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Warfare During the Renaissance

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Essay title: Warfare During the Renaissance

Warfare During the Renaissance

Warfare did not get invented during the Renaissance, but there were some significant innovations. Feudal cavalry lost its strength of the battlefield, infantry gained in stature, states learned how to field large armies for long periods of time. Most important of all, however, was the use of gunpowder.

The chief result of these innovations was that warfare once and for all was taken out of the hands of private individuals (the nobility) and was taken over by the nation-state. Moreover, war became so expensive and destructive that it became ever more difficult and dangerous for small states to wage war, even at the local level. Warfare became big business and the business of big players.

Decline of feudal Cavalry

Up until the 14th century, the battlefield belonged to the medieval knight. The knight of 1300 was well armored. Plate mail was still in the future, but armor had developed to the point where most of a knight was covered in metal, and even his horse wore padded armor. The knight was adept at the use of the lance, the sword and the shield, and was every bit as effective on foot as he was on horseback.

What happened in the 14th century was that there emerged other forces on the field that could withstand the feudal cavalry charge and could even win battles. The most notable of these were the English Longbowmen and the Swiss Pikemen.

English Longbows

The English longbow was much bigger than other bows. It was as tall as a man or taller and could fire with accuracy well over 200 yards. An English archer could fire accurately three arrows a minute and when pressed could double that rate. A hundred archers could launch a thousand arrows a minute, with withering results, due to the fact that there arrows were much lighter, and wind caused them to change direction after about 50 feet. The longbow is credited with the English victory at Cr&egravecy (1346) and Poitiers (1356). Because an arrow fired from a longbow could pierce chain mail armor, it gave to common foot soldiers a weapon that could withstand the nobility. Not surprisingly, the noble class despised both crossbows and longbows.

A Longbow was reasonably cheap to make and Edward III was able to require all able-bodied Englishmen to become proficient in its use. Archers alone were not enough to win the day, but they modified battlefield tactics, serving as mobile field artillery.



Swiss Pikemen

The Swiss pike was a nasty piece of work. Anywhere from 14 to 20 feet long, the pike was in effective the infantryman's version of the lance. At its end it had a point for impaling, a hook for grabbing, and often a blade for cutting. There were many variations on these.

As with the longbow, the real effectiveness of the pike was not so much the weapon itself but how it was used on the battlefield. The Swiss became adept at fighting in formation. A solid square of Pikemen, with the front lines planting their pikes in the ground, presented a bristling wall that cavalry charges were generally unable to break. As with the English, too, the Swiss fought as traditional infantry once the cavalry charge was thoroughly disrupted. The Swiss Pikemen wore only light armor, for mobility was important and his real armor was his fellows in his unit. So long as they held together, they were protected, and it was long time before other armies learned how to break up a Swiss square.



The invention of guns, handguns, artillery, field artillery – changed warfare in ways that were unimaginable those days. Effective cannons meant that castles were no longer safe. Field artillery and handguns revolutionized battlefield tactics. And all of this made warfare far more expensive, so that governments were driven to heroics of taxation to pay for their wars.

The old ways still became a natural way of life for the people for a long time. Castles continued to be built, and if it were on the edge on a high moat , even a traditional castle could rest securely out of range of most guns. But more and more castles had to be designed or re-designed with an eye of cautiousness for bombardment.

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