Expecting Cowardice: Medieval Battle Tactics Reconsidered

Expecting Cowardice: Medieval Battle Tactics Reconsidered

By Stephen R Morillo

Journal of Medieval Military History vol.4 (2006)

Introduction: In 1116, the Welsh rebel Gruffudd ap Rhys marched on the Anglo-Norman castle of Ystrad Antarron, having sacked the castle at Ystrad Peithyll. According to our Welsh source for this episode, the Brut y Tywysogyon (the Chronicle of the Princes),

Razo the steward, the man who was castellan of that castle and whose castle had beforethat been burnt and whose men had been killed, moved with grief for his men and for his loss, and trembling with fear, sent messengers by night to the castle of Ystrad Meurig, which his lord Gilbert [de Clare] had built before that, to bid the garrison thatwas there to come swiftly to his aid. And the keepers of the castle sent him as many asthey could find. And they came to him by night.

Gilbert sent 20 knights and 50 archers, who joined the 30 knights and 40 archers already under Razo’s command; their nocturnal arrival remained unknown to the Welsh, who were camped some distance away. The account continues:

The following day, Gruffudd ap Rhys and Rhydderch ap Tewdwr, his uncle, and Maredudd and Owain, his sons, arose incautiously from their camp without arraying their forces and without placing ensigns in their van; but in raging fury, like a band of thoughtless inhabitants without a ruler over them, they made their way towards the castle . . .

When they came to the valley before the castle, they halted, apparently spending much of the day in somewhat haphazard preparations for assaulting the castle. A river ran through the valley, crossed by a single bridge. The Brut goes on:

And then, as it is the way with the French to do everything by guile, the keepers of thecastle sent archers to the bridge to skirmish with them . . . And when the Britons saw the archers so boldly approaching the bridge, incautiously they ran to meet them, wondering why they should venture so confidently to approach the bridge.

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