The Germans had brought with them over the Rhine none of the heroic virtues attributed to them by Tacitus when he wrote their history, with the evident intention of making a satire on his countrymen. Amongst the degenerate Romans whom those ferocious Germans had subjugated, civilisation was reconstituted on the ruins of vices common in the early history of a new society by the adoption of a series of loose and dissolute habits, both by the conquerors and the conquered.
Persian Body-guard (from Frieze at Susa)
Samnite Warriors (From painted vases)
The Romans completely beaten by the Samnites at the battle of the Caudine Forks
Greek Statuette of a Gaul
The illustration, from a fourteenth-century manuscript, represents a siege. A walled town is on the right, and in front of the wall, acting on the part of the town, are the cross-bowmen in the cut, protected by great shields which are kept upright by a rest. The men seem to be preparing to fire, and the uniformity of their attitude, compared with the studied variety of attitude of groups of bowmen in other illustrations, suggests that they are preparing to fire a volley.
The engravings of Hans Burgmaier, in the Triumphs of Maximilian and the Weise Könige contain numerous authorities very valuable for the clearness and artistic skill with which the armour is depicted. We have given an illustration which represents a combat of two knights, on foot. The armour is partly covered by a surcoat; in the left-hand figure it will be seen that it is fluted. The shields will be noticed as illustrating one of the shapes then in use.
The cross-bowman is winding up his weapon with a winch, his shield is slung at his back.
Illustration the sepulchral effigy in Westminster Abbey of John of Eltham, the second son of King Edward II., who died in 1334. Here we see first and lowest the hacqueton; then the hauberk of chain mail, slightly pointed in front, which was one of the fashions of the time
The accompanying wood-cut represents various peculiarities of the armour in use towards the close of the thirteenth century.
The cut is a spirited little sketch of a mounted knight. The horse, it may be admitted, is very like those which children draw nowadays, but it has more life in it than most of the drawings of that day; and the way in which the knight sits his horse is much more artistic. The picture shows the equipment of the knight very clearly, and it is specially valuable as an early example of horse trappings, and as an authority for the shape of the saddle, with its high pommel and croupe.
Knight of the Fifteenth Century
Next, round plates of metal, called placates or roundels, were applied to shield the armpits from a thrust; and sometimes they were used also at the elbow to protect the inner side of the joint where, for the convenience of motion, it was destitute of armour. An example of a roundel at the shoulder will be seen in one of the men-at-arms in the woodcut
Saxon soldier in armour
Saxon Soldier, in Leather Armour
Saxon freemen seem to have universally borne arms. Tacitus tells us of their German ancestors, that swords were rare among them, and the majority did not use lances, but that spears, with a narrow, sharp and short head, were the common and universal weapon, used either in distant or close fight; and that even the cavalry were satisfied with a shield and one of these spears.
In the monumental effigy of Sir Robert Shurland, who was made a knight-banneret in 1300, we seem to have a curious and probably unique effigy of a knight in the gameson. We give a woodcut of it, reduced from Stothard’s engraving. The smaller figure of the man placed at the feet of the effigy is in the same costume, and affords us an additional example.
The archers of the castle found shelter behind the merlons of the battlements, and had the windows from which they shot screened by movable shutters; as may be seen in the next woodcut of the assault on a castle. It would have put the archers of the assailants at a great disadvantage if they had had to stand out in the open space, exposed defenceless to the aim of the foe; all neighbouring trees which could give shelter were, of course, cut down, in order to reduce them to this defenceless condition, and works were erected so as to command every possible coigne of vantage which the nooks and angles of the walls might have afforded. But the archers of the besiegers sought to put themselves on more equal terms with their opponents by using the pavis or mantelet. The pavis was a tall shield, curved so as partly to envelop the person of the bearer, broad at the top and tapering to the feet.
In the Additional MS. 11,695, in the British Museum, a work of the eleventh century, there are several representations of warriors thus fully armed, very rude and coarse in drawing, but valuable for the clearness with which they represent the military equipment of the time. At folio 194 there is a large figure of a warrior in a mail shirt, a conical helmet,[Pg 316] strengthened with iron ribs converging to the apex, the front rib extending downwards, into what is called a nasal, i.e., a piece of iron extending downwards over the nose, so as to protect the face from a sword-cut across the upper part of it.
Group from Cottonian MS., Claudius, B. iv., folio 24: Aelfric's Anglo-Saxon Paraphrase of the Pentateuch, &c. Date about 1000. The crowned figure in the centre appears to be armed in a coat of chain-mail
Anglo-Saxon spearmen, from the fine manuscript of Prudentius in the Tenison Library. Date, the beginning of the eleventh century. The drawings are in pen-and-ink only, but very carefully executed: the later subjects by a fresh hand, but all Anglo-Saxon work.
Figure of Goliath, from a Latin Psalter of the tenth century in the British Museum
Additional MS., No. 18,043. The hauberk is coloured blue in the original, apparently indicating chain-mail. The curious combed helmet is of the same hue, clearly implying a defence of iron.
From Harleian Roll, Y. 6. The Life of Saint Guthlac. Date, about the close of the twelfth century. The figures wear the tunic, hauberk of chain-mail, and square-topped helmets, of which one only has the nasal. The triangular shields are suspended round the neck by the guige : their ornaments are mere fanciful patterns, not heraldic. No armour appears to be provided for the lower part of the figures.
This drawing represents two men, equipped in martial habits, and each of them armed with a sword and a shield, engaged in a combat; the performance is enlivened by the sound of a horn; the musician acts in a double capacity, and is, together with a female assistant, dancing round them to the cadence of the music; and probably the actions of the combatants were also regulated by the same measure.
The quintain in its original state was not confined to the exercise of young warriors on horseback: it was an object of practice for them on foot, in order to acquire strength and skill in assaulting an enemy with their swords, spears, and battle-axes. I met with a manuscript in the Royal Library, written early in the fourteenth century, entitled "Les Etablissmentz des Chevalerie," wherein the author, who appears to have been a man scientifically skilled in the military tactics of his time, strongly recommends a constant and attentive attack of the pel (from the Latin palus), for so he calls the post-quintain. The pel, he tells us, ought to be six feet in height above the ground, and so firmly fixed therein as not to be moved by the strokes that were laid upon it. The practitioner was then to assail the pel, armed with sword and shield in the same manner as he would an adversary, aiming his blows as if at the head, the face, the arms, the legs, the thighs, and the sides; taking care at all times to keep himself so completely covered with his shield, as not to give any advantage supposing he had a real enemy to cope with.
Here is the quintain in the form of a Saracen, from Pluvinel.