Military Organisation in Portugal during the late 15th Century – II

Dada a extensão deste artigo, achei por bem publicar as versões inglesa e portuguesa em separado. Para a versão portuguesa, cliquem aqui.

No-one fights alone in the Middle Ages. Every warrior is part of a body of men, large or small, gathered with a single purpose: to wage war. In this series of posts, I will endeavour to showcase the many different organisational units in which a late 15th century Portuguese warrior could find himself, and what we can draw from this information to improve our period portrayals. Today I’ll begin with one of the largest parcels of any Portuguese army of the time: the acontiados of the kingdom’s municipalities.

Municipal recruitment prior to the 15th century

Portuguese municipalities almost always accounted for many of the men that could be gathered in the kingdom. In 14th century Portugal, a small country dotted with cities and towns in which a large part of the population lived [1], no monarch could rely solely on the retinues of great lords to wage war; municipalities, too, had to answer apelidos (calls to defend the kingdom from invasion), or calls to war, by sending a certain number of men to join the king’s army. This number was divided into two large groups: a fixed number of besteiros do conto (Crossbowmen of the Count), on the one hand (which I will talk about in the future), and a more variable contingent of armed combatants, the municipal militias – the social-military classes of the ‘gentes de cavallo, e Pioens, Besteiros, e Arricavejros’, according to a decree of King João I [2].

At the end of the 14th century, however, the municipal recruitment system was in dire need of reform. Each municipality had a coudel or acontiador/aquantiador (a captain and military inspector) whose job it was to assess how much money (contia or quantia – ‘amount’, in Portuguese) a freeman’s belongings were collectively worth – his net worth, as it were. This assessment would lead to certain obligations: at a net worth of around 300 pounds, a man was obliged to own a certain set of arms and armour, and would be called a peão or arricaveiro, designated to fight on foot. At a net worth of around 600 pounds, he was obliged to own not only arms and armour but a horse as well, and was deemed a cavaleiro-vilão – an extremely important source of cavalrymen for medieval Portuguese armies.  Cavaleiros-vilãos were members of the local elites, wealthy landowners whose onerous duty to own horses was offset by a series of legal and social privileges and fiscal exemptions; peões were the second largest, yet practically anonymous, social class in Portugal [3]. Both these categories of men would then have to show up to the alardo (military review, usually annual) when called upon, with their weapons and armour in good order, and go on campaign when requested.

Acontiados disembarking in Asilah in 1471. Detail of the Disembarkation of Asilah  (ca. 1475).

But the system was as simple as it was flawed: because it relied on stability at all levels – legal, fiscal, and above all, economical –, it wasn’t resistant to changes such as the debasement of coin in the late 14th century, the rise of craftsmen in municipal government (displacing and replacing cavaleiros-vilãos), the abolishment of several privileges, the ever-increasing value of steeds, a slew of complaints, privileges and requests based on differing levels of local wealth and competition between municipalities, and the behaviour of some coudéis in assessing higher values for certain men than they actually possessed, forcing them into penury to acquire arms and armour [4]. Despite some attempts at streamlining the process [5], at the beginning of the 15th century municipal recruitment was a chaotic jumble of conflicting pieces of legislation, full of complaints, exceptions and exemptions. In the words of the famous Portuguese historian Alexandre Herculano: ‘As antigas distincções dos milites villani e pedones do principio da monarchia tinham desapparecido: o tempo fizera o seu officio, e as classes municipaes achavam-se confundidas’ [6]. This made assessing municipal forces in times of peace, and gathering them in times of war, a real headache.

King D. Duarte’s ‘Regimento de 1418’ and ‘Regimento dos Coudees’

It fell upon King D. Duarte (r. 1433-1438) to take a sword to this Gordian knot. He first tackled the subject in the so-called ‘Regimento de 1418’ (Ordinance of 1418), written while he was still the heir to the throne. The laws and methods he then created, assembled from a mix of old regulations and new ideas, were implemented and maintained during the reign of his son, Afonso V, and included in the latter’s corpus of law known as the Ordenações Afonsinas (Alphonsine Ordinances) under the title‘Regimento dos Coudees’ (Ordinance of the Coudéis).

Duarte’s system did away with the old distinction between peões and arricaveiros and cavaleiros-vilãos. Instead, all freemen were acontiados/aquantiados, assessed solely on their property – under a rigorous and comprehensive system, scrupulously detailed in the Regimento -, whose worth made them fit into a certain grade or rank. The system used the province of Extremadura, where Lisbon was located, as its basis: any freeman there with goods worth forty silver marks, or thereabouts, were acontiados em cavalo and had to own a horse and a choice of armour – a bascinet with a camail or with a bevor (meaning perhaps an early sallet); a hauberk and a gambeson/aketon (as thick or as light as wanted by its owner) or a breastplate or a coat-of-plates/brigandine; and bracers. At thirty-two marks, they were required to own a horse, but not armour; twenty-four marks required a coat of plates or brigandine, a bascinet with a camail or a bevor, a crossbow with its goat’s foot, and 50 quarrels – though they could forego all these if they decided to own a horse. Acontiados at sixteen marks were required to own a windlass crossbow, with 50 quarrels as well, but no armour; all individuals worth less than sixteen marks were required to own a spear and a javelin. These values were calculated for the Extremadura, but they were also enforced for the northern provinces of Minho and Trás-os-Montes. In the Alentejo and the Algarve (the two southern provinces) and in the Beira (central Portugal), these values were halved for all categories [7]. These prescriptions didn’t represent all an individual would bring to war, of course, but merely what they were legally required to own – after all, who would go to war armed with only a spear and a javelin, without so much as a sturdy gambeson to see them safely back home?

Acontiados from the 1470s and 1480s

Acontiado with brigandine, maille skirt, jack chains, barreta (war hat), adarga and javelin. Detail of the Disembarkation of Asilah  (ca. 1475).

In spite of this overhaul, it wasn’t a perfect system. Among other things, it often clashed with the recruitment system for the besteiros do conto – a problem the ordinance itself foresaw and tried to address -, and it was still subject to many of the complaints of the former system, especially those regarding the difficulties in owning horses and the abuses of power by coudéis [8]. Yet, enforcing the same overall structure for everyone made recruiting large forces within the kingdom much easier. This ensured the system’s longevity – it survived all the way up to 1495, when King D. Manuel I abolished the acontiados and the besteiros do conto both.

We now know how they were recruited, but who actually were these men? What did they do for a living?

For the most part, acontiados were minor tradespeople and landowners, all freemen, single or married, with their own household. The ordinances specifically state that no clergymen (except those of the so called minor orders [9]), squires (except those who weren’t vassals of a lord and didn’t descend from nobility), members of the nobility (however low) or of any military order were to be assessed; everyone else was fair game for the coudéis and their assessors. The ordinances mention fishermen and sailors as a sort of lower rung, and bookkeepers, clerks, and officials as a top rung, both of which with specific exemptions; all other acontiados, fell somewhere in between these two extremes. Manual trades were highly represented, especially weavers, cobblers, and similar craftsmen and tradespersons. Landlords, too, men with a few parcels of land owned or leased out. Acontiados represented a real cross-section of the people – excluding, of course, the lowest of the low (and women) -, most of which city-dwellers, though the coudéis also had jurisdiction in some rural areas. They were, therefore, the most varied group of fighters in the Portuguese army – potters and smiths marching side by side with minor squires and weavers, acolytes and sailors and clerks.

By the late 15th century, of course, requirements of arms and armour had changed to better suit developments in warfare, and none of these men were marching in bascinet and coat-of-plates. Though the Ordinances don’t reflect this change, looking at municipal legislation shows us what was expected of them at the time. In a letter sent by King D. João II in 1487 to his coudéis in the city of Porto, the king tells them not to force acontiados to own ‘arneses brancos compridos’ [10], which were much too expensive for the common people; instead, acontiados were required to own ‘jubanete ou solhas com seu capacete e babeyra ou bacynete frances com sua babeyra e falldras e gocetes de malha ou armaduras brancas de braços e asy de pernas porque asy o teemos hordenado. (…) E de pernas somente coxotes (…)’ [11]. These prescriptions, which we can find in other documentation of the time, match almost exactly the equipment we see depicted on the majority of the warriors in the Pastrana Tapestries. Not all acontiados were required to own this much equipment, of course, and these later prescriptions leave out weaponry – crossbows are now curiously absent, though we know spears and daggers were the weapon of choice for almost everyone -, but this list gives us a very clear idea of what Portuguese kings expected their municipal infantry and cavalry to own.

Acontiados in re-enactment

How to successfully portray an acontiado? What is the difference between a heavily armed acontiado and a ‘professional’ man-at-arms, or a lightly-equipped knight?

Simply put, acontiados are regular folk in arms and armour. Thought they might look the part, at least those of them who are required to own heavier equipment, they don’t make their living off of war. Consequently, acontiado personas shouldn’t feel too comfortable in their role as soldiers, shouldn’t be master swordsmen or marksmen, and knowing a thing or two about a specific medieval trade is always recommended for background.

As for their equipment, keep in mind that acontiados were forced by law to own arms and armour. Though arms and armour were symbols of personal pride in the Middle Ages, it is not reasonable to expect acontiados to have sprung for completely custom-made pieces. We know, in fact, that Portuguese kings (especially Afonso V and João II) often bought brigandines, war hats, sallets and bevors in bulk from abroad, which were then given to acontiados in lieu of any moneys owed to them for their service in times of war. Acontiados in re-enactment should therefore strive towards plain pieces, possibly munitions-grade armour in simple materials and simple finishes (including forge-black pieces and the occasional hammer mark). Unlike knights and men-at-arms, in acontiados a less then stellar fit is not only historically correct, it’s actually desirable [12]!

[1] Though population in Northern Portugal was much more dispersed throughout rural hamlets and small communities, instead of being concentred in the larger towns and cities of Central and Southern Portugal.

[2] ‘Horsemen, peons, crossbowmen, and arricaveiros’ [my translation], in a 1390 document mentioned by Joaquim de Santa Rosa de Viterbo, compiler of the Elucidário (the earliest and most important glossary on medieval and early modern Portuguese words), in Santa Rosa de Viterbo, J. (1983). Elucidário das palavras, termos e frases que em Portugal antigamente se usaram e que hoje regularmente se ignoram, Vol. I. Porto-Lisboa: Livraria Civilização, p. 596. According to him, peões were synonymous with acontiados, i.e. freemen with a certain net worth, while arricaveiros were simply peasants drafted for short military service. The two words seem somewhat interchangeable, however.

[3] See Oliveira Marques, A. H. (1987). “O povo nos séculos XIV e XV – contribuição para o seu estudo estrutural”, in 1383-1385 e a crise geral dos séculos XIV e XV. Jornadas de História Medieval. Actas. Lisboa: História e Crítica, pp. 10-14.

[4] Regarding all of these issues, see Monteiro, J. (1998). A guerra em Portugal nos finais da Idade Média. Lisboa: Editorial Notícias, pp. 44-55. For a particularly thorny case read Freitas de Oliveira; J. (2003). ” Peão ou Cavaleiro – A fortuna de um pequeno proprietário de Sesimbra, em 1369″, in Arquipélago-História, 2 (VII). Ponta Delgada: Universidade dos Açores, pp. 269-284.

[5] See for example King Fernando I’s 1367 letter to coudel Vasco Afonso Carregueiro, explaining how the acontiados of Lisbon should assessed and recruited. In Lisboa. Câmara Municipal (1949) Livro I de Místicos. Livro II del Rei Dom Fernando. Lisboa: Câmara Municipal de Lisboa, pp. 147-52.

[6] ‘The old distinctions of the milites villani and pedones of the early monarchy had disappeared: time had done its work, and the municipal classes found themselves in confusion’ [my translation]. In Herculano, A. (1884). Opúsculos. Tomo VI. Lisboa: Viuva Bertrand & C.a Successores Carvalho & C.a, p. 317.

[7] For all of these, see Freitas, D., Heitor, I., Maia, A., Marques, J. and Ventura, L. Ordenações Afonsinas [Online]. Coimbra: Universidade de Coimbra. Retrieved from http://www.ci.uc.pt/ihti/proj/afonsinas/ [facsimiled edition of Almeida, M. and Martins, J. (1792). Ordenaçoens do Senhor Rey D. Affonso V. Ordenações Afonsinas. Coimbra: Real Imprensa da Universidade], title LXXI, pp. 473-477.

[8] These problems with coudéis, especially forcefully requiring bribes, were so frequent that they’re contemplated in legislation itself. In a famous 1426 letter sent by Prince D. Pedro to his brother D. Duarte, D. Pedro suggests that coudéis be given fair reward for their work, so that they have no reason to abuse their authority. Included in Duarte de Portugal (1982). Livro dos Conselhos de El-Rei D. Duarte (Livro da Cartuxa). Lisboa: Editorial Estampa, p. 27-39.

[9] The four Minor Orders were acolytes, exorcists, lectors, and porters, i.e. layman functions in the Church.

[10] ‘Full white harnesses’ [my translation]. In the “Trellado do allvara que ell-Rey mandou aos coudees desta cidade” (Livro 5 de Atas de Vereação da Câmara do Porto, fol. 207v), in Ribeiro, M. (2019). As Atas de Vereação do Porto de 1485 a 1488. Leitura Paleográfica, Publicação e Estudo Prévio [Master’s dissertation]. Porto: Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto, p. 293.

[11] ‘Brigandines or coats-of-plates with its war hat and bevor or a French bascinet and its bevor and maille faulds and voiders or white armour for the arms and the same for legs, for so we have commaned. (…) And only cuisses for the legs (…)’ [my translation]. In Ribeiro, M. (2019), op. cit., pp. 293-294.

[12] This is not an excuse to acquire shoddy armour! Munitions-grade armour is still anatomically correct, properly assembled armour.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baquero Moreno, H. (1991). “A organização militar em Portugal nos séculos XIV e XV”, in Revista da Faculdade de Letras. História, II (8), pp. 29-41.

Duarte de Portugal (1982). Livro dos Conselhos de El-Rei D. Duarte (Livro da Cartuxa). Lisboa: Editorial Estampa

Freitas, D., Heitor, I., Maia, A., Marques, J. and Ventura, L. Ordenações Afonsinas [Online]. Coimbra: Universidade de Coimbra. Retrieved from http://www.ci.uc.pt/ihti/proj/afonsinas/ [facsimiled edition of Almeida, M. and Martins, J. (1792). Ordenaçoens do Senhor Rey D. Affonso V. Ordenações Afonsinas. Coimbra: Real Imprensa da Universidade]

Freitas de Oliveira; J. (2003). ” Peão ou Cavaleiro – A fortuna de um pequeno proprietário de Sesimbra, em 1369″, in Arquipélago-História, 2 (VII). Ponta Delgada: Universidade dos Açores, pp. 269-284

Herculano, A. (1884). Opúsculos. Tomo VI. Lisboa: Viuva Bertrand & C.a Successores Carvalho & C.a

Lisboa. Câmara Municipal (1949) Livro I de Místicos. Livro II del Rei Dom Fernando. Lisboa: Câmara Municipal de Lisboa

Monteiro, J. G. (1998). A Guerra em Portugal nos finais da Idade Média. Lisboa: Editorial Notícias

Oliveira Marques, A. H. (1987). “O povo nos séculos XIV e XV – contribuição para o seu estudo estrutural”, in 1383-1385 e a crise geral dos séculos XIV e XV. Jornadas de História Medieval. Actas. Lisboa: História e Crítica

Ribeiro, M. (2019). As Atas de Vereação do Porto de 1485 a 1488. Leitura Paleográfica, Publicação e Estudo Prévio [Master’s dissertation]. Porto: Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto

Santa Rosa de Viterbo, J. (1983). Elucidário das palavras, termos e frases que em Portugal antigamente se usaram e que hoje regularmente se ignoram, Vol. I. Porto-Lisboa: Livraria Civilização

Teixeira, N., e Barata, M. (2003). Nova História Militar de Portugal (Vol. I). Rio de Mouro: Círculo de Leitores

VISUAL SOURCES

(ca. 1475). Disembarkation in Asilah [wool and silk]. Tapeestry. Pastrana: Collegiate Museum. Retrieved from http://tapestries.flandesenhispania.org/index.php/Disembarkation_in_Asilah_(Desembarco_en_Arcila)

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