Men-at-Arms and Bowmen

| captain | guisarmer | halberdier | vouger | coutiller |
| longbowman | crossbowman | handgunner |


15th-c. miniature


It took many decades for the French chivalry to admit that it had been defeated on several occasions by foot soldiers, such as the Flemish urban militia at Courtrai or the English longbowmen at Crécy. The military reforms of Charles VII led to the "Great Ordinance" of Orleans in 1439, and to the creation of the "Companies of Ordinance" and the "Franc Archers".

In 1429, the mixed company of men-at-arms and "hommes de traits" (crossbowmen and archers), commanded by a captain, replaced the old "lance", tactical unit of a knight. The accounts established for the siege of Orleans by Hémon Raguier, King's Treasurer of War, gives us the details of some companies, for example at the beginning of March 1429:

Jean, bâtard d'Orléans

58

men-at-arms

27

bowmen

Le maréchal de Sainte-Sévère

73

13

Jean de Graville

64

29

Denis de Chailly

37

37

Guillaume de Cernay

11

12

Guiot des Champs

8

9

Fernando de Pierrebonne

17

9

Guillaume Madre

23

24

Guillaume de Chaumont-Quitry

19

15

Théaulde de Valpergue

33

41

Bernard de Comminges

25

10

Nicolas de Giresme

17

6

Louis de Waencourt

5

8

Philippe de Culant

12

5

Raymond-Arnault de Coarraze

21

31

Girault de La Paillière

25

6

Poton de Xaintrailles

34

27

Maurice de Meaux et Jean Oulchart

25

60

Raymond de Villars

28

30

Thibault de Thermes

8

9

Jacques du Bois

19

6


Total: 562 men-at-arms and 414 bowmen (976 warriors).

There was no rule of proportionality among these. Some companies had almost as many men-at-arms than bowmen; others having more bowmen (particularly in Scottish's companies). The King's chief officers (the Bastard of Orleans, the Marshal of Sainte-Sévère, and Jean de Graville, the High Master of Crossbowmen) commanded the most important companies, like those for foreign captain's companies, the Scot Oulchart (Wishart), the Italian Valperga or the Spanish Villars.



The Captain

 

 

 

The captain was the commander of the company. He was a nobleman; he came from the upper aristocracy or from humbler background. Some were knights, others squires. A lieutenant and some mounted men-at-arms assisted the captain.

He wore full plate armour and had a heraldic tabard or a "huke", shoulder cape of rich material which was in fashion. He was armed with a sword and another hand weapon, such as a hammer, small axe, etc. For close combat, he wore small bascinet or sallet with movable visor. He often capped this with fashionable civil headgear, a hat of felt or fur, or a hood.

 

 

The Guisarmer

 

 

 

The foot soldiers of the company were armed with pole arms. The guisarme had a hook to pull down the horsemen and a point for stabbing the victim on the ground.

They wore some pieces of armour, for arms or legs, and head protection such as sallet, barbut or chapel-de-fer.

To distinguish one from the other, they displayed on their surcoat an emblem: here the white cross of France or "Cross of the Armagnacs".

 

 

 

The Halberdier

 

 

 

The halberd is a weapon from Switzerland and from Germany, then recently introduced into the French Army. It consists of an axe blade backed by a fluke and surmounted by a spike, used to bore through the armour or to penetrate its defects. The blade was suitable to cut off heads and members!

This halberdier wears a brigandine, a pourpoint reinforced internally with riveted steel plates.

This soldier is a Burgundian distinguished by the cross of Burgundy emblem: the red cross of Saint-Andrew.

 

 

 

The Vouger

 

 

 

The vouge is a simpler pole arm: it is a derivative of the billhook or scythe, also called "fauchard".

This Scottish man-at-arms wears the white cross of Saint-Andrew on a blue surcoat. He bares a small round wooden shield, studded, characteristic of his nation: the targe or target.

The kilt was not worn by Scots at this time ; the Highlanders wore often saffron homespun shirts. On the Continent, the Scots wore the same clothing as the other warriors.

 

 

 

The Coutiller

 

 

 

You see here the bad boy of the company: he uses the coutille, a weapon with a broad double-edged blade suitable to cut the throat of the wounded casualties who are unable to pay a ransom and will not be made prisoners. It is the ungracious job of the coutiller to put to death these unfortunate men.

On his short hooded cape, this man wears the black cross of the Bretons, called "Kroaz Du", on white material. White and black have been traditional colours of Brittany since 12th century (like ermine), still associated with the current national flag created in the 20th century, the "Gwenn ah Du" (= white & black).

 

 

 

The Longbowman

 

 

 

The bow is a very old weapon and equipped the warriors in primitive civilisations.

This English bowman, recognised by the red cross of Saint George on his cape worn over a leather jerkin, is armed with the formidable longbow made of yew which sowed panic in the ranks of French chivalry in many battles of the Hundred Years War.

Heavily involved, the English bowmen, especially the Welsh, could shot up to eight times in one minute. The bow is an especially effective weapon when it is deployed in numbers to produce a devastating hail of arrows on the enemy.

 

 

The Crossbowman

 

 

 

The crossbow is a technical improvement of the bow. Its mechanism is designed to tighten the cord by a ratio of ten the input power and thus its use does not require the intensive effort required by the use of a bow. This "mechanical" power led to its ban by the council of Latran, in 1139, as being artem mortiferam (deadly art) and deo odibilem (hated of God). Slower and heavier and more difficult to load than the conventional bow, it is an especially accurate weapon in siege war where the crossbowman can aim calmly from the shelter of ramparts or large pavise shield which it lays out in front of him on the battlefield.

The most famous crossbowmen were Genoese, employed in great number in the King of France's army and thus wearing a white cross on their surcoat.

 

 

 

The Handgunner

 

 

 

Lastly, we arrive at the modern weapons resulting from the development of gunpowder artillery: the "handgun" or "culverin à main", the rifle's ancestor. Indeed, to the giant bombards, which were famed for making more noise than damage, were added smaller, lighter and handier cannons: culverin, veuglaires, etc.

With a very narrow diameter, some culverines could be used like individual and portable guns, shooting small iron cannonballs. Handguns were certainly available at the siege of Orleans. They were still expensive weapons and the Duchess of Anjou, Yolande d'Aragon, paid for it with her money-box. Undoubtedly, many gunners were Angevins, as was the most famous gunner of the siege of Orleans: Jean de Montesclère, called "Master John the Culveriner".

 

 



Model soldiers depict the characters described above:
these are some chess pieces of the game "Mokarex" (Louis XI/Charles the Bold)
painted by Jean-Claude COLRAT.



Your impressions and observations for this new page to: colrat-jc@wanadoo.fr