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Posted (edited)

Combat in Westeros, albeit fictional, has a close resemblance to the Late Middle Ages. However, I believe it’s obviously been fictionalized to accomadate more enhanced-fighting styles, as opposed to the historical portrayals of medieval combat that seem slow, sluggish, and laborious. This world is constructed to entertain more emphasis on dynamic duels and quick-paced maneuvers. Atleast we see that in the single combat scenarios, where I know forsure there is some substantial romance towards the heros’ prowess and abilities. Prime example is Dameon Blackfyre vs. Gwayne Corbray. That fight is said to have lasted an hour and been a glorious duel with mythical steel swords, only possible in a fictiotious element. Not historically useful for accounts on how combat actually was in the medieval ages; killing knights in full plate was more of a glorified contest to remove the armored rider from horseback and overwhelm him, usually to pin him into a prone position and stab him with a dagger in the visor slit, or some other opening in the otherwise impregnabele plate. Boring. Westeros duels and single combat, to me atleast, are far stretched from realism in comparison to history, but that is what I love about it. They are intense and compelling, and they allow the fighters to become larger than life. 

The large-scale battles are where I speculate the most though. We hear some talk on army composition and battle maneuvering, but I wonder just how so the fighting is played out. I mean just how deadly is an individual knight supposed to be against a mass of armored pikemen, and why isn’t their talk of these knights wielding halberds, pikes, and any other sort of polearm? That, to me, is where I am baffled. If you’re a Barristan Selmy or a Jaime Lannister, you seem to be putting yourself at a strategic disadvantage if you’re using a “longsword” as your primary weapon. I say “longsword” because it’s GRRM’s Westerosi version of the medieval broadsword: a one handed weapon with no real range, not long at all. Seems like a flawed system if you’re making your heroes as deadly and near-invincible as they’re portrayed to be in these large pitched battles. I think any knight would be wise to keep the longsword as their secondary weapon, unless ofcourse you’re wielding a two-handed weapon of actual weight, such as a greatsword or two-handed battle axe. 

And then there’s the siege battles. Where are the trebuchets? Stone rain sounds like a major game changer to me yet we don’t see any of that in Blackwater or any other Westeros historic battle. Why aren’t there catapults in field battles?

Where is the Westeros equivalent of the dominant English longbow, that shattered forces vastly outnumbering them? That bow turned the tide in a war that went on for over a hundred years.

These are only thoughts of mine, and I just wondered if anyone else thought the same things or had any insight to offer on the matter. 

Edited by Ser Dips A lot

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Knights in battles would always ride, so their primary weapon would be a lance. Pike formation would counter Knights but would be countered by ranged units. Knights would usually be charging enemy knights or an non-pike infantry formation. In a battle knight with a onehanded sword and a shield would beat the one with a twohanded sword, since twohanded weapon would be easily blocked with shield and heavy to use and owner would get tired and be defeated. I don't think sword was a bad weapon in the battlefield for a knight. Weapons against heavy armour would be maces, military hammers, pollaxe ect. that would heave a chance to disfigure armour or penetrate it. And for longbows they didn't actually penetrate plate armour but they would go through horse armour causing horse to collapse and rider falling down often dying. That is how english longbowmen killed french knights. Problem with longbow is that it requires training since you are a little boy, in order to use it you would train whole life and have deformed hand muscles from it. Crossbow had much slower fire rate but anyone could use it but would also usually not be able to penetrate plate armour. 

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Trebuchets are at the Blackwater, but on the defense's side. They aren't on hand at the attacker's side because they are coming by ship and raft and making a direct assault rather than laying siege to the city. 

Ser Lucas Inchfield fought with a polaxe in "The Sworn Sword". It's very true that the preference to go with swords against knights in full armor is a fantasy thing, though, though George seems to sometimes be aware of this -- notice how Loras Tyrell is twice noted as fighting in battle using mass weapons rather than (a longaxe at Bitterbridge, a morningstar at Dragonstone), an apparent acknowledgment of the fact that he uses weapons more suited for fighting men wearing armor.

Longbows are mentioned quite a lot. But having them doesn't mean you necessarily form an effective use for them militarily. See Allen and Leeson's article on this topic, putting forward a theory for why the Scots and French did not adopt the longbow effectively despite realizing it put them at a disadvantage.

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Posted (edited)

Well met Ser Dips A lot!

You are absolutely right we don't see Longbows deployed in force regularly, except for the one instance with the Raven's teeth, though skill with the Longbow is not entirely lost in Westeros as we see with Anguy. 

In the real world, Longbows were wielded by commoners, but commoners who had built up that skill from a young age, with minor lords encouraging the practice amongst their smallfolk. Good wood like that of the Yew tree was required as well, part of the reason why the Welsh and the English had the conditions to produce archers in good enough numbers to fight in a formation. It could be that the conditions in which Agincourt was fought serendipitously led to the discovery for the best conditions in which to use the Longbowmen most effectively, terrain which made a charge by enemy heavy cavalry impossible.

It's a bit of a mystery why the clear advantage that the Raven's teeth demonstrated was not followed up, was it the lack of many set-piece battles hence? Or perhaps Westerosi armour is generally superior.  If the RT were mostly Blackwood and other Riverlands men, we don't see them being used in large numbers in Robb's army. However, if I remember right, Tywin at the Green Fork, had good numbers of archers at his disposal. In fact, he seemed to have a well balanced mix of forces. Renly's seemed to be a sea of chivalry, like the French that faced Henry V, too lordly to bother with peasant Longbowmen.

The GC will be very interesting. They seem to have an efficiency of Alexander's and Roman combined arms tactics executed by similarly seasoned professionals but with better equipment from the late Middle Ages, replete with Archers, some even better than Westerosi.

Would be interesting to see them go head to head with a full strength Reach+Westerlands army, but I'm guessing something else is likely to happen before a big battle - defections, assassinations in KL

 

Edited by Ser Hedge

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Ran said:

Trebuchets are at the Blackwater, but on the defense's side. They aren't on hand at the attacker's side because they are coming by ship and raft and making a direct assault rather than laying siege to the city. 

Ser Lucas Inchfield fought with a polaxe in "The Sworn Sword". It's very true that the preference to go with swords against knights in full armor is a fantasy thing, though, though George seems to sometimes be aware of this -- notice how Loras Tyrell is twice noted as fighting in battle using mass weapons rather than (a longaxe at Bitterbridge, a morningstar at Dragonstone), an apparent acknowledgment of the fact that he uses weapons more suited for fighting men wearing armor.

Longbows are mentioned quite a lot. But having them doesn't mean you necessarily form an effective use for them militarily. See Allen and Leeson's article on this topic, putting forward a theory for why the Scots and French did not adopt the longbow effectively despite realizing it put them at a disadvantage.

I was stuck in my reply so long I got :ninja:ed. But at least I got :ninja:ed in real style!

Thank you for the article, Ran, it's very interesting. I guess the institutional structure for archers being trained up did not exist except briefly under Bloodraven. That seems very reasonable. Aegon V and his successors didn't see the need. Perhaps the Westerlands and some parts of the Riverlands encouraged it to some extent.

The below from Allen and Leeson might also explain why Westerosi Longbows might not have been that devastating, but perhaps the wood from the summer isles which the GC have is? Can't wait to find out.


"Plate armor that could be penetrated by large crossbows, but was impenetrable by longbows, was uncommon in Europe until about 1380"

Edited by Ser Hedge

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1 hour ago, Ser Hedge said:

I was stuck in my reply so long I got :ninja:ed. But at least I got :ninja:ed in real style!

Thank you for the article, Ran, is very interesting. I guess the institutional structure for archers being trained up did not exist except briefly under Bloodraven. That seems very reasonable. Aegon V and his successors didn't see the need. Perhaps the Westerlands and some parts of the Riverlands encouraged it to some extent.

The below from Allen and Leeson might also explain why Westerosi Longbows might not have been that devastating, but perhaps the wood from the summer isles which the GC have is? Can't wait to find out.


"Plate armor that could be penetrated by large crossbows, but was impenetrable by longbows, was uncommon in Europe until about 1380"

We do have Ned instructing Cat to notify one of his lords to raise a force of bowmen and man Moat Cailin, so I assume there is some ranged component in mind for each paramount lord. 

 

I do always wonder how the commoner component is armed, trained, and handled. Do lords assemble their small folk every now and then and give them minimal training in use of pikes and such? if not and they just pick them up for battle they will be very poor soldiers and indeed a knight with mail armour+a sword and shield could cut through them quite fast. 

What about armour? I assume they don't have plate\mail armour, but boiled leather? 

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4 minutes ago, hnv said:

What about armour? I assume they don't have plate\mail armour, but boiled leather? 

Great point. Likely, we'll have regional variations. At the Green Fork, Tywin's is described as much better equipped overall. Northern levies, while possibly fiercer (debatable, obviously every POV is going to be biased one way or another), seem the worst equipped. Need to check if they had even boiled leather. If you've won a few battles recently against wealthy opposition of course you'll be better equipped as you would have stripped the corpses.

Of course not all commoners are peasant levies. Every Lord has some guardsmen and men at arms who are effectively professional soldiers. If you are wealthy, you'll have more of them. 

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7 hours ago, Ser Dips A lot said:

Where is the Westeros equivalent of the dominant English longbow, that shattered forces vastly outnumbering them? That bow turned the tide in a war that went on for over a hundred years.

No. the longbows scored some big eye-catching victories but their effectivness is vastly exaggerated, hence for example why also the English to my knowledge turned to firearms during the Renaissance.

And do note that while longbowmen could score some impressive set-piece victories, they were unable to prevent the many reverses that the English also faced during the Hundred Years' War.

The longbow was a good weapon, but not nearly as good as some would make it out to be.

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3 hours ago, Lion of the West said:

No. the longbows scored some big eye-catching victories but their effectivness is vastly exaggerated, hence for example why also the English to my knowledge turned to firearms during the Renaissance.

And do note that while longbowmen could score some impressive set-piece victories, they were unable to prevent the many reverses that the English also faced during the Hundred Years' War.

The longbow was a good weapon, but not nearly as good as some would make it out to be.

Just how exactly is the effectiveness of the longbow vastly exaggerated? I mean these eye-catching victories you speak of surely aren’t exxagerating the effectiveness of the longbow when we see them at Poiters, Crécy, and Agincourt,  to name a few. The use of the bow virtually eliminated the effectiveness of heavy cavalry and infantry tactics and brought an end to the dominance of the armored knight as we know it. Commoners found a way to kill the better trained and equipped highborns. 

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18 minutes ago, Ser Dips A lot said:

Just how exactly is the effectiveness of the longbow vastly exaggerated? I mean these eye-catching victories you speak of surely aren’t exxagerating the effectiveness of the longbow when we see them at Poiters, Crécy, and Agincourt,  to name a few. The use of the bow virtually eliminated the effectiveness of heavy cavalry and infantry tactics and brought an end to the dominance of the armored knight as we know it. Commoners found a way to kill the better trained and equipped highborns

Its vastly exaggerate for, to start with, the longbow lost the Hundred Years' War. No way around that in the end, the longbow lost and the French cavalry, infantry and artillery won without any longbows of their own. If the longbow was so incredible, one would think the single side wielding it would not have been kicked off the Continent, with the exception of Calaise for a time, never to return.

In fact its rather curious that French heavy cavalry would massacre English longbowmen, if the longbow was such a terrific weapon and ended the dominance of the heavy cavalry. As happened at the Battles of Patay, Formigny and Castillon. The thing is that when the French commanders didn't know how to deal with longbowmen, thus giving them time to set up their stakes and earthworks before doing frontal charges, then the longbow worked wonders. When the French figured out how to deal with longbowmen, like not giving them time to set up stakes and instead attack quickly before the longbowmen were ready, then the table was turned on the longbowmen, and the longbow was never nearly as effective on the battlefield again and later discarded by the English.

I will not deny that these three were great victories however.

But the part of the longbow "The use of the bow virtually eliminated the effectiveness of heavy cavalry and infantry tactics and brought an end to the dominance of the armored knight as we know it. Commoners found a way to kill the better trained and equipped highborns." is however so Anglocentric I have a big smile on my face as I write this. The longbow was, however much some people would drum for it, a side note in military history. It was not the longbow that ended the age of knights and heavy cavalry dominance. It was polearms, pikes and gunpowder, and to a degree crossbows, that did that as that heralded the rise of infantry, of which the longbowmen was a part but a local version.

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1 hour ago, Lion of the West said:

The thing is that when the French commanders didn't know how to deal with longbowmen, thus giving them time to set up their stakes and earthworks before doing frontal charges, then the longbow worked wonders.

I think this is a very good way of putting it. Clearly the conditions at battles like Agincourt were perfect and the command structure of the French forces far from perfect allowing the events to unfold as they did. Before that, at Hallidon Hill it was the Scots' turn to forget every single tactic they learnt under the Bruce and charge up a hill across narrow terrain at the Longbows - to some extent overconfidence after Bannockburn and other follow up victories. I have not read how the English disasters towards the end of the Hundred years unfolded exactly, overconfidence in Longbow probably features greatly I would think.

It's after all rock, paper and scissors until technology like firearms makes one or more options redundant and in turn creates a new set of rock, paper and scissors.

2 hours ago, Lion of the West said:

and the longbow was never nearly as effective on the battlefield again and later discarded by the English.

Better armour might have been another reason too - mentioned in the article Ran linked.

 

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2 hours ago, Lion of the West said:

Its vastly exaggerate for, to start with, the longbow lost the Hundred Years' War. No way around that in the end, the longbow lost and the French cavalry, infantry and artillery won without any longbows of their own. If the longbow was so incredible, one would think the single side wielding it would not have been kicked off the Continent, with the exception of Calaise for a time, never to return.

In fact its rather curious that French heavy cavalry would massacre English longbowmen, if the longbow was such a terrific weapon and ended the dominance of the heavy cavalry. As happened at the Battles of Patay, Formigny and Castillon. The thing is that when the French commanders didn't know how to deal with longbowmen, thus giving them time to set up their stakes and earthworks before doing frontal charges, then the longbow worked wonders. When the French figured out how to deal with longbowmen, like not giving them time to set up stakes and instead attack quickly before the longbowmen were ready, then the table was turned on the longbowmen, and the longbow was never nearly as effective on the battlefield again and later discarded by the English.

I will not deny that these three were great victories however.

But the part of the longbow "The use of the bow virtually eliminated the effectiveness of heavy cavalry and infantry tactics and brought an end to the dominance of the armored knight as we know it. Commoners found a way to kill the better trained and equipped highborns." is however so Anglocentric I have a big smile on my face as I write this. The longbow was, however much some people would drum for it, a side note in military history. It was not the longbow that ended the age of knights and heavy cavalry dominance. It was polearms, pikes and gunpowder, and to a degree crossbows, that did that as that heralded the rise of infantry, of which the longbowmen was a part but a local version.

Well, as you said that the “longbow lost the Hundred Years’ War” I could see how that could be concluded, however, there were many other factors that led to the disastrous English downfall. Political dissension and gradual attrition from decades of invasions and campaigns wore out the English cause. They spread themselves too thin and eventually the War became a pyrrhic cause. The weaponry only played a minor role in the big picture. 

I agree with many of your points though. The commandery makes all the difference in any battle situation. Eventually every weapon or fighting style exposes a weakness that stern tactics can eventually outwit and exploit. 

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Posted (edited)

About the scarcity of longbow units, it may be due to westerosi martial culture: Longbows are popular in the Dornish Marches, where they had to protect themselves against Dornish raiders until around 110 years before the beginning of the novels, but in the rest of Westeros keeping the monopoly of warfare in the hands of nobility was considered a priority, so they didn't encourage peasants to train in the use of a cheap, efficient weapon able to counter knightly cavalry...

About swords, while they are nearly useless against plate armor, most troops seem to use chainmail or worse. Even most knights use hauberks combined with vambraces and helms, full plate being affordable only to upper nobility... Arming swords, longswords and spears can punch through gambesons and chainmail (not easy, but hey...), and enough slashes can ruin a gambeson; and a sword is more effective than a mace or axe at going around a shield and reaching the guy behind...

Members of aristocracy, however, should use maces, warhammers, horseman's picks, pollaxes... etc., when fighting each other in full plate...

 

Edited by Ser Lepus

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Posted (edited)
On 5/29/2019 at 8:18 PM, Ser Dips A lot said:

Just how exactly is the effectiveness of the longbow vastly exaggerated? I mean these eye-catching victories you speak of surely aren’t exxagerating the effectiveness of the longbow when we see them at Poiters, Crécy, and Agincourt,  to name a few. The use of the bow virtually eliminated the effectiveness of heavy cavalry and infantry tactics and brought an end to the dominance of the armored knight as we know it. Commoners found a way to kill the better trained and equipped highborns. 

Actually, plate armor didn't reach its peak until after all those battles. The Battle of Agincourt  took place in 1415, while the plate armor was perfected at the end of the XV or the beginning of the XVI centuries.

French strategy still relied heavily in their heavy armoured cavalry at the Battle of Pavia, in 1525.. 

Edited by Ser Lepus

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