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Swiss Mercenary Pike Men: The End of Cavalry Superiority in The Late Middle Ages | Medieval Warfare

Swiss Mercenary Pike Men: The End of Cavalry Superiority in The Late Middle Ages | Medieval Warfare

the end of cavalry superiority in the
late Middle Ages changed the face of European warfare strongly and lastingly
on the medieval battlefield which might have looked like this cavalry units this
heavily armoured medieval tanks were often able to breach infantry formations
quickly and shattered the lines of enemy infantry with brute force when the
frontlines fell the cavalry were able to threaten the remaining infantry in the
center as well as the enemy archers further back there are only very rare
cases in which an infantry only force fought cavalry successfully the Flemish
at the Battle of Courtrai 1302 better known as the Battle of golden
Spurs and the English at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 are about two examples
in both cases the infantry armies relied heavily on the battlefield conditions at
the battle of courtrai the victorious infantry took up position behind Three Rivers and
fortified their position with ditches to overcome the French nice natural
advantage on an open battlefield under these circumstances the French Knights
to no chance and they lost five hundred pairs of spurs which the Flemish footmen
took from them hence the Battle of golden Spurs a
similar example would be the battle of Agincourt in 1415 when outnumbered
English longbowmen also dug in and shot the French cavalry to pieces
a paradigm-shifting warfare however only took place in the late 14th century but
it was not the increasing use of the longbow or the crossbow nor firearms
that led to this the medieval knight who had reigned supreme on the battlefield
for so long was finally outclassed by a new infantry formation which was widely
adopted first by Swiss mercenaries and soon taken over by many infantry troops
in Europe this was sometimes even referred to as infantry revolution for
example by Aten and Pryce to this day this phenomenon is debated
and contested among many historians but most can agree on is that a change in
infantry tactics did in fact occur still subject to debate is to what degree this
development changed the supremacy of cavalry in addition many scholars argue
that infantry troops were just as important in early medieval warfare as
in late medieval ages anyways the new tactic that the Swiss mercenaries
brought to the battle did not require any cavalry they used the formation
which was called gevalt – literally hebrew of violence instead of forming a
stretch shield wall the Swiss organised themselves into deeper formations this
deep information consisted of up to several thousand men who were armed with
halbert’s swords axes and other similar short weaponry this tactic not only
worked well against heavy infantry but also against Knights at least as soon as
they dismounted from their horses for the 14th a much of the 15th century the
only way the heap of violence could overcome mounted Knights was to choose
the place of battle carefully the Swiss dostler enemy cavalry into valleys
marshes or fake routes they also use tactical tricks such as taking long
marches to outflank the enemy throwing rocks and locks of food down steep
mountain sites onto baffled enemy horses or placing obstacles on the battlefield
to limit the freedom of movement of the horsemen well it seems the Swiss used
similar tactics as the Flemish at the battle of courtrai or the English at the battle of agincourt
throughout the end of the late Middle Ages however the Swiss were notorious
for their incredible success rate in open field battles despite their
successes they were also notorious for being homesick this
was called the swiss sickness and found its expression in songs such as the
cookies belly for example the Swiss were sometimes forbidden to sing it because
many thought it furthered homesickness here’s a snippet however rumor has it that some of the
French kings of the House of Valois refused to go to war without Swiss
mercenaries on their side of the battlefield for this astonishing
efficiency there were three main factors a change in tactics low cost and
mentality tactics are up first throughout the 15th century the Swiss
refined their tactics knowing that they could not face Knights in their chosen
location every time they equipped a man in the front lines with body armor and
pikes which could range up to a length of more than six meters
those outer rows protected the core of the square which still consisted of
lightly armored melee warriors carrying halberd short swords or similar weapons
in addition a small number of mobile skirmishers archers and crossbowmen
later firearms were deployed to operated around the formation in case of a
cavalry charge that could quickly run back into the square to seek cover
the Pikes kept the enemy at a distance and prevented attacking cavalry from
riding into the square and from dispersing the formation in infantry on
infantry combat the enemy line had to deal with a strong push of long Pike’s
which often breached our lines rather quickly once the enemy lines were
breached the Swiss front lines opened and to help deers and sword fighters ran
forward to kill the enemies in single combat the decisive problem of these
phalanx like square was that it was not flexible at all as it is hard for
several hundred men to keep the formation while running and changing
directions all in all though the Swiss strategy was so successful that others
quickly adopted it well known are the German landsknechts when the Swiss and
the Landknechts clashed has happened for example in the Battle of Novara in
1513 they fought the horribly bloody an entangled paddle which contemporaries
called push of pike these battles were usually decided by sheer force and will
but also by the length of the Pikes push of pike battles were called bad war by
the Italians and the French because of the high rate of casualties
the pike square at many advantages which were a perfect fit for the small and
rural departments of the 14th and 15th century Switzerland no expensive
equipment was needed and coordinating the fighters in battle was much more
important than individual training this was important since a large part of man
fighting in Swiss armies were actually farmers were to cultivate their fields
for several months of the year all this does not conclusively explain the Swiss
dominance on the battlefield one point which is outlined by historians is the
fact that they had an entirely different mentality since they were often
defending their homes and liberties this however doesn’t apply for their
deployment as mercenaries in foreign countries in the end the historical
evidence we have boils down to the sheer will to win to a go big or go home
mentality and the willingness to give their lives in combat a famous example
for this is the Battle of Grandson in 1476 the swiss fought the weakthily
equipped Burgundians who deployed masses of cavalry and
artillery but the swiss vanguard endeared the enemy artillery fire
stoically until their main heap of violence arrived just as Charles the
bold the Duke of Burgundy was redeploying his troops the 3rd Swiss
Gewalthaufen – arrived – Swiss struck the Burgundians quickly and decisively
defeated them some historians sum up this menacing mentality of the Swiss in
lovely yet convoluted words have a taste quote this natural force of the wild
farmers and herdsmen based on elementary aggressiveness bestowed the terror
spreading impetus on the swiss pike square end quote those properties of the
swiss people and Swiss mercenaries alike were mythologized in the retrospective
especially during the 19th and 20th century nationalism which is best
visualized when looking at Switzerland’s National Exhibition of 1939 the Swiss
mercenaries were of course not invincible as examples such as the lost
at the Battle of Cerignola in 1503 show 9,000 men mainly French cavalry and
Swiss infantrymen were shot to pieces by only a thousand Spanish our kiba’s ears
the end of the prevalence of the swiss pikes glare came of the development of
heavy artillery in firearms The battle of Cerignola is considered the first
battle in Europe won by gunpowder the Swiss didn’t adapt their strategy to
those alterations and thus lost the upper hand to spanish tarios for example
were quicker to do so and combine their formations with firearms and artillery
in the 16th and 17th century which heralded the start of pike and shot
warfare but this would be subject of a future video for now we will leave you
with some Swiss music

100 comments on “Swiss Mercenary Pike Men: The End of Cavalry Superiority in The Late Middle Ages | Medieval Warfare

  1. I'm 10 seconds in and I already subscribed and liked, this is solid content. Keep it up man, bet you're going to have hundreds of thousands of subscribers soon!

  2. Das isch mal solidi Schwizer Propaganda. „Go big or go home“ – Kes Wunder hends d Heiwehlieder verbote 😄

  3. Great job! I really liked it: absolutely correct and to the point! I make similar content, if you are interested. We should do something together sometimes!

  4. Finde die Legende während den Schlachten eine super Idee! Hilft sehr viel für das Verständnis! Sehr gutes Video!

  5. I know this question is stupid and I'm a tad bit late but I wanted to know about how large a swiss pike formation was. The video says it was several hundred men (wow that"s a lot) but a quick glance at Wikipedia (with little research on my part) says it was 10 by 10. Can someone help me on this one thanks 🙂

  6. Great series so far. I enjoy the small trips into the historiography of how innovate some of these tactics or changes really were.

  7. I've always thought that what modern schools do to history is a shame. as a kid I was always independently reading books and learning on my own far beyond the school curriculum. No wonder the average person is bored to tears by history when they never learned anything interesting.

    I have an Irish friend who had never even learned about the mythology and history of his own culture in school, but he did remember learning about the Holocaust four different times.

  8. I see a great resemblance to the ancient Spartans. Both armies were mostly made up of common folk and gained a reputation as almost unbeatable due to their supposed unwavering war-like mentality but in actuality were for the most part "just" a super well coordinated and organised unit being great at abusing tactical advantages.

  9. Do you have a source on the translation of Gewalthaufen? I was always wondering if it was meant more like our modern Gewalt, meaning violence, or like gewaltig, meaning huge.

  10. interesting videos, well made, also looks like quite a bit a of work and decent amount of research went into this. Have a like, i could see this getting a lot of views with some exposure

  11. That square formation explained at about 5:00 is exactly the tactic I use on pretty much all total war games lol

  12. Cavalry was already numbed by archers during the hundred years war. At Agincourt most of the knights dismounted knowing the english archers would just shoot their horses.

  13. I once read that the swiss mercenaries did not take prisoners in order for their foes to loose hope of getting spared should the swiss win the day. That led to a massive corrosion of morale within the enemy troops as especially wealthy fighters could normally hope to be captured for ransom instead of being killed. For those the swiss turned good sport into actual terrifying war.

  14. Their reuputation lead to the Pope hiring them as bodyguards, and to this day Swiss Guards are the guardiand of the Papacy.

  15. Already at least 2700 years ago, cavalry would never charge pike head on, only into an unprotected flank. Greeks, Macedonians and their Assyrian predecessors all knew this basic ancient military fact

  16. Pikemen and more intricate strategies than this have been around well over a thousand years before this. What are you talking about ?

  17. The End of Cavalry Superiority in Western Europe might be a better title, as cavalry in Central and Eastern Europe never lost importance until the modern era due to the wide open plains and steppes.

  18. Hey you rich peasant suppressing peacock looking noblemen on your horses.
    This is the infantry revolution, so fuck you all and die.

  19. During the Italian wars swiss mercenaries showed how evil they are and lacking of any moral principle.
    Among the worse characteristics in humans are:
    – evil
    – gratuitous violence
    – no mercy
    Being mercenaries per se is already sign of greed.

    Wondering why history and karma has not yet punished them, and with missing interests.

  20. die Dummheit und Gier der Eidgenössischen Obrigkeit und die einhergehende Verachtung des eigenen Fussvolkes führte zu den perversesten Situationen auf den europäischen Schlachtfeldern

    es hat sich nichts geändert wenn man die Politiker so von aussen betrachtet

  21. Who the hell would ever feel homesick for Switzerland? Have you ever been there? It’s the most BORING country in the world.

  22. European armies didn't have vast horseback fighting armies later into the Medieval ages because Europe had less and less pastures(it had never really had a lot of them anyway), not because of the Swiss long pike men.

    In that very situation if it was the 13th century light Mongolian cavalry, it would shower the static infantry with arrows for hours never getting into close contact. And when the ranks were staggered and the pike man dropped their clumsy pikes and started running away in chaos the Mongolians would chase them horseback and finish with swords and lances.

    Cavalry stopped to matter only after mass employment of powder guns and artillery. And yet it still retained its role of highly manuevarable and efficient tactical units, which was ended only after machine guns appeared

  23. The main thing is that they modified the pike.. They made the ''Hallebarde'', it was a pike specially designed to battle cavalry, a crossovor between a hook, a pike, and an axe. They were between 2 and 4 meters long. Was very practical against cavalry, if your opponent charge you you'll just have to plant your pike on the ground and let him impale himself, if he want to dodge by yor side, you spin it and axe him, and if he stop, you take the hook side and drag him off his horse. I'm a pure swiss, I know very well this story, Morgarten etc.. Nice vid tho.

  24. I really liked it except for the music the Swiss music is terrible. Terrible and that it could kill entire army if they had a listen to that garbage.

  25. Surprised no mention of the Scottish circular schiltrons (c1300) which were used as mobile and static formations… but this was a good European perspective of the Swiss pike men.

  26. As far as I am aware the French knights at Agincourt fought dismounted as infantry not cavalry having found out that cavalry charges were a good way to end up dead. As it happens fighting on foot was just as fatal.

  27. The paradigm shift this video talks about is itself debatable though (and still is debated). The question remains wether cavalry actually dominated before the 14th century, or that this image is simply the result of the horse riding and owning class (the nobles) dominating the discours at the time and therefore producing most of the historical sources. No wonder that when cities rose to power and armies started to consist of professionals without ties to the local nobility, it appears that infantry 'suddenly' overthrew the dominant mounted knight. There are quite a few medieval historians who claim that infantry was always a factor on the battlefield and that any dominance of the mounted knight was local and/or highly situational.

  28. Pikes in the front line to stop cavalry were used from the 1280s onwards, in the Anglo-Scottish wars (shiltrons) and the Flemish Communal Wars (1302-6). What was new to the Swiss was their drill: the charging pike block. They trained to charge with the pike in block but not like the Macedonians in a steady step but really like a running charge. Timing had to be immaculate for it to be succesful, ideally before the knights could build up impact speed. At Courtrai, the French horse could not build up its impact speed due to the boggy ground they had to cover in front of the Flemish ranks. A timely counterattack by the Flemish caught them immobile. The Swiss pike blocks were apparently very manoeuvrable on the field. Later when black powder shot ended the armour protection of the knights, pike blocks could revert back to the steady charge which requires a lot less training and drill, so easier to teach, easier to recruit new troops etc. Then only a pike block to stop and defeat another pike block; and the horse went back to the roll it had in ancients batttles. Plus ca change, plus ca reste le meme.

  29. The cavalry of any time was never able to break a well discipline infantry…the decline of the infantry after the fall of the Roman Empire probably is due to infantry being recruited among the peasentry and being poorly trained, equipped and discipline

  30. Romans on the final of punicals wars, ceasar against pompey etc.. romans out smarted charges of cavalery with spikes before crist.

  31. Horse archers or horse gunners would kick their asses. They cannot wear heavy armor, other way would lose the mobility pretended.
    But anyway a genius tactic.

  32. The first use of massed long pikes was by the Greeks led by Philip ll of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. The pike was about 20 ft. in length and called a sarissa. They were employed in phalanxes and were considered invulnerable from the front. They were supported by javelin throwers (peltasts), on the flanks and coming from the rear. The only thing that could disrupt the phalanx were armoured elephants until the Romans, with large linked shields, the gladius and equal discipline.

  33. 3:30 "Gewalthaufen" does literally read as "heap of violence" in modern German, but that's because the meanings of both Gewalt and Haufen have shifted in the past 500+ years. A more accurate translation of its meaning at the time would be "force troop", Gewalt meaning "power, force" and Haufe(n) (in the original sense of "throng, crowd") being a military term for any sort of massed group of soldiers.*

    *Compare the English term "forlorn hope" for an advance guard, from the Dutch verloren hoop, "lost troop".

  34. Wasn’t the biggest advantage of cavalry that it could make undisciplined peasant soldiers break formation and flee. The romans mainly used light and heavy infantry, but their soldiers were well trained enough that (aside from the first invasion of Britannia) they never really had a problem combatting mounted soldiers

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