By David Kuijt
Note: all images are thumbnails, and are clickable to see the larger original.
The DBA options:
Historical opponents of the Free Companies are Later Swiss (#161b), Italian Condotta (#169), Medieval French (#170), and Medieval Spanish (#171).
Other possible opponents would be Early Imperialist (#136), Early Burgundian (#173), Low Countries (#163), and possibly Early Swiss (#161a). Historically none of these fought against a Free Company, but all of them had armies that fought in Western Europe at the same time as the Free Companies.
The Hundred Year's War English (#168) also fought during that period, but would not likely be an opponent of the Free Companies, as the Free Companies were usually formed from the out-of-work soldiers of the Hundred Years War English armies, and when the English reformed armies to fight again, many Free Company soldiers returned to work as English soldiers.
The Free Company army list represents a number of large mixed companies of soldiers left at loose ends during the Hundred Years War. The Hundred Years War had numerous truces, treaties, and cessation (or abeyance) of hostilities; these often resulted in leaving a large (very large) number of professional soldiers at loose ends in France.
These army-sized groups of soldiers sometimes formed a "free company" for a major looting expedition; some of these groups travelled to Northern Italy where permanent bands of mercenaries (Condotta) were the norm. One of the best examples of such a company was the "White Company" under Sir John Hawkwood.
As the supply of displaced professional soldiers dwindled the few permanent companies in Italy were gradually replaced or absorbed by native Condotta. The last gasp of a Free Company was near the end of the Hundred Year's War when a huge mercenary army was formed by the French King to dispose of unwanted and unnecessary professional soldiers, then hired out to the Holy Roman Emperor to participate in a war against the Swiss. At St. Jacob-en-Birs in 1444 the army totally annhilated a reckless and seriously outnumbered Swiss force.
Given its historical origins, it is not surprising that Free Company armies are quite similar in makeup to Hundred Year's War English armies.
The Knights represent English, German, Gascon, Spanish, French, or Italian men-at-arms. A mixture of nationalities is possible (or even normal).
English longbowmen were greatly prized as mercenary soldiers, and form the backbone of the Free Company. Some Free Companies had crossbowmen as well; it would be reasonable to substitute one element of crossbowmen for an element of longbow. Of course, in DBA this would have no affect upon the fighting ability of the army, as crossbow and longbow use the same stats.
The army pictured at the top of the page is shown with the 2x Bd option and the general's knight element dismounted, giving it 2x Kn, 4x Lb, 5x Bd, and 1x Ps. The knights are German. The psiloi are Breton javelinmen.
The Free Company may have up to six longbow elements. With that force distribution it will fight very similarly to the English HYW army, with the same limitations. See the webpage on the English HYW Army for some thoughts. For specific thoughts on longbow tactics with DBA, there is a separate document here.
The Free Company can have a very different feel to the HYW English, however. Reducing the number of longbow elements to the minimum of four, you have an army with 4 Blades, 4 Longbow, and 3 dismounting Knights -- potentially up to 7 Blades! That is some serious heavy-foot power. Blades and bows together are an interesting combination -- the bow dominate mounted foes, and the blades provide powerful support against foot enemies. Some specific suggestions and ideas for fighting with combined blades and bows in DBA are put forth in a separate document here.
The Free Company is a relatively slow army in its blade-heavy configuration. Even in the configuration with only two heavy-foot elements and with all the Knights remaining mounted, nothing in the army moves faster than 300 paces. The use of longbows on the flanks to extend the army's reach can counteract its lower mobility slightly, but a Free Company army must usually be careful about the possibility of being outflanked by a foe. Against most opponents the potential for clever maneuver is slight.
The Free Company can fight in rough terrain effectively, in spite of having only a single psiloi element. If a major piece of bad going must be contested the psiloi can be supplemented with blades as necessary. Free Company isn't a rough-terrain army. It fights best in the open, and will be hard put to exploit bad going in a major way even if the opponent does not contest it. But in spite of this preference the Free Company is quite resistant to any attempt of its foes to use terrain against it. In other words, it likes the open, but it can play in the rough if it has to.
Even aside from bad going, the single psiloi element is quite useful. It is essentially all the flexibility that this army has. It can interpenetrate the slow and solid line of blades at will, rushing through to flank a gap, or enticing a block of warband into an impetuous (and untimely) rush into a double overlap; in an army this stolid, a little flexibility is very important.
In many armies the psiloi must run for bad terrain and hide there. In the Free Company the psiloi is most useful escorting the center of the line, moving through it, in front or behind, responding to threats and as circumstances warrant.
All the miniature figures shown are by Essex.
Page created: November 27, 1998
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