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Topics - Longmane

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Background / Collective Training: Tournaments. 3 pts
« on: April 27, 2014, 09:54:58 PM »

Background / Everyday life in the Castled. 3 pts
« on: April 09, 2014, 07:12:03 PM »

Background / Hunting as a Way of Life (3 parts)
« on: January 27, 2014, 07:30:52 PM »

Background / Sense of Honour and Duty
« on: December 09, 2013, 11:09:17 PM »

Background / War, Society and Technology (3 pts)
« on: November 02, 2013, 10:45:30 PM »

Background / Fortifications and Siege. (11 pts)
« on: August 07, 2013, 05:34:20 PM »

Background / The Italian Job
« on: July 23, 2013, 05:47:07 PM »
PT 1

This thread concentrate's on a chapter taken from the same book as my last one, and while this will also be rather long it'll certainly not be as long as that was.    (Now if I decide get around to posting "Fortifications and Siege", that will be "long"  ;D


War has always provided opportunities for adventurers and mercenaries, as the story of the Najera campaign and the Lithuanian crusades illustrates so well, and the early decades of the Hundred Years' War saw many other examples of men fighting in armies for the personal gain that could come either from loot or from an agreed fee. In many cases, however, mercenary companies or individual 'soldiers of fortune' are indistinguishable from the rest of an army in the overall operations of siege and battle, and it is only during times of truce that real mercenary activity can be identified.

The Peace of Bretigny in 1360 provided just such an opportunity. Large bodies of troops were suddenly disbanded, and instead of returning home, sold their skills to the highest bidder, and even, when no bidder was available, started wars of their own. It is with a sense of shame that one records the name of Sir Hugh Calveley and Sir Robert Knowles as leaders of these despicable bands.

Profit had once been made from the capture and ransom of the rich. Now it was to be scraped from the bottom of war's empty barrel. A stable government, such as that exercised by the Black Prince in Aquitaine, could close its borders to them, but this only put the pressure on to neighbours in turn. As a result the so-called 'Free Companies' flourished where the populace was weakest to withstand them, and where relatively unspoiled lands promised rich pickings. All that was necessary was for them to take a few castles and hold the populace to ransom.

Local defence against them was almost non-existent, although the towns built as fortified bastides fared better than others. As for getting rid of these brigands there seemed little alternative to paying them to go away and attack someone else - a scarcely satisfactory arrangement, unless the alternative place were a distant country. As Lithuania, which provided working holidays for the nobility, was hardly a convenient dumping ground for unwanted plunderers,' a much more promising location was to be found in Italy.


Service in Italian wars was not a new phenomenon, and in fact the curse of 'the mercenary was to afflict the peninsula for a further century and a half. When the French king Charles VIII invaded Italy in 1494 and captured Naples within six months, his rapid success was blamed on the predilection of the Italians for employing mercenaries. According to influential commentators such as Machiavelli, the Italian states were crushed so easily because for centuries they had hired others to fight on their behalf rather than relying on their own militias. To name names, Italy owed its latest disaster to the long and disreputable history of the condottieri.

The condottieri were the captains who represented the supply side of the mercenary equation. They owed their title and their continued livelihood to the granting of a condotta or contract between an employer, usually a prince, a baron or a city, and the captain who would supply soldiers to fight on the commissioner's behalf. Machiavelli's sense of outrage was given additional colouring from a long humanist tradition that cherished the notion of free citizens rallying to the flag to defend their homes, and despised and vilified the very notion of the mercenary. He was not alone. Another Florentine politician wrote of a contemporary condottieri captain that 'in general all men of his occupation disgust me, because they are our natural enemies, and despoil all of us, and their only thought is to keep the upper hand and to drain our wealth'.

These were perceptive comments, because, although mercenaries clearly had their uses, they were a highly volatile and extremely dangerous commodity. Stories abounded of mercenaries coming to a halt within sight of an advancing enemy and refusing to engage in battle until they were paid in advance, and of condottieri captains changing sides so frequently that even their own men were unsure whom they were expected to fight. In 1441 the condottiere Piccinino insisted on a guarantee that he would be given the fief of Piacenza before he would agree to attack the Venetian army, which provoked an explosive outburst from the man who had hired him to do just that.

Most employers of condottieri no doubt appreciated that any contract to provide such an unpredictable service as mercenary warfare, where the signatory faced his own possible extinction, was naturally prone to ambiguity and wide open to exploitation. But to Machiavelli condottieri warfare was an inferior product compared to the heroic deeds that could be expected from a national militia. Indeed, he claimed, the wars waged by condottieri had not been real wars at all, but bloodless mock battles contested by rival mercenaries who were concerned only to give the show of conflict for the benefit of their respective paymasters, who could then each be threatened with real force if the cash was not forthcoming. 'Wars were commenced without fear,' he wrote in a famous passage, 'continued without danger and concluded without loss.'

In fact Machiavelli was sorely mistaken about the true nature of condottieri warfare. At the Battle of Anghiari in 1440, according to Machiavelli, 'one man was killed, and he fell off his horse and was trampled to death', but according to reliable eyewitnesses the list of dead topped 900. At Molinella in 1467, where 'some horses were wounded and some prisoners taken but no death occurred', the actual losses were 600. The one justification for Machiavelli's exaggerated comments may lie in the fact that in these battles, as in similar encounters throughout contemporary Europe, the bulk of the casualties tended to be lower-class troops who were both more numerous and less well protected than their betters, and out of 170 named condottieri captains only a dozen actually died fighting, and some of these deaths may have been as a result of assassinations carried out under the convenient cloak of anonymity that a battle provided.


Background / The Ill-made Knight
« on: June 26, 2013, 09:42:33 PM »

Background / The Villagers: Who they were.
« on: May 31, 2013, 11:13:10 PM »

Background / Medieval farming practices. pt 1
« on: March 08, 2013, 11:36:21 PM »

Background / Tournaments revisited
« on: December 11, 2012, 08:58:39 PM »

Background / General Tactics 2 'The Battle of Arsuf'
« on: July 31, 2012, 05:17:05 PM »

Background / General Tactics.
« on: July 04, 2012, 10:10:13 PM »

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