The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H102, Mercenaries –Back to the Future?

The Leavenworth Way of War

The inability of the feudal system to provide reliable armies gave rise to cadres of mercenaries that at first supplemented the aristocratic warriors of the feudal army, and then replaced them. By the Renaissance period, armies were largely made up of hired mercenary companies.  Aristocrats, once the knights of the feudal army, became the owners and officers of the  companies.   Mercenary companies were a key element of warfare throughout the 16th and 17th Centuries.  Many consider that they reached their greatest influence during the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648.  Toward the end of the war they began to decline in importance and by the end of the 17th Century they had largely been replaced by national professional armies.

Why did mercenary companies exist in the first place?  What advantage did they initially bring to the battlefield?

How were mercenary specialists of the Renaissance different from the contract specialists that we used today?


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September 3, 2015 - Posted by | H100, Uncategorized | , , , ,


  1. Mercenaries provide additional manpower to augment armies. They also provide specialized skill-sets that armies might not possess. However, the key challenge is motivation and loyalty. Mercenaries are motivated by money and their services are provided to the highest bidder. It is not unimaginable for a mercenary company to turn on their employer mid-way during the battle because they were “bought out” by the enemy.

    Comment by Luke Goh, 19B | September 3, 2015

  2. Mercenaries of the past came from the down fall of the feudal system to a more nationalistic state. As nobility began relying on the state for protection, their armies became unnecessary. The former Knights and Soldiers began to band together to become sell swords to these states involved in large scale wars. Mercenaries brought well trained, disciplined, battle hardened Soldiers to the fight. They provided the ability to wage war without having to take the time in developing a new army.

    Mercenaries of the past differ from contract specialists now greatly because they are no longer used in the capacity of waging war. With the development of the professional armies of the various nations, mercenaries are no longer used as primary actors in fighting battles. However, now they are primarily used as additional security firms for business related interests.

    Comment by James Stall, 19A | September 4, 2015

  3. It’s easier for a government to pay for mercenaries, to execute the countries war, then it is to sustain a standing army. In the middle ages a country could keep a small standing army for homeland defense and use a paid army to conduct wars on behalf of that country. Advantages to this system is knowing that they are getting trained professionals with specific sets of skills, disciplined forces, and experience. The downside of utilizing mercenaries is that their loyalty resides with money and not necessarily that country.

    Comment by Tim Lawrence 19C | September 14, 2015

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