10 Facts About War in the Middle Ages

Medieval warfare distinguished itself from combat in Antiquity through a series of social and technological developments including a shift in military strategy and new types of fortifications and weaponry.

Here are 10 facts which relate to war during the Medieval period.

1. The Hundred Years War did not last 100 years

King_Edward_III_from_NPG

Edward III who attacked France and started the Hundred Years War

The 100 Years War is generally accepted to have lasted from 1337 to the Battle of Castillon in 1453, which as some basic mathematics will work out is a little more than 100 years. However even after Castillion, England remained formally at War with France for 20 more years.

2. The Battle of Hastings was started by a juggler

As the two sides lined up there was a moment when it seemed the Normans were suffering a bout of performance anxiety. Seeing the axons lined up on the high ground they were reluctant to charge. It took the camp’s jester who broke from the lines performing an outrageous juggling routine. The Saxons were unsure what to make of it until he concluded the show by hurling a spear at the front rank. All hell proceeded to break loose and the battle was well and truly on.

3. The Battle of Hastings didn’t happen at Hastings

Battle Abbey which stands on the site of the Battle of Hastings a few miles away from Hastings.

Battle Abbey which stands on the site of the Battle of Hastings a few miles away from Hastings.

Despite the name, the Battle of Hastings happened about five miles away at a place called Seniac Hill. It’s now known as the town of Battle.

4. England was invaded a lot

Henry Bolingbroke - one of many people to invade since 1066.

Henry Bolingbroke – one of many people to invade since 1066.

We think of 1066 as being the last time England was invaded, but it’s actually happened quite a bit. Louis of France invaded in 1216 and reigned for the best part of a year, while Henry Bolingbroke landed with an invasion force in 1399 to oust Richard II.

5. Spiral staircases went clockwise

Most medieval castles had spiral staircases which ran clockwise. This was because most defenders would be right handed, making it easier to defend.

6. Castles came from France

The Normans introduced Castles to England.

The Normans introduced Castles to England.

England only got Castles in 1066 with the arrival of the Normans. Until then they had contented themselves with wooden fortified towns.

7. Gargoyles were drains

Gargoyles were actually drains rather than statues to ward off evil spirits.

Gargoyles were actually drains rather than statues to ward off evil spirits.

We often think of the purpose of church Gargoyles as warding off evil spirits. In fact they were there to drain off the water from the roofs. The water was ejected through the gargoyle’s mouth.

8. Normans were Vikings

The Normans trace their origins to Viking invaders who terrorised Northern France. Locals called them North Men which eventually migrated to simply ‘Norman’.

9. We owe a lot to the Moors

Statues of Catalan Moorish Kings.

Statues of Catalan Moorish Kings.

The Moorish occupation of Spain might not have been fun for the Spanish but it contributed a great deal to our modern culture. They used Arabic numerals which we still use today and also introduced us to the game of chess.

10. Gunpowder killed the castle

From 1300 the invention of gunpowder made life difficult for castle engineers. Canon balls were able to smash through walls. Designs changed to cope with the threat, but soon they stopped being built for defence and were instead a way to show off your wealth and importance.

Tom is a freelance journalist who studied history at Essex University. His work can be found in many different publications focusing on business and politics.