The Army of the Holy Roman Empire
Despite Voltaire’s wisecrack about it being “Neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire, although never a truly cohesive state, the Holy Roman Empire was at times a powerful force in European politics and war. By the mid-eighteenth century, however, it had long past it’s peak of power and influence. Nevertheless, the Empire was still of some influence, and even maintained an army of sorts. The Imperial Army was actually composed of contingents from each of the 1,800-some entities that comprised the Empire. Some of these entities were actual states in their own right, such as Bavaria or Prussia or the territories of the House of Austria. Others were petty principalities, duchies, counties, free cities, baronies, bishoprics, abbeys, even a quasi-sovereign convent or two. In addition, there were something like a thousand “freiherren,” imperial knights holding estates not included in any larger domains. Each of these entitites has an obligation to provide forces for the Imperial Army.
Some of the megastates of the Empire, such as Austria or Prussia could field several divisions each of infantry and cavalry. Other states, such as Bavaria or Saxony, could field the equivalent of a division or so of infantry and a brigade of cavalry. Then came the smaller states. Some could at least field a brigade or so, such as Hesse-Cassel or the Electorate of Mainz, a few were obligated to supply a regiment, such as the Duchy of Wurzberg or the Electorate of Cologne, and some were required to supply a battalion, such as Bamburg or Hesse-Darmstadt. But then there were the really small entities, such as the Principality of Furstenberg, which was obligated to supply 191 infantry and 34 cavalry for the “Furstenberg Regiment,” composed of 21 contingents, or the Free City of Aachen, which had to supply about 206 grenadiers and fusiliers. Nor were such contingents the smallest possible, for there were still a lot of really small entitites and all those freiherren. These small entitites often were obligated to supply no more than a company or a platoon, sometimes even a squad or a single man, or even a fraction of a man, so that they had to club together to recruit and arm a single soldier.
An idea of the complexities of some of the contingents to the Imperial Army can be gained by looking at a few of the units built up through the consolidation of contingents from some of the smaller entitites during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763).
|Sampler of Consolidated Contingents during the Seven Years’ War|
|Upper Rhine ||Pfalz-Zweibrucken Infantry || 33 = 2 Battalions|
| ||Nassau-Weilburg Infantry|| 26 = 2 Battalions|
|Swabian ||Hohenzollern Cuirassiers|| 61 = 1 Squaderon |
| ||Baden-Baden Infantry || 42 = 2 Battalions |
| ||Baden-Burlac Infantry || 27 = 1 Battalion|
| ||Wurttemberg Dragoons || 22 = 1 Troop|
| ||Wurttemberg Infantry || 6 = 2 Battalions|
| ||Furstenberg Infantry || 21 = 2 Battalions|
| ||Swabian Cavalry || 83 = 6 Squadrons|
|Franconian || Varel Infantry || 26 = 2 Battalions|
| ||Ferntheil Infantry || 20 = 2 Battalions|
| ||Cronek Infantry|| 18 = 2 Battalions|
| ||Bayreuth Cuirassiers|| 23 = 1 Troop|
| ||Ansbach Dragoons || 21 = 1 Troop|
|Bavarian ||Pechman & Holnsetin Infantry*|| 1 = 3 Battalions|
| ||Salzburg Infantry || 12 = 1 Battalion|
|* Actually a number of small statelets that by chance happened to have the same overlord.|
Surprisingly, despite the utter incoherence of its military system, during the Seven Years’ War, the Imperial Army officially numbered about 120,000 men. Even more surprising is that many of the “fragmentary units” (i.e., those composed of small contingents, rather than those coming from states like Austria or Bavaria), often proved rather capable in the field.
El Noble Senor Don Muhammad Abenadalill
When Tariq ibn-Ziyad led a Moslem army across the Pillars of Hercules to invade Spain in 711, he quickly overthrew the Kingdom of the Visigoths, initiating a centuries-long religious war in Iberia between Moslem and Christian. At first the Christians lost, and lost heavily, being pushed into the mountains northern fringes of the Iberian Peninsula. But gradually they began to gather strength, aided by disunion among the Moslems, who gradually fell to squabbling over religious, ethnic, racial, and dynastic issues. Nevertheless, the Christian Reconquista took over 700 years, not being completed until 1492, for the struggle was punctuated by long periods of peace and even accommodation. During these periods Moslems often served Christian overlords and Christians often served Moslems, as in the case of the famous Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, better known as El Cid (c. 1040-1099).
Muhammad (or Mohamet) Abenadalill was not so well known as the Cid, but had an equally interesting career. A native of Granada, born probably around 1250 or so, just why he chose to enter the service of a Christian king is uncertain. Perhaps he was on the wrong side in a civil war or family feud in Granada. Granada was, in any case, more or less a tributary of Castile by then, so perhaps he merely found that serving King Alfonso III of Aragon offered more opportunities. In any case, by 1290, Abenadalill and his son had entered the King’s service.
Abenadalill accepted Alfonso as his liege lord, and received a knighthood and grant of nobility in return. Alfonso granted Abenadalill a royal warrant and subsidy to defend Aragon and Catalonia against Castile and Navarre. From his base, in Catalayud, he commanded a mercenary band that included not only Moslem and Christian companies, but reportedly also a Jewish one, and was for a time in commanded of all Moslem mercenaries in Alfonso’s service. Under the terms of his service, Abenadalill was obliged to share with the crown a “quinta” or fifth of any booty taken while on campaign. This included not only loot taken in operations in which he personally participated, but also booty taken in action by foreign Muslim troops in the service of the Crown, and the plunder taken by any Christian soldiers who might accompany his forces. This included a cut of all ransoms secured from the capture of prisoners – whether Christian, Jewish, or Moslem – during raids into Navarre and Castile.
In addition to his military duties, Abenadalill served as an official at the royal court, undertook diplomatic missions, and generally made himself useful to the King. He was considered so valuable a vassal, that even after he retired to his native Granada, Abenadalill remained in Aragonese service. To facilitate Abenadalill’s comings and goings, since even after retirement to Granada he maintained estates in Aragonese territory, Alonso’s successor, King Jaime II “the Just” issued documents that ordered that Abenadalill be treated with “love and honor” and given “counsel and aid" anywhere in the royal domains.