Arthur Chappell

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BOOK REVIEW – CURT JOHNSON – THE DECLINE OF THE KNIGHT in Peter Lawford’s THE CAVALRY 1976 Book Club Associates

 

The dominance of the European knight was to weaken considerably through the course of the 100 Year’s War. The revival of the Greek Pike division was instrumental in this, as was the increasing British use of the devastating Welsh longbow. The knights had been the veritable tanks of the medieval era, and the subject of romance and adventure – praised in poetry for gallantry, though often just thugs. They were about to meet their Gotterdammerung.

The growing nation of Switzerland, rising in nationalistic pride, broke many cavalry charges without much use of horse of their own, using pike and able to move quickly for not bearing heavy armour.

The English first demonstrated the full impact (no pun intended) of the longbow at Crecy, against the French, in 1346. Crecy also saw the first use of Artillery cannons, by the British, which, though primitive and problematic to load and fire safely, terrified their enemy.

Johnson gives a superb graphic lyrical and vivid description of the brutal, tragic battle with arrows falling on the French like snow. When their Genovese allies started to falter and retreat under the intense fire, the French generals had them slaughtered, even though the arrows were raining down on their men too. The French kept attacking, in scenes evocative of the later attacks against the lines of WW1 when men marched into machine gun fire. It was only when the fog cleared the next morning that the English saw the bodies piled up and realized the sheer extent of their victory and slaughter. The mighty invincible Knight and the age of Chivalry were dead. The French would maintain their tactics through the battles of Poitiers (1357) & Agincourt (1415) where their doom would be similar, but Crecy had already spelt their end. Warfare would never be the same again.

 

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