French Nobility

The French magnates had pedigrees as ancient as the kings and considerable feudal power of their own. Thus France was a good example of a large, diverse and questionably loyal nobility. Where the English king discouraged his nobles from raising their own private armies (unless at the kings request), the French nobles considered it their right to maintain their own troops, and to make war on other nobles as the mood hit them. Thus, the fact that France had many more knights than England was something of a disadvantage for France. As the English were learning, it was more efficient to train commoners to be soldiers and get by with a smaller number of knights (as leaders and a heavily armored reserve.) The commoners would be well armed, but not heavily armored. The knights would be well armed and armored. The English preferred light infantry, well trained in archery (the Yeomen). These troops were raised from among the families that owned the land they farmed. It was from this class that larger landowners came, and, as needed, new blood for the nobility. The Yeomen were well trained, well organized and well paid. They were loyal and effective. Thus the smaller English king was able to field a smaller, yet more effective, army. Ironically, it was this smaller, more effective, English army that soon led to the downfall of the French nobility.

Once the Hundred Years War began, it was soon obvious that only a massive military effort could oust the marauding English armies and only the French king had the resources to do this. In the process, the king cut the French nobles down to size and expanded the power of the royal government. By the 1400s, the French king had a professional army and was much less dependant on the aid of the nobles to get things done on the battlefield. The king did enlist the nobles into the kings service, as the crown was never able to control the nobles as effectively as the English kings had. The French kings used a carrot and stick approach to controlling their nobles. The expense was borne by the people and this eventually led to the French revolution in the 1700s.