It was quite a bit of fun just choosing the battles I was going to talk about, showcasing engagements where medieval infantry were responsible for carrying the day. In the end, I chose: the Battle of Hastings, where William the Conqueror, well, conquered, a battle often thought of as the ultimate cavalry vs. infantry fight; the Battle of Arsuf, where Richard the Lionheart, on his way to the Holy Land during the crusades, meets Saladin in battle; and finally, the battle associated with the longbow the way Hastings is associated with the horse, the Battle of Agincourt.
Our preview is the first part of the description of the Battle of Hastings.
The Battle of Hastings, the decisive battle in William the Conqueror’s conquest of England, is often portrayed as a battle between the mounted Normans against the Saxon foot soldier. This impression has been reinforced by the Bayeux Tapestry, one of the most influential works of art depicting a military campaign, which leaves the Norman spearmen out, in favor of the sexy (and noble) horsemen, along with a few archers sprinkled in. In fact, both armies possessed a balanced force of spearmen, heavy infantry, archers and cavalry.
The Saxon force consisted of the Huscarls, widely viewed as the best heavy infantry in Europe at that time, who would have been equipped with chain mail armor and the dreaded two-handed Danish axe. These elite foot soldiers were supported by spearmen who used their large kite shields to form a shield wall, archers and javelin-bearing skirmishers. While the Saxon force had horses, they did not fight from horseback. When an enemy broke and fled, the Saxon elite forces (the Huscarls and nobles) would mount to pursue and conduct mop-up operations to wipe out a defeated foe and prevent him from regrouping to attack again. The Saxon force picked an easily defensible location to make their stand as well, on Senlac Hill. Their flanks were protected by forest, and the steep assent up the hill blunted any cavalry charge, depriving it of most of its momentum.
The Norman force consisted of spearmen, archers and more traditional heavy cavalry, armored knights with lances who would charge, then retire behind the protection of the spearmen, before charging again. The archers opened the battle, followed by an assault by the Norman spearmen to attempt to weaken the Saxon shield wall in preparation for a cavalry charge.
Stay tuned, since telling half a story is lame, I'll continue this in a day or so.