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An extract from Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 1
by Ian Heath

21.      COMPANION

This figure is based on the source described under figure 16 and the picture of Chaucer’s Knight in the Ellesmere Ms. of the ‘Canterbury Tales’ (the Knight being very probably based on a member of Sir John Hawkwood’s White Company).

Most of our best descriptions of the equipment of companions come from Italian accounts of Hawkwood’s company. These are in almost universal agreement that the armour of such freebooters was considerably lighter than that worn by the soldiers of other nations. They apparently went without coat-of-plates, bevor, gorget and other items of armour one source tells us, and most seem in agreement that the companion’s standard armour comprised at most a mail haubergeon called a panchière worn under a thick, padded jupon (a juppe de wambeson), plus helmet and mail hood. Matteo Villani adds breastplate and leg-harness to this list and states that ‘when they appeared at a battle their armour resembled mirrors’, this allegedly being the origin of the name ‘White Company’. He describes their arms as dagger, sword and lance, though the fact that there were longbowmen in their ranks is confirmed by other sources, among them that of Pietro Azario who describes the infantrymen’s ‘big and powerful bows that reach from their heads to the ground’.

Azario also claims that armour was in short supply among the companions, telling us that ‘for the most part they are armed only in a thick doublet and either have their heads uncovered and a single iron plate upon their chests, or else they wear only a helmet and chinguard.’ That some companions were not very well equipped is confirmed too by Froissart, who records that prior to the Battle of Brignais the French scouts reported that those companions they had seen were ‘marvellously evil harnessed’. In the ensuing battle, however, it transpired that all the better-armed troops had been deliberately hidden from sight; it seems probable, therefore, that every mercenary company contained well-armoured veterans as well as poorly armed hangers-on.

Some Companies even had uniforms, an example being Arnaud de Cervole’s white-uniformed Bandes Blanches in the 1350s.

[Based on the Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, British Library MS Royal 20 C VII, c.1398 and
the Knight in the Ellesmere Manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Huntington Library MS EL 26 C 9]

Next: 22. COMMANDER OF COMPANIONS, SIR ROBERT KNOLLYS in Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 1 by Ian Heath