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8-08-2015, 16:41

From Militia to Standing Armies

In most of these early medieval realms, when a king called up the militia, each manor, or country estate owned by a rich noble, was expected to contribute a certain number of men. hat local group of soldiers was called a retinue. With very rare exceptions, the number of infantrymen in a retinue was considerably larger than the number of cavalrymen. For example, surviving records show that in an English campaign in 1359 the Duke of Lancaster had a retinue that included 90 knights and 423 archers. (Archers were the most common form of foot soldier in England in this period.) Another nobleman on the campaign, the Earl of Richmond, contributed 35 knights and 200 archers. Later, in the campaign leading to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the Earl of Salisbury supplied a retinue of 3 knights and 80 archers to the English army. h e foot soldiers in such retinues usually lived on farms or in small villages located on the estates of wealthy landed nobles. But though the number of soldiers a local lord could raise was frequently impressive, it was nearly impossible to keep them in service for extended periods. Military historian Terence Wise explains: “h e length of service in the i eld owed by these forces varied slightly from country to country but on average was limited to forty days. Service could be extended by paying the troops, although many were reluctant to stay away from their farmlands for long periods and this made it exceedingly dii cult to keep an army in the i eld for any length of time. h e peasant levy was under no obligation to serve outside their own country.”6 h us, unless a given military campaign was fairly short, a ruler could easily i nd himself with too few soldiers to achieve success. Another widespread problem with raising infantry locally was that, because these soldiers were rarely professionals, they were often inadequately equipped and lacked proper training. To overcome such shortcomings, it became common to supplement an army’s infantry ranks with mercenaries. In medieval Europe mercenaries were well-armed, well-trained professional i ghters who hired themselves out to kings, military generals, or others in need of their services. Some worked alone or in small groups. But many mercenaries formed large bands, often called “free companies.” One of the most famous medieval mercenary bands was the White Company, led by Englishman John Hawkwood. Made up of some two thousand archers and a large number of horsemen, the White Company most often worked in Italy, variously i ghting for the Italian kingdoms of Florence, Pisa, and Milan. Over time, these and other European kingdoms grew larger, richer, and better organized. As a result, in late medieval times they took the crucial step of creating their own permanent national armies in which soldiers had to serve for extended periods of time. A confederation of Swiss city-states in the early 1300s became the i rst to do so. Some eastern European kingdoms followed suit in the early 1400s, as did France, Hungary, and Germany later in that century.