There were hundreds – maybe even thousands – of battles, skirmishes, and sieges during the Medieval Era. Some were world and history changing – others weren’t.
Today, I’ve picked five battles from the Middle Ages that I think everybody should know something about…and I’m promising not to get bogged down with all the tactics and strategies. This is just an overview of the highlights and you should explore further on your own.
(Maybe some of Jim Hodges audiobooks could help with that? I’ll make it easy and even tell you if there is a book which details the battle.)
Now, off to the battlefields with the knights to see how they altered history! And this is your final chance to decide if you think the Middle Ages were characterized by Chivalry or Medieval Madness…
The Battle of Tours-Poitiers (732 A.D.)
Charles Martel led a European army against the Islamic “Moors” who were attempting to conquer the European Continent from Spain. Significantly, different European kingdoms united against the threat of the invaders. The Moorish commander – Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi – neglected to scout his opponent’s position before the battle and was disastrously defeated in the battle; he died during the conflict. The Battle of Tours-Poitiers is significant to World History because it guaranteed that Europe would be dominated by the Catholic/Christian faith during the Middle Ages and for much of the Modern Era.
The Battle of Hastings (1066 A.D.)
This battle was the decisive battle during the Norman Conquest of Britain. William the Conqueror – leader of the French Normans – wanted to rule England and invaded with a large force of knights. The mounted and skilled warriors defeated the English Saxon army in this single battle. Saxon King Harold was killed during the fighting, and the Normans took possession of England. It would be a couple of centuries before the Saxon vs. Norman animosity eased and both people groups considered themselves “Englishmen.” The Battle of Hastings is significant because it begins a significant cultural and societal change in England.
(You can learn more about Saxon England and the Norman Conquest of 1066 in the audiobook Wulf The Saxon.)
The Crusades (1086-1270)
In total, there were seven military crusades to the Holy Land during approximately 200 years of the Middle Ages. The Crusades were an attempt to reclaim Israel from Islamic control; the trouble rooted in disturbances of Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem and other “holy sites.” The Pilgrims were robbed, murdered, or made slaves by the Muslim possessors of the Holy Land. And the so-called “Christians” of Europe decided to make war after peaceful methods of reasoning failed. However, the Crusades devolved into everything except holy enterprises. Both side committed “war crimes” and the crusades were a huge military, political, and religious mess. The significance of the Crusades lies in the massive efforts required to actually organize and stage these “campaigns” and in the unfortunate (from a 21st Century perspective) conflict and historical misunderstanding it has fostered through the years.
(You can learn about the 3rd Crusade in the audiobook Winning His Spurs.)
The Battle of Bannockburn (1314)
The decisive battle in the decades long fight for Scottish independence. King Robert the Bruce of Scotland and his army of “commoners” defeated King Edward II of England and his “chivalrous” knights. Swampy ground, pike men, and archers contributed to the defeat of the English nobility. Bannockburn is important because it rocks the Medieval social world – rebels who aren’t nobility can successfully fight the best knights of the realm. Unthinkable?
(You can learn about the Scottish fight for independence and the Battle of Bannockburn in the audiobook In Freedom’s Cause.)
The Battle of Agincourt (1415)
The English weren’t dummies. Defeated at Bannockburn by foot-soldiers, they learned the benefits of longbowmen, pikemen, and other infantry. Embroiled in the 100 Years War with France over a claim to the throne, King Henry V of England met the French Army at Agincourt. Using muddy ground and positioning his archers strategically won a brilliant victory for the young English king. Modern estimates place French casualties two times higher than the English and the loss of French knights was significant. The Battle of Agincourt brought the possibility of foot soldiers defeating knights to the world stage and foreshadowed the future of modern armies.
It was time period unique in its culture, society, warfare, thinking, and religious fervor. Some of it was positive, some of it was negative, and some of it – even in its own historical context – was just plain dumb. (But isn’t that true of every era?) However, it was an important transitional, development era between the Ancient World and Early Modern Times.
The Middle Ages – with its castles, knights, fashion, art, cathedrals, battles, and honor – was an important era of the past which became the foundation for Early Modern Europe. And – just as the Middle Ages draws to a close – America was discovered and a whole new world and horizon opened!
Chivalry or Medieval Madness? Well, again I’d conclude the era was characterized by a little of both.
P.S. Agree with my list or would nominate another battle? I’d love to hear your thoughts…