A Charismatic Leader Picks his Team

Jousting tournament. Image can be found in various places aroound the internet. Atribution unknown

Whilst Raymond waited in his camp on a small peninsula on the border between Wexford and Waterford, what was keeping Strongbow?

One can only imagine the difficulty of recruiting a private army at a time when every man of substance who wished to advance his career was pursuing opportunities to impress and, eventually, serve his king. Strongbow was not the only noble who had supported the wrong side during the Anarchy. There were others who needed to find a way of regaining the position they had lost with the upon coronation of Henry II.

Meanwhile, Strongbow’s future son-in-law was making a name for himself leading the jousting team of the king’s son. If William Marshall and his team were the cream of the knights, operating in the twelfth century equivalent of the Champion’s League, the PGA Tour or the Tennis Grand Slam series, there were many others operating in minor leagues hoping to catch the eye of someone who had the ear of the king.

Did Strongbow spend that summer attending jousting contests throughout the Welsh border country? What inducements did he offer to those who impressed him with their prowess?

He could tell them the expedition he was planning had the king’s blessing, but the king spent most of his time across the English Channel in Aquitaine. Ireland is a long way in the opposite direction. How could they be sure that their participation in Strongbow’s project would bring them to the king’s attention?

He could have invoked the Pope as another high ranking personage whose interests were being served. But, unlike a crusade to the Holy Land, it’s hard to imagine this was a cause that many would feel drawn to.

What of the land on offer as reward? Did Strongbow paint a picture of a fertile region where they could live in peace, taking rent from ignorant peasants happy to pay for the ‘privilege’ of grazing their cattle on land recently taken from them by force?

Tara Hill, County Wexford. This recent photograph, found at Mountain Forecst.com, shows a fertile land. What might it have been like in late twelfth century?

Did he speak of fair maidens eager to please handsome English men in preference to their brutish, ignorant, cousins?

How do you persuade enough fighting men that it’s worth their while joining an expedition fraught with danger?

In any event, by the time he arrived in Ireland he had assembled “at least 200 knights and 1,000 soldiers”¹ Did he consider that enough? How many agreed and then dropped out, having sustained an injury, or received a better offer? What proportion did he have absolute confidence in? Were there some whose ability he doubted?

Recruiting men was the first step. Most would bring their own horses, weapons and armour, but all needed provisions. Only in victory would they be able to sustain themselves from what they could take from the land. For the journey and the first few days ashore they would need food and drink.

And such a large force would need ships to carry them across the Irish Sea. The Captains of those ships and their crew had to be paid. There is evidence that he was funded by a Jewish Merchant from Gloucester.²

I think it reasonable to conclude that it required a good deal of self-belief, charisma, charm and many promises of impossible things in order to get such a project off the ground. Qualities he would need to draw on long after the invasion if it was to be a success.

¹Martin, Francis Xavier (2008) In Art Cosgrove (ed.) A New History of Ireland, Volume II: Medieval Ireland 1169–1534. Oxford University Press.

²http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8143-ireland where the original source is cited as ‘Jacobs, “Jews of Angevin England,” p. 51’

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