How did the Swiss slaughter Knightly armies so badly?

Sep 2017
United States
Well, I don't know enough about the period to fully say, but for one, I don't think that the Swiss came out all of the sudden massacring knights in such horrendous fashion that it would revolutionize warfare over night. And, the Swiss pikes were just as good against other infantry as well if I'm not mistaken.

Additionally, being a knight wasn't being in a professional unit or anything like that. There wasn't a central administration or command that could reassess the needs of the army, and retrain/rearm the knights to fight in a different way. The Roman Empire could change battlefield doctrine and equipment on a large scale (relatively) quickly. When it came time that the Equites (in the military sense) were no longer needed, that arm was disbanded and those men allocated elsewhere.

Being a knight, not even including the social status and all that, was something they had trained for their whole lives. Their training was built on many years of tradition and they had perfected their craft. You couldn't expect them to change tactics on a flip of the dime. It may seem stupid to keep trying the same thing, but if you'd spent 20+ years mastering the lance and the charge and all that stuff, it's going to be hard to do anything else when the time comes. In stressful situations, people revert to what they know. And to top that off, pride was another factor. A knight probably would want to prove that the last one was a fluke or they were better than the last batch of knights and so on.
Oct 2018
At first, the Swiss were unarmoured, armed with halberds and could manoever over rough ground quickly. At the Battle of Morgarten in 1315, the Swiss outnumbered the Austrians and ambushed them by rolling logs and rocks down a mountainside. At the Battle of Laupen in 1339, green Bernese broke before contact with a large Fribourg infantry unit. The outnumbered Swiss won against inferior infantry but Fribourger knights held their own against "veteran" Swiss until the green Bernese attacked the knights in their flank. At the Battle of Sempach in 1386, the Austrian knights dismounted because the terrain was unsuitable for horses. The outnumbered Swiss won against armoured knights armed with lances. At the Battle of Naefels in 1388, the Swiss rallied after retreating and caught the Austrians by surprise while they had dispersed to loot villages. The Swiss were very lucky to win.
A turning point occurred after the Swiss loss at Battle of Arbedo in 1422, when the Swiss rearmed to pike, retaining halberds to guard their many cantonal standards. Milanese knights were bloodily repulsed when they charged the Swiss Keil. The knights dismounted, cut down their lances and fought the outnumbered Swiss. The Swiss formed a defensive square and fled the field when the knights paused their attack when they thought a large unarmed foraging party was another Keil.
Later, the front rank of each Keil was armoured and rode horses to keep up.
Likes: Ichon
Oct 2013
Additionally, being a knight wasn't being in a professional unit or anything like that.
There lies a part of the answer: unlike knights, Swiss became real professional units.

We forget that one didn't hired Swiss mercenaries but Swiss mercenary units. Swiss units were usually formed by people from the same family, same village, same Canton, they knew each other, they used to live together as civilians too, not only as warriors.

Allow me to compare with Brazil vs Germany a couple of years ago: Brazil, a gathering of exceptional individualities never managing to play together. Germany a team of not that exceptional individuals but making a team.

Brazil 1 - Germany - 7 ...

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