Bernard Bachrach

title.none: Ayton and Price, eds., Medieval Military Revolution (Bachrach)

identifier.other: baj9928.9912.001 99.12.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Bernard Bachrach, University of Minnesota,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Ayton, Andrew and J.L. Price, eds. The Medieval Military Revolution: State, Society and Military Change in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. Pp. vii, 208. HB $65.00. 1-850-43830-7. ISBN: PB $24.50. 1-860-64353-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.12.01

Ayton, Andrew and J.L. Price, eds. The Medieval Military Revolution: State, Society and Military Change in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. Pp. vii, 208. HB $65.00. 1-850-43830-7. ISBN: PB $24.50. 1-860-64353-1.

Reviewed by:

Bernard Bachrach
University of Minnesota

This peculiarly titled volume of ten essays (including the introduction) is a collection of interesting and often significant studies but most of these are little concerned with what traditionally is considered the "military revolution". However, the review of the state of the question aired in the introductory contribution by Ayton and Price is worth the price of the book. They conclude: military revolution of the early-modern period, as identified by some scholars, needs, therefore, to be placed in the context of the almost equally radical changes which took place in the later Middle Ages, not to mention the very varied military experiences of the Middle Ages as a whole. The period covered by the military revolution must in consequence be extended backwards well into the later medieval centuries, but this change would bring the question whether a transformation which took place over such a long period--perhaps from the early fourteenth to the end of the eighteenth century --can be usefully called a revolution at all.(p.17) This observation is well founded and should help us to do away with yet one more serious distortion of the medieval era as perpetuated by specialists in early modern history.

Of the ten essays in this volume only six deal with matters that properly can be considered medieval. In the last four non-medieval essays Peter Heath treats war and peace in the writing of Erasmus, Howell Lloyd deals with Clichtove' views on the just war, R.W. Ambler provides a biographical sketch of the late sixteenth century soldier Sir William Pelham, and Price examines the role of war in the society of the Dutch republic during the seventeenth century.

The first of the medieval essays, J.J.N. Palmer's "The Conquerors's Footprints in Domesday Book," is a provocative effort to undermine traditional reliance on the great survey of 1086 to reconstruct Duke William's march to London following his victory at Hastings. It has long been argued that the levels of damage recorded in Domesday provide evidence for the line of march undertaken by William's army as well as for their encampments. Palmer correctly points out that those who have used this method do not agree on many points regarding the march and, in addition, places that one would expect to have suffered seriously show comparatively little evidence of such suffering while places that one would expect not to have suffered did in fact suffer.

The tradition of English scholarship on this problem has been highly rhetorical--could one expect anything else when Round and Freeman were involved--with little good will and much intentional misunderstanding. Generally, quantitative information has been wielded like a blunt instrument when it supports a particular argument and minutely dissected when it is not supportive. Palmer has adopted these traditions and the reader is treated to a fine display of Oxbridge rhetoric as practiced by only the best undergraduates. However, like his predecessors, Palmer knows his Domesday well and thus his work will likely be seen as one more polemic on an already overheated but little advanced subject.

The basic problem with Palmer's study and the works against which is he arguing is that one must not only be well informed about Domesday book with all of the methodological problems entailed in its use but one needs to know a great deal about armies and logistics. Palmer, for example, gives his readers no reason to believe that he knows much about either. He appears to have no idea of the size of William's army after Hastings--probably no more than 8,000 effectives--nor any general notion of the number of horses, nor the speed with which various units could possibly move. The logistic needs of the army, of course, must be considered to have played some role in whatever damage was done to the land. Whatever assumptions Palmer makes regarding William's army are not exposed and his reasons for making whatever assumptions he makes are even more opaque if that is possible. Finally, in returning to Domesday, itself, it seems worthwhile to look into the background of the men, who held lands that suffered but who, according to Palmer's rhetoric, should not have seen their lands suffer. In short, may not at least some of the "unexpected" damage have been politically motivated rather than collateral damage caused by military operations?

The second essay, Barbara English's "Town, Mottes and Ring- works of the Conquest" also is provocative and for many of the same reasons noted above with regard to Palmer's study, although we can be thankful that it does not suffer from a plethora of rhetorical conceits. It is the burden of English's argument that the "castles" built during the early phase of the Conquest were "ring-works" and, secondly, that Brian Davison's important but generally rejected 1969 thesis should be sustained. It is well recognized that England and America share a common culture separated by a common language and this is perhaps most visible in the study of medieval history. The English use the word castle in a very broad sense much as the French use chateau when the more general term "fortification" would be far less misleading. In any case, the ring-works look much like the Roman army camps as described in detail by Vegetius in his De re Militari (as it survived in the edition of 450 A.D.) which served as the basic military handbook in the medieval West.

Most English scholars (contra Davison) insist that William the Conqueror introduced and built motte-and-bailey "castles" in England from the start as an intrinsic part of the Norman revolution which generally includes the now discredited notion of "feudalism". From an evidential perspective, the focus of English's argument are accounts of the fortifications built by Duke William at Pevensy and Hastings almost immediately after he landed in England. She argues that these were fortifications of the ring-work type rather than of the mottle- and-bailey type. She is correct on this but the point has been made before and in some detail by this reviewer.

In short, English is woefully uninformed regarding scholarly work on this topic. She does not appear to know the scholarship that shows the inadequacy of the Bayeux Tapestry in regard to military matters, she is unaware that Davis' 1972 effort to strike the Carmen from the canon of contemporary sources for the Conquest has been overturned, she is uninformed regarding the speed with which fortifications of various types could be and were built with the primitive tools of the ancient and medieval periods and thus speculates without basis on what was and what was not possible. Finally, English gives no indication that she has any idea regarding the order of magnitude of the force, including non-combatants, that Duke William mobilized for the conquest--now established at about 14,000. Not only was it necessary for William to protect a force as large as two strong Roman legions of the Republican and early imperial era but some 2,000 to 3,000 expensive war horses, as well. In addition, he built fortifications to protect a part of his fleet. Thus, it should hardly be surprising to learn that the duke took advantage of already existing fortifications at Pevensy and Hastings to build a fortified camp (castrum) in the Roman imperial style, which took advantage of the already existing military structures in the area, called by modern English scholars a "ring-work", in each place, and not motte-and-bailey "castles".

John Walker's "Alms for the Holy Land: the English Templars and their Patrons," is unconcerned both with military history in any proper sense and the military revolution in any sense. Rather, Walker is interested in knowing whether those who donated to the Templar houses in England were aware that through these donations they were providing crucial support for the war effort in the Holy Land. Walker concludes, not implausibly: "a small but important minority of the order's patrons were evidently aware of the problems faced by the Christian forces in the east." and "For that reason it is possible to suggest that the patronage of the English Templars was, in part at least, a result of the desire to help the order in the performance of its role." (p. 76)

Walker's study would have been markedly improved had he made a broadly based effort to make clear what was known in England about the course of the crusades and, in particular, of the role played by the Templars in these efforts. His criteria with regard to understanding the sociology of knowledge are far too narrow. Walker understands the bias of the sources he uses in regard to their emphasis on religious motivation but does not seem aware in this context of the widely developed notion that fighting the Muslims was recognized as a religious act. Finally, it is important to emphasize that acting for putative "ties of family and lordship", which he can identify at least by reasonable inference, does not mean that people act only in light of a single motive.

Andrew Ayton, co-editor of this volume and the author of a very well researched monograph, Knights and War Horses (1994), has produced an intriguing study "Knights, Esquires and Military Service: The Evidence of the Armorial Cases before the Court of Chivalry." However, the reader must be warned that Ayton is an unreconstructed romantic who speaks of the gentry as a "warrior class" and frequently confounds aristocrats with gentry. It is not at all clear when he uses the word "knight" whether he is discussing social status--aristocratic or gentry- -or whether he is talking about a particular type of fighting man. At one point he cites a figure for the gentry in the later Middle Ages as being composed of some 9,000-10,000 families without either defining family or indicating whether is talking about pre- or post-plague England or whether people living in Scotland and Wales not to mention Ireland are included. He then observes that as many as 4,500 men-at-arms were paid at one time or another during the siege of Calais in 1346-47. These figures, Ayton belatedly recognizes cannot be shown to have any relation to the number of gentry families cited above.

The records of the "Court of Chivalry" are used here by Ayton to identify the social status of men who were on campaign and who, as a result of their being in military service at one time or another (but not necessarily as career professionals), have a reason to testify in a case before the court. An examination of the famous Lovel-Morley case of the mid-1380s provides a basis for this article which presents a rather disconnected account of interesting tid-bits concerning the people who testified and what they said with a particular emphasis on heraldic display. In sum, Ayton recognizes that he cannot base statistical arguments regarding the participation of the "gentry" in warfare and his information, in fact, gives very little reason to believe that there was widespread participation on a regular basis. In this context, Ayton is effective in identifying the limitations of his sources but his rhetoric would seem to be focused upon having his readers ignore the limitations. Among other foibles, Ayton makes the unwarranted assumption that because some upper class soldiers began in military service at a young age they therefore learned the art of war from experience and not from books. As the ancient tradition, which carried on into the Middle Ages, makes clear, learning from books and practical experience are not mutually exclusive but rather reinforcing behaviors. However, Ayton does recognize that only a small percentage of English armies was composed of "knights", here used in terms of social class(?), much less of higher ranking nobles. On the whole Ayton's tour through this "trial" material stimulates more questions than it provides answers and anyone interested in later medieval English armies would do well to consult these sources in depth.

The final medieval essay, D.M. Pallisar, "Town Defences in Medieval England and Wales," addresses a narrow aspect of the broad question, initially posed by J.C. Bond: "The whole rationale of town defenses is still imperfectly understood. Why were some towns provided with defences while other of similar size in a similar situation were not?" (p. 5) More specifically, Pallisar intends to concentrate on the period from ca. 1200 onward and answer the question: "Why were some towns provided with full circuits of stone (or brick) and some with earthworks, while others remained completely undefended?" (p. 107) Pallisar observes: "those places that never acquired stone walls were generally among the less important towns." He then goes on to call attention to several "significant towns" including four "cathedral cities" and seven "shire towns" that had no fortifications (p. 8). Indeed, fewer than 80% of England's 23 largest and most prosperous towns either had completed or were building stone circuits between 1334 and 1377. How many of these had completed stone circuits by the end of the fourteenth century is not made clear. While Pallisar does not particularly like military arguments for the building of walls, which he inaccurately characterizes as "military determinism", he feels compelled to recognize that defense was the basic reason for building walls. However, he fails to answer Bond's broad question with specifics nor even his own narrow version of it. Indeed, it is difficult to find in Pallisar's piece a focused effort to explain why a particular town was provided with defences while one of similar size and in similar situation was not. Indeed, the variables "similar size" and "similar situation" are not addressed in a sufficiently detailed manner that would make it possible to provide answers.

On the whole this volume by Ayton and Price is to be recommended to military historians who are prepared to address pointed and potentially embarrassing epistemological questions. The authors of the separate articles provide useful introductions, although largely unintentionally, to numerous methodological problems that can be explored with profit by instructors and those of their students who are interested in learning from the mistakes and "fuzzy thinking" of others.