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How Mercenaries were regarded

Poster: Neil Maclay <nmaclay@psi.prc.com>

Earl Daffyd has commented that mercenary soldiers were generally
held in low regard throughout our period of interest. I am
relunctant to dispute with a noble as learned as he is, but I
think that the historical record is a bit more complicated than
one would think from his posting.

The writings of Machiavelli give support to the view that
mercenaries should be lowly regarded. It is important to 
understand where Machiavelli was coming from. He was a
republican partisan who for many years had served the 
Republic of Florance. It was to him apparant that republics,
whose citizens left the fighting of its wars to non-citizens,
tended not to stay republics for long. At the time he was
writing, feudal hosts were not much used by the states of
Europe. Free companies of mercenaries were being compared to
royal companies, chartered and raised for service to a king,
and citizen militias. The indevidual soldiers in a royal company
were probably just as mecenary as those of the free companies but
they had better job security.

Monarchs generally valued mercenaries more highly. When they could
get it they were usually happy to get cash in lieu of service
from their vassals so they could hire mercenaries. Feudal service
was usually restricted in time and if a king was besieging a
strong castle or well defended town, having most of his army
go home after a month made bringing his wars to a succesful
conclution very difficult. If a king was planning a war he would
want all the mercenaries he could afford. The leaders of troops
that were effective and reliable would often rise high in Royal
favor. Major vassals of a king tended to resent anyone newly raised
by royal favor and espessialy disliked the leaders of mercenaries
that could be used by the king in his disputes with the baronage.
A good example is the wars between King John of England and his
barons. Nobles who could hire mercenaries to resist royal authority
would, however, give a high place to the mecenary leaders in
the lands that they controlled. An example of this is the lands
and status given by the loard of Ireland outside the pale to
the leaders of gallowglasses.

In sum, your esteem for mercenaries usually depended on whose side
they were on, yours or your enemies.

	Malcolm MacMalcolm
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