Friday, 10 April 2015

Wars of the Roses Armies
Urban Militia Contingents

Coventry and its hinterland, as displayed on the Sheldon Tapestry C. 1580 

"Right trusty and well beloved, we greet you well, and as ye love the
weal of us, and the weal and surety of your own selves, we heartily
pray you to come unto us to London in all the diligence ye can possible
after the sight hereof, with as many (men) as ye can defensibly arrayed, 
there to aid and assist us against the Queen".

-Richard Duke of Gloucester to the Mayor and Aldermen of York, 1483.

In the post previous to this I hopefully demonstrated that rural communities could produce very decently equipped contingents, possibly even at least with a core of experienced men, by the community as a whole supplying the weapons and equipment between them, as opposed to individuals turning out to serve in an eclectic array of various oddments. In this post I turn to urban communities, who had similar financial power and resources to some of the nobles, who raised private armies during the period.

The thread of these few posts on militia during the era of the Wars of the Roses, has been to try and demonstrate that the usual depiction of 'shire levies', which would naturally include urban contingents, were at least every bit as good as the run of the mill tenant or servant, who formed the bulk of 'retinue troops', if not in some cases better, as I hope to show when I turn my attention to them. This post concentrates on the urban contingents, largely focusing on the City of Coventry, whose Leet Books have provided a fairly well-detailed account of events and costs during this era.

Coventry had a population in the region of 6,000 in the Mid-15th Century, making it one of the larger towns in England. If we only allowed for 10% of the population being of an age that qualified them for military service, we are still looking at 500 men or so as a minimum total. We know that in 1523 there were 1,302 households in the city, so that 500 is probably a very conservative estimate. Despite that the largest contingents that Coventry was to provide during the entire period were a mere hundred men and more usually it provided successive contingents of forty.

Being of a similar size to Nottingham, Northampton, Leicester  and Shrewsbury, it is possible that their experiences were similar to Coventry, if not the exactly the same. Shrewsbury (pop c. 3,000) sent a contingent of 61 to the Lancastrians at Northampton in 1460. Bristol (pop c. 6,000) supplied 60 men to Edward in 1461, while Exeter (pop c. 3,000) supplied numbers of between 20-30 men on eight occasions during the wars.

England's second city, York (pop c. 10,000) famously supplied 1,000 men for the Lancastrians at Towton, but typically provided contingents in the region of 100 men, which they supplied in 1482 for the war with Scotland and in 1483 to support Richard III's coup. Tiny Bedford famously attempted to resist Queen Margaret's rampaging Scots, French and other northerners in 1461, with a scratch force of 800 citizens, described by William Gregory as 'mostly new men of war' under the local butcher; things did not go well for them. London formed a body of 500 men to keep 'watch and ward' against the retinues of the nobles, who were camped outside the walls, while their leaders assembled for the 'Love Day' of 1458.

Sending To Coventry

Coventry received its first summons to provide men for the respective protagonists in May 1455, when the King requested a body of men from them. The council decided that 100 was a good number and promptly set about raising them, along with buying cloth to make them a standard and bends (a shoulder sash in the city's colours of green and red). The force was recorded as being archers, who were to be clad in jacks and sallets. The same day as the summons was received the King's party lost the Battle of St. Albans and when news reached Coventry, it stood its men down and put the items made into storage.

The King requested 76 men waged for six months at the city's expense in 1458, which were to form part of a 20,000 man levy to be raised across England to prevent the Yorkist lords from landing. In the event this levy was never raised at that time, but in February 1460 the city received a summons for them. What exactly transpired after that is difficult to determine, but besides consulting with the Duke of Buckingham during his stay there, they later received a complaint from the King about disaffection within the city. In the event forty men were eventually sent to Northampton.

The next we hear is that in February 1461 Edward Prince of Wales (King Henry's son) is ordering the assistance of the council for two knights and a 'squier' (and presumably their men), in whatever task they have been sent to accomplish. It also advises the council of those of its citizens who had raised a collection of £160 to support an unspecified number of men sent with the Earl of March (later Edward IV) to London and urged the suppression of dissidents within the city. This is followed on March 5th by a letter of thanks by Edward IV.

On 12th March 1461 a commission of array was received from Edward IV asking for men and £80 was raised to wage 100 men, who presumably marched with the Earl of Warwick's contingent, given that he was sent to the Midlands to raise men. A sum of £42 to fund 40 men sent to the Earl of Warwick in May is also recorded. Only 34 of these men returned in June, but required additional wages as they had served longer than they had originally been paid for.  

The years 1469-71 put great demands on Coventry due to both its geographical position and the very fluid political situation of that time. While it is possible that this had always been the case, Coventry is apparently now recruiting professional soldiers rather than citizens, or at the very least is only recruiting volunteers from amongst its citizenry. The question of how Coventry selected its men for military service previously is not apparent from earlier documents.

On July 10th 1469 the city received a summons from Edward IV for 100 archers "well and defensible arrayed" to suppress riots in the North. Two days later it received a letter from the Earl of Warwick telling them that they should send any men requested by the King to himself and the Duke of Clarence, to join their forces when they 'went' to him. On July 13th a somewhat desperate letter arrives from the King asking again for the men he requested and as many more as they could raise "alle expenses leyde a-part" and telling them to ignore all instructions from other lords, no matter who they were.

Fifty citizens stumped up 1 mark each (13/4d or 160d) to wage fifty men 8d per day for twenty days. It is further recorded that "they cowthe get no sowdere under 10d a day" and that a further levy was made, in which the Mayor donated an additional £5 to relieve the poor from contributing. The situation also prompted Coventry to institute a rota of its citizens to patrol its walls, site its arsenal of guns (2 'gunnes', 2 'fowlers' a 'serpentine', a 'great gunne', 3 'staff guns' and a 'handgunne with a pike in the end') and to site iron chains for use as barricades in its streets. A number of towns in this period instituted similar measures, even in some cases purchasing new weapons for the purpose.

On February 19th 1470 the city received a summons from the King, which besides asking for the usual "defensibly arayd" men, demands that royal office holders also attend, or to send a man in their place (and one for each office if they hold more than one). Fifty 'sowders' (who are indentured by the mayor) are sent to Grantham to join the King in March, after taking an oath to be loyal to him. A further forty are despatched in April (also indentured), but these men manage to get 12d per day for their month of service out of the council (a man at arm's wage).

In July a further sum to pay forty 'sowdurs' to be sent to the King at Nottingham in August was collected and a request to know how many "arowys, arowe hedes, spere hedes and bill" were in the city's possession, arrived from him around the same time. These soldiers were to be given a reward of 7/ if they still had their "wold jakettes", so presumably this was one of the groups previously sent to the king that had remained with him. They were also sent a gallon of wine and a quantity of ale.  

In March 1471 the newly restored Henry VI ordered a levy to fund an 'expedition to Flanders' to be led by the Earl of Warwick. Coventry's levy of money was underfunded by over £26, yet regardless raised forty "sowders" paid a mere 6d per day. Two soldiers required jacks, which were seemingly 20/ each (which explains the 7/ bounty paid previously for those who still had theirs). Warwick was in the city while all this occurred and before he could march his men off, news of Edward IV's landing and approach was received and the city was fortified once more.

Lacking any siege equipment and having Lord Montagu somewhere to his rear, Edward marched on London and Warwick was forced to follow him, taking the forty men, who are identified as twenty horsemen and twenty footmen, with him. Presumably these also fought at Barnet where the Earl was killed. 'New soldiers' are waged and sent to King Edward and a £200 fine is imposed on the city for having supported Warwick (despite not having much choice in the matter) and presumably these men fought at Tewkesbury. Their numbers are not in the records however.

Fickle Royalty

Edward Prince of Wales (Edward's son) appears to be the main personage in contact with the city in the 1480s and it is he who requests 60 men to be raised in 1481, to be waged for a quarter of a year. The assessment and collection of the levy is done as normal and the 60 men kept in readiness.  The records show these men by name however, their trades and what items had to be issued to them from stocks. Largely this consists of  a couple of bows, several sheaves of arrows and seven sallets. Pay rates vary amongst the group, but each man was paid 6/8d for their expenses regarding their horses and other equipment provided by them. Seemingly the whole company were mounted archers.

In June Earl Rivers arrived on the Prince's behalf to see how many additional men the city could provide over the original sixty. Understandably the citizens were not happy at there being an additional levy of money, even if they were to wear the Prince's livery and act as a bodyguard to the king during the campaign. In the end they agreed to raise a further forty men, to make 100 mounted archers. It was noted that Lord Lisle and other 'gentlemen' had also recruited in the city, which might present difficulty in their gaining enough recruits with suitable equipment. The council reports having difficulty in keeping track of their assembled recruits as most are 'strangers'.

In July the Prince sends a letter to the mayor telling him the men are no longer required! The following year when the campaign in Scotland actually got under way, the Prince advised the town that his cousin Sir Edward Woodville would be raising a company of 500 men and requested their help in filling out the unit. The city sent 48 men, as opposed to the 100 they had previously recruited.

Militia or Professionals?

As you can imagine the Leet Books provide a wealth of information, although not as much as we might want as far as military matters go. A few things stand out however. Firstly despite the power to impress men to serve, this does not seem to have been used and that the ranks of those sent to fight are either volunteers, or judging by the frequent use of variations of the word 'soldiers' that appear and the use of indentures, actual professionals, who appear to be under continual employment by the city between 1469-71. Certainly Coventry and other cities and towns had the money to do this (at least to a point, it can be seen that at times they struggled to raise money).

In 1480 Sir Thomas Everingham visited the city to recruit men for the Archduke Maximilian of Austria's forces in the Low Countries. Presumably he felt that he could get suitable recruits from there and the other places he visited. We also know he recruited debtors and men bound over to keep the peace from the gaols, because Coventry's council complained to the King, citing the tensions with Scotland as good reason for not allowing men to go out of the country.

Is it the case that if Sir Thomas was allowed to recruit, that the City might struggle to find men if it was asked to provide them at a later date? Certainly Sir Thomas was to recruit over 1,500 men across the country, with permission to recruit a further 4,500. With such a quantity of men possibly being subtracted from the pool of potential volunteers for urban contingents, you can imagine the terror felt in the towns and cities by some citizens, as it seems that they might actually have to go and serve themselves.

With substantial stocks of weapons and equipment (Coventry had 744 sets of helmet and harness, along with bows, arrows, and other weapons), anybody, of whatever degree of income, could serve the city. It can be imagined that cities themselves probably offered debtors and those guilty of misdemeanours (but apparently not convicted felons or the condemned), along with rogues, sturdy beggars and vagrants, picked up by the watch, an opportunity of redemption by serving the city and the King (or at least one of them).

While the foot component of an urban contingent might be of dubious moral fibre, the city is unlikely to have provided horses to such men and on at least one occasion a mounted component formed part of Coventry's contingent. In effect then the contingents sound little different to the armies assembled for the Hundred Years War, not least that of Agincourt, which also had its own 'penal units' within it. Certainly if a mix of experienced men, professional soldiers and other 'volunteers' formed such contingents, they are hardly the second class soldiers they are usually depicted as being.

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