A free company (sometimes called a great company or grande compagnie) was an army of mercenaries between the 12th and 14th centuries recruited by private employers during wars. They acted independently of any government, and were thus "free". They regularly made a living by plunder when they were not employed; in France they were the routiers and écorcheurs who operated outside the highly structured law of arms.The term "free company" is most applied to those companies of soldiers which formed after the Peace of Brétigny during the Hundred Years' War and were active mainly in France, but it has been applied to other companies, such as the Catalan Company and companies that operated elsewhere, such as in Italy and the Holy Roman Empire.
The free companies, or companies of adventure, have been cited as a factor as strong as plague or famine in the reduction of Siena from a glorious rival of Florence to a second-rate power during the later fourteenth century; Siena spent 291,379 florins between 1342 and 1399 buying off the free companies.The White Company of John Hawkwood, probably the most famous free company, was active in Italy in the latter half of the fourteenth century.
Mercenary groups first appeared in the 12th century, when they participated in the Anarchy (a conflict of succession between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda between 1137 and 1153).
In the 1180s, similar groups were integrated into the armies of the King of France under Philip II of France. These troops of seasoned mercenaries were organized and mobile, a valuable advantage during the battles of the time and were important elements of the armies of Henry II of England and his son, Richard I. King John used them at the beginning of his reign, when he was richer and more powerful than the King of France. However, in 1204, he did not pay the mercenaries. Philip Augustus used them to overcome the Plantagenets.
During the Hundred Years War between England and France there were intermittent hostilities punctuated by periods of truce, when soldiers would be laid off en masse. In the absence of civilian skills and opportunities many, especially the foreign soldiers, formed armed bands known as bandes de routiers or écorcheurs and made a living by pillaging the countryside of southern France until hostilities resumed. Similar events occurred in Spain and Germany. By the time of the Treaty of Brétigny (1360), which brought about a several years suspension of the Hundred Years War, the bands had grown in size to the point where they had evolved an internal structure and adopted romantic names. The Tards-venus (late-comers), led by Seguin de Badefol ravaged Burgundy and Languedoc and even defeated the forces of the Kingdom of France at the Battle of Brignais in 1362.
The Catalan Company, formed in Spain in the early 1300s, fought in the Byzantine Empire before ending up in what is now Greece and the Navarrese Company, also formed in Spain, followed them there.
By 1356, free companies, men at arms, and brigands had spread throughout the country from the Seine to the Loire engaging in unlawful activities. They had especially infested the roads from Paris to Orléans, Chartres, Vendôme, and Montargis.
Brigands were recruited from all nations, but mainly from troops dismissed from the army of Edward III of England after the peace treaty of Brétigny. On October 24, 1360, after the Treaty of Calais ratified the ceasefire of 8 May, Edward III had ordered the evacuation of English troops from fortresses in many parts of France.
One of the main brigand leaders was a Welshman named Ruffin, who was enriched by robberies and became a knight [ citation needed ]. These bands of brigands occupied and ransomed towns such as Saint-Arnoult, Gallardon, Bonneval, Cloyes, Étampes, Châtres, Montlhéry, Pithiviers-en-Gatinais, Larchant, Milly-la-Forêt, Château-Landon and Montargis. Meanwhile, Robert Knolles headed an Anglo-Navarrese band of brigands near the borders of Normandy, where he earned 100,000 écus.
Eventually the King of France sent his constable to escort these bands to Spain in order to rid France of them. There they could assist Henry of Trastamara in his ongoing feud with his half-brother Peter of Castile. However, after placing Henry of Trastamara on the throne of Castile, the companies returned to France. One company plundered Vire in 1368and another, conducted by John Cresswell and Folquin Lallemant, seized Château-Gontier.
The Tard-Venus were mercenaries who had been demobilized after the Treaty of Brétigny of 8 May 1360. Under the orders of Seguin de Badefol, they raged from Burgundy to Languedoc. In 1362, in Brignais, they defeated Jacques de Bourbon, Count of La Marche.
The White Company (Compagnia Bianca) was also formed after the Treaty of Brétigny and was under the command of John Hawkwood.
The Bretons and the English in Dauphiné were companies which operated from 1374 to 1411, and accompanied the Counts of Armagnac, Turenne and Duguesclin during their conflicts in Provence and Italy, which brought about the Great Schism between the popes of Avignon and Rome. One of their achievements was taking the Château de Soyons in 1381, from which they were later dislodged by Bouville, governor of Dauphine and Marshal Clisson. Their leaders were Guilhem Camisard, Amaury de Sévérac (the Bastard of Bertusan) and John Broquiers.
The Écorcheurs were demobilized mercenaries who desolated France in the 15th century after the Treaty of Arras in 1435.
The structure of 14th-century Italy, where a patchwork of rich city states were in a state of perpetual dispute with their neighbours, provided an ideal base for the later and larger mercenary groups with their complements of cavalry, infantry and archers and complex internal structure. Predominantly made up of English, Spanish and German troops, they included the Great Company formed by the German knight Werner von Urslingen (1342), the Compagnia di San Giorgio formed by the Italian nobleman Lodrisio Visconti in 1339, the White Company formed by Albert Sterz (1360) and the Compagnia della Stella of Anichino di Bongardo (Hannekin Baumgarten) (1364).
The companies made a good living by extortion (Siena paid the companies 37 times not to attack them) or by contracting to fight on behalf of one city state against another. They came to be known, in particular their leaders, as Condottieri , from the Italian word for contractor. On several occasions the companies were contracted by different states to fight each other.
By the mid-1400s the power of the Free Companies had come to an end with the rise in centralised state power and military force.
|Catalan Company||1302||Roger de Flor; Bernat de Rocafort||Disbanded, 1390|
|Navarrese Company||c.1360||Mahiot of Coquerel; Pedro de San Superano||Disbanded, c.1390?|
|Great Company||1342||Werner von Urslingen; Fra' Moriale; Konrad von Landau||Disbanded, 1363|
|Compagnia di San Giorgio (I)||1339||Lodrisio Visconti||Disbanded, 1339|
|Compagnia di San Giorgio (II)||1365||Ambrogio Visconti||Disbanded, 1374|
|Compagnia di San Giorgio (III)||1377||Alberico da Barbiano||Italians only|
|White Company||c.1360||Albert Sterz; John Hawkwood||Disbanded c.1390|
|Company of the Hat||1362||Niccolò da Montefeltro||Disbanded, 1365|
|Compagnia della Stella (I)||1364||Anichino di Bongardo; Albert Sterz||Disbanded, 1366|
|Compagnia della Stella (II)||1379||Astorre I Manfredi||Disbanded, 1379|
|Company of Bretons||c.1375||Jean Malastroit|
|Company of the Kill||1380||Villanozzo of Brumfort; Alberico da Barbiano|
|Company of the Rose||1398||Giovanni da Buscareto; Bartolomeo Gonzaga||Disbanded, 1410|
Condottieri were Italian captains in command of mercenary companies during the Middle Ages and of multinational armies during the early modern period. They notably served popes and other European monarchs during the Italian Wars of the Renaissance and the European Wars of Religion. Notable condottieri include Prospero Colonna, Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, Cesare Borgia, the Marquis of Pescara, Andrea Doria, and the Duke of Parma.
Sir John Hawkwood was an English soldier who served as a mercenary leader or condottiero in Italy. As his name was difficult to pronounce for non-English-speaking contemporaries, there are many variations of it in the historical record. He often referred to himself as "Haukevvod" and in Italy he was known as "Giovanni Acuto", meaning literally "John Sharp" referring to his "cleverness or cunning". His name was Latinised as Johannes Acutus. Other recorded forms are "Aucgunctur", "Haughd", "Hauvod", "Hankelvode", "Augudh", "Auchevud", "Haukevvod", "Haukwode" and "Haucod". His exploits made him a man shrouded in myth in both England and Italy. Much of his enduring fame results from the surviving large and prominent fresco portrait of him in the Duomo, Florence, made in 1436 by Paolo Uccello, seen every year by 4½ million tourists.
The écorcheurs were armed bands who desolated France in the reign of Charles VII, stripping their victims of everything, often to their very clothes.
The Battle of Brignais was fought on 6 April 1362, between forces of the Kingdom of France under Count Jacques de Bourbon, from whom the later royal Bourbons descend, and the Tard-Venus Free Company, led by Petit Meschin and Seguin de Badefol.
The Battle of Cocherel was a battle fought on 16 May 1364 between the forces of Charles V of France and the forces of Charles II of Navarre, over the succession to the dukedom of Burgundy. The result was a French victory.
Alberico da Barbiano was the first of the Italian condottieri. His master in military matters was the English mercenary John Hawkwood, known in Italy as Giovanni Acuto. Alberico's compagnia fought under the banner of Saint George, as the compagnia San Giorgio.
The White Company was a 14th-century English mercenary Company of Adventure, led from its arrival in Italy in 1361 to 1363 by the German Albert Sterz and later by the Englishman John Hawkwood. Although the White Company is the name by which it is popularly known, it was initially called the Great Company of English and Germans and would later often be referred to as the English Company.
Arnaud de Cervole, also de Cervolles, de Cervolle, Arnaut de Cervole or Arnold of Cervoles, known as l'Archiprêtre, was a French mercenary soldier and Brigand of the Hundred Years War in the 14th century.
The Great Company was a group of mercenaries, chiefly of German origin but operating in the Italian peninsula, who flourished in the mid-14th century. At its height, the company numbered approximately 10,000-12,000 men, chiefly armored cavalry. The Great Company's power set the pattern for later condottieri who came to dominate Renaissance Italian warfare.
Routiers were mercenary soldiers of the Middle Ages. Their particular distinction from other paid soldiers of the time was that they were organised into bands. The term is first used in the 12th century but is particularly associated with free companies who terrorised the French countryside during the Hundred Years' War.
Brignais is a commune of the Rhône department in eastern France.
Tard-Venus were medieval groups of routiers that ravaged Europe in the later years of the reign of King John II of France.
Seguin de Badefol was a Medieval leader of a large bandit army or Routier With 2000 troops he was the head of the largest group of Tard-Venus.
Bascot de Mauléon was a Basque soldier, mercenary and Brigand of the Hundred Years' War in the 14th century.
Le Petit Meschin was a French soldier, mercenary and brigand of the Hundred Years War in the 14th century.
Robert Briquet was a mercenary captain during the Hundred Years War.
Bernard de la Salle, was a French mercenary captain during the Hundred Years War. His story is mentioned in the Chronicles of Froissart
Bour de Breteuil was a Mercenary captain of the Hundred Years War.
Bour Camus, or Camus Bour Bour Lesparre, also known as Camus the Bastard was a mercenary captain during the Hundred Years War. He was of Navarrese or Gascony origin.
Bertucat d'Albret was a medieval mercenary leader of a bandit army in the Hundred Years' War.