The Knight at War. How did his role change and was their any place for chivalry on the battlefield during the late medieval period?

Essay by blippo_ukA-, May 2004

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When William I invaded England in 1066 he did so on horseback. In the battle of Hastings the foot-soldier based army of the English wilted under the charge of the Norman knights. With this conquest, Marcus Bull argues, the old era of foot-soldier armies was wiped away and the new era of the horse-backed knight began.

Up until the end of the thirteenth century the mass cavalry charge was the ace-card of battle. The destructive fury of a group of heavily armoured knights could break any unit. Knights lived their entire life to fight. They trained all day in the art of war and at tourney they practised war-games constantly. As time progressed they developed more discipline and cavalry units began to regroup and hit second or third units with a charge. However, throughout the period the discipline of knights was always suspect and the pursuit for personal glory a priority.

What would a peasant warrior do when faced with the charge of this blood-crazed battalion?

By the fourteenth century the peasants had quite a simple plan of action. They drew back their longbows and they let loose a hail of arrows that could massacre even the most heavily armoured unit of chivalric knights. By the time of the 100 years war, one might argue that Chivalry was on its way out. All-ready the mounted knight was demounting and fighting on foot, so the cavalry charge was less of a factor but other factors contributed to this.

Set piece engagements formed little part of late medieval warfare. Famous battles such as Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt were famous because of their rarity. The tactic of the day was 'chevaucheé' where knights would go on a foray to pillage, destroy and intimidate locals whilst constantly being on the moove. After enough had...