A New Magazine: Medieval Warfare

This is a guest article by Dirk van Gorp, editor of a new magazine named Medieval Warfare.

As most of you (if not all) will know, Medieval history is not a story of a 1000 years of darkness in Europe, not a 1000 year intermezzo between the Ancient period and the renaissance. Europeans did not just cower in their homes, afraid of foreign invaders, diseases and the repercussions of not being a good Christian. Culture and science did exist, and while it was different from that of Ancient times, it kept growing and expanding. Cities grew and flourished, despite the setbacks caused by plague and warfare. And the population itself developed, even though it was checked several times. Universities were established, and the groundwork for the 'enlightened' period of the renaissance was laid during those many years in which Europe was supposedly under a dark cloak of stagnation

Cover of the first issue (by Karwansaray Publishers)


That being said, Medieval Europe was hardly a peaceful place. Kings and Emperors, nobles and warlords, all tried to establish themselves as the most powerful ruler of their day. With Europe consisting of so many empires, kingdoms, counties and earldoms, such attempts seldom occurred without violence. Besides the internal warfare, a great numbers of 'other' peoples attacked, raided or conquered European states. These were only kept in check by the passage of time, and usually only after much shedding of blood on both sides. It's not a coincidence that nowadays many people think of the Middle Ages as an age of knights and warlords, an age of Crusading against Saracens and other non-Christians, as a period of incessant warfare. Even though such a view is flawed by much misunderstanding and incorrect information, there certainly sits much truth in this common perception. Medieval Europe was a violent world to live in, and many events took place only after battles, sieges, wars, and the brutal deaths of many people, both soldiers and civilians (for lack of a better word for both of them).

Back in the 21st century, it cannot be called strange that such an age of warfare speaks to the imagination of many. Medieval society had a unique character, the way of life, culture, connection with Christianity, the many battles and sieges and the legends originating in this period continue to inspire us. We still look to the legends of King Arthur and his knights of the round table, the search for the Holy Grail, the stories behind kings like Charlemagne, Richard the Lionheart, Frederik Barbarossa, and the terrifying invasions of Vikings, Saracens and Mongols that threatened Europe and the Christian way of life.

With all these fascinating stories in mind, both legends and historical narratives, it is striking that so little attention is being given to Medieval warfare in current books and magazines, at least in comparison to later periods. Of course, everyone has their own taste, and 20th century warfare is more relevant today, and might therefore be more interesting to certain people. Still the pages spend on writing about Medieval military warfare are few compared to, say Napoleonic history or World War II. Most military magazines do offer some articles on Ancient or Medieval warfare, but they are usually about more 'popular' topics, like the Hundred Years War and the Crusades, and these are rare to begin with.

A 19th century interpretation of the battle - in the Church of Bovines (Photo thanks to Dirk van Gorp).

Because of this lack of good writing about Medieval military history, Karwansaray Publishers decided to fill in the gap and focus ourselves exclusively on military history before the 1500s. The first step towards such an ambitious project was taken 5 years ago, when the first issue of Ancient Warfare magazine was published. Ancient Warfare is a bi-monthly, illustrated magazine in which a wide range of topics about Warfare in the ancient world are discussed. Articles are written mostly by independent authors, and are aimed at a large, non-acadamic audience, but with information based on modern academic research. In the four years since its inception, Ancient Warfare has reached a worldwide circulation of over 7,500 copies and is read mostly in Europe and the United States (for more information, please visit our website at: www.ancient-warfare.com).

Due to the rapid growth of Ancient Warfare, we decided to take a step further and started working on a new project, one appropriately called Medieval Warfare magazine. We spent the last 1,5 years preparing. We’ve been contacting authors with expertise on Medieval military history, building a network, visiting museums and doing all the other jobs needed to make a magazine. In October 2010, our website went online, a first step towards promoting Medieval Warfare to those people interested in the topic. Since then, things have been moving fast. We received many interesting proposals from experienced authors willing to write for us. After we decided on the theme of our first issue, we chose the contents from a selection of many topics, the authors started on their articles, pictures were made and illustrators set to work. In the meantime, our shop went online, so that everyone could get a subscription. After several months of hard work from authors, illustrators, and ourselves, Medieval Warfare magazine is nearly ready to be published. In the middle of May, every subscriber will receive their copy of Medieval Warfare issue I-1 by mail.

Medieval Warfare I-1 will focus on the War of Bouvines (1202-1214), the conflict between King John I of England, King Philip II Augustus of France, and Emperor Otto IV of the Holy Roman Empire. Most of the articles will focus on this theme. One of these is about the battle of Bouvines, the final battle in the war, which had a profound impact on the history of the three states involved. The author speaks about the prelude to the battle, the units involved, tactics, its outcome and its aftermath. Another article focuses on the role of the English Navy in the war, and the way it prevented Philip II of invading England itself. Besides such topics, the first issue has an article in which the most important historical source for the war, the Phillipiad, is analyzed.

There are several more articles with unique information about the War of Bouvines (for the full editorial plan, please visit our website at: www.medieval-warfare.com), but the theme is only part of the issue. Every Medieval Warfare will contain a regular item on both Medieval weaponry and weapon handling. In the first section, our authors will delve into the structure, appearance and construction of weapons of war of the Middle Ages, ranging from offensive items such as swords to axes, maces, polearms, bows and even catapults, to defensive equipment like armor or shields. The second section will delve into the secrets of actually using these objects. These articles will focus not only on treatises about dueling and weapon handling, but also on the way in which these weapons dominated the battlefield, or were doomed to die with their defeated wielders.

We have tried to use the best authors possible for all our articles and have done quite well so far (if we do say so ourselves). For the first issue we have Tobias Capwell, a very gifted horseman, member of the Order of the Crescent, and one of the founding members of the Royal Armouries jousting team. As a jouster (and clad in a number of different armours, ranging from German and Italian to English–style), he has traveled to the United Kingdom, Continental Europe, and America, where he won several competitions. His contribution to the first issue of Medieval Warfare was done in his capacity as the curator of Arms and Armour at the famous Wallace Collection in London. He is currently writing a book about the use of effigies in the study of Medieval armour, but for Medieval Warfare he agreed to write an article on four characteristic swords in the Wallace Collection. With his analysis of these four swords, dating from the end of the 9th to the end of the 13th century, Tobias Capwell takes us on a short journey through the world of the Medieval weapon par excellence, informing us about the transformation in structure, character and use of swords during these defining centuries in history.

John Clements taking on a well-protected opponent (Photo thanks to Dirk van Gorp).

Our second contributor is John Clements, a foremost practitioner of authentic Chivalric arts of defense, and an expert on historical fencing. He is a member of The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (ARMA). He teaches, lectures and writes on historical European martial arts professionally. He has written several articles and books on swords and weapon fighting, and has given workshops and demonstrations of Medieval and Renaissance martial arts at a number of museums and collections, including the Royal Armouries in Leeds and the Philidephia Museum of Art (for a full description of his work, visit his page on the ARMA website at: www.thehaca.com/Director.htm).

John Clements has agreed to write for us on a regular basis about weapon handling. In the first issue, he will discuss the impact of swords on armour in Medieval battles. Based on documentary and archaeological evidence, John paints a picture of an age in which swords, while lethal, have to cope with an increase in both the use and quality of defensive equipment. Despite the more widespread usage of mail and plate armour, the sword was still the weapon of choice for many warriors, knights and common men alike. In a fascinating article, John goes on to explain in what ways swords could keep doing enough damage to remain such popular weapons.

As impressive as the first issue is, there will be many more issues to come, each with an interesting mix of historical information, treatises on weapons and weapon handling, unique photographs, and beautiful artwork done by the most skillful of illustrators like the Italian artist Giorgio Albertini, or the Ukranian Igor Dzis (a few illustrations of whom can be found on our Facebook page). We hope Medieval Warfare will be a source for information on Medieval military history beyond where many others leave off. Want to know more about the magazine? Visit us at www.medieval-warfare.com for more information about our current plans and what’s to come.

By Dirk van Gorp, guest author and editor of Medieval Warfare magazine

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