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Bretonnian Weapons PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Earl Cadfael   
Wednesday, 12 October 2005
Article Index
Bretonnian Weapons
Melee Weapons
War Machines

Bretonnian models look great. They seem based on a commonly accepted idea of how medieval knights looked, although slightly exaggerated in some respects. Most of their armour and weapons look like they were manufactured in Europe in the 13th century. The so called "fluff" concerning Bretonnia is a healthy mix of historical fact and Arthurian legends (with some other fairy tale stuff thrown in for good measure).

The weapons used by Bretonnian models look adapted from several different historical epochs. How close are they to the historical impression they give? Let's look at a few of their weapons from a historical perspective.


Missile Weapons

Fifth and sixth edition Bretonnians are sadly lacking in missile weapons, apart from the longbow. This is due to the knightly code that forbids the use of ranged weapons. The Unofficial Bretonnian Army Book (available at the old site, will be transferred here) on the other hand takes a slightly different approach and allows both the longbow and the crossbow (albeit only to commoners).

ImageThe Longbow: The longbow apparently originated in Wales and found widespread favour with the English during the 12th through 15th centuries. In 1242 Henry II decreed that that all with annual incomes of 2 to 5 pounds should be armed with longbows. The longbow was most often made from yew, but also witch-hazel, ash or elm could be used. The longbow measured about six feet in length and had a pull of between 80 and 150 lbs. Arrows were made of ash or birch, were three feet long and had goose-feather flights. The maximum range was about 400 yards, but actual "killing" range was probably only half of that. Rate of fire was about ten to twelve arrows per minute and at close range (perhaps out to 50 yards) the arrows penetrated any armour of the time. In England continual practice with the longbow on Sundays and holidays was compulsory. This made the English longbowmen deadly. Also note that very few other personal missile weapons could measure up to the performance of the longbow until the 19th century.

ImageThe Crossbow: Crossbows are not allowed in Bretonnian armies unless you use the Unofficial Bretonnian Army Book.

Historically the crossbow was probably invented in Han dynasty China and brought to Europe at the time of the Roman Empire. The Romans used the large ballista version of the crossbow as a war machine. Hand held crossbows seem to appear in Europe in the 8th century. They were widespread by the 12th century (contrary to popular belief, crossbows were used on a fair scale in England also). As a military weapon the crossbow declined by the end of the 15th century, but was used later in some countries. Early crossbows had wooden bows and were never as powerful as the longbow. Later constructions used composite materials and had to have some kind of spanning aid. By the 15th century the crossbow bows were made of steel and had to use even more devious devices for spanning. The bow was about three feet in length and fired one to one and a half feet long bolts with leather, wood or metal flights. Most composite or metal bow crossbows had a range of 400 yards, could be fired on a flat trajectory or as falling fire to penetrate helmets and shoulder armour. At short range the bolts were unstoppable. Rate of fire was two to three bolts per minute.

Longbows and crossbows were about equally common during the 12th through 15th centuries, but used more or less frequent in different countries.

The construction of a crossbow might look complex, but I've actually seen one made (complete with trigger mechanism) from fallen trees in a few hours, using just an ordinary hunting knife as a tool. I myself made a bow-less crossbow with metal mechanism using modern tools in about two days.

By these facts we can draw the conclusion that longbows and crossbows had about equal range and penetrataion. They could both be used from front and rear ranks. The crossbowman needed less training to be accurate with his weapon, but the longbowman could loose five arrows in the same time span as the crossbowman shot one.

This means that these two weapons are slightly misinterpreted in Warhammer terms and should probably have been given different game mechanics to account for their historical uses.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 22 November 2005 )
Discuss (10 posts)
Bretonnian Weapons Nov 18 2005 10:58
This thread discusses the Content article: Bretonnian Weapons

For the hammer entry, I'm not sure if this would qualify since it is an army specific weapon, but might calvary hammers fit under that for the game rules part?
Re:Bretonnian Weapons Nov 18 2005 17:32
yes, you're right.
That weapon is described in the Empire armoury, so it does happear in the game .

We should edit that article...
Re:Bretonnian Weapons Nov 19 2005 14:55
Personally i don't understand why anyone would use weapons such as the morning star, flail and the warhammer over the sword. I mean i don't think there ever was a more effective kiling weapon than the sword, that is when it came to a hand melee weapon. Obviously my query is limited to hand melee weapons, ie weapons that wasn't designed specifically for range and counter such as the spear or the halbred.

For example lets compare the morning star and the sword. How many lords and knights here would actually fancy the morning star over the sword? I mean okay the morning star looks cool visually but it would have been an extremely tiring weapon to use and would be highly unbalanced and thus very difficult to wield. Also it would be next to impossible to try and parry with it. I heard from somewhere that war hammers were incorporated to help counter the impressive armour that gradually developed though i suspect a double handed great sword (think brave heart william wallce) would be able to slice through pretty such anything.
Re:Bretonnian Weapons Nov 19 2005 16:40
morning star is quite useful in a hand to hand combat on foot between two knight.
You parry the enemy sword with the shield and then you hit the opponent head over his shield with the morning start.
The short chain is made to pass over the enemy shield and then mace end will hit the opponent head.
Re:Bretonnian Weapons Nov 20 2005 00:32
The chain could also wrap around a sword to pull it from the opponents hand. (hence the ability of the Morningstar of Fracasse) Another point about morningstars vs swords...swords of the period were not as sharp as you are likely thinking and even after the first hit against steel armour that sword would start to dull. Eventually you would be using a very narrow club. The plate armour of the period was next to impossible to cut and more people in heavy armour died from the dents in their armour (which would stay dented into a wound, than from cuts from swords. The morningstar was used with this idea in mind. It was a heavy ball (usually spiked) designed to bludgeon your opponent and dent in his armour or head.

Post edited by: Sir Hillier, at: 2005/11/19 18:34
Re:Bretonnian Weapons Nov 22 2005 19:21
Sir Charles wrote:
For the hammer entry, I'm not sure if this would qualify since it is an army specific weapon, but might calvary hammers fit under that for the game rules part?
I edited the paragraph about the hammer. Is it now more clarified?
Re:Bretonnian Weapons May 20 2006 17:59
by about 1400

armour in melee combat had become so effective, that there is only 2 real weak spots, in the overall protection,
back of the neck and up under the groin, difficult to get to give a killing blow, with any sword, very tricky with a hand and half or 2 handed sword.

just the sheer shock of being hit basically anywhere, on the body with 3 or 4 lb lump of metal, is certainly enough to wind you, temporaily giving the advantage to the guy with the flail, morning star, mace..

for the brave out there, here is a little experiment, hit any part of your body with a "club" hammer, its the same effect !!!!!, if you've got some metal, i would be inclined to place it over the area, that your going to strike with the hammer.

from what i can make out it appears that very few plate armoured knights were killed on the field, most seemed to of died from wounds like broken bones and poor medical attention, some time later.... until the major blackpowder formations.

i get the impression that the " bretonnians " are basically set around the time of the 100 years war,

empire about 100 to 150 years later...
what are are peoples thoughts on this?
Re:Bretonnian Weapons May 21 2006 04:48
Swords are great weapons but almost useless when fighting a man in full plate. That is why Knights went from swords to weapons with more armour piercing capailities such as maces, hammers, picks, halberds etc.
Re:Bretonnian Weapons May 23 2006 02:31
All this info is veeery interesting, thanks guys!
Re:Bretonnian Weapons May 24 2006 00:55
I think you are correct, Liege Lord, regarding the time periods the Brets and Empire are based on.

And indeed I too have read that the majority of serious injuries / casualties leading to death were not at all linked to edged weapons at all - most injuries came from broken bones that could not be treated and caused further complications - impact weapons or concussion weapons dazed the opponent at first, then a second blow was dealt to knock the Knight to the ground or finish him off with a head bashing. But this is speaking only of armoured Knights fighting armoured Knights.

Casualties of the time for others was far different. Remember the devastating effect of the longbow fired by the commoner at a noble Knight? There are a bunch of accounts of knights being struck"through the eye" by a bolt and killed, either instantly or through blood loss.

Sieges of the time were particularly dangerous endeavours for the besiegers as they walked around.

The common Man-at-Arms type of troops were doomed if they were wounded at all - right from the beginning their diet made it difficult to fight infection, let alone their ideas of cleaniliness (if they had any, that is), and their access to any kind of even mediocre medical assistance.

The medieval sword was not, as stated by Sir Hillier, a remarkably sharp instrument - it was not used for slicing, but rather, hacking, and thrusting to some extent. It was not uncommon to see 2 dismounted Knights squaring off on foot with a small axe or a dagger, grappling for a chance to get a groin slice or cut on the opponent, maybe an armpit thrust, or ideally, a decisive neck attack.

But I think that it was getting very rare by "Bretonnian times" for Knights to want to kill other Knights - the idea was to capture and ransom an enemy Knight. Many well-known Knights wasted away in captivity. How about the massive Marshal William in Normandy? he made his fame and fortune in tournaments of the era. These tournaments eventually changed how wars and battles were fought in the day, as Knights would purposefully try to avoid real combat in preference for a way to capture a Kngiht in the hopes of a lucrative ransom.

Anyway, Sir Ofeelya is right - swords were almost useless vs. plate and even the better and later chainmail. The idea then was to use impact to stun the opponent, and proceed from there as circumsances dictated.
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