tab. 

'■^ Maurice's Strategikon, vi. 


cavalry must in future compose the most important part of the 
imperial army. To provide himself with a sufficient force of 
horsemen, he was driven to a measure destined to sever all con- 
tinuity between the military organization of the fourth and that 
of the fifth century. He did not, like Constantine, raise new 
corps, but began to enlist wholesale every Teutonic chief whom 
he could bribe to enter his service. The war-bands which 
followed these princes were not incorporated with the national 
troops ; they obeyed their immediate commanders alone, and 
were strangers to the discipline of the Roman army. Yet to 
them was practically entrusted the fate of the empire; since 
they formed the most efficient division of the imperial forces. 
From the time of Theodosius the prince had to rely for the 
maintenance of order in the Roman world merely on the 
amount of loyalty which a constant stream of titles and honours 
could win from the commanders of the * Foederati.' 

Only six years after Adrianople there were already 40,000 
Gothic and other German horsemen serving under their own 
chiefs in the army of the East. The native troops sunk at once 
to an inferior position in the eyes of Roman generals, and the 
justice of their decision was verified a few years later when 
Theodosius' German mercenaries won for him the two well- 
contested battles which crushed the usurper Magnus Maximus 
and his son Victor. On both those occasions, the Roman 
infantry of the West, those Gallic legions who had always been 
considered the best footmen in the world, were finally ridden 
down by the Teutonic cavalry who followed the standard of the 
legitimate emperor^. 

A picture of the state of the imperial army in the Western 
provinces, drawn precisely at this period, has been preserved for 
us in the work of Vegetius, a writer whose treatise would be of 
far greater value had he refrained from the attempt to identify 
the organization of his own day with that of the first century, 

1 At the still fiercer fight, where the army of the usurper Eugenius almost 
defeated Theodosius, we find that it was the barbarian cavalry of Arbogast, 
not the native infantry, which had become (only seven years after Maximus' 
defeat) the chief force of the Western Empire. 


)y the use of the same words for entirely different things. In 
drawing inferences from his statements, it has also to be 
remembered that he frequently gives the ideal military forms of 
his imagination, instead of those which really existed in his day. 
For example, his legion is made to consist of 6000 men, while 
we know that in the end of the fourth century its establishment 
did not exceed 1500. His work is dedicated to one of the 
emperors who bore the name of Valentinian, probably to the 
second, as (in spite of Gibbon's arguments in favour of Valen- 
tinian III) the relations of the various arms to each other and 
the character of their organization point to a date prior to the 
)mmencement of the fifth century. 

A single fact mentioned by Vegetius gives us the date at 
which the continuity of the existence of the old Roman heavy 
infantry may be said to terminate. As might be expected, this 
epoch exactly corresponds with that of the similar change in 
the East, which followed the battle of Adrianople. ' From the 
foundation of the city to the reign of the sainted Gratian,' says 
the tactician, 'the legionaries wore helmet and cuirass. But 
when the practice of holding frequent reviews and sham-fights 
ceased, these arms began to seem heavy, because the soldiers 
seldom put them on. They therefore begged from the emperor 
permission to discard first their cuirasses, and then even their 
helmets, and went to face the barbarians unprotected by defen- 
sive arms. In spite of the disasters which have since ensued, 
the infantry have not yet resumed the use of them . . . And 
now, how can the Roman soldier expect victory, when helmless 
and unarmoured, and even without a shield (for the shield can- 
not be used in conjunction with the bow), he goes against the 

Vegetius — often more of a rhetorician than a soldier — has 
evidently misstated the reason of this change in infantry equip- 
ment. At a time when cavalry were clothing themselves in 
more complete armour, it is not likely that the infantry were 
discarding it from mere sloth and feebleness. The real meaning 
* Vegetius, bk. i; ii. (15) and iii. (14). 


of the change was that, in despair of resisting horsemen any- 
longer by the solidity of a line of heavy infantry, the Romans 
had turned their attention to the use of missile weapons, — a 
method of resisting cavalry even more efficacious than that 
which they abandoned, as was to be shown a thousand years 
later at Cressy and Agincourt. That Vegetius' account is also 
considerably exaggerated is shown by his enumeration of the 
legionary order of his own day, where the first rank was composed 
of men retaining shield, pilum, and cuirass (whom he pedantically 
calls 'Principes'). The second rank was composed of archers, 
but wore the cuirass and carried a lance also ; only the remain- 
ing half of the legion had entirely discarded armour, and given 
up all weapons but the bow. 

Vegetius makes it evident that cavalry, though its importance 
was rapidly increasing, had not yet entirely supplanted infantry 
to such a large extent as in the Eastern Empire. Though no 
army can hope for success without them, and though they must 
always be at hand to protect the flanks, they are not, in his 
estimation, the most effective force. As an antiquary he feels 
attached to the old Roman organization, and must indeed have 
been somewhat behind the military experience of his day. It 
may, however, be remembered that the Franks and Allemanni, 
the chief foes against whom the Western legions had to contend, 
were — unlike the Goths — nearly all footmen. It was not till the 
time of Alaric that Rome came thoroughly to know the Gothic 
horsemen, whose efficiency Constantinople had already compre- 
hended and had contrived for the moment to subsidize. In the 
days of Honorius, however, the Goth became the terror of Italy, 
as he had previously been of the Balkan peninsula. His lance 
and steed once more asserted their supremacy : the generalship 
of Stilicho, the trained bowmen and pikemen of the reorganized 
Roman army, the native and fcederate squadrons whose array 
flanked the legions, were insufficient to arrest the Gothic charge. 
For years the conquerors rode at their will through Italy : when 
they quitted it, it was by their own choice, for there were no 
troops left in the world who could have expelled them by force. 

-A.D. 582.] TO MEDimVAL FORMS IN WAR. n 

The day of infantry had in fact gone by in Southern Europe : 
they continued to exist, not as the core and strength of the army, 
but for various minor purposes, — to garrison towns or operate 
in mountainous countries. Roman and barbarian alike threw 
their vigour into the organization of their cavalry. Even the 
duty of acting as light troops fell into the hands of the horse- 
men. The Roman trooper added the bow to his equipment, 
and in the fifth century the native force of the Empire had come 
to resemble that of its old enemy, the Parthian state of the first 
entury, being composed of horsemen armed with bow and lance. 

ixed with these horse-archers fought squadrons of the Foede- 
rati, armed with the lance alone. Such were the troops of Aetius 
and Ricimer, the army which faced the Huns on the plain of 

The Huns themselves were another manifestation of the 
strength of cavalry ; formidable by their numxbers, their rapidity 
of movement, and the constant rain of arrows which they would 
pour in without allowing their enemy to close. In their tactics 
they were the prototypes of the hordes of Alp Arslan, of Gen- 
ghiz, and Tamerlane. But mixed with the Huns in the train 
of Attila marched many subject German tribes, Herules and 
Gepidas, Scyri, Lombards, and Rugians, akin to- the Goths alike 
in their race and their manner of fighting. Chalons then was 
fought by horse-archer and lancer against horse-archer and 
lancer, a fair conflict with equal weapons. The Prankish allies 
of Aetius were by far the most important body of infantry on 
the field, and these were ranged, according to the traditional 
tactics of Rome, in the centre : — flanked on one side by the 
Visigothic lances, on the other by the imperial array of horse- 
archers and heavy cavalry intermixed. The victory was won, 
not by superior tactics, but by sheer hard fighting, the decisive 
point having been the riding down of the native Huns by 
Theodoric's heavier horsemen. 

To trace out in detail the military meaning of all the wars of 
the fifth century does not fall within our province. As to the 
organization of the Roman armies a few words will suffice. In 


the West the Foederati became the sole force of the empire, so 
that at last one of their chiefs, breaking through the old spell 
of the Roman name, could make himself, in title as well as in 
reality, ruler of Italy. In the East, the decline of the native 
troops never reached this pitch. Leo I (457-474 a. d.), taking 
warning by the fate of the Western Empire, determined on 
increasing the proportion of Romans to Foederati, and carried 
out his purpose, though it involved the sacrifice of the life of his 
benefactor, the Gothic patrician Aspar. Zeno (474-491) con- 
tinued this work, and made himself noteworthy as the first em- 
peror who utilised the military virtues of the Isaurians, or semi- 
Romanized mountaineers of the interior of Asia Minor. Not 
only did they form his imperial guard, but a considerable 
number of new corps were raised among them. Zeno also 
enlisted Armenians and other inhabitants of the Roman frontier 
of the East, and handed over to his successor Anastasius an 
army in which the barbarian element was adequately counter- 
poised by the native troops. 

The victorious armies of Justinian were therefore composed 
of two distinct elements, the foreign auxiliaries serving under 
their own chiefs, and the regular imperial troops. The pages 
of Procopius give us sufficient evidence that in both these 
divisions the cavalry was by far the most important arm. The 
light horseman of the Asiatic provinces wins his especial praise. 
With body and limbs clothed in mail, his quiver at his right 
side and his sword at his left, the Roman trooper would gallop 
along and discharge his arrows to front or flank or rear with 
equal ease. To support him marched in the second line the 
heavier squadrons of the subsidized Lombard, or Herule, or 
Gepidan princes, armed with the lance. ' There are some,* 
writes Procopius, * who regard antiquity with wonder and respect, 
and attach no special worth to our modern military institutions : 
it is, however, by means of the latter that the weightiest and 
most striking results have been obtained.' The men of the 
sixth century were, in fact, entirely satisfied with the system of 
cavalry tactics which they had adopted, and looked with a 



certain air of superiority on the infantry tactics of their Roman 

Justinian's army and its achievements were indeed worthy of 
all praise ; its victories were its own, while its defeats were 
generally due to the wretched policy of the emperor, who 
persisted in dividing up the command among many hands, — 
a system which secured military obedience at the expense of 
military efficiency. Justinian might, however, plead in his 
defence that the organization of the army had become such 
that it constituted a standing menace to the central power. 
The system of the Teutonic * comitatus,' of the ' war-band ' 
surrounding a leader to whom the soldiers are bound by a per- 
sonal tie, had become deeply ingrained in the imperial forces. 
Always predominant among the Foederati, it had spread from 
them to the native corps. In the sixth century the monarch 
had always to dread that the loyalty of the troops towards their 
immediate commanders might prevail over their higher duties. 
Belisarius, and even Narses, were surrounded by large body- 
guards of chosen men, bound to them by oath. That of the 
former general at the time of his Gothic triumph amounted to 
7000 veteran horsemen. The existence of such corps rendered 
every successful commander a possible Wallenstein, to use a 
name of more modern importance. Thus the emperor, in his 
desire to avert the predominance of any single officer, would 
join several men of discordant views in the command of an 
army, and usually ensure the most disastrous consequences. 
This organization of the imperial force in ' banda V bodies 
attached by personal ties to their leaders, is the characteristic 
military form of the sixth century. Its normal prevalence is 
shown by the contemporary custom of speaking of each corps 
by the name of its commanding officer, and not by any official 
title: Nothing could be more opposed than this usage to old 
Roman precedent. 

The efficiency of Justinian's army in the Vandalic, Persian, 
or Gothic wars, depended (as has already been implied) almost 
^ This Teutonic word is in full acceptation in the sixth century. 


entirely on its excellent cavalry. The troops, whether Teutonic 
or Eastern, against which it was employed were also horsemen. 
Engaging them the Romans prevailed, because in each case 
they were able to meet their adversaries' weapons and tactics 
not merely with similar methods, but with a greater variety of 
resources. Against the Persian horse-archer was sent not only 
the light-cavalry equipped with arms of the same description, 
but the heavy foederate lancers, who could ride the Oriental 
down. Against the Gothic heavy cavalry the same lancers were 
supported by the mounted bowmen, to whom the Goths had 
nothing to oppose. If, however, the Roman army enjoyed all 
the advantages of its diverse composition, it was, on the other 
hand, liable to all the perils which arise from a want of homo- 
geneity. Its various elements were kept together only by military 
pride, or confidence in some successful general. Hence, in the 
troublous times which commenced in the end of Justinian's reign 
and continued through those of his successors, the whole military 
organization of the empire began to crumble away. A change 
not less sweeping than that which Theodosius had introduced was 
again to be taken in hand. In 582 a. d. the reforming Emperor 
Maurice came to the throne, and commenced to recast the 
imperial army in a new mould. 


The Early Middle Ages. 
A.D. 476-1066-81. 

[From the Fall of the Western Empire to the Battles of Hastings 
and Durazzo.] 

The Franks^ Anglo-Saxons^ Scandinavians^ etc. 

In leaving the discussion of the military art of the later 
Romans in order to investigate that of the nations of Northern 
and Western Europe, w^e are stepping from a region of com- 
parative light into one of doubt and obscurity. The data which 
in the history of the empire may occasionally seem scanty and 
insufficient are in the history of the Teutonic races often entirely 
wanting. To draw up from our fragmentary authorities an esti- 
mate of the military importance of the Eastern campaigns of 
Heraclius is not easy : but to discover what were the particular 
military causes which settled the event of the day at Vougl^ or 
Tolbiac, at Badbury or the Heavenfield, is absolutely impossible. 
The state of the Art of War in the Dark Ages has to be worked 
out from monkish chronicles and national songs, from the casual 
references of Byzantine historians, from the quaint drawings of 
the illuminated manuscript, or the mouldering fragments found 
in the warrior's barrow. 

It is fortunate that the general characteristics of the period 
render its military history comparatively simple. Of strategy 
there could be little in an age when men strove to win their ends 
by hard fighting rather than by skilful operations or the utilizing 
of extraneous advantages. Tactics were stereotyped by the 
national organizations of the various peoples. The true interest 

1 6 . THE EARLY MIDDLE AGES. [A.D. 476- 

of the centuries of the early Middle Ages lies in the gradual 
evolution of new forms of warlike efficiency, which end in the 
establishment of a military class as the chief factor in war, and 
the decay among most peoples of the old system which riiade 
the tribe arrayed in arms the normal fighting force. Intimately 
connected with this change was an alteration in arms and equip- 
ment, which transformed the outward appearance of war in a 
manner not less complete. This period of transition may be 
considered to end when, in the eleventh century, the feudal 
cavalier established his superiority over all the descriptions of 
troops which were pitted against him, from the Magyar horse- 
archers of the East to the Anglo-Danish axe-men of the West. 
The fight of Hastings, the last attempt made for three centuries 
by infantry to withstand cavalry, serves to mark the termination 
of the epoch. 

The Teutonic nation of North- Western Europe did not — like 
the Goths and Lombards — owe their victories to the strength of 
their mail-clad cavalry. The Franks and Saxons of the sixth 
and seventh centuries were still infantry. It would appear that 
the moors of North Germany and Schleswig, and the heaths 
and marshes of Belgium, were less favourable to the growth of 
cavalry than the steppes of the Ukraine or the plains of the 
Danube valley. The Frank, as pictured to us by Sidonius 
Apollinaris, Procopius, and Agathias, still bore a considerable 
resemblance to his Sigambrian ancestors. Like them he was 
destitute of helmet and body-armour ; his shield, however, had 
become a much more effective defence than the wicker frame- 
work of the first century : it was a solid oval with a large iron 
boss and rim. The ' framea ' had now been superseded by the 
'angon' — 'a dart neither very long nor very short, which can 
be used against the enemy either by grasping it as a pike or 
hurling it^' The iron of its head extended far down the shaft ; 
at its ' neck ' were two barbs, which made its extraction from 
a wound or a pierced shield almost impossible. The ' francisca,' 
however, was the great weapon of the people from whom it 

* Agathias. 


derived its name. It was a single-bladed battle-axe ^, with a 
heavy head composed of a long blade curved on its outer face 
and deeply hollowed in the interior. It was carefully weighted, 
so that it could be used, like an American tomahawk, for hurling 
at the enemy. The skill with which the Franks discharged this 
weapon, just before closing with the hostile line, was extraordi- 
nary, and its effectiveness made it their favourite arm. A sword 
?nd dagger (' scramasax ') completed the normal equipment of 
the warrior; the last was a broad thrusting blade, i8 inches 
long, the former a two-edged cutting weapon of about 2 J feet 
in length. 

Such was the equipment of the armies which Theodebert, 
Buccehn, and Lothair led down into Italy in the middle of the 
sixth century. Procopius informs us that the first-named prince 
brought with him some cavalry ; their numbers, however, were 
insignificant, a few hundreds in an army of 90,000 men. They 
carried the lance and a small round buckler, and served as a 
body-guard round the person of the king. Their presence, 
though pointing to a new military departure among the Franks, 
only serves to show the continued predominance of infantry in 
their armies. 

A problem interesting to the historian w^as worked out, when 
in A. D. 553 the footmen of Buccelin met the Roman army of 
Narses at the battle of Casilinum. The superiority of the 
tactics and armament of the imperial troops was made equally 
conspicuous. Formed in one deep column the Franks advanced 
into the centre of the semicircle in which Narses had ranged his 
men. The Roman infantry and the dismounted heavy cavalry 
of the Herule auxiliaries held them in play in front, while the 
horse-archers closed in on their flanks, and inflicted on them 
the same fate which had befallen the army of Crassus. Hardly 
a man of Buccelin's followers escaped from the field : the day 
of infantry was gone, for the Franks as much as for the rest of 
the world. 

^ Though often called * bipennis ' it had not necessarily two blades, that 
word having become a mere general name for ' axe.' 



We are accordingly not surprised to find that from the sixth 
to the ninth century a steady increase in the proportion of 
cavalry in the Frank armies is to be found; corresponding to it 
is an increased employment of defensive arms. A crested 
helmet of classical shape becomes common among them, and 
shortly after a mail-shirt reaching to the hips is introduced. 
The Emperor Charles the Great himself contributed to the 
armament of his cavalry, by adopting defences for the arms and 
thighs : ' coxarum exteriora in eo ferreis ambiebantur bracte- 
olis \' This protection, however, was at first rejected by many 
of the Franks, who complained that it impaired their seat on 

At Tours a considerable number of horsemen appear to 
have served in the army of Charles Martel : the general tactics 
of the day, however, were not those of an army mainly com- 
posed of cavalry. The Franks stood rooted to the spof^, and 
fought a waiting battle, till the light-horse of the Saracens had 
exhausted their strength in countless unsuccessful charges : then 
they pushed forward and routed such of the enemy as had spirit 
to continue the fight. In the time of Charles the Great we are 
told that all men of importance, with their immediate followers, 
were accustomed to serve on horseback. The national forces, 
however, as opposed to the personal retinues of the monarch 
and his great officials and nobles, continued to form the infantry 
of the army, as can be seen from the list of the weapons ^vhich 
the * Counts ' are directed to provide for them. The Capitularies 
are explicit in declaring that the local commanders ^are to be 
careful that the men whom they have to lead to battle are fully 
equipped : that is, that they possess spear, shield, helm, mail- 
shirt ('brunia'), a bow, two bow-strings, and twelve arrow3^.' 
The Franks had therefore become heavy infantry at the end of 
the eighth century : in the ninth century they were finally to 

^ See Hewitt's Ancient Armour, vol. i. 8. 

' ' Terrae glacialiter adstricti ' are the Chronicler's words. 

' Capitularies, ed. Baluz, i. 508. 

-A. D. 1066.] THE EARLY MIDDLE AGES. 1 9 

abandon their old tactics,^ and to entrust all important operations 
to their cavalry. 

This transformation may be said to date from the law of 
Charles the Bald, providing ' ut pagenses Franci qui caballos 
habent, aut habere possunt, cum suis comitibus in hostem 
pergant.' Whether merely ratifying an existing state of things, 
or instituting a new one, this order is eminently characteristic 
Oi'' the period, in which the defence of the country was falling 
into the hands of its cavalry force alone. Of the causes which 
led to this consummation the most important was the character 
of the enemies with whom the Franks had to contend in the 
ninth and tenth centuries. The Northman in the Western 
kingdom, the Magyar in the Eastern, were marauders bent on 
plunder alone, and owing their success to the rapidity of their 
movements. The hosts of the Vikings were in the habit of 
seizing horses in the country which they invaded, and then rode 
up and down the length of the land, always distancing the 
slowly-moving local levies. The Hungarian horse-archers con- 
ducted forays into the heart of Germany, yet succeeded in 
evading pursuit. For the repression of such inroads infantry 
was absolutely useless ; like the Romans of the fourth century, 
the Franks, when obliged to stand upon the defensive, had to 
rely upon their cavalry. 

This crisis in the military history of Europe coincided with 
the breaking up of all central power in the shipwreck of the 
dynasty of Charles the Great. In the absence of any organized 
national resistance, the defence of the empire fell into the hands 
of the local counts, who now became semi-independent sovereigns. 
To these petty rulers the landholders of each district were now 
* commending' themselves, in order to obtain protection in an 
age of war and anarchy. At the same time, and for the same 
reason, the poorer freemen were 'commending* themselves to 
the landholders. Thus the feudal hierarchy was established, 
and a new military system appears, when the * count' or *duke* 
leads out to battle his vassals and their mounted retainers. 

Politically retrogressive as was that system, it had yet 
c 2 


its day of success: the Magyar was crushed at Merseberg 
and the Lechfeld, and driven back across the Leith, soon 
to become Christianised and grow into an orderly member 
of the European commonwealth. The Viking was checked 
in his plundering forays, expelled from his strongholds at the 
river-mouths, and restricted to the single possession of Nor- 
mandy, where he — like the Magyar — was assimilated to the 
rest of feudal society. The force which had won these victories, 
and saved Europe from a relapse into the savagery and Paganism 
of the North and East, was that of the mail-clad horseman. 
What wonder then if his contemporaries and successors glorified 
him into the normal type of warriorhood, and believed that no 
other form of military efficiency was worth cultivating ? The 
perpetuation of feudal chivalry for four hundred years was the 
reward of its triumphs in the end of the Dark Ages. 

Beyond the English Channel the course of the history of war 
is parallel to that which it took in the lands of the Continent, 
with a single exception in the form of its final development. 
Like the Franks, the Angles and Saxons were at the time of 
their conquest of Britain a nation of infantry soldiers, armed 
with the long ashen javelin, the broadsword, the seax or broad 
stabbing dagger, and occasionally the battle-axe \ Their defen- 
sive weapon was almost exclusively the shield, the ' round war- 
board,' with its large iron boss. Ring-mail, though known to 
them at a very early date, was, as all indications unite to show, 
extremely uncommon. The 'grey war-sark' or 'ring-locked 
byrnie' of Beowulf was obtainable by kings and princes alone. 
The helmet also, with its ' iron-wrought boar-crest,' was very 
restricted in its use. If the monarch and his gesiths wore such 
arms, the national levy, which formed the main fighting force of 
a heptarchic kingdom, was entirely without them. 

Unmolested for many centuries in their island home, the 
English kept up the old Teutonic war customs for a longer 

^ A short weapon like the 'francisca,' not the long Danish axe which 
afterwards became the national arm. 


period than other European nations. When Mercia and Wessex 
were at strife, the campaign was fought out by the hastily-raised 
hosts of the various districts, headed by their aldermen and 
reeves. Hence war bore the spasmodic and inconsequent 
character which resulted from the temporary nature of such 
armies. With so weak a military organization, there was no 
possibility of working out schemes of steady and progressive 
conquest. The frays of the various kingdoms, bitter and un- 
ceasing though they might be, led to no decisive results. If in 
the ninth century a tendency towards unification began to show 
itself in England, it was caused, not by the military superiority 
of Wessex, but by the dying out of royal lines and the unfortu- 
nate internal condition of the other states. 

While this inclination towards union was developing itself, 
the whole island was subjected to the stress of the same storm 
of foreign invasion which was shaking the Prankish empire to 
its foundations. The Danes came down upon England, and 
demonstrated, by the fearful success of their raids, that the old 
Teutonic military system was inadequate to the needs of the 
day. The Vikings were in fact superior to the forces brought 
against them, alike in tactics, in armament, in training, and in 
mobility. Personally the Dane was the member of an old war- 
band contending with a farmer fresh from the plough, a veteran 
soldier pitted against a raw militiaman. As a professional war- 
rior he had provided himself with an equipment which only the 
chiefs among the English army could rival, the mail 'byrnie' 
being a normal rather than an exceptional defence, and the 
steel cap almost universal. The 'fyrd,' on the other hand, 
came out against him destitute of armour, and bearing a motley 
array of weapons, wherein the spear and sword were mixed with 
the club and the stone-axe \ If, however, the Danes had been 
in the habit of waiting for the local levies to come up with them, 
equal courage and superior numbers might have prevailed over 
these advantages of equipment. Plunder, however, rather than 

^ If these were the ' lignis imposita saxa ' of which the Norman chronicler 
of Hastings spoke, as being English weapons. 


fighting, was the Vikings object : the host threw itself upon 
some district of the EngHsh coast, ' was there a-horsed \' and 
then rode far and wide through the land, doing all the damage 
in its power. The possession of the horses they had seized gave 
them a power of rapid movement which the fyrd could not 
hope to equal : when the local levies arrived at the spot where 
the invaders had been last seen, it was only to find smoke and 
ruins, not an enemy. When driven to bay — as, in spite of their 
habitual retreats, was sometimes the case — the Danes showed 
an instinctive tactical ability by their use of entrenchments, with 
which the English were unaccustomed to deal. Behind a ditch 
and palisade, in some commanding spot, the invaders would 
wait for months, till the accumulated force of the fyrd had 
melted away to its homes. 

Of assaults on their positions they knew no fear : the line of 
axemen could generally contrive to keep down the most im- 
petuous charge of the English levies : , Reading was a more 
typical field than Ethandun. For one successful storm of an 
intrenched camp there were two bloody repulses. 

Thirty years of disasters sealed the fate of the old national 
military organization : something more than the fyrd was neces- 
sary to meet the organized war-bands of the Danes. The 
social results of the invasion in England had been similar to 
those which we have observed in the Frankish empire. Every- 
where the free ' ceorls ' had been ' commending ' themselves to 
the neighbouring landowners. By accepting this ' commenda- 
tion' the thegnhood had rendered itself responsible for the 
defence of the country. The kingly power was in stronger 
hands in England than across the Channel, so that the new 
system did not at once develope itself into feudalism. Able to 
utilise, instead of bound to fear, the results of the change, Alfred 
and Eadward determined to use it as the basis for a new military 
organization. Accordingly all holders of five hides of land were 
subjected to ' Thegn-service,' and formed a permanent basis for 
the national army. To supplement the force thus obtained, the 

\ Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, under a.d. 866 and passim. 

-A. D. 1066.] THE EARLY MIDDLE AGES, 23 

fyrd was divided into two halves, one of which was always to be 
available. These arrangements had the happiest results : the 
tide of war turned, and England reasserted itself, till the tenth 
century saw the culmination of her new strength at the great 
battle of Brunanburh. The thegn, a soldier by position like the 
Frankish noble, has now become the leading figure in war: 
arrayed in mail shirt and steel cap, and armed with sword and 
long pointed shield, the 'bands of chosen ones' were ready to 
face and hew down the Danish axemen. It is, however, worth 
remembering that the military problem of the day had now been 
much simplified for the English by the settlement of the invaders 
within the Danelaw. An enemy who has towns to be burnt and 
homesteads to be harried can have pressure put upon him 
w^hich cannot be brought to bear on a marauder whose basis of 
operations is the sea. It is noteworthy that Eadward utilised 
against the Danes that same system of fortified positions which 
they had employed against his predecessors; the stockades of 
his new burghs served to hold in check the 'heres' of the local 
jarls of the Five Towns, while the king with his main force was 
busied in other quarters. 

A century later than the military reforms of Alfred the feudal 
danger which had split up the Frankish realm began to make 
itself felt in England. The great ealdormen of the reign of 
Ethelred correspond to the counts of the time of Charles the Fat, 
in their tendency to pass from the position of officials into that 
of petty princes. Their rise is marked by the decay of the 
central military organization for war ; and during the new series 
of Danish invasions the forces of each ealdormanry are seen 
to fight and fall without any support from their neighbours. 
England was in all probability only saved from the fate of 
France by the accession of Canute. That monarch, besides 
reducing the provincial governors to their old position of dele- 
gates of the crown, strengthened his position by the institution 
of the House-Carles, a force sufficiently numerous to be called a 
small standing army rather than a mere royal guard. 

These troops are not only the most characteristic token of 


the existence of a powerful central government, but represent 
the maximum of military efficiency to be found in the Anglo- 
Danish world. Their tactics and weapons differed entirely from 
those of the feudal aristocracy of the continent, against whom 
they were ere long to be pitted. They bore the long Danish 
battle-axe, a shaft five feet long fitted with a single-bladed head 
of enormous size. It was far too ponderous for use on horse- 
back, and being wielded with both arms precluded the use of a 
shield in hand to hand combat^. The blows delivered by this 
weapon were tremendous : no shield or mail could resist them ; 
they were even capable, as was shown at Hastings, of lopping 
off a horse's head at a single stroke. The house-carle in his 
defensive equipment did not differ from the cavalry of the lands 
beyond the Channel : like them he wore a mail shirt of a con- 
siderable length, reaching down to the lower thigh, and a pointed 
steel cap fitted with a nasal. 

The tactics of the English axemen were those of' the column : 
arranged in a compact mass they could beat off almost any 
attack, and hew their way through every obstacle. Their personal 
strength and steadiness, their confidence and esprit de corps^ 
made them the most dangerous adversaries. Their array, how- 
ever, was vitiated by the two defects of slowness of movement 
and vulnerability by missiles. If assailed by horsemen, they 
were obliged to halt and remain fixed to the spot, in order to 
keep off the enemy by their close order. If attacked from a 
distance by Hght troops, they were also at a disadvantage, as 
unable to reach men who retired before them. 

The battle of Hastings, the first great mediaeval fight of 
which we have an account clear enough to give us an insight into 
the causes of its result, was the final trial of this form of military 
efficiency. Backed by the disorderly masses of the fyrd, and 
by the thegns of the home counties, the house -carles of King 

^ See in the Roman de Rou, ii. 262 : — 

' Hoem ki od hache volt ferir, S'il velt ferir de grant air. 

Od sez dous mainz I'estuet tenir. Bien ferir e covrir ensemble 
Ne pot entendre a sei covrir, Ne pot Ten fair 90 me semble.' 

-A.. D. 1066.] THE EARLY MIDDLE AGES. 25 

Harold stood in arms to defend the entrenchments of Senlac. 
Formidable as was the English array, it was opposed precisely 
by those arms which, in the hands of an able general, were 
competent to master it. The Norman knights, if unsupported 
by their light infantry, might have surged for ever around the 
impregnable palisades. The archers, if unsupported by the 
knights, could easily have been driven off the field by a general 
charge. United, however, by the skilful tactics of William, the 
two divisions of the invading army won the day. The Saxon 
mass was subjected to exactly the same trial which befell 
the British squares in the battle of Waterloo ^ : incessant 
charges by a gallant cavalry were alternated with a destructive 
fire of missiles. Nothing can be more maddening than such 
an ordeal to the infantry soldier, rooted to the spot by the 
necessities of his formation. After repelling charge after charge 
with the greatest steadiness, the axemen could no longer bear 
the rain of arrows. When at last the horsemen drew back in 
apparent disorder, a great part of Harold's troops stormed down 
into the valley after them, determined to finish the battle by an 
advance which should not allow the enemy time to rally. This 
mistake was fatal : the Norman retreat had been the result of 
the Duke's orders, not of a wish to leave the field. The cavalry 
turned, rode down the scattered mass which had pursued them, 
and broke into the gap in the English line which had been 
made by the inconsiderate charge. Desperate as was their 
position, the English still held out : the arrows fell thickly 

^ The fate of the only one of Wellington's squares which attempted to 
deploy, in order to drive off the infantry which were annoying it, may well 
be compared with that of Harold's soldiery, * The concentrated fire of this 
close line of skirmishers was now telling heavily upon the devoted squares 
of Alten's division. It was, however, impossible to deploy, as in the hollow, 
near La Haye Sainte, there lay in wait a body of the enemy's cavalry. At 
last the 5th line-battalion of the King's German Legion, forsaking its square 
formation, opened out, and advanced against the mass of tirailleurs. The 
French gave way as the line advanced at the charge ; at the next moment 
the battalion was furiously assailed by a regiment of cuirassiers, who, taking 
it in flank, fairly rolled it up. So severe was the loss sustained, that out of 
the whole battalion not more than 30 men and a few officers were gradually 
collected in their former position.' (Siborne's History of the Waterloo 
Campaign, ii. pp. 1 14-15.) 



among them, the knights were forcing their way among the 
disordered ranks of the broken army, but for three hours longer 
the fight went on. This exhibition of courage only served to 
increase the number of the slain : the day was hopelessly lost, 
and, as evening fell, the few survivors of the English army were 
glad to be able to make their retreat under cover of the dark- 
ness. The tactics of the phalanx of axemen had been deci- 
sively beaten by William's combination of archers and cavalry. 

Once more only — on a field far away from its native land — 
did the weapon of the Anglo-Danes dispute the victory with the 
lance and bow. Fifteen years after Harold's defeat another 
body of English axemen — some of them may well have fought 
at Senlac — were advancing against the army of a Norman 
prince. They were the Varangian guard — the famous lieXe- 
Kv(f)6poi — of the Emperor Alexius Comnenus'. That prince 
was engaged in an attempt to raise the siege of Dyrrhachium, 
then invested by Robert Guiscard. The Norman army was 
already drawn up in front of its lines, while the troops of 
Alexius were only slowly arriving on the field. Among the 
foremost of his corps were the Varangians, whom his care 
had provided with horses, in order that they might get to 
the front quickly and execute a turning movement. This 
they accomplished; but when they approached the enemy 
they were carried away by their eagerness to begin the fray. 
Without waiting for the main attack of the Greek army to 
be developed, the axemen sent their horses to the rear, 
and advanced in a solid column against the Norman flank. 
Rushing upon the division commanded by Count Amaury of 
Bari, they drove it, horse and foot, into the sea. Their success, 
however, had disordered their ranks, and the Norman prince 
was enabled, since Alexius' main body was still far distant, to 
turn all his forces against them. A vigorous cavalry charge cut 
off the greater part of the English ; the remainder collected on 

^ neXfKvcjySpos had become such a mere synonym for Englishmen at 
Constantinople, that Anna Comnena considers that she defines Robert 
of Normandy sufficiently, when she calls him ' the brother of the King of 
the Il€\eKv<j)6poi.' 


a little mound by the sea-shore, surmounted by a deserted 
chapel. Here they were surrounded by the Normans, and a 
scene much like Senlac, but on a smaller scale, was enacted. 
After the horsemen and the archers had destroyed the majority 
of the Varangians, the remainder held out obstinately within the 
chapel. Sending for fascines and timber from his camp, Robert 
heaped them round the building and set fire to the mass\ The 
English sallied out to be slain one by one, or perished in the 
flames : not a man escaped ; the whole corps suffered destruc- 
tion, as a consequence of their misplaced eagerness to open the 
fight. Such was the fate of the last attempt made by infantry 
to face the feudal array of the eleventh century. No similar 
experiment was now to be made for more than two hundred 
years : the supremacy of cavalry was finally established. 

^ For these details see Anna Comnena's Life of Alexius. She calls the 
commander of the Varangians Nafxerijs or tfafiirlTrjs : what English or Scan- 
dinavian name can this represent? Considering the remote resemblance of 
some of Anna's Western names to their real forms, it is perhaps hopeless to 
expect an answer. 


The Byzantines and their Enemies K 
A. D. 582-1071. 

[From the accession of Maurice to the battle of Manzikert.] 
(i) Character of Byzantine Strategy, 

Alike in composition and in organization, the army which 
for 500 years held back Slav and Saracen from the frontier 
of the Eastern Empire, differed from the troops whose name 
and traditions it inherited. To the ' Palatine ' and ' Limitary ' 
*numeri' of Constantine it bore as little Hkeness as to the legions 
of Trajan. Yet in one respect at least it resembled both those 
forces : it was in its day the most efficient mihtary body in the 
world. The men of the lower Empire have received scant 
justice at the hands of modern historians : their manifest faults 
have thrown the stronger points of their character into the 
shade, and Byzantinism is accepted as a synonym for effete 
incapacity alike in peace and war. Much might be written in 
general vindication of their age, but never is it easier to produce 
a strong defence than when their military skill and prowess are 

^The vices of Byzantine armies,' says Gibbon^, 'were inherent, 
their victories accidental,' So far is this sweeping condemnation 
from the truth, that it would be far more correct to call their 
defeats accidental, their successes normal. Bad generalship, 
insufficient numbers, unforeseen calamities, not the inefficiency 

^ See especially : — Maurice's Strategikon (Upsala 1664), written about 
A. D. 595; Leo's Tactica (Leyden 161 2), written about A. d, 900; 
Nicephorus Phocas' DEPI HAPAAPOMHS nOAEMOT (in Migne's Patro- 
ogia), written about A. D. 960. 

^ Gibbon, v. p. 382. 


of the troops, were the usual causes of disaster in the campaigns 
of the Eastern Emperors. To the excellence of the soldiery 
^k^itness, direct or indirect, is borne in every one of those military 
^Breatises which give us such a vivid picture of the warfare of the 
^pige. Unless the general is incompetent or the surrounding 
circumstances unusually adverse, the authors always assume that 
' victory will follow the banner of the Empire. The troops can 
be trusted, like Wellington's Peninsular veterans, ' to go any- 
where and do anything.' ' The commander,' says Nicephorus 
r^hocas^ 'who has 6000 of our heavy cavalry and God's help, 
teeds nothing more.' In a similar spirit Leo the Philosopher 
peclares in his Tactica that, except the Prankish and Lombard 
Knights, there were no horsemen in the world who could face 
the Byzantine * Cataphracti,' when the numbers of the com- 
batants approached equality. Slav, Turk, or Saracen could be 
ridden down by a charge fairly pressed home : only with the 
men of the West was the result of the shock doubtful. The 
causes of the excellence and efficiency of the Byzantine army 
are not hard to discover. In courage they were equal to their 
enemies ; in discipline, organization, and armament far superior. 
Above all, they possessed not only the traditions of Roman 
strategy, but a complete system of tactics, carefully elaborated 
to suit the requirements of the age. 

For centuries war was studied as an art in the East, while in 
the West it remained merely a matter of hard fighting. The 
young Prankish noble deemed his military education complete 
when he could sit his charger firmly, and handle lance and 
shield with skill. The Byzantine patrician, while no less exercised 
in arms 2, added theory to empiric knowledge by the study of 
the works of Maurice, of Leo, of Nicephorus Phocas, and of 
other authors whose books survive in name alone. The results 
of the opposite views taken by the two divisions of Europe are 
what might have been expected. The men of the West, though 
they regarded war as the most important occupation of life, 

^ Nic. Pho. nepi napaSpSfirjs noK^pLov, § 17. 

^ Nothing better attests the military spirit of the Eastern aristocracy than 
their duels : cf. the cases of Prusian, etc., in Finlay's Greece. 


invariably found themselves at a loss when opposed by an enemy 
with whose tactics they were not acquainted. The generals of 
the East,' on the other hand, made it their boast that they knew 
how to face and conquer Slav or Turk, Frank or Saracen, by 
employing in each case the tactical means best adapted to meet 
their opponents' method of warfare. 

The directions for the various emergencies given by the 
Emperor Leo impress us alike as showing the diversity of the 
tasks set before the Byzantine general, and the practical manner 
in which they were taken in hand. They serve indeed as a key 
to the whole system of the art of war as it was understood at 

' The Frank,' says Leo ^ ' believes that a retreat under any 
circumstances must be dishonourable ; hence he will fight when- 
ever you choose to offer him battle. This you must not do till 
you have secured all possible advantages for yourself, as his 
cavalry, with their long lances and large shields, charge with a 
tremendous impetus. You should deal with him by protracting 
the campaign, and if possible lead him into the hills, where his 
cavalry are less efficient than in the plain. After a few weeks 
without a great battle his troops, who are very susceptible to 
fatigue and weariness, will grow tired of the war, and ride home 
in great numbers. . . . You will find him utterly careless as to 
outposts and reconnaisances, so that you can easily cut off 
outlying parties of his men, and attack his camp at advantage. 
As his forces have no bonds of discipline, but only those of 
kindred or oath, they fall into confusion after delivering their 
charge ; you can therefore simulate flight, and then turn them, 
when you will find them in utter disarray. On the whole, 
however, it is easier and less costly to wear out a Frankish 
army by skirmishes and protracted operations rather than to 
attempt to destroy it at a single blow.' 

The chapters of which these directions are an abstract have 
two distinct points of interest. They present us with a picture 

^ Leo, Tactica, § i8. The paragraphs here are a condensation of Leo's 
advice, and sometimes an elucidation, not a literal translation. 


of a Western army of the ninth or tenth century, the exact period 
of the development of feudal cavalry, drawn by the critical hand 
of an enemy. They also show the characteristic strength and 
weakness of Byzantine military science. On the one hand, we 
note that Leo's precepts are practical and efficacious ; on the 
other, we see that they are based upon the supposition that the 
imperial troops will normally act upon the defensive, a limitation 
which must materially lessen their efficiency. These, however, 
were the tactics by which the Eastern Emperors succeeded 
in maintaining their Italian ' Themes ' for 400 years, against 
every attack of Lombard duke or Frankish emperor. 

The method which is recommended by Leo for resisting the 
' Turks ' (by which name he denotes the Magyars and the tribes 
dwelling north of the Euxine) is different in every respect from 
that directed against the nations of the West. The Turkish 
army consisted of innumerable bands of light horsemen, who 
carried javelin and scimitar, but relied on their arrows for 
victory. Their tactics were in fact a repetition of those of 
Attila, a foreshadowing of those of Alp Arslan or Batu Khan. 
The Turks were ' given to ambushes and stratagems of every 
sort,' and were noted for the care with which they posted their 
vedettes, so that they could seldom or never be attacked by 
surprise. On a fair open field, however, they could be ridden 
down by the Byzantine heavy cavalry, who are therefore recom- 
mended to close with them at once, and not to exchange arrows 
with them at a distance. Steady infantry they could not break, 
and indeed they were averse to attacking it, since the bows of 
the Byzantine foot-archers carried farther than their own shorter 
weapon, and they were thus liable to have their horses shot 
before coming within their own limit of efficacious range. 
Their armour protected their own bodies, but not those of 
their chargers ; and they might thus find themselves dismounted, 
in which position they were absolutely helpless, the nomad of 
the steppes having never been accustomed to fight on foot. 
With the Turks, therefore, a pitched battle was desirable ; but 
as they were prompt at rallying, it was always necessary to 


pursue them with caution, and not to allow the troops to get 
out of hand during the chase/ 

It is at once apparent from these directions how utterly the 
efficiency of the Byzantine infantry differed from that of the 
legions of an earlier day. The soldiers of the first century, 
armed with sword and pilum alone, were destroyed from a 
distance by the Parthian mounted bowmen. The adoption of 
the bow by infantry had now changed the aspect of affairs, and 
it was the horse-archer who now found himself at a disadvantage 
in the exchange of missiles. Nor could he hope to retrieve the 
day by charging, since the ' scutati \' or spearmen carrying the 
large shield, who formed the front rank of a Byzantine ' tagma,' 
could keep at bay horsemen armed, not with the heavy lance of 
the West, but merely with scimitars and short javelins. Hence 
the Turk avoided conflicts with the imperial infantry, and 
used his superior powers of locomotion to keep out of its 
way. It was only the cavalry which could, as a rule, come up 
with him. 

The tactics calculated for success against the Slavs call for 
little notice. The Servians and the Slovenes possessed hardly 
any cavalry, and were chiefly formidable to the imperial troops 
when they kept to the mountains, where their archers and 
javelin-men, posted in inaccessible positions, could annoy the 
invader from a distance, or the spearmen could make sudden 
assaults on the flank of his marching columns. Such attacks 
could be frustrated by proper vigilance, while, if the Slavs were 
only surprised while engaged in their plundering expeditions 
into the plains, they could be ridden down and cut to pieces by 
the imperial cavalry. 

To deal with the Saracen ^, on the other hand, the greatest 
care and skill were required. * Of all barbarous nations/ says 

^ (jKovTOLToi, one of the curious Latin survivals in Byzantine military ter- 
minology. In translitterating Latin words the Greeks paid no attention to 

^ Much confusion in military history has been caused by writers attribut- 
ing the archery of the Turks to the Saracens : the latter were not employers 
of archery-tactics, but lancers. Battles like Dorylaeum, which are given as 
examples of Saracen warfare, were fought really by Turks. 


Leo ^ * they are the best advised and the most prudent in their 
military operations.' The commander who has to meet with 
them will need all his tactical and strategical ability, the troops 
must be well disciplined and confident, if the * barbarous and 
blaspheming Saracen'^' is to be driven back in rout through the 
' Klissuras ' of Taurus. 

The Arabs whom Khaled and Amrou had led in the seventh 
century to the conquest of Syria and Egypt, had owed their 
victory neither to the superiority of their arms nor to the 
excellence of their organization. The fanatical courage of the 
fatalist had enabled them — as it has enabled their co-religionists 
in the present spring — to face better armed and better disciplined 
troops. Settled in their new homes, however, when the first 
outburst of their vigour had passed away, they did not disdain 
to learn a lesson from the nations they had defeated. Ac- 
cordingly the Byzantine army served as a model for the forces 
of the Khalifs ; * they have copied the Romans in most of their 
military practices,' says Leo', both in arms and in strategy. 
Like the imperial generals, they placed their confidence in their 
mailed lancers ; but the Saracen and his charger were alike at a 
disadvantage in the onset. Horse for horse and man for man, 
the Byzantines were heavier, and could ride the Orientals down 
when the final shock came. 

Two things alone rendered the Saracens the most dangerous 
of foes, their numbers and their extraordinary powers of loco- 
motion. When an inroad into Asia Minor was projected, the 
powers of greed and fanaticism united to draw together every 
unquiet spirit between Khorassan and Egypt. The wild horse- 
men of the East poured out in myriads from the gates of 
Tarsus and Adana, to harry the fertile uplands of the Anatolic 
Themes. * They are no regular troops, but a mixed multitude 
of volunteers : the rich man serves from pride of race, the poor 
man from hope of plunder. Many of them go forth because 
they believe that God delights in war, and has promised victory 
to them. Those who stay at home, both men and women, aid 

^ Leo, § 18. 124. 3 ibi^j 8 Ibid, 120. 



in arming their poorer neighbours, and think that they are 
performing a good work thereby. Thus there is no homo- 
geneity in their armies, since experienced warriors and untrained 
plunderers march side by side ^.' Once clear of the passes of 
Taurus, the great horde of Saracen horsemen cut itself loose 
from its communications, and rode far and wide through Phry- 
gia and Cappadocia, burning the open towns, harrying the 
country side, and lading their beasts of burden with the 
plunder of a region which was in those days one of the richest 
in the world. 

Now was the time for the Byzantine general to show his 
metal : first he had to come up with his enemies, and then to 
fight them. The former task was no easy matter, as the Saracen 
in the first days of his inroad could cover an incredible distance. 
It was not till he had loaded and clogged himself with plunder 
that he was usually to be caught. 

When the news of the raid reached the general of the 
'Anatolic' or 'Armeniac ' theme, he had at once to collect every 
eJQficient horseman in his province, and strike at the enemy. 
Untrained men and weak horses were left behind, and the 
infantry could not hope to keep up with the rapid movements 
which had now to be undertaken. Accordingly, Leo would 
send all the disposable foot to occupy the 'Klissuras' of the 
Taurus, where, even if the cavalry did not catch the invader, 
his retreat might be delayed and harassed in passes where he 
could not fight to advantage. 

In his cavalry, however, lay the Byzantine commander's hope 
of success. To ascertain the enemy's position he must spare no 
trouble : * never turn away freeman or slave, by day or night, 
though you may be sleeping or eating or bathing,' writes 
Nicephorus Phocas, 'if he says that he has news for you.' 
When once the Saracen's track had been discovered, he was 
to be pursued without ceasing, and his force and objects 
discovered. If all Syria and Mesopotamia had come out for 
an invasion rather than a mere foray, the general must resign 

* Leo, Tactica: various scattered notices in § i8. 


himself to taking the defensive, and only hang on the enemy's 
flanks, cutting off his stragglers and preventing any plundering 
by detached parties. No fighting must be taken in hand till 
' all the Themes of the East have been set marching ; ' an order 
which would put some 25,000 or 30,000 heavy cavalry^ at the 
disposal of the commander-in-chief, but would cost the loss of 
much precious time. These Saracen 'Warden-raids' (if we 
may borrow an expression from the similar expeditions of our 
own Borderers) were of comparatively unfrequent occurrence : 
it was seldom that the whole Byzantine force in Asia was drawn 
out to face the enemy in a great battle. The more typical 
Saracen inroad was made by the inhabitants of Cilicia and 
Northern Syria, with the assistance of casual adventurers from 
the inner Mohammedan lands. 

To meet them the Byzantine commander would probably 
have no more than the 4000 heavy cavalry of his own Theme 
in hand ; a force for whose handling Leo gives minute tactical 
directions ^ When he had come up with the raiders they would 
turn and offer him battle : nor was their onset to be despised. 
Though unequal, man for man, to their adversaries, they were 
usually in superior numbers, and always came on with great 
confidence. ' They are very bold at first with expectation of 
victory; nor will they turn at once^even if their line is broken 
through by our impact^.' When the}«»uppose that their enemy's 
vigour is relaxing, they all charge together with a desperate 
effort*. If, however, this failed, a rout generally ensued, *for 
they think that all misfortune is sent by God, and so, if they 
are once beaten, they take their defeat as a sign of divine wrath, 
and no longer attempt to defend themselves ^' Hence the 

^ In Leo's day the Oriental themes had not been sub-divided, as was after- 
wards done by his son Constantine. There were then eight themes in Asia 
Minor, each of which contained a military division of the same name, and 
could be reckoned on for some 4000 heavy cavalry. These were ' Armenia- 
con, Anatolicon, Obsequium, Thracesion, Cibyrrhoeot, Bucellarion, and 
Paphlagonia.' Optimaton, the ninth theme, had (as Constantine tells us \xx. 
his treatise on the empire), no military establishments. 

- See in the next section of this treatise for the plan of his formation, p. 4£y. 

' Leo, Tactica, 18. 118. * Ibid. 136. ^ Ibid. 118. 

D 2 


Mussulman army, when once it turned to fly, could be pursued 
a Voutrance, and the old military maxim, 'Vince sed ne nimis 
vincas,' was a caution which the Byzantine officer could dis- 

The secret of success in an engagement with the Saracens 
lay in the cavalry tactics, which had for three centuries been in 
process of elaboration. By the tenth century they attained their 
perfection, and the experienced soldier Nicephorus Phocas 
vouches for their efficacy. Their distinguishing feature was 
that the troops were always placed in two lines and a reserve, 
with squadrons detached on the flanks to prevent their being 
turned. The enemy came on in one very deep line, and could 
never stand the three successive shocks as the first line, second 
line, and reserve were one after another flung into the m^Ue 
against them. The Byzantines had already discovered the great 
precept which modern military science has claimed as its own, 
that, 'in a cavalry combat, the side which holds back the last 
reserve must win^' The exact formation used on these occa- 
sions, being carefully described by our authorities, is worth 
detailing, and will be found in our section treating of the 
organization of the Byzantine army. 

There were several other methods of dealing with the Saracen 
invader. It was sometimes advisable, when his inroad was made 
in great force, to hang about the rear of the retreating plun- 
derers, and only fall upon them when they were engaged in 
passing the ' Klissuras ' of the Taurus. If infantry was already 
on the spot to aid the pursuing cavalry, success was almost 
certain, when the Saracens and their train of beasts, laden with 
spoil, were wedged in the passes. They could then be shot 
down by the archers, and would not stand for a moment when 
they saw their horses, ' the " Pharii/' whom they esteem above 
all other things^,' struck by arrows from a distance; for the 
Saracen, when not actually engaged in close combat, would do 
anything to save his horse from harm. 

Cold and rainy weather was also distasteful to the Oriental in- 

^ See Colonel Clery's Minor Tactics. ^ l^q^ Tactica, 18. 


vader : at times, when it prevailed, he did not display his ordinary- 
firmness and daring, and could be attacked at great advantage. 
Much could also be done by delivering a vigorous raid into his 
country, and wasting Cilicia and Northern Syria, the moment 
his armies were reported to have passed north into Cappadocia. 
This destructive practice was very frequently adopted, and the 
sight of two enemies each ravaging the other's territory without 
attempting to defend his own, was only too familiar to the 
inhabitants of the borderlands of Christendom and Islam. In- 
cursions by sea supplemented the forays by land. ' When the 
Saracens of Cilicia have gone off by the passes, to harry the 
country north of Taurus,' says Leo, 'the commander of the 
Cibyrrhoeot Theme should immediately go on shipboard with 
all available forces, and ravage their coast. If, on the other 
hand, they have sailed off to attempt the shore districts of 
Pisidia, the Klissurarchs of Taurus can lay waste the territories 
of Tarsus and Adana without danger.' 

Nothing can show more clearly than these directions the high 
average skill of the Byzantine officer. Leo himself was not 
a man of any great ability, and his ' Tactica ' are intended to 
codify an existing military art, rather than to construct a new 
one. Yet still the book is one whose equal could not have 
been written in Western Europe before the sixteenth century. 
One of its most striking points is the utter difference of its 
tone from that of contemporary feeling in the rest of Christen- 
dom. Of chivalry there is not a spark in the Byzantine, though 
professional pride is abundantly shown. Courage is regarded 
as one of the requisites necessary for obtaining success, not as 
the sole and paramount virtue of the warrior. Leo considers 
a campaign successfully concluded without a great battle as the 
cheapest and most satisfactory consummation in war. He has 
no respect for the warlike ardour which makes men eager to 
plunge into the fray : it is to him rather a characteristic of the 
brainless barbarian, and an attribute fatal to any one who makes 
any pretension to generalship. He shows a strong predilection 
for stratagems, ambushes, and simulated retreats. For an 



officer who fights without having first secured all the advantages 
to his own side, he has the greatest contempt. It is with a kind 
of intellectual pride that he gives instructions how parlementaires 
are to be sent to the enemy without any real object except that 
of spying out the number and efficiency of his forces. He gives, 
as a piece of most ordinary and moral advice, the hint that a 
defeated general may often find time to execute a retreat by 
sending an emissary to propose a surrender (which he has no 
intention of carrying out) to the hostile commander^. He is 
not above employing the old-world trick of addressing treason- 
able letters to the subordinate officers of the enemy's army, and 
contriving that they should fall into the hands of the commander- 
in-chief, in order that he may be made suspicious of his lieu- 
tenants. Schemes such as these are ' Byzantine ' in the worst 
sense of the word, but their character must not be allowed to 
blind us to the real and extraordinary merits of the strategical 
system into which they have been inserted. The ' Art of War,' 
as understood at Constantinople in the tenth century, was the 
only scheme of true scientific merit existing in the world, and 
was unrivalled till the sixteenth century. 

(2) Arms, Organization, and Tactics of the Byzantine Armies. 

The Byzantine army may be said to owe its peculiar form to 
the Emperor Maurice, a prince whose reign is one of the chief 
landmarks in the history of the lower empire ^ The fortunate 
preservation of his ' Strategikon ' suffices to show us that the 
reorganization of the troops of the East was mainly due to him. 
Contemporary historians also mention his reforms, but without 

^ Compare with this the stratagem by which the Russian army escaped 
from a compromised position during the retreat before the battle of Auster- 
litz. * In agreeing to an Armistice,' wrote Kutusoff, in a very Byzantine 
tone, 'I had in view nothing but to gain time, and thereby obtain the 
means of removing to a distance from the enemy, and saving my army.' 
Dumas, xiv. 48. 

2 The Middle Ages dimly felt this, and (as Gibbon tells us) the Italian 
Chroniclers name him the ' first of the Greek Emperors.' 


descending to details, and inform us that, though destined to 
endure, they won him much unpopularity among the soldiery. 
Later writers, however, have erroneously attributed these changes 
to the more celebrated warrior Heraclius*, the prince who bore 
the Roman standards further than any of his predecessors into 
the lands of the East. In reality, the army of Heraclius had 
already been reorganized by the worthy but unfortunate 

The most important of Maurice's alterations was the elimination 
of that system somewhat resembling the Teutonic ' comitatus,' 
which had crept from among the Foederati into the ranks of the 
regular Roman army. The loyalty of the soldier was secured rather 
to the emperor than to his immediate superiors, by making the 
appointment of all officers above the rank of centurion a care of 
the central government. The commander of an army or division 
had thus no longer in his hands the power and patronage which 
had given him the opportunity of becoming dangerous to the 
state. The men found themselves under the orders of delegates 
of the emperor, not of quasi-independent authorities who en- 
listed them as personal followers rather than as units in the 
military establishment of the empire. 

This reform Maurice succeeded in carrying out, to the great 
benefit of the discipHne and loyalty of his army. He next took 
in hand the reducing of the whole force of the empire to a 
single form of organization. The rapid decrease of the revenues 
of the state, which had set in towards the end of Justinian's 
reign, and continued to make itself more and more felt, had 
apparendy resulted in a great diminution in the number of 
foreign mercenaries serving in the Roman army. To the same 
end contributed the fact that of the Lombards, Herules, and 
Gepidse, the nations who had furnished the majority of the 
imperial Foederati, one race had removed to other seats, while 
the others had been exterminated. At last the number of 

^ As, for example, the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who, in his 
book on the 'Themata Orientis,' attributes the invention of the 'Theme' 
and ' tagma ' to Heraclius. 


the foreign corps had sunk to such a low ebb, that there was 
no military danger incurred in assimilating their organization to 
that of the rest of the army. 

The new system introduced by Maurice was destined to last 
for nearly five hundred years. Its unit, alike for infantry and 
cavalry, was the ^dvBov ^ — a weak battalion or horse-regiment of 
400 men, commanded by an officer who usually bore the 
vulgarized title of * comes ^,' but was occasionally denominated 
by the older name of rpi^topos, or military tribune. Three 
' bands ' (or ray/nara as they were sometimes styled) formed a 
small brigade, called indifferently fiolpa, xiXiapxia, or bpovyyos ^. 
Three * drunges ' formed the largest military group recognised 
by Maurice, and the division made by their union was the 
'turma' or ^epoy. Nothing can be more characteristic of the 
whole Byzantine military system than the curious juxtaposition 
of Latin, Greek, and German words in its terminology. Upon 
the substratum of the old Roman survivals we find first a layer 
of Teutonic names introduced by the ' Foederati ' of the fourth 
and fifth centuries, and finally numerous Greek denominations, 
some of them borrowed from the old Macedonian military 
system, others newly invented. The whole official language of 
the Empire was in fact still in a state of flux ; Maurice himself 
was hailed by his subjects as ' Pius, Felix, Augustus *,' though 
those who used the title were, for the most part, accustomed to 
speak in Greek. In the ' StratSgikon ' the two tongues are 
inextricably mixed : * before the battle,' says the emperor, ' let 
the counts face their bands and raise the war-cry "Aeovs No/Sto-- 
Kovfjt" (Deus nobiscum), and the troopers will shout the answering 

cry " Kvptf, 'EXerjaovJ' ' 

^ BdvSov, bandum, had become a common word in Justinian's time : it is 
used as a Teutonic equivalent for * vexillum ' in both its senses. 

^ Comes had in Constantine's days been applied to five great officers 

^ This curious word is first formed in Vegetius, where it is only applied 
to the masses of a barbarian army. (Cf. English ' throng.') 

* See the evidence of coins : the title TT I 2 T O Z EN OEH BA2I- 
AEVS TDN PXIMAIDN only becomes common under the Amorian 


It would appear that Maurice had intended to break down 
the barrier, which had been interposed in the fourth century, 
between the class which paid the taxes and that which recruited 
the national army. ' We wish,' he writes, * that every young 
Roman of free condition should learn the use of the bow, and 
should be constantly provided with that weapon and with two 
javelins/ If, however, this was intended to be the first step 
towards the introduction of universal military service, the design 
was never carried any further. Three hundred years later Leo 
is found echoing the same words, as a pious wish rather than as 
a practical expedient. The rank and file, however, of the im- 
perial forces were now raised almost entirely within the realm, 
and well nigh every nation contained in its limits, except the 
Greeks, furnished a considerable number of soldiers. The 
Armenians and Isaurians in Asia, the ' Thracians ' and ' Mace- 
donians ' — or more properly the semi-Romanized Slavs — in 
Europe, were considered the best material by the recruiting 

The extraordinary permanence of all Byzantine institutions 
is illustrated by the fact that Maurice's arrangements were 
found almost unchanged three hundred years after his death. 
The chapters of Leo's ' Tactica ' which deal with the armament 
and organization of the troops are little more than a reedition 
of the similar parts of his predecessor's ' StratSgikon.' The 
description of the heavy and light horseman, and of the in- 
fantry soldier, are identical in the two works, except in a few 
points of terminology. 

The KajSoKXapiosj or heavy trooper, wore at both epochs a steel 
cap surmounted by a small crest, and a long mail shirt, reaching 
from the neck to the thighs. He was also protected by gaunt- 
lets and steel-shoes, and usually wore a light surcoat over his 
mail. The horses of the officers, and of the men in the front 
rank, were furnished with steel frontlets and poitrails. The 
arms of the soldier were a broad-sword ((nrdOiov), a dagger 
{napafxripiop), a horseman's bow and quiver, and a long lance 
{<ovTdpiov), fitted with a thong towards its butt, and ornamented 


with a little bannerole. The colour of bannerole, crest, and 
surcoat was that of the regimental standard, and no two 'bands* 
in the same ' turma ' had standards of the same hue. Thus the 
line presented an uniform and orderly appearance, every band 
displaying its own regimental facings. Strapped to his saddle 
each horseman carried a long cloak, which he assumed in cold 
and rainy weather, or when, for purposes of concealment, he 
wished to avoid displaying the glitter of his armour ^. 

The light trooper had less complete equipment, sometimes a 
cuirass of mail or horn, at others only a light mail cape covering 
the neck and shoulders. He carried a large shield, a defence 
which the heavy horseman could not adopt, on account of his 
requiring both hands to draw his bow. For arms the light 
cavalry carried lance and sword. 

The infantry, which was much inferior to the horsemen in 
importance, was, like them, divided into two descriptions, heavy 
and light. The ' scutati ' (o-kovtoitoi), or troops of the former 
class, wore a steel helmet with a crest, and a short mail shirt ; 
they carried a large oblong shield {6vpis), which, like their crests, 
was of the same colour as the regimental banner. Their chief 
weapon was a short but heavy battle-axe (r^iKovpLov = securis) 
with a blade in front and a spike behind : they were also pro- 
vided with a dagger. The light infantry {yjriXoi) wore no de- 
fensive armour ; they were provided with a powerful bow, which 
carried much further than the horseman's weapon, and was 
therefore very formidable to hostile horse-archers. A few corps, 
drawn from provinces where the bow was not well known, 
carried instead two or three javelins (pnrrdpia). For hand to 
hand fighting the psiloi were provided with an axe similar to 
that of the scutati, and a very small round target, which hung 
at their \N(aists ^. 

An extensive train of non-combatants was attached to the 
army. Among the cavalry every four troopers had a groom ; 
among the infantry every sixteen men were provided with an 

* See Leo's Tactica, xii. ^ Ibid. vi. 


attendant, who drove a cart containing * a hand-mill, a bill-hook, 
a saw, two spades, a mallet, a large wicker basket, a scythe, and 
two pick-axes^,' besides several other utensils for whose identity 
the dictionary gives no clue *. Thus twenty spades and twenty 
pick-axes per ' century '' were always forthcoming for en- 
trenching purposes ; a consummation for which the modern 
infantry company would be glad if it could find a parallel. So 
perfect was the organization of the Byzantine army that it con- 
tained not only a ' military train,' but even an ambulance-corps 
of bearers {a-Kpi^avoi) and surgeons. The value attached to the 
lives of the soldiery is shown by the fact that the ' scriboni ' 
received a * nomisma * ' for every wounded man whom they 
brought off when the troops were retiring. Special officers 
were told to superintend the march of this mass of non-com- 
batants and vehicles, which is collectively styled * tuldum ' {tov\- 
dov), and forms not the least part among the cares of the 
laborious author of the * Tactica.' 

Those portions of the works of Maurice and Leo which deal 
with tactics show a far greater difference between the methods 
of the sixth and the ninth centuries, than is observable in other 
parts of their military systems. The chapters of Leo are, as is 
but natural, of a more interesting character than those of his 
predecessor. The more important of his ordinances are well 
worthy our attention. 

It is first observable that the old Roman system of drawing 
entrenchments round the army, every time that it rested for the 
night, had been resumed. A corps of engineers (MeVo-ope? (st'c)) 
always marched with the van-guard, and, when the evening halt 
had been called, traced out with stakes and ropes the contour of 
the camp. When the main body had come up, the * tuldum ' was 
placed in the centre of the enclosure, while the infantry 'bands' 

^ Leo, Tactica, vi. 

^ E. g. a KfXiKov and a jmr^ovKiov. 

^ The century contained 10 decuries, but the 'decury* was 16 not 10 
men: thus the century was 160 strong. Three centuries went to a 'band,' 
which would thus be about 450 men. 

* Gold coin, worth perhaps i is. in metal value. 



drew a ditch and bank along the Hnes of the Mensores' ropes, 
each corps doing a fixed amount of the work. A thick chain of 
picquets was kept far out from the camp, so that a surprise, 
even on the darkest of nights, was almost impossible \ 

The main characteristic of the Byzantine system of tactics is 
the small size of the various units employed in the operations, a 
sure sign of the existence of a high degree of discipline and 
training. While a Western army went on its blundering way 
arranged in two or three enormous ' battles,' each mustering 
many thousand men, a Byzantine army of equal strength would 
be divided into many scores of fractions. Leo does not seem 
to contemplate the existence of any column of greater strength 
than that of a single ' band.' The fact that order and cohesion 
could be found in a line composed of so many separate units, 
is the best testimony to the high average ability of the officers in 
subordinate commands. These 'counts* and 'moirarchs' were 
in the ninth and tenth centuries drawn for the most part from 
the ranks of the Byzantine aristocracy. * Nothing prevents us,' 
says Leo^, 'from finding a sufficient supply of men of wealth, 
and also of courage and high birth, to officer our army. Their 
nobility makes them respected by the soldiers, while their 
wealth enables them to win the greatest popularity among 
their troops by the occasional and judicious gift of small 
creature-comforts.' A true military spirit existed among the 
noble families of the Eastern Empire : houses like those of 
Skleros and Phocas, of Bryennius, Kerkuas, and Comnenus are 
found furnishing generation after generation of officers to the 
national army. The patrician left luxury and intrigue behind 
him when he passed through the gates of Constantinople, and 
became in the field a keen professional soldier '. 

^ Nicephorus Phocas, in his IIAPA APOMH nOAEMOT, says that ' Arme- 
nians must never be placed in this line of picquets, as their habitual drowsi- 
ness at night makes them untrustworthy.' 

2 Leo, Tactica, iv. § i. 

' Nothing gives a better idea of the real military character of the Byzan- 
tine aristocracy than a perusal of the curious tenth century romance of 
' Digenes Akritas,' a member of the house of Ducas, who is ' Klissurarch ' 
. of the passes of Taurus, and performs with his mighty mace all the exploits 


EuemVs Liae of Ba/ttle 

r p h 

^ -^ ^ <; 

V I> . B I> B ^^ B 



A. A.. A. Front Zine , 6vree bcuuioJ of ahoixt 450 jrLen, each. 

B.B .B.B. ...Secorul Lirhe,four half-handxil ofahovJb 225rnert ecuoJv. 

C.C. Reserve , two half- banoLcu of s aune force. 

D.D.D. Onje'bcowLorOirv dxruhle rank, fCUing th,e -uruterYoZs 

of the second' Une . 
E.E.— E V€<^poc,or detajcTvecb bodies at xhe wTn^s,-who 

are to tucrrv ihe eneTrv/s flariks : 225 each or one 

hcmjdboTv together. 
'S.'S TXtyaJklA^vXaMBS , troops posted to prevent sumlar 

attempts of the ervenvy: 285 eoucK, or orte hajvcLorv 


G-. The Commander and Ids Sta/Y'. 

H. Flxmoe to -whicTv the troops H.B.D. would retire^ 

■when> 2"^ lin^e ohaurged. 



Infantry plays in Leo's work a very secondary part. So 
much is this the case, that in many of his tactical directions 
he gives a sketch of the order to be observed by the cavalry 
alone, without mentioning the foot. This results from the fact 
that when the conflict was one with a rapidly moving foe like 
the Saracen or Turk, the infantry would at the moment of battle 
be in all probability many marches in the rear. It is, therefore, 
with the design of showing the most typical development of 
Byzantine tactics that we have selected for description a * turma ' 
of nine 'bands,' or 4000 men, as placed in order, before 
engaging with an enemy whose force consists of horsemen. 

The front line consists of three * banda,' each drawn up in a 
line seven (or occasionally five) deep. These troops are to 
receive the first shock. Behind the first Hne is arranged a 
second, consisting of four half-banda, each drawn up ten (or 
occasionally eight) deep. They are placed not directly behind 
the front bands, but in the intervals between them, so that, if 
the first line is repulsed, they may fall back, not on to their 
comrades, but into the spaces between them. To produce, 
however, an impression of solidity in the second line, a single 
bandon is divided into three parts, and its men drawn up, two 
deep, in the spaces between the four half-banda. These troops, 
on seeing the men of the first line beaten back and falling into 
the intervals of the second line, are directed to wheel to the 
rear, and form a support behind the centre of the array. The 
main reserve, however, consists of two half-banda, posted on 
the flanks of the second line, but considerably to the rear. It 
is in line with these that the retiring bandon, of which we have 
just spoken, would array itself. To each flank of the main body 
was attached a half-bandon, of 225 men; these were called 
'jrKayio(j)v\aKe5, and Were entrusted with the duty of resisting 
attempts to turn the flanks of the ' turma.' Still further out, 
and if possible under cover, were placed two other bodies of 
similar strength ; it was their duty to endeavour to get into the 

of a hero of chivalry. He really existed, and bore the name of Basil 
Pantherios. See Revue des Deux Mondes, vol. 118. 


enemy's rear, or at any rate to disturb his wings by unexpected 
assaults: these troops were called "EpeSpot, or * lyers-in-wait.' 
The commander's position was normally in the centre of the 
second line, where he would be able to obtain a better general 
idea of the fight, than if he at once threw himself into the ?mlee 
at the head of the foremost squadrons. 

This order of battle is deserving of all praise. It provides for 
that succession of shocks which is the key to victory in a cavalry 
combat ; as many as five different attacks would be made on 
the enemy before all the impetus of the Byzantine force had 
been exhausted. The arrangement of the second line behind 
the intervals of the first, obviated the possibility of the whole 
force being disordered by the repulse of the first squadrons. 
The routed troops would have behind them a clear space in 
which to rally, not a close line into which they would carry 
their disarray. Finally, the charge of the reserve and the de- 
tached troops would be made not on the enemy's centre, which 
would be covered by the remains of the first and second lines, 
but on to his flank, his most uncovered and vulnerable point. 

A further idea of the excellent organization of the Byzantine 
army will be given by the fact that in minor engagements each 
corps was told off into two parts, one of which, the cursores 
{Kovpa-opes), represented the ' skirmishing line,' the other, the 
defensores (Si(^eVo-opes), * the supports.' The former in the case 
of the infantry-turma would of course consist of the archers, the 
latter of the Scutati. 

To give a complete sketch of Leo's 'Tactics' would be tedious 
and unnecessary. Enough indications have now been given to 
show their strength and completeness. It is easy to understand, 
after a perusal of such directions, the permanence of the military 
power of the Eastern Empire. Against the undisciplined Slav 
and Saracen the Imperial troops had on all normal occasions 
the tremendous advantages of science and discipline. It is 
their defeats rather than their victories which need an ex- 

We have fixed, as the termination of the period of Byzantine 


greatness, the battle of Manzikert, a. d. 1071. At this fight 
the rashness of Romanus Diogenes led to the annihilation of the 
forces of the Asiatic Themes by the horse-archers of Alp-Arslan. 
The decay of the central power which is marked by the rise of 
Isaac Comnenus, the nominee of the feudal party of Asiatic 
nobles, may have already enfeebled the army. It was, however, 
the result of Manzikert which was fatal to it ; as the occupation 
of the themes of the interior of Asia Minor by the Seljuks cut 
off from the empire its greatest recruiting-ground, the land of the 
gallant Isaurians and Armenians, who had for five hundred years 
formed the core of the Eastern army. 

It will be observed that we have given no long account of the 
famous * Greek-fire,' the one point in Byzantine military aff'airs 
which most authors condescend to notice. If we have neglected 
it, it is from a conviction that, although its importance in 
' poliorcetics ' and naval fighting was considerable, it was, after 
all, a minor engine of war, and not comparable as a cause of 
Byzantine success to the excellent strategical and tactical system 
on which we have dilated. Very much the same conclusion 
may be drawn from a study of the other purely mechanical 
devices which existed in the hands of the imperial generals. 
The old skill of the Roman engineer was preserved almost in 
its entirety, and the armouries of Constantinople were filled with 
machines, whose deadly efiicacy inspired the ruder peoples of 
the West and East with a mysterious feeling of awe. The 
vinea and testudo, the catapult onager and balista, were as well 
known in the tenth century as in the first. They were un- 
doubtedly employed, and employed with effect, at every siege. 
But no amount of technical skill in the use of military machines 
would have sufficed to account for the ascendancy enjoyed by 
the Byzantines. over their warlike neighbours. The sources of 
that superiority are to be sought in the existence of science and 
discipline, of strategy and tactics, of a professional and yet 
national army, of an upper class at once educated and military. 
When the aristocracy became mere courtiers, when foreign 
mercenaries superseded the Isaurian bowman and the Anatolic 


cavalier, when the traditions of old Roman organization gave 
place to mere centralization, then no amount of the inherited 
mechanical skill of past ages could save the Byzantine empire 
from its fall. The rude vigour of the Western knight accom- 
plished the task which Chosroes and Crumn, Moslemah and 
Sviatoslaf, had found too hard for them. But it was not the 
empire of Heraclius or John Zimisces, of Leo the Isaurian, or 
Leo the Armenian, that was subdued by the piratical Crusaders, 
it was only the diminished and disorganized realm of the miser- 
able Alexius Angelus. 


The Supremacy of Feudal Cavalry. 
A. D. 1066-1346. 

[From the battle of Hastings to the battles of Morgarten and Cressy.] 

Between the last struggles of the infantry of the Anglo- 
Dane, and the rise of the pikemen and bowmen of the fourteenth 
century lies the period of the supremacy of the mail-clad feudal 
horseman. The epoch is, as far as strategy and tactics are 
concerned, one of almost complete stagnation : only in the 
single branch of ' Poliorcetics ' does the art of war make any 
appreciable progress. 

The feudal organization of society made every person of 
gentle blood a fighting man, but it cannot be said that it made 
him a soldier. If he could sit his charger steadily, and handle 
lance and sword with skill, the horseman of the twelfth or 
thirteenth century imagined himself to be a model of military 
efficiency. That discipline or tactical skill may be as important 
to an army as mere courage, he had no conception. Assembled 
with difficulty, insubordinate, unable to manoeuvre, ready to 
melt away from its standard the moment that its short period 
of service was over, — a feudal force presented an assemblage 
of unsoldierlike qualities such as has seldom been known to 
coexist. Primarily intended to defend its own borders from the 
Magyar, the Northman, or the Saracen, the foes who in the 
tenth century had been a real danger to Christendom, the institu- 
tion was utterly unadapted to take the offensive. When a number 
of tenants-in-chief had come together, each blindly jealous oi 


his fellows and recognizing no superior but the king, it would 
require a leader of uncommon skill to persuade them to insti- 
tute that hierarchy of command, which must be established in 
every army that is to be something more than an undisciplined 
mob. Monarchs might try to obviate the danger by the creation 
of offices such as those of the Constable and Marshal, but these 
expedients were mere palliatives. The radical vice of insubordi- 
nation continued to exist. It was always possible that at some 
critical moment a battle might be precipitated, a formation 
broken, a plan disconcerted, by the rashness of some petty 
baron or banneret, who could Hsten to nothing but the prompt- 
ings of his own heady valour. When the hierarchy of command 
was based on social status rather than on professional experi- 
ence, the noble who led the largest contingent or held the 
highest rank, felt himself entitled to assume the direction of 
the battle. The veteran who brought only a few lances to the 
array could seldom aspire to influencing the movements of his 

When mere courage takes the place of skill and experience, 
tactics and strategy alike disappear. Arrogance and stupidity 
combine to give a certain definite colour to the proceedings of 
the average feudal host. The century and the land may differ, 
but the incidents of batde are the same : Mansoura is like Alju- 
barotta, Nicopolis is like Courtrai. When the enemy came in 
sight, nothing could restrain the Western knights : the shield 
was shifted into position, the lance dropped into rest, the spur 
touched the charger, and the mail-clad line thundered on, 
regardless of what might be before it. As often as not its 
career ended in being dashed against a stone wall or tumbled 
into a canal, in painful flounderings in a bog, or futile surgings 
around a palisade. The enemy who possessed even a rudi- 
mentary system of tactics could hardly fail to be successful 
against such armies. The fight of Wansoura may be taken as 
a fair specimen of the military customs of the thirteenth cen- 
tury. When the French vanguard saw a fair field before them 
and the lances of the infidel gleaming among the palm-groves. 



they could not restrain their eagerness. With the Count of 
Artois at their head, they started off in a headlong charge, in 
spite of St. Louis' strict prohibition of an engagement. The 
Mamelukes retreated, allowed their pursuers to entangle them- 
selves in the streets of a town, and then turned fiercely on them 
from all sides at once. In a short time the whole ' batde' of the 
Count of Artois was dispersed and cut to pieces. Meanwhile 
the main-body, hearing of the danger of their companions, had 
ridden off hastily to their aid. However, as each commander 
took his own route and made what speed he could, the French 
army arrived upon the field in dozens of small scattered bodies. 
These were attacked in detail, and in many cases routed by the 
Mamelukes. No general battle was fought, but a number of 
detached and incoherent cavalry combats had all the results of 
a great defeat. A skirmish and a street fight could over- 
throw the chivalry of the West, even when it went forth in 
great strength, and was inspired by all the enthusiasm of a 

The array of a feudal force was stereotyped to a single 
pattern. As it was impossible to combine the movements of 
many small bodies, when the troops were neither disciplined 
nor accustomed to act together, it was usual to form the whole 
of the cavalry into three great masses, or * battles,' as they were 
called, and launch them at the enemy. The refinement of 
keeping a reserve in hand was practised by a few commanders, 
but these were men distinctly in advance of their age. Indeed 
it would often have been hard to persuade a feudal chief to take 
a position out of the front line, and to incur the risk of losing 
his share in the hard fighting. When two ' battles' met, a fearful 
melee ensued, and would often be continued for hours. Some- 
times, as if by agreement, the two parties wheeled to the rear, 
to give their horses breath, and then rushed at each other again, 
to renew the conflict till one side grew overmatched and left the 
field. An engagement like Brenville or Bouvines or Benevento 
was nothing more than a huge scuffle and scramble of horses 
and men over a convenient heath or hillside. The most ordi- 

£ 2 


nary precautions, such as directing a reserve on a critical point, 
or detaching a corps to take the enemy in flank, or selecting a 
good position in which to receive battle, were considered in- 
stances of surpassing military skill. Charles of Anjou, for 
instance, has received the name of a great commander, because 
at Tagliacozzo he retained a body of knights under cover, and 
launched it against Conradin's rear, when the Ghibellines had 
dispersed in pursuit of the routed Angevin main-battle. Simon 
de Montfort earned high repute ; but if at Lewes he kept and 
utilized a reserve, we must not forget that at Evesham he allowed 
himself to be surprised and forced to fight with his back to a 
river, in a position from which no retreat was possible. The 
commendation of the age was, in short, the meed of striking 
feats of arm s rather than of real generalship. If much attention 
were to be paid to the chroniclers, we should believe that com- 
manders of merit were numerous; but, if we examine the actions 
of these much-belauded individuals rather than the opinions of 
their contemporaries, our belief in their ability almost invariably 
receives a rude shocks 

If the minor operations of war were badly understood, 
strategy — the higher branch of the miHtary art — was abso- 
lutely non-existent. An invading army moved into hostile 
territory, not in order to strike at some great strategical point, 
but merely to burn and harry the land. As no organized 
commissariat existed, the resources of even the richest districts 
were soon exhausted, and the invader moved off in search of 
subsistence, rather than for any higher aim. It is only towards 
the end of the period with which we are dealing that any traces 
of systematic arrangements for the provisioning of an army are 
found. Even these were for the most part the results of sheer 
necessity: in attacking a poor and uncultivated territory, like 
Wales or Scotland, the English kings found that they could not 
live on the country, and were compelled to take measures to. 

^ Eustace de Ribeaumont, for instance, who gave the madly impractical 
advice which lost the battle of Poictiers, was, we are told, an officer of high 


keep their troops from starvation. But a French or German 
army, when it entered Flanders or Lombardy, or an English 
force in France, trusted, as all facts unite to demonstrate, for its 
maintenance to its power of plundering the invaded district^ 

Great battles were, on the whole, infrequent : a fact which 
appears strange, when the long-continued wars of the period 
are taken into consideration. Whole years of hostilities pro- 
duced only a few partial skirmishes : compared with modern 
campaigns, the general engagements were incredibly few. 
Frederick the Great or Napoleon I. fought more battles in one 
year than a mediaeval commander in ten. The fact would 
appear to be that the opposing armies, being guided by no very 
definite aims, and invariably neglecting to keep touch of each 
other by means of outposts and vedettes, might often miss each 
other altogether. When they met it was usually from the exist- 
ence of some topographical necessity, of an old Roman road, or 
a ford or bridge on which all routes converged. Nothing could 
show the primitive state of the military art better than the fact 
that generals solemnly sent and accepted challenges to meet in 
batde at a given place and on a given day. Without such pre- 
cautions there was apparently a danger lest the armies should 
lose sight of each other, and stray away in different directions. 
When maps were non-existent, and geographical knowledge 
both scanty and inaccurate, this was no inconceivable event. 
Even when two forces were actually in presence, it sometimes 
required more skill than the commanders owned to bring on a 
batde. Bela of Hungary and Ottokar of Bohemia were in arms 
in 1252, and both were equally bent on fighting; but when they 
sighted each other it was. only to find that the River March was 
between them. To pass a stream in face of an enemy was a 
task far beyond the ability of a thirteenth-century general^ — as 

^ The Black Prince's campaign in South France, for example, before the 
battle of Poictiers, was merely an enormous and destructive raid. He 
besieged no important town, and did not attempt to establish any posts to 
command the country through which he passed. 

^ The difficulty experienced by Edward III and Henry V in crossing the 
Somme is equally remarkable. 


St. Louis had found, two years earlier, on the banks of the 
Achmoum Canal. Accordingly it was reckoned nothing strange 
when the Bohemian courteously invited his adversary either to 
cross the March unhindered, and fight in due form on the west 
bank, or to give him the same opportunity and grant a free 
passage to the Hungarian side. Bela chose the former alterna- 
tive, forded the river without molestation, and fought on the 
other side the disastrous battle of Cressenbrunn. 

Infantry was in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries absolutely 
insignificant : foot-soldiers accompanied the army for no better 
purpose than to perform the menial duties of the camp, or to 
assist in the numerous sieges of the period. Occasionally they 
were employed as light troops, to open the battle by their 
ineffective demonstrations. There was, however, no really im- 
portant part for them to play. Indeed their lords were some- 
times affronted if they presumed to delay too long the opening 
of the cavalry charges, and ended the skirmishing by riding into 
and over their wretched followers. At Bouvines the Count of 
Boulogne could find no better use for his infantry than to form 
them into a great circle, inside which he and his horsemen took 
shelter when their chargers were fatigued and needed a short 
rest. If great bodies of foot occasionally appeared upon the 
field, they came because it was the duty of every able-bodied 
man to join the arriere-ban when summoned, not because the 
addition of 20,000 or 100,000 half-armed peasants and burghers 
was calculated to increase the real strength of the levy. The 
chief cause of their military worthlessness may be said to have 
been the miscellaneous nature of their armament. Troops like 
the Scotch Lowlanders, with their long spears, or the Saracen 
auxiliaries of Frederick II, with their cross-bows, deserved and 
obtained some respect on account of the uniformity of their 
equipment. But with ordinary infantry the case was different ; 
exposed, without discipline and with a miscellaneous assortment 
of dissimilar weapons, to a cavalry charge, they could not com- 
bine to withstand it, but were ridden down and crushed. A few 
infantry successes which appear towards the end of the period 


were altogether exceptional in character. The infantry of the 
' Great Company,' in the East beat the Duke of Athens, by in- 
ducing him to charge with all his men-at-arms into a swamp. 
In a similar way the victory of Courtrai was secured, not by 
the mallets and iron-shod staves of the Flemings, but by the 
canal, into which the headlong onset of the French cavalry 
thrust rank after rank of their companions. 

The attempt to introduce some degree of efficiency into a 
feudal force drove monarchs to various expedients. Frederick 
Barbarossa strove to enforce discipline by a strict code of 
'Camp Laws;' an undertaking in which he won no great 
success, if we may judge of their observance by certain re- 
corded incidents. In 1158, for example, Egbert von Buten, 
a young Austrian noble, left his post and started off with a 
thousand men to endeavour to seize one of the gates of Milan, 
a presumptuous violation of orders in which he lost his life. 
This was only in accordance with the spirit of the times, and 
by no means exceptional. If the stern and imposing personality 
of the great emperor could not win obedience, the task was 
hopeless for weaker rulers. Most monarchs were driven into 
the use of another description of troops, inferior in morale to 
the feudal force, but more amenable to discipline. The mer- 
cenary comes to the fore in the second half of the twelfth cen- 
tury. A stranger to all the nobler incentives to valour, an 
enemy to his God and his neighbour, the most deservedly hated 
man in Europe, he was yet the instrument which kings, even 
those of the better sort, were obliged to seek out and cherish. 
When wars ceased to be mere frontier raids, and were carried 
on for long periods at a great distance from the homes of most 
of the baronage, it became impossible to rely on the services of 
the feudal levy. But how to provide the large sums neces- 
sary for the payment of mercenaries was not always obvious. 
Notable among the expedients employed was that of Henry II 
of England, who substituted for the personal service of each 
knight the system of ' scutage.' By this the majority of the 
tenants of the crown compounded for their personal service by 


paying two marks for each knight's fee. Thus the king was 
enabled to pass the seas at the head of a force of mercenaries 
who were, for most military purposes, infinitely preferable to 
the feudal array \ However objectionable the hired foreigner 
might be, on the score of his greed and ferocity, he could, at 
least, be trusted to stand by his colours as long as he was regu- 
larly paid. Every ruler found him a necessity in time of war, 
but to the unconstitutional and oppressive ruler his existence 
was especially profitable: it was solely by the lavish use of 
mercenaries that the warlike nobility could be held in check. 
Despotism could only begin when the monarch became able to 
surround himself with a strong force of men whose desires and 
feelings were alien to, those of the nation. The tyrant in 
modern Europe, as in ancient Greece, found his natural support 
in foreign hired soldiery. King John, when he drew to himself 
his ' Routiers,' * Braban9ons,' and ' Satellites,' was unconsciously 
imitating Pisistratus and Polycrates. 

The military efficiency of the mercenary of the thirteenth 
century was, however, only a development of that of the ordi- 
nary feudal cavalier. Like the latter, he was a heavily-armed 
horseman ; his rise did not bring with it any radical change in 
the methods of war. Though he was a more practised warrior, 
he still worked on the old system — or want of system — which 
characterised the cavalry tactics of the time. 

The final stage in the history of mercenary troops was 
reached when the bands which had served through a long war 
instead of dispersing at its conclusion, held together, and moved 
across the continent in search of a state which might be willing 
to buy their services. But the age of the * Great Company' and 
the Italian Condottieri lies rather in the fourteenth than the 
thirteenth century, and its discussion must be deferred to 
another chapter. 

In the whole military history of the period the most striking 
feature is undoubtedly the importance of fortified places, and 

^ 'Capitales barones suos cum paucis secum duxit, solidarios vero milites 
innumeros.' Rob. de Monte, 1 159. 


the ascendancy assumed by the defensive in poliorcetics. If 
battles were few, sieges were numerous and abnormally lengthy. 
The casde was as integral a part of feudal organization as the 
mailed knight, and just as the noble continued to heap defence 
after defence on to the persons of himself and his charger, so he 
continued to surround his dwelling with more and more fortifi- 
cations. The simple Norman castle of the eleventh century, 
with its great keep and plain rectangular enclosure, developed 
into elaborate systems of concentric works, like those of Caer- 
philly and Carnarvon. The walls of the tow^n rivalled those of 
the citadel, and every country bristled with forts and places of 
strength, large and small. The one particular in which real 
military capacity is displayed in the period is the choice of com- 
manding sites for fortresses. A single stronghold was often so 
well placed that it served as the key to an entire district. The 
best claim to the possession of a general's eye which can be 
made in behalf of Richard L rests on the fact that he chose the 
position for Chateau Gaillard, the great castle which sufficed to 
protect the whole of Eastern Normandy as long as it was 
adequately held. 

The strength of a mediaeval fortress lay in the extraordinary 
solidity of its construction. Against walls fifteen to thirty feet 
thick, the feeble siege-artillery of the day, perri^res, catapults, 
trebuchets, and so forth, beat without perceptible eff'ect. A 
Norman keep, solid and tall, with no wood-work to be set on 
fire, and no openings near the ground to be battered in, had an 
almost endless capacity for passive resistance. Even a weak 
garrison could hold out as long as its provisions lasted. Mining 
was perhaps the device which had most hope of success against 
such a stronghold^; but if the castle was provided with a deep 
moat, or was built directly on a rock, mining was of no avail. 
There remained the laborious expedient of demolishing the lower 
parts of the walls by approaches made under cover of a pent-house, 

^ The classical instances of the successful employment of the mine in 
England are the captures of Rochestei* Castle in 1 2 1 5, and Bedford Castle 
in 1224, both works of enormous labour. 


or ' cat,' as it was called. If the moat could be filled, and the 
cat brought close to the foot of the fortifications, this method 
might be of some use against a fortress of the simple Norman 
type. Before bastions were invented, there was no means by 
which the missiles of the besieged could adequately command 
the ground immediately below the ramparts. If the defenders 
showed themselves over the walls — as would be necessary in 
order to reach men perpendicularly below them — they were at 
once exposed to the archers and cross-bowmen who, under 
cover of mandets, protected the working of the besieger's 
pioneers. Hence something might be done by the method 
of demolishing the lower parts of the walls: but the process 
was always slow, laborious, and exceedingly costly in the matter 
of human lives. Unless pressed for time a good commander 
would almost invariably prefer to starve out a garrison. 

The success — however partial and hardly won — of this form 
of attack, led to several developments on the part of the defence. 
The moat was sometimes strengthened with palisading : occa- 
sionally small detached forts were constructed just outside the 
walls on any favourable spot. But the most generally used ex- 
pedients were the brattice {breteche) and the construction of 
large towers, projecting from the wall and flanking the long 
sketches of * curtain* which had been found the weak point in 
the Norman system of fortification. The brattice was a wooden 
gallery fitted with apertures in its floor, and running along the 
top of the wall, from which it projected several feet. It was 
supported by beams built out from the rampart, and com- 
manded, by means of its apertures, the ground immediately 
at the foot of the walls. Thus the besieger could no longer 
get out of the range of the missiles of the besieged, and con- 
tinued exposed to them, however close he drew to the fortifica- 
tions. The objection to the brattice was that, being wooden, it 
could be set on fire by inflammatory substances projected by 
the catapults of the besieger. It was therefore superseded ere 
long by the use of machicolation, where a projecting stone 
gallery replaced the woodwork. Far more important was the 


Utilization of the flanking action of towers*, the other great im- 
provement made by the defence. This rendered it possible to 
direct a converging fire from the sides on the point selected for 
attack by the besieger. The towers also served to cut off a 
captured stretch of wall from any communication with the rest 
of the fortifications. By closing the iron-bound doors in the 
two on each side of the breach, the enemy was left isolated on 
the piece of wall he had won, and could not push to right or 
left without storming a tower. This development of the de- 
fensive again reduced the ofi"ensive to impotence. Starvation 
was the only weapon likely to reduce a well-defended place, 
and fortresses were therefore blockaded rather than attacked. 
The besieger, having built a line of circumvallation and an 
intrenched camp, sat down to wait for hunger to do its work^ 
It will be observed that by fortifying his position he gave him- 
self the advantage of the defensive in repelling attacks of 
relieving armies. His other expedients, such as endeavours to 
fire the internal buildings of the invested place, to cut off its 
water supply, or to carry it by nocturnal escalade, were seldom 
of much avail. 

The number and strength of the fortified places of Western 
Europe explain the apparent futility of many campaigns of the 
period. A land could not be conquered with rapidity when 
every district was guarded by three or four castles and walled 
towns, which would each need several months' siege before they 
could be reduced. Campaigns tended to become either plun- 
dering raids, which left the strongholds alone, or to be occupied 
in the prolonged blockade of a single fortified place. The 
invention of gunpowder was the first advantage thrown on the 
side of the attack for three centuries. Even cannon, however, 
were at the period of their invention, and for long years 
afterward, of very little practical importance. The taking of 
Constantinople by Mahomet II is perhaps the first event of 

^ A revival of the old Roman system of fortification. 
'^ As, for example, did Edward III before Calais. He fortified all ap- 
|,roaches passable for a relieving army, and waited quietly in his lines. 


European importance in which the power of artillery played 
the leading part. 

Before proceeding to discuss the rise of the new forms of 
military efficiency which brought about the end of the supre- 
macy of feudal cavalry, it may be well to cast a glance at those 
curious military episodes, the Crusades. Considering their ex- 
traordinary and abnormal nature, more results might have been 
expected to follow them than can in fact be traced. When 
opposed by a system of tactics to which they were unaccustomed 
the Western nobles were invariably disconcerted. At fights such 
as Dorylaeum they were only preserved from disaster by their 
indomitable energy : tactically beaten they extricated themselves 
by sheer hard fighting. On fairly-disputed fields, such as that 
of Antioch, they asserted the same superiority over Oriental 
horsemen which the Byzantine had previously enjoyed. But 
after a short experience of Western tactics the Turks and 
Saracens foreswore the battle-field. They normally acted in 
great bodies of light cavalry, moving rapidly from point to 
point, and cutting off convoys or attacking detached parties. 
The Crusaders were seldom indulged in the twelfth century 
with those pitched battles for which they craved. The Ma- 
hometan leaders would only fight when they had placed all 
the advantages on their own side ; normally they declined the 
contest. In the East, just as in Europe, the war was one of 
sieges : armies numbered by the hundred thousand were arrested 
before the walls of a second-class fortress such as Acre, and in 
despair at reducing it by their operations, had to resort to the 
lengthy process of starving out the garrison. On the other hand 
nothing but the ascendancy enjoyed by the defensive could have 
protracted the existence of the * Kingdom of Jerusalem,' when 
it had sunk to a chain of isolated fortresses, dotting the shore of 
the Levant from Alexandretta to Acre and Jaffa. If we can 
point to any modifications introduced into European warfare 
by the Eastern experience of the Crusaders, they are not of 
any great importance. Greek fire, if its composition was really 
ascertained, would seem to have had very little use in the West : 


the horse-bowman, copied from the cavalry of the Turkish and 
Mameluke sultans, did not prove a great military success : the 
adoption of the curved sabre, the * Morris-pike/ the horseman's 
mace \ and a few other weapons, is hardly worth mentioning. 
I On the whole, the military results of the Crusades were curiously 
small. As lessons they were wholly disregarded by the Euro- 
.pean world. When, after the interval of a hundred and fifty 
[years, a Western army once more faced an Oriental foe, it 
committed at Nicopolis exactly the same blunder which led to 
the loss of the day at Mansoura. 

^ This was borrowed either from the Byzantine or the Saracen : it is quite 
distinct from the rude club occasionally found in the West at an earlier 
date, as, for example, in the hands of Bishop Odo at Hastings. 


The Swiss. 
A.D. 1315-1515- 

[From the battle of Morgarten to the battle of Marignano.] 
(i) Their Character^ Arms, and Organization. 

In the fourteenth century infantry, after a thousand years of 
depression and neglect, at last regained its due share of military 
importance. Almost simultaneously there appeared two peoples 
asserting a mastery in European politics by the efficiency of 
their foot-soldiery. Their manners of fighting were as different 
as their national character and geographical position, but although 
they never met either in peace or war, they were practically 
allied for the destruction of feudal chivalry. The knight, who 
had for so long ridden roughshod over the populations of 
Europe, was now to recognize his masters in the art of war. 
The free yeomanry of England and the free herdsmen of the 
Alps were about to enter on their career of conquest. 

When war is reduced to its simplest elements, we find that 
there are only two ways in which an enemy can be met and 
defeated. Either the shock or the missile must be employed 
against him. In the one case the victor achieves success by 
throwing himself on his opponent, and worsting him in a hand- 
to-hand struggle by his numbers, his weight, the superiority of 
his arms, or the greater strength and skill with which he wields 
them. In the second case he wins the day by keeping up such 
a constant and deadly rain of missiles, that his enemy is destroyed 
or driven back before he can come to close quarters. Each of 
these methods can be combined with the use of very different 


(arms and tactics, and is susceptible of innumerable variations. 
In the course of history they have alternately asserted their 
preponderance : in the early middle ages shock-tactics were 
entirely in the ascendant, while in our own day the use of the 
missile has driven the rival system out of the field, nor does 
it appear possible that this final verdict can ever be reversed. 

The English archer and the Swiss pikeman represented these 
two great forms of military efficiency in their simplest and most 
elementary shapes. The one relied on his power to defeat his 
enemy's attack by rapid and accurate shooting. The other was 
capable of driving before him far superior numbers by the 
irresistible impact and steady pressure of his solid column with 
its serried hedge of spear-points. When tried against the mail- 
clad cavalry which had previously held the ascendancy in Europe, 
each of these methods was found adequate to secure the victory 
for those who employed it. Hence the whole military system 
of the middle ages received a profound modification. To the 
unquestioned predominance of a single form, that of the charge 
delivered by cavalry, succeeded a rapid alternation of successful 
and unsuccessful experiments in the correlation and combination 
of cavalry and infantry, of shock-tactics and missile-tactics. 
Further complicated by the results of the introduction of firearms, 
this struggle has been prolonged down to the present day. It 
is only in the last few years that the military world has learnt 
that the attempt to utilize the shock of the infantry column or 
the charging squadron must be abandoned in face of the extra- 
ordinary development of modern firearms. 

The Swiss of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries have been 
compared with much aptness to the Romans of the early 
Republic. In the Swiss, as in the Roman, character we find the 
most intense patriotism combined with an utter want of moral 
sense and a certain meanness and pettiness of conception, which 
prevent us from calling either nation truly great. In both the 
^fcteadiest courage and the fervour of the noblest self-sacrifice 
^Bvere allied to an appalling ferocity and a cynical contempt and 
^^itiless disregard for the rights of others. Among each people 

64 THE SWISS. [A. D. 1315- 

the warlike pride generated by successful wars of independence 
led ere long to wars of conquest and plunder. As neighbours, 
both were rendered insufferable by their haughtiness and prone- 
ness to take offence on the slightest provocation ^ As enemies, 
both were distinguished for their deliberate and cold-blooded 
cruelty. The resolution to give no quarter, which appears almost 
pardonable in patriots desperately defending their native soil, 
becomes brutal when retained in wars of aggression, but reaches 
the climax of fiendish inhumanity when the slayer is a mere mer- 
cenary, fighting for a cause in which he has no national interest. 
Repulsive as was the bloodthirstiness of the Roman, it was far 
from equalling in moral guilt the needless ferocity displayed by 
the hired Swiss soldiery on many a battlefield of the sixteenth 

In no point do we find a greater resemblance between the 
histories of the two peoples, than in the causes of their success 
in war. Rome and Switzerland alike are examples of the fact 
that a good military organization and a sound system of national 
tactics are the surest basis for a sustained career of conquest. 
Provided with these a vigorous state needs no unbroken series 
of great commanders. A succession of respectable mediocrities 
suffices to guide the great engine of war, which works almost 
automatically, and seldom fails to cleave its way to success. 
The elected consuls of Rome, the elected or nominated 
* captains ' of the Confederates, could never have led their 
troops to victory, had it not been for the systems which the 
experience of their predecessors had brought to perfection. 
The combination of pliability and solid strength in the legion, 
the powers of rapid movement and irresistible impact which met 
in the Swiss column, were competent to win a field without the 

^ See, for example, the case .cited in Von Elgger's Kriegswesen der 
Schweizerischen Eidgenossen, where a patrician of Constance having refused 
to accept a Bernese plappert (small coin) in payment of a wager, and having 
scornfully called the bear represented on it a cow, the Confederates took the 
matter up as a national insult, and ravaged the territory of Constance with- 
out any declaration of war, 

* At Novara, for instance, they put to death after the battle several 
hundred German prisoners. 

-A. D. 1515.] THE SWISS. 65 

exertion of any extraordinary ability by the generals who set 
them in motion. 

The battle-array which the Confederates invariably employed, 
was one whose prototype had been seen in the Macedonian 
phalanx. It was always in masses of enormous depth that they 
presented themselves on the batdefield. Their great national 
weapon in the days of their highest reputation was the pike, an 
ashen shaft eighteen feet long, fitted with a head of steel which 
added another foot to its length. It was grasped with two 
jiands wddely extended, and poised at the level of the shoulder 
nth the point slightly sunk, so as to deliver a downward thrust \ 
before the line projected not only the pikes of the front rank, 
)ut those of the second, third, and fourth, an impenetrable 
hedge of brisding points. The men in the interior of the 
column held their weapons upright, till called upon to step 
forward in order to replace those who had fallen in the foremost 
ranks. Thus the pikes, rising twelve feet above the heads of the 
men who bore them, gave to the charging mass the appearance 
of a moving wood. Above it floated numberless flags, the 
pennons of districts, towns, and guilds ^, the banners of the 
cantons, sometimes the great standard of ' the Ancient League 
of High Germany/ the white cross on the red ground. 

The pike, however, was not the only weapon of the Swiss. 
In the earlier days of their independence, when the Confederacy 
, consisted of three or four cantons, the halberd was their favourite 
and even in the sixteenth century a considerable propor- 
tion of the army continued to employ it. Eight feet in length 
— with a heavy head which ended in a sharp point and bore 
on its front a blade like that of a hatchet, on its back a strong 
hook — the halberd was the most murderous, if also the most 
ponderous, of weapons. Swung by the strong arms of the 
Alpine herdsmen it would cleave helmet, shield, or coat-of-mail, 

^ See Montluc's Commentaries. 

^ At Morat the contingent of Bern alone brought with them (besides the 
great standard of the canton) the flags of twenty-four towns and districts 
(Thun, Aarau, Lenzburg, Interlaken, Burgdorf, the Haslithal, the Emmenthal, 
etc. etc.) and of eight craft-guilds and six other associations. 

66 THE SWISS. [A. D. 1315- 

like pasteboard. The sight of the ghastly wounds which it 
inflicted might well appal the stoutest foeman : he who had 
once felt its edge required no second stroke. It was the 
halberd which laid Leopold of Hapsburg dead across his fallen 
banner at Sempach, and struck down Charles of Burgundy — all 
his face one gash from temple to teeth — in the frozen ditch by 
Nancy *. 

The halberdiers had their recognized station in the Con- 
federates' battle-array. They were drawn up in the centre of 
the column, around the chief banner, which was placed under 
their care. If the enemy succeeded in checking the onset of 
the pikemen, it was their duty to pass between the front ranks, 
which opened out to give them egress, and throw themselves 
into the fray. They were joined in their charge by the bearers 
of two-handed swords, 'Morning-Stars,' and 'Lucern Hammers^,' 
all weapons of the most fearful efficiency in a hand-to-hand 
combat. It was seldom that a hostile force, whether infantry or 
cavalry, sustained this final attack, when the infuriated Swiss 
dashed in among them, slashing right and left, sweeping off the 
legs of horses, and cleaving armour and flesh with the same 
tremendous blow. 

In repelling cavalry charges, however, the halberd was found, 
owing to its shortness, a far less useful weapon than the pike. 
The disastrous fight near Bellinzona in 1422, where the Swiss, 
having a large proportion of halberdiers in their front rank, 
were broken by the Milanese gendarmes, was the final cause of 
its relegation to the second epoch of the batde. From the 
first shock of the opposing forces it was banished, being reserved 
for the mei/e which afterwards ensued. 

Next to its solidity the most formidable quality of the Swiss 
infantry was its rapidity of movement. ' No troops were ever 

* The halberd only differed from the English * brown-bill ' in having a 

' The ' Morning-Star ' was a club five feet long, set thickly at its end with 
iron spikes. It had disappeared by the middle of the 15th century. The 
'Lucern Hammer' was like a halberd, but had three curved prongs instead 
of the hatchet- blade : it inflicted a horrible jagged wound. 


m more expeditious on a march, or in forming themselves for 

W battle, because they were not overloaded with armour ^' When 

C emergencies arrived a Confederate army could be raised with 

I extraordinary speed ; a people who regarded military glory as the 

R one thing which made life worth living, flocked to arms without 

t needing a second summons. The outlying contingents marched 

day and night in order to reach the mustering place in good 

time. There was no need to waste days in the weary work of 

organization, when every man stood among his kinsmen and 

neighbours, beneath the pennon of his native town or valley. 

he troops of the democratic cantons elected their officers. 

ose of the larger states received leaders appointed by their 

councils, and then without further delay the army marched to 

meet the enemy. Thus an invader, however unexpected his 

attack, might in the course of three or four days find twenty 

thousand men on his hands. They would often be within a few 

miles of him, before he had heard that a Swiss force was in the 


In face of such an army it was impossible for the slowly- 
moving troops of the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries to execute 
manoeuvres. An attempt to alter the line of battle, — as Charles 
the Rash discovered to his dismay at Granson, — was sure to 
lead to disaster. When once the Confederates were in motion 
their enemy had to resign himself to fighting in whatever order 
he found himself at the moment. They always made it their 
rule to begin the fight, and never to allow themselves to be 
attacked. The composition of their various columns was settled 
early on the battle morning, and the men moved off to the field 
already drawn up in their fighting-array. There was no pause 
needed to draw the army out in line of batde ; each phalanx 
marched on the enemy at a steady but swift pace, which 
covered the ground in an incredibly short time. The solid 
masses glided forward in perfect order and in deep silence, 
until the war-cry burst out in one simultaneous roar and the 
column dashed itself against the hostile front. The rapidity of 

^ Macchiavelli, Art of War, tr. Fameworth, p. 32. 
F 2 

68 THE SWISS. [A. D. 1315- 

the Swiss advance had in it something portentous: the great 
wood of pikes and halberds came rolling over the brow of some 
neighbouring hill ; a moment later it was pursuing its even way 
towards the front, and then — almost before the opponent had 
time to realize his position — it was upon him, with its four rows 
of spear-points projecting in front and the impetus of file upon 
file surging up from the rear. 

This power of swift movement was — as Macchiavelli observed 
— the result of the Confederates' determination not to burden 
themselves with heavy armour. Their abstention from its use 
was originally due to their poverty alone, but was confirmed by 
the discovery that a heavy panoply would clog and hamper the 
efficiency of their national tactics. The normal equipment of 
the pikeman or halberdier was therefore light, consisting of a 
steel-cap and breastplate alone. Even these were not in uni- 
versal employment ; many of the soldiery trusted the defence of 
their persons to their weapons, and wore only felt hats and 
leather jerkins \ The use of back-plates, arm-pieces, and greaves 
was by no means common ; indeed the men wearing them were 
often not sufficient in nuniber to form a single rank at the head 
of the column, the post in which they were always placed. The 
leaders alone were required to present themselves in full armour ; 
they were therefore obliged to ride while on the march, in order 
to keep up with their lightly-armed followers. When they 
arrived in sight of the enemy they dismounted and led their 
men to the charge on foot. A few of the patricians and men 
of knightly family from Bern were found in the fifteenth century 
serving as cavalry, but their numbers were absolutely insignificant, 
a few scores at the most ^. 

Although the strength and pride of the Confederates lay in 
their pikemen and halberdiers, the light troops were by no means 
neglected. On occasion they were known to form as much as 
a fourth of the army, and they never sank below a tenth of the 

^ Macchiavelli even says that the pikemen in his day did not wear the 
steel-cap, which was entirely confined to the halberdiers. But this can be 
shown from other sources to be an exaggeration, 

' See Kirk's Charles the Bold, book iv. chap. 2. 

-A. D. 1515.] THE SWISS, 69 

whole number ^ They were originally armed with the cross- 
bow — the weapon of the fabulous Tell — but even before the 
great Burgundian war the use of the clumsy firearms of 
the day was general among them. It was their duty to pre- 
cede the main body, and to endeavour to draw on themselves 
the attention of the enemy's artillery and light troops, so that the 
columns behind them might advance as far as possible without 
being molested. Thus the true use of a line of skirmishers was 
already appreciated among the Swiss in the fifteenth century. 
When the pikemen had come up with them, they retired into the 
intervals between the various masses, and took no part in the 
great charge, for which their weapons were not adapted. 

It is at once evident that in the simplicity of its component 
elements lay one of the chief sources of the strength of a Con- 
federate army. Its commanders were not troubled by any of 
those problems as to the correlation and subordination of the 
various arms, which led to so many unhappy experiments among 
the generals of other nations. Cavalry and artillery were prac- 
tically non-existent; nor were the operations hampered by the 
necessity of finding some employment for those masses of troops 
of inferior quality who so often increased the numbers, but not 
the efficiency, of a mediaeval army. A Swiss force — however 
hastily gathered — was always homogeneous and coherent ; 
there was no residuum of i^ntried or disloyal soldiery for 
whose conduct special precautions would have to be taken. 
The larger proportion of the men among a nation devoted to 
war had seen a considerable amount of service ; while if local 
jealousies were ever remembered in the field, they only served to 
spur the rival contingents on to a healthy emulation in valour. 
However much the cantons might wrangle among themselves, 
they were always found united against a foreign attack*. 

^ At Morat, according to Commines, they were nearly a third, 10,000 out 
of 35,000. At Arbedo they were a seventh : among the Confederates who 
joined Charles VIII in his march to Naples only a tenth of the force. 

^ E. g. the Forest Cantons were bitterly opposed to the Bernese policy 
of engaging in war with Charles the Bold ; but their troops did no worse 
service than the rest at Granson or Morat. 

70 THE SWISS, [A. D. 1315- 

(2) Taciics and Strategy. 

The character and organization of the Confederate army were 
exceedingly unfavourable to the rise of great generals. The 
soldier rested his hope of success rather on an entire confidence 
in the fighting power of himself and his comrades, than on the 
skill of his commander. Troops who have proved in a hundred 
fields their ability to bear up against the most overwhelming odds, 
are comparatively indifferent as to the personality of their leader. 
If he is competent they work out his plan with success, if not, 
they cheerfully set themselves to repair his faults by sheer hard 
fighting. Another consideration was even more important 
among the Swiss ; there was a universal prejudice felt against 
placing the troops of one canton under the orders of the citizen 
of another. So strong was this feeling that an extraordinary 
result ensued: the appointment of a commander-in-chief re- 
mained, throughout the brilliant period of Swiss history, an 
exception rather than a rule. Neither in the time of Sempach, 
in the old war of Zurich, in the great struggle with Burgundy, 
nor in the Swabian campaign against Maximilian of Austria, 
was any single general entrusted with supreme authority ^. The 
conduct of affairs was in the hands of a ' council of war;' but it 
was a council which, contrary to the old proverb about such 
bodies, was always ready and willing to fight. It was composed 
of the 'captains' of each cantonal contingent, and settled the ques- 
tions which came under discussion by a simple majority of voices. 
Before a battle it entrusted the command of van, rear, main- 
body, and light troops to different officers, but the holders of 
such posts enjoyed a mere delegated authority, which expired 
with the cessation of the emergency. 

* Rudolf von Erlach's position as commander-in-chief at Laupen was quite 
exceptional. If we hear in the cases mentioned above of Swiss commanders, 
we must remember that they were co-ordinate authorities, among whom one 
man might exert more influence than another, but only by his personal as- 
cendancy, not by legal right. It is a mistake to say that Rene of Lorraine 
formally commanded at Morat or Nancy. 

-A. D. 1515.] THE SWISS. 7 1 

The existence of this curious subdivision of power, to which 
the nearest parallel would be found in early Byzantine days, would 
suffice by itself to explain the lack of all strategical skill and 
unity of purpose which was observable in Swiss warfare. The 
compromise which forms the mean between several rival schemes 
usually combines their faults, not their merits. But in addition 
to this, we may suspect that to find any one Swiss officer ca- 
pable of working out a coherent plan of campaign would have 
been difficult. The ' Captain ' was an old soldier who had won 
distinction on bygone battlefields, but except in his experience 
nowise different to the men under his orders. Of elaborating 
the more difficult strategical combinations a Swiss ' Council of 
War' was not much more capable than an average party of 
veteran sergeant-majors would be in our own day. 

With tactics, however, the case was diflferent. The best 
means of adapting the attack in column to the accidents of 
locality or the quality and armament of the opf)Osing troops 
were studied in the school of experience. A real tactical 
system was developed, whose efficiency was proved again and 
again in the battles of the fifteenth century. For dealing with 
the mediaeval men-at-arms and infantry against whom it had 
been designed, the Swiss method was unrivalled : it was only 
when a new age introduced different conditions into war that it 
gradually became obsolete. 

The normal order of battle employed by the Confederates, 
however small or large their army might be, was an advance in 
an Echelon of three divisions ^ The first corps ('vorhut'), that 
which had formed the van while the force was on the march, 
made for a given point in the enemy's line. The second corps 
(' gewaltshaufen '), instead of coming up in line with the first, 
advanced parallel to it, but at a short distance to its right or left 
rear. The third corps (* nachhut ') advanced still further back, 
and often halted until the effect of the first attack was seen, in 
order that it might be able to act, if necessary, as a reserve. 

1 Macchiavelli has a very clear account of this form of advance, see Arte 
de Guerra, tr. Fameworth, book iii. 

72 THE SWISS. [A. D. 1315- 

This disposition left a clear space behind each column, so that 
if it was repulsed it could retire without throwing into disorder 
the rest of the army. Other nations (e. g. the French at 
Agincourt), who were in the habit of placing one corps directly 
in front of another, had often to pay the penalty for their tactical 
crime, by seeing the defeat of their first line entail the rout of 
the whole army, each division being rolled back in confusion on 
that immediately in its rear. The Swiss order of attack had 
another strong point in rendering it almost impossible for the 
enemy's troops to wheel inwards and attack the most advanced 
column : if they did so they at once exposed their own flank to 
the second column, which was just coming up and commencing 
its charge. 

The advance in Echelon of columns was not the only form 
employed by the Confederates. At Laupen the centre or 
' gewaltshaufen ' moved forward and opened the fight before 
the wings were engaged. At the combat of Frastenz in 1499, 
on the other hand, the wings commenced the onset, while the 
centre was refused, and only came up to complete the over- 

Even the traditional array in three masses was sometimes 
discarded for a different formation. At Sempach the men of 
the Forest Cantons were drawn up in a single ' wedge ' (Keil). 
This order was not, as might be expected from its name, tri- 
angular, but merely a column of more than ordinary depth in 
proportion to its frontage. Its object was to break a hostile 
line of unusual firmness by a concentrated shock dehvered 
against its centre. In 1468, during the fighting which pre- 
ceded the siege of Waldshut, the whole Confederate army 
moved out to meet the Austrian cavalry in a great hollow 
square, in the midst of which were placed the banners with 
their escort of halberdiers. When such a body was attacked, 
the men faced outwards to receive the onset of the horsemen ; 
this they called ' forming the hedgehog \' So steady were they 

* See Elgger's Kriegswesen der Schweizerische, etc. p. 280. 

(3) Development of Swiss Military Supremacy, 

-A. D. 1515.] THE SWISS. 73 

that, with very inferior numbers, they could face the most ener- 
getic charge : 'in the Swabian war of 1498, six hundred men of 
Zurich, caught in the open plain by a thousand imperial men-at- 
arms, * formed a hedgehog, and drove off the enemy with ease 
and much jesting \' Macchiavelli^ speaks of another Swiss 
order of battle^ which he calls 'the Cross :' 'between the arms 
of which they place their musketeers, to shelter them from the 
first shock of the hostile column.' His description, however, is 
anything but explicit, and we can find no trace of any formation 

\ The first victory of the Confederates was won, not by the 
tactics which afterwards rendered them famous, but by a judi- 
cious choice of a battlefield. Morgarten was a fearful example 
of the normal uselessness of feudal cavalry in a mountainous 
country. On a frosty November day, when the roads were like 
ice underfoot, Leopold of Austria thrust his long narrow column 
into the defiles leading to the valley of Schwytz. In front rode 
the knights, who had of course claimed the honour of opening 
the contest, while the 6000 infantry blocked the way behind. 
In the narrow pass of Morgarten, where the road passes between 
a precipitous slope on the right and the waters of the Egeri 
lake on the left, the 1500 Confederates awaited the Austrians. 
Full of the carelessness which accompanies overweening arro- 
gance, the duke had neglected the most ordinary precaution of 
exploring his road, and only discovered the vicinity of the 
enemy when a shower of boulders and tree-trunks came rolling 
down the slope on his right flank, where a party of Swiss were 
posted in a position entirely inaccessible to horsemen. A mo- 
ment later the head of the helpless column was charged by the 

^ See Elgger as before. 

^ Arte de Guerra, tr. Faraeworth, p. 57. 

74 THE SWISS. [A. D. 1315- 

main body of the mountaineers. Before the Austrians had 
realized that the battle had commenced, the* halberds and 
'morning-stars' of the Confederates were working havoc in 
their van. The front ranks of the knights, wedged so tightly- 
together by the impact of the enemy that they could not lay 
their lances in rest, much less spur their horses to the charge, 
fought and died. The centre and rear were compelled to halt 
and stand motionless, unable to push forward on account of the 
narrowness of the pass, or to retreat on account of the infantry, 
who choked the road behind. For a short time they endured 
the deadly shower of rocks and logs, which continued to bound 
down the slope, tear through the crowded ranks, and hurl man 
and horse into the lake below. Then, by a simultaneous im- 
pulse, the greater part of the mass turned their reins and made 
for the rear. In the press hundreds were pushed over the edge 
of the road, to drown in the deep water on the left. The main 
body burst into the column of their own infantry, and, trampling 
down their unfortunate followers, fled with such speed as was 
possible on the slippery path. The Swiss, having now exter- 
minated the few knights in the van who had remained to fight, 
came down on the rear of the panic-stricken crowd, and cut 
down horseman and footman alike without meeting any resist- 
ance. * It was not a battle,' says John of Winterthur, a con 
temporary chronicler, * but a mere butchery of duke Leopold's 
men ; for the mountain folk slew them Hke sheep in the; 
shambles : no one gave any quarter, but they cut down all 
without distinction, till there were none left to kill. So great 
was the fierceness of the Confederates that scores of the Austrian 
footmen, when they saw the bravest knights falling helplessly, 
threw themselves in panic into the lake, preferring to sink in its 
depths rather than to fall under the fearful weapons of their 
enemies ^' 

In short, the Swiss won their freedom, because, with instinc- 
tive tactical skill, they gave the feudal cavalry no opportunity 
for attacking them at advantage. ' They were lords of the field 
* Quoted at length in Elgger. 


-A. D. 1515.] THE SWISS. 75 

jcause it was they, and not their foe, who settled where the 
fighting should take place.' On the steep and slippery road, 
where they could not win impetus for their charge, and where 
the narrowness of the defile prevented them from making use 
of their superior numbers, the Austrians were helpless. The 
crushing character of the defeat, however, was due to Leopold's 
inexcusable carelessness, in leaving the way unexplored and 
suffering himself to be surprised in the fatal trap of the pass. 

Morgarten exhibits the Swiss military system in a rudimentary 
condition. Though won, like all Confederate victories, by the 
charge of a column, it was the work of the halberd, not of the 
pike. The latter weapon was not yet in general use among 
the mountaineers of the three cantons : it was, in fact, never 
adopted by them to so great an extent as was the case among 
the Swiss of the lower Alpine lands and Aar valley, the Bernese 
and people of Zurich and Lucern. The halberd, murderous 
though it might be, was not an arm whose possession would 
give an unqualified ascendancy to its wielders : it was the posi- 
tion, not the weapons nor the tactics, of the Swiss which won 
Morgarten. But their second great success bears a far higher 
military importance. 

At Laupen, for the first time almost since the days of the 
Romans, infantry, entirely unsupported by horsemen, ranged 
on a fair field in the plains, withstood an army complete in all 
arms and superior in numbers ^ It was twenty-four years after 
duke Leopold's defeat that the Confederates and their newly- 
allied fellows of Bern met the forces of the Burgundian nobility 
of the valleys of the Aar and Rhone, mustered by all the feudal 
chiefs between Elsass and Lake Leman. Count Gerard of 
Vallangin, the commander of the baronial army, evidently in- 
tended to setde the day by turning one wing of the enemy, and 
crushing it. With this object he drew up the whole of his 
cavah-y on the right of his array, his centre and left being en- 
tirely composed of infantry. The Swiss formed the three 

^ At Bannockburn, the Scots had made good use of their cavalry, which, 
though not strong, gave them an advantage wanting to the Swiss at Laupen. 

76 THE SWISS. [A. D. 1315- 

columns which were henceforth to be their normal order of 
battle. They were under a single commander, Rudolf of Er- 
lach, to whom the credit of having first employed the formation 
apparently belongs. The Bernese, who were mainly armed 
with the pike, formed the centre column, the wings were drawn 
back. That on the left was composed of the men of the three 
old cantons, who were still employing the halberd as their chief 
weapon, while the right was made up of other allies of Bern. 
In this order they moved on to the attack, the centre con- 
siderably in advance. The infantry of the Barons proved to 
be no match for the Confederates : with a steady impulse the 
Bernese pushed it back, trampled down the front ranks, and 
drove the rest off the field. A moment later the Burgundian 
left suffered the same fate at the hands of the Swiss right 
column. Then, without wasting time in pursuit, the two vic- 
torious masses turned to aid the men of the Forest Cantons. 
Surrounded by a raging flood of horsemen on all sides, the left 
column was hard pressed. The halberd, though inflicting the 
most ghastly wounds, could not prevent the cavalry from occa- 
sionally closing in. Like a rock, however, the mountaineers 
withstood the incessant charges, and succeeded in holding their 
own for the all-important period during which the hostile in- 
fantry was being driven off the field. Then the two successful 
columns came down on the left and rear of the Baronial horse- 
men, and steadily met their charge. Apparently the enemy 
was already exhausted by his attempt to overcome the men of 
the Forest Cantons, for, after one vain attempt to ride down the 
Bernese pikemen, he turned and rode off the field, not without 
considerable loss, as many of his rearguard were intercepted 
and driven into the river Sense. 

Laupen was neither so bloody nor so dramatic a field as Morgar- 
ten ; but it is one of three great battles which mark the beginning 
of a new period in the history of war. Bannockburn had already 
sounded the same note in the distant West, but for the Continent 
Laupen was the first revelation as to the power of good infantry. 
The experiment which had been tried a few years before at 

[•A. D. 1515.] THE SWISS. 77 

'assel and Mons-en-Puelle with such ill success, was renewed 
with a very different result. The Swiss had accomplished the 
feat which the Flemings had undertaken with inadequate means 
and experience. Seven years later a yet more striking lesson 
was to be administered to feudal chivalry, when the archer faced 
the knight at Cressy. The mail-clad horseman was found 
unable to break the phalanx of pikes, unable to approach the 
hne from which the deadly arrow reached him, but still the old 
superstition which gave the most honourable name in war to the 
mounted man, was strong enough to perpetuate for another 
century the cavalry whose day had really gone by. A system 
which was so intimately bound up with mediaeval life and ideas 
could not be destroyed by one, or by twenty disasters. 

Sempach, the third great victory won by the Confederates, 
shares with the less famous fight of Arbedo a peculiar interest. 
Both were attempts to break the Swiss column by the adoption 
of a similar method of attack to that which rendered it so 
formidable. Leopold the Proud, remembering no doubt the 
powerlessness of the horsemen which had been shown at 
Laupen, made his knights dismount, as Edward of England had 
done with such splendid results thirty years earlier. Perhaps he 
may have borne in mind a similar order given by his ancestor 
the Emperor Albert, when he fought the Bavarians at Hasen- 
biihl in 1298. At any rate the duke awaited the enemy's attack 
with his 4000 mailed men-at-arms formed in one massive 
column, — their lances levelled in front, — ready to meet the Swiss 
with tactics similar to their own and with the advantage which 
the superior protection of armour gave in a contest otherwise 
equal ^. Leopold had also posted in reserve a considerable body 
of foot and horse, who were to fall on the flanks and rear of the 
Confederates, when they were fully engaged in front. 

Arrayed in a single deep column (Keil), the Swiss came 
rushing down from the hills with their usual impetuosity, the 
horns of Uri and Unterwalden braying in their midst and the 

* Similarly at the battle of the Standard the English knights dismounted 
to meet the furious rush of the Galwegians. 

7 8 THE SWISS, [A. D. 1315- 

banners of the four Forest Cantons waving above them ^ The 
first shock between the two masses was tremendous, but when 
it was ended the Confederates found themselves thrust back. 
Their whole front rank had gone down, and the Austrian 
column was unshaken. In a moment they rallied ; Uri replaced 
Lucem as the head of the phalanx, and again they dashed at 
the mail-clad line before them. But the second charge was no 
more successful than the first : Schwytz had to succeed Uri, and 
again Unterwalden took the place of Schwytz, and yet nothing 
more was effected. The Austrians stood victorious, while in 
front of them a long bank of Swiss corpses lay heaped. At the 
same moment the duke's reserve began to move, with the inten- 
tion of encircling the Confederate flank. The critical moment 
had come ; without some desperate effort the day was lost : but 
while the Swiss were raging along the line of bristling points, 
vainly hacking at the spears which pierced them, the necessary 
impulse was at last given. To detail once more Winkelried's 
heroic death is unnecessary : every one knows how the Austrian 
column was broken, how in the close combat which followed 
the lance and long horseman's sword proved no match for the 
halberd, the battle-axe and the cutlass, how the duke and his 
knights, weighed down by their heavy armour, neither could nor 
would flee, and fell to a man around their banner. 

Historians tell us all this, but what they forget to impress 
upon us is that, in spite of his failure, duke Leopold was nearer 
to success than any other commander, one exception alone 
being made, who faced the Swiss down to the day of Marignano. 
His idea of meeting the shock of the Swiss phalanx with a 
heavier shock of his own was feasible. His mistakes in detail 
ruined a plan which in itself was good. The first fault was that 
he halted to receive the enemy's charge, and did not advance to 
meet it. Thus he lost most of the advantage which the superior 

' The numbers which the Swiss Chroniclers allow to have been present at 
Sempach are evidently minimised. The whole force of four cantons was 
there, yet we are told of only 1500 men ! Yet the three cantons seventy-one 
years before put the same number in the field, and the populous state of 
Lncem had now joined them. 

..D.1515.] THE SWISS, 79 

weight of his men would have given in the clashing of the 
columns. He was equally misguided in making no attempt to 
press on the Confederates when their first three charges had 
failed, and so allowing them time to rally. Moreover he made 
no adequate use of his mounted squadron in reserve, his light 
troops, and the artillery, which we know that he had with him \ 
If these had been employed on the Swiss flanks at the proper 
moment, they would have decided the day. But Leopold only 
used his artillery to open the combat, and kept his crossbowmen 
and slingers in the rear, probably out of that feudal superstition 
which demanded that the knight should have the most important 
part in the battle. Neglecting these precautions, he lost the day, 
but only after some of the hardest fighting which the Swiss ever 

What a better general could do by the employment of 
Leopold's tactical experiment was shown thirty-seven years 
later on the field of Arbedo. On that occasion Carmagnola the 
Milanese general, — who then met the Confederates for the first 
time, — opened the engagement with a cavalry charge. Observ- 
ing its entire failure, the experienced condottiere at once resorted 
to another form of attack. He dismounted the whole of his 
6000 men-at-arms, and launched them in a single column 
against the Swiss phalanx. The enemy, a body of 4000 men 
from Uri, Unterwalden, Zug, and Lucern, were mainly halber- 
diers, the pikemen and crossbowmen forming only a third of 
their force. The two masses met, and engaged in a fair duel 
between lance and sword on the one hand and pike and halberd 
on the other. The impetus of the larger force bore down that of 
the smaller, and, in spite of the desperate fighting of their ene- 
mies, the Milanese began to gain ground. So hardly were the 
Confederates now pressed that the Schultheiss of Lucern even 

^ The Confederates were forming their column in Sempach Wood, when 
Leopold's artillery opened on them — 

* With their long lances levelled before the fight they stood, 
And set their cannon firing at those within the wood ; 
Then to the good Confederates the battle was not sweet, 
When all around the mighty boughs dropped crashing at their feet.' 

[Rough translation of Halbshuter's contemporary * Sempacherlied.'] 

8o THE SWISS, [A. D. 1315- 

thought of surrender, and planted his halberd in the ground in 
token of submission. Carmagnola, however, heated with the 
fight, cried out that men who gave no quarter should receive 
none, and continued his advance. He was on the very point of 
victory ^ when a new Swiss force suddenly appeared in his rear. 
Believing them to be the contingents of Zurich, Schwytz, Glarus, 
and Appenzell, which he knew to be at no great distance, 
Carmagnola drew off his men and began to reform. But in 
reality the new-comers were only a band of 600 foragers ; they 
made no attack ; while the Swiss main-body took advantage of 
the relaxation of the pressure to retire in good order. They had 
lost 400 men according to their own acknowledgment, many 
more if Italian accounts are to be received. Carmagnola's loss, 
though numerically larger, bore no such proportion to his whole 
force, and had indeed been mainly incurred in the unsuccessful 
cavalry charge which opened the action. 

From the results of Sempach and Arbedo it seems natural to 
draw the conclusion that a judicious employment of dismounted 
men-at-arms might have led to success, if properly combined 
with the use of other arms. The experiment, however, was never 
repeated by the enemies of the Swiss : indeed almost the only 
consequence which we can attribute to it is a decree of the 
Council of Lucern, that ' since things had not gone altogether 
well with the Confederates ' a larger proportion of the army was 
in future to be furnished with the pike '^, a weapon which, unlike 
the halberd, could contend on superior terms with the lance. 

^ Sismondi, who writes entirely from Swiss sources as to this fight, gives 
a very different impression from Machiavelli. The later cites Arbedo as the 
best known check received by the Swiss, and puts their loss down at several 
thousands (Arte de Guerra, tr, Fameworth, p. 33). Miiller evidently tries 
to minimise the check; but we may judge from our knowledge of Swiss 
character how great must have been the pressure required to make a Con- 
federate officer think of surrender. Forty-four members of the Cantonal 
councils of Lucern fell in the fight : ' The contingent of Lucern had crossed 
the lake of the four Cantons in ten large barges, when setting out on this 
expedition : it returned in two ! ' These facts, acknowledged by the Swiss 
themselves, seem to show that the figure of 400 men for their loss is placed 
absurdly low. 

" From a Lucern 'Raths-Protocoir of 1422, * Da es den Eidgenossen nicht 
so wohl ergangen seie,' etc. 

-A. D. 1515.] THE SWISS. 8 1 

Putting aside the two battles which we have last examined, we 
may say that for the first 150 years of their career the Swiss 
were so fortunate as never to meet either with a master of the 
art of war, or with any new form of tactical efficiency which 
could rival their own phalanx. It was still with the mailed 
horsemen or the motley and undisciplined infantry-array of 
the middle ages that they had to deal. Their tactics had 
been framed for successful conflict with such forces, and 
continued to preserve an ascendancy over them. The free 
lances of Enguerrand de Coucy, the burghers and nobles 
of Swabia, the knights who followed Frederick or Leopold 
or Sigismund of Hapsburg, were none of them exponents of 
a new system, and served each in their turn to demonstrate 
yet more clearly the superiority of the Confederates in military 

Even the most dangerous attack ever aimed against Switzer- 
land, the invasion by the 'Armagnac' mercenaries of the 
Dauphin Louis in 1444, was destined to result in the increase 
of the warlike reputation of its soldiery. The battle of St. Jacob, 
mad and unnecessary though it was, might serve as an example 
to deter the boldest enemy from meddling with men who pre- 
ferred annihilation to retreat. Possessed by the single idea that 
their phalanx could bear down any obstacle, the Confederates 
deliberately crossed the Birs in face of an army of fifteen times 
their strength. They attacked it, broke its centre, and were 
then surrounded by its overwhelming numbers. Compelled to 
' form the hedgehog ' in order to resist the tremendous cavalry 
charges directed against them, they remained rooted to the spot 
for the remainder of the day. The Dauphin launched squadron 
after squadron at them, but each in its turn was hurled back in 
disorder. In the intervals between these onsets the French light 
troops poured in their missiles, but though the clump of pikes 
and halberds grew smaller it still remained impenetrable. Not 
until the evening was the fighting ended, and then 6000 
Armagnacs lay dead around the heap of Swiss corpses in the 
centre. Louis saw that a few such victories would destroy his 

82 THE SWISS. [A. D. 1315- 

whole army, and turned back into Alsace, leaving Switzerland 

From that day the Confederates were able to reckon their 
reputation for obstinate and invincible courage, as one of the 
chief causes which gave them political importance. The 
generals and armies who afterwards faced them, went into 
battle without full confidence in themselves. It was no light 
matter to engage with an enemy who would not retire before 
any superiority in numbers, who was always ready for the fight, 
who would neither give nor take quarter. The enemies of the 
Swiss found these considerations the reverse of inspiriting 
before a combat : it may almost be said that they came into the 
field expecting a defeat, and therefore earned one. This fact is 
especially noticeable in the great Burgundian war. If Charles 
the Rash himself was unawed by the warlike renown of his 
enemies S the same cannot be said of his troops. A large 
portion of his motley army could not be trusted in any dangerous 
crisis : the German, Italian, and Savoyard mercenaries knew too 
well the horrors of Swiss warfare, and shrank instinctively from 
the shock of the phalanx of pikes. The duke might range his 
men in order of battle, but he could not be sure that they would 
fight. The old proverb that ' God was on the side of the 
Confederates ' was ever ringing in their ears, and so they were 
half beaten before a blow was struck. Charles had endeavoured 
to secure the efficiency of his army, by enlisting from each war- 
like nation of Europe the class of troops for which it was 
celebrated. The archers of England, the arquebusiers of 
Germany, the light cavalry of Italy, the pikemen of Flanders, 
marched side by side with the feudal chivalry of his Burgundian 
vassals. But the duke had forgotten that, in assembling so many 
nationalities under his banner, he had thrown away the cohesion 
which is all-important in battle. Without mutual confidence or 
certainty that each comrade would do his best for the common 
cause, the soldiery would not stand firm. Granson was lost 

* Yet even the Duke said, that ' Against the Swiss it will never do to 
march unprepared.' Panagirola, quoted by Kirk, vol. iii. 




84 THE SWISS. [A. D. 1315- 

engaged in repeating the movement which had given 
Hannibal victory at Cannae : their fortune, however, was very 
different. . At the moment when the centre had begun to draw 
back, and when the wings were not yet engaged, the heads of 
the two Swiss columns, which had not before appeared, came 
over the brow of Mont Aubert; moving rapidly towards the 
battlefield with the usual majestic steadiness of their formation. 
This of course would have frustrated Charles' scheme for sur- 
rounding the first phalanx ; the Echelon of divisions, which was 
the normal Swiss array, being now established. The aspect of 
the fight, however, was changed even more suddenly than might 
have been expected. Connecting the retreat of their centre 
with the advance of the Swiss, the whole of the infantry of the 
Burgundian wings broke and fled, long before the Confederate 
masses had come into contact with them. It was a sheer panic, 
caused by the fact that the duke's army had no cohesion or 
confidence in itself ; the various corps in the moment of danger 
could not rely on each others' steadiness, and seeing what they 
imagined to be the rout of their centre, had no further thought 
of endeavouring to turn the fortune of the day. It may be said 
that no general could have foreseen such a disgraceful flight; 
but at the same time the duke may be censured for attempting a 
delicate manoeuvre with an army destitute of homogeneity, and 
in face of an enterprising opponent. ' Strategical movements to 
the rear ' have always a tendency to degenerate into undisguised 
retreats, unless the men are perfectly in hand, and should there- 
fore be avoided as much as possible. Granson was for the 
Swiss only one more example of the powerlessness of the best 
cavalry against their columns : of infantry fighting there was 
none at all. 

In the second great defeat which he suff"ered at the hands of 
the Confederates the duke was guilty of far more flagrant faults 
in his generalship. His army was divided into three parts, 
which in the event of a flank attack could bring each other 
no succour. The position which he had chosen and fortified 
for the covering of his siege-operations, only protected them 

-A. D. 1515.] THE SWISS, 85 

against an assault from the south-east. Still more strange was 
it that the Burgundian light troops were held back so close to 
the main-body, that the duke had no accurate knowledge of the 
movements of his enemies till they appeared in front of his 
lines. It was thus possible for the Confederate army to march, 
under cover of the Wood of Morat, right across the front of the 
two corps which virtually composed the centre and left of 
Charles' array. As it was well known that the enemy were 
in the immediate vicinity, it is hard to conceive how the duke 
could be content to wait in battle-order for six hours, without 
sending out troops to obtain information. It is nevertheless 
certain that when the Swiss did not show themselves, he sent 
back his main-body to camp, and left the carefully entrenched 
position in the charge of a few thousand men. Hardly had 
this fault been committed, when the Confederate vanguard 
appeared on the outskirts of the Wood of Morat, and marched 
straight on the palisade. The utterly inadequate garrison made 
a bold endeavour to hold their ground, but in a few minutes 
were driven down the reverse slope of the hill, into the arms 
of the troops who were coming up in hot haste from the camp 
to their succour. The Swiss following hard in their rear pushed 
the disordered mass before them, and crushed in detail each 
supporting corps as it straggled up to attack them. The greater 
part of the Burgundian infantry turned and fled, — with far more 
excuse than at Granson. Many of the cavalry corps endeavoured 
to change the fortune of the day by desperate but isolated 
charges, in which they met the usual fate of those who en- 
deavoured to break a Swiss phalanx. The fighting, however, 
was soon at an end, and mere slaughter took its place. While 
the van and main-body of the Confederates followed the flying 
crowd who made off" in the direction of Avenches, the rear 
came down on the Italian infantry, who had formed the besieg- 
ing force south of the town of Morat. These unfortunates, 
whose retreat was cut off" by the direction which the flight of 
the main-body had taken, were trodden under foot or pushed 
into the lake by the impact of the Swiss column, and entirely 

«6 THE SWISS. [A. D. 1315- 

annihilated, scarcely a single man escaping out of a force of 
six thousand. The Savoyard corps, under Romont, who had 
composed the duke's extreme left, and were posted to the north 
of Morat, escaped by a hazardous march which took them 
round the rear of the Confederates. 

Though Charles had done his best to prepare a victory for 
his enemies by the faultiness of his dispositions, the manage- 
ment of the Swiss army at Morat was the cause of the 
completeness of his overthrow. A successful attack on the 
Burgundian right would cut off the retreat of the two isolated 
corps which composed the duke's centre and left; the Con- 
federate leaders therefore determined to assault this point, 
although to reach it they had to march straight across their 
opponent's fronts Favoured by his astonishing oversight in 
leaving their march unobserved, they were able to surprise him, 
and destroy his army in detail, before it could manage to form 
even a rudimentary line of battle. 

At Nancy the Swiss commanders again displayed considerable 
skill in their dispositions : the main battle and the small rear 
column held back and attracted the attention of the Burgundian 
army, while the van executed a turning movement through the 
woods, which brought it out on the enemy's flank, and made 
his position perfectly untenable. The duke's troops assailed in 
front and on their right at the same moment, and having to 
deal with very superior numbers, were not merely defeated but 
dispersed or destroyed. Charles himself refusing to fly, and 
fighting desperately to cover the retreat of his scattered forces, 
was surrounded, and cleft through helmet and skull by the 
tremendous blow of a Swiss halberd. 

The generalship displayed at Nancy and Morat was, however, 
exceptional among the Confederates. After those battles, just 
as before, we find that their victories continued to be won by 

* ' If we attack Romont,' said Ulrich Katzy at the Swiss council of war, 
'while we are beating him the duke will have time and opportunity to 
escape ; let us go round the hills against the main-body, and when that is 
routed, we shall have the rest without a stroke.' This showed real tactical 

-A. D. 1515.] THE SWISS. 87 

a headlong and desperate onset, rather than by the display of 
any great strategical ability. In the Swabian war of 1499 the 
credit of their successes falls to the troops rather than to their 

• leaders. The stormings of the fortified camps of Hard and 
Malsheide were wonderful examples of the power of unshrinking 
courage ; but on each occasion the Swiss officers seem to have 
considered that they were discharging their whole duty, when 
they led their men straight against the enemy's entrenchments. 
At Frastenz the day was won by a desperate charge up the face 
of a cliff which the Tyrolese had left unguarded, as being inac- 
cessible. Even at Dornach — the last battle fought on Swiss soil 
against an invader till the eighteenth century — the fortune of 
the fight turned on the superiority of the Confederate to the 
Swabian pikemen man for man, and on the fact that the lances 
of Gueldres could not break the flank column by their most 
determined onset. Of manoeuvring there appears to have been 
little, of strategical planning none at all; it was considered 
sufficient to launch the phalanx against the enemy, and trust 
to its power of bearing down every obstacle that came in 
its way. 

(4) Causes of the Decline of Swiss Ascendency. 

Their disregard for the higher and more delicate problems 
of military science, was destined to enfeeble the power and 
destroy the reputation of the Confederates. At a time when 
the great struggle in Italy was serving as a school for the 
soldiery of other European nations, they alone refused to learn. 
Broad theories, drawn from the newly-discovered works of the 
ancients, were being co-ordinated with the modern experience 
of professional officers, and were developing into an art of 
war far superior to anything known in mediaeval times. Scien- 
tific engineers and artillerists had begun to modify the conditions 
of warfare, and feudal tradition was everywhere discarded. New 
forms of military efficiency, such as the sword-and-buckler men 

88 THE SWISS. [A. D. 1315- 

of Spain, the Stradiot light cavalry, the German * black bands' 
of musketeers, were coming to the front. The improvement of 
the firearms placed in the hands of infantry was only less 
important than the superior mobility which was given to field 

The Swiss, however, paid no attention to these changes ; the 
world around them might alter, but they would hold fast to 
the tactics of their ancestors. At first, indeed, their arms were 
still crowned with success : they were seen in Italy, as in more 
northern lands, to ' march with ten or fifteen thousand pikemen 
against any number of horse, and to win a general opinion of 
their excellence from the many remarkable services they per- 
formed \' They enjoyed for a time supreme importance, and 
left their mark on the military history of every nation of central 
and southern Europe. But it was impossible that a single 
stereotyped tactical method, applied by men destitute of any 
broad and scientific knowledge of the art of war, should con- 
tinue to assert an undisputed ascendancy. The victories of the 
Swiss set every officer of capacity and versatile talent searching 
for an efficient way of dealing with the onset of the phalanx. 
Such a search was rendered comparatively easy by the fact that 
the old feudal cavalry and the worthless mediaeval infantry were 
being rapidly replaced by discipHned troops, men capable of 
keeping cool and collected even before the desperate rush of the 
Confederate pikemen. The standing army of Charles of Bur- 
gundy had been rendered inefficient by its want of homogeneity 
and cohesion, as well as by the bad generalship of its leader. 
The standing armies which fought in Italy thirty years later 
were very diff"erent bodies. Although still raised from among 
various nations, they were united by the bonds of old comrade- 
ship, of esprt/ de corps, of professional pride, or of confidence in 
some favourite general. The Swiss had therefore to face 
troops of a far higher military value than they had ever before 

^ Machiavelli, Arte de Guerra, book ii. 

-A. D. 1515.] THE SWISS, 89 

The first experiment tried against the Confederates was that 
of the Emperor Maximilian, who raised in Germany corps of 
pikemen and halberdiers, trained to act in a manner exactly 
similar to that of their enemies. The 'Landsknechts' soon won 
for themselves a reputation only second to that of the Swiss, 
whom they boldly met in many a bloody field. The conflicts 
between them were rendered obstinate by military as well as 
national rivalry : the Confederates being indignant that any 
troops should dare to face them with their own peculiar tactics, 
while the Germans were determined to show that they were 
not inferior in courage to their Alpine kinsmen. The shock 
of the contending columns was therefore tremendous. The 
two bristling lines of pikes crossed, and the leading files were 
thrust upon each other's weapons by the irresistible pressure 
from behind. Often the whole front rank of each phalanx went 
down in the first onset, but their comrades stepped forward over 
their bodies to continue the fight*. When the masses had been 
for some time ' pushing against each other,' their order became 
confused and their pikes interlocked : then was the time for the 
halberdiers to act^ The columns opened out to let them pass, 
or they rushed round from the rear, and threw themselves into 
the vielee. This was the most deadly epoch of the strife : the 
combatants mowed each other down with fearful rapidity. Their 
ponderous weapons allowed of litde fencing and parrying, and 
inflicted wounds which were almost invariably mortal. Every- 
one who missed his blow, or stumbled over a fallen comrade, or 
turned to fly, was a doomed man. Quarter was neither expected 
nor given. Of course these fearful hand-to-hand combats could 
not be of great duration ; one party had ere long to give ground, 
and suffer the most fearful losses in its retreat. It was in a 
struggle of this kind that the Landsknechts lost a full half of 

^ Frandsberg, the old captain of landsknechts, gives a cool and business- 
like account of these shocks, ' Wo unter den langen Wehren etliche Glieder 
zu grund gehen, werden die Personen, so dahinter stehen, etwas zaghaft,' etc. 

"^ The two-handed sword had almost entirely, and the ' morning-star ' and 
• Lucem hammer ' quite, disappeared from use by the end of the fifteenth 

go THE SWISS. [A. D. 1315- 

their strength, when the Swiss bore them down at Novara. Even, 
however, when they were victorious, the Confederates found 
that their military ascendancy was growing less : they could no 
longer sweep the enemy from the field by a single unchecked 
onset, but were confronted by troops who were ready to turn 
their own weapons against them, and who required the hardest 
pressure before they would give ground. In spite of their defeats 
the Landsknechts kept the field, and finally took their revenge 
when the Swiss recoiled in disorder from the fatal trenches of 

There was, however, an enemy even more formidable than 
the German, who was to appear upon the scene at a slightly 
later date. The Spanish infantry of Gonsalvo de Cordova dis- 
played once more to the military world the strength of the tactics 
of old Rome. They were armed, like the men of the ancient 
legion, with the short thrusting sword and buckler, and wore the 
steel cap, breast- and back-plates and greaves. Thus they were 
far stronger in their defensive armour than the Swiss whom they 
were about to encounter. When the pikeman and the swords- 
man first met in 1502, under the walls of Barletta, the old pro- 
blem of Pydna and Cynoscephalae was once more worked out. 
A phalanx as solid and efficient as that of Philip the Macedonian 
was met by troops whose tactics were those of the legionaries 
of jEmilius Paullus. Then, as in an earlier age, the wielders of 
the shorter weapon prevailed. ^ When they came to engage, the 
Swiss at first pressed so hard on their enemy with the pike, that 
they opened out their ranks ; but the Spaniards, under the cover 
of their bucklers, nimbly rushed in upon them with their swords, 
and laid about them so furiously, that they made a great slaugh- 
ter of the Swiss, and gained a complete victory^.' The vanquished, 
in fact, suffered at the hands of the Spaniard the treatment which 
they themselves had inflicted on the Austrians at Sempach. The 
bearer of the longer weapon becomes helpless when his oppo- 
nent has closed with him, whether the arms concerned be lance 
and halberd or pike and sword. The moment a breach had 

* Machiavelli, Arte de Guerra, book ii. p. 34. 

-A. D. 1515.] THE SWISS. 

been made in a Macedonian or Swiss phalanx the great length 
of their spears became their ruin. There was nothing to do 
but to drop them, and in the combat which then ensued troops 
using the sword alone, and without defensive armour, were at a 
hopeless disadvantage in attacking men furnished with the 
buckler as well as the sword, and protected by a more complete 
panoply. Whatever may be the result of a duel between sword 
and spear alone, it is certain that when a light shield is added to 
the swordsman's equipment, he at once obtains the ascendancy. 
The buckler serves to turn aside the spear-point, and then the 
thrusting weapon is free to do its work\ It was, therefore, 
natural that when Spanish and Swiss infantry met, the former 
should in almost every case obtain success. The powerless- 
ness of the pike, however, was most strikingly displayed at a 
battle in which the fortune of the day had not been favourable 
to Spain. At the fight of Ravenna Gaston de Foix had suc- 
ceeded in driving Don Ramon de Cardona from his intrench- 
ments, and was endeavouring to secure the fruits of victory by 
a vigorous pursuit. To intercept the retreat of the Spanish 
infantry, who were retiring in good order, Gaston sent forward 
the plkemen of Jacob Empser, then serving as auxiliaries beneath 
the French banner. These troops accordingly fell on the re- 
treating column and attempted to arrest its march. The Spaniards, 
however, turned at once and fell furiously on the Germans, 
'rushing at the pikes, or throwing themselves on the ground 
and slipping below the points, so that they darted in among the 
legs of the pikemen,' — a manoeuvre which reminds us of the 
conduct of the Soudanese Arabs at El Teb. In this way they 
succeeded in closing with their opponents, and * made such good 

^ It is a curious fact that Chaka, one of Cetywayo's predecessors as king of 
the Zulus, set himself to solve this problem. He took a hundred men and 
armed them with the shield and the 'short assegai,' a thrusting weapon re- 
sembling a sword rather than a spear in its use. He then set them to fight 
another hundred furnished with the shield and the ' long assegai,' the slender 
javelin which had previously been the weapon of his tribe. The wielders 
of the shorter weapon won with ease, and the king thereupon ordered its 
adoption throughout the Zulu army. It was this change which originally 
gave the Zulus their superiority over their neighbours. 


THE SWISS. [A. D. 1315- 

use of their swords that not a German would have escaped, had 
not the French horse come up to their rescued' This fight was 
typical of many more, in which during the first quarter of the 
sixteenth century the sword and buckler were proved to be able 
to master the pike. It may, therefore, be asked why, in the face 
of these facts, the Swiss weapon remained in use, while the 
Spanish infantry finally discarded their peculiar tactics. To 
this question the answer is found in the consideration that the 
sword was not suited for repulsing a cavalry charge, while the 
pike continued to be used for that purpose down to the invention 
of the bayonet in the end of the seventeenth century. Machia- 
velli was, from his studies in Roman antiquity, the most devoted 
admirer of the Spanish system, which seemed to bring back the 
days of the ancient legion. Yet even he conceded that the pike, 
a weapon which he is on every occasion ready to disparage, 
must be retained by a considerable portion of those ideal armies 
for whose guidance he drew up his ' Art of War.' He could 
think of no other arm which could resist a charge of cavalry 
steadily pressed home, and was therefore obliged to combine 
pikemen with his 'velites' and 'buckler-men.' 

The rapid development of the arts of the engineer and 
artillerist aimed another heavy blow at the Swiss supremacy. 
The many-sided energy of the Renaissance period not unfre- 
quently made the professional soldier a scholar, and set him to 
adapt the science of the ancients to the requirements of modern 
warfare. The most cursory study of Vegetius Hyginus or 
Vitruvius, all of them authors much esteemed at the time, would 
suffice to show the strength of the Roman fortified camp. 
Accordingly the art of Castramentation revived, and corps of 
pioneers were attached to every army. It became common to 
intrench not merely permanent positions, but camps which were 
to be held for a few days only. Advantage was taken of favour- 
able sites, and lines of greater or less strength with emplace- 
ments for artillery were constructed for the protection of the 

* Machiavelli, Arte de Guerra, book ii. 

-A. D. 1515.] THE SWISS. 93 

army which felt itself inferior in the field. Many of the greatest 
battles of the Italian wars were fought in and around such 
positions; Ravenna, Bicocca, and Pavia are obvious examples. 
Still more frequently a general threw himself with all his forces 
into a fortified town and covered it with outworks and redoubts 
till it resembled an intrenched camp rather than a mere fortress. 
Such a phase in war was most disadvantageous to the Swiss : 
even the most desperate courage cannot carry men over stone 
walls or through flooded ditches, if they neglect the art which 
teaches them how to approach such obstacles. The Con- 
federates in their earlier days had never displayed much skill in 
attacking places of strength ; and now, when the enemy's 
position was as frequently behind defences as in the open plain, 
they refused to adapt their tactics to the altered circumstances. 
Occasionally, as for example at the storming of the outworks of 
Genoa in 1507, they were still able to sweep the enemy before 
them by the mere vehemence of their onset. But more fre- 
quently disaster followed the headlong rush delivered against 
lines held by an adequate number of steady troops. Of this the 
most striking instance was seen in 1522, when the Swiss columns 
attempted to dislodge the enemy from the fortified park of 
Bicocca. Under a severe fire from the Spanish hackbutmen 
they crossed several hedges and flooded trenches, which 
covered the main position of the imperialists. But when they 
came to the last ditch and bank, along which were ranged the 
landsknechts of Frundsberg, they found an obstacle which they 
could not pass. Leaping into the deep excavation the front 
ranks endeavoured to scramble up its further slope; but every 
man who made the attempt fell beneath the pike-thrusts of the 
Germans, who, standing on a higher level in their serried ranks, 
kept back the incessant rushes with the greatest steadiness. 
Three thousand corpses were left in the ditch before the Swiss 
would desist from their hopeless undertaking ; it was an attack 
which, for misplaced daring, rivals the British assault on 
Ticonderoga in 1758. 

The improved artillery of the early sixteenth century worked 

94 THE SWISS. [A. D. 1315- 

even more havoc with the Confederates. Of all formations the 
phalanx is the easiest at which to aim, and the one which suffers 
most loss from each cannon ball which strikes it. A single shot 
ploughing through its serried ranks might disable twenty men, 
yet the Swiss persisted in rushing straight for the front of 
batteries and storming them in spite of their murderous fire. 
Such conduct might conceivably have been justifiable in the fif- 
teenth century, when the clumsy guns of the day could seldom de- 
liver more than a single discharge between the moment at which 
the enemy came within range and that at which he reached their 
muzzles. Scientific artillerists, however, such as Pietro Navarro 
and Alphonso D'Este, made cannon a real power in battles by 
increasing its mobility and the rapidity of its fire. None the less 
the Confederates continued to employ the front attack, which 
had become four or five times more dangerous in the space of 
forty years. A fearful lesson as to the recklessness of such 
tactics was given them at Marignano, where, in spite of the 
gallantry of the French gendarmerie, it was the artillery which 
really won the day. The system which Francis' advisers there 
employed was to deliver charge after charge of cavalry on the 
flanks of the Swiss columns, while the artillery played upon 
them from the front. The onsets of the cavalry, though they 
never succeeded in breaking the phalanx, forced it to halt and 
* form the hedgehog.' The men at arms came on in bodies of 
about five hundred strong, one taking up the fight when the first 
had been beaten off. * In this way more than thirty fine charges 
were delivered, and no one will in future be able to say that 
cavalry are of no more use than hares in armour,' wrote the 
king to his mother. Of course these attacks would by them- 
selves have been fruitless ; it was the fact that they checked the 
advance of the Swiss, and obliged them to stand halted under 
artillery fire that settled the result of the battle ^ At last the 
columns had suffered so severely that they gave up the attempt 
to advance, and retired in good order, unbroken but diminished 
by a half in their size. 

* See Sismondi's Italian History, vol. ix. p. 213. 

-A. D. 1515.] THE SWISS. 95 

Last but not least important among the causes of the decline 
of the military ascendancy of the Confederates, was the con- 
tinual deterioration of their discipline. While among other 
nations the commanders were becoming more and more masters 
of the art of war, among the Swiss they were growing more and 
more the slaves of their own soldiery. The division of their 
authority had always been detrimental to the development of 
strategical skill, but it now began to make even tactical arrange- 
ments impossible. The army looked upon itself as a democracy 
entitled to direct the proceedings of its ministry, rather than a 
body under military discipline. Filled with a blind confidence 
in the invincibility of their onset, they calmly neglected the 
orders which appeared to them superfluous. On several occa- 
sions they delivered an attack on the front of a posidon which 
it had been intended to turn ; on others they began the conflict, 
although they had been directed to wait for the arrival of other 
divisions before giving battle. If things were not going well 
they threw away everi the semblance of obedience to their leaders. 
Before Bicocca the cry was raised, * Where are the ofiicers, the 
pensioners, the double-pay men ? Let them come out and earn 
their money fairly for once : they shall all fight in the front rank 
to-day.' What was even more astonishing than the arrogance 
of the demand, was the fact that it was obeyed. The com- 
manders and captains stepped forward and formed the head of 
the leading column ; hardly one of them survived the fight, and 
Winkelried of Unterwalden, the leader of the van-guard, was the 
first to fall under the lances of Frundsberg's landsknechts. 
What was to be expected from an army in which the men gave 
the orders and the officers executed them ? Brute strength and 
heedless courage were the only qualities now employed by the 
Swiss, while against them were pitted the scientific generals of 
the new school of war. The result was what might have been 
expected : the pike tactics, which had been the admiration of 
^■Europe, were superseded, because they had become stereotyped, 
^nnd the Swiss lost their proud position as the most formidable 


The English and their Enemies. 
A.D. 1272-1485. 

[From the accession of Edward I to the end of the Wars of the Roses.] 

The use of the long-bow is as much the key to the successes 
of the English armies in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, 
as that of the pike is to the successes of the Swiss. Dissimilar as 
were the characters of the two weapons, and the national tactics 
to which their use led, they were both employed for the same 
end of terminating the ascendancy in war of the mailed horseman 
of the feudal rigime. It is certainly not the least curious part of 
the military history of the period, that the commanders who 
made such good use of their archery, had no conception of the 
tendencies of their action. Edward the Black Prince and his 
father regarded themselves as the flower of chivalry, and would 
have been horrified had they realised that their own tactics 
were going far to make chivalrous warfare impossible. Such, 
however, was the case : that unscientific kind of combat which 
resembled a huge tilting match could not continue, if one side 
persisted in bringing into the field auxiliaries who could prevent 
their opponents from approaching near enough to break a lance. 
The needs of the moment, however, prevented the English 
commanders being troubled by such thoughts ; they made the 
best use of the material at their disposal, and if they thus found 
themselves able to beat the enemy, they were satisfied. 

It is not till the last quarter of the thirteenth century that we 
find the long-bow taking up its position as the national weapon 
of England. In the armies of our Norman and Angevin 
kings archers were indeed to be found, but they formed neither 




the most numerous nor the most effective part of the array. 
On this side of the Channel, just as beyond it, the su- 
premacy of the mailed horseman was still unquestioned. It 
is indeed noteworthy that the theory which attributes to the 
Normans the introduction of the long-bow is difficult to sub- 
stantiate. If we are to trust the Bayeux Tapestry — whose 
accuracy is in other matters thoroughly borne out by all con- 
temporary evidence — the weapon of William's archers was in no 
way different to that already known in England, and used by a 
few of the English in the fight of Senlac ^ It is the short bow, 
drawn to the breast and not to the ear. The bowmen who are 
occasionally mentioned during the succeeding century, as, for 
example, those present at the Battle of the Standard, do not 
appear to form any very important part of the national force. 
Nothing can be more conclusive as to the insignificance of 
the weapon than the fact that it is not mentioned at all in the 
'Assize of Arms' of 11 81. In the reign of Henry II, therefore, 
we may fairly conclude that the bow did not form the proper 
weapon of any class of English society. A similar deduction is 
suggested by Richard Coeur de Lion's predilection for the 
arbalest : it is impossible that he should have introduced that 
weapon as a new and superior arm, if he had been acquainted 
with the splendid long-bow of the fourteenth century. It is 
evident that the bow must always preserve an advantage in 
rapidity of fire over the arbalest ; the latter must therefore have 
been considered by Richard to surpass in range and penetrating 
power. But nothing is better established than the fact that the 
trained archer of the Hundred Years' War was able to beat 
the cross-bowmen on both these points. It is, therefore, rational 
to conclude that the weapon superseded by the arbalest was 
merely the old short-bow, which had been in constant use since 
Saxon times. 

However this may be, the cross -bowmen continued to 
occupy the first place among light troops during the reigns of 

^ E.g. by the diminutive archer who crouches under a thegn's shield, like 
Teucer protected by Ajax. 



Richard and John. The former monarch devised for them a 
system of tactics, in which the pavise was made, to play a pro- 
minent part. The latter entertained great numbers both of 
horse- and foot-arbalesters among those mercenary bands who 
were such a scourge to England. It would appear that the 
Barons, in their contest with John, suffered greatly from having 
no adequate provision of infantry armed with missiles to oppose 
the cross-bowmen of Fawkes de Breaut6 and his fellows. Even 
in the reign of Henry III, the epoch in which the long-bow 
begins to come into use, the arbalest was still reckoned the 
more effective arm. At the battle of Taillebourg, in 1242, a 
corps of 700 men armed with it were considered to be the 
flower of the English infantry. 

To trace the true origin of the long-bow is not easy : there 
are reasons for believing that it may have been borrowed from 
the South Welsh, who were certainly provided with it as early 
as A. D. 1150^. Against this derivation, however, may be 
pleaded the fact that in the first half of the thirteenth century 
it appears to have been in greater vogue in the northern than 
in the western counties of England. As a national weapon it 
is first accepted in the Assize of Arms of 1252, wherein all 
holders of 40^. in land or nine marks in chattels are desired to 
provide themselves with sword, dagger, bow and arrows^. Con- 
temporary documents often speak of the obligation of various 
manors to provide the king with one or more archers ' when he 
makes an expedition against the Welsh.' It is curious to observe 
that even as late as 1 281 the preference for the cross-bow seems 
to have been kept up, the wages of its bearer being considerably 
more than those of the archer^. 

* Giraldus Cambrensis, Itin. Cambrise, c. 3, speaks of the Welsh bowmen 
as being able to send an arrow through an oak door four fingers thick. The 
people of Gwent (Monmouth and Glamorgan) were reckoned the best 
archers. Those of North Wales were always spearmen, not archers. 

^ Stubbs' Select Charters, p. 374. 

' In the Pay Roll of the garrison of Rhuddlan castle, 1281, we find ' paid 
to Geoffrey le Chamberlin for the wages of twelve cross-bowmen, and thir- 
teen archers, for twenty-four days, £,] ^s., each cross-bowman receiving by 
the day 4^., and each archer 2d. 





To Edward I the long-bow owes its original rise into favour : 
that monarch, like his grandson and great-grandson, was an 
ble soldier, and capable of devising new expedients in war. 
His long experience in Welsh campaigns led him to introduce 
a scientific use of archery, much like that which William the 
Conqueror had employed at Hastings. We are informed that 
it was first put in practice in a combat fought against Prince 
Llewellin at Orewin Bridge, and afterwards copied by the Earl 
of Warwick in another engagement during the year 1295. *The 
Welsh, on the earl's approach, set themselves fronting his force 
with exceeding long spears, which, being suddenly turned toward 
the earl and his company, with their ends placed in the earth 
and their points upward, broke the force of the English cavalry. 
But the earl well provided against them, by placing archers 
between his men-at-arms, so that by these missive weapons 
those who held the lances were put to rout\' 

The battle of Falkirk, however (1298), is the first engage- 
ment of real importance in which the bowmen, properly supple- 
mented by cavalry, played the leading part. Its circumstances, 
indeed, bore such striking witness to the power of the arrow, 
that it could not fail to serve as a lesson to English com- 
manders. The Scots of the Lowlands, who formed the army 
of Wallace, consisted mainly of spearmen; armed, like the 
Swiss, with a pike of many feet in length. They had in their 
ranks a small body of horse, a few hundred in number, and 
a certain proportion of archers, mainly drawn from the Ettrick 
and Selkirk district. Wallace, having selected an excellent posi- 
tion behind a marsh, formed his spearmen in four great masses 
(or ' schiltrons,' as the Scotch called them) of circular form, 
ready to face outward in any direction. The light trogps 
formed a line in the intervals of these columns, while the 
cavalry were placed in reserve. Edward came on with his 
horsemen in three divisions, and his archers disposed between 
them. The foremost English 'battle,' that of the Earl Marshal, 
rode into the morass, was stopped by it, and suffered severely 

* Nic. Trivet, Annales, 282. 
H 2 


from the Scotch missile weapons. The second division, com- 
manded by the Bishop of Durham, observing this check, rode 
round the flank of the marsh, in order to turn Wallace's posi- 
tion. The small body of Scotch cavalry endeavoured to stay 
their advance, but were driven completely off the field by supe- 
rior numbers*. Then the Bishop's horsemen charged the 
hostile line from the rear. The squadrons opposed to the light 
troops succeeded in riding them down, as Wallace's archers 
were only armed with the short-bow, and were not particularly 
skilled in its use. Those of the English, however, who faced 
the masses of pikemen received a sanguinary check, and were 
thrown back in disorder. The Bishop had therefore to await 
the arrival of the King, who was leading the infantry and the 
remainder of the cavalry round the end of the marsh. When 
this had been done, Edward brought up his bowmen close to the 
Scotch masses, who were unable to reply (as their own light 
troops had been driven away) or to charge, on account of the 
nearness of the English men-at-arms. Concentrating the rain 
of arrows on particular points in the columns, the king fairly 
riddled the Scotch ranks, and then sent in his cavalry with a 
sudden impetus. The plan succeeded, the shaken parts of the 
masses were pierced, and the knights, having once got within 
the pikes, made a fearful slaughter of the enemy. The moral of 
the fight was evident : cavalry could not beat the Scotch tactics, 
but archers supplemented by horsemen could easily accomplish 
the required task. Accordingly, for the next two centuries, the 
characteristics of the fight of Falkirk were continually repeated 
whenever the English and Scotch met. Halidon Hill, Neville's 
Cross, Homildon, Flodden, were all variations on the same 
theme. The steady but slowly-moving masses of the Lowland 
infantry fell a sacrifice to their own persistent bravery, when 
they staggered on in a vain endeavour to reach the line of 
archers, flanked by men-at-arms, whom the English commander 

^ It is surely unnecessary to call in the aid of treachery— as historians 
have so frequently done— in order to account for the rout of a force num- 
bered by hundreds, by one numbered by thousands. 

kJlngUeh, Archers considerahTy 
in- adyoowe of mainbod^. 

"R.En^HshMajirv Body in, terv, 




lEngliah Infantry- ^ Sootcli Mantry- 
I „ (WaLrsjT C^ ,, Cctv^alry 



liill ; 



! --MaJ^sh' 





tt-f.oA from, 

CL. Scotch Infantry in. 
foTxr colzanTLS. 

y/\ '"'"('M^v.//^ fe.Z>. Scotch- Gca^alry 

turning -due irutrsh . 




English Inficntry' C^ 

„ Catvaliy g 
Preiir5h.Infantr5r E^ 

men-- at arms. 
B.B. Archers. 

C -Welsh- aruL Irish 
Tight Tnfaniry. 
^D.B. Cho'cdry in. 

Oj-ou. Genoese Grossbowmerv. 
1^4,,gA\M^^ t> .h. Counts ofALempoTv 
'■•'■'-'■■"■ andj FLanioLers . 

C . IGng Philip . 


opposed to them. The bowman might boast with truth that he 
' carried twelve Scots' lives at his girdle ; ' he had but to launch 
his shaft into the easy target of the great surging mass of pike- 
men, and it was sure to do execution. 

Bannockburn, indeed, forms a notable exception to the 
general rule. Its result, however, was due not to an attempt to 
discard the tactics of Falkirk, but to an unskilful application of 
them. The forces of Robert Bruce, much like those of Wallace 
in composition, consisted of 40,000 pikemen, a certain propor- 
tion of light troops, and less than 1000 cavalry. They were 
drawn up in a very compact position, flanked by marshy ground 
to the right, and to the left by a quantity of small pits destined 
to arrest the charge of the English cavalry. Edward II refrained 
from any attempt to turn Bruce' s army, and by endeavouring 
to make 100,000 men cover no more space in frontage than 
40,000, cramped his array, and made manoeuvres impossible. 
His most fatal mistake, however, was to place all his archers in 
the front line, without any protecting body of horsemen. The 
arrows were already falling among the Scotch columns before 
the English cavalry had fully arrived upon the field. Bruce at 
once saw his opportunity : his small body of men-at-arms was 
promptly put in motion against the bowmen. A front attack on 
them would of course have been futile, but a flank charge was 
rendered possible by the absence of the English squadrons, 
which ought to have covered the wings. Riding rapidly round 
the edge of the morass, the Scotch horse fell on the uncovered 
line, rolled it up from end to end, and wrought fearful damage 
by their unexpected onset. The archers were so maltreated 
that they took no further effective part in the battle. Enraged 
at the sudden rout of his first line, Edward flung his great 
masses of cavalry on the comparatively narrow front of the 
Scotch army. The steady columns received them, and drove 
them back again and again with ease. At last every man-at- 
arms had been thrown into the melee^ and the splendid force of 
English horsemen had become a mere mob, surging helplessly 
in front of the enemy's line, and executing partial and ineffective 


charges on a cramped terrain. Finally, their spirit for fighting 
was exhausted, and when a body of camp-followers appeared 
on the hill behind Bruce's position, a rumour spread around that 
reinforcements were arriving for the Scots. The English were 
already hopeless of success, and now turned their reins to 
retreat. When the Scotch masses moved on in pursuit, a panic 
seized the broken army, and the whole force dispersed in dis- 
order. Many galloped into the pits on the left; these were 
dismounted and slain or captured. A few stayed behind to 
fight, and met a similar fate. The majority made at once for 
the English border, and considered themselves fortunate if they 
reached Berwick or Carlisle without being intercepted and 
slaughtered by the peasantry. The moral of the day had been 
that the archery must be adequately supported on its flanks by 
troops capable of arresting a cavalry charge. The lesson was 
not thrown away, and at Cregy and Maupertuis the requisite 
assistance was given, with the happiest of results. 

The next series of campaigns in which the English bowman 
was to take part, were directed against an enemy different in 
every respect from the sturdy spearman of the Lowlands. In 
France those absurd perversions of the art of war which covered 
themselves under the name of Chivalry were more omnipotent 
than in any other country of Europe. The strength of the 
armies of Philip and John of Valois was composed of a fiery 
and undisciplined aristocracy, which imagined itself to be the 
most efficient military force in the world, but was in reality litde 
removed from an armed mob. A system which reproduced on 
the battlefield the distinctions of feudal society, was considered 
by the French noble to represent the ideal form of warlike or- 
ganization. He firmly believed that, since he was infinitely 
superior to any peasant in the social scale, he must consequently 
excel, him to the same extent in military value. He was, there- 
fore, prone not only to despise all descriptions of infantry, but 
to regard their appearance on the field against him as a species 
of insult to his class-pride. The self-confidence of the French 
nobility — shaken for the moment by the result of Courtray — 


had re-asserted itself after the bloody days of Mons-en-Puelle 
and Cassel. The fate which had on those occasions befallen 
the gallant but ill-trained burghers of Flanders, was believed to 
be only typical of that which awaited any foot-soldier who dared 
to match himself against the chivalry of the most warlike aristo- 
cracy in Christendom. Pride goes before a fall, and the French 
noble was now to meet infantry of a quality such as he had 
never supposed to exist. 

Against these presumptuous cavaliers, their mercenaries, and 
the wretched band of half-armed villains whom they dragged 
with them to the battlefield, the English archer was now 
matched. He was by this time almost a professional soldier, 
being usually not a pressed man, but a volunteer, raised by one 
of those barons or knights with whom the king contracted for 
a supply of soldiers. Led to enlist by sheer love of fighting, 
desire for adventures, or national pride, he possessed a great 
moral ascendancy over the spiritless hordes who followed the 
French nobility to the wars. Historians, however, have laid 
too much stress on this superiority, real as it was. No amount 
of mere readiness to fight would have accounted for the English 
victories of the fourteenth century. Self-confidence and pugna- 
city were not wanting in the Fleming at Rosbecque or the Scot 
at Falkirk, yet they did not secure success. It was the excellent 
armament and tactics of our yeomanry, even more than their 
courage, which made them masters of the field at Cre9y or 

The long-bow had as yet been employed only in off'ensive 
warfare, and against an enemy inferior in cavalry to the English 
army. When, however, Edward III led his invading force into 
France, the conditions of war were entirely changed. The 
French were invariably superior in the numbers of their horse- 
men, and the tactics of the archer had to be adapted to the 
defensive. He was soon to find that the charging squadron 
presented as good a mark for his shaft as the stationary column 
of infantry. Nothing indeed could be more discomposing to a 
body of cavalry than a flight of arrows : not only did it lay low 


a certain proportion of the riders, but it caused such disorder 

by setting the wounded horses plunging and rearing among 

their fellows, that it was most effective in checking the impetus 

of the onset. As the distance grew shorter and the range more 

easy, the wounds to horse and man became more numerous : 

the disorder increased, the pace continued to slacken, and at 

last a limit was reached, beyond which the squadron could not 

-rr^ / pass. To force a line of long-bowmen by a mere front attack 

'^^ ^ was a task almost as hopeless for cavalry as the breaking of a 

r^^ '^ jnodeni_square. This, however, was a fact which the conti- 

'^ Cs nental world had yet to learn in the year 1346. 

The scientific method of receiving a charge of horsemen by 
archers flanked with supporting troops was first practised by 
Edward III at Cre9y. When he determined to fight, he chose 
an excellent position on the gentle slope of a hill, whose flanks 
were protected by woods and a little brook, which also ran along 
the front of the line. Following the immemorial usage of the 
middle ages, the army was drawn up in three * battles,' of which 
the foremost was commanded by the Prince of Wales, the 
second by the Earl of Northampton, and the third by the King 
himself. In the front ' battle," on which the greater part of the 
fighting was to fall, 2000 archers were flanked by two bodies of 
800 dismounted men-at-arms, who stood in solid phalanx with 
their lances before them, to receive cavalry charges directed 
against the wings of the archers. The second line was formed 
in similar order, while between the two were ranged 1000 Welsh 
and Cornish light infantry armed with javelins and long knives. 
The reserve of 2000 archers and 700 mounted men occupied 
the summit of the hill. 

Nothing could be more characteristic of the indiscipline of 
the French army than the fact that it forced on the battle a day 
sooner than its leader had intended. On observing the English 
position, Philip and his marshals had determined to defer the 
conflict till the next morning, as the troops had been marching 
since daybreak. When, however, the order to halt reached the 
vanguard, the nobles at the head of the column believed that 




T; "RndHftTi TnfHTTtry P"^ 

-^vjlreiich Infantry" 

A. A. Archers. 

inifv merL-atyarms . 

C. Ambushy. 

D . Wcy^ons arrangedj 
to coverr rear. 

cucucu Trencth dismounted, menrot-arrns, 
in. three ffrecub battles', 
i- l^xn^iLard/jSOOirururvted'-merv. 
C.C. JWo smxHL-wrngs compos ed. of 
mcfuntedj Germxmy nvercenaries . greoL haXties 
of djisnhoujxtedy 
nven.- out -arms 

h.b- Mbuovbedy Mero 

C.C. 3ifixntry, 


A.K.Arclvers . 

B . Hisrmmxrajedj 

C. Palisades. 


. TOa^e of L\t ^ 

Wood. ^ 


Village of 


they were to be deprived of the honour of opening the fight, as 
they could see that some of the troops in the rear were still ad- 
vancing. They therefore pushed on, and, as the main-body 
persisted in following them, the whole army arrived so close to 
the English position that a battle became unavoidable. The 
circumstances of that day have often been described : it is un- 
necessary to detail the mishap of the unfortunate Genoese cross- 
bowmen, who were shot down in scores while going through 
the cumbrous process of winding up their arbalests. The 
fruitless charges of the cavalry against the front of the line of 
archers led to endless slaughter, till the ground was heaped with 
the bodies of men and horses, and further attempts to advance 
became impossible. Only on the flanks was the charge pressed 
home ; but when the counts of Flanders and Alen^on came on 
the compact masses of dismounted cavalry who covered the 
wings of the archery, their progress was at an end. They fell 
before the line of lances which they were unable to break, and 
fared no better than their comrades in the centre. At evening 
the French fell back in disorder, and their whole army dispersed. 
The English had won the day without stirring a foot from their 
position : the enemy had come to them to be killed. Consider- 
ably more than a third of his numbers lay dead in front of the 
English line, and of these far the greater number had fallen by 
the arrows of the bowmen. 

Cre9y had proved that the archer, when adequately supported 
on his flanks, could beat off the most-determined charges of 
cavalry. The moral, however, which was drawn from it by the 
French was one of a diff'erent kind. Unwilling, in the bitterness 
of their class-pride, to ascribe the victory to the arms of mere 
peasants, they came to the conclusion that it was due to the 
stability of the phalanx of dismounted knights. 

Bearing this in mind. King John, at the battle of Poictiers, 
resolved to imitate the successful expedient of King Edward. 
He commanded the whole of his cavalry, with the exception of 
two corps, to shorten their spears, take off" their spurs, and send 
their horses to the rear. He had failed to observe that the 


circumstances of attack and defence are absolutely different. 
Troops who intend to root themselves to a given spot of ground 
adopt tactics the very opposite of those required for an assault 
on a strong position. The device which was well chosen for 
the protection of Edward's flanks at Cregy, was ludicrous when 
adopted as a means for storming the hill of Maupertuis. Vigorous 
impact and not stability was the quality at which the king should 
have aimed. Nothing, indeed, could have been more fatal than 
John's conduct throughout the day. The battle itself was most 
unnecessary, since the Black Prince could have been starved 
into surrender in less than a week. If, however, fighting was 
to take place, it was absolutely insane to form the whole French 
army into a gigantic wedge — where corps after corps was massed 
behind the first and narrowest line — and to dash it against the 
strongest point of the English front. This, however, was the 
plan which the king determined to adopt. The only access to 
the plateau of Maupertuis lay up a lane, along whose banks the 
English archers were posted in hundreds. Through this open- 
ing John thrust his vanguard, a chosen body of 300 horsemen, 
while the rest of his forces, three great masses of dismounted 
cavalry, followed close behind. It is needless to say that the 
archers shot down the greater part of the advanced corps, and 
sent the survivors reeling back against the first ' battle ' in their 
rear. This at once fell into disorder, which was largely increased 
when the archers proceeded to concentrate their attention on its 
ranks. Before a blow had been struck at close quarters, the 
French were growing demoralized under the shower of arrows. 
Seeing his opportunity, the Prince at once came down from the 
plateau, and fell on the front of the shaken column with all his 
men-at-arms. At the same moment a small ambuscade of 600 
men, which he had placed in a wood to the left, appeared on 
the French flank. This was too much for King John's men : 
without waiting for further attacks about two-thirds of them left 
the field. A corps of Germans in the second 'batde' and the 
troops immediately around the monarch's person were the only 
portions of the army which made a creditable resistance. The 



English, however, were able to surround these bodies at their 
leisure, and ply bow and lance alternately against them till they 
broke up. Then John, his son Philip, and such of his nobles 
as had remained with him, were forced to surrender. 

This was a splendid tactical triumph for the Prince, who 
secured the victory by the excellence of the position he had 
chosen, and the judicious use made of his archery. John's 
new device for attacking an English army had failed, with far 

eater ignominy than had attended the rout of his predeces- 
sor's feudal chivalry at Cre5y. So greatly did the result of the 
day of Poictiers affect the French mind, that no further attempt 
was made to meet the invader in a pitched battle during the 
continuance of the war. Confounded at the blow which had 
been delivered against their old military system, the noblesse of 
France foreswore the open field, and sullenly shut themselves 
up in their castles, resolved to confine their operations to petty 
sieges and incursions. The English might march through the 
length and breadth of the land — as did the Earl of Lancaster in 
1373 — but they could no longer draw their . opponents out to 
fight. Intrenched behind walls which the invader had no leisure 
to attack, the French allowed him to waste his strength in toil- 
some marches through a deserted country. Opposed as was 
this form of war to all the precepts of chivalry — which bid 
the good knight to accept every challenge — they were on the 
whole well suited to the exigencies of the time. The tactics of 
Charles V and Du GuescHn won back all that those of King 
John had lost. The English found that the war was no longer 
a means of displaying great feats of arms, but a monotonous 
and inglorious occupation, which involved a constant drain of 
blood and money, and no longer maintained itself from the 
resources of the enemy. 

Common sense, and not aphorisms drawn from the customs 
of the tournament, guided the campaigns of Du Guesclin. He 
took the field, not in the spirit of adventure, but in the spirit of 
business. His end being to edge and worry the English out 
of France, he did not care whether that consummation was 



accomplished by showy exploits or by unobtrusive hard work. 
He would fight if necessary, but was just as ready to reach his 
goal by craft as by hard blows. Night surprises, ambuscades, 
and stratagems of every description were his choice, in prefer- 
ence to open attacks. Provided with a continual supply of men 
by his 'free companies,' he was never obliged to hazard an 
engagement for fear that his forces might melt away without 
having done any service. This relieved him from that necessity 
to hurry operations, which had been fatal to so many generals 
commanding the temporary hosts of feudalism. The English 
were better fitted for winning great battles than for carrying on 
a series of harassing campaigns. Tactics, not strategy, was their 
forte, and a succession of petty sieges and inglorious retreats 
put an end to their ill-judged attempt to hold by force a foreign 
dominion beyond the Channel. 

Du Guesclin, however, had only cleared the way for the 
re-appearance of the French noblesse on the field. Shut up 
in their castles while the free companies were re-conquering 
the country, they had apparently 'forgotten nothing and re- 
membered nothing \' With the fear of the English no longer 
before their eyes, they at once reverted to their old chivalrous 
superstitions. The last years of the century were similar to 
the first : if Cassel reproduced itself at Rosbecque, a nemesis 
awaited the revived tactics of feudahsm, and Nicopolis was 
a more disastrous edition of Courtray. Thirty years of anarchy, 
during the reign of an imbecile king, fostered the reactionary 
and unscientific tendency of the wars of the time, and made 
France a fit prey to a new series of English invasions. 

If subsequent campaigns had not proved that Henry V was 
a master of strategical combinations, we should be inclined to 
pronounce his march to Agincourt a rash and unjustifiable 
undertaking. It is, however, probable that he had taken the 
measure of his enemies and gauged their imbecility, before he 
sacrificed his communications and threw himself into Picardy. 

The characteristic of their descendants in the second decade of the 
present century. 


The rapidity of his movements between the 6th and 24th of 
October^ shows that he had that appreciation of the value of 
time which was so rare among mediaeval commanders, while 
the perfect organization of his columns on the march proved 
that his genius could condescend to details^. Near St. Pol the 
French barred Henry's further progress with a great feudal 
army of sixty thousand combatants, of whom full fifteen thou- 
sand were mounted men of gentle blood. Like the two Edwards 
at Cre9y and Maupertuis, the kinp^ resolved to fight a defensive 
battle, in spite of the scantiness of his force. He had with him 
not more than fourteen thousand men, of whom two-thirds were 
archers. The position chosen by Henry was as excellent in its 
way as could be desired ; it had a frontage of not more than 
twelve hundred yards, and was covered by woods on either 
flank. The land over which the enemy would have to advance 
consisted of ploughed fields, thoroughly sodden by a week of 
rain. The king's archers were sufficient in number not only to 
furnish a double line along the front of the army, but to occupy 
the woods to right and left. Those in the plain strengthened 
their position by planting in front of themselves the stakes 
which they habitually carried. In rear of the archers were 
disposed the rest of the force, the infantry with bills and pikes 
at the wings, the small force of men-at-arms in the centre. 

The Constable of France committed as many faults in drawing 
up his array, as could have been expected from an average feudal 
nobleman. He could not resist the temptation of following the 
example set him by King John at Poictiers, and therefore dis- 
mounted three-fourths of his cavalry. These he drew up in two 
deep 'battles,' flanked by small squadrons of mounted men. 
Behind the first line, where it could be of no possible use, was 
stationed a corps of 4000 cross-bowmen. The reserve was 
formed by a great mass of 20,000 infantry, who were relegated 

1 320 miles in eighteen days; a rate surpassing any continuous 
marching recorded of late years. 

=* See for Henry's columns of route VioUet-le-Duc's Tactique des Armees 
Fran9aises au Moyen Age. 


to the rear lest they should dispute the honour of the day with 
their masters. At eleven o'clock the French began to move 
towards the English position : presently they passed the village 
of Agincourt, and found themselves between the woods, and in 
the ploughed land. Struggling on for a few hundred yards, they 
began to sink in the deep clay of the fields : horsemen and dis- 
mounted knight aUke found their pace growing slower and 
slower. By this time the English archery was commencing to 
play upon them, first from the front, then from the troops con- 
cealed in the woods also. Pulling themselves together as best they 
could, the French lurched heavily on, sinking to the ankle or even 
to the knee in the sodden soil. Not one in ten of the horsemen 
ever reached the line of stakes, and of the infantry not a man 
struggled on so far. Stuck fast in the mud they stood as a 
target for the bowmen, at a distance of from fifty to a hundred 
yards from the English front. After remaining for a short time 
in this unenviable position, they broke and turned to the rear. 
Then the whole English army, archers and men-at-arms ahke, 
left their position and charged down on the mass, as it staggered 
slowly back towards the second * battle.' Perfectly helpless and 
up to their knees in mire, the exhausted knights were cast down, 
or constrained to surrender to the lighter troops who poured 
among them, * beating upon the armour as though they were 
hammering upon anvils.' The few who contrived to escape, 
and the body of arbalesters who had formed the rear of the first 
line, ran in upon the second 'battle,' which was now well 
engaged in the miry fields, just beyond Agincourt village, and 
threw it into disorder. Close in their rear the English followed, 
came down upon the second mass, and inflicted upon it the fate 
which had befallen the first. The infantry-reserve very wisely 
resolved not to meddle with their masters' business, and quietly 
withdrew from the field. 

Few commanders could have committed a more glaring series of 
blunders than did the Constable : but the chief fault of his design 
lay in attempting to attack an English army, established in a 
good position, at all. The power of the bow was such that not 


^even if the fields had been dry, could the French army have 
succeeded in forcing the English line. The true course here, as 
at Poictiers, would have been to have starved the king, who was 
living merely on the resources of the neighbourhood, out of his 
position. If, however, an attack was projected, it should have 
been accompanied by a turning movement round the woods, 
and preceded by the use of all the arbalesters and archers of the 
army, a force which we know to have consisted of 15,000 men. 

Such a day as Agincourt might have been expected to break 
the French noblesse of its love for an obsolete system of tactics. 
So intimately, however, was the feudal array bound up with the 
feudal scheme of society, that it yet remained the ideal order of 
battle. Three bloody defeats, Crevant, Verneuil, and the * Day of 
the Herrings,' were the consequences of a fanatical adherence 
to the old method of fighting. On each of those occasions the 
French columns, sometimes composed of horsemen, sometimes 
of dismounted knights, made a desperate attempt to break an 
English line of archers by a front attack, and on each occasion 
they were driven back in utter rout. 

It was not till the conduct of the war fell into the hands of 
professional soldiers like Xaintrailles, La Hire, and Dunois, that 
these insane tactics were discarded. Their abandonment, 
however, was only the first step towards success for the French. 
The position of the country was infinitely worse than it had 
been in the days of Du Guesclin, since the greater part of the 
districts north of the Loire were not only occupied by the 
English, but had resigned themselves to their fate, and showed 
no desire to join the national party. A petty warfare such as 
had won back the lands of Acquitaine from the Black Prince, 
would have been totally inadequate to rescue France in 1428. 
It is on this ground that we must base the importance of the 
influence of the Maid of Orleans. Her successes represent, not 
a new tactical system, but the awakening of a popular enthusiasm 
which was to make the further stay of the English in France 
impossible. The smaller country could not hold down the 
larger, unless the population of the latter were supine; when 



they ceased to be so, the undertaking — in spite of all military 
superiority — became impossible. 

While ascribing the expulsion of the English from France to 
political rather than strategical reasons, we must not forget that 
the professional officers of the fifteenth century had at last 
discovered a method of minimizing the ascendancy of the 
English soldiery. When they found the invaders drawn up 
in a good defensive position, they invariably refrained from 
attacking them. There was no object in making the troops a 
target to be riddled with arrows, when success was almost 
impossible. Accordingly the French victories of the second 
quarter of the century will be found to have resulted in most 
cases from attacking an English army at a moment when it was 
on the march or in some other position which rendered it 
impossible for an order of battle to be rapidly formed. Patay is 
a fair example of a conflict of this description ; the battle was 
lost because Talbot when attacked was not immediately ready. 
Expecting to see the whole French army arrive on the field and 
draw itself up in battle array, he paid no attention to the mere 
vanguard which was before him, and commenced falling back 
on the village of Patay, where he intended to form his line. 
La Hire, however, without waiting for the main-body to come 
up, attacked the retreating columns, and forced his way among 
them 'before the archers had time to fix their stakes^.' The 
superiority of the bow to the lance depended on the ability of 
the bearer of the missile weapon to keep his enemy at a distance. 
If once, by any accident, the cavalry got among their opponents, 
a mere melee ensued, and numbers and weight carried the day. 
Such was the case on this occasion : La Hire having succeeded 
in closing, the batde resolved itself into a hand-to-hand struggle, 
and when the main-body of the French came up, the English 
were overpowered by numerical superiority. Such were the 
usual tactical causes of English defeats in the fifteenth century. 
The. fall of the empire which Henry V had established in 

* See VioUet-le-Duc's Tactique des Armees Fran9aises au Moyen Age, 
p. 300. 


France was therefore due, from the military point of view, to 
the inadequacy of a purely defensive system to meet all the 
vicissitudes of a series of campaigns. The commanders who 
had received the tradition of Agincourt and Poictiers disliked 
assuming the offensive. Accustomed to win success by re- 
ceiving the enemy's attack on a carefully chosen ground, and 
after deliberate preparations, they frequently failed when opposed 
to officers who refrained on principle from assailing a position, 
but were continually appearing when least expected. In the 
open field or on the march, in camp or the town, the English 
were always liable to a sudden onslaught. They were too good 
soldiers to be demoralized, but lost the old confidence which had 
distinguished them in the days when the French still persisted in 
keeping up their ancient feudal tactics. 

A fortunate chance has preserved for us, in the pages of 
Blondel's ' Reductio Normanniae ' a full account of the disastrous 
field of Formigny, the last battle but one fought by the English 
in their attempt to hold down their dominion beyond the Channel. 
The narrative is most instructive, as explaining the changes of 
fortune during the later years of the Great War. The fight 
itself — though destined to decide the fate of all Normandy — 
was an engagement on a very small scale. Some five thousand 
English, half of them archers, the remainder billmen for the 
most part, with a few hundred men-at-arms, had been collected 
for a desperate attempt to open the way to Caen. In that town 
the Duke of Somerset, commander of all the English armies in 
France, was threatened by an overwhelming host led by King 
Charles in person. To draw together a force capable of 
taking the field all the Norman fortresses had been stripped 
of their garrisons, and such reinforcements as could be pro- 
cured, some 2000 men at most, had been brought across from 
England. The relieving army succeeded in taking Valognes 
and forcing the dangerous fords of the Douve and Vire, but 
hard by the village of Formigny it was confronted by a French 
corps under the Count of Clermont, one of several divisions 
which had been sent out to arrest the march of the English. 


114 ^^^ ENGLISH AND THEIR ENEMIES. [A. D. 1272- 

Clermont's troops did not greatly exceed their enemies in 
number : they appear, as far as conflicting accounts allow us 
to judge, to have consisted of six hundred * lances garnis ' 
(i. e. 3000 cavalry) and three thousand infantry. The obliga- 
tion to take the offensive rested with the English, who were 
bound to force their way to Caen. Nevertheless Sir Thomas 
Kyriel and Sir Matthew Gough, the two veterans who com- 
manded the relieving army, refused to assume the initiative. 
The old prejudice in favour of fighting defensive battles was so 
strong that, forgetting the object of their expedition, they fell 
back and looked for a position in which to receive the attack 
of Clermont's troops. Finding a brook lined with orchards 
and plantations, which was well calculated to cover their rear, 
they halted in front of it, and drew up their men in a convex 
line, the centre projecting, the wings drawn back so as to touch 
the stream. Three bodies of archers — each seven hundred 
strong — formed the 'main-battle;' on the flanks of this force 
were stationed two ' battles ' of billmen, not in a line with the 
centre but drawn back from it, while these corps were them- 
selves flanked by the small force of cavalry, which was formed 
close in front of the orchards and the brook. Clermont did not 
attack immediately, so that the archers had ample time to fix 
their stakes, according to their invariable custom, and the whole 
force was beginning to cover itself with a trench^, when the 
enemy at last began to move. Through long experience the 
French had grown too wary to attack an English line of archers 
from the front : after feeling the position, they tried several 
partial assaults on the flanks, which were repulsed. Skirmish- 
ing had been going on for three hours without any decisive 
result, when Giraud ' master of the royal ordnance ' brought up 
two culverins, and placed them in a spot from which they 
enfiladed the English line. Galled by the fire of these pieces, 
part of the archers rushed out from behind their stakes, and 

* 'Gladio ad usum fossamm verso, et ungue verrente tellurem con- 
cavant : et ante se campum equis inadibilem mira hostium astucia efficiebat.' 
Blondel, iv. 6. 


with the aid of one of the wings of billmen charged the French, 
seized the culverins, and routed the troops which protected 
them. If the whole of Kyriel's force had advanced at this 
moment the battle would have been won^. But the English 
commander adhered rigidly to his defensive tactics, and while 
he waited motionless, the fate of the battle was changed. The 
troops who had charged were attacked by one of the flank 
' battles ' of French men-at-arms, who had dismounted and 
advanced to win back the lost cannon : a desperate fight took 
place, while the English strove to drag the pieces towards their 
lines, and the enemy to recapture them. At last the French 
prevailed, and pushing the retreating body before them reached 
the English position. The archers were unable to use their 
arrows, so closely were friend and foe intermixed in. the crowd 
of combatants which slowly rolled back towards them. Thus 
the two armies met all along the line in a hand-to-hand combat, 
and a sanguinary meiee began. The fate of the battle was still 
doubtful when a new French force arrived in the field. The 
Counts of Richemont and Laval, coming up from St. Lo, 
appeared on the rear of the English position with 1200 men-at- 
arms. All Kyriel's troops were engaged, and he was unable to 
meet this new attack. His men recoiled to the brook at their 
backs, and were at once broken into several isolated corps. 
Gough cut his way through the French, and reached Bayeux 
with the cavalry. But Kyriel and the infantry were surrounded, 
and the whole ' main-battle ' was annihilated. A few hundred 
archers escaped, and their commander, with some scores more, 
was taken prisoner, but the French gave little quarter^, and 
their heralds counted next day three thousand seven hundred 
and seventy-four English corpses lying on the field. Seldom 
has an army suffered such a complete disaster : of Kyriel's small 

* 'Et si Anglici, incaepto conflictu praestantes, Gallos retrogresses 
insequi ausi fuissent,' etc. Blondel, iv. 7. 

^ 'Fusis enim Anglonim bellis robusti quingenti sagittarii in hortom 
sentibus conseptum prosiliunt . . . ac inexorabili Gallorum ferocitate, ut 
quisque genu flexo arcum traderet, [in sign of surrender] onmes (nee unus 
evasit) gladio confodiuntur.' Blondel, iv. 8. 

I 2 


force not less than four-fifths was destroyed. What number of 
the French fell we are unable to ascertain : their annalists speak 
of the death of twelve knights, none of them men of note, but 
make no further mention of their losses. *They declare what 
number they slew,' sarcastically observes an English chronicler', 
' but they write not how many of themselves were slain and 
destroyed. This was well nigh the first foughten field they gat 
on the English, wherefore I blame them not; though they of a 
litde make much, and set forth all, and hide nothing that may 
sound to their glory.' 

The moral of Formigny was evident : an unintelligent ap- 
plication of the defensive tactics of Edward III and Henry V 
could only lead to disaster, when the French had improved in 
military skill, and were no longer accustomed to make gross 
blunders at every engagement. Unless some new method of 
dealing with the superior numbers and cautious manoeuvres of 
the disciplined ' compagnies d'ordonnance ' of Charles VII 
could be devised, the English were foredoomed by their numeri- 
cal inferiority to defeat. It was probably a perception of this 
fact which induced the great Talbot to discard his old tactics, 
and employ at his last fight a method of attack totally unlike 
that practised in the rest of the Hundred Years' War. The 
accounts of the battle of Chatillon recall the warfare of the 
Swiss rather than of the English armies. That engagement 
was a desperate attempt of a column of dismounted men-at- 
arms and billmen, flanked by archers, to storm an intrenched 
camp protected by artillery. The English — like the Swiss at 
Bicocca — found the task too hard for them, and only increased 
the disaster by their gallant persistence in attempting to ac- 
complish the impossible. 

The expulsion of the English from their continental pos- 
sessions had no permanent effect in discrediting the power of 
the bow. The weapon still retained its supremacy as a missile 
over the clumsy arbalest with its complicated array of wheels 
and levers. It was hardly less superior to the newly-invented 

^ Graftcm, Henry VI, year xxvii. ■ 


hand-guns and arquebuses, which did not attain to any great 
degree of efficiency before the end of the century. The testi- 
mony of all Europe was given in favour of the long-bow. 
Charles of Burgundy considered a corps of three thousand 
English bowmen the flower of his infantry. Charles of France, 
thirty years earlier, had made the * archer ' the basis of his new 
militia, in a vain attempt to naturalize the weapon of his enemies 
beyond the Channel. James of Scotland, after a similar endeavour, 
had resigned himself to ill success, and turned the archery of his 
subjects to ridicule. 

There are few periods which appear more likely to present to 
the enquirer a series of interesting military problems, than the 
years of the great struggle, in which the national weapons and 
national' tactics of the English were turned against each other. 
The Wars of the Roses were, however, unfortunate in their his- 
torians. The dearth of exact information concerning the various 
engagements is remarkable, when we consider the ample materials 
which are to be found for the history of the preceding periods. 
The meagre annals of William of Worcester, Warkworth, Fabyan, 
of the continuer of the Croyland Chronicle, and the author of 
the ' arrival of king Edward IV,' with the ignorant generalities 
of Whethamstede, are insufficiently supplemented by the later 
works of Grafton and Hall. When all has been collated, we 
still fail to grasp the details of most of the battles. Not in one 
single instance can we reconstruct the exact array of a Yorkist 
or a Lancastrian army. Enough, however, survives to make us 
regret the scantiness of the sources of our information. 

That some considerable amount of tactical and strategical 
skill was employed by many of the English commanders is 
evident, when we analyse the general characteristics of their 
campaigns. The engagements show no stereotyped similarity 
of incident, such as would have resulted from a general adherence 
to a single form of attack or defence. Each combat had its 
own individuality, resulting from the particular tactics employed 
in it. The fierce street-fight which is known as the first batde 
of St. Albans, has nothing in common with the irregular skir- 


mishing of Hedgeley Moor. The stormings of the fortified 
positions of Northampton and Tewkesbury bear no resemblance 
to the pitched battles of Towton and Barnet. The superiority 
of tactics which won Bloreheath contrasts with the superiority 
of armament which won Edgecot Field. 

Prominent amohg the features of the war stands out the 
generalship of King Edward IV. Already a skilful commander 
in his nineteenth year, it was he who at Northampton turned 
the Lancastrian position, by forcing the ' streight places ' which 
covered the flank of the ' line of high banks and deep trenches ' 
behind which the army of King Henry was sheltered ^. A year 
later he saved a cause which seemed desperate, by his rapid 
march from Hereford to London; a march executed in the 
inclement month of February and over the miry roads of the 
South-Midland counties. The decision of mind which led him 
to attempt at all hazards to throw himself into the capital, won 
him his crown and turned the balance at the decisive crisis of 
the war. If, when settled on the throne, he imperilled his posi- 
tion by carelessness and presumption, he was himself again at 
the first blast of the trumpet. His vigorous struggle in the 
spring of 1470, when all around him were showing themselves 
traitors, was a wonderful example of the success of prompt 
action ^ Nor was his genius less marked in his last great 
military success, the campaign of Barnet and Tewkesbury. 

To have marched from York to London, threading his way 
among the hosts of his foes without disaster, was a skilful 
achievement, even if the treachery of some of the hostile com- 
manders be taken into consideration. At Barnet he showed 
that tactics no less than strategy lay within the compass of his 
powers, by turning the casual circumstance of the fog entirely 
to his own profit. The unforeseen chance by which each army 
outflanked the other was not in itself more favourable to one 

^ Hall. 

* The whole country being disaffected and ready — as the events of the 
autumn proved— to revolt in favour of Warwick or Henry VI, the sup- 
pression of the Lincolnshire rebellion and the expulsion of the King-maker 
were remarkable achievements. 


party than to the other : it merely tested the relative ability of 
the two leaders. But Edward's care in providing a reserve 
rendered the defeat of his left wing unimportant, while the 
similar disaster on Warwick's left was turned to such good 
account. that it decided the day. Warwick himself indeed, if 
we investigate his whole career, leaves on us the impression 
rather of the political wire-puller, ' le plus subtil homme de son 
vivant,' as Commines called him, than of the great military 
figure of traditional accounts. Barnet being won, the second 
half of the campaign began with Edward's march to intercept 
Queen Margaret before she could open communications with 
her friends in South Wales. Gloucester was held for the king ; 
his enemies therefore, as they marched north, were compelled to 
make for Tewkesbury, the j5rst crossing on the Severn which 
was passable for them. The Lancastrian feint on Chipping 
Sodbury was not ill-judged, but Edward rendered its effect 
nugatory by his rapid movements. Both armies gathered them- 
selves up. for a rush towards the all-important passage, but the 
king — although he had the longer distance to cover, and was 
toiling over the barren rolling country of the Cotswold plateau 
— out-marched his opponents. Men spoke with surprise of the 
thirty-two miles which his army accomplished in the day, with- 
out halting for a meal, and in a district where water was so 
scarce that the men were able to quench their thirst only once 
in the twelve hours*. By evening the king was within five 
miles of the Lancastrians, who had halted — utterly worn out — 
in the town of Tewkesbury. As they had not succeeded in 
crossing its ferry that night, they were compelled to fight next 
day, since there was even greater danger in being attacked while 
their forces were half across the Severn, and half still on the 
Gloucestershire side, than in turning to meet the king. Queen 
Margaret's generals therefore drew up their forces on the rising 
ground to the south of the town, in a good position, where they 
had the slope of the hill in their favour, and were well protected 

' This must have been in the Stroudwater, as Edward marched from 
Wooton-under-Edge by Stroud and Painswick on Cheltenham. 


by hedges and high banks. Edward, however, made no rash 
attempts to force his enemies' line : instead of delivering an 
assault he brought up cannon and concentrated their fire on one 
of the hostile wings. Somerset, who commanded there, was at 
last so galled that he came down from his vantage ground to drive 
off the gunners. His charge was for the moment successful, but 
left a fatal gap in the Lancastrian line. The centre making no 
attempt to close this opening^, Edward was enabled to thrust 
his * main-battle ' into it, and thus forced the position, and 
drove his enemies in complete disorder into the cul-de-sac of 
Tewkesbury town, where they were for the. most part compelled 
to surrender. It will at once be observed that the king's tactics 
on this occasion were precisely those which had won for William 
the Norman the field of Senlac. He repeated the experiment, 
merely substituting artillery for archery, and put his enemy in a 
position where he had either to fall back or to charge in order 
to escape the Yorkist missiles. 

King Edward was by no means the only commander of merit 
whom the war revealed. We should be inclined to rate the 
Earl of Salisbury's ability high, after considering his manoeuvre 
at Bloreheath. Being at the head of inferior forces, he retired 
for some time before Lord Audley ; till continued retreat having 
made his adversary careless, he suddenly turned on him while 
his forces were divided by a stream, and inflicted two crushing 
blows on the two isolated halves of the Lancastrian army. The 
operations before Towton also seem to show the existence of 
considerable enterprise and alertness on both sides. Clifford 
was successful in his bold attempt to beat up the camp and 
rout the division of Fitzwalter ; but on the other hand Falcon- 
bridge was sufficiently prompt to fall upon the victorious Clifford 
as he returned towards his main-body, and to efface the Yorkist 
disaster of the early morning by a success in the afternoon. 

* Somerset attributed this to treachery on the part of Lord Wenlock, 
commander of the ' centre-battle,' who was a follower of Warwick and not 
an old Lancastrian. Escaping from the advancing Yorkists he rode up to 
Wenlock, and, without speaking a word, brained him with his battle-axe. 


The same Falconbridge gave in the great battle of the ensuing 
day an example of the kind of tactical expedients which sufficed 
to decide the day, when both armies were employing the same 
great weapon. A snow-storm rendered the opposing lines only 
partially visible to each other : he therefore ordered his men to 
advance barely within extreme range, and let fly a volley of the 
light and far-reaching 'flight-arrows,' after which he halted. 
The Lancastrians, finding the shafts falling among them, drew 
the natural conclusion that their enemies were well within range, 
and answered with a continuous discharge of their heavier ' sheaf- 
arrows,' which fell short of the Yorkists by sixty yards. Half 
an hour of this work well-nigh exhausted their store of missiles, 
so that the billmen and men-of-arms of Warwick and King 
Edward were then able to advance without receiving any ap- 
preciable damage from the Lancastrian archery. A stratagem 
like this could only be used when the adversaries were perfectly 
conversant with each other's armament and methods of war. 
In this respect it may remind us of the device employed by the 
Romans against their former fellow-soldiers of the Latin 
League, at the battle of Vesuvius. 

That the practice of dismounting large bodies of men-at-arms, 
which was so prevalent on the continent in this century, was 
not unknown in England we have ample evidence. The 
Lancastrian loss at Northampton, we are told, was excessive, 
'because the knights had sent their horses to the rear' and 
could not escape. Similarly we hear of Warwick dismounting 
to lead a charge at Towton, and again — but on less certain 
authority — at Barnet. This custom explains the importance of 
the pole-axe in the knightly equipment of the fifteenth century : 
it was the weapon specially used by the horsemen who had 
descended to fight on foot. Instances of its use in this way 
need not be multiplied ; we may, however, mention the incident 
which of all others seems most to have impressed the chroniclers 
in the fight of Edgecott-by-Banbury. Sir Richard Herbert 
' vahantly acquitted himself in that, on foot and with his pole-axe 
in his hand, he twice by main force passed through the battle of 


his adversaries, and without any mortal wound returned.' The 
engagement at which this feat of arms was performed was one 
notable as a renewed attempt of spearmen to stand against a 
mixed force of archers and cavalry. The Yorkists were utterly 
destitute of light troops, their bowmen having been drawn off 
by their commander, Lord Stafford, in a fit of pique, so that 
Pembroke and his North Welsh troops were left unsupported. 
The natural result followed : in spite of the strong position 
of the king's men, the rebels ' by force of archery caused them 
quickly to descend from the hill into the valley \' where they 
were ridden down as they retreated in disorder by the Northern 

Throughout the whole of the war artillery was in common 
use by both parties. Its employment was decisive at the fights 
of Tewkesbury and ' Lose-coat Field.' We also hear of it at 
Barnet and Northampton, as also in the sieges of the Northern 
fortresses in 1462-63. Its efficiency was recognised far more 
than that of smaller fire-arms, of which we find very scant 
mention ^. The long-bow still retained its supremacy over the 
arquebus, and had yet famous fields to win, notably that of 
Flodden, where the old manoeuvres of Falkirk were repeated by 
both parties, and the pikemen of the Lowlands were once more 
shot down 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 hackbut- 
men whom the government had sent against them. Nor was 
the bow entirely extinct as a national weapon even in the days of 
Queen Elizabeth. Further, however, than the end of the great 
English Civil War of the. fifteenth century, it is not our task to 
trace its use. 

The direct influence of English methods of warfare on the 
general current of European military science ends with the final 

* Grafton. 

* Edward IV is said to have had in his employment in 1470 a small 
corps of Germans with * hand-guns.' Better known is the band of 2000 
hackbut-men which the Earl of Lincoln brought to Stoke in 1487. The 
name of their leader, Martin Schwart, survives in the ballads of the day. 



loss of dominion in France in the years 1450-53. From that 
period the occasions of contact which had once been so frequent 
become rare and unimportant. The Wars of the Roses kept 
the English soldier at home, and after their end the pacific 
policy of Henry VII tended to the same result. Henry VIII 
exerted an influence on Continental politics by diplomacy and 
subsidies rather than by his barren and infrequent expeditions, 
while in the second half of the century the peculiar character- 
istics of the English army of the fourteenth and fifteenth 
century had passed away, in the general change and transforma- 
tion of the forms of the Art of War. 



We have now discussed at length the two systems of tactics 
which played the chief part in revolutionising the Art of War in 
Europe. The one has been traced from Morgarten to Bicocca, 
the other from Falkirk to Formigny, and it has been shown 
how the ascendancy of each was at last checked by the de- 
velopment of new forms of military efficiency among those 
against whom it was directed. While ascribing to the pikemen 
of Switzerland and the English archery the chief part in the 
overthrow of feudal cavalry — and to no small extent in that of 
feudalism itself — we must not forget that the same work was 
simultaneously being wrought out by other methods in other 
quarters of Europe. 

Prominent among the experiments directed to this end was 
that of Zisca and his captains, in the great Hussite wars of the 
first half of the fifteenth century. In Bohemia the new military 
departure was the result of social and religious convulsions. A 
gallant nation had risen in arms, stirred at once by outraged 
patriotism and by spiritual zeal ; moved by a desire to drive the 
intruding German beyond the Erzgebirge, but moved even more 
by dreams of universal brotherhood, and of a kingdom of right- 
eousness to be established by the sword. All Bohemia was 
ready to march, but still it was not apparent how the overwhelm- 
ing strength of Germany was to be met. If the fate of the 
struggle had depended on the lances of the Tzech nobility it 
would have been hopeless : they could put into the field only 
tens to oppose to the thousands of German feudalism. The 
undisciplined masses of peasants and burghers who accompanied 


them would, under the old tactical arrangements, have fared no 
better than the infantry of Flanders had fared at Rosbecque. 
But the problem of utilising those strong and willing arms fell 
into the hands of a man of genius. John Zisca of Trocnov had 
acquired military experience and hatred of Germany while 
fighting in the ranks of the Poles against the Teutonic knights. 
He saw clearly that to lead into the field men wholly untrained, 
and rudely armed with iron-shod staves, flails, and scythes fixed 
to poles, would be madness. The Bohemians had neither a 
uniform equipment nor a national system of tactics : their only 
force lay in their religious and national enthusiasm, which was 
strong enough to make all differences vanish on the day of 
battle, so that the wildest fanatics were content to combine and 
to obey when once the foe eame in sight. It was evident that 
the only chance for the Hussites was to stand upon the defen- 
sive, till they had gauged their enemies' military efficiency and 
learnt to handle their own arms. Accordingly we hear of 
intrenchments being everywhere thrown up, and towns being 
put in a state of defence during the first months of the war. But 
this was not all ; in his Eastern campaigns Zisca had seen a 
military device which he thought might be developed and turned 
to account. There prevailed among the Russians and Lithu- 
anians a custom of surrounding every encampment by a portable 
barricade of beams and stakes, which could be taken to pieces 
and transferred from position to position. The Russian princes 
habitually utilised in their wars such a structure, which they 
called a ' goHaigorod ' or moving fortress. Zisca's development 
of this system consisted in substituting for the beams and stakes 
a line of waggons, at first merely such as the country-side 
supphed, but afterwards constructed specially for military 
purposes, and fitted with hooks and chains by which they 
were fastened one to another ^ 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 

^ For an excellent description of Hussite tactics, see Denis, Hus et la 
Guerre des Hussites. 


knight might be, it would not carry him through oaken planks 
and iron links. The onset of the German horseman being the 
chief thing which the Hussites had to dread, the battle was half 
won when a method of resisting it had been devised. With the 
German infantry they were competent to deal without any 
elaborate preparation. It might be thought that Zisca's inven- 
tion would have condemned the Bohemians to adhere strictly to 
the defensive in the whole campaign, as well as in each engage- 
ment in it : this, however, was not the case. When fully worked 
out, the system assumed a remarkable shape. There was 
organized a special corps of waggoners, on whose efficiency 
everything depended : they were continually drilled, and taught 
to manoeuvre their vehicles with accuracy and promptness. At 
the word of command, we are told, they would form a circle, a 
square, or a triangle, and then rapidly disengage their teams, 
thus leaving the waggons in proper position, and only needing 
to be chained together. This done, they took up their position 
in the centre of the enclosure. The organization of the whole 
army was grounded on the waggon as a unit : to each was told 
off, besides the driver, a band of about twenty men, of whom 
part were pike-men and flail-men, while the remainder were 
armed with missile weapons. The former ranged themselves 
behind the chains which joined waggon to waggon, the latter 
stood in the vehicles and fired down on the enemy. From the 
first Zisca set himself to introduce fire-arms among the Bohe- 
mians : at length nearly a third of them were armed with ' hand- 
guns,' while a strong train of artillery accompanied every force. 
A Hussite army in movement had its regular order of march. 
Wherever the country was open enough it formed five parallel 
columns. In the centre marched the cavalry and artillery, to 
each side of them two divisions of waggons accompanied by 
their complements of infantry. The two outer divisions were 
longer than the two which marched next the horsemen and the 
guns. The latter were intended— in the case of a sudden attack 
— to form the front and rear of a great oblong, of which the longer 
divisions were to compose the sides. To enable the shorter 


columns to wheel, one forward and the other backward, no great 
time would be required, and if the few necessary minutes were 
obtained, the Hussite order of battle stood complete. To such 
perfection and accuracy was the execution of this manoeuvre 
brought, that we are assured that a Bohemian army would 
march right into the middle of a German host, so as to separate 
division from division, and yet find time to throw itself into its 
normal formation just as the critical moment arrived. The 
only real danger was from artillery fire, which might shatter the 
line of carts : but the Hussites were themselves so well provided 
with cannon that they could usually silence the opposing bat- 
teries. Never assuredly were the tactics of the * laager ' carried 
to such perfection; were the records of the Hussite victories 
not before us, we should have hesitated to believe that the 
middle ages could have produced a system whose success 
depended so entirely on that power of orderly movement 
which is usually claimed as the peculiar characteristic of modem 

But in the Bohemia of the fifteenth century, just as in the 
England of the seventeenth, fanaticism led to rigid discipline, 
not to disorder. The whole country, we are assured, was 
divided into two lists of parishes, which alternately put their 
entire adult population in the field. While the one half fought, 
the other remained at home, charged with the cultivation of 
their own and their neighbours' lands. A conscription law of 
the most sweeping kind, which made every man a soldier, was 
thus in force, and it becomes possible to understand the large 
numbers of the armies put into the field by a state of no great 

Zisca's first victories were to his enemies so unexpected and 
^so marvellous, that they inspired a feeling of consternation. 
The disproportion of numbers and the inexperience of the 
Hussites being taken into consideration, they were indeed 
surprising. But instead of abandoning their stereotyped feudal 
tactics, to whose inability to cope with any new form of military 
efficiency the defeats were really due, the Germans merely tried 


to raise larger armies, and sent them to incur the same fate as 
the first host which Sigismund had led against Prague. But 
the engagements only grew more decisive as Zisca fully de- 
veloped his tactical methods. Invasion after invasion was a 
failure, because, when once the Bohemians came in sight, the 
German leaders could not induce their troops to stand firm. 
The men utterly declined to face the flails and pikes of their 
enemies, even when the latter advanced far beyond their ram- 
part of waggons, and assumed the offensive. The Hussites 
were consequently so exalted with the confidence of their own 
invincibility, that they undertook, and often successfully carried 
out, actions of the most extraordinary temerity. Relying on 
the terror which they inspired, small bodies would attack 
superior numbers when every military consideration was against 
them, and yet would win the day. Bands only a few thousand 
strong sallied forth from the natural fortress formed by the 
Bohemian mountains, and wasted Bavaria, Meissen, Thuringia, 
and Silesia, almost without hindrance. They returned in safety, 
their war-waggons laden with the spoil of Eastern Germany, 
and leaving a broad track of desolation behind them. Long 
after Zisca's death the prestige of his tactics remained un- 
diminished, and his successors were able to accomplish feats 
of war which would have appeared incredible in the first years 
of the war. 

When at last the defeat of the Taborites took place, it re- 
sulted from the dissensions of the Bohemians themselves, not 
from the increased efficiency of their enemies. The battle of 
Lipan, where Procopius fell and the extreme party were crushed, 
was a victory won not by the Germans, but by the more mod- 
erate sections of the Tzech nation. The event of the fight 
indicates at once the weak spot of Hussite tactics, and the 
tremendous self-confidence of the Taborites. After Procopius 
had repelled the first assaults on his circle of waggons, his men 
— forgetting that they had to do not with the panic-stricken 
hosts of their old enemies, but with their own former comrades, 
— left their defences and charged the retreating masses. They 



accustomed to see the manoeuvre succeed against the 
terrorized Germans, and forgot that it was only good when 
turned against adversaries whose spirit was entirely broken. 
In itself an advance meant the sacrifice of all the benefits of a 
system of tactics which was essentially defensive. The weak- 
ness in fact of the device of the waggon-fortress was that, 
although securing the repulse of the enemy, it gave no oppor- 
tunity for following up that success, if he was wary and retreated 
in good order. This however was not a reproach to the in- 
ventor of the system, for Zisca had originally to seek not for 
the way to win decisive victories, but for the way to avoid 
crushing defeats. At Lipan the moderate party had been 
beaten back but not routed. Accordingly when the Taborites 
came out into the open field, the retreating masses turned to 
fight, while a cavalry reserve which far outnumbered the horse- 
men of Procopius, rode in between the circle of waggons and 
the troops which had left it. Thus three-quarters of the Taborite 
army were caught and surrounded in the plain, where they were 
cut to pieces by the superior numbers of the enemy. Only the 
few thousands who had remained behind within the waggon- 
fortress succeeded in escaping. Thus was demonstrated the 
incompleteness for military purposes of a system which had 
been devised as a political necessity, not as an infallible recipe 
for victory. 

The moral of the fight of Lipan was indeed the same as the 
moral of the fight of Hastings. Purely defensive tactics are 
hopeless when opposed by a commander of ability and resource, 
who is provided with steady troops. If the German princes 
had been generals and the German troops well-disciplined, the 
careers of Zisca and Procopius would have been impossible. 
Bad strategy and panic combined to make the Hussites seem 
invincible. When, however, they were met by rational tactics 
they were found to be no less liable to the logic of war than 
other men. 

Long before the flails and hand-guns of Zisca's infantry had 
turned to rout the chivalry of Germany, another body of foot- 



soldiers had won the respect of Eastern Europe. On the battle- 
fields of the Balkan Peninsula the Slav and the Magyar had 
learned to dread the slave-soldiery of the Ottoman Sultans. 
Kossova had suggested and Nicopolis had proved that the day 
of the unquestioned supremacy of the horseman was gone in 
the East as much as in the West. The Janissaries of Murad 
and Bayezid had stood firm before desperate cavalry charges, 
and beaten them off with loss. It is curious to recognize in the 
East the tactics which had won the battles of Crefy and Agin- 
court. The Janissaries owed their successes to precisely the 
same causes as the English archer. Their great weapon was 
the bow, not indeed the long-bow of the West, but nevertheless 
a very efficient arm. Still more notable is it that they carried 
the stakes which formed part of the equipment of the English 
bowman, and planted them before their line whenever an assault 
by cavalry was expected. Again and again — notably at Nico- 
polis and Varna — do we hear of the impetuous charge which 
had ridden down the rest of the Turkish array, failing at last 
before the ' palisade ' of the Janissaries, and the deadly fire of 
arrows from behind it. The rest of the Janissary's equipment 
was very simple : he carried no defensive arms, and wore only a 
pointed felt cap and a flowing grey tunic reaching to the knees. 
Besides his bow and quiver he bore a scimitar at his side and a 
'handjar* or long knife in his waist-cloth. Though their dis- 
ciplined fanaticism made them formidable foes in close combat, 
it was not for that kind of fighting that the Janissaries were 
designed. When we find them storming a breach or leading 
a charge, they were going beyond their own province. Their 
entire want of armour would alone have sufficed to show that 
they were not designed for hand-to-hand contests, and it is 
a noteworthy fact that they could never be induced to take 
to the use of the pike. Like the English archery, they were 
used either in defensive positions or to supplement the employ- 
ment of cavalry. Eastern hosts ever since the days of the 
Parthians had consisted of great masses of horsemen, and their 
weakness had always lain in the want of some steadier force 


to form the nucleus of resistance and the core of the army. 
Cavalry can only act on the offensive, yet every general is 
occasionally compelled to take the defensive. The Ottomans, 
however, were enabled to solve the problem of producing an 
army efificient for both alike, when once Orchan had armed and 
trained the Janissaries. The Timariot horsemen who formed 
the bulk of the Turkish army differed little from the cavalry of 
other Oriental states. Not unfrequently they suffered defeats ; 
Shah Ismail's Persian cavaliers rode them down at Tchaldiran, 
and the Mamelukes broke them at Radama. If it had been 
with his feudal horse alone that the Turkish Sultan had faced 
the chivalry of the West, there is little reason to suppose that 
the conquest of the Balkan Peninsula would ever have been 
effected. Attacked in its own home the Hungarian — perhaps 
even the Servian — state could in the fourteenth century put into 
the field armies equal in numbers and individually superior to 
the Ottoman horsemen \ But the Servian and the Hungarian, 
like the Persian and the Mameluke, did not possess any solid 
and trustworthy body of infantry. To face the disciplined array 
of the Janissaries they had only the chaotic and half-armed 
hordes of the national levy. To this we must ascribe the 
splendid successes of the Sultans: however the tide of batde 
might fluctuate, the Janissaries would stand like a rock behind 
their stakes, and it was almost unknown that they should be 
broken. Again and again they saved the fortune of the day : 
at those few fights where they could not, they at least died 
in their ranks, and saved the honour of their corps. At the 
disaster of Angora they continued to struggle long after the rest 
of the Turkish army had dispersed, and were at last exter- 
minated rather than beaten. No steadier troops could have 
been found in any part of Europe. 

' Perhaps the most interesting of Ottoman fights from the 
tactician's point of view was the second battle of Kossova 
(1448). This was not — like Varna or Mohacs— an ill-advised 

^ At the first battle of Kossova we know that the allied Sen-ians and 
Bosnians outnumbered the Turks. 

K 2 



attempt to break the Turkish line by a headlong onset. John 
Huniades, whom long experience had made familiar with the 
tactics of his enemy, endeavoured to turn against Sultan Murad 
his own usual scheme. To face the Janissaries he drew up in 
his centre a strong force of German infantry, armed with the 
hand-guns whose use the Hussites had introduced. On the 
wings the chivalry of Hungary were destined to cope with the 
masses of the Timariot cavalry. In consequence of this arrange- 
ment, the two centres faced each other for long hours, neither 
advancing, but each occupied in thinning the enemy's ranks, 
the one with the arbalest-bolt, the other with the bullet. Mean- 
while on the wings desperate cavalry charges succeeded each 
other, till on the second day the Wallachian allies of Huniades 
gave way before the superior numbers of the Ottomans and the 
Christian centre had to draw off and retire. So desperate had 
the fighting been, that half the Hungarian army and a third 
of that of Murad was left upon the field. The tactical meaning 
of the engagement w-as plain : good infantry could make a long 
resistance to the Ottoman arms, even if they could not secure 
the victory. The lesson however was not fully realized, and it 
was not till the military revolution of the sixteenth century that 
infantry was destined to take the prominent part in withstanding 
the Ottoman. The landsknechts and hackbut-men of Charles V 
and Ferdinand of Austria proved much more formidable foes to 
the Sultans than the gallant but undisciplined light cavalry ^ of 
Hungary. This was to a great extent due to the perfection of 
pike-tactics in the West. The Turks, whose infantry could 
never be induced to adopt that weapon ^, relied entirely on their 
firearms, and were checked by the combination of pike and 

It is noticeable that the Janissaries took to the use of the 
firelock at a comparatively early date. It may have been in 
consequence of the effectiveness of Huniades' hand-guns at 

^ Already since the middle of the 15th century known as ' Hussars.' 
^ Montecuculi notes that even in his day far into the 1 7th century, the 
Turk had not yet taken to the pike. 



Kossova, that we find them discarding the arbalest in favour of 
the newer weapon. But at any rate the Ottoman had fully 
accomplished the change long before it had been finally carried 
out in Europe, and nearly a century earlier than the nations of 
the further East ^. 

In recognizing the full importance of cannon the Sultans 
were equally in advance of their times. The capture of Con- 
stantinople by Mahomet II was probably the first event of 
supreme importance whose result was determined by the power 
of artillery. The lighter guns of previous years had never 
accomplished any feat comparable in its results to that which 
was achieved by the siege-train of the Conqueror. Some 
decades later we find the Janissaries' line of arquebuses sup- 
ported by the fire of field-pieces, often brought forward in great 
numbers, and chained together so as to prevent cavalry charg- 
ing down the intervals between the guns ^ This device is said 
to have been employed with great success against an enemy 
superior in the numbers of his horsemen, alike at Dolbek and 

The ascendency of the Turkish arms was finally terminated 
by the conjunction of several causes. Of these the chief was 
the rise in central Europe of standing armies composed for the 
most part of disciplined infantry. But it is no less undoubted 
that much was due to the fact that the Ottomans after the reign 
of Soliman fell behind their contemporaries in readiness to keep 
up with the advance of military skill, a change which may be 
connected with the gradual transformation of the Janissaries 
from a corps into a caste. It should also be remembered that 
the frontier of Christendom was now covered not by one isolated 
fortress of supreme importance, such as Belgrade had been, but 
by a double and triple line of strong towns, whose existence 
made it hard for the Turks to advance with rapidity, or to reap 

1 The arquebus and cannon were novelties to the Mamelukes as late 
as 1 51 7, if we are to trust the story of Kait Bey. 

2 Richard III of England is said to have adopted this expedient at 




any such results from success in a single battle or siege as had 
been possible in the previous century. 

On the warfare of the other nations of Eastern Europe it will 
not be necessary to dwell. The military history of Russia, 
though interesting in itself, exercised no influence on the 
general progress of the Art of War. With the more important 
development of new tactical methods in South- Western Europe 
we have already dealt, when describing the Spanish infantry in 
the chapter devoted to the Swiss and their enemies. 

All the systems of real weight and consideration have now been 
discussed. In the overthrow of the supremacy of feudal cavalry 
the tactics of the shock and the tactics of the missile had each 
played their part : which had been the more effective it would be 
hard to say. Between them however the task had been successfully 
accomplished. The military strength of that system which had 
embraced all Europe in its cramping fetters, had been shattered 
to atoms. Warlike efficiency was the attribute no longer of a 
class but of whole nations ; and war had ceased to be an 
occupation in which feudal chivalry found its pleasure, and the 
rest of society its ruin. The 'Art of War' had become once 
more a living reality, a matter not of tradition but of experiment, 
and the vigorous sixteenth century was rapidly adding to it new 
forms and variations. The middle ages were at last over, and 
the stirring and scientific spirit of the modern world was work- 
ing a transformation in military matters, which was to make 
the methods of mediaeval war seem even further removed from 
the strategy of our own century, than are the operations of the 
ancients in the great days of Greece and Rome. 












Sig. Sam. 

Oman, (Sir) Ghaxles William 

The art of war in the Middle