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Richard I and the Science of Warfare

Richard I and the Science of Warfare

By John Gillingham

War and Government: Essays in Honour of J.O. Prestwich, edited by John Gillingam and J.C. Holt (Boydell, 1984)

Introduction: So far as most historians are concerned there was no such thing as a science of war in the Middle Ages. This is a profoundly mistaken view, but for the purposes of this paper I propose to concentrate on one aspect of war only – strategy, the planning and conduct of campaigns, and in particular in the 12th and 13th centuries, though I shall try to draw out some of the wider implications for other periods.

My chief reason for this choice is the fact that strategy remains the most neglected area of medieval military history. It is true that the days when a book on the history of war turned out toe be little more than a history of battles are almost gone. Modern scholars have tended to investigate subjects like military obligation, organization, recruitment, pay, armament and the ethos of war – all of them important subjects. As a result most recent historians have been so busy getting their armies into the field that they have left themselves little room in which to consider what they did once they were there.

My own strategy will be twofold. First, to take Richard I’s military carer as a model of medieval generalship. Second, to use vernacular sources wherever possible, in the belief that the vernacular brings us close than Latin to the thoughts and actions of soldiers. In particular I have relied heavily on three chronices: L’Estoire de la Guerre Sainte by Ambroise; Joinville’s Life of St Louis; and Jordan Fantosme’s Chronicle. Two of the three deal primarily with warfare in the Middle East and this is no accident. We know much more about crusading warfare than we do about contemporary warfare in the West and where we have more evidence it is easier to work out the logic behind military operations. Thus Richard’s reputation as a general rests very largely on his conduct of the war against Saladin but in fact, of course, he fought many more campaigns than this.

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