The medieval lance problem

Posted by Germanicus on 04 Jun 2020, 12:39

Hi everybody, I'm currently working on my lifelong project of creating the Swiss and Burgundian armies of the Burgundian wars as historically accurate as I can and 1/72 production let me.

The time period I'm focusing is then the late XV century and since I'm on my way to switch all the stock lances/polearms of my figures with metal ones I want to know what kind of cavalry lance I should give to my knights.

The problem is that I've never been able to understand the evolution of the medieval lance and I never could find some source talking about that.
Watching through the iconography of a medieval cavalry lance you'll find every kind of thickness and "handshield", also I don't think the depictions on the figures' boxes are reliable at all since often they try to depict the figures in the box that aren't always as historical accurate as you can get.

To make things even more challenging, reading the good Osprey book "Armies of medieval Burgundy" I found that the duke Charles the Bold in one of his ordinances explicitly asked to his knights to be equipped whit a "light lance". What does this mean?

Do you know some source about the history of medieval cavalry war lances? Do you know something more yourself?
Thanks in advance and sorry if I butchered the english here :oops:
User avatar
Germanicus  Italy
Posts: 11
Member since:
17 Apr 2020, 11:52

Posted by Peter on 05 Jun 2020, 21:56

Found this wiki link. Maybe this can help you:
User avatar
Peter  Belgium

Moderator Moderator
Posts: 18744
Member since:
25 Mar 2008, 18:51

Posted by Paul on 05 Jun 2020, 22:57

Contemporary sources are best. Here are 613 images of "lances" ... 22lance%22
The hand guard appears (in the manuscript depictions) about the end of the 12th century.
Heavy lance = one for couching/thrusting
Light lance = one for throwing
Not a 100% specific definition as a light lance could be couched and or used for thrusting.
Also allow for artistic licence with some of the manuscript minis, ie, the classic tapered jousting lance depicted as being used in actual battle. Although it´s not an impossible event to use such a lance in actual combat but the artists were most probably not at the scene of the event depicted and painted the "action" later and some lacked military knowledge or were trying to impress a patron....or both.
User avatar
Paul  China

Moderator Moderator
Posts: 11665
Member since:
25 Nov 2008, 09:31

Posted by Germanicus on 15 Jun 2020, 20:23

Sorry if I let all this time pass but with the exams I do what I can to keep up with the hobbies.

With a little bit of searching I found out that we know almost nothing about the medieval lance, this is the essential extract of all the Robert Jones' book "The Knight" (2012) reports about lance's evolution:

...From illustrations it can be estimated that the lance of the 13th centuriy onwards was around 14 leet in length. By the 15th century depictions ol lances that were flared and tapered towards the tip appear in the pictorial record, a means by which the lance could be made stronger without a huge increase in weight. The development of the vammplate, a conical dish of metal that protected the wielder's hand, may, like the development of the arret (the lance rest), have had some use in battle, but would appear to be first and foremost a development for the tournament.

This is almost everything you can also find on the subject on the internet. And I have some observations about his words.

In the book Robert Jones says that lances were depicted as flared and tapered, like we can see in The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello.

To me (but I'm no reenactor nor physics) it makes perfect sense that a heavier lance would strike a more powerful punch while a tapered shape would give it a better weight distribution.

It also makes perfect sense that vamplate wouldnt be used in battle since lances were expendable weapons and steel wasnt cheap ( as stated in this video).

What I think is strange is that the arret wouldn't be used in battle (the fantastic Knyght Errant talk about its usefulness, it provides a more powerful punch but I can't see downsides of using it. It being used is also shown in many raffigurations (some of the miniatures you linked too).

Furthermore I don't know how muche the "painters" should be trusted. Minis painters are inconsistent and you can address the straightness of the lances either on the "fast" nature of the depiction or the simple lack of research. But the first reinassance painters like Paolo Uccello may have embellished the equimpent even if as far as I can tell the armours depictions are pretty accourate.

Said that, why don't you think that slightly conical lances were commonly used in battle?
User avatar
Germanicus  Italy
Posts: 11
Member since:
17 Apr 2020, 11:52

Return to Questions