Description of English soldiers in Italy by Filippo Villani

Filippo Villani continued the Florentine chronicle of his brother Giovanni, and gives a description of the English mercenaries that plied their trade in Italy during the fourteenth-century.

They were all young and for the most part born and raised during the long wars between the French and English – therefore hot and impetuous, used to slaughter and to loot, quick with weapons, careless of safety. In the ranks they were quick and obedient to their superiors; yet in camp, by reason of their unrestrained dash and boldness, they lay scattered about in disorderly and incautious fashion so that a courageous enemy might easily harm and shame them.

Their armor was almost uniformly a cuirass and a steel breastplate, iron arm-pieces, thigh- and leg-pieces; they carried stout daggers and swords; all had tilting lances which they dismounted to use; each had one or two pages, and some had more. When they take off their armor, the pages presently set to polishing, so that when they appear in battle their arms seem like mirrors, and they so much more terrible.

Others of them were archers, and their bows were long and of yew; they were quick and dexterous archers, and made good use of the bow. Their mode of fighting in the field was almost always afoot, as they assigned their horses to their pages. Keeping themselves in almost circular formation, every two take a lance, carrying it in a manner in which one waits for a boar with a boar-spear. So bound and compact, with lowered lances they marched with slow steps towards the enemy, making a terrible outcry – and their ranks can hardly be pried apart.

It appears by experience that they are more fitted to ride by night and steal than to keep to the field: they succeed rather by the cowardice of our people than because of their own valor. They had ingenious ladders, one piece fitting into the next as in a [slide] trumpet, the largest piece three steps long, with which they could climb the highest tower. And they were the first to bring into Italy the fashion of forming cavalry in lances [of three men each] instead of in the old system of helmets (barbute) or flags (a bandiere).

This section is from The English Traveler to Italy, by George R. Parks (Stanford, 1954)

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