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

By John France | Go to book overview

Chapter Three

War, society and technology

Medieval metallurgy was advancing. Although primitive bloomery hearths, which could only produce a maximum of 40kg in a session, continued to be used, larger and more advanced furnaces, such as the Corsican and Catalan types, with powerful bellows could smelt up to 150 kg of iron in one process. The Stückhofen, which was developed in Germany at the end of our period, was 3-4m high and capable of producing up to 900kg in a single operation. None of these furnaces could produce liquid iron except accidentally and under the most favourable conditions, when the subsequent cast iron seems to have been rejected as too brittle to use. They produced a soft malleable mass of iron, the bloom, which could be forged into wrought iron, or, at great trouble and expense, into steel. By the end of the twelfth century there was substantial industrial production of iron in virtually all of the countries of western Europe. Larger furnaces put pressure on wood reserves and as a result coal was used from about 1190, although this was only to bulk out charcoal. Water-driven bellows were employed from the twelfth century, and by the thirteenth century hammer mills using water power are known. The scale of production could be considerable - the great iron forge-building at the Cistercian abbey of Fontenay in Burgundy is testimony to that. Trade in metal was vigorous, with Flanders, for example, importing iron from Spain. 1

The development of a flourishing iron industry all over Europe was a product of the great European expansion of the period 1000-1300, whose most obvious symptoms were the growth of populations and the flowering of cities. But the demand for arms must have been a powerful stimulant, for by the end of the thirteenth century there was large-scale weapons production in most European countries, with very notable centres in Italy, Flanders and Germany, especially in the Rhineland. The scale of production could be very

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