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Kirk K.





Joined: 24 May 2016

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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 5:36 pm    Post subject: Archer's defensive positions         Reply with quote

In many battles units of archers would set up defensive fighting positions. A flat area of packed earth was needed to provide a stable platform for the archers to fire from. Dug-out dirt, rocks and debris was stacked into a berm at the front of the fighting position. Sharpened stakes were placed at the front of the berm.

I read accounts of individual archers being required to provide their own digging and chopping tools to prepare their own fighting positions. With larger armies, large units of archers might have dedicated work crews attached to do the prep work. So far as tools, it is about what you would expect; picks, spades and shovels for digging, brush hooks for clearing, axes for cutting stakes and mallets and mauls for driving them in.

Since fighting positions could be and occasionally were overrun by the enemy, weapons other than the bow were obviously required. The aforementioned agricultural implements were frequently used as defensive weapons in the ensuing melee. Short axes, long knives and mallets were carried on many archer's belts for both utility and defense. The war hammer was one particularly popular defensive weapon among archers. Anything that was effective, available and did not interfere with shooting the bow might be carried.

Please post your thoughts and observations about archer's defensive positions. It is an interesting topic, but I could find no dedicated threads about it, so here we are.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 6:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

"Stable platform"? I'm outside my strong area, but never heard of that! It's not like soft ground or wet grass was too wobbly to shoot from, was it?

I'd also be careful about "agricultural implements were frequently used as defensive weapons". Crecy springs to mind, but I only recall the mention of mallets. What other battles saw this happening, out of curiosity?

Matthew
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Kirk K.





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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 9:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
"Stable platform"? I'm outside my strong area, but never heard of that! It's not like soft ground or wet grass was too wobbly to shoot from, was it?
As always, it depends. If your targets are close or packed in tight, footing for the archer is less of an issue. You will likely be firing en masse in that situation anyways. And in setting up a hasty fighting position you obviously will not have the time to make it pretty.

But in a large battle an archer may be in his fighting position for days. Just the movement in that confined area over an extended period of time will churn the soil into mud. Firing with relatively dry, stable footing as compared to a mud pit is definitely less tiring and allows for greater accuracy. Also keep in mind that the archer would likely be living and sleeping in this position. Better to just build it right the first time so you do not have to worry about it at some critical moment in the battle.
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Quote:
I'd also be careful about "agricultural implements were frequently used as defensive weapons". Crecy springs to mind, but I only recall the mention of mallets. What other battles saw this happening, out of curiosity?

Matthew
Agricultural bills, picks and other farm implements were widely used by peasant militia at the time. Archers were mostly also peasant militia, were they not? I read that when their positions were overrun archers would grab whatever what was at hand to repel an attack. They did not normally carry pole arms, so the idea that they would use mallets alone seems odd to me. If being attacked by guys with pikes or spears I would be grabbing something with a long handle on it. I am not saying you are wrong. I am just saying I need to look into more until I understand it.
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Bram Verbeek





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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 10:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

When you refer to "at the time" could you state that timeframe more clearly?
I do not recall peasant levies at a larger scale, nor people camping in the place where they stand as they do battle.
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Kirk K.





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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 11:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bram Verbeek wrote:
When you refer to "at the time" could you state that timeframe more clearly?
The Medieval period in general.
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Quote:
I do not recall peasant levies at a larger scale
I doubt a major military campaign could be waged at all without peasant levies. There is a huge amount of scut work to be done so they had to have them. They were also a semi-useful reserve force when you had nothing else left. And of course these peasants would defend themselves with whatever they had at hand if the enemy penetrated their rear area (no rude jokes, now! 😉).
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Quote:
nor people camping in the place where they stand as they do battle.
Archers regularly set up and slept in fighting positions during long sieges. The same would be true of positions set up to block or guard a critical choke point like a pass or road junction. Not all or even most of an archer's military duties involved full-fleged battles.
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Harry Marinakis




PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 4:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The illuminated manuscripts generally show archers carrying nothing but longbows and swords. I have yet to see depictions of axes or mallets.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 4:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is a single source, a Burgundian present at Agincourt, who describes archers attacking with swords, mallets and billhooks. Outside of that one account I have only read about them using swords and swords and bucklers, both in accounts of battles and occasional surveys or description of archers we find in medieval works.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 5:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Monstrelet says they had "swords, axes, hammers, falchions, and other weapons of war."

Waurin says they had hatchets, mauls, and something called bec-de faucon ("falcon's beak")

The Gesta Henrici says they took up "axes, stakes, swords, and spear heads"

The Religieux de Saint Denis says they had "great lead covered mauls from which a single blow on the head could kill a man or knock him senseless to the ground"

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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 5:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Monstrelet says they had "swords, axes, hammers, falchions, and other weapons of war."

Waurin says they had hatchets, mauls, and something called bec-de faucon ("falcon's beak")

The Gesta Henrici says they took up "axes, stakes, swords, and spear heads"

The Religieux de Saint Denis says they had "great lead covered mauls from which a single blow on the head could kill a man or knock him senseless to the ground"


I only have the English translation from De Re Militari, do you have the original french one?
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 5:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

No. All of these are in Curry's book. She is generally pretty careful with her translations.

One of the other chronicles says that the archers used axes to kill the French prisoners and mutilate their faces. It seems pretty clear that the archers carried axes or hatchets.

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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 5:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
No. All of these are in Curry's book. She is generally pretty careful with her translations.

One of the other chronicles says that the archers used axes to kill the French prisoners and mutilate their faces. It seems pretty clear that the archers carried axes or hatchets.


Is there any indication these were something besides ordinary wood cutting axes? Because those would certainly help with sharpening stakes and cutting down the occasional tree.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 5:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Does it matter? It seems pretty clear that they were used in battle.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 6:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Would it be a fun exercise to look at battles where archers did not set up man made or natural defenses?


Dan Howard wrote:
Does it matter? It seems pretty clear that they were used in battle.


Yes and no.

No, whatever worked for medieval folks in battle apparently worked so it doesn't really matter what it was.

Yes, I am rather interested in knowing if specialized battle axes saw use by infantry during the late medieval period. But I think we would derail the thread a little to much if we start discussing axes.
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Mikko Kuusirati




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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 6:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:
Yes, I am rather interested in knowing if specialized battle axes saw use by infantry during the late medieval period.

FWIW, I've seen period illustrations of pikemen and halberdiers armed with axe and buckler, usually with the axe tucked under the belt behind the person in a position similar to how katzbalgers and cinquedea were often worn.

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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 10:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk K. wrote:
Matthew Amt wrote:
"Stable platform"? I'm outside my strong area, but never heard of that! It's not like soft ground or wet grass was too wobbly to shoot from, was it?
As always, it depends. If your targets are close or packed in tight, footing for the archer is less of an issue. You will likely be firing en masse in that situation anyways. And in setting up a hasty fighting position you obviously will not have the time to make it pretty.

But in a large battle an archer may be in his fighting position for days. Just the movement in that confined area over an extended period of time will churn the soil into mud. Firing with relatively dry, stable footing as compared to a mud pit is definitely less tiring and allows for greater accuracy. Also keep in mind that the archer would likely be living and sleeping in this position. Better to just build it right the first time so you do not have to worry about it at some critical moment in the battle.


Huh. Assuming you're talking mainly about sieges, I'm still a little dubious. For starters, you need rain for mud, typically, so if the weather's pretty dry there won't be enough mud to worry about. Not that siegeworks were *nice* places, by any means! Are there a lot of descriptions of these sieges or other situations with troops sleeping in the mud at their posts?

Quote:
Quote:
I'd also be careful about "agricultural implements were frequently used as defensive weapons". Crecy springs to mind, but I only recall the mention of mallets. What other battles saw this happening, out of curiosity?

Matthew
Agricultural bills, picks and other farm implements were widely used by peasant militia at the time. Archers were mostly also peasant militia, were they not? I read that when their positions were overrun archers would grab whatever what was at hand to repel an attack. They did not normally carry pole arms, so the idea that they would use mallets alone seems odd to me. If being attacked by guys with pikes or spears I would be grabbing something with a long handle on it. I am not saying you are wrong. I am just saying I need to look into more until I understand it.


Is this more of the "peasant rabble with pitchforks" myth? Everything that I've read about levies of farmers or townsmen indicates that there were laws and regulations dictating what weaponry each man had to have, according to his wealth and income. The minimum was a spear and either a shield or a gambeson, depending on the era, often with a helmet and sidearm. Sure, there could be a force of laborers or servants as well, with tools but not really armed for battle, but those would NOT be considered infantry or archers! And archers seem to be a step *up* from basic spearmen, so they'd be more likely to be better equipped.

But the whole idea of mobs of ragged farmers going to battle with sticks or scythes is really a modern one, not the reality of a medieval battlefield.

Matthew
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Kirk K.





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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 4:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I do not recall saying that "mobs of ragged farmers" would regularly be sent into battle "with sticks and scythes" right alongside regular troops. I know better, so no, you cannot tar me with that stereotype. Please stick to what I actually say. Peasant militia could be used in extremis as a last-chance reserve force, but I know full well the standard was to keep them away from the fighting if at all possible. Probably almost all the battles fought by peasant militia were cases, as I said, where the enemy penetrated the rear areas and they were forced to defend themselves.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 7:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk K. wrote:
I do not recall saying that "mobs of ragged farmers" would regularly be sent into battle "with sticks and scythes" right alongside regular troops. I know better, so no, you cannot tar me with that stereotype. Please stick to what I actually say.


My apologies. But your description of them seems at odds with what I know. Granted, it's been a long time since I looked at this, and there are others who know it far better than I do!

Quote:
Peasant militia could be used in extremis as a last-chance reserve force, but I know full well the standard was to keep them away from the fighting if at all possible. Probably almost all the battles fought by peasant militia were cases, as I said, where the enemy penetrated the rear areas and they were forced to defend themselves.


Well, I'm thinking of battles like Courtrai, where Flemish militia defeated French cavalry. Or Bannockburn, Scottish levies wrecking English cavalry charges. Heck, even Harold's army at Hastings was largely fyrdmen. There were some battles in England that I've lost the names of--in any case, the impression I've gotten is that while professional mercenaries were generally considered better for infantry, levied commoners were often quite capable at least at holding their position and resisting attack. As you noted yourself, English archers were also levied commoners, and the general wisdom is that they didn't do too bad on at least a few occasions. Again, someone who knows more may point out that the archers at battles like Crecy and Poitier were actually professionals, I don't know!

But I DO believe the usual levied infantry was worth at least a bit more than you seem to give them credit.

Matthew
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Kirk K.





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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 8:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Kirk K. wrote:
I do not recall saying that "mobs of ragged farmers" would regularly be sent into battle "with sticks and scythes" right alongside regular troops. I know better, so no, you cannot tar me with that stereotype. Please stick to what I actually say.


My apologies. But your description of them seems at odds with what I know. Granted, it's been a long time since I looked at this, and there are others who know it far better than I do!

Quote:
Peasant militia could be used in extremis as a last-chance reserve force, but I know full well the standard was to keep them away from the fighting if at all possible. Probably almost all the battles fought by peasant militia were cases, as I said, where the enemy penetrated the rear areas and they were forced to defend themselves.


Well, I'm thinking of battles like Courtrai, where Flemish militia defeated French cavalry. Or Bannockburn, Scottish levies wrecking English cavalry charges. Heck, even Harold's army at Hastings was largely fyrdmen. There were some battles in England that I've lost the names of--in any case, the impression I've gotten is that while professional mercenaries were generally considered better for infantry, levied commoners were often quite capable at least at holding their position and resisting attack. As you noted yourself, English archers were also levied commoners, and the general wisdom is that they didn't do too bad on at least a few occasions. Again, someone who knows more may point out that the archers at battles like Crecy and Poitier were actually professionals, I don't know!

But I DO believe the usual levied infantry was worth at least a bit more than you seem to give them credit.

Matthew
The 'Medieval times' we are talking about spanned continents and centuries. Yes, there are several notable examples of peasant militia used as regular combat troops, successfully so. But overall I think that was more the exception than the rule, so I am going to stand by my assertion that generally speaking peasant levies (archers obviously excepted) were not used as dedicated fighting units.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2016 12:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Peasant militias and levies were the exception in Europe, not the norm. We have muster records covering the entire medieval period and pretty much all of them have minimum equipment requirements. If a man turned up without the specified weapons, he would be fined and sent home. He would not be allowed to fight with a pitchfork or pruning hook.
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Kirk K.





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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2016 1:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There seems to be an unhealthy obsession with pitchforks on this thread. 😃

I would submit that muster roles were only used for levies of peasants meant to be fighting men, which would explain why such records are rare. After all, if you brought along peasants to do the necessary scut work but not combat would you really place such workers on a muster role? Yet as I said, I seriously doubt any major military campaigns were launched without a significant force of such non-combatants; precisely the peasant levies I have been talking about.
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