Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-x24gv Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-12T19:45:00.637Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

7 - To Fight on Horse or Foot? Dismounting in the Age of Chivalry

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2024

Kelly DeVries
Affiliation:
United States Military Academy
Get access

Summary

This article explores the reasons why mounted men-at-arms might dismount to fight, individually or collectively, focusing mainly on the late medieval period. The interface between mounted and dismounted combat is examined together with the factors that led either to success or failure. The grounds for dismounting were varied, but the handling of the horses and concern for their safety remained a continuous thread that impacted on the course of events and frequently decided the outcome of engagements. Although generally associated with English armies of the Hundred Years’ War, dismounting to fight was, in fact, a well-established practice throughout Western Europe. Yet, no matter how courageous or experienced, when those on foot faced cavalry, the outcome could never be certain, hence the deployment of anti-equestrian devices, such as pits, caltrops, and stakes, to try to equal the odds. The most effective defense against cavalry, however, was the judicious use of terrain, particularly hedges and vineyards, and an analysis will be made of how these specific features were utilized. The armor of the period reflected a nation's fighting preferences and in the most successful armies, men-at-arms transitioned easily between being on horseback or on foot and combined well with archers and other arms. The loss of this flexibility caused significant problems, as the English discovered to their cost.

Introduction

The decision to fight on foot or to remain mounted depended upon practical considerations, as well as social, chivalric, national, and traditional norms, which sometimes conflicted with tactical sense. Mounted men-at-arms were essential for certain specific tasks. When acting as coureurs, they scouted ahead of the army and protected its flanks and foragers, engaged in reconnaissance in force, chevauchées, long-distance raids, and feigned retreats. Horsemen could also find and fix enemy infantry formations until their own footmen were brought up, and were essential for a successful pursuit, while the low mobility of infantry made it the natural arm of defense.

Traditionally, cavalry was the arm of the social elite, the equites or chevaliers and, as Jean Giraudoux noted, the most important part of the knight was the horse, which raised the warrior above his subjects, giving testament to his wealth, physical and psychological powers.

Type
Chapter
Information
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2023

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×