Cavalry

Medieval Calvary
Throughout time horses have played an important role in society. Since their first introduction, they have continued to prove that they are a valuable asset. The horse fulfilled this role durning the middle ages to almost a key, in both personal and state affiars. It was in state affairs during the middle ages that the Cavalry rose to become an important part of the battle stratagies of medieval commanders. The unit of choice went from Northren Europes intialy based infantry system into a largely dependent cavalary based system. During the cavalarys rain as quaterback of the medieval battlefield, it did not go through untouched, but took some setbacks from certian counter messures designed to combat cavalary . Despite these setbacks, the cavalary managed to maintian it’s high level of importnace in medieval battle stratgy.
The rise of the calavary in western Europe began for a number of a reasons that all happened around the same time. One of the most influintial of these events was the lose of the Franks to the Romans in 554 A.D. . This lose lead to an increase in the overall size of the average westren European cavalary . It was at this battle that the infantry based Franks faced a tough defeat at the hands of the Romans. The Romans of that day unlike their opponents had come to the battle field with a wide variety of tatical units at its disposal. The unit that proved to be the most effective of them all still was the cavalary, both that day in 554 A.D. and for many future days in European warfare . These horse and rider tandums of the Romans proved to be effective both as heavy cavalry, and mounted archers agianst the Frankish footmen. It was then after this deafeat during the sixth to ninth century that the number of cavalry units per solider in the Frankish military system began to increase.
Not only were the Europeans at the time taking lessons from the Romans in the benifiets of a strong cavalry, but they were also being schooled in the beniefits of a good mobile cavalry by the Byzantine empire. The Byzantine Strategos (commanders) like the romans made good use of the many different facets of their army but still used the cavalry as it’s focal point. Unlike the Romans though the Westerners learnt of the Bzyantine tatics more through cooperation then through battles agianst each other. These times of cooperation came during the first crusades, when eastern and western Europe united thier forces agianst the infidels of the middle east and sought to reclaim the Holy City. Although the Byzantines used both their Heavy and Light infantry throughout the campaign it was the first of these two styles that was taken up by the Western Europeans. It is this heavy cavalry that would later lead to the developmeant of knights, in medieval warfare.
With all of this in mind, the Europeans early on used their cavalry mainly for defensive purposes agianst quick raids from Turks, Ukrainians and Vikings. It wasn’t until the fall of Constantinople in 1204 at the hands of Western knights that the western cavalry finally had its place of importance secured in Medieval warfare tatics. It was then with this combination of Western European courage, mixed with Byzantine and Roman military tatics that produced the ever powerful and long standing cavalry of the middle ages.

Although the cavalary made great leaps and bounds in securing its position of importance in medeival war tatics, it didn’t come with out its fair share of problems. One of the biggest problems facing the medeival cavalary was the archer . A favorite weapon of the English archer, common for causing this type of trouble is the long bow. Used agianst the Turks in 1432 the long bow proved to be far superior weapon agianst the opposing Turkish cavalary as did the short bows of the Turks agianst the European Cavalary. Although the long bow had good success at first, advancements were made in European armour technology that greatly reduced its effectivness. By the 1350s armour was beening developed that was 75% effective in keeping out long bow arrows. But while the armourers were gaining in skill, weapons where changing and the weapon of choice for the continintal European archer went from the long bow to the cross bow.
Although the origins of the crossbow are not positively know, what is know is its effectivness as an infantry counter messure agianst cavalary . The average crossbow used by the infantry of the late 1400s would have been able to shoot up to 500 yards and was still capable of penetrating a knights armour if it hit at the right angle. The crossbow capable of doing this was called the arblet, not only did it prove to be very lethal, but it was also very expensive. It was this high price that made it too expensive for it to be a part of any natioanl armies standard equipment. So to gain the benefiet of this new found weapon professional forces of crossbowmen could be found for regular work at a price that any commander would be willing to pay . The reason they were in such high demand by army commanders was because a well trained group of crossbow men would be able to fend off almost any cavalarys charge with very little damage sustained on their part. An example of this is at the battle of Jaffa in 1192, King Richard the I stayed safe in the middle of his crossbowmen as they turned aside all of the attackers cavalary charges .
The immurgence of a new missle weapon that could also peirce a knights best armour was called the gun. It was first developed and used in Germany in 1381. At that time the hand gun was no more then a small cannon attached to a wooden shaft, that weighed about 10 pounds and had a dismal reload rate . This inferiority to other missle weapons of the time lead to a retardation in its development and its overall lack of popularity. Although very deadly at close range the hand gun never gained general usage until the invention of the wheel-lock in 1517 .

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An other style of weapon that proved to be a thorn in any cavalary mans side was the pike Used mainly by Swiss forces, the pike could range any where from 12 to 18 feet in length and had langets that were at least 24 inches long. A phalanx of such pikes and pikeman would be impregnable to any cavalry attack and any other attack for that matter . In the same weapons category as the pike are also the Halberds and Partizans. The halberds another Swiss weapon, were nothing more then a 12 inch blade on the end of a seven foot pole, with a spike on the top. The halberd when used properly was capable of delivering a blow of such great force that even armour with a double armourer’s mark would not be able to with stand such a blow . The partizan, developed in Italy, also proved to be a very simple yet effective weapon agianst the cavalry. The partizan consited of a foot long spike attached to the end of an eight foot long pole and so was very easy to make. This weapons effectivness and simplicity led to its spread through out Europe, fairly quickly in the late 1400s.
Although all of these improvements in tatics agianst the cavalry created a larger threat to it, the largest threat came from its own effectivness. The Cavalries ability to route enemies so quickly, grew to such stature that it became almost the only type of unit on the medeival battle field . This over usage of Cavalry allowed for opposing commanders to make good guesses of what tatics his oppenent was going to use and to plan counter messures. It is these counter messures that allowed the oppurtunity for the newly designed weapons to come into play and be put to work. The two countries who used these new defensive tatics the most effectively, were the Swiss and English . Although their defenses proved effective an easy way to counter this cavalry assualt, it would have failed if the attackers had used strategies similiar to that of the Byzantine empire. Although the cavalry was the focal point of the Byzantine empire’s tatics they always made sure it was only a portion of a well rounded assualt by all types of units . This diversity in attacking units would not allow the defending commander the easy one way solution to countering the attack.
Even with all of these adverse effects the cavalry continued to remain the most important unit in an commanders army. In dealing with the increases in weapon development the cavalry was constantly being suited up in always improving armour. These upgrades in armour led to the development of Plate Armour which eventualy would replaced chain mail as the armour of choice in northern and western Europe . What made plate armour so appealing to the cavalry was it offered a defense agianst the English longbows and some European crossbows. As more time went by the armourers continued to become more and more skilled, and learned how to make better custom-built suits of armour. These suits fitted the knights so well that the weight of the metal would hardly be felt by its wearer . Not only was armour being developed too protect the rider better but it was also being designed too better protect the horses of the medevial cavalry.

The horses of the these early cavalries would have had little to no armour, protecting them. Just as the knights faced an ever growing threat from new weapons so did the horses, and since a cavalry man is best suited for fighting from on top of his horse, it became crucial to keep his horse alive so he could stay on top of it. At first the horses were equipped with chain mail slips, similiar to that of a soliders chain mail but molded to fit a horses body. Then just as the knights switched from chain mail to plate armour so did the horses . One of the first places that was fitted with plate armour was the horses head. This piece of armour called the chanfron covered the horses entire head and sometimes had a spike protruding from its forehead . What real purpose this spike served is not sure but what it defenitly did was strike fear in the hearts of a cavalrymans enemies.

This use of fear by the cavalrymen proved to be one of its biggest reasons for success. It was through this use of fear that many cavalry charges were able to disperse their enemis before they even met the opposing lines. This dissertion most often occured in unhardened soldiers who had been drafted to fight in a countries army and had never heard the thunderous clomping of a full cavalry charge. It was this exact use of fear that Count William Clito of Flanders used in sending Walram’s forces running back home with .
The major reason for most opposing armies panic was their ussual lack of disicpline. With most national levies filled by conscripted soldiers from the general public, it is know wonder that when faced with the charge of a fully mounted cavalry that panic and disorder would take hold and they would flee the battle . Commanders facing an army with a fully trained cavalry came to accept the fear they caused, and would usually stand by as their national levies became fodder for the opposing armies mounted units . This use of fear worked great agianst armies with bad morale and who were unorganized, but agianst a vetran army of infantry the cavalry could face stiff resiestance.

The easiest way around this resistance was the use of a well balanced attack, and not just the one pronged attack of the cavalry. It was the Romans who came up with this multipronged attack plan but it was the Byzantine empire of the fourth century that first used this technique the most effectively . These multi-pronged attacks consisting of infantry, archers, and cavalry proved to be very succesful agianst any army using only one or two of these type of units. The key to the success for this three way attack style still lied heavily in an armies cavalry because they were the only units capable of delievering an offensive blow strong enough to defeat an enemy .
Even with all the changes being made to the cavalry’s armour and weapons one last reason that it was able to maintain its position of stature for so long was because of the prestiouges postion a cavalry man held in the courts of western and northron Europe . It was this prestige that turned the knights of Europe from ordinary men into revered icons of medeival society. So even if the total effectivness of the cavalry decreased over time, it was able to maintain its stature due to the position it held in so many of the peoples hearts .

So from its birth at the hands of the Romans in the 400-500s the cavalry made many changes of its own to help sustain its effectivness on the battlefield . It was then soon after its first appearence on the battle field that the Byzantine empire also took up the usage of cavalry in its armies. It was here that the true effectiveness of the cavalry finally became known. Used by the Byzantines to such an effectiveness, it was no wonder that the cavalry was soon adpoted by the westren Europeans .
It was then under the western Europeans that the cavalry grew to become the center piece of medeival warfare. Although it faced many difficulities throughout its usage during the middle ages, the cavalry was able to overcome almost everyone of them. As bow strengths increased so did the strength of a knights armour and that of his horses . These advancements in armour construction turned the normal horse and rider into the tank of the middle ages. And just like the tanks of today, the cavalry of the middle ages instilled fear and panic into the hearts of its oppenets. It was this useage of fear and panic that allowed the cavalry to be as effective as it was during the middle ages.

This effeciency of the cavalry allowed it to maitain its postition of importance in any commanders tatics for an unsurpassed amount of time. With its first usage by the Romans in 400s, the cavalry was still in use into the begging of the 1900s. It was in WWI that commanders on both sides of the battle lines were still sending cavalry charges over the top. It was then during WWI that the new and upcoming weapon of choice, the gun, claimed its final dominace over the once glourious and illustrious campaign of the cavalry.


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