Short Reads

Follow up on Knight v. Knight

This post is a follow up to the former “Knight in Game of Thrones versus Knight in Medieval Europe”. Don’t miss it!

[1] u/sarkos asked

In what way was it a requirement to be wealthy? Is that just to afford the plate armour, or did they have to pay something to someone? Could plate armour be pilfered from a battlefield to make someone a knight?

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2644, f. 135v ~ When left to their own device, men-at-arms would ransack cities and ruin the countryside to amass wealth. Those rogue “companies” proved to be very difficult to regulate untill Kings maintained permanent armies.

I answered the following

A knight (or any man-at-arm for that matter) was never expected to go alone on the battlefield. He had auxiliaries such as mounted archers, a “coutilier”, a page, and more. He would also have servants or maids to take care of him and his belongings. Back on the battlefield, his archers would take custody of the enemies he could put to ransom, he also needed someone to bring him a fresh horse if his steed died, and so on. A medieval battle was a much messy affair. Therefore, if you count that a knight needed a personal retinue, an actual household, in addition to his personal equipment, he required some substantial wealth.

The only knight with pilfered armor to have ever existed was Don Quixote. And that is a novel character 😉

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2644, f. 142r ~Knights were expected to protect the Church and ecclesiastical communities. However, it was not always the case: more than often churches were burnt down and their riches spoiled.

[2] u/FacesOfMu then asked

Thanks for your awesome comments. I had this (mistaken?) idea that being knighted bestowed a steady income of sorts, but what you’ve said is that would only be the case if the Prince felt the need and generosity to provide it.

Was there much of a tradition of Princes providing income to knights? Were knights often given land to oversee and defend that they didn’t own or inherit previously?

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2644, f. 265r ~ Knights and more broadly nobles were never travelling alone; they were always followed by members of their household and when arriving to a new place they’d often find new people spontaneously proposing their service.

I answered the following

Unfortunately being knighted bestowed no such thing as a steady income. A medieval army typically was not supposed to be permanent. It was only called upon for a limited amount of time. However, Charles V of France, then Charles VII, his grandson, instituted permanent armies to put an end to the Hundred Years War. The latter furthermore insured that his permanent army would outlive him. In doing so he laid of the foundation of the modern State.

A permanent army needed a full-on taxation system. However taxes were incredibly impopular in the Middle Ages. Moreover the King or the Princes were expected to live from the wealth generated by their own lands. They could call on the help of the people through the representative assemblies, but they proved relunctant to do it since it would only diminish their prestige and power on the long run (which is exactly what happened to the King of England).

If we look at the revenue of the captains that waged war for France or England in the 14th and 15th century, we can only observe how irregular they are. Someone like La Hire tried to make money from any way known to man. (This statement is an obvious exaggeration, but still…) Extorsions and ransoms made up for his daily bread. He couldn’t rely solely on the king’s generosity. Sometimes the king would grant him a land and then the Parliament would refuse to proceed the donation. La Hire took money from other princes, and back in 1419 he was even allowed to mint money himself! As Antoine de Chabannes, his former student, would later observe, La Hire nevertheless died poor. “La Hyre never gained from the kings the wealth he deserved. He died full of debts, so much that the year he died he borrowed 100 golden crowns from Antoine de Chabannes, count of Dammartin. The latter took it as a warning for he had been La Hyre’s page.” [J. Le Clerc, Cronique martiniane. Edited by Pierre Champion. Paris: Champion, 1907, p. 51]

[Further readings: Francis Rousseau, La Hire de Gascogne. Étienne de Vignolles. 1380-1443. Prefaced by Régine Pernoud. Mont-de-Marsan: Lacoste, 1969; D. Lemaire, « Guise et son atelier monétaire », in Revue numismatique, 165, 2009, p. 307-339]

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2643, f. 60r ~ Contrarily to popular belief, knights didn’t disregard cannons or fireweapons, they were quite fascinated by it. Firing a cannonball would become customary to mark the beginning of a siege. However, it only meant more expenses to keep up with the military techonology.

And I’m only speaking here of La Hire who was not even a knight! There is no doubt that Charles VII liked him a great deal and thought of him as one of his best captains, yet he proved unable to afford him (he would only set up a permanent taxation system and institute a permanent army a few years after La Hire’s death).

In addition to their personal wages, all captains were responsible for paying the men in their retinue. The more senior the command and the more captaincies held, the greater were the sums which the crown contracted to pay to an individual captain. This gave opportunities for personal enrichment at the expense of either the crown or soldiers, but at the same time created the risk of loss if the crown failed to honour its obligations.” [Quote: A. J. Pollard, John Talbot and the war in France. 1427-1453. Londres: Royal Historical Society, 1983, p. 108-109]

Knights were often chosen as captains, therefore they could expect a lot of expenses, especially more so if their men or themselves were captured and put to ransom. This almost totally ruined John Talbot, knight of the Order of the Garter: “When Talbot was taken prisoner at the battle of Patay in 1429 he was set to ransom at a sum considered to be exorbitant. […] The reaction in England in 1429 including the establishment of something like a public subscription and petition by the commons on Talbot’s behalf in view of the ‘unreasonable and importable rauceon’, suggests most strongly that convention had been broken by the demand for a sum way beyond his means.” [Ibid., p. 113]

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2643, f. 180r ~The capture of a valuable enemy could generate a lot of revenue if he proved able to pay his ransom. Knights belonging to a particular Order of knighthood were often expected to help each other financially in case one of them was put to ransom.

However, Talbot was also the kind of man who’d ride in with a golden cape on the battlefield… And as Chastellain reports it, La Hire was no less extravagant.

Yet, if La Hire and Talbot were fiercely loyal to their respective parties, other captains of men-at-arms proved more free-willed when it came to make their living and they didn’t mind to switch their allegiance when needed. Kings and princes had to come up with a budget and it is of little surprise that Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, forecasted a substantial sum of money to arming, equipping and providing horses to his men. It was exactly the same amount that he expected to spend in charity to the Church. [Read: M.-A. Arnould, “Le premier budget du duc Charles de Bourgogne (1467-1468)“, in Bull. de la Commission royale d’Histoire, 1984, p. 226-271]

From the 13th to the 15th century knights could also expect an indemnity for everyday they were waging war for their king or lord. Their payroll was better than those of simple men-at-arms and archers, though it wasn’t much, but that privilege would fade away with the institution of permanent and fully professionalized armies.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2643, f. 174r

More on the topic:

Christopher Allmand, The Hundred Years War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Philippe Contamine, Guerre, état et société à la fin du moyen âge. Études sur les armées des rois de France. 1337-1494. Paris: Mouton, 1972.

I. Heath, Arms of the Middle Ages, vol. 1. The Hundred Years’ War, the Wars of the Roses and the Burgundian Wars, 1300-1487. Wargames Research Group, 1982.

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