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Ranks of Medieval Anglo-French armies

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Ranks of Medieval Anglo-French armies

Postby LEGO_KNIGHT » Thu Jun 21, 2007 7:06 am

Compared to the Persians, Greeks, Romans and maybe the Mongols, what are the official ranks terms used Anglo-French armies?

For example, the Persians:
Starting at the bottom, a unit of 10 was called a dathabam and was led by a dathapatish. A unit of 1,000 was a hazarabam and commanded by a hazarapatish. A unit of 10,000 was a baivarabam and commanded by a baivarapatish. The Greeks called such masses of troops a myrias or myriad. Among mounted troops, an asabam was a cavalry unit led by an asapatish.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_rank


Did the Anglo-French armies operate in this manner? I can only think that their armies operate based solely on feudalism. After the decline of feudalism, another source states that England was one of the most centralized states in the Middle Ages, and the armies that fought the Hundred Years' War were mostly paid professionals. Were they divided into battalions, companies, platoons, squads like modern 19th century armies?
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Postby Damien » Thu Jun 21, 2007 10:53 am

Medieval soldiery were divided a huge number of ways, and generally not always ways that make sense (a knight might serve -under- a squire, for instance). Especially when talking about Western Europe you run into the issue that the answer is "it depends." Even narrowly defining your target by 'Anglo-French' - you are talking huge differences depending on time period.

In general, you can't go wrong with 'battles' and 'lances' - which were common divisions. A 'lance' generally was a single knight and his immediate retainers. A battle would be a given number (fluctuates by a huge number of circumstances) of lances. Add to that the interesting circumstance where leaders of particular units were not always, or even usually, distinguished by a title. One knight could be responsible for many other knights, with no special titular distinction. Further, they could have all kinds of wacky, nonsensical titles like "The Marshal of Roeun" or "The Warden of Paris."

Utterly confusing subject that requires entire books to thoroughly and satisfactorily explain. Even after reading such works, you'll probably find yourself saying "huh?"
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Postby LEGO_KNIGHT » Thu Jun 21, 2007 2:26 pm

Interesting. It seem that as I try to find out more, the informations are divided into several branches after another.

An interesting read was about the compagnies d'ordonnance. Please dont mind as I simply qoute the texts from the articles. The compagnies d'ordonnance was the late medieval forefather of the modern Company and consisted of 100 Lances fournies, which was built around a centre of knights, with assiting pages or squires, archers and men-at-arms for a total of 700 men.

Raised by the King, the compagnies d'ordonnance were a part of the French army reforms of the 1440s, which eventually lead to the French victory at Castillon in 1453, and the conclusion of the Hundred Years' War. The origins of this name is often attributed to the order or "ordenance", act of arranging, by the King of France Charles VII in 1447 for a permanent body of cavalry.

This professional army was supported by a new class of militia, the Francs-Archers, following the edict of the 28th of April 1448 by the same King.
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Postby LEGO_KNIGHT » Thu Jun 21, 2007 2:37 pm

The Lances fournies was a medieval army squad, consisting of a four to ten man team built of man-at-arms, (usually mounted) swordsmens, archers and attendants. These units formed companies under a captain either as mercenary bands or in the retinue of wealthy nobles and Royalty. A Lance was usually led and raised by a Knight in the service of his liege, yet it is not uncommon in certain periods to have a mounted swordman, such as a serjeants-at-arms, lead a Lance. More powerful Knights, also known as a Knight bannerets, could field multiple Lances.

Sources on the exact composition of a Lance are few and often centuries apart, one example of the Lance consisted of a Knight, two Pages or Squires (or one of each), three men-at-arms and a single archer.

At the onset of the French Compagnies d'ordonnance, the Lances Founies were formed around a knight with a retinue of a page or squire, three archers and two men-at-arms (known as the serjeants-at-arms and Coutilier). All members in a Lance were mounted for travel but only the knight and the men-at-arms would fight on horse back, although the men-at-arms would generally act as infantry.

Lances would be further organized as Companies, each company numbering about 100 lances, effectively 400 plus fighting men and servants. These companies were sustained even in peace, and became the first standing army in modern Europe.

The last Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold tried to organise his army in 1250 lances of 9 men : A knight, a non-combatant page and seven fighting men, be they either Archers, Men-at-arms or Squires. In all, his army would have numbered 10,000 men, in 10 companies had he not died prior to its rearrangement.

The Lance had no consistent strength of arms through out its usage as a unit. Different centuries and different states gave it a fluctuating character. This can readily be seen in its origins, which lie in the retinues of medieval Knights. When called by the Nobility, the Knight would command men from his fief and possibly those of his liege lord or in this later's stead. Out of the Frankish concept of Knighthood, associated with horsemanship and its arms, a correlation slowly evolved between the signature weapon of this rank, the horseman's lance, and the military value of the rank. In other words, when a noble would speak of his ability to field forces the terms of Knights, Lances became interchangeble.

The term itself of Lance Fournies appeared much the same way as the Compagnies d'ordonnance "Les Lances fournies pour les Compagnies d'ordenance du Roi." or The lances furnished for the Companies ordered by the King.
Last edited by LEGO_KNIGHT on Thu Jun 21, 2007 2:45 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby LEGO_KNIGHT » Thu Jun 21, 2007 2:38 pm

The next 'step up' in the military hierarchy from the man-at-arms was the Serjeant, a man of lesser rank and wealth to a Knight, but with comparable equipment and training. Although the social structure of the Norman society of England was generally static, the easiest manner for a man to attain social rank and improve his standing was through military service, as the Norman states, unlike the Germanic ones, believed in Knighting men of common birth who demonstrated nobility and courage on the field. Although this was rare, it was known, and therefore some Men-at-Arms would advance socially to the status of serjeants, and possibly knights if they performed a great notable deed and received reward. The knighting of squires and men-at-arms was sometimes done in an ignoble manner, simply to increase the number of knights within an army (such practice was common during the Hundred Year's War).

The term was used during the Hundred Years' War to refer to men not of the higher order, who fought either on horseback or on foot with swords and armour. A knight was technically a man-at-arms, but a man-at-arms was not a knight. In this way it was understood that a 'man-at-arms' was a man of the higher echelon of the military scale, but neither of noble birth nor a knight himself. By this time, the term was only ever used to refer to professional soldiers, usually of a distinctly higher order than archers or billmen and serving in roughly the same tactical role as knights, differing only in legal and social status. The term was phased out during the 16th century.
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Postby LEGO_KNIGHT » Thu Jun 21, 2007 2:54 pm

A Knight banneret, sometimes known simply as banneret, was a feudal knight (not necessarily a nobleman, but nearly always) who led a company of troops into battle under his own banner (which was square-shaped, in contrast to the tapering standard or the pennon flown by the lower-ranking knights) and were eligible to bear supporters in English heraldry.

A knight banneret ranked higher than a knight bachelor (who fought under another's banner), but lower than a baron or baronet.

The word derives from the French banneret, from bannire, banner, elliptical for seigneur - or chevalier banneret, Medieval Latin banneretus.

Under English custom the rank of knight banneret could only be conferred by the sovereign on the field of battle. There were some technical exceptions to this; when his standard was on the field of battle he could be regarded as being present though he was not. His proxy could be regarded as a sufficient substitution for his presence.
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Postby Donut » Thu Jun 21, 2007 8:57 pm

Very interesting thread, will come back to learn more!
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Postby Damien » Thu Jun 21, 2007 9:45 pm

See, a lot of the stuff you're quoting here runs into the exact problem I noted before; these sometimes 'random' ranks are not necessarily indicitive of actual type of military service. Serjeants could command over knights (especially at the end of the medieval period), as could Squires. Knight bannerets could fight under knight bachelor's, if ordered to do so.


What you are quoting is social ranking, not military ranking.


Under English custom the rank of knight banneret could only be conferred by the sovereign on the field of battle.


This isn't true at all. Just off-hand, without even thinking about it, I can name two English knights that were elevetated to 'banneret' status while there was no battle to be fought. And in a time when we actually know very few knights by name and proper rank -- 2 is a lot. Especially when there's also no historical documentation to support the presumption that knight bannerets were made on the field. Indeed, I've never read such a thing, to my recollection.



Also, some of the other things you posted are exclusive to the end of the medieval period, not just to the 'Anglo-French.' Like I implied before, you need to qualify your question with a time period to find anything approaching relevant facts. The Lances Fournies, the knighting of common men on a semi-broad basis, things like this were the beginning of a more modern mode of warfare and did not happen until, as I said, the beginning of the end (mid 14th century).


Interesting. It seem that as I try to find out more, the informations are divided into several branches after another.


By several branches do you mean time periods? The medieval world was in a consistent state of flux, and information correct to 1200 is outdated, even 'antique' by 1300.
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Postby The Blue Knight » Fri Jun 22, 2007 2:25 am

Damien rightly points out the Byzantine nature of the Medieval world in general, and military tradition in specific. Modern people tend to lump the medieval era into one bucket, but this is a mistake. That mistake owes more to the modern TDC (Thinly Disguised Contempt) for such things as the medieval world, than any truth from the era itself. There is a tendency to consider the Europeans of the time as near-barbarians incapable of any level of sophistication; another huge and very common mistake. Europeans of the time were very sophisticated and creative and survived a very challenging time period for the area. This is not to ignore their comparitive lack of sophistication to such contemporaries as Arab culture, and China, for example.

This can be illustrated with a modern military analogy. The US Army of WWII would have been hopelessly outmatched by the US Army of the 1991 Gulf War, and in turn that 1991 army would be overmatched by today's US Army (I use the US example because, well, I'm American). But 1945 to 1991 are in the same century, shouldn't they be "the same?" Of course not. Of course we know that because we are around now. People today weren't alive back in medieval times, and a misconception is born!

Military naming conventions changed very quickly indeed, with the rise and fall of hereditary political leadership, and the changing of languages brought on by military actions. The technological rate of change may have slower than that of today, yet it changed nonetheless. Our beloved castles were state of the art military architechture in 1075, but by 1575, we were all but dinosaurs.

And of course we must add in the human factor. Any tin-pot local leader could grant himself any kind of wildly grandiose and perfectly undeserved title. And bestow similar (yet lesser because after all, he was the tin-pot) titles on his henchmen.

Long term military tradition finds it's origins in the Renaissance and the end of the fuedal system, a time when stable nation-states asserted control, rather than charismatic, but unstable, individuals.

In the end, thats what makes studying the period so fascinating; tracking the changes and seeing how some of them, or some aspect, is still in our culture today.
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Postby LEGO_KNIGHT » Fri Jun 22, 2007 2:42 am

Thanks for the info, Damien. I understand what you mean. I've never come across these articles, so it simply amazes me.

By several branches do you mean time periods? The medieval world was in a consistent state of flux, and information correct to 1200 is outdated, even 'antique' by 1300.


Yes, utterly confusing as stated by you earlier.

Damien, do you or anyone else know of any good books or websites that may be related on this subject? I would like to know more. Thanks.
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Postby LEGO_KNIGHT » Fri Jun 22, 2007 2:50 am

The Blue Knight wrote:In the end, thats what makes studying the period so fascinating; tracking the changes and seeing how some of them, or some aspect, is still in our culture today.


I agree to that. :)
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Postby Damien » Fri Jun 22, 2007 6:06 am

Damien, do you or anyone else know of any good books or websites that may be related on this subject? I would like to know more. Thanks.


Many of the former, very few of the latter. I tend to stay away from websites because, well. . anyone can make a website. Information therein has, at best, a much higher likelihood of being incorrect or incomplete.

For books, the first place I point to for beginners to the subject is Osprey Publishing (www.ospreypublishing.com). They produce books dealing with relatively narrow subjects each, and thus in a pretty small package you can get a lot of specific information. They're rather famous for going to great lengths to get as much information as possible into very small page counts.

I do have to qualify that by saying that Osprey itself is just the publishing company. They contract writers to get the subjects out that they want, and so each book has to be considered on its own. Some books are VERY good and solid, with few, if any, mistakes. Armies of Medieval Burgundy comes to mind.

Other books in the series will definitely be coloured by the author's perceptions and biases. Anything by David Nicole, for instance. While he's a brilliant historian, he also seems to believe that NOTHING was ever done by the Europeans, and that everything they have came from the East. This arrogant bias is found all throughout his work. But if you ignore statements obviously just opinion, his works also have a great deal of solid information.

Other authors are wholly terrible and need to be avoided. Such authors will write in all seriousness that the katana is the uber-sword of doom from the East and everything else is just a pale hunk of iron in comparison. There is one Osprey book, about the 'Ninja' - that is the laughing stock of the historical community because it's nothing more than what society would like to believe about ninja, rather than what is actually the truth. There's one claim in that book that ninja could stand on the guard of their swords, with the blade pointed against the ground. I mean, first of all - we know for a fact that the famous 'ninja-to' never even existed (the katana-like ninja sword). But we also know that it is physically impossible to stand on a sword in this manner, especially a Japanese sword, as it will break.

Therefore, avoid Osprey titles about Japan, as those tend to be written by Eastern-centric sycophants rather than real historians. But since your interest is in European history, you shouldn't encounter a problem.

The best thing about Osprey titles is that they have very complete 'Further Reading' lists. So pick up a book on your favourite subject and the Further Reading list in the back of the book should give you plenty of stuff to get afterwards. This also helps in fact-checking. The more you read, the more you can pick out the instances where an author may be colouring his own opinions into the text.

Also, if you want to know more about the military structure of medieval armies, there are few easier-to-find and better-equipped books than Osprey, despite their faults.
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Postby LEGO_KNIGHT » Fri Jun 22, 2007 12:57 pm

Thanks, Damien and Blue Knight, for taking the time to write a lengthy reply. I've checked the Osprey Publishing website. Lots of good titles to choose from. :)


Damien wrote:Also, if you want to know more about the military structure of medieval armies, there are few easier-to-find and better-equipped books than Osprey, despite their faults.

Pardon my ignorance, I didn't realize that this subject has its issues. I guess there's more to it than just simply "knight in shining armor".
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Postby The Blue Knight » Fri Jun 22, 2007 7:45 pm

LEGO_KNIGHT wrote:Pardon my ignorance, I didn't realize that this subject has its issues. I guess there's more to it than just simply "knight in shining armor".


You are quite welcome. The funny thing is that even the "knight in shining armor" is largely apocryphal. There were knights who wore such armor, but they were late in the era, in a time when armor was insufficient against the emerging weapons system; firearms. The knight in shining armor riding forth to save the damsel in distress is as fanciful as Vikings having horns protruding from their helmets. Those images are part of the legacy we have inherited from those times. That view is skewed by ignorance, prejudice (as Damien touched on; by that author he referenced) and an overly romantic view of the time. It is often seen as a "simpler" time. They may not have had electricity, iPods, SUVs, cell phones or cotton underwear, but they lived in a time of constant threat of violence, turmoil, and uncertainty about their future. After all, a band of raiders could come over the hill to take your life at any moment, and more often than not, they were other people in your own fief! They were many things, but "simple" is not a appropriate adjective for the era.

I like to use my Legos to create a "Camelot" of sorts. Not the King Arthur version, but a stylized, sanitized version of the medieval ages where the aristocracy is noble, and the average folks live in "The Shire"-like, Middle-earthian comfort and security. Is that real? No. Is it fun? Yes.

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