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Todd Eriksen




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PostPosted: Sun 30 Jul, 2006 1:02 pm    Post subject: Robert the Bruce question         Reply with quote

Okay, it is a well known story that Robert the Bruce, before the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, cleaved through the helm and deeply into the brain of a young, rash English knight, named Henry de Bohun, who charged the Bruce when he was out on his own.
Here's my question for debate. Even standing up in your stirrups, would the Bruce have had enough force to split the helm and cause the severe damage and death of the Englishman. Yes, we must consider the momentum of Henry's horse, but there just seems to be too many factors to reason into this to make it reasonable.
1. Henry charged with a lance, Bruce stepped his horse to the side, nimbly, they say, thus allowing the lance to pass by harmlessly.
Could that really happen? War horses were trained, though it sounds like the Bruce was on a smaller horse before the battle, but could a simple sidestep against a trained horseman and knight be that simple to avoid?
2. Timing. With Henry's head bobbing, or the leaning this way or that, anticipating his lance striking home, what are the odd's that Bruce could have timed his swing so perfectly?
3. Standing in your stirrups, swinging across your body. How far would the distance have been against a charging horse? Could he really have gotten enough momentum and reach to perform such a feat?

Just food for thought. Interested in what you all say.

Ich Dien
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Sun 30 Jul, 2006 1:56 pm    Post subject: Re: Robert the Bruce question         Reply with quote

Since I have absolutely no relevant knowledge and experience to draw on, in the time honored tradition of all Internet forums, I'll answer this question as an armchair expert. Please remember my answer is based only on my subjective opinion with absolutely no objective foundation of research, study, or experience to rest upon. That being the case, and this being the Internet, my opinion should be considered absolutely authoritative by anybody who reads it!!! Big Grin

1. Henry charged with a lance, Bruce stepped his horse to the side, nimbly, they say, thus allowing the lance to pass by harmlessly.
Could that really happen? War horses were trained, though it sounds like the Bruce was on a smaller horse before the battle, but could a simple sidestep against a trained horseman and knight be that simple to avoid?

Yes

Yes

2. Timing. With Henry's head bobbing, or the leaning this way or that, anticipating his lance striking home, what are the odd's that Bruce could have timed his swing so perfectly?

100%

3. Standing in your stirrups, swinging across your body. How far would the distance have been against a charging horse? Could he really have gotten enough momentum and reach to perform such a feat?

Arms reach.

Yes

"Our life is what our thoughts make it"
-Marcus Aurelius

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
-John F. Kennedy


Last edited by Joe Fults on Sun 30 Jul, 2006 2:30 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Thomas McDonald
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PostPosted: Sun 30 Jul, 2006 2:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Aye, and than you gotta add in all the other bits that come into these situations ..... luck, more skill, hangover, terrain, more sleep, more adrenalin, sun in the eyes, bug in the eyes, rabbit hole, over confidence, etc., etc. ....

Probably not the input you seek, but in battle "s*i# happens"

Mac

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Arik Estus





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PostPosted: Sun 30 Jul, 2006 3:00 pm    Post subject: According to the books Ive read on him,         Reply with quote

historicly the Ax was the Bruce's favorite weapon. So he would know the quirks of useing one against an opponent.
Arik
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Steven H




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PostPosted: Sun 30 Jul, 2006 5:30 pm    Post subject: Re: Robert the Bruce question         Reply with quote

1. Dodging a single charging horseman should not be difficult. The charger has a lot of momentum while Robert has none and can therefore manuever nimbly. You could do the same thing in the list of a tourney but what would've been the point? (Or against a car)
2. The odds that Bruce did do it seem to've been 100%. However, was it some combination of luck and skill. Of course. But suggesting that a given hit is impossible is generally ridiculous, and once we concede that it is not impossible we have of course conceded that it is possible. If it is possible it will happen, just not necessarily very often.
3. Cavalry axes/hammers/swords are longer so the reach is perfectly reasonable. Experimental archaelogy suggests a limitation on how cleaved the helmet would have been. But hitting hard enough to kill even through a helmet seems quite reasonable.
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Rod Walker




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PostPosted: Sun 30 Jul, 2006 9:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's doable. I have done it more then once in mounted combat (with blunt weapons of course).

Cheers

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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Jan, 2009 1:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is one I have wondered about myself. Not if the general story is possible, but whether the order of events were exactly like the descriptions I have read: where then English Knight charged and the Bruce rode to meet him, first swerving his horse to avoid the lance and then rising on his stirrups to make the crushing ax blow.

I have never evaded a lance or swung an ax from horseback, but my professional area of academic expertise is in visually guided movement.

Supposing conservatively that they were riding toward each other at a leisurely pace of 20Km/hr (relative to each other, whoever was actually doing the charging). That's about 5.5 M (6 yards) per second. At this pace, just the distance between evading the lance and then striking (say 2-3M) would have been a fraction of a second (about 1/3-1/2 of a second). That's just enough time to modify a movement like an axe swing - but not enough time to evade the lance, then rise up in stirrups, and strike downward (which would take at least a second) let alone nudge the horse to turn away and back again. With the time it would take for that maneuver one would think that they would have passed by each other and/or the English Knight would have had plenty of time to react.

Unless:

1) after evading the lance by swerving the horse as described, they actually both slowed, turned back, and skirmished

or

2) instead, the Bruce was planning that blow and avoidance strategy from a ways back, had likely already risen in his stirrups before passing the tip of the lance, and himself briefly twisted out of the way just as he was midway through bringing his ax down. This seems more likely to me because he would have been able to gauge the rythym of the other rider in planning the movement and then just do minor last moment modifications based on visual feedback. Humans are very good at this sort of thing - generally it is done with little conscious thought or insight, just eyes on the goal.

My guess is that #2 is what happened, and it all happened so quickly that witnesses did not perceive it quite right (passive perception is generally much slower and less accurate than active movement control - and memory even worse). Option #1 would have taken longer and would have been more evident to the witnesses.

There is my theory based on my area of expertise - but then experiment should always trump theory.

-JDC
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Sun 11 Jan, 2009 2:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The "Cleaving of the helmet" is my biggst question. I guess the momentum of the in bound rifer would help if the swiwng has more of a horizontal than downward, but it would still be very very very tough IMO.

Killing the man wearing the helm would be far easier! Big Grin
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Xan Stepp




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Jan, 2009 3:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

First I must say that the difference between what is possible and what is plausible is huge. I don't think that the scenario described for the Bruce is very likely, but I see not convincing physical evidence that it would be impossible.

Also, to put it in a more modern perspective, think of a baseball batter. They have an estimated 0.4 s to see the ball and react' to decide swing or not, watch the spin and rotation, and decide whether the ball is going to hit them. On top of that some players manage not only to contact the ball, but they hit it with enough force to hit it out of the park.

This is not to say that a baseball player and the Bruce are identical or even close situations, but both show a remarkable degree of athleticism which may be considered impossible if people hadn't witnessed it.

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Scott Kowalski




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Jan, 2009 4:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If memory serves wasn't the Bruce thought to be one of the greatest knights of his era? I also believe that he lamented the fact that his favorite axe was destroyed during this incident. I will look to see if I can find where I read this. Taking these two facts into account I believe that it is possible that this event did occur. Though some embelishment might have been added over time.

Scott
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Ben P.




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Jan, 2009 5:51 pm    Post subject: Re: Robert the Bruce question         Reply with quote

Todd Eriksen wrote:
Okay, it is a well known story that Robert the Bruce, before the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, cleaved through the helm and deeply into the brain of a young, rash English knight, named Henry de Bohun, who charged the Bruce when he was out on his own.
Here's my question for debate. Even standing up in your stirrups, would the Bruce have had enough force to split the helm and cause the severe damage and death of the Englishman.

Mabye those guys were ridicously strong, also what weapon was he using?

Yes, we must consider the momentum of Henry's horse, but there just seems to be too many factors to reason into this to make it reasonable.
1. Henry charged with a lance, Bruce stepped his horse to the side, nimbly, they say, thus allowing the lance to pass by harmlessly.
Could that really happen? War horses were trained, though it sounds like the Bruce was on a smaller horse before the battle, but could a simple sidestep against a trained horseman and knight be that simple to avoid?

Well even a well trained horse can go on for about nine feet (minimum) before finally pulling up so yes the Bruce could have pulled that off


2. Timing. With Henry's head bobbing, or the leaning this way or that, anticipating his lance striking home, what are the odd's that Bruce could have timed his swing so perfectly?

Well if it was couched and he was braced and leaning forward his head and thus his helm may not have been moving much
3. Standing in your stirrups, swinging across your body. How far would the distance have been against a charging horse? Could he really have gotten enough momentum and reach to perform such a feat?

Well it would depend on how far The Bruce moved his horse
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Jan, 2009 6:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Impact while mounted can have much more energy than the energy most of us exert while test cutting on foot. If you work out the elapsed time and average speed of a cut, sword speed on foot is very roughly similar to what a stationary sword would do if held stationary in the hand while riding a mount at around 20 mph. Imagine riding and swinging, and there is some potential to roughly double the energy of sword impact against a stationary target while mounted compared to test cutting on foot. Add two mounted opponents going in opposite direction (head on collision), and energy might get more than twice as high as most of our test cuts performed on foot.

There are at least two accounts of helms worn by William of Marshal being so badly battered (not cut through, but just grossly deformed) in combat that he had to have work done on them to be able to remove them from his head. (One account is of early life tournament, and suspect as the entire tone of account is humourous and meant for public reading. The later account was in defense of his king and a city under very threatening circumstances, including death of a significant nobleman under his guard, based upon a letter from an associate, not likely to be exaggerated as it was not meant for public dissemination. Together, the accounts make total deformation of a helm under mounted combat convincing in the context of period equipment and surviving written account.)

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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R D Moore




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Jan, 2009 10:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I too, am an arnchair speaker here, but having spent a little time on horseback around cows, I can tell you that horses can be very nimble and some of them even seem to have an idea about what is going on, especially after they've done it a couple of times. So, yes to #1.

There was a documentary on the history channel that filmed a man trying to cleave a helmet with a broadsword but all he could muter was a severe dent. As Jared alluded to in his post, the force of a blow could increase geometrically with the combined energy of the Bruce's swing and the forward speed of his horse as his blade collided with the helm of the oncomming rider, and all of that energy comming from the oposite direction. So, #2: the Bruce's blow may have cracked the knights helm (and put a dent in it he would not soon forget) but i don't think it would have "cleaved" through it before shattering.

If his horse just dodged a lance, how could the Bruce swing across his body? More likely he would have swung a sweeping blow from standing in his stirups? So his reach would have been 3 1/2 or 4 feet? Certainly doable, so yes to #'3.

"No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation" ...Gen. Douglas Macarthur
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Al Muckart




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PostPosted: Mon 12 Jan, 2009 12:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gary Teuscher wrote:
The "Cleaving of the helmet" is my biggst question. I guess the momentum of the in bound rifer would help if the swiwng has more of a horizontal than downward, but it would still be very very very tough IMO.


Don't underestimate the possibility that the unfortunate Englishman had a dodgy helm while the Bruce had a good axe.

There is a very interesting article authored by, among others, David Edge, published in the journal Neruoscience and entitled Head Protection in pre WWI England that looks at the metallurgy, construction, and padding in early head protection. It costs money to download from their site but it's worth reading. What I got out of it was that by modern standards a lot of what was being worn was by modern standards scarily ineffective. It was obviously better than nothing but I sure wouldn't want to fight in it.

In 1314 when the battle of Bannockburn took place it is also not out of the question that Henry de Bohun was wearing a flat topped great helm, which would have been a lot easier to land a square hit on than a bascinet - though the latter would be far from impossible since whatever he was wearing was most probably unhardened iron rather than steel, which the English didn't start to get good at until the Tudor period.

No doubt it was a good shot, otherwise people probably wouldn't still be talking about it 650 years later, but I'd venture that there are few, if any, people alive today who have anything like the proficiency with medieval weaponry that a trained fighter of the Bruce's caliber would have had, so it is difficult to evaluate from modern experience.

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Al Muckart




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PostPosted: Mon 12 Jan, 2009 1:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

To anyone who has questions about the ability to of another rider to sidestep a charging lancer, I would point you at this video of a bullfighting horse called Merlin. It was linked to by Will MacLean on his blog a while ago and, irrespective of your position on the morality of bullfighting, it is an incredible demonstration of the capabilities of an extremely highly trained horse and rider. In particular, check out the sidestep 57 seconds in.
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Jonathan Blair




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PostPosted: Mon 12 Jan, 2009 4:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Considering the fact that such a big deal was made concerning the Scottish king's way of killing de Bohun leads me to think that it was one of those moments where everything went just right for the Bruce. Any one thing could have spelled disaster for him; not sidestepping far enough, a bird getting spooked in front of his horse (which obviously didn't happen but could have if a bird had been present), the wood haft of the axe not breaking (possibly resulting in an arm injury to the Bruce), misjudging de Bohun's angle of attack, de Bohun having a stronger helm, direction as opposed to time of day and weather conditions (sun in the eyes versus not having the sun in the eyes), even breathing. Regardless of skill, there are so many factors that affect battlefield tactics that the chaos of the moment can allow something to happen that could never be exactly repeated.
"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." - The Lord Jesus Christ, from The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, chapter x, verse 34, Authorized Version of 1611
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Richard Hare




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PostPosted: Mon 12 Jan, 2009 7:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Bruce was very proficient, so it is quite doable to hit someone square with an axe. wether this just mashes the helm with a head in it, or cuts through the helm is completely lost on the target.

Re. dodging and striking from horseback, this can be seen in a game of polo.
I know the strike is at a different angle, but it amazes me how they can judge distance and hit the ball with any accuracy at all when at a canter or sometimes a dead run!....particularly with such a long "weapon"

I am sure the best polo player spends less time at his sport than knights used to spend practicing for theirs.
Add to this Adrenalin, and the near impossibe is possible!

Richard.
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Mon 12 Jan, 2009 8:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I guess my biggest question/problem with it is It would be extremely difficult with a straght downwards strike, as the momentum of the moving horses is not working with you, all it's doing is making the timing tougher.

Now for a more horizontal or even a 45 degree strike it would make more sense.

Appliying this to the baseball analogy - a downward strike would be hitting a ball with a straight downwards swing, you are not going to generate a ton of force if you even hit it. A one level swing will generate power and be more likley to hit, though coming from an angle of maybe 45 or so would make it tougher to block with a shield.
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Xavier B




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PostPosted: Mon 12 Jan, 2009 8:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello,

Weapons that made Britain

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-gfclxfnpo&feature=related
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James Arlen Gillaspie
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PostPosted: Mon 12 Jan, 2009 9:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I always assumed that de Bohun was crossing the Bruce's right (a no-no in the tournament for single combat though occasionally done in the mounted melee, impossible of course if a tilt was used (MUCH later jousting addition, long after this time), and that the Bruce was right handed, and the blow was no more than 45 degrees from the horizontal, as that is how I would have struck. I don't remember anything in the account that would preclude a strike to the forehead, and de Bohun crossing the Bruce's right would make the distance he had to reach a good deal shorter. But was the Bruce right handed?
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