The morale or fighting spirit of an army has always been a most important if intangible factor in military success. Clausewitz believed that “the moral [psychological] elements are among the most important in war.” Field-Marshal Montgomery went so far as to claim that “the morale of the soldier is the greatest single factor in war.” And Napoleon's dictum has often been quoted: in war “the moral is to the physical as three is to one.” Since morale is such an elusive quality, however, its role in military history can be nearly lost in the study of battles of long ago. Indeed, the historians of medieval warfare have been little concerned with it. Philippe Contamine, in his War in the Middle Ages, includes a short chapter on courage, which focuses on theological definitions of courage as a virtue and risk assessment in the wars of the later middle ages. J. F. Verbruggen makes a number of valuable comments on the psychology of war. But these two are notable exceptions. Of course, the evidence for mental states in medieval battles is severely limited, but even what little there is has been largely overlooked.
For at least one significant battle, the Battle of the Standard, there is evidence which shows the psychology of one of the two armies which faced one another on a foggy August morning in 1138. We can see in considerable detail the low morale of the northern English forces as they tried in desperation to stop a devastating invasion by the king of Scotland. We can see their concerns and fears, and some of the attempts by the leaders to overcome them and rouse their spirits. We indeed get a remarkable glimpse of “the face of battle”—or at least the pre-battle. Military historians of the middle ages have neglected this building of battle morale entirely; although other historians have made passing reference to it. Since the evidence for the morale of the English army at the Battle of the Standard is so unusual and full, it deserves greater attention. The developments leading up to the battle will be considered briefly, and then evidence that reveals the psychology of a medieval army will be considered in detail.