Medieval Army Organization

The Middle Ages army was initially based on the feudal levy. This model was good enough for the usual few days conflict between neighboring seniors. However, it was utterly inadequate for long campaigns or warfare at national levels. It thus became necessary to find a more methodical method to recruit and organize the troops and that was the enlistment for pay. This led, in the 15th century, to the establishment of a real Standing Army.

During the long wars between England and France, the Medieval army attained a magnitude and importance it had never before. It is interesting to find out how it reached this level.

Medieval army soldier

Medieval Military: A Foot Soldier

Medieval military enlisting process

It was a well organized system working as follows:

- The feudal tenants were performing the service according to their fiefs.

- The old, the infirm, females inheriting knights or the clergy, all were required to send substitutes, or pay the money needed to recruit and equip the equivalent number of troops.

- Troops were provided by contracts with various feudal lords and knights. The agreements specified the number of troops, the time they were available, and the amount of pay per man enlisted.

Basically, three classes of men are mentioned in the royal ordinances:

- The physically fit and capable to equip themselves according to the standards.

- Those fit but financially poor.

- People with financial means but unfit for service.

The men in the first category were required to serve in person. Those in the second one were armed and provisioned by the third. In addition, men of military age with an income exceeding a certain amount per annum were required to contribute according to their means.

In cases of great emergency, the clergy was called to take arms after consultations with the prelates in Parliament.

The army troops provided by contract were paid according to their ranks.

The great Medieval wars were asking for special military organization, such as a compulsory mass enlisting. In 1346, King Edward III of England commanded every man-at-arms in the country to join the army or to send a substitute. Feudal lords were asked to send men-at-arms and archers proportionally to their income. Whoever did not comply was to be sent to prison.

The writs for the feudal tenants were first sent to the sheriffs. They in turn produced copies which were sent to the parties in question. Proclamations in courts, fairs and markets were used for the lower feudal ranks, the so-called lesser tenants.

When the troops were provided, an inspection was done to verify if their number and equipment was in compliance with the contract.

The accepted excuses for not answering the call to enlist were mostly of a financial nature. A knight was excepted from performing his duty if he had a yearly income under twenty pounds. In case of a greater income, if the knight was in debt, and the income minus the amount he had to pay to his creditors was less then 20 pounds, he was excepted as well.

Ranks in the Medieval English army

The Earl Constable and Earl Marshal held the chief command under the King. If the army was raised by contract, two or more Marshals were appointed in command. The cavalry was commanded by Constables.

The Medieval troops were assembled in companies of twenties, which were grouped into hundreds, and lastly massed into thousands, the commanding officers taking their names from the number of men they were leading.

Troops of the Medieval Military

The English troops were divided in knights, esquires, the armati or common horse-troops, hobilers, light cavalry, archers of the king guard, foot and mounted archers, bill-men and pavisers.

There were also the gynours (the troops operating the siege engines), the pioneers, miners , smiths, and carpenters.

The knights were of two grades, the banneret and the bachelor. The first had both a pennon and his banner in the field.

The armati were a less equipped cavalry, of a lower grade then the knights and esquires. The hobilers were light cavalry, their name given by the smaller horses they were riding. Part of these troops were armed with the bow, and were called hobiler-archers. Their standard armor was composed of a gambeson, and a bascinet.

The bill-men were equipped with long pole weapons like the guisarme. The pavisers were fighting either on foot or as cavalry. There was also a third category of pavisers who used large shields to protect the crossbowmen and archers while loading. Sometimes, the pavise was actually a mantlet serving the same purpose by being placed before the crossbowmen.

In the organization of the Medieval army, auxiliary troops played an important role, although less spectacular. As an example, the pioneers were auxiliaries who were making roads, trenches, and palisades.