Monday, 14 March 2016

The Burgundian Army 1477-82
Maximilian's Ordonnance 1477

Not quite the 'wit en paarse' livery of Maximilian's troops in 1478, but a fair representation of a uniformed contingent of the time on the march.

Following his marriage to the Duchess Marie in August and his attempts to shore up what was effectively the army of the Grote Raad, rather than what could be called the Burgundian Army, Maximilian began planning for the coming year. There were obstacles in his way however, not least that he was himself both young and inexperienced in such matters and that the Grote Raad wished to wait for a new French campaign to be launched before voting to levy funds for a new army. Maximilian pressed on with his planning regardless.

His starting point was presumably the copy of his dead father in law's 1473 'Ordonnance of Treves', which he had originally acquired when it had been issued (the document with Maximilian's hand-written margin notes and comments survives to this day). The exact structure of Maximilian's Ordonnance is difficult to determine, but comments regarding the Battle of Guinegate in 1479 suggest that the overall structure was almost identical to that of Charles's Army.


The 'lance' was the administrative building block still and consisted of the Homme d'Armes, a Coustillier and two Archers. An additional foot archer was also included initially but appears to have been a short-lived member of the lance. Five lances formed a Chambre and four chambres, plus the Chef d'Escadron's own chambre, for a total of twenty-five lances, formed an Escadron. Four escadrons nominally formed an entire Compagnie. In total a company possessed a hundred Gens d'Armes, the same number again of Coustillier and two hundred Archers à cheval.

As was the case with Charles's own ordonnance, the organisation into lances was only pertinent in respect to the companies when in billets or camp. While the chambre, squadron and company structure held true for the division of gens d'armes and coustillier in battle array, the archers were separated into their own units to support them. This was apparently achieved by their division into companies (centaines) too, each of which was led by a centenier. Each company was further sub-divided into 'quarters' (quartronnes in Old French), each led by a quartronnier.

This dual structure is less confusing than it sounds. Each chambre therefore had its men at arms and coutillier in one group and a 'dixaine' ('ten') of archers led by a disenier. Every squadron had a 'quarter' of 50 archers and the whole company had two centaines. This meant that a company could be split into two or four as needs required, each element consisting of a detachment of men at arms and another of archers.

Besides the tactical need for this, the use of different titles for the respective leaders also retained the two-tier distinction that men at arms were superior to archers, even if the archer had rank. In essence it is a little like the modern distinction between officers and non-commissioned officers; a centaine was similar to a sergeant-major or warrant officer, while the man at arms was a junior officer. A man at arms was in charge of and responsible for his lance (tête de lance) in camp, but was subordinate to his chef d'chambre, as was the disenier of the archers, but who also ranked below any man at arms in the chambre.

Up the scale each chef d'chambre was a subordinate of the chef d'escadron, as was the leader of the archers, the quartronnier, but each chef d'chambre outranked him too. While each chef d'escadron almost certainly outranked the centaines in theory, as is the case with sergeant-majors in modern armies, they were directly answerable to the Conducteur of the company, or his Lieutenant, or temporarily their denoted deputies if squadrons were detached from the company. In short the senior man at arms always outranked the most senior archer, but there is nevertheless a quite modern command structure in use.

While this same system could have also been applied to the coustillier, evidence for it is lacking. Evidence that the coustillier were ever separated from the men at arms is equally lacking and it may very well be the case that the presence of a light cavalry arm is a case of modern military principles being applied backwards in time. The light cavalry function is seemingly already being undertaken by the archers in French armies and at this point in time there is not actually that much difference between a man at arms and his coustillier in terms of weight of armour.

The Companies

A depiction of a lightly armoured German horseman c.1490.
Initially there appears to have been only 800 lances authorised for the force, which in principle gives a strength of eight companies. It is to be imagined that the manpower for the force came from the members of Charles the Bold's own ordonnance companies who trickled back from Lorraine in the early months of 1477, the various mercenaries who found their way to the Low Countries in Mid-1477 and the forces raised by the Burgundian feudal nobility in the same period. The Poorterij of the cities of Bruge and Ghent, along with those members of the shooters guilds who were mounted, were also included in the total.

By Guinegate in 1479 there were apparently 825 lances, the additional 25 perhaps being Maximilian's own household of Germans. Of the notional eight companies formed from these we have four individuals who are positively identified as 'company commanders'; Jacob van Luxemburg - Lord Fiennes, Jan van Luxemburg, Filips van Beveren and Filips van Kleef (son of Lord Ravenstein). Filips van Croy, Count of Chimay, is a possible fifth and his son Karel (Charles) was reputedly un-horsed due to a broken stirrup leather and was apparently rescued personally by Maximilian, who may himself have led a company, if not just the lances of his household.

Of the remainder there is very little to go on. The four mentioned above formed the left wing of the army at Guinegate, where Maximilian began the battle and due to that there was more focus on that wing, as opposed to that on the right where apparently there was nobody of the same stature. If we assume that Maximilian split his ordonnance companies evenly to each wing, then we have four companies to account for (three if we assume the Count of Chimay's company existed and was also on the left) and a host of possible commanders for them.

What makes things even more difficult is that the conducteurs of companies were often absent from them and the command of them was left in the hands of their lieutenants. So for example, if we assume the Count of Romont headed a company, his detachment to command one of the divisions of infantry would mean his lieutenant would lead his actual company in his stead. It would still be Romont's company, but he would be nowhere near it. Amongst the possible contenders for command of the remaining companies are; Joos van Lalaing - Heer van Montigny, Boudwijn van Lannoy - Heer van Hames, Jan 'the bastard of Luxemburg' - Heer van Haubourdin, Jan Heer van Ligne and Jan Heer van Bergen.


While it is possible that Maximilian relaxed the standards set by Charles the Bold, so as to conform with the somewhat less stringent French standard, it is also possible that he opted for the equipment set out by Duke Charles, which was;

For the Men at Arms;
"L’homme d’armes doit porter blanc harnois complet, monté de trois bons chevaux dont le moindre vaudra 30 écus; il aura une selle de guerre et un chanfrein, et sur la salade des plumes de couleur, moitié blanches, moitié bleues, aussi bien que sur le chanfrein. Sans imposer des bardes pour les chevaux, le Duc fait observer qu’il saura bon gré à l’homme d’armes qui s’en procurera".
"The man at arms should wear full white harness, have three good horses, the least of which should be worth 30 écus. He will have a war saddle and a chanfron and his helmet shall have coloured plumes, half white and half blue, also on the chanfron. Barding is not imposed for horses, but the Duke thinks it is a good idea for the man at arms to procure it".

Turn of the 16th Century men at arms carrying 'lances' proper, complete with hand guards. Horse barding appears to have been more common towards the end of the 15th Century and more so into the 16th Century. Before that it is rarely depicted, so presumably very uncommon.

For the Coustillier;
"Le coustillier de l’homme d’armes sera armé par devant d’un plastron d’acier ou de fer battu avec arrêt, et par derrière de brigandine; s’il ne peut trouver cet habillement, il se pourvoiera d’un corselet de fer avec arrêt, et s’il ne peut avoir qu’une brigandine, pour la première fois, il la couvrira d’un plastron à arrêt. Il aura en outre une salade, un gorgerin, petits garde-bras, avant-bras, gantelets ou mitons, selon l’habillement de corps qu’il se sera procuré. Il portera une bonne javeline, ou sorte de demi-lance, ayant poignée et arrêt, avec ce une bonne épée de moyenne longueur, droite, qu’il pourra manier à une main, et une bonne dague d’un pied, tranchant des deux côtés".
"The coustillier of the man at arms will have armour of a steel plastron, or one of wrought iron, with a lance rest, for his rear a brigandine; if he cannot obtain this dress, he must get an iron corselet with a rest, and can only have a brigandine in the first instance. He shall further have a sallet, a gorget, arm and forearm armour, gauntlets or 'mittens', depending on what the corps procures. He will carry a good javelin (a slim spear like a modern cavalry lance, but not a throwing weapon, sometimes called a lancegay or zagaye), or a sort of demi-lance with a handle and a 'stop', with a good straight sword of medium length, that he can wield in one hand, and a good foot-long dagger, with two edges".

Durer's St. George slaying the dragon with a 'javeline'. C. 1500
Another Durer woodcut from 1508, showing St. George as a 'light' horseman with a demilance, complete with a 'stop' fitted, which is visible on the far right. This was designed to meet with the 'arret' (lance rest) fitted to the breast plate.

For the Archer;
"L’archer sera monté sur un cheval de 10 écus au moins, habillé d’une jaque à haut collet tenant lieu de gorgerin, avec bonnes manches; il portera une cotte de mailles ou paletot de haubergerie dessous cette jaque qui sera de 12 toiles au moins dont 3 de toile cirée et 9 de toile commune. Il aura pour garantir sa tête une bonne salade sans visière; il sera armé en outre d’un arc solide, d’une trousse pouvant contenir 2 douzaines et demie de flèches, d’une longue épée à deux mains, d’une dague tranchant des deux côtés et longue d’un pied et demi".
"The Archer should be mounted on a horse worth 10 écus or more, wearing a jack with a high collar in lieu of a gorget, with good sleeves; he will wear a mail coat or haubergeon beneath this jack which will be of 12 layers, of which 3 will be waxed canvas and 9 of normal canvas. H will ensure that he has a good sallet for his head, without a visor; He will be further armed with a strong bow, and a set of two and a half dozen arrows (30), a long two-handed sword (an Épée bâtarde or a 'hand and a half' sword, not the exceptionally long 'zweihanders' of the next century), a double-edged dagger a foot and a half long (18")".

A tournament melee of light horsemen C. 1500. The man in the left foreground is equipped in the same manner as the 'archer' in the 1471 Ordonnance, complete with the 'two handed' Épée bâtarde, which he wields single-handed. The unfortunate being taken out by the lance conforms to the standard for a coustilier.

Credit for the Modern French transcriptions used in this post goes to M. de la Chauvelays and to the Legio Burgundiae Sources blog for hosting these and many other items relating to Burgundy. The translation into English is mine, as are any errors within that.


  1. Very good piece. Where do you find the pictures from? Is your research all via the internet or do you have access to original documents?

    1. Thank you!

      My research is conducted almost completely on the internet. Nowadays there is a vast amount of information, whether original documents, or transcripts of them... it is knowing where to find them, or searching them out. A post like this is the result of months of digging, but then I write three or four posts at a time as I'm digging.

      The pictures are all out there too and you have to dig around for them in the same manner. Usually they get found when I'm looking for the documents, other times it is a matter of sorting through various museums' 'online collections' and of course people use Pinterest and other photo-sharing utilities for their own collections.