Pay for the Troops
By the early 14th century, the most effective armies were those consisting of professional, paid troops. At this point, these warriors were largely mercenaries, kings and magnates not yet being wealthy enough to maintain armies permanently. The ancient system of raising troops through feudal obligation had, in the meantime, fallen apart. This system, in its most common form, obligated each land holder to render 40 days of armed service a year to his overlord. In practice, the obligation also depended on how much land was held and the fine print in the original arrangement, Since the king was the "overlord of all overlords," he could, in theory, raise an enormous number of troops. In practice, the feudal armies were often quite ineffective. For one thing, the feudal obligation had an escape clause whereby the knights could pay money ("scutage") instead of showing up when called. Moreover, many knights promised to pay and somehow never got around to it. Even the troops that did show up were usually quite eager to go home as soon as the 40 day obligation was up, or even earlier if they could get away with it. Since a campaign generally lasted longer than 40 days, this time limit could prove very inconvenient for the leader of the feudal host. The English had, by this time, done away with the traditional feudal system and replaced it by one where the feudal lords were still obliged to supply troops, but they would be paid and would stay in service for as long as the king could meet the payroll. The French were moving towards a similar system, although they were not as well organized as the English, and would not be until the end of the war.
Going into the 14th century, the idea of mercenary military service had caught on in a big way in Europe. Knights and commoners under arms were all eager to take the gold of anyone looking to raise an army. The table below shows the rates of pay that had become common during the period.
Translated into pay for 90 days in ducats for the various types of troops, the price list for troops would look something like this;
Ducats Soldier Type
1,200 English Yeoman Archer (longbow)
1,500 Italian Crossbowman
1,000 Common (professional) infantry
1,000 Archer (short bow)
1,500 Light cavalry (common in Spain, where it
was native, and Italy, where it was
often hired from Albania.)
2,400 Mounted Man at Arms (squire or "sergeant
5,000 Fief Holder (knight leading 20-50
40,000-100,000 for the above group
12,000 Noble (lesser noble leading 100-500
200,000-1,000,000 for the above group
25,000 Magnate (leading 1,000-5,000 troops)
2,000,000-10,000,000 for group plus siege train, etc
This comes to about 2,000 ducats per man on average, although in practice the employers could get off with paying about half that by passing out IOUs that were never honored. This was a game in itself, and was one of the reasons kings, and other magnates who hired troops regularly, surrounded themselves with loyal, well paid and permanently employed bodyguards. There were threats and assassination attempts by unpaid soldiers, especially higher ranking ones owned hundreds of thousands of ducats.
Other military specialists drew higher rates of pay for 90 days service.
10,000-Siegeworks Master. This would be an individual, often a commoner, who had a knack for running sieges. Nobles often had one or more of these fellows in their household, and had to pay them handsomely lest these talented fellows move on. When there wasn't a war going on, these specialists were often employed to build things, as sieges were, more than anything else, construction (or "destruction") projects.
1,000-Siegeworks Artisan. These were commoners who were skilled at actually building siege machines or digging specialized trenches and tunnels.
Pillage, Plunder and Ransom
Even if the agreed upon pay were not forthcoming on a regular basis, the troops could be kept loyal with sufficient opportunities to pillage the countryside and plunder particularly rich places (like towns.) There was a lottery aspect to this, because rich opportunities did not always present themselves during a campaign. But a share of the plunder could make even a common soldier rich beyond his fondest dreams. Even without hitting the jackpot, just traveling around with a large bunch of armed men presented new opportunities to enrich oneself. In most Medieval armies, it was expected that the troops would "live off the land." Living off the land did not mean that they would go hunting and live off nuts and berries from the forest. A more accurate term would be "live off any unarmed locals." It meant that any food or other valuables encountered as the troops moved along was free for the taking. The nobles leading the army would discourage the troops from pillaging while in friendly territory, which was why everyone was eager to "take the war to the enemy." Once on the lands of the enemy, pillage was encouraged. This not only demoralized the enemies population, but it made your troops happy and gave you the opportunity to skip a pay day and get away with it.
Plunder was another matter. This was organized pillage, undertaken when there was a lot of wealth concentrated in one place and the nobles wanted to make sure they got their cut. Towns and castles were the most likely places to find plunder, as anyone with wealth would look to such heavily fortified places as a safe location to park their money and valuables. Taking walled towns or castles was no easy task, as it usually involved a long and costly siege. What kept troop morale up during this dreary and dangerous process was the prospect of looting the town or castle. Any big treasures had to be shared with the head of the army, but the common soldiers were customarily allowed to grab anything else and, in general, enjoy themselves for a few days. If the town surrendered before an actual assault took place, the terms usually included the payment of a large sum of money. While the troops would not be allowed to loot the place, they would get a portion of this payment. Sometimes the besieging general would refuse to accept a surrender unless his troops were allowed to do some looting anyway. It all depended on what shape his soldiers morale was in. Not being allowed to plunder a town was a big disappointment to the troops. This attitude was known by those within and without the walls and often led to a rapid surrender of a town or castle. The alternative was grim if the defender guessed wrong about his chances of keeping the besiegers out. Towns and castles often yielded tens of millions of ducats worth of coin and treasure. For an army of a few thousand men, and with the nobles taking at least half of this, there was still enough left for each soldier to pick up a few thousand ducats. In an age when the average working stiff was living well on an annual income of 3,000 ducats, this was good money indeed. And then there was all that opportunity to abuse the local women. Armies were never friendly, cuddly creatures, and the people in the towns and castles well knew it.
Ransom was a little harder, and riskier, to come by. The custom of the period was to take nobles and knights (anyone in a good set of armor) alive, if possible. The captives family would willingly pay a ransom to get their man back. The amount of the ransom depended on the wealth of the family and was, to a certain extent, negotiable. The captives were not that difficult to take alive. All that armor protected the wearer from a lot of battlefield damage and often all you had to do was knock him down, pile on, and disarm him. The fellow was usually quick to surrender at that point. The problem was, to take a captive, you had to fight, win and survive a battle. Not an easy task when everyone was armed in the same fashion and fought the same way. Moreover, only a small portion of most medieval armies consisted of knights and nobles. Anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of a Medieval army consisted of commoners. These folks didn't rate a ransom, and were usually found easier to kill than take prisoner. Commoner soldiers, knowing their probable fate if their side lost, would usually run for cover at the first opportunity. English armies of the 14th century had ample opportunities to defeat French armies. For the English yeomen infantry, who were often 70 percent or more of these armies, there were splendid opportunities to take French nobles captive and many a yeoman family became rich in the process. Ransoms of over 100,000 ducats were not uncommon. For a particularly high ranking noble, the yeoman might bring in one of his own nobles to help with the negotiations. In any event, the commoner soldier would have indeed hit the jackpot.
See also: Ships and Naval Warfare