Here’s what we are reading about in medieval military history - Part 1: Articles

I wanted to give you a round-up of some of the new research being done related to medieval military history. This week we will focus on seven articles that have been published in 2019, which range from weapons to the connections between warfare and public health.

Michael S. Curl, “Late Medieval Lance Use: Mounted Combat and Martial Arts in Western Europe from the 14th to the 16th Century,” Arms and Armour, Vol.16:1 (2019), 27–55.

Abstract: Despite the lance’s status and the amount of attention the couched lance has received in historiography, study of its martial art has been neglected. The various lance types and techniques used by western European cavalry have only recently begun to receive scholarly attention. Additionally, Medieval European lance use has too often been studied in isolation, without an adequate understanding of the idiosyncratic and asymmetrical dynamics of mounted combat. Although the charge with the couched lance was a valid tactic, it was only one of many. Light and heavy lances were used in one hand or two to trip, block, unhorse, and wrestle. These techniques were governed by the harsh laws of distance, speed, impact, iron, and asymmetry. By utilizing the surviving Fechtbuecher and several Peninsular and Near Eastern sources, a brief foray into the diverse techniques of lance use and their purposes has been attempted here.

Steven G. Ellis, “Siegecraft on the Tudor frontier: the siege of Dublin, 1534, and the crisis of the Kildare rebellion,” Historical Research Vol. 92, no. 258 (2019), 705-719

Abstract: In retrospect, the turning point in the Kildare rebellion came with the rebels’ failure to capture Dublin, and the ordnance, shot and powder in the king’s castle there, during the long siege in summer and autumn 1534, in part because, as this article argues, the city’s capture had not initially been seen as an immediate priority. Kildare kept back most of his ordnance and gunners to defend Maynooth castle, and historians have focused instead on the brief siege and capture of Maynooth by the king’s army in March. Richard Stanyhurst’s description of the rebellion, written forty years later, includes much fiction and special pleading; but Dublin was Stanyhurst’s native city, and his Chronicle provides the fullest account of the siege. It is here checked against available contemporary sources, suggesting that it is reliable.

Ekaitz Etxeberria Gallastegi, “Dead horse, man-at-arms lost: cavalry and battle tactics in 15th century Castile,” Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, Vol. 11:1 (2019), 98-113.

Abstract: For a long time historiography has stood up for Late Medieval Castilian tactical backwardness with the insufficient research into Castilian military tactics contributing to the persistence of old paradigms. The aim of this paper is to refuse that vision by focusing on battle tactics showing the importance of mounted combat in fifteenth-century Castile. I will analyse the battlefield function of both heavy and light cavalries, also examining the supporting role of the infantry. This Castilian preference for mounted combat could be due to not only military reasons, but also social ones. In Castile, as in almost every corner of Medieval Western Europe, nobility’s political and social leadership had its reflection on warfare.

Guy Geltner, “In the Camp and on the March: Military Manuals as Sources for Studying Premodern Public Health,” Medical History, Vol. 63:1 (2019), 44-60.

Abstract: Historians tend to view public health as a quintessentially modern phenomenon, enabled by the emergence of representative democracies, centralised bureaucracies and advanced biomedicine. While social, urban and religious historians have begun chipping away at the entrenched dichotomy between pre/modernity that this view implies, evidence for community prophylactics in earlier eras also emerges from a group of somewhat unexpected sources, namely military manuals. Texts composed for (and often by) army leaders in medieval Latin Europe, East Rome (Byzantium) and other premodern civilisations reflect the topicality of population-level preventative healthcare well before the nineteenth century, thereby broadening the path for historicising public health from a transregional and even global perspective. Moreover, at least throughout the Mediterranean world, military manuals also attest the enduring appeal of Hippocratic and Galenic prophylactics and how that medical tradition continued for centuries to shape the routines and material culture of vulnerable communities such as armies.

Margaretha Nordquist, “Celebrating the Memory of Victory: Tracing the Memories of the Battle of Brunkeberg (1471),” Scandinavian Journal of History, Vol. 44:1 (2019), 1-22.

Abstract: This article investigates different, but partly overlapping, memorializing processes linked to the Battle of Brunkeberg (1471). In the decades after the battle, memories of the battle not only served to construct the event as a narrative of victory that reinforced notions of legitimate power and a Swedish community, but also formed the basis of potentially divisive emotions of fear and anxiety among the people in periods of political turbulence. The analysis of memory as articulations of co-existing, partly contradictory, and selective narratives and symbolic expressions shows how various memory practices and formats intersect in the political culture and identities of the past.

Ingo Petri, “Development and use of Viking Age swords,” History Compass, Vol.17 (2019)

Abstract: In the literature about swords, their use has predominantly not been analysed. This article tries to reconstruct some aspects of the use of Viking Age swords from Northern and Eastern Europe. The reconstruction is based on biomechanics, martial arts principles, late medieval fencing books and other written sources, depictions, and material culture, primarily well-preserved swords. As swords are specialised tools for combat, their design is determined by their function. So by carefully analysing the design, conclusions can be drawn about one of their primary functions, their use in combat. The hilts of Viking Age swords from Northern and Eastern Europe are designed in a way that the pommels are most likely not the end of the handle but a component of it. The blades may be used for thrusting and cutting. The analyses of the distribution of the effective mass and of the pivot points of a sword show that using a sword for delivering powerful chopping/hacking blows is very ineffective; swords are most probably optimised for winding actions.

Christopher Taylor, “The history and archaeology of temporary medieval camps: a possible example in Wales,” Landscape History, Vol. 40:2 (2019), 41-56.

Abstract: The paper begins with a discussion of the problems involved in establishing the location, layout and functions of temporary medieval camps in Britain. It then examines the historical and archaeological evidence for a possible camp created for Edward I in the spring of 1284 after his conquest of Wales. This camp may have been relevant for discussions of political, social, military and commercial matters between the victors and losers of the war, and held as a Round Table. But its actual location may shed further light on Edward’s deep belief in his symbolic inheritance.

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