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Friday, July 12, 2019

Drill Like a Medieval Soldier

How do you stop a knight from charging? If you’re a soldier in 14th or 15th century Europe, you use a well-trained infantry line.
Composite Half-Artmor for a Pikeman (from the Higgins Collection)
Composite Half-Armor for a Pikeman
Infantry, or foot soldiers, fought alongside knights (heavy cavalry) throughout the Middle Ages.  They were generally professional soldiers, and often mercenaries, but (being less wealthy and not noble-born) lacked the money and connections to equip themselves as knights did.  Infantry wore simple armor and fought on foot, primarily with polearms (such as pikes and halberds) ranging from six to sixteen feet.

Though not individually impressive, a unit of foot soldiers could create a compact wall of spear points, capable of stopping or turning aside a cavalry charge.  The trick was to listen to orders, move together, and not panic and break formation in the face of 1,500 pounds of charging horse and rider!

Some of the polearms in the Higgins Collection
Some of the polearms
in the Higgins Collection.
“Knights dominated in the High Middle Ages because you need training and constant practice to make an effective infantry line,” says Neal Bourbeau, WAM’s Education Programming Coordinator. “With the Crusades, and into the 13th century, there were more attempts to organize and practice, and we see more examples of these formations stopping cavalry charges.”  By the 15th century, military victories relied as much on foot soldiers as on mounted warriors.

You can learn something of what it took to be a medieval soldier at WAM, at our new Medieval Soldier Drills!  Participants will learn basic infantry formations and how to hold – and wield – a medieval polearm in this hands-on outdoor demonstration.  Learn to march as a unit and the best way to brace your weapon using our six-foot practice polearms. Don’t worry – no actual knights will be charging your formation!

Gather in the Stoddard Courtyard at 10:30 AM for practice on any Thursday or Friday this summer (weather permitting).  No sign-up is required, but participation is first-come first-served. The activity is recommended for ages 9 and up, though all are welcome to watch.

To learn more about medieval warfare, visit one of our Arms and Armor Demonstrations, held most Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer (see full schedule), and visit the WAM Library to browse books on the subject. We hope to see you there!

Neal Bourbeau shows a guest (a young girl) proper halberd stance
Neal Bourbeau shows a guest proper halberd stance.
Medieval Soldier Drills and all Arms and Armor Demonstrations are free with Museum admission.

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