Military history


Such Botching, Disorder and Chaos

Christian Europe’s attempt to re-establish a foothold in the Islamicized East, during the two centuries of the Crusades (1095-1291), was in part caused and simultaneously matched by a continuing Muslim offensive into the European continent itself. In 1354 the Ottoman Turks - the Seljuk Turks’ victory over the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor at Manzikert in 1071 having largely destroyed Christian power in Asia Minor — established their first foothold in Europe by crossing the Straits of the Dardanelles and capturing Gallipoli. It provided a base from which they proceeded to conquer Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. In 1453 they extinguished the Eastern Roman Empire by the capture of Constantinople and began advances that threatened Hungary and the capital of the Holy Roman Empire at Vienna. Meanwhile, however, Christian Europe had begun to strike back against the other centre of Muslim power in Europe, Spain, which had fallen to the Arabs in 712.

Small Christian footholds had survived in northern Spain, for which a campaign of reconquest began in the tenth century. It culminated at the end of the fifteenth, when the union, in 1479, of the crowns of the Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, in the persons of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, led to final victory over the last Muslim (Moorish) possessions in the south. Many Moors chose to leave Spain and return to North Africa, from where the Muslim invasion had been launched. Those who remained, known to the Spaniards as the Moriscos and largely concentrated in the southern region of Granada, accepted Christianity in return for being allowed to retain certain cultural and legal privileges.

In practice, while conforming outwardly to Christianity, many Moriscos remained Muslim at heart. Their Christian overlords acquiesced none the less in the fiction of the Moriscos’ conformity, and protected them against the centralizing power of the Spanish kingdom. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, however, the growing power of the Ottoman Turks in the Eastern Mediterranean confronted the Christian powers of the Western Mediterranean — Venice, the Papal States and Spain in particular — with a new challenge. The conflict culminated in the Ottoman Turks’ offensive against the island of Malta, at the meeting point between the eastern and western halves of the inland sea. It was held by the last of the Crusading orders, the Knights of St John. They succeeded in holding the Ottomans at bay. In the aftermath of their victory in 1565, the government of Spain decided to bring the Moriscos under pressure to conform absolutely to Christian Orthodoxy. They refused to do so and broke into revolt in 1568. What followed is known as the War of Granada. The Spanish government of Philip II had used the riches won by the conquistadors of the Americas to raise the first truly modern army. By 1568, however, it was so deeply committed to defending the Spanish possessions elsewhere in Europe, particularly against the Protestant rebels of the Netherlands, that it had no efficient soldiers to put down the revolt in Granada. The account that follows is a graphic description of what happens when an undisciplined army, largely motivated by the hope of personal enrichment, takes the field.


If I stand back from my narrative and try to account for this disastrous defeat and ask how it was that a nation as vigorous as ours, whose soldiers are accustomed to undergo the greatest hardships without wavering in their duty for, amongst us, loyalty is a point of honour and we are vain of our military honour which in war is not the least important factor — if I just stand back and ask myself how, in this campaign, we could comport ourselves so unmartially and so unvalorously, I find myself thinking of the numerous well-disciplined and famous armies with which I myself have served, or observed. Some of these were led by the Emperor Charles [Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 to 1556], one of the best soldiers the world has seen for many centuries; others by his rival, King Francis I of France, a man who was no less bold or experienced; but there has never been a more formidable host than the one which the Emperor’s son, our current sovereign, King Philip II of Spain, took quite recently onto the field of Durlan to defend the Estates of Flanders against Francis I’s son, Henri II of France. Never have I myself seen nor have I heard tell of an army that was better armed, better disciplined, more completely equipped in every particular than was that one. The provisioning was superb. The artillery were first class. There was superabundance of munitions. The private soldiers were of the best. There was an ample seasoning of courtiers and gentleman volunteers. The generals, the captains, the officers were all of very high quality.

The result was that we had a resounding success. We were able to dictate a peace treaty of which the whole world has had to take stock. By its terms our client, Duke Filibert, was restored to his dukedom of Savoy, something that was extraordinarily difficult to achieve in that French power lies so much closer to Savoy than ours does.

What a contrast to the rabble we fielded in Granada! Never in all my life have I witnessed such botching, such disorder, such chaos in the commissariat, such wanton squandering of money and time, or come across a soldiery so cowardly, so greedy, so lacking in perseverance or so profoundly ill disciplined.

The causes, in my view, are to be found right at the beginning of the war when the Marquess of Mondéjar had had to rely on adventurers and on levies raised by the city councils in order to put the rebellion down.

These feeble, greedy robbers believed that the enemy was neither well armed nor in the least formidable. They came rushing out of their houses without leaders and they were never properly formed into regiments. Their homes were close by and their one desire was to get back to them as quickly as they could with as much booty as they could carry.

They were a raw rabble who came to war with no experience of soldiering, and a raw rabble they remained, leaving the army as ignorant of what soldiering is about as they had been on the day that they had entered it.

Now when the Marquess of Mond6)ar was still in charge, this scandalous state of affairs was very largely concealed. The marquess was a man of high character and he was immensely thorough and hard working. He knew the country and he knew the kind of rabble on which he was going to have to rely. He gathered round him a core of trusted volunteers who stiffened and goaded the levies. He himself never rested. He was here, there and everywhere, whenever there was a crisis, whatever the hour of the day or night, however far away or difficult to get to. He led from the front.

But after his enemies had succeeded in getting him dismissed, disaster followed on disaster. The enemy grew from strength to strength and our forces daily became weaker and worse. Panic, which is contagious, spread from one panicky soldier to the next and that is the worst thing that can happen to an army in wartime. There was no attempt to share out prize money. Each kept for himself that which he had taken and attempted at once to get home with it by the shortest route. Often enough men were cut down with their arms too full of loot to defend themselves. If there was no plunder to be had, they either refused to march or, so soon as they had found out, deserted and scuttled home.

This was a mountain war. There was not much to eat. There was very little proper equipment. The men had to sleep on the ground. There was no wine for them to drink. Their only pay was their keep. Often, for weeks on end, they saw very little or no money. Once they found that their expectations of enormous plunder were largely illusory, they lost interest and ceased to want to fight. Poor, hungry, impatient, they fell ill and died or were killed as they tried to desert to their homes. The truth is they were quite useless. They preferred anything at all to the hardships of war and would not fight, except for plunder.

I must speak now of their captains and officers. Many <>f these grew tired of reprimanding and punishing and attempting to control their soldiers and gave themselves over to the vices of the rank and file. Whole camps took their tone from such men.

This, though, is not the whole picture, for amongst the levies who were sent by the cities there were indeed men who kept themselves well reined in, either because they were well born and they felt it was incumbent on them to behave as gentlemen, or because they were honest men and they would have been ashamed of themselves had they behaved like their fellows. Then, too, there were the contingents who were sent by the great lords. These were picked men, highly disciplined companies, many of whose members could have been officers, had they not elected to serve in the ranks because they wished to serve in a high cause and prove themselves in hand-to-hand combat against the Moor.

Captains, officers, soldiers — all were of the best and these were spirited, highly disciplined soldiers ready to undertake any venture, however perilous.

It was men such as these who, in the end, were responsible for our victory. Amongst them the city of Granada’s own volunteers call for high praise. I cannot end these reflections without saying that it is my considered judgement that if we want to avoid a similar damaging experience next time it becomes necessary to call on the city councils for levies, we must prepare for the future.

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