Saturday, 13 October 2012

The English Army at the Battle of Falkirk 1298

The English army was more professional and more mixed than that of the Scots. Many of the men were mercenaries or, at least, part time soldiers who were paid a wage when on campaign. In theory the King of England could call on able-bodied men to form a national army, like the Common Army of the Scots. In practice most English farmers preferred to pay a tax called scutage, or shield-money, instead. Those young men who did go to war could therefore be assured of good wages and would campaign for much longer than the 40 days expected of the militia.

It was these part-time semi-professional infantry who had formed the bulk of previous English armies. They were equipped with varying degrees of armour, a large triangular shield and an 8 foot spear as well as sword or dagger. As they spent many weeks together, these men could usually be relied upon to know basic formations and drills and to carry them out even in the heat of battle. In 1298, however, this armoured infantry was very much in a minority in Edward’s army. It is thought there were only about 3,000 of them.

Far more numerous were the Welsh and Irish mercenaries whom Edward had hired for the summer. These men had fought well for several seasons in France and served for hard cash only.

The Welsh were hired for their skills in archery. They came to battle effectively unarmoured, though most had helmets and many had light armour of various kinds. They were equipped with the longbow. This formidable weapon was up to six feet long and made of yew. It could shoot an arrow with startling accuracy and enormous power. A man needed years to learn to use a long bow effectively, but its arrows could pierce armour at ranges up to 100 yards and the aim was extremely accurate at such distances. Edward had about 8,000 Welsh archers with him at Falkirk.

The Irish lacked any such speciality. They fought unarmoured and were equipped with spear and knife. Their key weapon was the double-handed axe which they had borrowed from the Vikings. This formidable weapon could slice a man in half and bludgeon its way through any sort of armour, but it took great skill and long hours of practice to wield it effectively. The main use of these men on campaign was to guard camps and to raid the countryside through which the army passed, but they could be handy in a defensive battle. The numbers of Irish in Edward’s army is unknown.

Edward also had a large force of knights, perhaps as many as 2,000. Again these were, in theory, raised on the basis of a feudal levy but in practice many who held lands paid scutage instead. Most knights with Edward were paid fighters, but they were distinctly less professional than the infantry. Knights were more inclined to ignore orders and to make their own minds up about what needed doing. As proud aristocrats in a military society they were keen to win glory and honour in battle - especially younger sons who had little hope of inheriting family wealth.

from ENGLAND VS SCOTLAND by Rupert Matthews.

Buy your copy HERE

1 comment:

  1. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.