Saturday, 4 April 2015

Wars of the Roses Armies
Rural Militia Contingents

Classic Medieval Militia. "They have horses, armour, professional soldiers and the Church on their side, but we are in the right". Seriously, would you have revolted if all the odds were with the other side? 

"Warrant to all Knights, Squieres, Gentilmen &c. [citizens] of the Countie of 
Chestre, to obey the Lord Stanley, the Lord Straunge & Sir William Stanley
 who have the rule of al persons appointed to do the King service when they
shal be warned ayenst the King's rebells

- Lord Stanley's Commission to Array, issued 12th January 1485

As mentioned previously, the image of 'scarecrow levies' is probably largely due to the perception of two surviving 'muster rolls' for the town of Bridport in Dorset and the half-hundred of Ewelme in Oxfordshire. The two documents are in fact just assessments of the weapons owned by the population and do not represent any contingent ever raised by these areas. Bridport's assessment was carried out in 1457 and Ewelme's assessment was undertaken sometime around 1480, perhaps during the preparations for war with Scotland.

Bridport's  assessment lists 201 named individuals. Four of them are women, but they still had to provide their share, even if like the clergy they did not serve in person. In total 129 are listed as possessing weapons and in most cases some form of protection, a further 82 have nothing listed against their name.

Of the 112 possessing bows and arrows (one has three bows, along with four staff-weapons, 2 jacks and 2 sallets), 33 had jack, sallet and a sword, dagger, or other side arm. A further two had the same plus a mail shirt (haubergeon), one had a haubergeon instead of a jack and another had leg harness in addition to his jack. Two men had brigandines and five had jacks, but both groups had no sallets. Seven men had a sallet but no other protection and the rest merely had their bows and arrows. Including the man with semingly his own armoury, 23 of the bow-owners also possess various staff-weapons.

Only twelve people are primarily armed with staff-weapons. The remaining 69 swords, a hanger, 64 daggers and 27 bucklers are spread across the whole of those listed with weapons and/or armour. Most of the helmets and harness were in the hands of those with weapons, but not all of it. In total there were 74 sallets, 67 jacks, 3 haubergeons (mail shirts), 2 brigandines, 2 complete armours, 4 gauntlets, one set of leg armour, one set of breast and backplate; so three individuals shared the cost of one complete harness, when a sallet is added.

Commissioners notations on the roll stipulate certain individuals to find sheaves of arrows, bucklers or sallets in a seemingly random pattern. Two pavaises are presented and the commissioners suggest acquiring more, although nobody is charged with doing this. A handgun and a crossbow also turn up in the list of items presented.

If the population were to muster with what they presented at the assessment, what a curious and strange-looking band they would make. By pooling their collective items, plus the items ordered, a hundred well-protected men, either wholly archers, or with a small staff-weapon contingent, could be turned out. Given figures for contingents raised elewhere, just twenty may have been more likely.

In Ewelme there are 84 men including the constables, one of whom is infirm. Only 18 men either possess a bow, or are described as being an archer, or occasionally a 'good archer'. Seven men possess bills, five have staffs (spears) and one has an axe. Only the constable of Ewelme itself and another bill-armed man there, are described as possessing 'full harness'. One archer there also possesses harness, as does one billman, but who is 'unable to wear it'.

The remaining hamlets and villages are less detailled and appear to have merely recorded names, archers and the number of sets of harness (which presumably includes sallets, as none are mentioned). In addition to the weapon totals above, there are in total 40 sets of harness (including the two above). Where they are attributed to individuals, these usually possess no other weapon. Only by pooling the communal stock shown here, could a well-equipped body of men by raised.

South Oxfordshire was roughly approximate in both wealth and population density to Suffolk. In 1485 the Hundred of Framlingham and Loes provided forty men for a contingent, while the Hundred of Collness provided nineteen. Ewelme as a 'half-hundred' then, might be expected to produce between ten and twenty itself. 

The only mass-levy inland for the period appears to have been in 1461, when communities such as Bedford, on an individual basis, resisted the Scots and 'ffrench' of Queen Margaret's Army as it headed South. Bedford raised 800 men, who were led by a butcher and are described as mostly 'new men of war'. If this warranted mention, perhaps it was more usual to ask men with experience, or indeed local 'dogs of war' to lead and form contingents?  

Most militia men would have bore a definite resemblance to this man, who is kitted out in what is pretty much the standard for militia right across North-West Europe at the time. 

The Commons Are Revolting

After the Battle of Tewkesbury, Jasper Tudor Earl of Pembroke, was besieged in Pembroke Castle. The siege was lifted by the arrival of Daffyd Thomas, who had;

"suddenly gathered together a rude rabble to the number of eight thousand 
within the within the compass of eight days and so attended by his 
ragged regiment with hooks , prongs, glaives and other rustic weapons." 

Jack Cade's men in 1450 and Robin of Redesdale's men in 1469 are often largely made up men of similar descriptins, yet are also known and sometimes depicted as being quite well-equipped. Jack Cade is known to have swapped his clothng for stolen full-harness, so whether they owned it or acquired it, such bodies had at least a proportion of men which might be as well-equipped as typical soldiers of the day. 

Of course Wales is a special case and was considerably poorer in the main than adjoining English areas. Only perhaps the relatively sparsely ppuated areas of Northumberland and Westmoreland approached its poverty. Thomas's ragged band may indeed have been literally that. Likewise the men raised by Earl of Pembroke's commission of array in 1469 also seemed to lack archers, a sign of local poverty, as well as Central and North Wales being noted for spearmen n earlier times and 'welsshe bills' soon after in the era of the Tudors. 

It was not all a case of efficiency and pooling of communal resources however. Jack Cade's multitude contained only a hard core of genuine revolutionaries, many of them soon disappeared when it loojed like they would actually have to fight. Thomas's men only succeeded because they faced similar, but fewer men in the Pro-Yorkist forces. The name of 'Losecoat Field' for the engagement that took place near Empingham in 1470, if legend is correct, comes from the rebels throwing away their livery jackets.

John Paston describes the chaos that attended militia raising in 1461, when Queen Margaret's Army came South;

"pepill shuld not come vp tyll thei were sent fore, but to be redy at all tymes,
 this notwithstandyng mech pepill owt of this cuntré have take wages, seying 
thei woll goo vp to London. But thei have no capteyn ner rewler assigned be 
the comissioneres to awayte vp-on, and so thei stragyll abowte be them-self 
and be lyklynes arn not leke to come at London, half of them". 

The sheriffs had been ordered to array their contingents, but no movement order came for them, nor were leaders appointed. The Earl of Warwick was the man behind what we would call a FUBAR today and with the men they had waged disappearing into the sunset on the London road, probably never to arrive (along with the equipment they had been issued), should an actual summons eventually arrive it would be ignored as it had already been fulfilled.

"And men that come from London sey there have not passid Thetford 
not passyng and yet the townes and the cuntré that have waged hem 
shall thynk thei be dischargid. And therfore if this lordes above wayte 
aftyr more pepill in this cuntré, be lyklynes it woll not be easy to get 
wyth-owt a newe comission and warnyng; and yet it woll be thought 
ryght straunge of hem that have waged pepill to wage any more, for 
euery towne hath waged and sent forth..."

What would be required was a new commission and both a subscription to pay wages and expenses, and a fresh issue of arms and armour (if any of course remained). Such a double commission of array would be unusual in the extreme. While successive ones over a period of time might be expected, to have to wage two contingents at the same time was unheard of.

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