Black Army of Hungary and other medieval standing armies

Oct 2011
140
Croatia
#1
I will start off discussing what I consider second-most-interesting topic after the Roman Empire: Hungarian-Croatian Kingdom under Matthias Corvinus. Corvinus took a traditional feudal state and transformed it into what was essentially the first modern state on European mainland, or the first absolutist monarchy. Among other things, he created what was the second standing army since the fall of the Roman Empire. France also had a standing army, established in 1444, while Black Army was established in 1458, but the Black Army was far larger (twice the size) and more tactically sophisticated. Third standing army, established in 1471, was that of Charles the Bold. If somebody wants to write about them, you're welcome.

It is unclear how Black Army got its name. It is possible that they used black armours to protect against rust, or else it was a nickname of one of commanders. Original Black Army was comprised of 6 000 soldiers, mostly Slavs, but eventually raised to 20 000 cavalry and 8 000 infantry (numbers do not include pages which helped carry pavises and reload firearms). Corvinus wanted an army that was loyal to him, not to magnates, as well as tactically flexible and always ready for offensive action (feudal banners were mostly called for defensive wars). Unlike other mercenary armies, which were raised as needed, the Black Army was always under arms, and fully devoted to art of warfare.

Black Army was also unique due to large number of firearms - even if arquebuses of the time did more noise than damage. About a quarter of the infantry were arquebusirs (in other armies they did not pass 10%), and in combat they would stand behind the wall of pavises (large wooden shields) which provided cover from Ottoman arrows (and other projectiles). Heavy infantry would take the center, and once the Ottoman infantry was fully commited, heavy cavalry on the wings would launch the attack. This would have to be countered by Ottoman sipahis, who had neither weapons nor armour to counter Western heavy cavalry. It was disbanded when magnates decided that not paying taxes was more important than defending the country, and forced Vladislaus II to reduce tax burden by 80% and dismantle national administration systems, bureocracy and fortifications.

Black Army was created rather haphazardly, and it began as a collection of disparate bands of mercenaries. Only gradually did it transform into a permanent standing force.

Tactically, it appears that Black Army might deploy in either a line or a circle. Either way, pavises and heavy infantry would be up front, while light infantry would shoot over their heads and occasionally break out. This is rather similar to Byzantine tactics of 10th-11th centuries, where infantry would form a mobile "fortress" from which cavalry would sortie.
 
Oct 2011
140
Croatia
#3
Didn't the bulk of the tax burden fall on the lower classes and peasantry, which caused a lot of unrest?
There was tax burden on them, definitely, but magnates often had to pay extraordinary taxes as well. Also, magnates would have done their best to squeeze serfs dry anyway, so any coin that went to the crown was coin that did not go into their own pockets.
 

Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,837
US
#4
I will start off discussing what I consider second-most-interesting topic after the Roman Empire: Hungarian-Croatian Kingdom under Matthias Corvinus. Corvinus took a traditional feudal state and transformed it into what was essentially the first modern state on European mainland, or the first absolutist monarchy. Among other things, he created what was the second standing army since the fall of the Roman Empire. France also had a standing army, established in 1444, while Black Army was established in 1458, but the Black Army was far larger (twice the size) and more tactically sophisticated. Third standing army, established in 1471, was that of Charles the Bold. If somebody wants to write about them, you're welcome.

It is unclear how Black Army got its name. It is possible that they used black armours to protect against rust, or else it was a nickname of one of commanders. Original Black Army was comprised of 6 000 soldiers, mostly Slavs, but eventually raised to 20 000 cavalry and 8 000 infantry (numbers do not include pages which helped carry pavises and reload firearms). Corvinus wanted an army that was loyal to him, not to magnates, as well as tactically flexible and always ready for offensive action (feudal banners were mostly called for defensive wars). Unlike other mercenary armies, which were raised as needed, the Black Army was always under arms, and fully devoted to art of warfare.

Black Army was also unique due to large number of firearms - even if arquebuses of the time did more noise than damage. About a quarter of the infantry were arquebusirs (in other armies they did not pass 10%), and in combat they would stand behind the wall of pavises (large wooden shields) which provided cover from Ottoman arrows (and other projectiles). Heavy infantry would take the center, and once the Ottoman infantry was fully commited, heavy cavalry on the wings would launch the attack. This would have to be countered by Ottoman sipahis, who had neither weapons nor armour to counter Western heavy cavalry. It was disbanded when magnates decided that not paying taxes was more important than defending the country, and forced Vladislaus II to reduce tax burden by 80% and dismantle national administration systems, bureocracy and fortifications.

Black Army was created rather haphazardly, and it began as a collection of disparate bands of mercenaries. Only gradually did it transform into a permanent standing force.

Tactically, it appears that Black Army might deploy in either a line or a circle. Either way, pavises and heavy infantry would be up front, while light infantry would shoot over their heads and occasionally break out. This is rather similar to Byzantine tactics of 10th-11th centuries, where infantry would form a mobile "fortress" from which cavalry would sortie.
Did they battle the Ottomans, and, if so, how did they fare?
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,365
Portugal
#6
Black Army was created rather haphazardly, and it began as a collection of disparate bands of mercenaries. Only gradually did it transform into a permanent standing force.
Hungrary seemed to attract mercenaries from afar, some time ago I open this thread (The Morosini Codex and D. Pedro, Duke of Treviso) about a Portuguese prince, and mercenary, D. Pedro, that fought under the Hungarian king Sigismund against the Ottomans in the decade of 20.
 

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