This is getting a bit big for a thread, so I just want to give some examples of medieval armies with a big contingent of what medieval people considered poor men. I already talked about Turkomen: most of those guys were just shepherds, so they usually had a bow and arrows, and maybe a club or a big knife, and their horses.
Edward I famously recruited big armies for his wars in Scotland (by medieval Latin standards, like a couple tens of thousands). They tended to fade away taking his crossbows with them because he was not so good at feeding and clothing and paying them. The early English armies in France also have a lot of poor Welsh knife-men (and later they are recruited by offering pardons to felons, so probably not all the most comfortable people). Scottish armies often impressed the English as poor because they didn’t bring the kind of luxuries that English armies often did, William Patten’s description of Pinkie Cleugh in 1548 has some good ones. He also has a good example of the servants grabbing weapons, because that was a big jump in status (just like getting some kind of a warhorse and declaring yourself a horse warrior was a big jump in status for a footsoldier).
A lot of soldiers in the 14th century did not own their kit, they borrowed it, or took out loans to buy it. In one of his letters Francesco di Marco Datini takes it for granted that when a company disperses most of the soldiers will be selling their kit cheap to pay their debts and tells his local agent to go and see what he can pick up. There is an incident early in the HYW where a bunch of knights from Haunault and places like that come to Edward III, ask for a job, and when he says he can’t pay them they beg for at least a little money so they can afford to travel home (he also demurs and the local dealers in used goods get rich). William the Marshall started out like that, he did great in a tournament but his horse was killed and he was so excited that he had forgotten to take anyone else’s. That would have been the end of his career if he hadn’t talked someone into lending him one for another tournament. A lot of the horsey fighty class were right on the margin between being gentle and having to work for a living.
Then there’s Adolph King of the Romans’ invasion of Austria with a “great multitude” or “copious multitude” in 1298 https://www.dmgh.de/mgh_ss_17/index.htm#page/264/mode/1up Our chronicler calls out two types as especially fearsome: the armed men who had an iron hat and a gambeson and a shirt of mail, and the possessers of destriers. But that means that there were a large number without that much kit!
So yes, armies in the second half of the middle ages did tend to be based around a well-equipped, highly skilled core and didn’t tend to be as big as the armies of big ancient kingdoms. But they tended to acquire a cloud of poorer, less respectable people.
- This reply was modified 6 months, 3 weeks ago by Philologus.