The Knight, who had been dominant on the battlefield, found himself being dominated by foot soldiers as their numbers, weaponry, and tactics improved during the later medieval period. Medieval foot soldiers were military men that fought on foot *ground troops *infantry such as crossbowmen, longbowmen, and pikemen.
This change in circumstances was no more evident than in the battle of Crécy in 1346 in which the English Medieval longbowmen destroyed the French knights. Crossbowmen also became a deadly foe of the knight as they could take advanced positions on the battlefield protected by their pavise shields, in fact, the crossbow and longbow were the first weapons that allowed tactical changes that could defeat Knights or other Cavalry units on the battlefield.
The addition of crossbows to the arsenal of medieval footsoldiers was significant, now footsoldiers could attack the enemy, in advanced positions whilst keeping out of range of close combat weapons such as axes and swords. The crossbow was more powerful than the longbow and effective at distances of around 300-400 yards. It had a mechanized loading system so that the bolts fired could be loaded easier and thus required less training than the longbowmen.
Crossbowmen could fire around 2-3 bolts per minute, the deadly bolts it fired could penetrate or damage chainmail and armor. The crossbow was a more powerful weapon than the longbow.
The effective use by footsoldiers of the longbow in medieval times cannot be underestimated, it led to the famous English victory in the battle of Crécy. The victory at the battle of Crécy was down to tactical changes that were made. longbowmen could fire around 10-12 bodkin tipped arrows a minute that could damage or penetrate a knight’s chainmail or armor. This rate of fire was much higher than the slower crossbow.
Military leaders discovered large numbers of tightly packed crossbowmen had a devastating impact on the battlefield, especially when firing in unison. During the Battle of Crécy, it is estimated that 500,000 arrows were fired, they would literally create a cloud of arrows that made a hissing sound as they darted across the sky, towards the enemy’s forces.
Foot soldiers would spend many years training to use the longbow and were eventually able to fire up to 12 arrows per minute against the crossbows 2-3 per minute, longbowmen could hit a target from around a distance of 300-350 yards. Medieval Knights were sitting ducks, their horses were also killed, wounded, and sent into a panic that made them harder to control.
Spears and Pike weapons (long spears with spike ends) were also a very effective weapon that was used well by foot soldiers called pikemen, these weapons were also improved and re-designed as the medieval period progressed.
Spears and Pike weapons had a very long handle sometimes up to 20 feet long and special formations were developed for the foot soldiers in which they would create pike formations to create a wall of spears or spikes. Medieval Knights’ cavalry charges would be made ineffective as they could not get near to the enemy and they would be easily brought down as their horses were killed as they ran onto these weapons. The Swiss infantry was renowned for their use of pike weapons.
Halberdiers would in turn finish off the enemy’s soldiers with their pole-axe weapons.
It was another famous battle that showed how the previously dominant medieval knights could be defeated by a well-armed and organized group of foot soldiers. In the ‘Battle of Bannockburn’ King Bruce, the Scottish king was outnumbered 3 to 1 by the English Kings army and it looked on paper as if the English would win easily and the Scottish army would be destroyed by the superior English forces.
The English had a large cavalry which should have been a major advantage, however, the cavalry was brought down by a wall of Spears by the well organized foot soldiers of King Bruce were grouped into close formations as the cavalry charged, these foot soldiers waited in formation with their long Spears (pikes).
The English cavalry was decimated and they were slaughtered in the muddy marsh lands. These type of foot soldiers were commonly known as pikemen in England and had other names in different countries.