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

By John France | Go to book overview
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Chapter Eleven

Commanders

If he wished to encourage and persuade his followers to risk their lives, the medieval commander had to embody the military values and so, perforce, he had to fight in the front rank. A man who has to persuade can hardly ask others to take risks which he himself refuses. This is how the Bayeux Tapestry portrays William the Conqueror at Hastings. When part of his army fled, he was on hand to rally the troops. When the Normans and North French were suddenly attacked by the Turks at Dorylaeum, Bohemond and Robert of Normandy were there to steady the panic. In an army of individuals and small groups, this was generalship of a very high order. Such exposure was absolutely vital. Suger is at pains to show Louis VI in the forefront of battle, while at Lincoln King Stephen displayed admirable valour, and at Bouvines both Philip Augustus and Otto IV were exposed to mortal danger. St Louis is shown in the thick of the fight by Joinville, while Charles of Anjou led the second battalion at Benevento. The appeal of brave leadership resting on shared values was very powerful, but of course it could have disastrous results, for these values were essentially individualistic. At Lincoln, Stephen gave battle because he scorned to fly, while Frederick Barbarossa seems to have been moved by similar motives to accept the challenge of the Milanese army at Legnano in 1176: both ignored advice to the contrary and neither seems to have been much reproached for this. By contrast, John's signal failure to lead his forces during the fighting in Normandy in 1203-4 earned him widespread opprobrium. 1

But gallantry was not enough to command an army. The medieval commander needed to have sufficient troops of his own to form a central core for the army. Given the individual ethos of the European elite, such a dominance was what they repected - it represented a commitment of resources to parallel the commitment of the body in the front line. William the Conqueror

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