Church History
Babylonian Captivity

Crisis of Feudalism : Military Defeats

The purpose of nobility in the tripartite feudal society was to provide protection. He did that by being armed and trained; a nobleman had armour and battlehorses. A knight on horseback was superior to foot soldiers regarding both his mobility and his armour. The BATTLES OF HASTINGS (1066) and BOUVINES (1214) had proven that the cavalry, i.e. the host of knights on horseback, fighting in close combat for individual glory, were the decisive element on the battlefield.
There were geographical regions where the superiority of knights on horseback could not be applied - the marshes of FRISIA where, if a dyke was pierced, the knights had to ascend the dykes with the marshes on their right and left pierced, and the enemy charging on boats, leaving entire hosts of knights with no choice but to surrender. Or alpine valleys, where a small number of farmers could easily defend crucial mountain passes against forces superior in number. Both in Frisia and SWITZERLAND, petty republican communities developed; the regions were non-feudal.
The Tatar victories over strong hosts of knights in the BATTLES OF LEGNICA and SAJO 1241 showed that feudal hosts were vulnerable. In the wars leading to the conquest of Wales (achieved 1283), the English learned to respect the WELSH ARCHERS, which soon were integrated into English armies. These archers were to prove decisive in the English victories over the French at CRECY (1347), POITIERS (1356) and AZINCOURT (1415). In these battles, the English side was heavily outnumbered by the French. They defended their positions by setting up stakes and waited for wave after wave of French knights to attack. Showers of arrows fell down on attacking knights and horses. Yet, the knights were unwilling to give up their strategy and chose to ride into their death.
Around 1300, the hosts of knights were also challenged on Europe's battlefields by contingents of infantry : in Flanders in the men of the cities of Flanders in 1302, in the BATTLE OF THE GOLDEN SPURS, defeated a host of French knights. The burghers marched in tight infantry units armed with pikes.
In 1314, in the BATTLE OF BANNOCKBURN, the Scots, with only a weak cavalry, defeated the English and lastingly reestablished the nation's independence.
After JAN HUS had been burnt at the stake as a heretic by the COUNCIL OF CONSTANCE in 1415, his successors stuck to his theory, and crusades were organized to conquer Hus' native Bohemia and suppress the dissenters. However, the HUSSITES repelled crusade after crusade, and in the 1440es even left their country, invading other regions.

In the 14th century, the feudal knights were challenged on the battlefield, in the 15th century their way of fighting was clearly outdated. While countries like France, England, Poland reacted by restructuring their army, military orders such as the TEUTONIC and LIVONIAN KNIGHTS were affected worst, as the decline of knighthood questioneed their raison d'etre.


This page is part of World History at KMLA
Last revised on May 29th 2001


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