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9-08-2015, 15:03

Military technology and organization

Though the history of Hungary is not one of the rise of a nation-state, it does provide an excellent example of Machiavelli’s assertion of the key role of war and its fi nancing in gaining and maintaining power. By the time of the Battle of Mohacs, changes in military technology and in the way that troops were recruited and provisioned had increased the cost of warfare dramatically. The Ottoman Empire was large and unifi ed enough to absorb these costs; Hungary was not. The deadliest and also most prestigious type of fi ghter in the fi fteenth century was the cavalryman, wearing full plate armor and carrying a lance and sword; he rode a large warhorse which also wore plate armor. Such men-at-arms were almost always members of the nobility, and their primary function in battle was as frontline troops. They charged in formation at a steady canter with lances drawn against the enemy’s front line, hoping to shock it into disarray, and then discarded their lances and fought with swords or maces in individual combat. Heavy cavalry were regarded as the most important arm of the military in the fi fteenth century, but their invulnerability was increasingly challenged. During the latter stages of the Hundred Years War, which ended in 1453, English footsoldiers armed with longbows were very effective against heavily armored French knights, and in other fi fteenth-century wars soldiers used steel crossbows drawn by a windlass. Pikes were even deadlier than bows; footsoldiers armed with ten- to fi fteen-foot-long pikes, standing very close to one another with their pikes all facing outward – an arrangement termed the Swiss phalanx – were able to defend against a cavalry charge, as long as they held their position. Horses would not charge into a wall of pikes no matter how hard they were spurred, and with the cavalry line disrupted horses and their riders could be wounded or killed. Gradually the pikemen were reinforced by footsoldiers carrying fi rearms. The fi rst reasonably portable fi rearm was the harquebus (or arquebus), a short metal tube attached to a wooden handle, loaded down the muzzle with powder and a round bullet. (The woodcut that opens this chapter shows a soldier fi ring a harquebus.) The powder was initially lit by a slow-burning wick called a match-cord through a touchhole in the barrel – a fi ring mechanism termed a matchlock. Around 1500, wheel-lock fi ring mechanisms, in which iron pyrite creates sparks by being scraped along a metal wheel, were developed, producing the fi rst self-igniting fi rearm. The wheel-lock was safer to the gunner than the matchlock as it did not require an open fl ame, but the harquebus was heavy and took so long to reload that two pikemen stood on either side of a harquebusier to defend him against a cavalry charge. The musket, developed in the 1520s, was much lighter and easier to reload than the harquebus. Muskets also originally used matchlocks or wheel-locks to fi re, but in the early seventeenth century a French courtier invented the fl intlock fi ring mechanism, in which fl int strikes a piece of steel to make sparks, which ignite powder in an attached fl ash-pan and this in turn (if things work correctly) ignites the main charge in the barrel. Flintlock weapons quickly replaced other types, and remained the most common portable fi rearm in Europe and European colonies until the middle of the nineteenth century. (They also provided several common English expressions, including “fl ash in the pan” for something that makes a lot of noise but has no lasting effect.) Musket balls could easily pierce armor, and though plate armor got thicker, this thickness resulted in increased weight, making horses so slow they were even more vulnerable; a nobleman had to fi gure he would lose his horse every time he went into battle. Military commanders generally arranged their troops with one pikeman to every two musketeers, though the later invention and adoption of the bayonet – a dagger attached to the end of the gun – made the same soldier both musketeer and pikeman. Infantry – that is, troops on foot – became the heart of early modern armies.

SOURCE 7 Comments on the new weaponry

Condemnation of gunpowder began in Europe almost as soon as the fi rst artillery piece was fi red. In 1366, the Italian humanist Petrarch wrote in De remediis utriusque fortunae that guns were invented by the devil, an idea that many later writers restated. Blaise de Montluc, a French noble taken prisoner at the Battle of Pavia in 1525, wrote: Would to God that this unhappy weapon had never been devised and that so many brave and valiant men had never died by the hands of those … who would not dare to look in the face of those which they had laid dead with their wretched bullets. They are tools invented by the devil to make it easier to kill each other. In his epic poem Orlando furioso, the Italian humanist Ludovico Ariosto agreed: O wretched and foul invention, how did you ever fi nd a place in a human heart? Through you the soldier’s glory is destroyed, through you the business of arms is without honor, through you valor and courage are brought low, for often the bad men seem better than the good; through you valor no more, daring no more can come to a test in the fi eld. (Canto ix, verse 91) The Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes has his chivalric knight Don Quixote voice a similar complaint: Those diabolical engines, the artillery [are] an invention which allows a base and cowardly hand to take the life of a brave knight. Some authors were more horrifi ed by the physical than the social effects of gunpowder. In his treatise on wounds made by gunshot written in 1545, the French surgeon Ambroise Paré, who had treated soldiers on many battlefi elds in Italy, commented: Verily when I consider with myself all the sorts of warlike engines which the Ancients used … they seem to me certain childish sports and games … for these modern inventions are such as easily exceed all the best appointed and cruel engines which can be mentioned or thought upon in the shape, cruelty, and appearance of their operations. None of this criticism slowed the spread of gunpowder weapons. Rulers and nobles were quick to adopt them, and training in the use of artillery and portable fi rearms became a standard part of the upbringing of aristocratic boys. As François de la Noue, a French general who had lost his arm in battle, wrote in 1587: All these instruments are devilish, invented in some mischievous shop to turn whole realms and kingdoms into desolation and replenish the ground with dead carcasses. Howbeit, men’s malice had made them so necessary that they cannot be spared. De la Noue then provided in-depth guidance about how best to “profi t by … the forms and effects of diverse sorts of weapons.“ (Quotations from John Hale, “War and Public Opinion in the 15th and 16th Centuries,” Past and Present 22 [July 1962]: 29, 30.) Footsoldiers had traditionally been commoners, not nobles, and the development of gunpowder made the traditional medieval tripartite division of society discussed in chapter 1 even more anachronistic. The loss of their unique status as fighters was not lost on nobles. Pistols, short-barrelled firearms first using wheellocks and flintlocks, appeared to offer them a way out of their dilemma, a way to both use gunpowder and yet stay above the infantry – both figuratively and in actual combat. Pistols were invented around 1510, and during several battles of the Habsburg– Valois wars in the 1550s, German mounted pistoliers, termed Reiters , humiliated heavily armored French cavalry armed with lances. Reiters were generally members of the lesser nobility – they had to be able to afford a horse – and their weapons were slowly adopted by nobles elsewhere, who abandoned lances and instead had three or four pistols along with their sword. (Pistols took a long time to reload, so pistoliers charged with several already loaded.) Cavalry firing pistols were used by military commanders against other cavalry or to break up large masses of footsoldiers. Pistoliers still favored tactics that would allow them to display their individual prowess, however, which were not always the most effective militarily. Pistols fi red at close range could easily pierce existing armor, so that pistoliers gave up full body armor for a thick breast plate and helmet that would at least protect their vital parts. This left their limbs and their increasingly unarmored horses more vulnerable, and both other pistoliers and footsoldiers aimed their weapons accordingly. Wounds caused by heavy pistol shot were much worse than those created by arrows, and contemporaries regarded pistols as especially deadly weapons. They certainly were for horses, and a signifi cant part of the increased cost of warfare consisted of horses to replace those killed or injured by all types of weapons. While hand-held weapons transformed actual battles, large artillery weapons altered military tactics. Early cannons fired rocks, which were not uniform in size and tended to shatter on impact. By the middle of the fifteenth century armies were using balls made of cast iron and cannons that could be disassembled for easier movement, which were much more expensive but much more effective. Cannonballs blasted holes in high castle or city walls, and defensive fortifications changed accordingly, becoming low, thick earthen ramparts that stood up to artillery quite easily. In the sixteenth century cities increasingly built more complex fortifications with outlying bastions in which they placed cannons, making it very difficult to take a city by force. Sieges grew longer, with starvation the most important tactic as armies cut off cities’ lines of supply. (Direct campaigns against cities reemerged with the development of bomb-laden aircraft in World War II.)

 

 

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