Although the roles of knights and cavalrymen are often confused, the two are actually different.
Although the roles of knights and cavalrymen are often confused, the two are actually different. Knights were mounted warriors who fought as an aggregate of individuals; cavalry were tactical bodies of horsemen who fought as a cohesive unit. Knights, who dominated the battlefields of central and western Europe from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, were identified by their horses, armor, and weapons. Although it was not a violation of the knightly code for knights to fight on foot, knights generally fought on horseback, wearing armor, and engaged in hand-to-hand combat using couched lances, broadswords, and other shock weapons, such as maces. Knights’ proper opponents were other knights, not the ill-disciplined and badly armed infantrymen who accompanied medieval armies.
The usual knightly tactic was the frontal charge, with the horsemen forming up in a line and riding toward the enemy’s line, reaching a full gallop some 30 to 40 yards before colliding with the enemy. Unless one foe was badly inferior in number or morale, allowing the line to be broken, hand-to-hand
For all of their deficiencies, knights proved their mettle against Byzantine and Muslim forces, and for nearly 250 years after the Battle of
The development of gunpowder weapons after 1325 did little to change warfare for 150 years. Their first niche was in siege
Medieval knights face a massed infantry pike formation, against which, in their heavy armor and their large, unwieldy horses, they became less and less effective.
During the Italian Wars of
French king Henry II is wounded in a joust the year of the treaty between France and Spain that ended decades of war between the two countries.
France was the last place in Europe where knights continued to be used as a major part of the army. This tradition reflected the attitude of the French nobles, who regarded fighting on horseback as their God-given right. The Spanish had never developed much of a force of armored horsemen because their principal foe through the Middle Ages had been the light cavalry of the Moors and because Spanish agriculture was incapable of breeding many of the heavy horses the knights required. The English had been using armored men as heavy infantry since conquering Wales in the thirteenth century. English ability to deploy armored men on horseback was severely limited by the lack of heavy horses. The Italians had used men-at-arms as their principal fighting force until 1494, but one consequence of the Italian Wars of 1494-1559 was a rapid decline in that system. A city such as Venice would keep some armored horsemen under arms until late in the sixteenth century, but this practice was more for the appeasement of its noble class than for any practical value the knights had on the battlefield.
The nobles, who still insisted on their right to fight on horseback, found that the pistol could be effective from horseback, especially if they carried three or four of them, which could be loaded in advance, placed in slings or in their boots, and fired in rapid succession. The wheel-lock pistol was badly inaccurate at any distance beyond a few paces and only more so when fired from a moving horse. However, a horseman firing three or four pistols rapidly could have some hope of hitting a foe. The pistol was a one-handed weapon, which allowed the rider a free hand to control his horse. Although there had been mounted harquebusiers in most European armies since 1500, the sparking match of the harquebusiers’ two-handed weapons frightened their horses, and the harquebusiers usually dismounted to fire. Pistols offered many benefits: Pistolers could shed much of their armor, making their mobility the key to what success they had; their horses could be smaller and cheaper; and it required less training to use a pistol than a lance.
Mounted pistolers first appeared in the war between Charles V and the Lutheran princes in Germany (1546-1555). When they served in Charles’s army that fought the French for control of Lorraine (1553-1554), the French called them
The values–and limitations–of the caracole maneuver were demonstrated in the Battle of Dreux in 1562.
By the time Henry
Baumgartner, Frederic. “The Final Demise of the Medieval Knight in France.” In Regnum, Religio, et Ratio, edited by Jerome Friedman. St. Louis, Mo.: Sixteenth Century, 1988. Delbrück, Hans. The History of the Art of War. Translated by Walter Renfroe. 4 vols. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985. Ellis, John. Cavalry: The History of Mounted Warfare. New York: Putnam, 1978. Reprint. Barnsley, England: Pen and Sword, 2004. Eltis, David. The Military Revolution in the Sixteenth Century. London: I. B. Tauris, 1995. France, John. “Men of War: Cavalry.” In Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, 1000-1300. London: UCL Press, 1999. Gillmor, Carroll. “Cavalry, Ancient and Medieval.” In The Reader’s Companion to Military History, edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. Gravett, Christopher. Real Knights: Over Twenty True Stories of Battle and Adventure. Illustrated by John James. New York: Enchanted Lion Books, 2005. _______. Tudor Knight. Illustrated by Graham Turner. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2006. Hall, Bert. Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Hyland, Ann. The Warhorse, 1250-1600. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 1998. Morillo, Stephen. “The ‘Age of Cavalry’ Revisited.” In The Circle of War in the Middle Ages: Essays on Medieval Military and Naval History, edited by Donald J. Kagay and L. J. Andrew Villalon. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell Press, 1999. Sinclair, Andrew. Man and Horse: Four Thousand Years of the Mounted Warrior. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 2008. Urban, William L. The Teutonic Knights: A Military History. London: Greenhill, 2003. Knights and Armor. Documentary. History Channel, 2004. Tales of the Gun: Early Guns. Documentary. History Channel, 1998. The Works: Guns and Ammo. Documentary. History Channel, 2008.
Cavalry: Ancient and Medieval
Handarms to Firearms
Galleys to Galleons