Category Archives: Medieval Warfare

By Fire and Sword – Stonehearted Part 2 Published!

I am very pleased to announce the publication of By Fire and Sword, which is the second part of my series Stonehearted – and the sequel to By The Sword’s Edge.

By Fire and Sword is a Medieval action adventure story set in the year 1370.

The English have again brought fire and sword to the country of France. An army devastates the country on its march south to Paris, hungry for loot and glory. But redemption is what Richard Stone seeks—having run away from home after a family tragedy for which he is responsible. The French resist as best they can—but to stand and fight the English they learn is a fools game.

Eolande, neighbour of Richard’s, has also left home—in search of the father that was captured years ago and never returned. But even Calais the bastion of the English in France, is not welcoming to her.

By Fire and Sword is the second volume of Stonehearted. You can purchase from:

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Smashwords

If you want to get into the Stonehearted series now then the first part, By The Sword’s Edge is available for just £0.99 or $0.99 from most eBook retailers.  See below for purchase links:

Buy print and eBook at: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

Buy eBook at: Smashwords | Kobo | Nook | iBooks

 

Mystery of the Medieval Sword Inscription

This 13th-century sword with a gold inscription was likely made in Germany, but was found at the bottom of the River Witham in 1825. Credit: The British Museum
This 13th-century sword with a gold inscription was likely made in Germany, but was found at the bottom of the River Witham in 1825.
Credit: The British Museum

To be honest I thought that the inscription of swords was just something that happened in fantasy books and role-playing games – but it seems not! Most inscriptions were invocations to God to help out the person bearing the sword.

But a certain sword that is currently part of a 1215 Magna Carta exhibit at the British Library has got all the experts stumped, as no-one knows what the following means:

+NDXOXCHWDRGHDXORVI+

I must say that I certainly don’t – the signs of the cross that top and tail the inscription are standard for medieval spells as well, so maybe its a magical inscription – and perhaps that’s why it is so hard to decipher?

You can read the full story at livescience.

 

By The Sword’s Edge published – first part of serialized novel Stonehearted

By The Sword's Edge CoverI am currently writing a new novel set in the Hundred Years War called Stonehearted. As the novel is progressing quite well I thought it would be fun to release it in serial format every month or two. There should be four or five parts in total, each ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 words. I will then release the full novel once the last part has been finished.

By The Sword’s Edge is the first part and I have made it free for the moment to introduce new readers to the series. You can currently download it for free from Smashwords.

Here’s a bit more about the book:

By The Sword’s Edge is the first volume of Stonehearted, a serialized novel.

After a decade of peace England is again at war with France. But England’s warrior king, Edward III, is not the man he was. Ageing and turned to a life of pleasure, he will not lead an army into France again. And his eldest son, the famous Black Prince, suffers from a chronic illness while he tries to hold onto his principality of Aquitaine.

Many men in England have grown rich from war and some, like Sir Robert Knolles, have risen from the lowest ranks to lead great armies, and he will now lead a force into northern France to challenge the French to battle. But first he has a visit to make to a Norfolk manor to visit an old friend.

In By The Sword’s Edge two young people are thrust into the harsh realities of war. Richard Stone is a knight in training and son of a rich Norfolk merchant. Their neighbours are the d’Aubrays, who hold Sarbrook castle, but have sold or rent much of their land since falling into poverty. The lord of Sarbrook is missing in France, captured many years ago and not returned despite the payment of ransom. His daughter, Eolande d’Aubray is desperate for her father to return. Only he, it seems, can save her from the prospect of an unwanted marriage.

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French Cavalry Charge at Agincourt – Video From Medieval 2 Total War

I have been experimenting with some video capture software recently and recorded this brief video of the Battle of Agincourt from Medieval 2 Total War. The game version of the battle is actually pretty accurate.

This is the moment when the French cavalry wings charge the English and are defeated quite easily by the English longbowmen fire! By the way there is not supposed to be any sound!

I am thinking about paying for the full version of the software so I can record longer clips!

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PC Strategy Wargames and Realism

Medieval Total War2
Image via Wikipedia

This is something that has been bothering me for a while now. I’m a fan of PC computer games such as Medieval II: Total War and the other titles in that series, and I have also occasionally played a few other PC strategy wargames. Most of these vary in the amount of realism that they include, but usually they aim to get things like the effects of weapons, terrain, morale etc fairly accurate. You can argue about the finer details of how effective crossbows or longbows should be, but at the end of the day the differences aren’t too great, and if you’re into modding can be corrected by access to the game’s source files.

Where I feel that all such PC games always fall down is on the realistic portrayal of command and control. All PC games tend to allow the player pretty much omnipotent control of his forces. You click on a unit and command it where to go, and usually pretty soon it gets going. There might be a slight delay sometimes, but the order is obeyed and carried out.

Back in the 1980s when I was a schoolboy I was interested in actual wargames with lead figures etc, and although I didn’t get much further than playing a bit of Warhammer, I did buy War Games Rules: 3000 BC to 1485 AD by the Wargames Research Group, published in August 1980. These guys did wargaming properly, and for them it was all about accurately portraying what might happen on a battlefield, as well as the thrill of commanding troops and all the excitement associated with a game.

Now as any military historian will tell you, the ability of a commander to actually change the course of a battle in pre-modern times was fairly limited – things got better in the times of Napoleon I think, mostly because battles just took a lot longer – whole days, so things could be changed, but once troops were off and marching you would have to send them a message to change their orders. You would have to hope the messenger got through alive and then that the subordinate commander actually understood and correctly implemented the new order – by which time of course the situation of the battle may have changed radically.

War Games Rules: 3000 BC to 1485 AD  actually recreates such situations. Commanders are required to write orders for their units prior to the start of the battle. You can write standing orders which can be applied if certain circumstances occur, which is quite handy, but if you want to change orders during a battle you actually have to send an order to your units and tell them to do something different – this can be by some sort of pre-arranged signal, or by sending a messenger. And each type of order despatch is subject to realistic chances of success. If your General figure is engaged in combat then quite rightly you can’t send any commands – something that’s quite important during battles before the Early Modern period. For instance Henry V was engaged in hand to hand combat during Agincourt, and probably had the opportunity to change very few of his orders once the battle was under way – in fact the only decision he made during the battle was probably to kill the French prisoners because of the threat to English rear.

Should PC games reflect reality in this way? I think so. I think it would make games actually more challenging for players, more exciting and more realistic. You wouldn’t have the arcade style click and shoot style action, but I think the there would be a lot more involvement in actually planning and trying to react to events in time to make a difference, that would actually add to the excitement.

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How did the Carolingians Recruit their Armies in the Early Middle Ages

I have started a new series of articles about Medieval warfare off in the Medieval (Middle Ages) History and Literature section of the site. It’s a subject which has always fascinated me, and which I think is often misunderstood – we tend to either think of glorious knightly cavalry charges or heroic yeoman archers and maybe that’s it. What I hope to do is get behind some of the myths that circle about war in the Middle Ages.

The first article is The Recruitment of Armies in France and the Carolingian Empire, 650-1100. I think it’s interesting that in terms of military organization this era in the so called Dark Ages was in many ways more advanced and effective than during the later Middle Ages. Hope you enjoy the article!

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Forthcoming Medieval History Book: Divided Houses: Hundred Years War Vol 3 by Jonathan Sumption

Divided Houses

Paperback
ISBN:9780571240128
Published:01.03.2012
No of pages:700

The Hundred Years War, Volume 3: Divided Houses (The Middle Ages Series)
is the third volume of Jonathon Sumption’s epic history of the Hundred Years War. If you want to read about every turn of this conflict then I would recommend this series of books. I got this in hardback when it came out and its now going to be published in paperback – next March that is in the UK – so perhaps one to pre-order! Although I see if you follow my link above the US edition is coming out this autumn.

Here’s some more details from the publisher’s website.

Divided Houses is a tale of contrasting fortunes. In the last decade of his reign Edward III, a senile, pathetic symbol of England’s past conquests, was condemned to see them overrun by the armies of his enemies. When he died, in 1377, he was succeeded by a vulnerable child, who was destined to grow into a neurotic and unstable adult presiding over a divided nation.

Meanwhile France entered upon one of the most glittering periods of her medieval history, years of power and ceremony, astonishing artistic creativity and famous warriors making their reputations as far afield as Naples, Hungary and North Africa.

Contemporaries in both countries believed that they were living through memorable times: times of great wickedness and great achievement, of collective mediocrity but intense personal heroism, of extremes of wealth and poverty, fortune and failure. At a distance of six centuries, as Jonathan Sumption skilfully and meticulously shows, it is possible to agree with all of these judgments.

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Left Hand of God and Agincourt – not sure about this one?

SPOILER ALERT:

20110909-132247.jpg
You’ll need to have read Paul Hoffman’s Left Hand of God to appreciate this, so that’s why I’ve flagged this up as potentially a spoiler.

If you’ve read the book you’ll know that nest the end of the book there is a big battle between the Materazzi and the Redeemers. What I found unusual about this is that the battle pretty much exactly mirrors the historical battle of Agincourt of 1415. So the redeemers are the English, lots of archers, smaller numbers, and the Materazzi are the heavily armoured and over confident French. The battlefield is a narrow muddy field flanked by woods, the Redeemers use stakes to protect themselves from the Materazzi, etc etc. The only detail I think that is different is that there’s no equivalent of the French attack on the English camp that prompted the English execution of prisoners.

20110909-132439.jpgAs a description of Agincourt it’s all very good. But for me it doesn’t feel quite right in a fantasy novel. I enjoy the way that Hoffman plays with historical events in this book, so we have a pseudo Christian religion, we have a sort of WW2 eastern front allusions, we have place names such as York, Memphis, and Norway used, but not in their historical and geographical contexts. All well and good and nicely thought provoking, but somehow the dumping of Agincourt into the book didn’t work for me.

What do you think?

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Medieval Military Disasters: Frederick II’s Great Defeat at the Siege and Battle of Parma, 1247-1248

Siege and Battle of Parma, 1247-1248

Frederick II Hohenstaufen is famous for defying the Papacy and trying to create a unified Holy Roman Empire based on his Kingdom of Sicily. However, the infighting between the different factions in Italy and the antipathy and opposition of the papacy made this aim all but impossible. The Siege of Palma, which together with Milan was one of the most hostile cities opposing Frederick II, marked a turning point in the war, from which the Emperor would never recover.

The source for this information is Medieval Warfare by Hans Delbruck.Federico_II_Parma

According to the Annals of Parma Frederick II had an army of 10,000 men at this battle.

Frederick set up his fortified camp opposite the smaller part of the city of Parma on the left bank of the Torrente Parma. The camp was famously called Vittoria. From here Frederick’s forces could lay waste to the area around Parma and seek to prevent reinforcements. Frederick’s likely strategy would have been to starve Parma into submission.

The city not surrounded. To cut off the city completely would have required forts of circumference of five miles with approx 40,000 men needed to guard them. Even if forts had been placed at points around the city it is likely that a force larger than the one Frederick had available would have been required. The English chronicler Matthew Paris states, however, that there were a number of castles around the city, bearing the name Vittoria, so maybe Frederick did engage in this strategy.

Unfortunately I have been unable to find any historical or archaeological sources that describe the possible location of Frederick’s camp. Looking at modern maps of Parma it would appear that the terrain around Parma apart from the river that cuts through it was fairly level undulating hills, so it is unlikely that any particular geographical features played a large party in the position of his camp or the battle.

It seems that the siege was not being particularly successful as Parma had significant forces available. For instance the Mantuans brought assistance via the river Po to the north. However, Matthew Paris in his chronicle does related that the Parmese were suffering and that they even asked Frederick for peace, an offer that he rejected, warning them that they must use there corn sparingly as he would not give them any more while he lived.

In the winter of 1247-1248 Frederick released the contingents from Bergamo, Pavia, Tortona and Allesandria and detached some of his troops to Treviso and Allesandria.

The forces Remaining were 1,100 horse and 2000 foot from Cremona, and Saracen archers. With a total of maybe 5000.

When the Parmese sallied out on 18 February 1248 Frederick was hunting with probably around 500 horsemen. The Parmese intended to move up the Po against Frederick’s son Enzo. Half of their forces did so and the other half became embroiled in an unintended battle with the Imperial forces. Again Matthew Paris is at odds with this version of events, he claims that the Parmese knew Frederick was absent, and that they planned the attack at this time to move against his camp. One expects that this could be true as surely they would be able to see Frederick leave with his large hunting party.

The Imperial forces lost and the Parmese entered the camp of Vittoria. Parmese claimed 1500 Imperials killed and 3000 captured. The Placentine annals say only 100 knights and 1500 foot soldiers were killed or captured however. One of the dead was Frederick’s minister Thaddeus de Suessa. Frederick also lost his treasury and other items of his baggage.

Could Frederick have succeeded in starving Parma if he had not suffered the ill-luck of being absent when the Parmese sallied? The Parmese did not know of his absence and Frederick’s forces engaged without any real orders apparently. If Frederick was there it is quite probable that defeat would not have occurred and that the siege would have been maintained.

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A Song of Ice and Fire and Medieval Warfare

Depiction of a late 13th century joust in the ...
Image via Wikipedia

Although George R. R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire series are fantasy fiction, and therefore anything goes, there is no denying that it is set within a fairly strong medieval setting. The Knights, titled Ser rather Sir, ride warhorses, joust with lances, feast in castle halls etc. I think one of the strengths of the series is the setting which gets close to the feel of medieval warfare and chivalry but introduces some interesting fantasy elements as well.

However, there are a couple of things that have niggled me while reading A Clash of Kings this week. Both are two do with the practicalities of warfare:

  1. Cloaks! The city watch of King’s Landing are called the gold cloaks and the queen’s guard are the red cloaks, king’s guard are the white cloaks and then there’s the black cloaks of the Night’s Watch. This doesn’t work for me. When have you ever seen medieval knights (in pictures from the Middle Ages, not modern day films) running and riding around with cloaks on. Think about it for a second if you were fight with shield, lance, sword, warhammer or whatever, the last thing you need is a cloak getting in the way. Maybe on the march these would be worn, but they would hardly be the main motif. More probable would be a badge, like the livery badges worn by soldiers to denote their affinity in the middle ages. Famously Richard II’s men had a white hart badge for example, while John of Gaunt’s men wore a double SS badge which could be on their sleeve, chest or collar even. A surcoat over an armoured coat would also be quite common and might give a more prominent single-colour effect.
  2. Siege Engines! Renly Baratheon has a massive army that he is taking north to besiege King’s Landing (probably impossibly large by the way at about 100,000 men, but that’s another matter). And along with his army he bringing a whole load of siege engines including a huge siege tower. If you were marching anywhere along roads that probably weren’t going to be the best would you build your siege engines first and then take them with you? What would probably happen is that siege engines would be built when the siege happened. Either from locally sourced materials (very eco-friendly) or very possibly from pieces the army transported in wagons. Imagine getting a large siege tower to fit down a tree lined lane somewhere in the countryside or through a town with buildings leaning over into the road. There is evidence that favoured siege engines like the trebuchet that Prince Louis brought from France to besiege Dover Castle, were transported. But I think it is very likely that it would be brought in pieces and then put together at its destination. I know Renly’s supposed to be a bit dim, but that dim?

To me these are partly historical errors (which could be excused because it’s not historical fiction), but also logical errors. Cloaks in combat don’t work so why call your elite fighting unit by that epithet, and massive siege engines are just going to be very difficult to transport fully constructed.

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