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English military to the year 1688. In order to undertsand the history of the English military, we must first examine the history opf England itself. The military has always been beholden to political and cultural factors and several developments in technology have changed the face of warfare and, by extension, the development of the military.
In the year 1688, King James II was forcibly removed from power and replaced by William of Orange. James II was a Catholic, and determined to reinstate Catholicism in England. After the birth of James' son and heir, a party of elder statesmen officially invited William of Orange, a Protestant, to come to England with a conquering army to save the kingdom from the Catholic rule of James II. This was known as the Glorious Revolution.
Before we can examine the history of the English military, we must examine the roots of England itself. Up until the ninth century, there was no central England per se. England was divided into several smaller kingdoms, each alternately warring and trading with its neighbors. There was no sense of English identity at this point in history, as there were divers peoples scattered about the island. Archaeologists have found substantial evidence that humans occupied England as far back as the Stone Age. Almost nothing is known about these early Britons, as there was no written tradition among them.
The earliest known inhabitants of the British Isles are the Celts. The Celts were a tribal people that had originated somewhere in Germany somewhere around 800 BC. They migrated westward throughout Europe, eventually crossing what would later be known as the English Channel to settle in England. They pushed aside the original inhabitants, eventually spreading throughout Scotland, Wales and Ireland as well.
The Celts had a strong warrior heritage. Their chiefs were traditionally warriors. The Celts had no unified identity. Each tribe settled its own lands and chose a king from its own ranks. The tribes would wage war as well as trade with one another. They were an iron-age people with fairly sophisticated metalworking skills. They wore little in the way of armor and their weaponry consisted mostly of knives, swords and spears. They also had developed the war chariot to a high degree.
The Romans first arrived in Britain in 55 BC, but didn't stay for long. The original expeditions launched by Julius Caesar were not intended to conquer the Isles, bnut instead were meant to dissuade support for the Celtic tribes in Gaul who had been receiving help from the British Celts. Almost one hundred years later, the Romans returned to occupy Britain for the long-term. The Celts fought fiercely against Roman occupation but in the end were outclassed by Roman military tactics. While the Celts were formidable warriors, they lacked the technology and cohesiveness to battle the Roman legions. The Romans had better body armor than the Celts. In addition, the Romans has superior missile power than the Celts in the form of the pilum, or javelin. The Celtic hillforts were also susceptible to siege tactics. English chariots were vulnerable to Roman archers. The Romans had the resources of a standing army and its supply lines and administration, as opposed to the Celtic warrior-farmers who had crops to tend to in addition to fighting a war. The Celts were also vulnerable to devastation at the hands of the Romans as their crops were razed and burned. Most of all, the Celts had no capacity to band together to fight the Romans. The Roman conquest was only made easier by the fact that they would fight individual tribes instead of a singular great army. Despite their numerous advantages, however, Rome never successfully conquered the entire island but ruled the south for the better part of four centuries.
The Romans ended their occupation early in the fifth century. Rome pulled back its legions to combat the growing advances of barbarians in Europe. The British Isles were also under attack at this time, from invasions by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. These Germanic tribes would, over the next two hundred years, push back the native Britons into Scotland and Wales. The invading tribes settled and formed their own kingdoms. By the seventh century, England had been divided into seven warring kingdoms known as the Heptarchy. The kingdoms of the Heptarchy were Kent, Sussex, Essex, East Anglia, Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria. These seven kingdoms fought for supremacy until in 802, the kingdom of Wessex supplanted Mercia as the most powerful kingdom in England. By 827, Ecgberht of Wessex was acknowledged as the King of England.
The Army of England
By the time of Alfred the Great (871-899), the English military had settled into the form it would have for the next four hundred years. The military at this time largely consisted of the private armies of the nobility. The King had his personal soldiers, which was bolstered by the addition of soldiers from the king's vassals. Each noble was required to keep a standing army for the common survival of the kingdom, as this was also the period of Viking invasions into Britain.
Taking a page from the Romans, the English had adopted the practice of having a standing army with professional soldiers in it. The infantry was more heavily armored, although this tended to be reserved for trained elite troops. The longbow saw much development and would eventually be the weapon medieval England was most famous, and feared, for. By this time in history the war chariot had fallen out of usage. The improvements in armor and horses gave rise to the lance-wielding heavy cavalry, which would play an important role in battlefield supremacy for some time to come. In addition to the trained and equipped troops, the nobles relied on large numbers of peasant conscripts to serve as rank and file for their forces.
The classic troop types of the day were the infantry, cavalry and archers. The infantry were foot soldiers, armed with shields and hand weapons. They wore heavy body armor and were trained to use their shields in formation, both on the offense and the defense. The infantry served as the backbone of the army, good on offense as well as defense.
With the advent of heavier armor and larger horses, the cavalry played an increasingly important role in warfare. In its early days, the cavalry tended to be lightly armored. As time progressed, metalworking techniques improved and larger horses were bred, allowing for the cavalry to mount heavier armor. Over time, the cavalry soldier came to resemble more and more the classic medieval knight, clad in steel. Eventually, the knights were heavily armored, as were the horses they rode. The cavalry charge was a devastating tactic, able to break enemy lines with great effectiveness. The main weapon of the cavalry was the lance, followed by the sword after the initial charge was over and the melee began. The lance had begun as spear, but it grew longer and longer in order to provide the advantage of reach to the mounted soldier. Cavalry was used on the offense almost exclusively.
The archers have historically been longbowmen. The long bow is a fearsome weapon in proficient hands, and is the particular bow of England. The archers were used tactically to break the enemy's cavalry charge, as well as thinning the ranks of the infantry. Lightly armored for greater maneuverability and speed, the archers were kept in the back ranks to keep them protected from enemy infantry. The English longbowmen made a great accounting of themselves at the Battle of Agincourt under Henry V, where the forest bottle-necked the French forces into a narrow strip of clear ground, which enabled the archers to concentrate their fire with devastating effect.
The crossbow was also a weapon frequently used by archers. It was not popular compared to the longbow, however, as it had a limited rate of fire due to the method by which the crossbow had to be cocked and readied for firing. The average steel crossbow could be fired four times a minute at the most, whereas a longbowmen could have a second arrow in the air before the first one hit the ground. This rate of fire allowed the archers to provide a continuous rain of arrows on the heads of the enemy.
Structures of the time were generally simple wood or stone constructions inspired in large part by the fortifications left by the Romans. Most towns had walls around them for protection, a practice also inherited from the Romans.
Warfare at the time was conducted in a very Roman fashion, on open fields between opposing forces arrayed at either end. The battlefields were generally selected beforehand and tended to be fields or any expanse of open ground to allow for the movements of regimented troops. The open space allowed for coordinated movements of troops and the application of large scale battle tactics. Troops were organized into formations which took advantage of shield…[continue]
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