Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘European’

To Shed Human Blood and Think Nothing of It

The rise of knighthood did not produce a submissive, nonviolent peasantry in [Medieval] Europe. Habits of bloodshed were deep-seated, perennially fed by the fact that Europeans raised both pigs and cattle in considerable numbers but had to slaughter all but a small breeding stock each autumn for lack of sufficient winter fodder. Other agricultural regimes, e.g., among the rice-growing farmers of China and India, did not involve annual slaughter of large animals. By contrast, Europeans living north of the Alps learned to take such bloodshed as a normal part of the routine of the year. This may have had a good deal to do with their remarkable readiness to shed human blood and think nothing of it.

William H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power, p. 64

An Art of War Was Needed

[By the thirteenth century C.E.,] crossbows and pikes had to be supplemented by cavalry for flank protection and the pursuit of a vanquished foe. This obviously made war far more complicated than it had been when a headlong charge by a group of knights dominated the battlefields of Europe. Simple personal prowess, replicated within knightly families across the generations, was no longer enough to win battles or maintain social dominion. Instead, an art of war was needed. Someone had to be able to coordinate pikes, crossbows, and cavalry. Infantrymen needed training to assure steadiness in the ranks, for, were their formation to break apart, individual pikemen would find themselves at the mercy of charging knights; and the time required to cock a crossbow meant that archers, too, became, vulnerable each time they discharged their weapons, unless some field fortification or an unbroken array of friendly pikes could protect them until they were ready to shoot again.

William H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power, p. 68

Horsemanship: Prerequisite for a Military Career

Horsemanship was the first prerequisite for a military career. [A boy] would have had his first riding lessons almost as soon as he could walk. Under the strict gaze of his father’s grooms he would have progressed from donkey to pony, from pony to horse, learning by practice how to keep his seat, how to govern a fractious beast or calm a nervous one, how to ride for long hours over rough country without tiring, and all the other skills that would go to preserve his life in the melee of combat. Hunting and hawking, the nobleman’s pastimes, developed further skills: an eye for country—surface and slope, vantage point and dead ground; the habit of moving on horseback in company, if necessary swiftly and silently; the difficult art of shooting from horseback with bow and arrow at a moving quarry; the courage needed to dismount and face the charge of a boar with only a spear to protect the hunter from its tusks; endurance of heat and cold, hunger and thirst; care of weapons and tack, where a loose knife-haft or girth worn to breaking could cost limb or even life.

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, pp. 109-10

King’s Armiger

The king’s armiger was originally just what the Latin world literally means, the bearer of the king’s arms. On ceremonial occasions in the eleventh and later centuries [C.E.] the armiger continued to be the royal servant whose duty and privilege it was to carry the king’s sword, lance and shield. But by [King] Sancho II’s [d. 1072] day the responsibilities of this officer were far wider than the merely domestic or ceremonial. The armiger was responsible for overseeing the king’s household militia, the body of troops who formed the king’s escort and were the nucleus of the royal army. While we do not possess any contemporary description of the duties of the armiger, it is likely that he was responsible for recruiting, training and keeping order among these often unruly young men; perhaps for supervising the arrangements for their payment too. He had to have an eye for potential talent, to be demanding in his appraisal of mounts and equipment, to be firm and tactful in sorting out the scrapes his subordinates landed themselves in. He was also one of the king’s principal military advisors. Thus the armiger had to be at once staff-officer, adjutant, regimental sergeant-major—and something of a counselor. It was a demanding job. Usually held by fairly young men, it equipped them for independent command.

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, p. 114

Inside the Great Keep of a Castle

Inside the great keep of the castle was the required minimum of living-space: a great hall; provision in the basement for supplies; a private chamber, and perhaps a solar, for the lord and lady; a chapel; a well; and privies. In large castles, the number of chambers and guardrooms would of course be multiplied to provide for a larger garrison, as well as for the household. The great hall was the centre of all social activity and the common meeting place. It usually occupied almost the full expanse of the main floor, with a dais at one end, a fireplace in one wall, and screens or “spurs” to block the draughts of cold air from the entry doors. The bed-chamber of the lord of the castle and his wife was normally on the floor above the great hall and provided a relatively private spot.

Margaret Wade Labarge, A Baronial Household of the Thirteenth Century, p. 24

Covering a Withdrawal

To ensure that his brigade and its battalion rearguard were neither enveloped nor routed in withdrawing, [Prussian General] Steinmetz dispatched a fresh infantry and cavalry regiment ahead to Gosselies, thereby observing the sound principle that in rearguard actions the withdrawal of engaged units should be covered by troops already in position.

David Hamilton-Williams, Waterloo: New Perspectives, p. 159

Hunting Served Several Social Functions

Hunting animals was the absolute passion of the medieval upper class, and the only activity recognized as a real recreation. It served several social functions. It confirmed power, wealth, status, and prestige as the king or aristocrat went out with his retainers, horses, dogs, and, sometimes, trained falcons. It brought men of similar social background together and was good training for medieval warfare, keeping men and horses fit. It developed strategic thinking as the men hunted elusive and often dangerous quarries, such as wild boar, bears, wolves, and red deer. Late summer and, especially, autumn were the usual times for hunting, which was often dangerous. Accidents were common, especially among immature, testosterone-driven, risk-taking young men. The Annals of Saint-Bertin reports that in 864 [C.E.] the sixteen-year-old Charles of Aquitaine, the son of King (later Emperor) Charles the Bald

whom his father had recently received from Aquitaine and taken with him to Compiegne, was returning one night from hunting in the forest of Guise [nowadays Cuise-la-Motte near Compiegne]. While he meant only to enjoy some horseplay with some other young men of his own age, by the devil’s action he was struck in the head with a sword by a youth called Albuin. The blow penetrated almost as far as the brain, reaching from his left temple to his right cheekbone and jaw…. He suffered from epileptic fits for a long time, and then on 29 September [866] he died.

Hunting accidents were also convenient ways of eliminating rivals and were sometimes used as plausible covers for assassinations.

Paul Collins, The Birth of the West, pp. 19-20

Medieval People Were Particularly Vulnerable to Weather

Medieval people were particularly vulnerable to weather. They depended on a subsistence economy, had limited storage facilities, and lacked the infrastructure to move food staples around quickly. Severe, destructive weather events could mean the difference between eating and starving, and severe winters, such as those of 873-874 or 939-940 [C.E.], caused high mortality among both humans and animals and resulted in widespread famine.

Paul Collins, The Birth of the West, p. 14

Care And Feeding Of Swords

I came across this blogpost on the Austin Bujinkan Tanemaki Dojo (Texas, USA):

One paragraph is especially interesting:

Corrosion from perspiration, skin oils, blood, and exposure to the elements are the problems we need to know well. In the case of carbon steel, these culprits can cause severe discoloration and rust very rapidly if neglected. I own swords that literally will rust before your eyes if left un-oiled. During a take giri (bamboo cutting) demonstration my students and I were performing, I had a drop of my perspiration land, unnoticed, on one of my Rapier (thrusting sword) blades. In just a few minutes, I was shocked to see a bright orange spot of rust on my hand-polished sword. This is a very serious problem the martial arts student must know how to combat. Even breathing on an un-oiled sword blade can begin the dreaded process of corrosion. The edge is the thinnest part of a cutting implement and the most vulnerable to neglect. If allowed to rust, a razor-sharp weapon will become dull in a short period of time. Genuine katana [are] famous for their polish and [mirror-like] finish. This is not for merely cosmetic appearance. Steel has microscopic surface irregularities that can collect moisture and corrosive elements. A finely polished blade has smaller irregularities and sheds blood much more easily than an unpolished one. Hence, the more corrosive agents that collect in the pores, the more tarnish and rust will accumulate.

The entire article is worth reading.

The Act of Sacrifice

The act of sacrifice occupies an important position in every religion, but our present day conception of it appears to be a modification of its original meaning which has gradually altered over the centuries.

For the word sacrifice actually derives from sacrum facere which means “to make sacred” and was used to describe any act of self-transcending through which the individual sought to attain the divine. It has now come to denote very little more than the killing of an animal or a man as an offering to the divinity either by way of supplication or thanksgiving; and Christianity has further devalued the word by associating it with notions of austerity and self-denial.

To regard sacrifice as a synonym for mortification is a serious error, since it totally alters the nature of that spiritual process by which the Ancients sought to fulfil their destiny. Ritual sacrifice was never intended to deprive creation for the sake of the creator. The Gallic chief Brennus gave a lucid and accurate account of its real meaning during the Celtic expedition to Delphi when he uttered the supposedly impious comment that “The gods had no need of treasures since they showered them upon men.”

Sacrifice was first and foremost a psychic procedure in which the sacrificial “victim” threw off the burden of earthly dross and rose through a series of stages in his attempt to reach the divinity. This divinity might be the Perfect Being, the Great Mother, an objective god or some concept of the ideal which was inherent in the individual….

The original act of sacrifice…was a process of self-identification with the divinity. It is this act which the Catholic priest performs during the mass. As Plutarch points out in his treatise on the E of Delphi, however, wise men seek to hide the truths from the masses and resort to fable as a means of preserving a tradition accessible only to the initiate. For the truths are not always to be lavished upon the common herd, and the means used can be both positive and negative in their effect. They may lead those who use them thoughtlessly and clumsily to unforseeable disasters. The way to hell is paved with good intentions….

Jean Markale, The Celts, p. 224

Emphasis mine.

Monastic Hospitality for Aristocratic Patrons

The monasteries of 10th and 11th century Europe [C.E.] were not simply communities of devout men and women living a life given over to corporate prayer and worship. Envisaged by monastic teachers as arks of salvation in a flood of worldly perils, they remained an integral part of the society which brought them into being. The Castilian monasteries were repositories of dynastic tradition, mausoleums, powerhouses of loyalty to the comital family. Links between the landed aristocracy and the monasteries were thus extremely close. Noblemen looked to the monastic houses of which they were the often very generous patrons for diverse reciprocal services and expressions of gratitude. The provision of hospitality was one of these. A patron would expect to be put up (with all his human and animal retinue), and probably in some style, in "his" monastery as in some sort of private hotel. The hospitality sought might be permanent. The active career of an aristocratic warrior might be as short as that of a 20th century footballer, and he had to have somewhere to spend what might be a long retirement. It is probably correct to envisage the monasteries of this period as containing more than a few incapacitated or elderly knights among the community. Assured of comfort and security, surrounded by fellows of their social rank to some of whom they might be related, ideally placed to receive news and gossip, they must have spent their declining years in an agreeable way.

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, p. 66

Emphasis mine.

The Principles of War

Philip [of Macedon], Alexander [the Great]'s father, said that it is better to have an army of deer commanded by a lion than an army of lions commanded by a deer; Alexander himself told his men that their greatest advantage was that their leader was Alexander. Alexander lived and practiced what modern (Western) military theorists teach to their pupils as the principles of war. The principles were developed out of an analysis of Napoleon's campaigns and today are supposed to guide military officers in the practice of their profession and to guide historians in their analysis of campaigns and leadership. The principles are (in order of importance): the objective, the offensive, surprise, mass and economy of force, security, unity of command, maneuver, and simplicity.

Alfred S. Bradford, With Arrow, Sword, and Spear, Afterword, p. 273

Emphasis mine.

The number and order of the principles varies across countries and cultures. For a sample, see the Wikipedia entry for the Principles of War.

Space Was Severely Limited Within a Keep

Space was severely limited within the great stone keep [of a thirteenth century, C.E., English castle], so accommodation for most of the household activities was provided in numerous wooden buildings erected within the inner courtyard. The kitchen might be an elaborate separate structure or merely a shed protecting the cook and the fires from the weather. Frequently the animals and poultry awaiting their turn for the pot were kept in the courtyard, near the kitchen, till the cook required them. In the bailey was a farriery where the smith shod the many horses needed by the household. A pigeon-loft, often a large and elaborate structure, or a dairy might add yet other varieties of animal life to the courtyard. The bailey might also contain a large chapel for the benefit of all the household, since the small chapel in the keep was normally reserved for the lord and lady of the castle and their immediate retinue. Occasionally another separate building existed to house the bells for the chapel. The general impression is one of a confusing hodgepodge of structures designed for many different uses, but all dominated by the solid masonry of the keep and enclosed by a thick wall.

Margaret Wade Labarge, A Baronial Household of the Thirteenth Century, p. 20

Nobles Had Little To Do With Their Children

Indeed the medieval magnates had surprisingly little to do with their children. Almost immediately after birth, they were handed over to the care of a nurse whose duties, as described by Bartholomew the Englishman, included not only the physical care of the child, but also the display of affection which is now considered essentially maternal. According to Bartholomew the nurse’s duties were very extensive. She was ordained to nourish and feed the child, to give it suck, to kiss it if it fell, and comfort it if it wept, and to wash it when it was dirty. The nurse was also to teach the child to speak by sounding out the words for him, to dose him with medicines when necessary, and even to chew the toothless child’s meat so that he could swallow it. The mother must have been a rather remote figure. Discipline was always considered the father’s primary duty. Bartholomew specifically insisted that the father must treat his child with harshness and severity. He should teach him with scoldings and beatings, put him under wardens and tutors, and, above all, show "no glad cheer lest the child wax proud". The old adage of "spare the rod and spoil the child" was firmly entrenched in all medieval treatises on the proper upbringing of children.

Margaret Wade Labarge, A Baronial Household of the Thirteenth Century, pp. 45-46

Machiavelli on Princedoms

…All the Princedoms of which we have record have been governed in one of two ways: Either by a sole Prince, all others being his servants permitted by his grace and favor to assist in governing the kingdom as his ministers; Or else, by a Prince with his Barons who hold their rank, not by the favor of a superior Lord, but by antiquity of blood, and who have States and subjects of their own who recognize them as their rulers and entertain for them a natural affection. States governed by a sole Prince and by his servants vest in him a more complete authority; because throughout the land none but he is recognized as sovereign, and if obedience be yielded to any others, it is yielded as to his ministers and officers for whom personally no special love is felt.

Of these two forms of government we have examples in our own days in the Turk and the King of France. The whole Turkish empire is governed by a sole Prince, all others being his slaves. Dividing his kingdom into sandjaks, he sends thither different governors whom his shifts and changes at his pleasure. The King of France, on the other hand, is surrounded by a multitude of nobles of ancient descent, each acknowledged and loved by subjects of his own, and each asserting a precedence in rank of which the King can deprive him only at his peril.

He, therefore, who considers the different character of these two States, will perceive that it would be difficult to gain possession of that of the Turk, but that once won it might be easily held. The obstacles to its conquest are that the invader cannot be called in by a native nobility, nor expect his enterprise to be aided by the defection of those whom the sovereign has around him. And this for the various reasons already given, namely, that all being slaves and under obligations they are not easily corrupted, or if corrupted can render little assistance, being unable, as I have already explained, to carry the people with them. Whoever, therefore, attacks the Turk must reckon on finding a unite people, and must trust rather to his own strength than to divisions on the other side. But were his adversary once overcome and defeated in the field, so that he could not repair his armies, no cause for anxiety would remain, except in the family of the Prince; which being extirpated, there would be none else to fear; for since all beside are without credit with the people, the invader, as before his victory he had nothing to hope from them, so after he has nothing to dread.

Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, p. 16

Money in Medieval England and France

Like everything else about the Middle Ages, styles of money varied from place to place, and understanding the relationship between denominations can therefore be confusing. In fact, in the thirteenth century [C.E.], there was only one type of coin in existence: a small, silver piece known in England as a penny and in France as a denier. In England, twelve pennies equaled a shilling (although there were no shillings minted, you simply counted out twelve pennies into someone’s hand); in France twelve deniers equaled a sous (although, likewise, there were no sous in existence). There were, in England, 20 shillings or 240 pennies to a pound sterling; in France there were 20 sous or 240 deniers to a livre. Once again, there was no actual coin struck representing a pound or a livre; to payoff the debt of a pound the debtor handed the creditor a sack containing 240 pennies; in France, to pay off the debt of a livre, the sack would contain 240 deniers. In England, just to make the concept as complicated as possible, they also measured silver by a weight measure called the mark. A mark was two-thirds the weight of a pound sterling, so a mark of silver was the same as 160 pennies. But if the debt was in marks, you didn’t have to supply pennies, a person could use any silver he or she happened to have lying around the house, like a silver plate, just so long as it weighed the right number of marks. When [King Henry III of England] and [Queen] Eleanor promised to pay the pope 135,541 marks to fund [their son] Edmund‘s campaign for the kingship of Sicily, they were promising to pay approximately £90,812, or nearly three years’ income, some of which, presumably, could have come in the form of the royal dining service.…

Just like today, French money and English money differed sufficiently so as to require a rate of exchange. In France, the quality and fineness of a denier (and therefore of a livre composed of those deniers) varied so much that the coins were labeled by location, which is why some of the French sums mentioned in [this book] were specified as livres toumois (minted in Tours, of high quality) and others as livres parisis (minted in Paris, of much lower quality).… The exchange rate in 1265 [C.E.] between livres parisis and the pound sterling was 90 sous (or 1,080 deniers) to the pound. To make it easier, there were 4½ livres parisis to a pound sterling, and 3 livres parisis to a mark. The annual French royal income of 250,000 livres (most likely livres parisis) was therefore the equivalent of about £55,556, a much larger sum than was available to their English counterparts. Henry and Eleanor only had an average annual income of about £36,000.

Anyone who wants to go deeper into this subject should definitely read Peter Spufford’s authoritative and comprehensive work, Money and Its Use in Medieval Europe (Cambridge University Press, 1988), and its complement, The Handbook of Medieval Exchange.

Nancy Goldstone, Four Queens, pp. 309-10

Emphasis mine.

Origin of the Rank and Grades of General

Following tradition tracing back to the Roman title of imperator, a European monarch was always the general of his country’s army. His principal military assistant, in peace and war, was usually called a constable, a member of the nobility renowned for military prowess. Other outstanding noble warriors, particularly in France, frequently carried the honorific title of marshal. When a ruler was present in the field, he automatically exercised command as general. His second in command, who might or might not be the constable or one of the marshals, exercised his military functions as the lieutenant general. In the absence of the monarch, the lieutenant general commanded in the king’s name.

Under the operational command of the monarch or his lieutenant general was a senior administrative officer known as the sergeant major general. An experienced soldier, not necessarily a nobleman, the sergeant major general was in effect the chief of staff. He was responsible for supply, for organization, and for forming up the heterogeneous units of a 16th-century [C.E.] army for battle—a long, complicated process, with much shouting and confusion, considerably helped if the sergeant major general had a stentorian voice. In his administrative functions he was assisted in the subordinate units—national and mercenary—by administrative officers known as sergeants major and sergeants.

There was no permanent military hierarchy or chain of command below king and constable. Lieutenant generals and sergeant major generals were appointed for a campaign only.

R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History, p. 459

See also Origins of European Army Ranks.

War Was Made to Pay for Itself Through Pillage

…Raising money to pay the cost of war was to cause more damage to 14th century [C.E.] society than the physical destruction of war itself. The governing fact was that medieval organization by this time had passed to a predominantly money economy. Armed forces were no longer primarily feudal levies serving under a vassal’s obligation who went home after forty days; they were recruited bodies who served for pay. The added expense of a paid army raised the cost of war beyond the ordinary means of the sovereign. Without losing its appetite for war, the inchoate state had not yet devised a regular method to pay for it. When he overspent, the sovereign resorted to loans from bankers, towns, and businesses which he might not be able to repay, and to the even more disruptive measures of arbitrary taxation and devaluation of the coinage.

Above all, war was made to pay for itself through pillage. Booty and ransom were not just a bonus, but a necessity to take the place of arrears in pay and to induce enlistment. The taking of prisoners for ransom became a commercial enterprise. Since kings could rarely raise sufficient funds in advance, and collection of taxes was slow, troops in the field were always ahead of their pay. Loot on campaign took the place of the paymaster. Chivalric war, like chivalric love, was, as Michelet said of the whole epoch, double et louche (a provocative phrase which could mean “double and squinting” or “equivocal” or “shady” in the sense of disreputable). The aim was one thing and the practice another. Knights pursued war for glory and practiced it for gain.

Barbara W. Tuchman, A Distant Mirror, p. 84

Emphasis mine.

Alchemy is a Very Broad Church

Alchemy is very old. Ancient Egyptian texts talk of techniques of distillation and metallurgy as mystical processes. Greek myths such as the quest for the Golden Fleece can be seen to have an alchemical layer of meaning, and Fludd, Boehme and others have interpreted Genesis in the same alchemical terms.

A quick survey of alchemical texts ancient and modern shows that alchemy, like the [Kabbalah], is a very broad church. If there is one great mysterious ‘Work’, it is approached via a remarkable variety of codes and symbols. In some cases the Work involves Sulphur, Mercury and Salt, in others roses, stars, the philosopher’s stone, salamanders, toads, crows, nets, the marriage bed, and astrological symbols such as the fish and the lion.

There are obvious geographical variations. Chinese alchemy seems less about the quest for gold and more about a quest for the elixir of life, for longevity, even immortality. Alchemy also seems to change through the ages. In the third century [C.E.] the alchemist [Zosimos] wrote that ‘the symbol of the chymic art—gold—comes forth from creation for those who rescue and purify the divine soul chained in the elements’. In early Arab texts the Work involves manipulations of these same Four Elements, but in European alchemy, rooted in the Middle Ages and flowering in the seventeenth century [C.E.], a mysterious fifth element, the Quintessence, comes to the fore.

If we begin to look for unifying principles, we can see immediately that there are prescribed lengths of time or numbers of repetitions for the various operations, the distilling, the applying of gentle heat and so on.

There are obvious parallels, then, with meditative practice and this suggests immediately that these alchemical terms may be descriptions of subjective states of consciousness rather than the sort of chemical operations that might be performed in a laboratory.

Mark Booth, The Secret History of the World, pp. 338-40

Few Pitched Battles But Many Sieges

Medieval strategy does indeed appear to have been dominated by two general principles: fear of the pitched battle, of the confrontation in open country, and what one could call the ‘siege mentality’, in other words ‘an automatic reaction which consisted in replying to an attack by shutting oneself up in the most easily defensible strongholds of the country’. From this emerged the shape which the majority of medieval conflicts assumed—the very slow progress of the attackers, the obstinate defense of those attacked, limited operations both in time and distance, a war of attrition (guerre d’usure), ‘a strategy of accessories’ where each combatant or group of combatants, often in an incoherent and discontinuous fashion, fought primarily for immediate material profit. Contemporaries had an expression to describe this kind of warlike activity on a reduced scale. It was the guerre guerroyante, made up of losses and recaptures, surprises, incursions, ambushes and sallies. ‘War is…above all made up of pillaging, often of sieges, sometimes of battles.’ Moreover, because of a lack of money, men, supplies and provisions, many plans failed to mature: ‘A campaign brought to a conclusion constitutes an exception, an enterprise which defies the rule.

Phillipe Contamine, War in the Middle Ages, p. 219

Emphasis mine.

The Rights-Based System of Medieval Society

The medieval system [of Europe] had been a rights-based system. Each member of that society had a particular place that determined rights, obligations, and a well-defined role. It is a familiar but erroneous portrait of the medieval era that depicts its society as uniform and colorless. Rights-based systems can in fact yield enormous diversity, because though conformity may be enforced by law, it is not necessarily enforced by that most pitiless of masters, the individual ambition; thus such systems often encourage creativity, as the natural exuberance of individuals attempts to circumvent the rigidity of their assigned roles and the received wisdom. Yet these systems often strike us as irrational in practice because they do not attempt to match talent and performance with role….

In the medieval period, there had been a universal system of customary law, based on the rights of inheritance, charters, and grants. Customary law is the common law of practices. We are inclined today to think of common law as generated by courts, but this is really an abbreviation: common law is simply the customary law of the judiciary; it grows and is modified by the exercise of court practices. The medieval period was almost entirely ruled by a kind of common law, but the generating institutions of that law were seldom judicial courts….

Precisely because the inherited institutions were rights-based, they could not promote new arrangements that were violative of the customary methods. A prince alone could not rewrite the constitutional rules of his society’s governance to meet his own needs; that would require an institution that objectified the needs of the prince but was distinct from the prince himself[—the future princely state].

Philip Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles, pp. 87-88

Emphasis mine.

A More Varied Diet Means a Healthier Population

We can dimly make out what seems to have been an agricultural revolution in al-Andalus during this period [circa 1000 C.E.]. An increase in productivity was made possible by more intense exploitation of the land. Irrigation, in particular, enlarged the growing season of the year—you can raise four vegetable crops a year on well-tended irrigated land in Mediterranean Spain—and eased dependence on unpredictables such as the weather. Higher and more stable incomes were the result, and with greater prosperity came greater confidence….

More varied crops did more than just diversify gastronomy. (Think of the bleakness of a world without lemons or spinach.) A better, more varied diet means a healthier population. Hard wheat, the main constituent of pasta, grows in drier conditions than soft (bread) wheat and stores for a prodigiously long time because of the low water content of the grain. Al-Razi (d. 955) tells us that around Toledo it would keep in store without decay for upwards of sixty years; it was transmitted in inheritance from father to son like other property. Crops such as this helped to stave off the threat of famine. Prosperity meant earlier marriage, larger families, diversification, opportunity, leisure.

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, pp. 19-20

Three-Tier System of Administration for Military Orders

In the years immediately following foundation, a [Christian] military order [like the Knights Templar] consisted of a small group of brethren under the leadership of a master. At this stage little governmental machinery was needed. As property and recruits were gained, it became the norm to establish subordinate convents, both in frontier regions and elsewhere. If expansion was considerable, an intermediate tier of government between convents and the order’s headquarters was soon needed, as it became difficult for masters to supervise distant convents. Also, a system was needed by which resources and recruits could easily be channelled to frontier regions from other convents. Orders which fought on several fronts also required a military leader in each district. They adopted the practice of grouping the convents of a region into what were called provinces or priories. Although there were variations in detail, the leading orders adopted a three-tier system of administration.

Jonathan Riley-Smith (editor), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, p. 204

For Byzantines, Strategy Was All-Important

The Byzantines’ attitude to warfare was different from that of many of their undisciplined nomadic enemies, and from the haphazard attitude to military engagements shown by some western medieval European armies. Strategy was all-important. To win a war by diplomacy or failing that, skirmishes and raids, was preferable to engaging in a pitched battle.

Ann Hyland, The Medieval Warhorse, p. 27

Decline of Cavalry in Western Europe

The role of cavalry had declined in the Spanish army because the Spaniards had increased their infantry partly at the expense of it. Since a properly armored heavy cavalryman could cost four times as much as a pikeman or arquebusier, a small decrease in heavy cavalry could finance a huge addition to the infantry and bring about a dramatic alteration in the proportions between infantry and cavalry. Though a large part of their cavalry consisted of traditional full-armored lancers, the Spanish did have cavalry that performed a light cavalry’s strategic duties of reconnaissance and attack on the enemy’s stragglers, foragers, convoys, and logistic installations. Usually mounted arquebusiers filled this role. Because of the difficulties involved in using the arquebus while mounted, these horse arquebusiers were really mounted infantry. They usually dismounted to use their weapons. But on at least one occasion, after the battle of Ceresole in 1544 [C.E.], mounted arquebusiers pursued retreating heavy infantry and, by dismounting to shoot and remounting to continue the pursuit, managed effectively to simulate the traditional Parthian or Turkish tactics of light cavalry.

Archer Jones, The Art of War in the Western World, p. 192

The rest of western Europe copied this change from the Spanish, leading to the permanent decline of “pure” cavalry in warfare there.

Early Firearm Tactics: Pike and Arquebus

The arquebusiers, belonging to the same unit as the pikemen, did not operate completely independently…. In the absence of obstructed terrain, the square of pikemen provided the only place of safety where the light infantry might take refuge from the enemy’s heavy cavalry. They could take a position on the flank of or behind the square, or, should the cavalry attack in flank or rear, many could find safety in the front ranks where the wall of pikes would protect them. In turn, the arquebusiers’ fire could support the pikemen’s defense, and the masses of the enemy’s heavy infantry or the horses and men of the attacking heavy cavalry would provide fine targets for arquebus balls. The Spaniards gradually increased the proportion of arquebusiers to pikemen until, by the end of the 16th century [C.E.], their regiments approached equal numbers of light and heavy infantry.

Archer Jones, The Art of War in the Western World, p. 191

From Jousting for Glory to Dueling for Honor

Knights and chivalry faded out. The old orders of knighthood and chevaliers stayed firmly in place, as prestigious men’s clubs tend to do, but the original point of the knight had been as a fighting unit, a kind of mounted tank, impregnable in heavy metal, on a big strong horse, lumbering and clanking onto the field of battle peering through a slit in his helmet and poking his lance at enemies similarly encumbered. The idea was to push the enemy off his horse, since once unhorsed he lay helpless as an overturned turtle, ripe to be captured and held for ransom.

Henry V‘s nimble archers at Agincourt beat them easily. Joan of Arc was particularly outspoken on the subject; she said her heavenly messengers had told her that artillery was the wave of the future and knights in armor just slowed everything down.

Gradually they hung up their lances and breastplates to rust in a shed. By the time Cervantes published Don Quixote in 1605 [C.E.], the foolish knight-errant was an affectionate joke from the past. Knights turned into gentlemen.

Gentlemen, being unemployed by definition, needed an emotional outlet, a bit of excitement, and some way to measure themselves against their peers now that tournaments were gone. Besides, as the feudal powers of the landowners shriveled under stronger centralized monarchies, a gentleman needed to shore up his status and prove he still mattered, he was still privileged, he still carried a sword. He stopped jousting for glory and started dueling for honor.

Barbara Holland, Gentlemen’s Blood, pp. 21-22

Prepared to Die But Not to Kill

It’s curious, the number of sensible men who steeled themselves to the risk of the duel, came to terms with the possibility of death, hoped to die bravely and well, wrote their wills and a few last letters to their families, said their prayers, and went forth to the meeting, and then were stricken with horror to find themselves still standing and their adversary dead. They’d readied themselves to die but not to kill. The other man lying there bleeding to death caught them by surprise.

Barbara Holland, Gentlemen’s Blood, p. 208

Only Gentlemen Had Honor

The Italians drew up the earliest dueling codes to protect and enforce honor; Flos duellatorum came out in 1410 [C.E.] and young gentlemen all over Europe studied its delicate ethical matters and the subtle new swordplay more suited to personal encounters than the slash-and-whack of battle. In 1550, Girolamo Muzio’s Il duello succeeded it and was even more popular. Italians opened fencing schools, attended by eager young gentlemen from all over, and sent fencing masters to the rest of Europe. By 1480, Germany had opened dueling schools called Fechtschulen that enjoyed the special protection of the emperor himself and established a tradition beloved by the military and university students well into the twentieth century—some say the twenty-first.

The notion of a gentleman defending his personal honor, the notion that obsessed the Western world for centuries and spilled many gallons of the bluest blood, now seems as remote as the urge to throw virgins down volcanoes. Nobody now cherishes his personal honor or inspects that of others. Short of indictable felonies, nobody cares. We wouldn’t know how to measure it; the concept has vanished. Military valor still lends some luster, though Vietnam cast a shadow on it, and large amounts of money command universal respect, but the word “honor” survives only in a few state documents yellowing under glass. Jefferson was fond of it.

Whatever honor was, only gentlemen had it. Only gentlemen needed to defend it, which made their lives more perilous than those of the lesser beings, who could shrug and laugh off an insult. If a lesser being sent a challenge to a gentleman, the gentleman also could shrug and laugh it off, or send some lackeys to beat the insolent fellow with cudgels.

“Gentleman” has today become a rather idle compliment rarely invoked. It even carries overtones of the sissy, quite the opposite of its old role. Now any upstart lad can spend a couple of days mastering gentlemanly requirements: use the accepted forms of address, hold the door open for a lady, remember to say “please” and “thank you” in social if not in business situations. Use your napkin, not the tablecloth. Don’t bully the waiter. Don’t wipe your nose on your sleeve. Once he’s learned the rules, he’s accepted as a gentleman with no questions asked, but in former times he’d be a scoundrel of the worst order. Aping his betters. Flying false colors.

Manners had nothing to do with it. You could be as rude, surly, and bad-tempered as you liked, beat your wife, rape your servants, strew illegitimate children far and wide, drink and gamble till the cows came home, and let your bills pile up for decades till your tailor and vintner starved, but you were always a gentleman because you were born one, and so was your son. It came down through your family by way of inherited estates and ancient medieval fiefdoms and service to your king. Its privileges were many; its responsibilities were bloody.

Barbara Holland, Gentlemen’s Blood, pp. 24-26

Emphasis mine.

Advantages of Swords Over Pistols in Dueling

The sword had been quite sufficient for its gory tasks, but over the course of the eighteenth century [C.E.] the dueling pistol began to replace it, a switch that romantics like [Sir Richard] Burton lamented as "an ugly exchange of dull lead for polished steel." During the transition, people sometimes used both at once. In 1690, in Ireland, the high sheriff of Country Down had an argument with a neighbor over dinner, and they fought with sword and pistol: One was run through with a sword and the other was shot. Both died. Sometimes, if the pistols misfired, the combatants threw them away and whipped out their reliable swords.

Slashing and killing a man with a sword offered visceral pleasures not found in guns. It was a physical experience. You held the sword in your hand and felt the flesh of your enemy give way under its point…. Your arm quivered to the crunch of bone and cartilage, and knew the spongy resistance of lung or bowel. His blood, probably mixed with yours, splashed your shoes. His face was close; you could see his eyes.

Another advantage of sword over pistol was that the damage done was directly related to the gravity of the occasion. In a casual matter, you could swoop in with the upward-cutting manchette blow that disabled his sword arm, ending the encounter and leaving him with nothing but a bruised elbow. Swords did what they were told to do. You could defend yourself with a sword and parry a thrust; the only way to parry a gun is to shoot the man who’s shooting it. A sword was always a sword, but pistols often misbehaved or misfired. The skillful swordsman could inflict as much or as little damage as he wanted, but pistol duels were fraught with accident and surprise. You could kill an old friend who’d laughed at the wrong moment, instead of merely flicking a drop of blood from his arm and then taking him out for a drink. Or you could hit the wrong target, which never happened with swords: In one duel in France, both parties fired simultaneously and simultaneously killed each other’s seconds.

When you’d killed a man with your personal sword and not by some proxy impersonal bullet, your soul had killed his. When the victor claimed the sword of the fallen as his right and broke it over his knee, killing him in effigy, generations quivered. When [Robert E.] Lee handed his sword to [Ulysses S.] Grant at Appomattox, strong men wept. Some say Grant wept.

With guns, the satisfaction was remote. You stood well separated by the agreed-on paces. Shoot your man and he crumples and falls, his weapon drops from his hand, but as far as your own hand knows he might have been struck by lightning. You didn’t press the bullet into his chest; it flew there by itself, mechanically. You were distanced from the action, like the pilot of a high-altitude bomber.

Barbara Holland, Gentlemen’s Blood, pp. 72-75

Emphasis mine.

Ideology Of Monarchy

…The Roman Empire had a well-formulated ideology and institutions of monarchy, and by the late Empire this was an absolute monarchy. Emperors could not always do just what they wanted to do, of course, but the system operated as though the imperial will were all-powerful; no constitutitional mechanism existed to frustrate or modify it. In any premodern absolute monarchy, effective limitations were set by primitive communications networks and by the small size of the civil service, which frequently made it impossible to implement the royal will even when it was accepted as law. The ideology of absolute monarchy was developed out of a Roman law, based on Hellenistic and Oriental traditions, that held that the people had surrendered the natural powers to the monarch and could never revoke the surrender.

Norman F. Cantor, Inventing the Middle Ages, pp. 104-105

No Match for a Well-Trained Aristocrat

All [medieval Japanese] warriors, regardless of rank, were trained in swordsmanship. Those of the upper ranks, of course, had more time to devote to the pursuit of excellence in this art, and to the pursuit of superior instructors—which explains why a retainer of lower rank, notwithstanding his longer exposure to the hardships of military life, was usually no match for a higher-ranking bushi in a duel. This type of situation…resembles that of Europe during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries [C.E.], when hardened veterans of countless battles were still no match for a well-trained aristocrat with a sword—the noble’s weapon which, with the rise of the bourgeoisie to power at the end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, became known as the gentleman’s weapon.

Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook, Secrets of the Samurai, pp. 254-55

Breeding Ground of Honor

The breeding ground of honor [was] the state of semi-anarchy (when it was not complete anarchy) that prevailed in most of the world before the invention of the nation-state in early modern Europe. In such an environment, personal honor and the respect it elicited from others was almost the only instrument of social control, and this was still true to a considerable extent right through the [English] Tudor period. Describing the feud between two grandees in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, Lawrence Stone writes that “Both in the brutality of their tactics and in their immunity from the law, the nearest parallels to the Earl of Oxford and Sir Thomas Knyvett in the London of Queen Elizabeth are Al Capone and Dion O’Banion, Bugs Moran and Johnny Torrio in the Chicago of the 1920s.” Among such people, honor was a matter of grim necessity, a workaday proposition by which their power and status in the world were measured and on which their very lives depended.

James Bowman, Honor: A History, p. 54

Emphasis mine.

Courage, Not Manners, Was the Hallmark of a Gentleman

If a gentleman issued or accepted a challenge in proper form and, fought like a gentleman, with a gentleman, then to be vanquished; was no defeat. Certainly it was nobler than suffering the insult or refusing the fight. And to be killed in a duel by your equal was, if not exactly a pleasure, at least honorable. Your grandchildren could tell of it proudly.

Courage, not manners, was the hallmark of a gentleman. As the duel epidemic spread, courage came to mean a thin skin and an unruly temper, the thinner and more unruly, the more gentlemanly. A gentleman was proud of his temper and indulged and cherished it. There may have been, off in remote country estates, phlegmatic gentlemen landowners, waistcoats bulging with good claret and venison, who chuckled at insults, waved them away, and opened another bottle, but in the cities, the armies, and the universities, prickliness was a point of pride, as proud youths in tough neighborhoods are quick to avenge being “dissed.” An easygoing temperament meant your blood was slow, and cold, and lowly.

In The Three Musketeers, the noble Aramis studies in the seminary for ten years to fulfill his dream of becoming an abbé, but a jealous officer insults him, and he quits the seminary and goes off to take fencing lessons daily for a year. Then he finds the officer, calls him out, and strikes him dead. “I am a gentleman born—my blood is warm,” he explains.

In The Tempest, Prospero threatens Ferdinand, son and heir to the king of Naples, and Ferdinand promptly draws his sword. Miranda cries, “0 dear father, make not too rash a trial of him, for he’s gentle, and not fearful.” By gentle, she doesn’t mean he’s kind to dogs and small children. She means he’s well-bred, and therefore bad tempered, armed and dangerous. Not to be trifled with.

As its first definition of “gentle,” the Oxford English Dictionary, both feet stubbornly planted in the past, gives “well-born, belonging to a family of position; originally used synonymously with noble, but afterwards distinguished from it, either as a wider term, or as designating a lower degree of rank. Also, in heraldic use: Having the rank or status of ‘gentleman,’ the distinguishing mark of which is the right to bear arms.”

Gentlemen bore arms. In the Scottish Highlands, where nobody would think of leaving the house without a sword, or perhaps even sitting down to dinner without one, true gentlemen distinguished themselves from their lowlier neighbors by a feather in the bonnet as well—as in “a feather in his cap”—but elsewhere only gentlemen were entitled to the sword. Swords were the badge of a man who needed no help “beyond that of his heart, his sword, and his valor.” The French called it “la noblesse de l’epee.”

Barbara Holland, Gentlemen’s Blood, p. 28-29

Emphasis mine.

Dueling and the God of Peer Opinion

Despite repeated laws forbidding dueling, to deny a challenge marked one as unworthy. The abbé de Saint-Pierre charged in 1715 [C.E.] that [a military] officer who refused a challenge would “find himself forced by the other officers and by the commander himself to leave the regiment.”

One counts for nothing that an officer would rather pass for a coward…than to commit a mortal sin and a capital crime in formal disobedience of the law and the will of the prince; one counts for nothing that he does not want to risk his safety and the loss of the good graces of his king; he does not fight, therefore he is a coward; he is a coward, therefore he must be driven away.”

The explanation for duels lay much more in the symbolic than in the real, for by their nature, duels were irrational. Ultimately, the aristocracy’s fighting spirit was driven by the individual’s drive to prove himself within the standard of his own class and thus win gloire. The nobility set standards that must be obeyed, or else the individual would lose caste. As one historian of the duel insists, dueling was “another religion.” A duel was a human sacrifice to the god of peer opinion, and so was a battle.

John A. Lynn, Battle, p. 143

Emphasis mine.

Tactical Capabilities of Medieval Weapon Systems

With heavy infantry specialized to resist heavy cavalry and light infantry indispensable in sieges and finding its most effective employment in the field against light cavalry, the art of war about the year 1200 [C.E.] had these clearly distinguishable capabilities (using the symbol → to mean was superior to):

heavy infantry → heavy cavalry
heavy cavalry → light infantry
light infantry → light cavalry
light cavalry → both heavy infantry and heavy cavalry.

tactical schematic in two dimensions: infantry vs. cavalry, heavy vs. light

These relationships are conveniently summarized in schematic [above], in which A means ability to attack successfully in the direction of the arrow and D means ability to defend successfully in the direction of the arrow. Attack includes the capability to compel the attacked to fight; defend implies only the capacity for successful resistance but no ability to force action. The schematic assumes a flat surface.

The ability of the cavalry to dismount modifies this diagram. When the heavy cavalry dismounted it became heavy infantry, and confirmed the generalizations that the man on foot is superior to the mounted man and [that] the defensive is stronger when the same weapon systems confront one another. Light cavalry could gain comparable advantages by dismounting, and in each case the dismounted cavalry in the defense could easily take advantage of terrain or artificial obstacles, something more difficult to do mounted. Medieval soldiers grasped and often exploited the value of dismounting heavy cavalry but, lacking light cavalry, could never make use of this transformation. They did occasionally mount bowmen, giving them the strategic mobility of the light cavalry. They more rarely resorted to a similar mounting of heavy infantry, probably because of their ample supply of heavy cavalry. Yet to have mounted heavy infantry on nags would have been a far more economical solution had knights customarily fought on foot. It would have saved the considerable cost of a robust war horse and the expensive, but unused, skill in fighting mounted.

Archer Jones, The Art of War in the Western World, p. 145-46

Such A Reputation

Henry, Duke of Lancaster, called the “Father of Soldiers,” was England’s most distinguished warrior, who had not missed a battle in his 45 years. He was a veteran of the Scottish wars, of Sluys, of Calais and all the campaigns in France, and when his country was quiescent he rode forth in knightly tradition to carry his sword elsewhere. He had joined the King of Castile in a crusade against the Moors of Algeciras and journeyed to Prussia to join the Teutonic Knights in one of their annual “crusades” to extend Christianity over the lands of Lithuanian heathen. In 1352 [C.E.], while the truce still held between England and France, he was the star of a remarkable event in Paris. On returning from a season in Prussia, he had quarreled with Duke Otto of Brunswick and accepted his challenge to combat, which was arranged under French auspices. Given a safe-conduct, escorted by a noble company to Paris, magnificently entertained by King Jean, the Duke of Lancaster rode into the lists before a splendid audience of French nobility; but his mere reputation proved too much for his opponent. Otto of Brunswick trembled so violently on his warhorse that he could not put on his helmet or wield his spear and had to be removed by his friends and retract his challenge.

Barbara W. Tuchman, A Distant Mirror, pp. 146-47

More on Hunting as War Training

I have previously posted on Hunting as War Training. Both this and that excerpt reference the medieval European experience, but the concept is not exclusive to that period.

Hunting in all its forms was strongly recommended by chivalric writers as the perfect preparation for military life. The typical argument was put forward in the first half of the fourteenth century [C.E.] by [King] Alfonso XI, who found time between ruling his kingdom of Castile and fighting the Moors to write a book about the sport.

For a knight should always engage in anything to do with arms and chivalry, and if he cannot do so in war, he should do so in activities which resemble war. And the chase is most similar to war, for these reasons: war demands expense, met without complaint; one must be well horsed and well armed; one must be vigorous, and do without sleep, suffer lack of good food and drink, rise early, sometimes have a poor bed, undergo cold and heat, and conceal one’s fear.

Different types of hunting required different skills, all relevant to warfare, including knowledge of the quarry’s habits, handling a pack of hounds, complete control of an often-frightened horse and the use of various weapons, including spears and swords to perform the kill.

Juliet Barker, Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England, Chapter 2

Medieval English Currency

In the fifteenth century [C.E.], [the English] one pound sterling (£1) was divided not just into twenty shillings (20s), or two hundred and forty pence (240d), but also into six parts: one sixth (3s 4d) was known as a crown, a third (6s 8d) as a noble and two thirds (13s 4d) as a mark. To give the reader a rough idea of the current values of these sums, I have used figures supplied by the Office for National Statistics, which equate £1 in 1415 with £414 ($666.54) in 1999.

Juliet Barker, Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England, p. xv

Versatility of the Napoleonic Army Corps

Among the reforms of the army begun before the [French] Revolution was the development of the corps d’armée. Napoleon saw the value of this reform, adopting and developing it into what has been called his secret weapon. The Napoleonic army corps was a well-balanced unit comprising all arms: infantry, cavalry and artillery, with attached engineers, auxiliary trains and a headquarters staff. The corps was in effect an army in miniature, although its size, anywhere from 5,000 to 40,000 men, could rival that of many 18th-century armies. The corps would be made up of a number of infantry and cavalry divisions, each of two or more brigades with attached artillery. As Napoleon’s corps structured army went into battle against a traditionally organized enemy force, each of his corps, being a complete fighting force, could go into action without delay as soon as it arrived on the field. When [Marshal Louis-Nicolas] Davout, one of the pre-eminent corps commander of the period, brought his men by an epic forced march directly into the fray at Austerlitz, he undoubtedly stopped the great Russian envelopment of the French right which would have threatened to cut across Napoleon’s line of communication and make his position untenable. The size of a corps could vary and would depend on several factors, such as its particular task and the ability of its commanding general. To his step-son, Eugéne de Beauharnais, Napoleon in 1809 commented, ‘…a corps of 25,000-30,000 men can be left on its own. Well handled it can fight or alternatively avoid action…an opponent cannot force it to accept an engagement, but if it chooses to do so it can fight alone for a long time.

David Hamilton-Williams, Waterloo: New Perspectives, p. 115

Emphasis mine.

Origins of European Army Ranks

Certainly the oldest military title that survives in most modern armies is that of captain, from the Latin caput, "head," and thus the head man. It is notable that in the German army the word for captain is hauptmann, which means precisely "head man." Almost all modern military titles are drawn from the period when feudalism was dying and when the power of central governments was crystallizing, forming in the process royal or regular armies for the service of the state.

At that time, the title of captain was usually given to the commander of a company, which was the largest and about the only recognized subdivision of these new armies and usually numbered 300 or 400 men, or about as many as could be controlled by one leader on the battlefields of that time. The title itself, however, was of feudal origin. In feudal times, it had been customary for each lord to retain a certain number of armed men to guard his castle; these gradually came to be commanded by a captain, who was not usually a knight or of noble blood but a hired mercenary, trained and experienced in war, who, in most cases, had fought his way up from the ranks. His men, the only trained soldiers of the feudal period, were used to drill the raw levies that were mustered whenever the lord’s suzerain called on him to take the field with his allotted quota of men for war. The complete quota was almost never kept under arms in time of peace. The trained soldiers were known as the lord’s servants, or serventes, which, in military parlance, became corrupted into sergentes, or sergeants. Thus, a feudal levy had not only a group of knights and squires at its head but a captain and several sergeants over a body of more or less raw recruits. The richer the lord, the larger the proportion of trained men at his disposal.

When the royal armies began to appear, the captain became a much more important person. He commanded a company of royal troops instead of the scratch castle guard of a baron or an earl. The jobs were better paid, and consequently were sought after by young men seeking both money and a chance for distinction. Sergeants were also a part of these troops and did much the same work that sergeants have done ever since. As the centralization of power in the king’s person grew, the new and noble captains found that their personal interests required them to spend more time at court and less in the field, and to accomplish this, they hired officers to take their place in the actual command of their companies. These were called placeholders, or, in the term derived from the French, lieutenants.

As the armies grew in size, the number of companies became greater and it was usual to find several companies marching together in column on the same road. The senior officer present commanded the whole column, called colonne in French, and from this source he came to be known as the colonel, or column commander. Later, these columns became permanent regiments, and the same thing happened as with companies; the colonels, to retain their lucrative jobs, frequented the court and secured the services of lieutenant colonels to command their regiments on active service.

Finally, the command of the whole army was given to an officer who originally was called the general captain, or captain general, in distinction to the company captain, who commanded just one company. He, too, had to have a lieutenant general to command for him, or at any rate to assist him, and to this end, the "captain" part of this title was dropped, and officers included generals and lieutenant generals, as well as colonels and lieutenant colonels and captains and lieutenants. At the lowest command level were the usual sergeants. This is the framework of the modern military order, although there have been some later additions, notably the ranks of major general and major.

In the time of Oliver Cromwell, the "new model" army was organized with just about the ranks noted above. In each regiment, however, the need was found for an administrative and supply officer to look after the accounts and the paper work, which Cromwell insisted be carefully kept. Cromwell was doubtless influenced by the example of the Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632 [C.E.]), in whose army many English officers had served out of sympathy for the Protestant cause. Gustavus Adolphus provided his army with a complete administrative organization, which Cromwell adapted to English requirements. In each company a sergeant was appointed to perform the duties of both administration and supply, but at the regimental level an officer was so detailed, and was called the great sergeant, or sergeant major. He took rank next after the lieutenant colonel, being senior to all the captains. Then a corresponding appointment was made for the whole army, as the sergeant-major-general, but the "sergeant" part of both titles was dropped later because the officers concerned doubtless considered it somewhat belittling, and the designations became major and major general. These titles have persisted in the British and American armies to this day. This series of transitions explains, incidentally, why the modern major general ranks one grade below a lieutenant general, while a major is two grades higher than a lieutenant. The grade of sergeant major, in its actual meaning, was later revived for a senior sergeant, a noncommissioned officer.

The title of field marshal, as applied in the British and German armies, or marshal, in the French and [Russian] armies, comes from the old French mareschal, which originally meant a blacksmith or tarrier. In the French army a farrier still has the title of maréchal ferrant. As time went on, the king’s horseshoer, or farrier, rose in importance until the title became equivalent to "master of the horse" at the French court and gradually assumed great military importance. Later, in the French royal armies of the 18th century [C.E.], the need was felt for a rank of subordinate general officers, as in Cromwell’s army, to take charge of the camp, administration, the divisions of the army, and so forth. By that time, the original importance of the title had been lost, but it was revived as maréchal de camp, which was about the equivalent of the major general of the British Army in status, ranking below the lieutenant general but senior to all colonels. This title disappeared under Napoleon, who, however, created the higher title of marshal of the empire, for a senior general officer ranking all generals and serving generally as the commander of an army or an army corps. In the British Army, the title of field marshal as the highest ranking grade was first known in 1736.

The origin of the title of corporal is somewhat obscure. The word seems to have an Italian source, corporale, from the Latin corpo, meaning body, and hence the person in charge of a small body of troops. It appeared in Cromwell’s time in the British cavalry, who, feeling superior to the infantry, wanted a title of their own for noncommissioned officers; they called them corporals instead of sergeants, and, in the British household cavalry regiments, the sergeants are still officially called corporals of horse. Later the title was used to fill the need for an inferior grade of noncommissioned officer….

The ranks of first and second lieutenant developed as companies grew in size and weapons in range and power, so that a company needed three officers instead of two for proper control. Originally, the third officer of an infantry company was called ensign, because part of his duty was to carry the company flag; for the same reason the third officer of a troop of cavalry was the cornet, because he carried a little pennon known then by that name. Later, the flags were laid aside, and these junior officers became known as second lieutenants.

The British titles of lance corporal and lance sergeant, which mean "acting corporal" and "acting sergeant," were derived from the old lance-pesade, a term used during the 17th century [C.E.] for a full-trained soldier of a grade superior to the common men, or private men, as they came to be called.

— [undocumented encyclopedia entry]

Emphasis mine.

See also Origin of the Rank and Grades of General.

The Despised Foot Soldier

Protected by plate armor and the pride of chivalry, the noble felt himself invulnerable and invincible and became increasingly contemptuous of the foot soldier. He believed that commoners, being excluded from chivalry, could never be relied upon in war. As grooms, baggage attendants, foragers, and road-builders—the equivalent of engineer corps—they were necessary, but as soldiers in leather jerkins armed with pikes and billhooks, they were considered an encumbrance who in a sharp fight would “melt away like snow in sunshine.” This was not simple snobbism but a reflection of experience in the absence of training. The Middle Ages had no equivalent of the Roman legion. Towns maintained trained bands of municipal police, but they tended to fill up their contingents for national defense with riff-raff good for nothing else. Abbeys had better use for their peasants than to employ their time in military drill. In any epoch the difference between a rabble and an army is training, which was not bestowed on foot soldiers called up by the arrière-ban. Despised as ineffective, they were ineffective because they were despised.

Barbara W. Tuchman, A Distant Mirror, p. 89

Emphasis mine.

Mission Tactics: Knowing When Not to Obey Orders

Nothing epitomized the outlook and performance of the [nineteenth-century C.E.] German General Staff, and of the German Army which it coordinated, more than this concept of mission tactics: the responsibility of each German officer and noncommissioned officer—and even Moltke‘s ‘youngest soldier’—to do without question or doubt whatever the situation required, as he saw it. This meant that he should act without awaiting orders, if action seemed necessary. It also meant that he should act contrary to orders, if these did not seem to be consistent with the situation.

To make perfectly clear that action contrary to orders was not considered either as disobedience or lack of discipline, German commanders began to repeat one of Moltke’s favorite stories, of an incident observed while visiting the headquarters of Prince Frederick Charles. A major, receiving a tongue-lashing from the Prince for a tactical blunder, offered the excuse that he had been obeying orders, and reminded the Prince that a Prussian officer was taught that an order from a superior was tantamount to an order from the King. Frederick Charles promptly responded: “His Majesty made you a major because he believed you would know when not to obey his orders.” This simple story became guidance for all following generations of German officers.

Trevor N. Dupuy, A Genius For War, p. 116

Emphasis mine.

The Combat of the Thirty

Chivalry’s finest military expression in contemporary eyes was the famous Combat of the Thirty in 1351 [C.E.]. An action of the perennial conflict in Brittany [part of the Hundred Years War], it began with a challenge to single combat issued by Robert de Beaumanoir, a noble Breton on the French side, to his opponent Bramborough of the Anglo-Breton party. When their partisans clamored to join, a combat of thirty on each side was agreed upon. Terms were arranged, the site was chosen, and after participants heard mass and exchanged courtesies, the fight commenced. With swords, bear-spears, daggers, and axes, they fought savagely until four on the French side and two on the English were slain and a recess was called. Bleeding and exhausted, Beaumanoir called for a drink, eliciting the era’s most memorable reply: “Drink thy blood, Beaumanoir, and thy thirst will pass!” Resuming, the combatants fought until the French side prevailed and every one of the survivors on either side was wounded. Bramborough and eight of his party were killed, the rest taken prisoner and held for ransom. In the wide discussion the affair aroused, ‘some held it as a very poor thing and others as a very swaggering business,’ with the admirers dominating. The combat was celebrated in verse, painting, tapestry, and in a memorial stone erected on the site. More than twenty years later Froissart noticed a scarred survivor at the table of Charles V, where he was honored above all others. He told the ever-inquiring chronicler that he owed his great favor with the King to his having been one of the Thirty. The renown and honor the fight earned reflected the knight’s nostalgic vision of what battle should be. While he practiced the warfare of havoc and pillage, he clung to the image of himself as Sir Lancelot.

Barbara W. Tuchman, A Distant Mirror, pp. 137-38

Emphasis mine.

The Rapier Was the Blade of Choice

The old original war sword was so massive it sometimes required both hands. It had been designed—and worked splendidly if you were strong enough—for knocking an armored knight off his horse, but it was useless at close quarters except as a bludgeon. The duel of honor refined it.

From the mid-sixteenth century [C.E.] through the seventeenth, the rapier was the blade of choice. It was sharp-edged but used primarily for thrusting, not cutting, and it was a formidable piece, often nearly four feet long, topped by an elaborate hand guard, and weighed two and a half pounds. Wearing it advertised how tall as well as how brave you were: Four feet of steel hanging from your waist, and you swaggering around with it, made a statement.

Elizabethan London passed an ordinance against strolling the streets with more than a three-foot blade; if you came into the city with something longer, the gatekeepers were under orders to break off the extra inches. Even so, that’s a lot of blade, and it was often used in combination with a dagger for close work.

In 1599 [C.E.], a gentleman named George Silver published an attack on this newfangled monster, developed, he says, as a purely civilian weapon with no distinguished military history. It was, in effect, a costume accessory, ineffective for serious fighting. Once your opponent is past your point, he complained, it is too difficult to clear your weapon and bring the point to bear again; the length of the blade drags in the hand, and it tends to favor the thrust, which can be turned aside easily, over the cut that takes manly strength to avoid.

Not everyone agreed. Long after the rapier had evolved into lighter, shorter versions, some still swore by it. Late in the nineteenth century, Captain Sir Richard Burton, in The Sentiment of the Sword, wrote of it with passion:

Amongst all weapons the rapier alone has its inner meanings, its arcana, its mysteries. See how it interprets a man’s ideas. and obeys every turn of his thoughts! At once the blade that threatens and the shield that guards, it is now agile, supple, and intelligent; then slow, sturdy, and persevering; here, light and airy, prudent and supple; there, blind and unreflecting, angry and vindictive; I am almost tempted to call it, after sailor fashion, ‘she.’

Barbara Holland, Gentlemen’s Blood, pp. 59-60

Emphasis mine.

Silver and Gold Coinage

In the year 948 [C.E.] an Arab traveller named Ibn Hawkal visited Spain. About twenty years later he composed a geographical handbook, ambitiously called the Description of the World, which included an account of Spain based on his travels there. He was an intelligent and observant man, and if we wish to discover what al-Andalus was like in the tenth century we can do no better than to put ourselves in his hands.

Ibn Hawkal was struck in the first place by the general prosperity of al-Andalus:

There are uncultivated lands, but the greater part of the country is cultivated and densely settled…. Plenty and content govern every aspect of life. Possession of goods and the means of acquiring wealth are common to all classes of the population. These benefits even extend to artisans and workmen, thanks to the light taxes, the good state of the country and the wealth of its ruler—for he has no need to impose heavy levies and taxes.

He correctly saw an indicator of this prosperity in the great amount of money in circulation. From the eighth century [C.E.] the only coin struck in Muslim Spain was the silver dirhem, but in the 920s ‘Abd al-Rahman III inaugurated a period of bimetallism by undertaking the minting of gold coins called dinars. The ratio was seventeen dirhems to one dinar, which was in line with the ratio in the rest of the Islamic world and in the Eastern Roman empire—in itself an indication that al-Andalus was now part of a larger commercial community. The state mint at Cordoba exercised control over the weight, fineness and design of the coinage. The volume of coin in circulation seems to have been very large, and this is another indicator of commercial prosperity, for only a favourable trade balance could account for the inflow of bullion to sustain an ample monetary circulation.

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, pp. 17-18

Emphasis mine.

Of Its Kind, the Last

So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 [C.E.] when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens—four dowager and three regnant—and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortège left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.

Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August, p. 1

photo of the nine kings
Standing, from left to right: King Haakan VII of Norway, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, King Manoel of Portugal, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King George I of Greece, King Albert of the Belgians. Seated, from left to right: King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King George V of England, King Frederik VIII of Denmark.

The photograph is not from The Guns of August. I failed to record what book I found it in. Imagine if it was a color photograph.