A Military Revolution Reconsidered: The Case of the Burgundian State Under the Valois Dukes

A Military Revolution Reconsidered: The Case of the Burgundian State Under the Valois Dukes

Bachrach, David S.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 15 (1998)


On 31 July 1471, at the Somme river-town of Abbéville, Charles the Bold, the last of the Valois dukes of Burgundy, issued an ordinance ordering the recruitment and equipping of 1200 nine-man units called “lances.” This ordinance also contained a series of regulations concerning the training, discipline, equipment and pay for these units as well as numerous other clauses including the disposition of these new companies in combat, the detection of deserters and benefits for wounded veterans. For more than a century, historians studying this highly detailed set of regulations, and the subsequent military ordinances issued in 1472 at Bohain-en-Vermandois and in 1473 at St. Maximin near Trier, have concluded that Charles instituted immense, even revolutionary, change in the military organization commanded by the Valois dukes. For example, Hermann Heimpel, one of the most influential specialists in Burgundian history during the first half of this century, argued that Charles the Bold’s succession and subsequent reform efforts represented the victory of the values of the state against the values of chivalry–a change that could be seen nowhere more clearly than in the army. According to Heimpel, Philip the Good, the father of Charles the Bold, did not have a real army (keine ordentliche Armee). Instead, he utilized mercenaries (Söldner) whom he hired and let go from campaign to campaign. Heimpel drew a sharp contrast between Philip’s mercenary army and the companies of the ordinance established by Charles in 1471. In Heimpels view, these latter formed a standing army and thus were an important element in the creation of the state.

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