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Feudal Military Tactics

Feudal Tactics

Hârnic Feudal Military Tactics
(My Interpretation)

Feudal Strategy:

Like medieval Europe , pitched battles are very rare; instead Hârnic feudal forces concentrate on ravaging and devastating enemy territory; sometimes also with attempting to take key castles or fortified cities. Towards this end most commanders will attempt to avoid the defender's main force unless they could catch them unawares or they have no other choice.

The chevauchée or raid is the dominant form of battle within feudal Hârn; these could large or small operation, the principal, however, is the same no mater the size of the force. The main difference being that the smaller chevauchée is more likely to be a wholly mounted force (cavalry and mounted infantry and bowmen). The large chevauchées would be mixed forces of cavalry, infantry and bowmen and may actual be the entire army or smaller parts of it raiding deep into enemy territory.

I like the way David Nicolle, in Medieval Warfare Source Book Warfare in Western Christendom, describes the composition of these chevauchées: 'it was preceded by scouts and incendiaries who set fire to the enemy's villages and captured the peasants. Then came the foragers who collected the spoils and loaded them into the army's baggage train. Meanwhile the primary role of the main fighting forces was to protect such foragers'. Using this basic description we can picture a large and small chevauchée of any Hârnic feudal force as follows.

Large Chevauchée:

  • Scouts - at a minimum four (4) squadrons of light horse (squires, men-at-arms and/or knights in light armor) fanned out to the front and flanks of the main force.
  • Incendiaries - at the most two (2) companies of mounted lightly armored infantry moving a few miles in front of the main force.
  • Foragers - at the most two (2) companies of lightly and/or unarmored infantry with the baggage train.
  • Main Force - this would be the remainder of the army or chevauchée force moving just ahead of the baggage train or with a major portion to the front and a smaller rear guard to the rear of the train.

Small Chevauchée:

  • Scouts - at a minimum one (1) squadron of light horse (squires, men-at-arms and/or knights in light armor) fanned out to the front and flanks of the main force.
  • Incendiaries - at the most one (1) company of mounted lightly armored infantry moving a mile or so in front of the main force.
  • Foragers - at the most one (1) company of lightly and/or unarmored infantry with the baggage train.
  • Main Force - this would be the remainder of the chevauchée force moving just ahead of the baggage train or with a major portion to the front and a smaller rear guard to the rear of the train.

It should be assumed that senior Hârnic nobles are well versed in the chevauchée, sieges and the pitched battle and just a bunch of country bumpkins with no clue. The junior leaders would also be well versed in the tactics required in any of the previously mentioned endeavors. After all war and its associated skills is to these men what farming and husbandry is to the serf.

Organization of Feudal Troop Units and Armies:

According to Hârnic canon the standard unit size is the company of 20 men with cavalry companies being divided further into two squadrons of 10 men each. These numbers match very closely to what the basic medieval units were formed of. With this in mind we can assume Hârnic feudal units are formed as follows.

Cavalry: The numbers shown are the ideal unit sizes. In practice a squadron may have as few as four or five men or as men as fifteen. As a result conrois/companies and larger units could be correspondingly smaller or larger.

  • Squadron - 10 horsemen; used as a unit by light and medium/heavy horse. The smallest tactical unit of horsemen in a feudal host.
  • Conroi or Company - 2 squadrons or 20 horsemen; used as a unit by light and medium/heavy horse.
  • Cohort or Banner - 5 squadrons or 50 horsemen; used as a unit by light and medium/heavy horse. The basic tactical unit of horsemen in a feudal host.
  • Batailles or Battles - the size of this unit depended on the availability of cavalry present in the force and how many were being formed. The standard is three battles consisting of the vanguard, main body and rear guard. The vanguard may have a higher proportion of light horse which would be used as scouts; whereas the main body may have a significant number of medium/heavy horse under the leading lord's banner. The rear guard would be about the size of the vanguard but made up of heavier troops.

Infantry/Bowmen: Like the cavalry units above, the size of the following troop’s sizes can also vary greatly.

  • Manus - 5 men; this is the basic mess unit of all foot troops.
  • Company - 20 men; this is the smallest tactical unit found in Hârnic feudal forces.
  • Centad - 5 companies of foot soldiers; this is the basic tactical unit of feudal foot troops.
  • Cohort or Constabulary - 5 centads of foot soldiers; this is the largest tactical unit used within a feudal army for its foot troops. These formations will often be joined with the mounted troops when each of the battles is formed or they may even be assigned as a separate battle.

The following table is an example of a Kaldoric army assembled to invade a neighboring state. This was not a full muster (66%). It has the following forces available to it. I find it ironic that if I had called a 100% muster that this force may have resembled the Norman forces at Hastings , listed below, even more.

Overall Forces
Heavy/Medium Horse
88 sq.
Light Horse
30 sq.
Medium Foot
42 co.
Light Foot
87 co.
Unarmored Foot
45 co.
63 co.
The above force may be organized as follows:
The Vanguard
Heavy/Medium Horse 25 sq.
Light Horse 25 sq.
Light Foot 20 co.
Bowmen 25 co.
The Main Force
Heavy/Medium Horse 38 sq.
Light Horse 25 sq.
Medium Foot 30 co.
Light Foot 37 co.
Unarmored Foot 30 co.
Bowmen 20 co.
The Rear Guard
Heavy/Medium Horse 25 sq.
Light Horse 5 sq.
Medium Foot 12 co.
Light Foot 30 co.
Unarmored Foot 15 co.
Bowmen 18 co.

Feudal Tactics:

The tactics employed by Hârnic feudal troops will vary depending on the force they have encountered and the terrain; however, there are some basic tactics involved that will be addressed.


  • Most Hârnic feudal troops will use a combination of troop types when taking on an enemy position, the combination and distribution depending on the force being confronted. The following are some examples describing attacks on a dismounted force and a force of mounted and dismounted troops.
  • The first type of attack discussed occurs when the force on the move encounters an enemy in a defensive position. The second type occurs when two armies meet while they are both on the move, what we in the military today would call a meeting engagement.
  • In the advent of a meeting engagement it would be up to the vanguard or rear guard, depending on who encountered the enemy first, to hold up the enemy army's forces long enough so the main body of the army could deploy itself for the coming action.
    1. Engaging a dismounted force holding a secure position requires a commander to weaken the enemy line with missile weapons and constant probing of the line with either mounted or dismounted troops in order to find or create a weak spot in their defensive line or to discover a way to out flank their position. When the attacking force arrays itself for the battle it may take up positions similar to that used by the Norman army at the battle of Hastings in 1066.
      • Prior to contact with the enemy and more like at the beginning of the campaign the army will be divided into a number of major contingents called battles, each contingent is normally formed along cultural, regional or political lines and commanded by the senior noble of that grouping.

        In the case of the Norman army Duke William commanded the Norman forces in the center, Alan Fergant commanded the Breton forces on the left and Eustace of Boulogne and William fitzOsbern commanded the Flemish forces on the right.

        Overall Forces
        The above force were organized as follows:
        Breton Forces
        Cavalry 500-600
        Infantry 800-1100
        Bowmen 300-450
        Norman Forces
        Cavalry 800-1200
        Infantry 2000-2500
        Bowmen 500-800
        Flemish Forces
        Cavalry 300-400
        Infantry 350-450
        Bowmen 700-900

        Upon arriving on the field the Norman army deployed their three battles as mentioned above with infantry to the front of the cavalry and archers to the front of them.
      • Hârnic feudal forces would arrange their own forces in a similar manner; using the archers as a screening force for the main body and being supported by the infantry just to their rear in case of an attack on the Norman line. The cavalry holding its position to the rear as a tactical reserve for the army.

      • Once in position the battle would progress similar to that at Hastings , however, at Hastings not everything happened as it should have.
        1. To open the battle the Normans opened up with a barrage of arrows. In the actual battle this barrage was ineffectual. Some scholars claim it was the height of the hill causing this, others believe William did not give the archers enough time to soften up the Saxon line and others believe that the Norman archers had run out of arrows and none to gather as they would have done had the Saxons been firing arrows at them.

          The ideal here would be for the archers to continue the barrage on the enemy line, focusing on the troops behind the front ranks who will have less armor and unprotected by the shields of the front ranks. The aim of such a barrage is to weaken the line by reducing the number of men who can fill in the gaps made in the front line once the main fight begins and to take out the enemy's own missile troops who may be screened by the enemy's front line.
        2. Once William deemed the time right he sent his foot soldiers forward to attack the main line of the Saxons. However, the Saxons responded with their own missile attack that drove back the Norman footmen with great loss of men.

          In an ideal situation the commander would wait until he was sure his footmen could approach the enemy line with minimal damage. As stated above, this would have meant a longer missile barrage on the enemy line and covering the infantry's advance with missile fire onto the rear ranks in order to suppress the enemy's own missile attack on your troops.
        3. If this part of the attack had proceeded as planned, William would have withheld his cavalry until his infantry had created a breakthrough or substantially weakened the Saxon line to allow his cavalry to attack and force a breach of their own. In the later case pulling his infantry back so that the cavalry could use the full effect of a frontal charge on the Saxon line. As it was, the infantry failed and had to be pulled back to their original line. The rest of the battle they played the role of support by providing a screen behind which the Norman cavalry could reform and launch successive attacks after their initial attack failed.
        4. Due to the failure of the infantry to engage the Saxons Duke William had to commit his cavalry to the battle. A mounted attack by heavy/medium horse is an awesome sight to behold and if it had not been for the commanding position held by the Saxons and the fact that their line was unbroken they surely would have been crushed by such an attack. As it was the Normans and their allied cavalry were unable to break the line and were only able to engage the front ranks by thrusting and stabbing with lance and/or spears, throwing javelins and the use of the sword on those Saxons who left the line in order to use their great axes to more effect. As it happened the left of the line under the Bretons faltered and was driven back causing the remainder of the line to also fall back and almost become a rout when it was believed the duke was dead. As it was he rallied his troops, cut off those Saxon troops who had followed the retreating troops and cut them down.
        5. Hârnic feudal cavalry will most likely operate much in the same manner as the Franco-Norman cavalry. To begin with each battle forms up in line by units, conrois, banners, etc, each arrayed three ranks in depth. On signal the battle begins its forward movement towards the enemy line at a walk and slowly increasing speed to a trot in order to maintain line and unit integrity. Upon command, given maybe 75 to 100 paces from the enemy, they would increase their speed to a full canter and engage the enemy line. It was unusual for the entire line to make contact at the same time with the enemy. Instead, the line was usually advanced a bit on the right side so that the initial contact was actually a series of impacts on the enemy line. The goal was to breach the line and ride on past it to a safe distance then turn the formation and charge the enemy from the rear as the infantry re-engaged them from the front. If the line could not be breach the line the next best thing was to disrupt the line causing it to break into smaller segments. If this was achieved then the cavalry would engage the smaller groups in general melee with the support of the infantry, If neither could be done the cavalry would fall back behind the infantry screen, regroup and replenish its spears, which nay have been thrown or broken, for another attack. These attacks, covered by archers during and between the attacks, would continue until the enemy formation had been broken and forced from the field or the attacking force was spent and unable to continue the fight.
        6. Once the enemy line was broken all troops would be ordered forward to finish off the enemy still on the field and a reserve if available would be sent in pursuit of the fleeing enemy forces to ensure they did not reassemble for a counter attack.
    2. Engaging a mounted force requires a different set of tactics. In this case the commander needs to insure his flanks are secure from attack by the enemy's cavalry while ensuring his own cavalry is in a position to engage the enemy in mass and not piecemeal.
      • As is the custom the army is divided into contingents as described above. Each contingent would contain elements of all arms available to the commander.
      • Once the enemy's position is know the army would deploy on a field chosen by the commander or, if the enemy's force had already halted and deployed, move to where the enemy was deployed and deploy for battle there. Upon arriving on the field the commander would deploy his battles in a manner similar to this.
        1. The center battle would have infantry and dismounted knights in the frontline supported by a screen of archers who would fall back behind the dismounted line if attacked. Behind the dismounted line would be a detachment of horse as a reserve ready to support the army if it is threatened on the flanks or with breakthrough.
        2. The right and left wings would have the two main arms switched, with infantry to the rear and horsemen to the front as the main assault force. If bowmen were also present in the wings they would be with the infantry so they could support the center if attacked or cover the cavalry of the wing if they needed to fall back and regroup.
        3. Most battles of this type would commence with the cavalry on the wings attacking the wings of the enemy using the method mentioned above to charge the enemy forces. In this case though they would join in a melee after the initial contact with the enemy's own cavalry forces.
        4. It was after the wings had committed themselves to the attack that one side or the other would commit their infantry from the center battle and have it attack the center of the opposing side. If the force on the other side was a cavalry force then the commander may opt to attack with the cavalry of his center battalion or hold it till needed; otherwise he should hold his infantry in place in order to repulse an attack by that cavalry.
        5. The battle of Bouvines was fought in a manner similar to this.
          1. It began with the smaller French force launching an attack from its right wing against the Emperor's left wing cavalry which bogged down into a general melee.

          2. In the center the Emperor sent his infantry on the attack against the French center. They were able to break the French infantry and made their way to the second line of cavalry where they were stopped after some extremely hard fighting in which the French king was almost captured.

          3. During the fight against the French center the Emperor's right wing had moved to support the fight there and had exposed their flank to the French left wing allowing its commander to launch an attack against it; destroying the Emperor's right wing cavalry and capturing its commander.
          4. Back in the center the French king now launch his cavalry force, which had just defeated the Emperor's assault on his center, against the cavalry in the enemy's center which was protecting the Emperor. Again after a hard fight they drove the Emperor from the field after nearly capturing him.

          5. By the end of the battle the French right had driven their opponents from the field. While on the left the French forces there had destroyed the enemy and captured both of its commanders.
        6. No matter the size of the force, this would be the primary way Hârnic feudal cavalry would oppose each other. Although the cavalry was a major proponent in the above battle the infantry definitely played a significant part also. However, since the recorders of such an event were written for a noble audience and not for the common man, many of their actions were left out of the account. Such as, what happened to the French infantry on the left and right? Did they take part in the fight on the wings or did they just stand back and watch the action?
    3. Another tactical option when attacking was reported as having been used at Hastings by the Normans ; this was the feigned retreat. The same tactic was also reported as being used in a number of other battles throughout the late 11th century and throughout the 12th century. I think this would also be a viable tactic used by feudal armies on Hârn who may have learned it while combating the tribal groups on their borders and would have no problem using this ruse against other enemies if the opportunity presented itself.
    4. Reserve forces are used to exploit an opening on the battlefield or to block a breach in your own lines. In addition, some commanders may conceal their reserve force from the enemy and use it as a surprise attack force at some point in the battle. Some historical examples are when one commander feigned a retreat and as the enemy cavalry followed his fleeing forces he had the reserve attack from a concealed wood into the enemy's flank thus destroying them. In another case the reserve was launch at the exposed wing of the enemy when they had approached the commander's defensive line stalling their attack and allowing him to launch his own attack. There are many other examples; however, it’s just a matter of forward thinking and initiative. These are also good examples that demonstrate the tactical abilities of medieval commanders.


  • As stated in the research above, the dismounting of knights to fight alongside the infantry during a defensive operation was not a 14th century invention of the English but a tactic common to the Anglo-Norman and Germanic feudal cultures as a whole. There are even descriptions of Franco-Norman armies doing the same thing in the 12th and 13th century. I believe this is a holdover from their cultural past when the warrior elite would fight shoulder-to-shoulder in a shield wall, the tactic being a common one across all of these culture's descendants (Saxons, Norsemen, Danes and Germans).
  • Based on the above assumptions I feel that the Hârnic feudal cultures have a similar tradition when fighting on the defensive. Therefore, it is only reasonable that it is a common practice among the feudal states of Hârn that they too would dismount some of their heavy/medium cavalry to fight on foot along side the common infantryman.
  • This does not mean that they chose to dismount all of their cavalry. As in our own historical past, it was quite common to leave a small force of heavy/medium cavalry as a mounted reserve or to cover the flanks of the defending force.
  • A good example of this form of defense can be seen in the Battle of Northallerton (1138), also known as the Battle of the Standard, in which the English were defending against a Scottish attack.
    • Disposition of Defensive Forces:
      • The English army chose the ground, deploying across the Great North Road two miles north of Northallerton, blocking the southward advance of King David I’s Scottish army. There are many suggestions about their deployment and where, however, the most likely one has them deploying in three lines on a broad field with a marsh protecting their left flank and what appears to have been a smaller marsh protecting the right flank. The first line was composed of archers protected by dismounted men-at-arms, the second consisted of the main battle with the army's key figures and centered on the standard from which the battle received its name and there was a small reserve cavalry force to the rear, the only mounted part of the army.
      • The Scots were deployed in a diamond formation using four battles. The forward central battle consisted of the Galwegians, the left wing was formed of Lothian troops, the right wing with Prince Henry one infantry wing and a small body of mounted knights, and in the rear was David with his reserve. Originally David wanted to attack with his best armed and armored men start the battle; however, he had to give the Galwegian infantry the honor of leading the attack in order to maintain their support.
      • A Hârnic feudal force would also take up similar defensive positions when faced by a superior force. The idea being that inferior strength could be overcome by defensible terrain and a determined resistance. Although the English forces above chose a single battle as their main force it is equally conceivable that if an army had the men it could also form more than battle if the terrain allowed it.
    • Defensive Measures:
      • The Scots opened the attack with the Galwegians. The English responded with concentrated archery on the unarmored infantry of this unit forcing it to turn back in all but one sector where they managed to break the first line. However, the second line reacted in a timely manner and repulsed the attack and restored the line back to its previous state. The Galwegians tried one more assault but were driven back again by the well aimed arrows of the bowmen, losing their commander in the fight to an arrow.
      • With the failure of the Galwegians apparent the Scots launch their second line into the attack. They too suffered the same fate as the Galwegians and were repulsed due to the arrow storm raining about them or, for those who made it to the first line, were repulsed by the English men-at-arms. In what some called a desperate act Prince Henry of the Scots launch an assault with no more than 60 mounted knights. This force was able to break through the line. However, before the following Scottish infantry could exploit the breach the men-at-arms from the English second line were able to close the gap and repulse them. The cavalry that broke through became disorganized and their animals being blown were no longer a viable threat to the English. It is assumed they may have raided the baggage, but they did not take part in the battle again.
      • By now the Scottish infantry was in full retreat turning into a rout and the Scottish reserve under their king provided a rear guard for the fleeing infantry so as to limit the number that would be cut down by pursuing English cavalry.
      • Our Hârnic feudal force would conduct their defense in a like manner, using bowmen to inflict as much damage on the enemy as possible and supporting them with dismounted men-at-arms in case the enemy was able to close on the first line. If a breach was made in the forward line it was up to the men-at-arms in the second line to rush forward and force the enemy back and restore the line to its original position and state. If a force had broken through all through to the rear and had remained a threat it would be up to the mounted reserve to attack them and destroy them while the men of the first two lines attempted to stem the flow through the ruptured line. Once the enemy had been broken, it is very likely that the reserve was sent in to pursue and destroy or capture as many as they could.

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