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Special Operations in the Age of Chivalry, 1100-1550

Special Operations in the Age of Chivalry, 1100-1550

Yuval Noah Harari
Volume: 24
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Special Operations in the Age of Chivalry, 1100-1550
    Book Description:

    Alongside the familiar pitched battles, regular sieges, and large-scale manoeuvres, medieval and early modern wars also involved assassination, abduction, treason and sabotage. These undercover operations were aimed chiefly against key individuals, mostly royalty or the leaders of the opposing army, and against key fortified places, including bridges, mills and dams. However, because of their clandestine nature, these deeds of `derring-do' have not been studied in any detail, a major gap which this book fills. It surveys a wide variety of special operations, from the eleventh to the sixteenth century. It then analyzes in greater depth six select and exciting operations: the betrayal of Antioch in 1098; the attempt to rescue King Baldwin II from the dungeon of Khartpert in 1123; the assassination of Conrad of Montferrat in 1192; the attempt to storm Calais in 1350; the `dirty war' waged by the rulers of France and Burgundy in the 1460s and 1470s; and the demolition of the flour mill of Auriol in 1536. Dr YUVAL NOAH HARARI teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-594-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-xii)
  6. 1 Special Operations, Strategy, and Politics in the Age of Chivalry – An Analytical Overview
    (pp. 1-52)

    A ‘special operation’ is a combat operation that is limited to a small area, takes a relatively short span of time, and is conducted by a small force, yet is capable of achieving significant strategic or political results disproportional to the resources invested in it. Special operations almost always involve the employment of unconventional and covert methods of fighting. It is these methods that enable a small investment of resources to produce a disproportionate strategic or political impact.¹

    For example, in January 1327 Queen Isabella of England and her lover Roger Mortimer overthrew the unpopular King Edward II, and shortly...

  7. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  8. 2 The Gateway to the Middle East: Antioch, 1098
    (pp. 53-73)

    In 1095 Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade, one of the more successful and momentous military campaigns of the Middle Ages. It not only led to the foundation of four Crusader principalities in the Middle East, but also inspired numerous other crusades, which together wrought crucial cultural, political, and economic changes both in Europe and in the Middle East.

    Yet in May 1098 the First Crusade – and the entire Crusader movement – was almost stillborn, despite the enormous material and cultural resources already invested in it. The so-called Peasants’ Crusade, after cutting a swath of destruction through Central and Eastern...

  9. 3 Saving King Baldwin: Khartpert, 1123
    (pp. 74-90)

    In the two decades following the First Crusade the three Crusader principalities of Antioch, Tripoli, and Jerusalem gradually expanded and conquered almost the entire Levantine coast from the Taurus range to the Sinai peninsula. The fourth principality – the County of Edessa – meanwhile thrust eastwards across the Euphrates river, cutting off Muslim Syria from Asia Minor and Mesopotamia (see map 2).

    In 1119 the Franks of Outremer – as the settlers came to be known – hit upon more difficult times. A new Turkoman dynasty, the Artuqids of the tribe of Döger, took upon itself to halt the invaders’ progress and roll them...

  10. 4 The Assassination of King Conrad: Tyre, 1192
    (pp. 91-108)

    Most medieval special operations have long been forgotten, and have failed to leave a mark on either the popular or the academic image of medieval warfare. The sole exception is the operations conducted by the Nizari sect, made famous as the Order of the Assassins. The Nizaris not only bequeathed to posterity the memory of one of the most successful clandestine organizations in history, but have also enriched European languages with the word ‘assassination’ itself, denoting the use of premeditated murder of key individuals as a military and political tool. For assassin derives from the Arabic word hashīshīn – a pejorative...

  11. 5 For a Sack-full of Gold Écus: Calais, 1350
    (pp. 109-124)

    Around midday 3 August 1347 a mournful procession emerged from the city of Calais. Six of its most distinguished citizens humbly walked out of the main gate, dressed only in their shirtsleeves, with nooses around their necks and the city’s keys in their hands. Behind them men, women, and children were weeping bitterly and wringing their hands in despair. Outside the gate they were received by the wrathful King Edward III of England, by Edward’s wife, Queen Philippa, and by tens of thousands of enemy soldiers. For eleven months Edward had besieged Calais in what turned out to be the...

  12. 6 Princes in the Cross-Hairs: The Rise and Fall of Valois Burgundy, 1407–83
    (pp. 125-162)

    Many medieval and early modern empires were founded on the sterility of princely houses. Kingdoms and principalities that resisted conquest for centuries were gobbled up whole if their ruling dynasty died out. Whenever a prince failed to provide a legitimate heir, greedy relatives and neighbours could soon be seen circling him like a pack of vultures, and conquest or civil war were bound to follow. When a prince sired only daughters, he was just as quickly surrounded by suitors, anxious to put their hands on the dowry. It was in such a way that Scotland and England, and Aragon and...

  13. 7 The Mill of Auriol: Auriol 1536
    (pp. 163-183)

    In the early sixteenth century two dynastic states struggled for mastery over western Europe. At first it was the Valois kings of France, who seemed poised to become the arbiters of Europe, after expelling their English rivals from the Continent, vanquishing their over-mighty Burgundian vassals, and forging a centralized state out of their feudal jigsaw puzzle. Their attempts to conquer Italy were only barely held in check by the Italian powers, the Holy Roman (i.e. German) emperor, and the newly unified Kingdom of Spain.

    In 1516, however, the crown of united Spain was inherited by Charles Habsburg, who was also...

  14. 8 Conclusions
    (pp. 184-185)

    Special operations are not a novel late modern phenomenon. They were an integral and very important part of the military and political tool-kit already in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The main targets of medieval and Renaissance warfare in general, namely strongpoints and leaders, were often more vulnerable to special operations than to regular ones.

    The extensive usage of special operations demonstrates that medieval and Renaissance warfare did not always obey the conventions of chivalric fair play. Commanders habitually relied not only on guile and ruse, but also on bribery, treason, assassination, and abduction. Chivalry was nevertheless an important...

  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 186-212)
  16. Index
    (pp. 213-226)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-229)