Fighting on horseback was originally the prerogative of the privileged – in the case of Europe, the feudal knight. He displayed his wealth and status by the magnificence of his armour, which gradually limited his ability to fight anyone but another mounted knight.
The development of the longbow, the crossbow and finally gunpowder rendered him obsolete on the battlefield. In western Europe, he was replaced by more regular formations, such as, in England, Cromwell’s New Model Army. But their military value was limited, and cavalry never regained its dominance.
In Poland, cavalry continued to play a vital role. The reasons for this range from traditional ethos, social conditions, terrain, the nature of the enemy, to tactical sense and above all training, of man and horse in equal measure. As a result, Polish cavalry units were prized by the likes of Frederick the Great, Napoleon and others, who incorporated them into their own armies, thereby keeping the tradition alive, even when Poland itself had been wiped off the map. That is why, in 1919, the resurgent Polish state was able to field regiments that were able to play such an effective part in seeing off the Bolshevik invasion of Europe in 1920.
The talk will be illustrated with clips showing key points in the training of a cavalryman, and accompanied by a short film illustrating how they fought in 1920.
About the speaker
Adam Zamoyski is a British historian of Polish origin. He is the author of the bestselling 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow and its sequel, Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna, as well as several other acclaimed works on key figures and aspects of European history.
His comprehensive history of Poland, The Polish Way, not only featured in the bestseller lists for several weeks when it came out in 1987, but was never out of print, even after it was superseded by Zamoyski’s Poland: A History in 2009. He has also contributed to all the major British papers and periodicals, as well as lecturing widely in England, Europe and the United States.