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Steven H




Location: Boston
Joined: 10 May 2006

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PostPosted: Fri 01 Dec, 2006 10:15 pm    Post subject: Peasant Levies and Medieval Infantry         Reply with quote

Hello,

I recently read an article stating that the primary use of peasant levies during the Medieval period was as sappers/pioneers and woodcutters (such as for a siege), and not as front-line fighting men.

This makes a certain degree of sense. Using conscripts for activities that require little training and cheap equipment was the norm during other periods (such as musketeers).

So . . . is this right? Given the large time period and area answers will necessarily be generalizations or specific examples and I appreciate both.

Also, what types of infantry were used in the Medieval period and what roles did they play?

Thanks.

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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Randall Moffett




Location: Northern Utah
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PostPosted: Sat 02 Dec, 2006 12:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

not from what I can tell in 14th-15th century england. The king specifically was requesting Men at arms, hobelars, archers, armed men and other such soldiers from english towns the whole two centuries for their wars. I actually have never found any reference to them being employed so excluding that London sent a mangonell to the king (upon demand, I assumed manned).

Who wrote this article? I have never heard about this.

I am sure many peasant's and commoners were needed for such jobs though, I assume the recruitment of such men is different from what I look at, likely some official of the court goes and finds carpenters, masons, miners and the likes from the areas that had many such tradesmen. In England you have commisions of array for most places, where a board is set up in a county or town once the king's demands are sent. Other towns just have their civic government pick people. BEfore Edward I and the commisions of array the sheriffs often chose the men required by the king. This practice likely goes back at least to Henry II but possibly to the old Anglo-Saxon fyrd. I have never seen one demand requesting sappers or carpenters ir anything of that type.... France,Germany, Italy and spain all have systems of recruitment of men that draw up troops that indicate a battlefield role other than sapping and mining,etc.

RPM
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Sat 02 Dec, 2006 7:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If we're talking specifically about peasant levies, then yes, they were probably used only in non-combatant auxiliary roles. The archers and billmen requested in the Commissions of Array were far from being untrained "peasant levies"--they might be amateur warriors, but they definitely had some community training programs to facilitate their learning the art of handling their arms. The same was probably true with the fyrd and the Scots pike levies--their performance betrayed some rudimentary level of expertise, but no matter how rudimentary it was some sort of expertise. Even the Viking leidang was far from being a general levy--it generally included only the richer free farmers, not the thralls or landless laborers.

On the whole, I'd say that I agree with the opinion that warfare in the European Middle Ages was a business for professionals and trained amateurs, but not for untrained levies. On the incidents where we find (relatively) untrained levies being succesful in war, they were engaging in guerrilla-style ambushes and harrassment on their own initiative (i.e. without the command of their king or lord or whatever). When they got the stupid idea of engaging in battles at all they usually ended up getting massacred by better warriors.

Obviously records for such transient laborers would be hard to find because they are rarely given direct mention in the rolls. But look at the wartime records of the English royal treasury and you'll find mentions of "so-and-so and so many men, so many pounds, shillings, and pences." I wouldn't think all the men mentioned in such cases would have been skilled craftsmen, since it was often more efficient to employ skilled craftsmen as supervisors rather than actual workers except for the final and more detailed work.

We must not also lose sight of the various forms of unpaid labor that the lord could call up from his serfs and tenants. Some serjeanties came with the obligation to serve the lord in non-combatant roles in war, free peasants sometimes did labor as part of their rent payment, and it wouldn't have been strange to hear of serfs levied for corvee work.
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Randall Moffett




Location: Northern Utah
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PostPosted: Sun 03 Dec, 2006 12:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette,

Do you have any sources that are of the primamry sort for sommunity training programmes for war? This has been fairly well argued and most have left this point out as aside from archery there is not primary evidence for community warfare training I know of in England. There is only one I know of and it is hardly universal from FitzStepehens account on London in the 12th century.

Certainly many people going to the commissions of array were not inexperienced. Some men chosen were repeat veterans who had served 2 or 3 maybe more times. There were significant numbers who were first timers that as far as can be shown had NO training whatsoever.

I do not think I claimed that they were unexperienced of poor soldiers anywhere in my post nor do I think peasant levy requires them to do so. That was the purpose of commisions to chose smaller better groups of men instead of everyone thought I still contend they were often peasants, especially foot archers and some of the other groups, spearmen and such. I think there is nothing to indicate that peasant levy means unexperienced, untrained rabble.

AS far as professionalism that is an interesting thought I would leave to Vale, Keen and Lewis as this post I do not think was started to debate professionalism in medieval europe.

RPM
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Sun 03 Dec, 2006 5:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Perhaps where we differ here is how we interpret Steven's original post. I believe you took "peasant" to mean all the social classes outside the nobility and the gentry, whereas I am used to interpreting "peasant" as the very lowest class, excluding the burghers and the yeomen who formed the bulk of the Commission of Array levies. Did I get that right?
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Randall Moffett




Location: Northern Utah
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PostPosted: Sun 03 Dec, 2006 7:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette,

Yes I agree it seems to be in the definition of what is a peasant.

If you do have evidence of traingin do let me know. I have found accounts that mentions places that seem likely for training but never have found a single instance of organized training whihc would be great to find indeed. Although there are few accounts on knightly actual training as well. I have been studying commoners (non-nobles) and their relationships in warfare and this has always been the sticky point that is hard to by pass and would be great if it does exist. There is an excellent article on London's participation in the start of the 100 years war that has some great work done on the commoners involvement in war by Peter Koniezcy.

RPM
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Steven H




Location: Boston
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PostPosted: Sun 03 Dec, 2006 9:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette and Randall-
My meaning in using the phrase 'peasant levy' was the lowest members of society on par with or just above serfs. Individuals who would have little or no training or experience in combat, as well as minimal equipment. From what I've seen the common image of medieval infantry consisting of barely armoured, untrained farmers wielding farming tools seems to be wrong.

So most infantry in the era where knights\heavy cavalry reigned supreme were trained amateurs or professionals? Well, equipped, disciplined etc.?

Thanks.

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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Randall Moffett




Location: Northern Utah
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PostPosted: Sun 03 Dec, 2006 11:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Steve,

in that case only the defensive array, all men 16-60, would come close to fitting and these men would legally have to own at least some weapons for war (a bow,jack and sallet by the second half of the 15th). This is in England though. Outside the island it happens but in the late middle ages I imagine fairly infrequently.

RPM
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Sun 03 Dec, 2006 4:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Steven H wrote:
So most infantry in the era where knights\heavy cavalry reigned supreme were trained amateurs or professionals? Well, equipped, disciplined etc.?


Something like that. As a matter of fact, the most reliable source of infantry for much of the Middle Ages were dismounted knights and men-at-arms, and these men were certainly well equipped by the standards of their time.
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Sun 03 Dec, 2006 4:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:
in that case only the defensive array, all men 16-60, would come close to fitting and these men would legally have to own at least some weapons for war (a bow,jack and sallet by the second half of the 15th). This is in England though. Outside the island it happens but in the late middle ages I imagine fairly infrequently.


And also in Scotland, or at least the Lowlands with its wapenshaws and pike-armed levies--maybe it's part of their common Anglo-Saxon heritage.
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