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There are no less harmful stereotypes about the first third of the New Age and especially about its military affairs than about the ill-fated "dark" Middle Ages. Most of the myths stem from a resolute unwillingness to try to perceive the situation of that time in its entirety and not to try to analyze it piece by piece. And the most indicative of all in this area is military affairs. After all, as you know, "war is the father of everything."
Entering the era
In Europe, the era of the Renaissance is coming to an end, in the New World the Spanish conquest is thundering, Martin Luther is nailing his 95 theses against the sale of indulgences to the door of the cathedral, an economic crisis is raging in Europe. Chivalry is rapidly becoming poorer due to the lack of land in the Old World, the nascent bourgeoisie forms the ideas of capitalism, in the Spanish-German Empire of the Habsburgs, the most terrible inflation caused by the supply of gold and silver from America. Very soon one of the bloodiest and at the same time most interesting military conflicts from a historical point of view - the Thirty Years' War - will break out in Europe. It will be called upon to solve the most severely accumulated economic, political and ideological problems in the region.
From the point of view of military affairs, this period is of particular value. It was at this time that the warriors and militias characteristic of feudal society would begin to disappear in the Old World, and real soldiers and regular armies would come to replace them. And it was in this era in military affairs that everything old, medieval and completely new was destined to intertwine.
Steel, gunpowder and faith
The last Spanish third of the pikemen (battle) at the Battle of Rocroix. / Artist: Augusto Ferrer-Dahlmau.
At one time, along with the death of the Western Roman Empire, came the "death" of the infantry. For several centuries in Europe, in Russia and in the East, the infantry was either not used at all as such in military clashes or had an exclusively auxiliary character. However, by the end of the Middle Ages, when the Hundred Years War between England and France died down in Europe, it became clear that the infantry was not just returning to the fields, but very soon it would represent a serious and independent force.
For a long time, the infantry was simply unnecessary. Most often, everything was decided either by blows of heavy cavalry of the knightly type or by cunning maneuvers of light infantry cavalry of the eastern (Mongolian) type. And against those, and against others, the man was not on horseback was virtually defenseless. Moreover, the feudal economy simply did not allow the maintenance of professional infantry in Europe. A knight is a military professional. He is few in number, but he has good equipment, an expensive powerful horse, and most importantly - a great personal and ancestral military experience, which was passed on from father to son. The knight spent most of his life at war. So that he could do this, the peasants supported him at the expense of their labor.
Thus, keeping the infantry was not unprofitable, and more often than not, it was impossible. In any case, for a long time. Moreover, the townspeople and peasants, driven into the militia, had no idea about the conduct of the war. Hence the problems with discipline and stability on the battlefield. The early infantry very often fled flinching before the onslaught of the enemy, becoming easy prey for the same cavalry.
However, early capitalist relations, the growth of cities, the development and spread of Magdeburg law, and most importantly, the emergence of the first paid military corporations returned the infantry to the fields. Not as well armed as the knights, less experienced, but by the beginning of modern times no less well motivated, especially when it came to defending their rights (for example, the city's right to self-government), and most importantly - numerous, the infantrymen were back in business.
In the beginning, there were no separate branches of the armed forces. The tactical units included a number of melee warriors and ranged warriors. The melee infantry was initially armed with conventional spears, but later they were almost completely supplanted by pikes and halberds. The formation of warriors with long pikes resembled an ancient phalanx and became virtually impregnable for enemy cavalry.
The pikemen operated very simply. Several hundred people stood in a dense formation - a battle. Most often it was a square or rectangle. Such a formation was very easy to hold even for the most poorly trained infantrymen. At the same time, the battle could "bristle" with lances from either side at one moment, preventing heavy cavalry from cutting into itself. The pica was a very simple, cheap, but at the same time quite effective weapon, largely due to its 5-6 meter length.
Interesting fact: in the 16th century, representatives of the aristocracy ironically called the pikemen "a living palisade." It was a mocking name, since the pikemen were actually the most harmless people on the battlefield. During the Italian warriors, German nobles used to joke that shooting a pikeman in battle was a new mortal sin.
The pikemen had a very specific tactical niche. They did not allow cavalry to pass in certain places, being a "living wall" behind which rifle infantry was hiding from the cavalry. Of course, when two battles of pikemen converged in a battle, the bloody competition on the pikes did not look like a thing at least in the least funny.
Moreover, since the time of the Hundred Years War, it was the arrows that were of great importance in the infantry. Having begun its history with the famous English "Longarchers", already in the 15th century it became clear that the role of the infantry of fire fighting - shooters armed with arquebusses and muskets - would only grow. By the 16th century, arrows played a huge role. True, the first muskets and arquebusses had just a terrible accuracy of fire, and therefore the fire infantry was only suitable for firing in volleys. Musketeers and arquebusers were built in long lines of 4-5 ranks. This arrangement was considered optimal. Only the first line always fired, after which it turned around and, on command, went to the rear of the formation to reload. The second rank went forward and made a volley, after which it went back, and it was replaced by the third. By the time the fifth fired, the first had already managed to reload.
Under the musket in different periods of modern times, different weapons were meant. Initially, these were very heavy smooth-bore shotguns with a stock, which required installation on a special bipod to fire a shot. The caliber of muskets during the Thirty Years War was about 18 mm. The arquebus was, in fact, a lightweight variation of the musket, it did not need a bipod, it was easier and faster to reload, but it had a smaller caliber and power, which made it less effective.
Interesting fact: despite the fact that the arquebus very often experienced problems even with the penetration of low-quality infantry armor, the Dutch and Swedes during the Thirty Years War will rely on this weapon, and as practice shows, they will be right.
Infantry with a wagon train on the march. / Artist: Agusto Ferrer-Dahlmau.
In addition to a pike or musket, most of the infantrymen carried auxiliary weapons. It could be a sword, falchion or dagger.In addition, even in the 16th century, such "relics of the Middle Ages" as a crossbow did not go out of use. Crossbow battles were still heavily used, usually during sieges. At that time, there was a well-developed crossbow culture in many European cities. Any more or less independent tradesman could afford this weapon. In the cities themselves, there were guilds of crossbowmen, specific clubs where you could buy these weapons and practice shooting.
"Knights" of modern times
Even from school, many people have a frankly stupid myth that the knightly cavalry disappeared in Europe due to the appearance of firearms. This is not true. The knightly cavalry in Europe disappeared due to objective economic reasons. First of all, because this very chivalry, due to the lack of new land, began to rapidly grow poor. And equipping a nobleman with good equipment and especially buying a war horse is a huge investment.
Interesting fact: The "poor" knight always had at least two horses - a riding one and a fighting one. Very often, in order to buy a war horse for a nobleman, the estate had to work for more than one year. The loss of such a horse is a real tragedy and a terrible blow to welfare.
As a result, by the beginning of the 16th century, a situation had finally developed in Europe when many nobles had nothing but personal and family honor, and a pair of holey boots and a grandfather's sword. Some knights went to serve in the infantry, which was a terrible blow to pride and personal honor for most of such people.
In reality, firearms did not buried chivalry, but revived it in a new form. The actual withdrawal from Europe of the medieval heavy cavalry opened up a vacancy. The army needed cavalry. Therefore, the reitars that appeared in the 15th century received a new round of development. It was still armored cavalry, but much lighter than the classic knightly. And most importantly, the Reitars were armed with firearms - cavalry pistols.
Don't think Reitar squadrons looked like modern-day sworn conscripts. It was a fairly diverse mass in terms of its equipment. Yes, there was a general outline - the presence of pistols, a sword and a horse. However, someone might not have any armor at all. It still cost a lot of money to make even Reitar armor from a cuirass and a helmet. Nevertheless, it was the Reiter service that gave the nobility a second chance to get into the cavalry. Since it was no longer necessary to make extremely expensive equipment. And since the armor became lighter and the tactics of fighting completely changed - pistol shootout replaced the spear collision, and the need for an expensive strong horse disappeared. Now it was possible to fight on some kind of nag.
Interesting fact: The best raiters of the Thirty Years War are considered to be Swedish. They were created by King Gustav Adolf. A distinctive feature of the Swedish Reitar was the guaranteed presence of two pistols at once, as well as a different battle tactics. If the majority of European Reitar preferred to use the "karakol" (approach the enemy, shoot and retreat to reload), the Swedes fired only on the move, after which they immediately cut into the enemy's discharged formation. During the war, Gustav Adolf himself went on the attack with his raiters. As a result, he died in the battle of Lützen on November 6, 1632.
In addition to the reitar, cuirassiers occupied a large place. Essentially a heavier variety of pistol-based rifle cavalry, focused on close combat. At the same time, the first dragoons began to appear, who were ironically called "infantry on horseback". This is because the dragoons were armed with arquebusses and muskets, and it is extremely difficult to effectively shoot from a horse from such a weapon. Reitars and cuirassiers were used to attack infantry formations, as well as to encircle enemy formations from the rear or flank.Dragoons in the 16th century were not yet widespread and were usually used as extremely mobile fire support groups.
Finally, not the last place in the army was occupied by the hussars, lightly armed melee and long-range cavalry. The equipment of the European hussars was very different. Spears, lances, sabers. Some hussars even used bows in the 16th century. Unlike the Reitar and Cuirassiers, which were still heavy cavalry with firearms, the Hussars had their own tactical niche. In direct combat, the hussars were of very low value at the time. Therefore, they were used for reconnaissance, patrols, raider operations, and also to "trample" the fleeing enemy.
Interesting fact: an exception is the Polish hussaria, which was a heavy cavalry of the knightly pattern.
The new era has once again changed the face of the war. It was in the 16th century that the tactics of warfare based on the interaction of different types of units were finally approved (for the second time in history since the existence of Rome): infantry - holding the front line, cavalry - used to deliver crushing accurate strikes, artillery - forcing the enemy to leave profitable for him position. It was at this time that Europe would finally leave the small armies of hereditary high-quality professionals and move to huge national and mercenary armies.
The Renaissance is a concept not only about sculptures of naked athletic guys, painting, frescoes, philosophy, but also about the "revival" of military affairs. And in many ways it was precisely a revival, not an innovation. If only because the military theorists of that time from Sweden, Holland and Italy, among other things, will study and "be inspired" by the treatises of such ancient theorists of military affairs that have come down to the 16th century, such as Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus.
Finally: in reality (and completely) the well-known aphorism sounds like this: “War is the father of all, the king of all: it declares some as gods, others as people, some creates as slaves, others as free. ". This expression is attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus.