Teenagers at War During the Middle Ages
By Kelly DeVries
The Premodern Teenager: Youth in Society, 1150-1650, ed. Konrad Eisenbichler (Toronto: Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies, 2002).
Introduction: Early in 1212 a young man from western Germany, whose name has come down through history only as Nicholas, became the focal point of an attempted military endeavour against the Muslims in the Holy Land. Sweeping through the Rhineland, the fervour for participation grew with such vigour that more than a thousand like him joined the endeavour. They were fearless, willing to leave the comforts of their homes and families to travel thousands of miles and fight enemies whose different religion compelled them to make the journey. Because of their relative youth, this `crusade’ has become known historically as the `Children’s Crusade.’
More than a century later, late in the afternoon of 26 August 1340, a young man stood firm in his position. It was important that he not show fear at what he was about to encounter. He was obviously rich, with a noble and brave demeanour the result of years of training in military arts. He was well armed and well armoured. He was also young and fear must have crossed his heart. No doubt he thought about the role he was to play in ensuing events, for he was in command of the most vulnerable spot on the battlefield, the central position of the middle of three solid defensive lines. Although only a teenager, a mere sixteen years old, Edward, Prince of Wales, later to be known as the Black Prince, was about to engage the French army at Crecy.
Not one hundred years after the Black Prince fought at Crecy, early in the morning of 7 May 1429, another teenager, Joan of Arc, prepared to make military history. On this occasion, she was not waiting in a defensive formation as the Black Prince had done at Crecy, but poised to attack an enemy-controlled position, the strongly fortified bridgehead called the Tourelles that stood opposite the besieged city of Orleans. This was not her first military engagement, for she had been fighting against the besiegers of Orleans for more than a week, but it was to be her first great military effort, a direct assault on a fortification packed with the enemy armed with a large number of gunpowder weapons as well as with more traditional medieval arms. Like the `children crusaders,’ but unlike the Black Prince, Joan probably felt little fear, for she had a divine mission to fulfil, and that mission began with the relief of the English siege of Orleans.