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View Full Version : How did medieval or Renaissance mercenaries operate?



MormonMobster
01-28-2014, 06:26 AM
(Apologies if this is the wrong forum)

So I'm doing some research for a fantasy novel (though I want it to be partially based on real-life concepts), and I'd like to know how medieval (or early Renaissance) mercenaries operated. Specifically, how did they get contracts (whether verbal or written), how did individual mercenaries (if there were any) differ from mercenary companies, and how did those mercenary companies operate? How did they choose their leadership, and if they had any "accountant" or "paymaster" types in their companies, what specifically did those people do as part of their duties?

Additionally, any further info on medieval mercenaries, from the Almogavars (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almogavars)/Catalan Company (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_Company) to the Gallowglass (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galloglass) would be appreciated.

blacbird
01-28-2014, 07:53 AM
I suspect a lot of them got "paid" by whatever booty they could plunder via their military action. But there was no "system" for this sort of thing. Prince X needed some dirty work done against Duke Y, and made whatever arrangement he could.

caw

Bolero
01-28-2014, 01:00 PM
I was under the vague impression that an experienced Captain would recruit a troop, or have a troop on retainer, but no reference for that.


By the 17th century there were a lot of professional soldiers fighting abroad in the wars against Spain. Had the impression that was individuals rather than companies. It is just during the English Civil War, there was a good sprinkling of English and especially Scottish soldiers, with previous experience of war, from fighting in the Swedish or the Dutch armies. They helped train the amateur troops raised for the civil war.

I've certainly been told that the artillery was largely mercenary during the English Civil War - and if they didn't get paid regularly, no boom. Again, no written reference for that, talking with an artillery re-enactor who'd done research.

Mr Flibble
01-28-2014, 01:15 PM
Could you be a bit more specific re time frame and whereabouts? Frex 6th century Asia is a different beast to 14th century Italy and different again to 9th century Scandinavia

Which means you can probably conjure up your own system and it'll be not too far from the truth somewhere at some point.

GHO57
01-28-2014, 01:24 PM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Condottieri

"In the event that foreign powers and envious neighbors attacked, the ruling nobles hired foreign mercenaries to fight for them. The military-service terms and conditions were stipulated in a condotta (contract) between the city-state and the soldiers (officer and enlisted man), thus, the contracted leader, the mercenary captain commanding, was titled the Condottiere.

Blah,blah...

The condottieri company commanders selected the soldiers to enlist; the condotta was a consolidated contract, and, when the ferma (service period) elapsed, the company entered an aspetto (wait) period, wherein, the contracting city-state considered its renewal. If the condotta expired definitively, the condottiere could not declare war against the contracting city-state for two years. "

Sounds pretty structured to me.

---ETA---

Yea, I was feeling lazy... hence the Wiki-ing.

But it really does sound like written contracts would have been present. There's even some talk about pay-scales, looks like a good place to start.

waylander
01-28-2014, 02:21 PM
Have a look at the biography of Sir John Hawkwood by Frances Stonor Saunders. This will tell you all you need to know about the conduct of mercenaries in the city states of C14 Italy.

You could also profit from reading 'The Chronicles of the Black Company' by Glen Cook. This fantasy classic follows the adventures of a mercenary company.

RichardGarfinkle
01-28-2014, 03:14 PM
For a jaundiced perspective on mercenaries, have a look at Chaucer's Knight by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. It is simultaneously a deconstruction of the character in Chaucer and an illumination of mercenaries in late Medieval warfare. The matter of how they worked and their contracts (not to mention looting and blackmail) crop up.

ULTRAGOTHA
01-28-2014, 06:50 PM
People have this idea that the middle ages was less structured than today. Almost the opposite is true. Things were very structured.

One of the Beatitudes in The Heliand which is a gospel written for Saxons around the time of King Charlemagne goes something like “blessed are those who do not bring frivolous lawsuits against their neighbors”.

Structured contracts rigorously enforced by both sides were all over the middle ages and renaissance. People were well aware of their rights and privileges and made sure they were not encroached on.

Of course people abused the system and tried to sneak out of contracts just like today. Some things haven’t changed much.

mayqueen
01-28-2014, 08:05 PM
The later middle ages is outside my writing-related expertise, but I'm in the middle of reading Dunnett's House of Niccolo series about a banker who owns a mercenary company during the Renaissance. Not that fiction is a substitute for actual facts :) but since you said you're researching this for fantasy, it might help? There are contracts, leaders, paid positions like accountant and doctor, etc.

Telergic
01-28-2014, 08:44 PM
There's been a huge amount written on this subject all out there online for your delectation. Hawkwood and the White Company already mentioned, of course. I wouldn't rely on Conan Doyle for historical accuracy, though his is a fun book. But Italy was a special case because of the fragmentation, local rivalries, and for various geopolitical reasons.

Other mercenary companies thrived all over Europe throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, even into the Englightenment. For example, the famous (among grognards) Burgundian crossbowmen. A number of well-known philosophers were mercenaries or professional soldiers in their youth, for example Descartes. Presumably as siege engineering specialists, but who knows, perhaps they were musketeers.

MormonMobster
01-28-2014, 09:35 PM
Could you be a bit more specific re time frame and whereabouts? Frex 6th century Asia is a different beast to 14th century Italy and different again to 9th century Scandinavia

Which means you can probably conjure up your own system and it'll be not too far from the truth somewhere at some point.

I'm not quite sure what the generic time period will be; I was inspired by the Golden Company from a Song of Ice and Fire, but I envision the mercenary company I'm creating with less gaudy and shining suits of armor (like the Song of Ice and Fire setting has), and more boiled leather and chain mail. Does that make sense? I still want a clear medieval (even "dark ages" medieval) influence in any case, but other than a preference for "lower tech", I don't really have a vision for the generic time period of the setting. All I know about the setting at this point is that whatever nations or rulers there are, they have more money than loyal soldiers, and they're frequently in violent conflict, hence the need for mercenaries.

Oh, and the main character is the paymaster in one of the mercenary companies, and essentially heads up his own regiment of mercenaries within the company to ensure that his employers pay the company what they're due.

I'll have to take everyone's suggestions, thanks!

thothguard51
01-28-2014, 09:51 PM
Try Bernard Cornwells Archer series, time period is from around early to mid 1300's and goes back and forth between England and France. Deals with an English Archer who fights in a company of mercenaries against the french, who have Italian merc's using cannons.

Medievalist
01-28-2014, 10:10 PM
The later middle ages is outside my writing-related expertise, but I'm in the middle of reading Dunnett's House of Niccolo series about a banker who owns a mercenary company during the Renaissance. Not that fiction is a substitute for actual facts :) but since you said you're researching this for fantasy, it might help? There are contracts, leaders, paid positions like accountant and doctor, etc.

See also Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles and Elizabeth Moon's Paksenarrion books which follow the career of a newly-recruited mercenary.

Bolero
01-29-2014, 01:15 AM
Try Barbara Hambly's The Ladies of Madrigyn series. Two main characters are a barbarian mercenary commander and one of his company captains (female). Some interesting twists. I like the negotiation scene at the start of "Ladies" regarding the mercenaries getting paid.

Medievalist
01-29-2014, 02:18 AM
There are letters from one of the Medici to his banker directing negotiations regarding monies and contract terms for mercenaries and various warfare/terrorism specialists.

Mr Flibble
01-29-2014, 03:31 AM
I'm not quite sure what the generic time period will be; I was inspired by the Golden Company from a Song of Ice and Fire, but I envision the mercenary company I'm creating with less gaudy and shining suits of armor (like the Song of Ice and Fire setting has), and more boiled leather and chain mail.

It does!

One thing to consider here is how literate your fantasy world is. Can all the mercenaries read/write? Can the leader? If no, then contracts probably won't occur much, or not written ones.

Also it's going to depend on the culture you create here. In certain cultures, a man's word was enough to seal a deal and woe betide anyone who broke their word - calling someone an oathbreaker might be serious business. There are still people now who prefer to do deals on an honourable handshake because anything else is insulting. If your guys are that proud, or put that much faith in a gentleman's word....

Or maybe your guys are a little more free roaming and freebooting. Maybe their society, like certain times of piracy, was very loose and flowing. Most pirates didn't sign a contract (again, most couldn't read much), but they'd be offered X share. If a captain didn't honour that, word got around and no one would want to sail with them (except out of necessity, so you'd get all the crap pirates)

If your society is a nest of backstabbing bastards who'd kill their own granny for tuppence, maybe they've evolved a system of contracts so that no one can renege without getting dragged through some pretty mean courts (or maybe get sent to debtors prison or whatever nasty thing you can think up :D).

Maybe they even...(pause for small shudder)...worship bureaucrats so everything HAS to have a contract. In triplicate.

So how you've set up your culture will haevily influence the appearance or not of contracts etc.



It really is up to you.

Tepelus
01-29-2014, 04:50 AM
King Matyas Corvin of Hungary had an army which later became known as the Black Army (http://www.ask.com/wiki/Black_Army_of_Hungary) which consisted of mostly mercenaries.

blacbird
01-29-2014, 02:01 PM
There are still people now who prefer to do deals on an honourable handshake because anything else is insulting.

Dealers in diamonds. That's not sarcasm. The diamond industry, at the level of buying rough diamonds for jewelry cutting and polishing, famously works this way, and always has.

Which is a digression from the thread, I know. Sorry.

caw

benbenberi
01-30-2014, 05:01 AM
The Business of War: Military Enterprise and Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe (http://www.amazon.com/The-Business-War-Enterprise-Revolution/dp/0521735580/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391043423&sr=8-1&keywords=parrott+business) by David Parrott deals with military contractors and mercenaries in the 15-17c. His main focus is on the period of the 30 Years War, which is a bit later than you're asking about, but there's a lot of info in the book that you may find interesting/relevant/useful. Check out the "Look Inside" pages at the link.

MormonMobster
02-01-2014, 11:38 AM
It does!

One thing to consider here is how literate your fantasy world is. Can all the mercenaries read/write? Can the leader? If no, then contracts probably won't occur much, or not written ones.

Also it's going to depend on the culture you create here. In certain cultures, a man's word was enough to seal a deal and woe betide anyone who broke their word - calling someone an oathbreaker might be serious business. There are still people now who prefer to do deals on an honourable handshake because anything else is insulting. If your guys are that proud, or put that much faith in a gentleman's word....

Or maybe your guys are a little more free roaming and freebooting. Maybe their society, like certain times of piracy, was very loose and flowing. Most pirates didn't sign a contract (again, most couldn't read much), but they'd be offered X share. If a captain didn't honour that, word got around and no one would want to sail with them (except out of necessity, so you'd get all the crap pirates)

If your society is a nest of backstabbing bastards who'd kill their own granny for tuppence, maybe they've evolved a system of contracts so that no one can renege without getting dragged through some pretty mean courts (or maybe get sent to debtors prison or whatever nasty thing you can think up :D).

Maybe they even...(pause for small shudder)...worship bureaucrats so everything HAS to have a contract. In triplicate.

So how you've set up your culture will haevily influence the appearance or not of contracts etc.



It really is up to you.

I'm not sure what sort of culture I want to create in my setting, beyond very basic details I haven't been able to summon up the motivation to flesh out my setting. A mercenary company would undoubtedly be best in a world that features a lot of conflict, but while I'm looking through all the historical examples (and have read a couple of fantasy books involving mercenaries), I'm not really sure how to make mine interesting.