Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, 1000-1300

By John France | Go to book overview

Chapter Four

Warfare and authority

Medieval society was dominated by landed proprietors and it was they who decided upon and directed war. Throughout our period, such people saw in its conduct a guarantee of their position in society. War, therefore, was powerfully influenced by the relationships amongst this elite. Because they were, relatively speaking, a small group, a great deal depended on personal attitudes and relationships, especially as all major landowners enjoyed a high degree of independence. Valour and reputation therefore counted for a great deal. Richard I of England was a great commander, but in his own day it was his bravery as a soldier that men respected. His fatal wounding at the siege of Chalus while exposing himself to the enemy was not a chance and isolated act, but part of the whole logic of his life. 1 Not all kings in this period were good soldiers, but most were at pains to acquire something of a military reputation: Philip Augustus was never in the same league as Richard, but he fought bravely and this same quality was much admired in Louis IX, whose actual conduct of military affairs was deeply flawed. The constituency to which these men had to play was the aristocracy, and while not all of them were committed soldiers, all saw military values as a norm for their caste, a kind of test of belonging. It is notable that the three least soldierly kings in English history in this period, Stephen, John and Henry III, all had grave political difficulties.

The aim in this chapter is to consider how war sprang from the loose nature of the ties that bound this elite, and how it was influenced by this basic condition. For the church, drawing on its Roman inheritance, there was no doubt who ought to control war - the sovereign authority, whom all others should obey. However, this was no longer a simple issue in medieval times, for the Church itself claimed to be able to direct war, although the legal formulation of this was never very satisfactory. Moreover, after 1095 the papacy elaborated the special doctrine of the crusade, which was effectively a

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