Tagged: MiddleAges

Friday the Thirteenth

After the Fall of Acre in 1291, the Crusades into the Levant ended and the crusading orders of Christendom dispersed throughout Europe. The Knights Hospitaller turned to the sea and continued their fight from the islands of the Mediterranean, first Cyprus, then Rhodes, and finally Malta, against the spread of Islam. The Teutonic Knights turned to the pagan lands of the Prussians, the Lithuanians, and the Baltic tribes of Eastern Europe. The Knights Templar went back to Europe to protect pilgrims on the road, and in the process, immersed themselves in banking and politics. They had chapter houses and churches in every major town and city, and widespread influence at even the local level.
At the end of the 13th Century, the ambitious Phillip IV “the Fair” of France attempted to centralize the French monarchy, place his relatives on the thrones of his powerful neighbors, and consolidate control under his rule of the disparate fiefdoms of the former Angevin Empire. But these tasks were expensive, especially when it came to war. Phillip IV might have been a shrewd and cunning administrator, but he was not a great military mind. He lost a very expensive war in Flanders against the English.
To pay for his ambitious plans, and to further the centralization of his power, Phillip first turned to the French clergy, and confiscated lands and taxed them for half their wealth. This of course brought Phillip into conflict with Pope Boniface VIII. But even threatened with excommunication, Phillip didn’t back down and prevented the clergy from remitting gold and silver to Rome, upon which the Papacy depended. Furthermore, Phillip went on the attack and accused the Pope of all sorts of heinous crimes, such as heresy, sodomy, use of magic, worshiping false idols etc. Boniface also wouldn’t back down. Eventually, Phillip had Boniface abducted and beaten, after which Boniface died. Phillip then used his money and influence to make sure his friend and relative, Raymond Bertrand de Got, was elected to the Holy See in 1305, as Pope Clement V. (After the convenient and untimely death of Benedict XI, who was only Pope for eight months. Also, Clement V refused to move to Rome, so the Papacy moved to Avignon, France, where it would stay until 1376.)
But the Church’s wealth wasn’t enough. Phillip required significant loans from Jewish moneylenders and the bankers of the Knights Templar, to whom he became massively indebted. Unable to repay, Phillip seized Jewish assets in France and forcibly expulsed all Jews from his lands in 1306. However, he could not do the same to the Knights Templar. They were much better armed and open warfare would result. He planned to do it in secret and by surprise.
On Friday, the 13th of October, 1307, Phillip’s agents simultaneously arrested nearly 5000 Knights Templar across France. Phillip accused them of all of the same crimes he had accused of Boniface and had them thrown into his vassals’ dungeons. However, most of the gold and valuables that Phillip expected to seize were gone. It is speculated that Grand Master Jacques de Molay got word of the impending mass arrests and spirited everything away. (There is a single reference of ships that departed France in secret that morning, but the destination is unknown. Popular speculation ranges from the Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland to Oak Island in Nova Scotia. In any case, from this single reference, the author Dan Brown built his entire career.)
At Phillip’s behest, Pope Clement V issued a Papal bull ordering all Christian monarchs and rulers to arrest Templars in their lands. Most did to some degree, but many refused. Over the next years, the captured brothers were systematically tortured, especially in France, and “confessed” to their crimes. At their trials, no evidence was presented, except for their coerced confessions. Most of the captured Knights Templar were burned at the stake.
In 1308, Clement realized the folly of his ways, and recognized the consequences of Phillip’s power grab. He formally exonerated the Knights Templar of any wrong doing (“The Chinon Parchment”). However, the damage was done. The Knights Templar were finished as a holy order, and were disbanded in 1312 at the Council of Vienne. As Phillip couldn’t afford to administer the seized Templar lands, Clement managed to transfer most of the Templars’ holdings to the Knights Hospitaller to replace the Templars as a bulwark of the Papacy. However, some rulers formed their own knightly orders from Templar assets and refugees, such as the Order of Montessa in Aragon, and the Order of Christ in Portugal.
On 18 March 1314, the Grandmaster of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake. He maintained his innocence until the flames consumed him. Legend has it that he cursed Phillip and Clement with his dying breath. Whether or not this is true is unknown. Nevertheless, both Clement V and Phillip the Fair were dead within a month.

The Battle of Arbedo

The town of Bellinzona was the chokepoint between the Swiss cantons above the St Bernard Pass in the north and the Po Valley via the Ticino river valley to the south. In 1419, during the confusion after Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti died, several cantons of the Swiss Confederation bought the town from the Duchy of Milan, ostensibly to protect trade. Instead, Bellinzona became a staging area for the aggressive Swiss to raid vulnerable Milanese possessions. In early 1422, an exasperated Milan forcibly took the town back. The Swiss invaded.

The rise of the Duchy of Milan in the early Renaissance was due to the wealth and efforts of the powerful and ambitious Visconti family, and the military prowess of their chosen commander, the condottiero (a contracted mercenary warlord) Francesco Bussone of Carmagnola. Over the years, Bussone made short work of Visconti and Milanese rivals in northern Italy, but he’d be put to the test by the Swiss.

The defense of the fertile but isolated alpine valleys and plateaus forged a tough and independent Swiss people protected by formations of soldiers that differed in composition from their traditional enemies whom surrounded them on all sides. The relative lack of horses in the central Alps saw the prominence of infantry among its minor nobles. Moreover, the defense of the narrow passes against armies that relied upon the heavily armored mounted knight, gave rise to the extensive use of the halberd among the Swiss. A halberd is essentially an axe head attached to the top of a six to nine foot pole, with a spear head, a hook opposite the axe head, and a butt spike. Against horsemen it was a fearsome weapon: one could receive the charge with the spear point, chop the horse with the axe head, or pull the rider off the saddle with the hook, and finally quickly finish the vulnerable knight on the ground with the spike. In the 14th century the halberd was for all intents and purposes the Swiss national weapon, and they fielded forests of them.

In early April 1422, Bussone attacked the invading Swiss army with his mounted knights. The Swiss handily defeated them and continued on toward Bellinzona. But Bussone was a professional and wasn’t going to let the Swiss besmirch his so far untarnished reputation. He reorganized his army around defeating the halberd. He dismounted most of his knights and equipped them with pikes. Whether or not Bussone was influenced by the rediscovery of Ancient Greek and Roman texts that characterized the Renaissance in Italy by doing so is a subject for scholarly debate; the fact remains that Bussone’s new pikemen would not have been out of place among Alexander the Great’s sarrissa equipped phalanxes 1600 years before.

On 30 June 1422, Bussone met the Swiss outside the town of Arbedo. It would not be a repeat of the previous battle. The Milanese pikemen had an asymmetric four to six foot reach advantage over the Swiss halberdiers. The Swiss attempted to use their crossbowmen, the traditional counter to polearm wielding formations that were vulnerable to missiles, but they were chased back into the mass of halberds by the remaining Milanese knights. Bussone brought up his own crossbowmen, who poured fire into the flanks of the Swiss halberdiers.

Unable to mass their own crossbowmen, and slowly but surely ground down by the pikemen, the Swiss took massive casualties, and could do nothing except retreat or be annihilated. They were saved from total destruction only because a group of foragers appeared on the Milanese flank and Bussone mistook them for another Swiss formation. The Milanese reformed against the new “threat”, and the defeated Swiss escaped.

The battle of Arbedo checked Swiss ambitions in Italy for decades. Also, they took notice of the reasons for their defeat. Thereafter the Swiss almost universally adopted the pike as the new weapon for their infantry, and the halberd as a weapon wielded by the officers and file leaders.

For the next hundred years, phalanxes of mercenary Swiss pikemen would dominate warfare in Italy and Western Europe.

The High-Water Mark of Burgundy: the Siege of Beauvais

In the confused French dynastic struggles after the Hundred Years War, Charles the Bold, who was the Duke of Burgundy and brother in law to both the King of England and King of France, was more powerful than his liege lord, Louis XI of France. The Duchy of Burgundy at the time consisted of most of modern Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, and significant parts of France. At the conclusion of the truce made with Louis at Peronne in 1468, Charles seized some towns on the Somme, and in 1471 Louis declared him treasonous. The hot tempered Charles, who at this point saw no reason why Burgundy shouldn’t be an independent kingdom like France, England, or Austria, invaded. His intent was to unite with another rebellious vassal of Louis’, the Duke of Britanny. Their combined might could easily defeat the French king’s army.

The Burgundian army of Charles the Bold was the most modern fighting force of its time. Charles’ father Philip the Good learned the hard lessons of the Hundred Years War, when armies with small cores of disciplined full time professionals consistently out maneuvered and outfought much larger feudal levies. The Burgundian system was still based on feudal levies, but Charles demanded a large measure of discipline, training, and equipment from the men mobilized by his vassals. They were more recruited than conscripted. Those nobles whose men didn’t meet the standard faced fines, censure, and even confiscation of territory. Furthermore, he also reorganized his army into a combined arms formation of traditional, if updated and codified, medieval lances (a knight, squire, a sergeant at arms, all mounted, and three mounted archers, supported by a page and three foot soldiers: a handgunner, a crossbowman, and pikeman), professional mercenary halberdiers and pikemen (mostly Germans), and professional bowmen and crossbowmen (usually Welsh, or English, with Italian crossbowmen). Most importantly though, his army was integrally supported by cannon, which were relatively mobile for the time. Battles in the Middle Ages were rare; sieges were not. Charles’ inclusion of gunpowder units separated him from Louis XI’s similar reforms. The Burgundian army therefore looked more like a large and well drilled condottieri company that specialized in seizing fortified towns, than a traditional feudal army.

After crossing the frontier, Charles captured several French towns, and those that resisted paid the price. On 27 June 1472, Charles’ vanguard reached the town Beauvais and expected it to promptly surrender, based on his reputation alone. But the town resolve was stiffened by a tiny force sent by Louis, and by the remaining defenders of Roye, the town Charles sacked just two weeks before. Beauvais was heavily fortified, but the garrison was small and lacked cannon.

The competent and able commander of Charles’ vanguard immediately recognized that he had to storm the town quickly or Louis would be able to mass on the area and the Burgundian advance would be halted. He unleashed his cannon, created several breaches, and smashed one of the town’s gates, before he ran out of ammunition. That the Burgundian vanguard even had cannon surprised the defenders. The professional Burgundians rushed into the gaps.

The small French garrison could not hope to repel the attackers, but they received help from an unexpected quarter, the townspeople of Beauvais. They had heard what had happened to Roye and the other towns, and they were determined not to share the same fate. The men joined the French soldiers in the breaches and at the gate, though not on the walls because the Burgundian ladders were just a bit too short, a grievous oversight.

With the hand to hand fighting concentrated in the breaches and gate, the French archers and crossbowmen had free reign on the walls. They were supplied with a steady stream of arrows and bolts by the town’s women and children, who quickly joined in, throwing whatever was at hand: stones, boiling water, logs, and especially torches. They threw so many torches at the Burgundians that they caught the suburbs of the town and the remains of the gate on fire. This created an inferno through which Charles’ army had to pass. Nevertheless, the Burgundians continued the assault.

In the afternoon, it seemed Beauvais was lost, despite the efforts of the courageous townsfolk. The Burgundians seized a breach and began spilling onto the walls and into the town. However, the women and children threw themselves at the invaders with whatever they had: axes, knives, sticks, and torches. They kept the line from breaking, but the French were slowly pushed back. Just when it seemed the people of Beauvais would break, they looked up and saw an amazing sight: a young woman hacking her way across the wall.

A soldier was attempting to place the Burgundian flag on the wall above the breach to signify a breakthrough, and Jeanne Laisné, the daughter of a local peasant, attacked him with her father’s hatchet. She wounded the flag bearer and fought with such ferocity that he fell off the wall into the moat below. The sight of the French woman flinging a heavily armored man at arms into the moat and capturing the ducal banner of Burgundy electrified the resistance. The French defenders held on just long enough for two hundred lances sent by Louis to arrive in time push the Burgundians back out of the town. That night and the next day Louis’ army converged on Beauvais and the townpeople began the laborious process of repairing the breaches. They couldn’t repair the gate, so they tore houses down and turned the gatehouse into a bonfire. The Fires of Beuvais burned so hot that the gate was impenetrable to the Burgundians for nearly a week.

More French troops arrived and managed to enter the Beauvais before Charles could properly invest the town. The furious duke attempted to bombard the town into submission, but the French continued to valiantly fight on. The charred suburbs turned into a no man’s land where Burgundians were ambushed, assaults were disrupted, and skirmishes killed and wounded Burgundian troops that Charles’ could ill afford to lose. Every man he lost at Beauvais was one more that couldn’t fight against Louis’ main army then in Brittany.

By the end of July, Charles had 120 dead, including 20 lords killed leading charges, and more than three thousand wounded, many of whom eventually died. Heavy rains flooded his camp, and the moves to dryer ground made the encampment susceptible to raids by the people of Beauvais, killing and wounding even more. On 20 July 1472, Charles decamped and moved into Normandy.

Charles the Bold would never link with the Duke of Brittany and eventually returned to Burgundy after looting and pillaging his way across Normandy. His bid to establish the Kingdom of Burgundy at France’s expense came to nothing.

In contrast, Louis XI consolidated his power. In gratitude, he rewarded the town of Beauvais for its heroic stand. He exempted the town from many of his taxes, and relaxed many of the rules his nobles had placed. Louis inaugurated an annual parade through the town to honor the defenders, one in which the women and children march ahead of the men in honor of their ingenuity and sacrifices; a tradition that continues to this day. In particular, he rewarded Jeanne Laisné whom he christened Jeanne Hachette for her bravery, and exempted her family and her descendants from taxes for eternity.

The Raid at Targovisti and The Forest of the Impaled

In 1559, the Ottoman Sultan Mehemd II sent envoys to the Principality of Wallachia to inquire why the jizya (The Islamic tax on non-believers) had not been paid. Wallachia’s voivode, or prince, Vlad III Dracula (“Dracula” because he was the son of Vlad II Dracul) felt that his rule over Wallachia was sufficiently consolidated, and that he no longer needed the Turks. He knew war would come with the Ottoman Empire if he didn’t pay so in his customarily bloodthirsty manner, Vlad provoked one. He asked the envoys why they didn’t remove their turbans in his presence, and when they replied it was not their custom, he had his guards nail the turbans to their heads.

After ambushing and defeating the army the sultan sent for revenge, Vlad III Dracula invaded Bulgaria. He slaughtered, by his own words, over 25,000 Turks and Bulgars, “…without counting those whom we burned in [their] homes or the Turks whose heads were cut [off] by our soldiers…” In retaliation, Mehmed II sent a massive army of over 130,000 against Vlad to annex Wallachia outright.

Vlad could muster only about 30,000 men against this force, so he needed to reduce the Turkish numbers if he planned to defeat them in battle, or more likely, force them into a siege where the Turks could be weakened then annihilated. Vlad conducted a guerrilla campaign against the Turks with his cavalry, killing and capturing thousands of foragers and stragglers. He also sent diseased people into the Turkish camps in a crude form of biological warfare, and managed to infect part of the sultan’s army with the Bubonic plague and leprosy. Worse still, he conducted a scorched earth policy back across Bulgaria and into Wallachia. He killed or removed the people, poisoned the wells, salted the fields, burned the villages, rerouted rivers to make swamps, and rendered the castles indefensible, even in his own country. The Turks advanced into a wasteland. In mid-June 1462, Mehmed approached Vlad’s capital, the fortress city of Targoviste, where he knew Vlad planned to make a stand. A few days before the Turks invested the city, they paused and made camp to prepare. Vlad, who grew up among the Turks as a hostage but didn’t convert, snuck into the camp to assess his adversaries. He found them weak and disorganized.

On the night of 16-17 June 1462, Vlad III Dracula attacked the Turkish camp in daring torch lit raid for the specific purpose of assassinating the sultan. The charge of about 10,000 horsemen caused great confusion amongst the Ottomans. Vlad himself led the attack directly at the sultan’s tent. However, in the confusion of the assault, Vlad mistook the grand vizier’s opulent tent for the sultan’s. By the time he realized his mistake, the sultan’s Janissaries (elite warriors comprised of Christian boys forcibly converted to Islam then trained as soldiers) led by Vlad’s brother Radu, whom shared his time as a hostage, rallied and protected the sultan. The Wallachians withdrew back into Targoviste, unsuccessful in their mission.

It took the Ottomans several days to reorganize. Once ready, Mehmed advanced again on Targoviste intent on ending the Wallachian resistance once and for all time. He was not prepared for what he found in the fields just outside the city.

Vlad III Dracula was one of the most bloodthirsty men in history, for good reason. Even by the brutal standards of the day, Vlad set himself apart. His favorite form of torture and execution was “impalement”. During impalement, a long thick sharpened pole was inserted into the victim’s anus and the pole was then placed upright into the ground with the victim perched above. Over hours and sometimes days, the victim would slowly slide down the pole until sharpened end pierced out of the torso, or even the throat or mouth if the angle was correct. In an age of gruesome executions, impalement was probably the worst way to die.

On 23 June 1462, Mehmed approached Targoviste and found tens of thousands of his warriors and people impaled. All of the stragglers and any Turkish people Vlad captured, including prisoners from the recent raid, Vlad had impaled in front of Targoviste. An observer noted, “Twenty thousand men, women, and children had been spitted” and “There were infants too affixed to their mothers on the stakes, and birds had made their nests in their entrails…” The sultan called the grisly sight, “The Forest of the Impaled”. It had its intended effect on the Ottoman Army; Mehmed withdrew from Wallachia.

Thereafter Vlad III Dracula would be known as “Vlad Tepes” – Vlad the Impaler.

Miyamoto Musashi Defeats Sasaki Kojiro

Miyamoto Musashi, considered by many to be the finest swordsman ever, and the author of “The Book of Five Rings” fought his most famous duel on an island in the straits between Honshu and Kyushu, Japan on 13 April, 1612.
 
He defeated his rival by arriving “late” which gave him three advantages over the hot tempered Sasaki Kojiro. First, his tardiness angered and unnerved his opponent (though he himself didn’t feel tardy). Next, when Kojiro inevitably executed his famous move, the “Swallow Cut”, the sun would be in his eyes, and Musashi could then fatally strike. And finally, Musashi would be able to use the tide to help escape Kojiro’s many students who would undoubtedly attempt to kill him when he won.
 
The duel unfolded exactly as planned. After escaping, Musashi felt a deep sadness that one of the world’s greatest swordsmen was gone, and his instruction lost forever. He vowed to never fight to the death again. It was Miyamoto Musashi’s last duel in which there was a fatality.

The Battle on the Ice

In the late 12th century, the Hanseatic League colonized the upper Baltic around Livonia (modern day Estonia and Latvia), and began converting the pagan Finnic and Ugric peoples there to Christianity. They formed the crusading order The Swordbrothers of Livonia to forcibly convert the pagans. But after a serious defeat in 1236, the Livonian Order merged with another order, the Teutonic Knights.

The Teutonic Knights, who were the most dedicated to the Baltic Crusades (or Northern Crusades, as opposed to the earlier crusades in the Middle East) were themselves defeated by the Mongols along with their uneasy Polish allies at the Battle of Liegnitz in 1241. Checked in the south by the Mongols and the already Catholic Poles, the Teutonic Knights turned north to lands adjacent to their Livonian brothers, and sought to expand their conquests at the expense of the only Russian entity that did not fall to the Mongols, the merchant republic of Novgorod.

Novgorod was not Roman Catholic, but Eastern Orthodox and a legitimate, even preferred target for the Baltic Crusades. The mid-13th Century was the high point of the schism between Orthodoxy and Catholicism; the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople in 1204 from the Byzantines and in 1242 the city and a large portion of the Byzantine Empire was still part of a Roman Catholic state ruled by a transplanted French born nobility. A Teutonic conquest of rich Novgorod would be a serious blow to the primacy of Orthodoxy in Eastern Europe.

However, Novgorod was led by the young and energetic Prince Alexander Nevsky, who even at the age of 21, was a proven battle leader and adept politician. As the last remaining unconquered Kievan Rus holding, he knew the Teutonic Knights would take advantage of its weakness and attack the city. With the main Mongols army temporarily stymied by the vast marshlands to the east, he gathered his militia, some Mongol mercenaries who were left behind and bored, and the households of his boyars, or nobles, and attacked Livonia in the west, before they could do the same to him.

The raiding into Livonia in the cold March of 1242 brought the Teutonic Knights out of their castles before many of the “summer soldiers” (the crusaders, adventurers, and mercenaries that arrived every spring to loot and rape their away across the Baltic until it got cold.) could arrive. Nonetheless, the Teutonic Knights could muster 100 heavily armored brothers (easily the best trained and best equipped knights in Eastern Europe at the time), 800 superior German and Danish knights, and about 1800 Estonian, German, and Danish infantry.

Nevsky greatly outnumbered the Teutonic Knights but most of his army was of much lower quality. His best troops were the druzhina, the body guards and household companions of the boyars. That thousand was (very) roughly equivalent to the German and Danish knights if a bit more eclectic and not nearly as disciplined. His most numerous troops were the city militia of Novgorod and Finnic-Ugric tribesmen who knew the Teutonic Knights all too well. Though unarmored for the most part, combined they were a formidable mass at nearly 3500 men. Finally, Nevsky had 600 Mongol horse archers.

When the Teutonic Knights attempted to put an end to the embarrassing raids, Nevsky withdrew. The Teutonic Knights assumed that although Nevsky greatly outnumbered them, the poor quality of his troops wouldn’t be able to withstand a charge by the heavily armored knights. But Nevsky was just executing the time honored Russian tactic of withdrawing until turning and facing their attacker on the ground of their own choosing (See every invasion of Russia ever). On 5 April, 1242, Nevsky stopped marching and formed on the east bank of the frozen Lake Peipus.

By withdrawing to the east bank of the frozen lake, the Teutonic Knights were forced to charge across the ice to reach the Russian army. Nevsky drew up his men in three ranks with the tribesmen in front, the city militia behind, and the cavalry in the third, screened by the first two. The knights thundered across the lake and charged directly at the Russian infantry. Their target was Nevsky, as the army would disintegrate without him. However, their slipping and sliding on the ice lessened the blow significantly. The tribesmen and militia held despite horrendous casualties. In many places the ice broke under the immense weight of the charging knights. Fortunately for them Lake Peipus was shallow at the point where the battle was fought, so they didn’t drown. But many knights found it difficult to maneuver in the freezing water up to their stirrups or even knees, whether while engaging the spear and polearm wielding infantry dancing about the unbroken ice, or attempting to force their way through the unbroken ice to engage the infantry on shore. The surviving accounts of the battle describe the knights growing exhausted just from killing infantry, but they never broke. Moreover, the Knights never got close to Nevsky: he commanded from a position behind where he could effectively direct the battle in the Eastern tradition, unlike the Teutonic commander who was in the thick of the melee.

Once the Knights were committed, Nevsky then released some of his cavalry to flank the Knights to the south, while the horse archers did the same to the north. He kept the cream of the druzhina to await a suitable moment for a devastating counterattack. The Teutonic Knights saw the maneuvers, but the ice and the numerous infantry kept them from responding effectively. The horse archers in the north were particularly effective as the lighter horses were much more nimble on the ice, and the heavily laden knights could not effectively come to grips with the Mongols, who picked off the Danish knights at their leisure. The northern flank of the Teutonic line broke.

Nevsky ordered the remaining druzhina to charge into the gap. The Teutonic Knights were surrounded, and it was clear to everyone on the “field” of battle that the Knights’ cause was lost. Individually, then in groups, they began to cut their way out. The infantry routed and “countless Estonians were killed”. In their haste many perished when they traversed patches of thinner ice to avoid the pursuers and plunged into the icy water, which was much deeper the further they were away from the eastern shore.

Alexander Nevsky’s victory at the Battle on the Ice ended the Teutonic Knights’ ambitions on Russian territory. Once the Mongol threat subsided, they would eventually turn on Lithuania and Poland. Ten years after the battle, Nevsky was crowned Grand Prince of Vladimir, the supreme ruler of all Russians, and in 1547, he was canonized by the Eastern Orthodox Church. In 1938, the campaign and battle was immortalized in Sergei Eisenstein’s Soviet propaganda film, “Alexander Nevsky” which became very popular during the Second World War, even though it was taken out of circulation when Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union were allies between August 1939 and June 1941.

The Combat of the Thirty

With the death John III, Duke of Brittany (in today’s northeast France), the Houses of Blois and Montford fought for control of the Duchy in the Breton War of Succession, a “subwar” of the Hundred Years War between England and France. On 26 March 1351, thirty Breton knights and squires from French aligned House of Blois, and thirty English, Breton, and German knights, with squires and men at arms from English aligned House of Montford met at the “Place of the Midway Oak”.

The field was located between the castles of Plomeril and Josselin in Brittany. The arranged chivalric melee was to end the bitter raiding that plagued the lands of both Houses. After hearing Mass together, the two groups exchanged pleasantries and small talk for several hours before lining up to fight on trodden ground. The first clash was an inconclusive brawl in which many were wounded. Both sides broke off combat to tend the injuries, mingle, and share wine with their foes.

The second melee was much bloodier than the first and the wounded included the Blois leader, Jean de Beaumenoir. When he asked for water and a stop to the combat, his second replied “Drink thy blood, Beaumanoir; thy thirst will pass”. The combatants of Blois eventually broke the Montfords after killing their leader, the Englishman Robert Bramborough, and riding down the unhorsed Germans who attempted to form a shield wall on the open ground. Seven were killed on the Montford side, three on the Blois side (including the leaders of both) and everyone else was wounded, most seriously.

Everyone captured recovered from their wounds and were released after a small ransom. House Blois would eventually control Brittany, or “Little Britain”: one of the Six Celtic Nations. Up to that point, Brittany was much more culturally aligned with their liegemen across the channel, the Cornish of the southwest Kingdom of England. However the House Blois renounced any ties to England and became part of France, where it remains today.

The Battle of Castagnaro

By the Late Middle Ages, the increased trade with the Near East and Levant during and after the Crusades brought great riches to the small Italian city states. This patchwork of small ultra-rich petty kingdoms and merchant republics formed intense but ever changing rivalries with each other, whose political and military needs far exceeded what the mostly feudal societies could traditionally provide for, especially against the large armies of their neighbors. To fill their ranks, the ruling Italian families turned to contracts or “condotto” with professional mercenaries, or “condottieri”, literally contractors.
 
In 1360, the first phase of the Hundred Years War ended with the Treaty of Bretigny. Thousands of semiprofessional knights and their retinues were out of work. They had lived on the “chevauchée”, the looting and pillaging raids through the French countryside that forced the great feudal armies of France to attack the smaller but more professional English armies of knights and longbowmen to disastrous consequences. The less disciplined became brigands *spit*, but the more organized formed mercenary companies. Seeking richer lands, many made their way (while continuing to pillage across France) south to Spain to fight the Moors, or to Italy to seek employment as condottieri. One such company was the White Company, led by Sir John Hawkwood.
 
Sir John Hawkwood was the third son of a tanner and former English longbowman. He participated in all of the campaigns and battles of the first phase of the Hundred Years War including those at Crecy and Portiers. Sometime during that time he was knighted, and came to lead the White Company. In 1361, he made his way to Italy and for the next twenty years rose to be known as the greatest condottiero (mercenary warlord) through employment with the Papacy, Florence, Milan, and a host of others on a peninsula wracked by wars ostensibly caused by the Western Schism of the Papacy.
 
In 1387, Hawkwood was employed by the small city state of Padua which found itself invaded by the much more powerful Verona. The Veronese army was over 20,000 and included rival condottieri, the Veronese nobility, and thousands of peasants. The Paduan army stayed to prepare the city for defense, but sent Hawkwood with 8000 condottieri to slow the Veronese. True to form, Hawkwood launched his own chevauchée into the Veronese countryside, and forced his adversaries to chase him down. This allowed him to turn and face them at a place of his choosing. He chose to defend along the small canal at Castagnaro and anchored his right in a small wooded patch along the river.
 
On 11 March 1387, Hawkwood drew up his 6000 dismounted condottieri and archers along the canal and stuck his standard in the center of his line. The Veronese approached and filled the canal with fascines (bundles of branches), and charged across the canal directly at the White Company’s banner. With the death or capture of their war lord, the Veronese were sure the Paduan condottieri would stop fighting, as they wouldn’t get paid. The outnumbered Paduan army began to give way, and the banner was overrun. But Hawkwood could not be found, and the Paduans unexpectedly continued to resist.
 
Once the bulk of the Veronese were committed, Hawkwood’s second launched a flaming arrow above the woods. Hawkwood then sprung the trap.
 
2000 knights and mounted sergeants emerged from the woods with the 64 year old condottiero in the van with the real White Company banner fluttering triumphantly in the breeze. Screaming their war cry “Carne!” (or “The Flesh!”, a play on the ruling Paduan family’s motto “Carte!” or “The Cart”) Hawkwood and his heavily armored knights crashed into the flank of the Veronese line, and scattered the peasants and much of the lesser infantry. When the charging mass approached the much better armed Florentine and Veronese knights and nobility, they began to falter (mercenaries don’t get paid if they’re dead). However, Hawkwood threw his commander’s baton into the Veronese ranks and offered triple pay to any man who retrieved it. The charge for the baton broke the remainder of the Veronese army.
 
The Battle of Castagnaro was Sir John Hawkwood’s greatest victory, one of the greatest battles of the Golden Age of the Condottieri, and Padua was saved… at least for a few years.