Thursday, 18 September 2014

Duchess Marie's Army

Marie of Burgundy, a petulant teenager landed 
with sudden responsibilities.
Charles the Bold's incessant warmongering had proved to be an expensive pastime, not only in terms of money, but in manpower too. His army of professional soldiers, which had stood at around 15-18,000 at the start of his conquest of Lorraine, was a mere 5-6,000 after the Battle of Morat in June 1476. Charles attempted to make good his losses, but despite increasing rates of pay, he was unable to rebuild his army. He resorted to the expedient of stripping certain garrisons of some of their manpower and calling for drafts of men from those owing him service as his feudal tenants; the Burgundian nobility and the cities of the Low Countries. He was also able to secure the services of some Italian Condottieri, among whom was the Count of Campobasso who would desert him at the Battle of Nancy. At his final battle Charles's army probably numbered just 8,000 men after Campobasso's defection.

In the Low Countries themselves were just four companies of the ordonnance, whose strength is not known. The company commanded by Philippe de Crèvecœur, Seigneur d'Esquerdes, which garrisoned Picardy, disintegrated when their captain took service with King Louis. Some men stayed loyal to Charles's heir, his seventeen year old daughter Marie, while others either disappeared, or took service with the French. The remaining companies of Flemings and Germans, under the captains Jan Van Broeckhuijsen and Claude de Dammartin, were spread across Flanders and Holland, leaving only a company of Italians and Savoyards under Giacopo di Visco, who were probably in Brabant.

What happened to these companies is unknown, but in the immediate chaos of news of Charles's death, the backlash against Burgundian officials in the cities of the Low Countries and the French invasion of Picardy, it seems unlikely that these forces remained intact once their pay stopped. Nevertheless that some of the junior leaders of these companies are mentioned later and that units of Flemish troops are mentioned in the Picardy Campaign, does suggest that some at least fought on. For the remainder there is no mention of companies of the ordonnance until the Emperor Maximilian attempted to institute his own ordonnance in the Autumn of 1477.   

What was more worrying was that those commanders with Charles at Nancy who did not escape in the rout and became prisoners of the Swiss, were handed over to the custody of the King of France. Louis was not to release these men until later in the year, to deny the Burgundian Duchess the benefit of their counsel on matters military. An additional problem was that Marie's father had collected the cash levies from his tenants and the cities due that year and no more could be collected until March at the earliest. The most able entities to help were the densely populated cities of Flanders, who while also threatened with a return to French overlordship, were forcing Marie's hand to restore their ancient rights and priviledges, which had been removed by her father and grandfather.

'Marie the Rich', the sobriquet given to Mary for all the land she inherited from her father, must have seemed somewhat ironic in the very early weeks of her reign. The only military forces she could call on where those knights and nobles who would serve out of loyalty, those few individuals who had not already paid their taille for the year and the few un-free towns of Picardy, Brabant, Hainault and Artois. Raising and assembling those forces would also take time and the speed and rapidity of Louis's progress through Picardy meant there was little of that available.  

The Ban and Arrière Ban

Although it depicts the artist's impression of Agincourt, the style of armour is contemporaneous with that of the 1470's. It's how I imagine the feudal men at arms to look like when reading Philippe Commines description of them.

Like France and the rest of Western Europe, the feudal system in the Burgundian territories had been decreasingly relied upon to provide armies for well over a century. The Ban (or Hereban in Flemish) was the summoning of those nobles, knights and gentry, who were the vassals of the Duke, along with those followers they were required by law to attend with. The Arrière Ban was the summoning of freemen (between the ages of 16 and 60), who were not vassals of the nobility and gentry, likewise armed and equipped according to their income and property. Like elsewhere in Europe the previous century had seen a shift from actual military service, to the payment of a fine in lieu of service; which provided the funds to hire professional soldiers.

There remained however a core of both nobles, gentry and freemen, who remained available for actual military service. Some were semi-professional soldiers themselves, or the ubiquitous 'robber barons' of popular legend. The principal of these figures is John Duke of Cleves, a relation of Duchess Marie and who assembled his vassals to come to her aid in 1477. The bulk of the freemen came from those towns and their hinterlands, which had not become 'free cities' like Ghent or Bruge. The bulk of the actual Burgundian contingents, Hainault and Brabant were the principal areas that were primarily still structured on the feudal model. Brabant was to raise 8,000 men for ducal service, while smaller Hainault raised just 3,000 and the city of Namur 1,000.

The quality of troops provided by the feudal system was quite variable however. The men of the active warlords such as Cleves, would be of a similar standard to the professionals of the French and Burgundian Ordonnance Companies. The bulk of those summoned would be far less martial however. In 1465 during the Guerre de Bien Publique (War of the Public Weal), Philippe de Commines noted that many of the men at arms of the ban lacked breastplates in many cases and that he doubted more than fifty could couch a lance correctly.

The Staten-Generaal

The tradition of the Battle of Courtrai (Kortrijk) in 1302, where a Flemish Army, largely composed of town and city militias, resoundingly defeated a French one, was part of the Flemish mindset that gave it the confidence to ultimately stand up against Louis XI in 1477 after the failure of their embassy.

The backlash against Burgundian rule which occurred in January 1477 and which saw a large number of Burgundian officials summarily executed by mobs, or at best forced to flee or face imprisonment by them, ended with Duchess Marie being effectively under house arrest. Where previously the States-General had only been assembled at the behest of the Duke of Burgundy and usually to receive pronouncements from him, they were now able to assemble permanently. Despite a significant threat of Louis XI continuing his campaign within Flanders, which had once been part of France, the States-General pressed Duchess Marie to agree to a restoration of their 'ancient privileges' before they would lift a finger to help.

The army the Staten-Generaal agreed to raise was quite immense on paper, but presumably it represented frequent and successive drafts of men to maintain a more modest field army, without making the burden of military service onerous for their citizens. Brabant's, Hainault's and Namur's contributions have been outlined previously and these were to be based in Hainault, should the French decide to add that county to their possessions. The principle force to face the French would be the 12,000 men largely assembled by the cities of Ghent, Bruge and Ypres. This army was to be mustered at Kortrijk (Courtrai) by the end of March, but this had still not been achieved by the end of April.

Oddly for communal city states the forces raised by them were hardly democratic, nor very representative of the population pyramid. The bulk of the forces were obviously ordinary guildsmen and citizens, armed with pike or polearm. Missile-armed troops (foot and mounted) were provided by the 'Shooting Guilds', which while drawn from the 3% of the population that formed its social elite, typically formed over 20% of the army. In like proportion the 1% of the population that were burghers, guild masters and urban gentry, and who provided the mounted men at arms component, could find themselves forming as much as 10% of some contingents despatched.

The chief obstacle for the communal armies was that they had grown so used to paying for wars rather than fighting them, that to raise these contingents, large quantities of weapons, armour and equipment had to be made and bought to outfit the contingents. Ghent even had to resort to collecting its old artillery train from the castle where Philip the Good had deposited it after suppressing their rebellion in 1453, the city having never needed any since that time.  

Maximilian's Ordonnance




Maximilian's Coat of Arms following his 
marriage to Duchess Marie in 1477.



One of the first acts of the young Maximilian after his marriage to Duchess Marie was to set about re-organising the forces of the Burgundian State in a similar manner to how Marie's father had before him. Despite being the son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian himself was virtually penniless and was accompanied from Germany by the smallest entourage imaginable for a noble, some forty or fifty men. In November of 1477, he issued the first military ordinance in his wife's name. Like the original ordonnance companies, the bulk of personnel would be professional soldiers, with only the men at arms also being drawn from the Burgundian nobility and gentry, and only then if they possessed the arms and equipment required.

The original ordinance called for 800 lances, which was apparently increased to 1200 at some later point. Presumably these were broken down into companies of around a hundred lances, but the number of companies is not known, nor is whether they were divided into the traditional ten-lance sub-units, or the 25 lance squadrons of Charles's final ordinance. Each lance contained a man at arms, a coutilier and two mounted archers, and initially at least, a foot archer.

It seems likely that the survivors of Nancy who had found their way back home in the months following the battle and the former members of the companies which had garrisoned Picardy and the other 'frontier' areas, were absorbed into the new corps. Certainly a number of Spaniards (at least one group of fifty) found their way into service, as did a body of English volunteers led by Sir Thomas Everingham.  

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