The way in which armies were recruited throughout the Hundred Years War ensured that when peace broke out in 1360 many soldiers were unemployed. Consequently this situation caused many independent companies to make war on their own terms in exchange of getting fed and paid. Altough most of these routiers were reabsorbed into the English and French forces for the Castilian campaign and the resumption of hostilities in 1370, many of them traveled down south towards Italy. There they joined Italians, Germans and other professional soldiers as condottiere men under contract. One of the most famous of these condottiere men was Sir John Hawkwood. He began his military carreer as an archer in the Breton campaigns of 1342-43. Furthermore, he might have served in the Hundred Years War on the Crecy campaign in 1346 (however he does not appear in the sources until the Treaty of Bretigny which brought a temporary peace between France and England).
He was part of a vast majority of unemployed soldiers that ravaged France during that period, the Great Company, which was mainly focused on the city of Avignon, where Pope Innocent VI lived. Here they effectively held the pontiff to ransom until they were bought off and split up, part heading for the war in Castile and the rest crossing the Alps in Italy, serving Innocent in his war against the lord of Milan. Hawkwood went to Italy, where he served as one of 19 corporals (a fully armoured man-at-arms) in an English company under the command of the German captain Albert Sterz. They had quickly gained a reputation for fighting on foot, with a ferocity unusual for foreign mercenaries, and being quite skillfull at night attacks, traits that Hawkwood was to continue to show throughout his career. Additionally they had a reputation for rapaciousness. Hawkwood and his group would supplement their contracted income by raiding the lands and extorting money from the towns through which they passed by.
In 1363 the White Company, as his band was called, was contracted by Pisa for its war against Florence. They were quite successful and after their initial success, the city of Pisa elected Hawkwood to be captain of their entire army. Hawkwood proved to to have a good strategic eye and to be quite cunning. He was as able to intimidate and negotiate a victory as win one on the field, and used the same tactics for his own personal gain cities that failed to be his friend often paid the price when his companies raided their territory. He would often play his employers and their enemies against each other.
Furthermore he would also use the currents of Italian’s shifting alliances for his own self interest. For instance He might have gotten a contract to fight on one side and then demand a payment from the other in order not to attack them. He also could just change sides, keeping his original payment. Sometimes one party hired him so that he would not work for their enemies. In 1 364, he fought for Pisa against Florence. In 1369, Hawkwood fought for Perugia against the Papal forces. In 1370, he joined Bernabò Visconti in his war against an alliance of cities including Pisa and Florence. In 1372, he fought for Visconti against his former master, the Marquis of Monferrato. After that, he resigned his command and the White Company moved to the service of the Pope for a time.
Mercenaries like John Hawkwood have proven to be mercenaries due to heroism and need for profit . In Hawkwood’s case study he was driven by the economic situation during that period time which left many men unemployed consequently they needed to act appropriately to gain money. However the social role of mercenaries even back in the day was to prove heroism and skill of protecting the towns and civilians from “the bad guys” and furthermore to acquire power to manipulate powerful figures.