View Full Version : Soldiers and War

12-04-2013, 06:28 AM
For my solo project, I sought to use an idea I've had for years that had basically matured.

This is for a high fantasy story set in a typical medieval-like world.

The main protagonist is married to a knight and a war begins - or is about to begin. He leaves to fight for the kingdom. The war lasts several months to a year.

After the war, I do not want the knight to return home. He is not dead, but is simply "missing" (for lack of spoilers).

Would it be normal for the protagonist to receive a letter or notice that her husband is dead, or that he's "missing-in-action"?

Would they not send her anything after the war is over?

Then I have to figure out how she KNOWS her husband is not dead so she can set on her quest to find him.


12-04-2013, 07:21 AM
There is no typical medieval. Do you know yet which country and time period you're using as a model, if any?

Easiest might be if the people who survived the war returned and told her what they know.

12-04-2013, 10:27 AM
I'm thinking that in anything even vaguely medieval there would be no 'official notification' as we think of it today. If the knight was well-known or well-connected, whoever was commanding him might write to the family (again, no 'postal service', maybe a courier on his way to somewhere else might be entrusted with the letter?), other than that, I think Ultragotha's idea is good: survivors and old comrades would come by with stories, either as a kindness to the family, or in hopes of some reward for bearing the sad tidings.
Also, the amount of news would depend on whether she was living at court (lots of gossip and updates on how the war is going) or way out in the country, on the knight's estates (few visitors would go out of their way to get out there.)
Pre-modern communication: The War of 1812 was officially settled and over, and yet a few small battles were still fought by people who hadn't got the word from HQ.

12-04-2013, 01:09 PM
Yup - I'd agree with Frimble3 and Ultragotha. There is no right and wrong answer here. It depends on the structure of the society.

Is there a central Government? If so, the soldier might be part of a formal state army with a system of notifying next of kin.

Does the state pay pensions to widows? If so, they would notify widows of the death to start the payments.

Is it a more feudal society where individual landowners are the knights and the rest of the soldiers work for the knights and not for the state? That's largely how the crusades worked.

There is no "normal" for fantasy (other than cliché). Details like this depend on the world that you have created and the rules that apply there. You might want to pick a period in history (eg the crusades) and research that. But after that it's for you to make it up.

12-04-2013, 02:03 PM
Did the knight take squires, grooms, footsoldiers etc with him? This would be fairly normal practice for medieval feudal society, knights need squires to help them get all their kit on and off. Have his squire(s) return to tell the story of what happened to him. ("There was a big battle. He didn't show up afterwards and we couldn't find his body and there's been no ransom demand.")

12-04-2013, 02:36 PM
That's a good point. Unlike a modern army, feudal armies tended to fight in clumps of people who all came from the same area. Each knight would bring along men drawn from his estate. Some of these would be directly employed - eg squires and stewards. Others would be peasant farmers who would provide their services in times of war as part of the price of being given land.

So Sir Hackalot might come to the party with a groom or two, a squire, two dozen archers, a dozen men at arms and a brace of comely wenches to cook and wash their underpants.

That is, the wenches came to cook. And wash their underpants. Not to cook and wash their underpants. That's a different thing altogether.

If Sir Hackalot falls, the rest of his party would make their way back home bearing the sad news. The news would be distributed by word of mouth because everyone came from the same area - eg the comely wenches looking for new masters who need their underpants cooking.

But a letter or a notice implies more of a formalised system which is more akin to modern warfare.

Mind you, if we are being really accurate, a knight was such an important person in feudal societies that everyone would have noticed if he wasn't there. He is much much higher in status than a common or garden grunt.

12-04-2013, 02:46 PM
The term "Knight" implies a relatively high social status. It also implies a relationship with a Liege Lord, i.e., the person the Knight serves in exchange for land and the title.

If there were a war, and the Knight was missing, the Liege Lord would know. If you want to know if and how he'd contact the family consider the following questions:

What is the line of communication? They are at war. Are they communicating with the people back home? If so how? Who is transporting the messages?

What is the relationship between the Liege Lord and the Knight's wife? If they are close he may wish to tell her in person, if possible.

If your setup allows him to send a letter, would he? Would he want her to know he's missing right away or wait until they all return in the hope they find out what happens to him first, possibly get a ransom demand, etc?

Other than that, personally, I think the most likely scenario would be that she finds out when the war party returns. Especially if it's only a few months, rather than the years that people were away on the Crusades.

I know you are thinking bout the WWII and Vietnam trope of the "telegram at the door" to let you know someone was missing or dead. I don't think historical Medieval societies generally had any such system, although personal messages might make it back.

12-04-2013, 04:32 PM
I would say, since it's your world, and there isn't really a set standard for that time period anyway, that you should use the one that gives you the best story. That would depend on how big of a part that will play in your story, and would involve looking at the outcome of both actions. (Or you could make it Sci-Fi and in one reality she gets the notice and in the other she doesn't. :))

12-05-2013, 01:58 AM
Typically, if a soldier/knight doesn't return and there's no word, life goes on. Eldest son takes over, wife remarries, etc. Write what you need to happen, the details aren't that important.


12-05-2013, 03:26 AM
The liege lord would definitely be involved, because the fief holder would need to be replaced by his heir. The widow-who-isn't might only find out when her husband's brother, cousin, nephew, what-have-you turned up to claim the land.

12-05-2013, 05:02 AM
Oh wow! Thanks for the comments everyone! I was gone all day, so yeah. XD

I think I'll use the idea of one or several of the squires returning home to tell her. That would be perfect. Thanks again. :)

12-05-2013, 05:25 AM
In medieval times there was no regular post, and I would say in most of Europe there was no real concept of "the mail".

For the news of a missing knight or other medieval soldier, I believe the usual procedure would be to wait for his commander -- presumably some feudal lord -- to return home. There would be no way for anyone at home to even know the knight was missing until the return of the main body of men who had set out to war.

If it becomes common knowledge the lord was killed in battle along with his men, or there was some great military disaster, that news might come faster, but I don't think mail was common in medieval times except in isolated high-culture locations like Constantinople, at least until the Renaissance brought banks and routine mercantile couriers carrying the post, and until the formation of modern nation states created actual national postal systems.

Look up Thurn und Taxis and the Medicis for more information on early postal systems. I wouldn't rely on the Crying of Lot 49, however :)

12-05-2013, 05:32 AM
Does the knight have any squires or followers? If he does, and one manages to survive the war, he/she could inform the widow about her husband's MIA status.

12-08-2013, 09:54 PM
Mind you, if we are being really accurate, a knight was such an important person in feudal societies that everyone would have noticed if he wasn't there. He is much much higher in status than a common or garden grunt.

One way to get around the not finding the body thing might be to have a fire or building collapse or both. Most likely she'd need to be told this by a returning servant/squire/comrade in arms.

Of course whether that person would be allowed to return home is also in question, since they probably need all they fighting men they can get. Perhaps the person delivering the news has some sort of traumatic injury (loss of an arm or leg) and can't function as a fighter any more.