Saturday, 28 March 2015

Wars of the Roses Armies: The Militia

Falstaff interviews his men.
"I pressed me none but such toasts-and-butter, with hearts in their
bellies no bigger than pins' heads, and they have bought out their
services; and now my whole charge consists of ancients, corporals,
lieutenants, gentlemen of companies, slaves as ragged as Lazarus...

...and such as indeed were never soldiers, but discarded unjust
serving-men, younger sons to younger brothers, revolted tapsters and
ostlers trade-fallen, the cankers of a calm world and a long peace,
ten times more dishonourable ragged than an old faced ancient...

...that you would think that I had a hundred and fifty tattered prodigals
lately come from swine-keeping, from eating draff and husks. A mad
fellow met me on the way and told me I had unloaded all the gibbets
and pressed the dead bodies. No eye hath seen such scarecrows".


- Falstaff in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1.

Even if you have never read Falstaff's description of the levies he raised to do Henry IV service at Shrewsbury in 1403, you will probably not be too surprised at his description of them. Virtually every army list encountered depicts 'Shire Levies', or whatever the author chooses to call them, as second rate in comparison to those depicted as 'Retinue' troops. This is perhaps quite excusable given that the usual sources for such troops; 'The Bridport Muster Roll' and  'Fencible Men in The Half Hundred of Ewelme' do indeed show a wider population possessing varying degrees of weapons and equipment, which ranges from nothing at all to 'full harness', the latter being very much in the minority.

As covered in a previous post Man, Arms & The Law, the requirements to own set levels of equipment according to your income or goods held, were enshrined in law, as was the common law duty for free men aged between 16 and 60 to serve when summoned, a duty which went right back to King Alfred. While service within their own county was mandatory up to a limit of forty days and waged at the expense of the community. Service outside of the county was both voluntary and once the men reached the area the King's men were to be mustered, at the King's expense.

Henry V was to alter this requirement in 1403, so that in the event of an invasion, service outside the county was to also be at the community's expense. Now only service in Europe was to be paid out of the King's coffers, for now even contingents sent into Scotland were paid by the community in question and service sometimes going beyond the traditional forty days. Contingents now appear to be waged by the month, with two months service (some sixty days or so) not being uncommon.

The constables and sheriffs of each shire, or the councils of town and city boroughs were also to conduct regular assessments and inspections of weapons and armour held by each citizen, under the supervision of appointed commissioners, who themselves were typically knights of the shire (men holding land with a rental value of 40/ per year), or actual knights or nobles prominent within a region. There is reason to suppose that this system had been somewhat neglected between the last major summoning of men in 1403 and 1450.      

Stores of Arms & Armour

As each person was required to own varying degrees of weapons and armour, there was theoretically no reason for there to be stocks of either. The crown kept stocks of equipment in both the Tower of London and the Castle at Calais, which were vastly expanded prior to an expedition. These however were items to be 'sold' (via wage deductions) to men who signed up for service, but whose own items were not of a serviceable standard (i.e. armour in poor repair, no helmet, bows of sub-standard draw weight etc.).

In 1450 however Henry VI introduced a requirement for certain individuals to own additional items and for them to hold these in their own homes. The Coventry Leet Books have preserved this order for their town and it required men who were, or had been mayor to own four sets of harness, four sallets, four bows and two sheaves of arrows (48) for each bow, 'along with other weapons'. Likewise present and previous bailiffs were to hold three of each, chamberlains two and each 'commoner' who was deemed to be able to 'bear the cost' was to hold a single set. It is implied that such items were above and beyond that they were required to hold for themselves. In total Coventry had a 'war stock' of 744 sets of bows and their requisite arrows, sallets, harness and 'other weapons'.

1450 was of course the year of Jack Cade's revolt and it is presumed that this had something to do with the sudden perceived need for civic stocks of equipment to be held in 'responsible hands'. The Tudors were to take this a step further and to ban the holding of personal weapons and armour, instead they were to be stored under lock and key in parish armouries (usually the church bell tower) and only given back to their owners for practise and inspection. Annotations in the Bridport Roll also show that the commissioners were ordering certain individuals to acquire items too, in some cases above and beyond a number of items already presented.

Firstly then each community a body of citizens equipped with their own personal weapons and armour, according to their relative wealth. However there was also stocks of certain items available for those who did not possess them. With such stores there were bows which could be used for practise by those who could not afford them (as was specified in the 1368 'archery' ordinance). In simple terms each community could turn out a body of men 'defencibly arrayed', without having this burden constantly falling on the wealthiest (and therefore best equipped), or conversely forming a 'scarecrow levy' of the poorest members of the community.


Even Medieval artists did not represent the 'peasants' of the Wat Tyler's Revolt as a rabble, yet that is the popular conception of levies, militia, or whatever you choose to call them, in Late Medieval England. Militia is perhaps a far less value-laden term than 'levies', but even that might be inaccurate as I hope to show in future posts.


Organisation and Structure
"Commission to Philip Courtenay, knight, Nicholas Carru, knight, John 
Dynham, knight, William Bonevill, knight, Thomas Beamond, knight, James 
Chuddelegh, John Copleston, John Jaybien, John Hauley and the sheriff of 
Devon, in view of apprehended invasion, to array the men at arms, armed men
 and archers dwelling near the coasts of the said county; to cause all able-bodied
 men to be armed according to their estate and ability; to oblige the rich who are 
not able-bodied to find according to the quantity of their lands and goods, 
and as they may reasonably bear without losing their estate, armour for the 
armed men, and bows and arrows for the archers so to be arrayed, who are 
unable to provide them for themselves, and to contribute to the expenses of 
those who shall labour for the defence of the realm. The men at arms, armed 
men and archers are to be arrayed by thousands, hundreds and twenties 
or otherwise, and are to be mustered and inspected from time to time. The
commissioners are to report to the king and council before All Saints Day next..."


- Commission of Array issued by Henry VI 1457

In 1452 a series of raids by French privateers after the loss of France, led to a plan to raise 13,000 archers for the defence of the South Coast, depicting the raids as a preliminary to an invasion (which as we have seen, meant that they would not be paid by the crown). Individual shires were given numbers which appear quite low; Lincolnshire was to provide 910 men, Kent 575 and Bedfordshire 201, to give just three examples. In the event the commissioners could only provide the names of some 9,000 or so (i.e. 70%) archers eligible for service. The areas cover should have easily provided twice that number. The commissioners claimed that so many men were in possession of exemptions, due to their already being in the service of various lords, that they were unable to produce the said quantity of archers.

A similar situation evolved in 1457, with further French raids. The Bridport Roll is the sole surviving assessment (not 'muster') of weapons and armour held from this later event. Key parts of the commission demand further attention. Firstly that three troop types are mentioned; men at arms, armed men and archers. Secondly that the rich 'who are not able-bodied' (i.e. over 60, infirm, or disabled) are to supply weapons and equipment according to their wealth. Thirdly that the whole is to be organised into 'thousands, hundreds and twenties, or otherwise'.

Previously the terms men at arms and armed men had been used alternately for the same thing. Armed men in 14th Century were paid 12d per day, the same as men at arms in similar documents from the same time. Now armed men are listed as a separate type and additional armour is to be provided for them by those unable to serve. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that these are the men earning under £2 per year, who are required to produce 'glayves, staves (spears) and other like weapons'... which of course includes bills.  

While we imagine that it is sensible to group men of similar weapon types in composite groups of the same type, whether it is at the thousand, hundred or twenty, evidence from the 14th Century suggests that this may have not been the case. The London Letter Books give quite a detailed example of the structure of a centaine ('hundred') raised for service, in which every individual is named. The centaine is sub-divided into five vintaines ('twenties'), each of thirteen archers and seven 'armed men'. The vintainer (leader of twenty) presumably being an archer himself (Folio xviii). The centainer (leader of a hundred) is accompanied by another individual, presumably the bearer of the company pennon, mentioned in the list of expenses.

Before anyone gets too excited (as I did myself) and thinks that at last we have evidence for 'mixed bow and bill units', the pay for the men shows that the 'armed men' were paid 12d a day, with 6d per day for the archers. The armed men were therefore either men at arms, or had the armour required to draw the pay of a man at arms (essentially a haubergeon, iron helmet, spear and horse). The differentiation between men at arms and armed men in the later context shown at the start of this section, may be becoming used to represent those with the legal minimum and those with plate armour cap à pie.

However the 1337 muster does show that 'mixed units' was the intention for that body of men, as they were integrated right down to 'platoon' level, rather than in a group of their own which could be detached to be 'brigaded' with others. The single pennon, the fact that all were to receive the same livery, other than the captain, whose coat was to be made from somewhat superior material to that of everyone else, all point towards this being a single tactical formation, which would be arrayed with other like formations when the army was arrayed for battle.

Make what you will from that but the morale advantages of keeping a body of men from the same locale together in battle were well known. Only in the modern era of mass conscription has it been necessary to turn complete strangers into comrades through training. The thought that archers may have been divided off from other kith and kin into separate entities of strangers, who probably spoke in a dialect that sounded like a foreign language, makes no sense. National identity was a vague concept, but being a Cheshireman (or Shropshire, or Yorkshire, or whatever) was not.

Perhaps inevitably these mixed centaines were later called archer companies for the sake of brevity. I have been unable to find any other example of such an integrated structure and certainly no other 'armed men' were paid 12d per day, that becomes a rate purely for men termed 'men at arms'; however as I will show below, rates of pay were not universal indicators of status. While terms changed and centainer (or on occasion centenar) becomes often rendered as captain or petty-captain from the start of the 15th Century, vintainer survives as vintner right into the 16th Century.  

The apparent 'weak points' in the line where archers were massed in numerous battles, do suddenly seem somewhat less weak if there were non-archers mixed within them though. If we assume for argument's sake that the companies of archers included 'armed men', then the 'men at arms' and the mounted archers were also possibly likewise integrated in battle. The usual hand waving away of the idea that 'retinues' of a single man at arms and between one and three archers, were mere 'administrative' conveniences, could be questioned on this basis.

The only obvious proviso here is that purchases of arms, both for the royal armouries and urban stocks, are predominantly for bows and arrows - but then again bows and arrows were relatively expensive items (3-4/ each in the 1470s), like harness and helmets. Expecting someone to pay 11d for a simple glayve or bill and even less for a stave, was perhaps felt to be within the means of even the humblest man. Stocks of those weapons therefore needed to be purely for the replacement of damaged items on campaign.   

Burgundian Archers and their Coutillier arrayed for battle. English archers in the service of Charles the Bold were reputedly mixed with pikemen in a ratio of one pike to a group of four archers. This is usually attributed as being one of Charles's ideas, but is it possible that it was suggested to him by his English captains and may have been a Burgundian twist on how the English mixed armed men and archers?
The militia contingents raised during the Wars of the Roses seem to have been of two distinct types. Firstly there are the contingents provided by urban boroughs and secondly those contingents raised in more rural areas. Each will be covered separately in subsequent posts.

    5 comments:

    1. Excellent read. I game, and read, in the period a couple hundred years earlier than this but find these posts very useful.
      Thanks for posting.

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      1. Very informative and knowledgeable post and a great read! Keep up the good work, looking forward to reading more.

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      2. Thanks Gents! Well there's two more posts on the way for the militia and then I start on the 'Retinues', hope fully you will like them too.

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    2. Great stuff, many thanks. Do you know how the City of London and the City of York were clad, in terms of color of cloth and "badge" if that is the right term for non-retinue organized and trained urban militias?

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      1. Thanks Michael!

        I'm afraid I have no idea about livery colours, or badges for those urban contingents.

        They were not however maintained and organised on any permanent or semi-permanent basis; it was literally a case of raising a contingent when it was required (and typically at as little cost as possible).

        My best guess is that the colours would ideally be those of the city (whatever they were), but if another colour could be gotten quite cheaply, that would serve equally well. Livery jackets were 'consumables'; only made to fit out a contingent when it was raised and short of the contingent not actually setting forth, never stored away for future use.

        If a badge was worn (as opposed to a letter 'L' or 'Y'; as was the case with Ghent and the letter 'G'), I imagine it would be the 'ancient badge' of the city concerned, essentially a red St George's Cross on a white field with minor differences for York and London.

        I doubt they put much effort and cost into these, so depending on the colour of the jacket, it might literally be a case of sewing two strips of red cloth onto the left side to form a cross, or the same onto a patch of white cloth.

        Red cloth was both common and cheap, as was bleached off-white cloth, so are possibly the most likely colours. Richard III passed an edict to forbid contingents (as opposed to households) being clothed in anything but his (i.e. the "King's Livery" as opposed to his household colours), which has been suggested as being red too.

        My thoughts, such as they are as a best guess, would favour either just red, red and white, or just white.

        Another possibility is that a contingent might be raised via the trade guilds, in which case each would have its own colours and the only uniform item might be the city's badge and standard.

        Sorry I can't be of more practical help.

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