French Knight Fall.

by Daniel Russ on November 22, 2011

English Long Bowman At Agincourt

 

The thing about military industrial complexes, is that they often act only to keep themselves comfortable and happy and forget the higher goals that birthed the army. The famed French knights that terrorized infantry in the 14th century all across Europe were a classic example of a military industrial complex. The individual parts of the system supported ultimately one goal: to keep the upper classes rich and keep them in power.

 

 

Consider that Western Europe at this time was a network semi theocratic feudal societies. In France the richest and most powerful lived in castles, surrounded by huge territorial holdings, and employed professional soldiers and mercenaries to maintain order. This meant of course collecting taxes from commoners who worked the land, and served the lord in battle. This was the age of the knight. The disciplined maneuver and advance of armored horsemen on often-armored horses became the hammer of kings and queens. Knights in all their aureate ceremony were effective fighting forces. Lords needed them and collected revenues to pay for them. They paid the knight, the armorer, the horse trainers and handlers, the craftsmen and the clothiers.

 

French Knight

 

Knights lived in politically charged ruling circles that were marked by drama and betrayal. Think Real Housewives except with jousts, bacchanalian parties, religious fervor and actual combat. This was class warfare quite literally. Commoners were often poorly trained rabble there to hold sharpened sticks hopefully to throw back enemy cavalry. As often as not they deserted. Even well trained feudal militia deserted. There was a reason for that. There was little to gain and everything to lose on the battlefield if you did not have money and status. Peasants could not be ransomed. Knights were worth a ransom and therefore they were treated fairly well in the custody of enemies; however if you were a longbowman?…a footsoldier?….you were likely to be summarily impaled on the nearest sword if you were captured, surrendered or left wounded on the battlefield and oh yeah, if you were poor.

 

 

To be killed by an infantryman would be two deaths for a French knight. Today’s anonymous high technology warfare belies the ego that has always been a part of combat in the past. The Samurai often roamed the battlefield yelling out their accomplishments looking for a warrior worth fighting. The feudal militia was likely to be a dirt-poor farmer with essentially a long sharpened stick. A bowman was less important and regarded in the same light as a common foot soldier. So it makes sense that armored knights would charge rows of longbowmen, chomping at the bit to defeat these unwashed masses. Crécy, Agincourt, and Poitiers were examples of poor men on their feet disgracing rich men on horseback. English boys were taught to use the longbow from an early age.  It was deadly accurate with practice and the arrow could penetrate most armor. The longbow could be deadly at long ranges and also produced high rates of fire. The bow itself was about six feet long and the range was about two football fields. Essentially the longbow expanded English power and kept the French from being the central military power on the last half of the second millennium.

 

 

The masses were kept untrained because the Lords feared they would rise up and overthrow them. At the end of the day if wasn’t about nationhood or religion. It was about money and power.

 

 

Source: Battles of the Medieval World, From Hastings to Constantinople, 2006 Amber Books; Oxford Companion To Military History; The Development of Battle Tactics of the Hundred Years War, Matthew Bennett, Boydel Press 1994; Wikipedia; Youtube

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