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Medieval military intelligence?

Posted: Fri Aug 12, 2011 10:13 pm
by Ral
Hi guys.

I'm not a native speaker, so I'm not sure whether I'm using the right term. Maybe it's not called a military intelligence agent. What I have in mind is kind of an undercover agent. The guy that works behind enemy lines to get info. Something like that. I can try to expand on this if necessary.

I'm not a re-enactor, but I have a certain interest in this period. I'm an aspiring writer and one of my stories deals with a guy who's a military intelligence agent working behind enemy lines. The story is not written yet, but it exists as a thorough outline. It's not the story that I'm worried about, but the existence of such agents. Actually, their existence itself is not much of a problem, since I'm not writing strict historical pieces. What I'm interested in, is the possibility of their existence in this time period (1100-1300). What could such an agent do to aid his side in a war? Let's say, years before the war an agent gets into the castle. He gets accepted. Promoted. When the war starts, he holds a major post, say, a chancellor or chamberlain of some sort. He has influence, he has access to information. How can he aid his side, his country? Sending information? If yes, then what kind of info? Disrupting the work of a castle? If yes, then how?

The reason I'm asking this question here is the difficulty in finding an active forum about medieval warfare. This forum is very active and it deals with this topic. And something tells me you guys know a lot about this period. If you cannot answer the question, or this is a wrong place to ask, maybe you could point me at an active forum dealing with medieval warfare? That would be very helpful.

Re: Medieval military intelligence?

Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2011 6:45 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
Given that there are lots of examples of individuals inside a castle/town/city opening the doors to let in the enemy I'd say the disruption could be extreme. There are lots of books covering siege warfare in the timeframe you mention (and most warfare was of that nature) including a fair number reviewed in the books and films section of this forum.

Re: Medieval military intelligence?

Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2011 9:36 pm
by Ral
Opening the doors isn't quite the thing I'm looking for. What I want is a guy gathering and sending information of some sort, about the movement of troops and such, to his side. A resident spy or something like that. And then again, if there weren't any, what if there were? What would be their duty? How exactly could they help their side, if they, say, reside in the king's castle, and are privy to all the war council decisions and such? Could this knowledge be used to inform their side and used to gain the upper hand in an upcoming battle, which otherwise would have been lost due to some cunning plan?

Re: Medieval military intelligence?

Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2011 9:38 pm
by The_Kyle
This article is on espionage from the Wars of the Roses onwards.

Re: Medieval military intelligence?

Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2011 9:57 pm
by Ral
I haven't read it yet, but it seems that this is just what I needed. Thanks!

Re: Medieval military intelligence?

Posted: Sun Aug 14, 2011 9:44 am
by Ghost
I would suggest that your best time frame would be during the latter half of the hundred years war circa 1417 to 1450. Both the English and French used spies with the French having in some areas an effective fifth column. The english appear to have used female agents in greater numbers than the french. Several castles and towns were captured by both sides by subterfuge. If you want a introduction to the period I would recommend Conquest by Juliet Barker, the book is very readable and has a great deal of interesting detail, including possibly some ideas for plots......

Re: Medieval military intelligence?

Posted: Sun Aug 14, 2011 11:23 am
by Ral
Thanks. Yes, this time frame seems to be more suitable for my needs than any other :) And I'll try to find the book!

Re: Medieval military intelligence?

Posted: Tue Aug 16, 2011 6:01 pm
by Man from Coventry
Louis XI, King of France (contemporary with the Wars of the Roses) was a supreme intriguer and use of spies, particularly against his principal enemy - Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. You may find the following books useful for details;

Special Operations in the Age of Chivalry 1100-1500, Yuval Noah Harari
Louis XI - Paul Murray Kendall
Charles the Bold (3 vols), John Foster Kirk, 1860
The Armies of Medieval Burgundy, Osprey, David Nicolle & Gerry Embleton

For a very dated fiction work, by a predescessor in the genre is Sir Walter Scott's - "Quentin Durward" set in in 1460's France, (Durward is a naive, chivalric Scotsman is caught up in the machinations between Louis and Charles).

Re: Medieval military intelligence?

Posted: Tue Aug 16, 2011 9:43 pm
by Ral
Man from Coventry wrote:
Special Operations in the Age of Chivalry 1100-1500, Yuval Noah Harari
Louis XI - Paul Murray Kendall
Charles the Bold (3 vols), John Foster Kirk, 1860
The Armies of Medieval Burgundy, Osprey, David Nicolle & Gerry Embleton

For a very dated fiction work, by a predescessor in the genre is Sir Walter Scott's - "Quentin Durward" set in in 1460's France, (Durward is a naive, chivalric Scotsman is caught up in the machinations between Louis and Charles).
Thank you, I will look for those.

Re: Medieval military intelligence?

Posted: Wed Aug 17, 2011 8:27 am
by gossip
Yeah, I've also heard that Louis XI used a lot of spies. And yes, the other advice here is good, especially the Juliet Barker's book, there was some interesting detail on the matter.

Re: Medieval military intelligence?

Posted: Wed Aug 17, 2011 11:14 am
by gregory23b
Louis was nicknamed 'the universal spider' with good reason and managed to p*ss off a fair bit of Northern European royalty. He had a right good party after Nancy though ;-)

Re: Medieval military intelligence?

Posted: Thu Aug 25, 2011 10:35 pm
by randallmoffett
I just wrote an article on this that came out with the Richard III society. It is called Spies Scouts and Southampton. It was this years edition. In a year or two a much larger one will be published on this topic that goes into more detail of how such intelligence was employed.

Here is the Richard III Foundations Publications page
http://www.richard111.com/8.html

One system I found was in Southampton they used merchants and sailors to go to France to keep and eye on French preparations and activity. The Mayor would then take this info and send it to the king, Bishop of Winchester, Mayor of Winchester and Salisbury and often the Earl of Arundel. It is an interesting topic and one I am sure could use some attention but finding the primary accounts has been tricky.

Randall

Re: Medieval military intelligence?

Posted: Sun Aug 28, 2011 2:26 pm
by Ral
I'll take a look at that, thank you.