While we should be wary of stereotypes, the classic warfare of this period was most clearly illustrated in the Kingdom of France, including the Angevin provinces ruled by the kings of England.
Here armies usually mustered in late spring, assembling at an agreed rendezvous.
There is clear evidence of broad strategic planning and forethought, and of considerable efforts to mislead an enemy as to precisely when and where an attack might be launched.
Nevertheless, the nature of medieval warfare often made such campaigns somewhat predictable.
Certain castles – for example, Chateau-Gaillard in Normandy – were built primarily as forward bases and springboards for campaigns into specific enemy regions, so an army seen to be assembling at such a place would have a limited choice of potential objectives.
Campaigns themselves largely focused upon the ravaging and devastation of enemy territory, sometimes combined with attempts to take key castles or fortified towns.
The invading army would normally try to avoid the main defending forces, initially by misleading the enemy commander about the invader’s intentions.
However, the invading forces might attempt to catch the defenders unawares and at a disadvantage, while striving not to be caught in the same way themselves.
A graphic account of one such late 12th-century invading force describes how it was preceded by scouts and incendiaries, who set fire to enemy villages and captured peasants.
Then came the foragers, who collected the spoils and loaded them into the army’s baggage train, and the primary role of the main fighting forces was to protect such foragers.
During these destructive operations, the elite armoured knights would not be riding their expensive Infantry closely following cavalry units are shown in a stylized manner on this mid 12th-century northern Italian carved capital.
Note the two different helmets, one with a nasal and a forward-tilted apex, the other a spangenhelm with cheek-pieces; the kite-shaped shields, that of the footsoldier being ‘clipped’ at the bottom; and the four-tailed banner. (in situ Cathedral, Parma; photograph Luca Trascinelli) 43 Battle of the Standard, 23 August 1138, in which an Anglo-Norman army under William of Aumale defeated an invading Scottish army led by King David I.
The Scots were largely unarmoured; while they broke through or outflanked the AngloNorman line, they suffered severe losses from the AngloNorman archers, and were unable to make an impact upon the armoured knights.
Initial dispositions: (A) King David and household troops; (B) Scots from Lothians and West Highlands; (C) Allied troops from Kingdom of Galloway; (D) Allied troops from Cumbria and Teviot regions; (E) Prince Henry with Scots cavalry; (F) Vanguard of Anglo-Norman archers and dismounted knights; (G) Dismounted AngloNorman knights in centre and on flanks; (H) English shire levies; (I) Horse lines.
Movements: (1) Attack by Galwegians and Lothians and possibly Cumbrians?; (2) Galwegians flee after death of two leaders; (3) Scottish army starts to fragment; (4) Cavalry charge by Prince Henry reaches Anglo-Norman horse lines, but fails to make AngloNorman army pull back; (5) King David withdraws; (6) Anglo-Normans pursue retreating Scots; (7) Prince Henry furls his banner to hide his identity, and returns with advancing Anglo-Normans to rejoin King David. destriers or war-horses, which were only used in battle; nor would they normally wear full armour, this being heavy and tiring, thus reducing the endurance of men and horses.
Instead knights and other members of the mounted elite rode palfreys, ordinary riding horses.
If the cavalry were in dangerous territory they would probably carry their shields, though these would normally remain in the hands of their squires until needed, and the knights would almost certainly not don their helmets until the enemy was either seen or heard.
Normally such ravaging armies moved extremely slowly, but even so, elite infantry could cover more than 125 miles/200 kilometres in a week and still be fresh enough to defeat enemy cavalry, while mounted troops could, of course, travel faster over shorter distances.
While major pitched battles remained rare, the small-scale skirmishing that characterized most warfare demanded considerable tactical skill.
Traditionally, French or Anglo-Norman cavalry were deployed in batailles or divisions, according to their place or province of origin, and normally under the leadership of the senior count or duke of the area in question.
Large divisions would, in turn, consist of ecbelles or squadrons.
The exact relationship between an echelle and a bataille is unclear, though the batailles were certainly subdivided into small conrois sections as they had been since Carolingian times.
The conrois itself now normally consisted of about 20-24 knights in two or three ranks, riding very close together, shoulder-to-shoulder in a manner described as sereement.
The separate conrois also appear to have ridden quite close to one another.
Whether a theoretical tactical unit of ten men (known in early 12th-century England as a constabularium) was actually used in battle is again unknown.
The tactical function of these densely packed units was to act as shock cavalry – the ‘shock’ that their charges delivered being largely psychological, as was almost always the case throughout the history of cavalry warfare.
They charged at a relatively slow speed, and, if they succeeded in breaking the enemy’s formation, they would then fight individually in the resulting melee.
Ideally, a 12th- or 13th-century heavy cavalry charge hoped to break right through an enemy line, then turn and charge once more from the rear.
It is 44 clear that there was also use of operational reserves, intended to take advantage of any such break in the enemy’s front.
Such reserves were – like most other ‘ambush’ forces in the typical tactics of the French and neighbouring peoples during this period – almost always cavalry.
They could also be thrown against an enemy’s flank if the opportunity arose, particularly if this could be done unexpectedly and from cover.
It is also clear that 12th-century Franco-Norman and Anglo-Norman cavalry continued to make use of feigned retreats. The border regions There were several distinctly different strategic and tactical traditions in what might be described as the frontier areas of Christendom.
The most obvious difference was usually a relative lack of armoured cavalry in the most distant fringes of Europe.
In many cases warfare in such marginal regions was characterized by an even less frequent resort to full-scale battle.
For example, warfare in the Baltic region had several features in common with that in the Celtic fringe regions.
During the Northern Crusades, the invading Scandinavians and Germans enjoyed an initial rush of relatively easy conquests, but thereafter they found it necessary to adopt much the same strategy of raid and ambush as their Lithuanian and other Baltic opponents had used for centuries.
The forces of all those involved were particularly vulnerable when returning home burdened with booty and rustled cattle.
By the 13th century, the German invaders had developed a sophisticated system of small stone fortifications or blockhouses from which they could launch raids, ambush enemy raiders, and gradually consolidate their hold over captured territory.
In response, the Prussians, Lithuanians and other indigenous peoples made skilful use of light-cavalry guerrilla tactics in This 12th-century northern Italian carved typanum shows the infantry of the urban militia of Verona, [in situ Church of St Zeno, Verona; author’s photograph) marshes and forests.
These were referred to as latrunculi or strutere, ‘banditry or destruction’, and were used both against the Crusader invaders and by local warriors serving them as auxiliaries after having accepted Christian domination.
Further north, the nomadic Karelian Lapps were noted for their skill in winter raiding.
Small groups of Karelian warriors wearing skis attacked isolated enemy outposts, though not the more densely populated centres to the west.
Within Eastern Europe the armies of countries such as Poland appear to have used a mixture of Western and Eastern – or more particularly, Russian – strategy and tactics.
In contrast, Bohemia was now fully within the Western European military tradition of Germany.
Hungarian commanders seem to have tried to use Western European strategies while still having to rely upon a large proportion of troops equipped and skilled in their own non-Western tradition.
The same was true of the Balkan states, where Hungarian, Western, Byzantine and Central Asian steppe influences came into contact and fusion.
Throughout the medieval period the sparsely inhabited Anglo-Scottish Borders were a zone of transition.
Although the exact position of the national frontier itself was known to those involved, it had little bearing on local warfare.
The Borders remained a relatively quiet area during the 12th and 13th centuries, with little raiding by local people.
The only major disruptions seem to have been caused by the royal armies of each kingdom either trying to move the frontier to their own king’s advantage, or when passing through the Borders on their way to attack the enemy’s major centres to the north or south.
Even when larger campaigns took place there seem to have been few attempts by small local castle garrisons to attack the enemy’s extended lines of communication.
The normal responses to aggression were counterinvasion, counter-raid and retaliation.
Within Scotland itself, however, internal warfare seems to have had a great deal in common with that of Celtic Ireland, being characterized by smallscale raiding and cattle-rustling that caused relatively low casualties.
The Irish themselves continued to limit warfare to such harrying tactics; one sub-king or prince might attempt to dominate a neighbour, but his forces generally B A T T L E OF L E G N A N O , 1176 This was an example of the successful co-operation of northern Italian communal infantry and cavalry.
The battle almost certainly took place on open ground between the villages of Borsano and Legnano.
Earlier in the day, the German (Imperial) cavalry of the Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa had defeated the Lombard League cavalry north of the battlefield, and the latter fled southwards beyond the League’s field fortifications at Borsano (A).
The all-cavalry Imperial army (B) then pressed the Lombard League infantry, including making assaults on their palisades, for which some riders probably dismounted.
The Italian militia (C) were in close-packed ‘phalanx’ formations, defending stockades around the ox-drawn carroccio ‘banner cart’ of Milan (D).
Each Milanese infantry unit was drawn from a specific ‘gate’ or quarter of that city, and there were others from allied cities.
Meanwhile, the Lombard League cavalry joined forces with an allied contingent of cavalry from Brescia, and returned to the battlefield, apparently unseen by the Imperial army until it was too late.
The returning League cavalry (E) charged into the Imperial cavalry from the rear and flank, and the Brescians (F) penetrated deeply enough to attack Emperor Frederick’s bodyguard and unhorse the emperor himself.
Thinking he had been killed, the Imperial army then fled, pursued westwards by League cavalry as far as the Ticino river.
Inset 1: The ranks of a Milanese militia infantry phalanx, based on northern Italian art from this period.
The front rank are heavily armoured men with spears and long shields; less wellarmoured men, also with spears and long shields, form the second rank; the third rank are lightly armoured men with swords and small shields, and the rear rank archers and crossbowmen.
Inset 2: Detail of a close-packed conrois formation of fully armoured cavalry, charging with lances lowered and held in the couched position, with slightly less well-equipped mounted sergeants close behind.
They are followed by a line of largely unarmoured squires leading spare war-horses.
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