<b>Warfare in the Middle Ages<b>
The traditional and popular understanding of European warfare in the
Middle Ages held that mounted knights dominated European battlefields
during the years 800 to 1400. Knights were encased in plate armor and
charged with lances, scattering, skewering, and riding down any foot
troops in the way as they closed with each other to decide the battle.
The era of the knight came to an end when infantry reestablished a
prominent battlefield role with new weapons (firearms) and revived skills
(formations of massed pikeman). This view was fostered by the art and
limited accounts of the era that featured the mounted nobility while
ignoring the commoners and peasants who fought on foot. The perception
that knights dominated and that warfare consisted mainly of cavalry
charges is false.
Foot troops were an important component of all armies in the Middle Ages.
They fought in hand-to-hand mêlées and as missile troops (bows of various
types and later handguns). Foot soldiers were critical for both sides in
sieges against castles and fortified towns.
Warfare in the Middle Ages was dominated actually by sieges of one sort
or another. Battles on open ground between armies were infrequent. Armies
played a sort of chess match, maneuvering to take important castles and
towns, while avoiding engagements where a large and expensive force might
On those occasions where pitched battles did occur, knights could be
devastating. A determined charge by armored knights was a powerful force.
It was more likely, however, that victory went to the side making best
use of the three major army components together-mêlée infantry, missile
troops, and cavalry. Also important were the factors that have always
influenced battle, such as intelligent use of terrain, troop morale,
leadership, discipline, and tactics.