Friday, 1 May 2015

Wars of the Roses Armies
Retinues - Tenants & Servants

"I recommend me to you as heartily as I can; and as ever ye love
me and your own weal and security, and this realm, that ye come
to me with that ye may take, defensibly arrayed, in all the haste that 
is possible, and that ye give credence to Richard Ratcliffe, this bearer, 
whom I now do send to you, instructed with all my mind and intent.

And, my Lord, do me now good service, as ye have always before done, 
and I trust now so to remember you as shall be the making of you and 
yours. And God send you good fortunes".

- Richard III to Lord Neville 1485

Besides the men at arms, mounted archers and others who formed the 'horsemen' of the riding retinues, the magnates, nobles, knights and gentry, could also call upon their tenants, servants and numerous other individuals associated with them through various economic or social ties. Sometimes it was possible to raise men without those necessary ties; Lord Egremont raised close on 1,000 men from York and its immediate environs to present a show of force to his Neville rivals in 1453. While Egremont and his father where very prominent landowners in the area, there is nothing to suggest that the men turning out on this occasion had any obligation to do so.

In 1454 the Duke of Buckingham ordered 2,000 bends for the men of his retainers to wear over their own liveries. In 1483 his son boasted that he could put 1,000 of his own tenants into the field and ordered 3,000 livery jackets for all the men he hoped to recruit to his standard when he rebelled; initially at least he appears to have been able to gather them too. In terms of their tenants and those others relying on them for their livelihoods, the Percy family is believed to have comfortably been able to put as many as 6,000 men in the field and possibly did at the Battle of Towton in 1461.

From 44 of his own estates John Mowbray Duke of Norfolk once raised 500 men, with a further 180 from those of his retainers. When he besieged the Pastons at Caister Castle, he is reputed to have had 3,000 men with him. The 'army' of 4,000 men that the Earl of Salisbury fought with at the Battle of Blore Heath in 1459, were almost entirely his own and his retainers' riding retinues and tenants. In 1485 the Duke of Norfolk mustered in the region of 800 tenants for Bosworth. 

Working down the scale of wealth and landholding, the Earl of Devon on the other hand ravaged Lord Bonville's holdings with just 600 men in his retinue and was one of the poorer Earls in the kingdom. Nevertheless he is said to have raised 5,000 men for Towton, although I suspect this was in fact in conjunction with Somerset, Lord Hungerford and others.

In 1470 Lord Berkeley surprised and overcame his rival Viscount Lisle at Nibley Green, as he had added several hundred men that his brother in law had recruited in Bristol, to his own retainers. Lisle is believed to have had 3-500 men, which is roughly what Berkeley would normally have had to face him. Lord Clifford mustered 300 tenants and other men from Craven itself in 1487 and a similar number in 1513, who fought at Flodden. John Paston committed to raise 200 men for the Duke of Norfolk in 1485, despite finding only 6 for the King; he does not appear to have raised them in the event however, nor fought at Bosworth.

Every Man An Archer?

"... cause public proclamation to be made, that every one of the said 
City, strong in body, at leisure times on holidays, use in their recreations
bows and arrows, or pellets, or bolts, and learn and exercise the art of 
shooting; forbidding all and singular on our behalf, that they do not after 
any manner apply themselves to the throwing of stones, wood, iron, hand- 
ball, foot-ball, bandy-ball, cambuck, or cock-fighting, nor such other vain 
plays, which have no profit in them, or concern themselves therein...".

- Edward III to the Sheriffs of London 1365

Well-equipped archers from the Beauchamp 
Pageant. They appear to have either jacks 
with mail haubergeons, or brigandines. All 
have sword and buckler.

There is little doubt that the foot archer remained the predominant troop type of English armies throughout the era. The first legislation to promote archery to ensure a good supply of them, goes right back to Edward III's reign. His motivation was to ensure that there were more of them for future wars, having seen their usefulness first hand. His victory at Crecy was achieved with relatively few of them in comparison with other troops and he wanted more.

The ratio of archers in English armies increases over the following decades, by Agincourt there were five archers to every man at arms and the ratio kept increasing after that. However this was not purely a feature of English armies and both the French and Burgundians were engaged in employing far more 'common soldiers' than they had previously; they were after all cheap. It was a trend which was to end in the massive armies of the 16th Century.

Further legislation promoting archery followed Edward's in 1410, 1477, 1503 and 1515, and possibly at other times for which we have no record of it. Even practice with crossbows, previously an accepted alternative for 'forest dwellers', was banned in 1504. While this is generally seen as a successive decline in the numbers of archers, the opposite is actually true, more of them were needed as armies grew in size. The army Henry V took with him to France in 1415 contained around 6,000 archers, while the army Edward IV took with him contained over 10,000. Henry VII's army of 1492 contained 25,000 men, most of whom were archers. 

If there was such a dearth of archers as some claim, why would Edward IV be content with letting so many serve abroad during his reign? Between 2-6,000 English archers served the Duke of Burgundy at various times in the 1470s. Edward gave leave for Sir Thomas Everingham and others to recruit 6,000 for service in Flanders in 1480, while at the same time he was planning to invade Scotland with some 20,000 men.

These are hardly the actions of a man who believed that he was short of archers. His recruitment of Swiss, German and Burgundian mercenaries for that campaign, does imply that he felt he was short on a certain 'type' of infantry however. Especially as it seems that the men at arms which had previously provided the heavy infantry needed to back the archers, were now more often serving in a somewhat more traditional cavalry role.

With the exception of the foremost
archer, who appears to be wearing
riding boots, these archers seem far
less well-protected than the others
shown above.

This echoed by purchases of pikes and other pole-arms by himself, his brother Richard III and their successor Henry VII. While a contingent for foreign troops was necessary as a core military force for exiles returning to England, there must have been some value in them that, not only were they retained for sometime after events required them, but that they were actively recruited at a later date when we might consider them unnecessary, given that so many 'better' archers were available.

Edward IV's bid for the throne in 1471 would have been quite lack-lustre without his mercenaries recruited with Burgundian money. Flemish mercenaries had also been present in 1461, although only the 'black and smoky sort of Flemish gunners' get any sort of historical attention when they are mentioned as present in Warwick's army at St. Albans. Throughout the 1470s though it almost looks like England and Burgundy were engaged in swapping troops on a regular basis.

We have a Burgundian captain, Juan de Salazar, present at Bosworth (although whether he was with or without a contingent of men is unknown). Henry VII was accompanied by 2,000 or so Swiss-trained and recently-redundant French troops in 1485. France's regents were almost certainly only too glad to send men from the recently shut-down camp at Pont-de-l'Arche, to somewhere where they would not trouble them with their presence. Previously Queen Margaret's army after Towton and that of the Lancastrian re-adeption in 1471, also contained large French contingents.

What every European ruler of the time seems to be looking for is the infantry which his own state cannot provide. France had archers and crossbowmen, but its heavy infantry was of poor quality. Louis XI first hired Swiss in their stead and also had them train native pikemen and halberdiers with somewhat mixed results. Charles the Bold had countless Flemish pikemen to call upon, but far fewer crossbows and archers, so he hired English ones. Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII had numerous archers, but poor-quality heavy infantry which even communal or armigerous stockpiles of weapons and armour would not completely fix. 

Bills, Glaives and Pikes

Jack, sallet, 'splints', gauntlets and a voulge, seemingly the most typical equipment of the non-archer foot. The bill apparently overtook the glaive as the most common foot weapon as the century progressed however. 

"There fore hyt ys moche lefte, and men take hem to mallys of ledde, 
bowys, swyrdys, gleyvys, and axys. As for speremen they ben good 
to ryde be-fore the foote men and ete and drynke uppe hyr vetayle, 
and many moo suche prety thyngys they doo, holde me excusyd 
thoughe I say the beste, for in the fote men ys alle the tryste".

- William Gregory 1461.

The ratio of archers to other troops armed with an assortment of contemporary hand to hand weapons has been debated for a long time. Some argue that as the bulk of indentures specify archers, that is what the men were, while others argue that 'archers' was a more generic term, in the same way as we might use the word 'soldier' and indeed in the Coventry Leet Books, the men the city raised from mid-point in the Wars of the Roses are indeed described as 'soldiers', with a degree of latitude with how the word was spelt.

William Gregory in the quote above, is describing described the force he was part of, which went from London with Edward IV to Towton. It is clear that he is describing footmen with 'swords, glaives and axes' and not men at arms - or as he terms them - the 'speremen'. As a force containing both militia and indentured contingents, its footmen are not entirely archers.

Evidence which suggests that there were indeed non-archers included in indentured companies and almost certainly within other forces raised too, does not stop with Gregory. Firstly there is a proviso to an indenture between the King and Lord Hastings in 1477. While the indenture specified the numbers of archers and men at arms in the normal manner, Hastings may alter the quantities, exchanging archers for men at arms, or men at arms for archers or other footmen, just so long as the total wage bill is that specified in the indenture. No doubt the receipt for whatever force was raised would just specify the men at arms and archers on the original indenture so they would both match.

Sir Gilbert Talbot's indenture between himself and Henry VII in 1492 is even more vague;

"whereof we desire you to make as many spears, with their 
custrells and demi-lances, well horsed as ye can furnish, 
and the remainder be archers and bills, ye be thoroughly 
appointed and ready to come upon a day's warning..."

While in Leicester in August 1483 and hearing of a plot in London, Richard III ordered 2,000 'Welsse bills' to be made 'in all haste' within the city and granted permission to impress as many smiths as were needed, wherever they might be found, to make them. In February 1484 Richard also issued a warrant to the Tower Armoury to issue to Roger Bikley; 8 Serpentines upon carts, 28 hacbushes with their frames, one barrel of touchpowder, 2 barrels of serpentine powder, 200 bows, 400 sheaves of arrows, 10 gross of bow strings & 200 bills. 

In May 1483 one of Archduke Maximilian's officials placed an order with a weapon maker in Malines for 1,200 pikes, for delivery to the 'English King'. These were to be about 22 feet in length and steel tipped. Unsurprisingly therefore the act of attainder against Richard III, which was read to parliament in 1485 mentions that Richard's army was;

 "... strongly armed and equipped with all types of weapons, such as guns, 
bows, arrows, spears, glaives, axes and all other weaponry suitable 
or necessary for giving and advancing a battle..."

For the 1475 Expedition to France, Edward IV's victualler William Ross, purchased; 660 black bills (11d), 154 white bills (3/4d) and 106 bills (4/4d). Other items included 80 battle axes 'ungylt', 25 battle axes 'gylt', 400 'morispikes', 400 lances and 300 lances (presumably one lot of 'lances' were actually infantry spears, or lighter cavalry lances).

Some 10,000 sheaves of arrows purchased for the expedition found their way back to England in 1475. While some were no doubt stored in Calais and possibly more went with those 3,000 archers who signed up for service in Burgundy, the numbers are still low for an army which was originally supposed to have 13,000 archers. With a standard issue of just two sheaves per man, some 16,000 sheaves are missing and they did not all go to Burgundy or Calais' armoury.

In 1481 the Calais stores held 1,076 longbows, 120 steel crossbows and 40 wooden ones, compared to 60 'gylt axes' and 172 'ungylt axes', 84 'white bills' (steel) and 119 'black bills' (iron), 67 spears, 941 spear heads, 144 'morispikes' and 360 pike shafts.

Even if we suppose 'spears' refers to cavalry lances and axes refers to cavalry-type weapons, rather than poleaxes, the ratio of pole-arms to bows is still more or less equal. Morispikes were 'Morris Pikes' or 'Moorish Pikes', named after the ash shafts which were imported from Spain to make them (Spanish yew was also imported to make bowstaves). It was believed at the time that it was the Moors who introduced the pike to Europe.

In 1476 violence broke out in Cheshire between factions supporting either Ralph de Bostock, or William Venables, over the disputed inheritance of the manor of Kinderton. In Congleton associates of Bostock, Sir William Brereton and John Daviport Esquire, apparently began retaining men to settle the issue once and for all. The Council of the Duchy of Lancaster, which also administered the County Palatine of Chester, issued the following ordinance on the matter;

"Item. It is ordeigned that noo man shall bere within the towne eny 
glayve, bille, or launce spere upon payne of forfaitur' of xxs for every 
tyme. Item. It is ordeigned that the smythes dwelling within the towne 
shall make from hensforth neither bille nor gleyve, whereunto thay bee 
sworne upon a boke. Item. It is ordeigned that noo man shall bere ner 
use any bille called a hegge bille exceding the lengthe of a yerde and 
a half blade and all upon payne of the aforesaid"                                       

- Duchy of Lancaster Register of the Council 1476

Brereton and Daviport were both prohibited from retaining and having anything to do with the 'rule' of Congleton (they were both town council members), without the permission of the King or Thomas Lord Stanley (the head of the Duchy Council). For interest sake Venables was the grandson of Sir William Stanley, whose brother Lord Stanley has already been mentioned, which probably explains why the ordinance targets supporters of Bostock. What is curious, besides the whole affair itself, is that the weapons prohibited are bills and spears, or weapons being passed off as tools. In a county famed for its archers and where some archers 'were as men at armes elsewhere', bows are not mentioned once.

1492: The Billman Cometh

A man armed with a bill strikes down another (Beauchamp Pageant). Although depicting the life of the Earl of Warwick from earlier in the century, the document's illustrations were completed c. 1475, so are exactly right for mid-point in the Wars of the Roses. Every other infantryman illustrated in this picture is an archer, but this man is positioned in the centre foreground. The lack of leg armour makes it very likely that he is depicting an infantryman, rather than a dismounted spear, which is possibly the case with the illustration below.

Bills and halberdiers formally appear in the historical limelight, in a series of muster rolls between Henry VII and several retainers in 1492, for a contingent that was being sent to Brittany to aid the Duchess Anne. In all there are 124 billmen or halberdiers, compared to 985 foot archers and 350 mounted archers. While they are not in significant numbers overall and are not spread evenly across the larger whole, so that you could say that typically 'there were nine archers to every billman' for example, that they appear at all, especially in a picked force for a foreign expedition is significant.

This is just five years after Stoke Field in 1487, seven years after Bosworth and 21 after Barnet and Tewkesbury. Historians are perhaps so used to looking backwards, that typically Wars of the Roses armies are compared to those which fought in the closing stages of the Hundred Years War at best, or Agincourt (40 years before St. Albans), or even Crecy and Poitiers. In equivalences this is like looking at an army from the Franco-Prussian War or Great War to see how those of the Korean or Arab-Israeli conflicts fought; things do change, even in armies where the predominant weapons are essentially the same.

Sir Gilbert Talbot's indenture above belongs with these musters and is basically saying 'anything will do'. Talbot raised 80 men in total, but in what proportions is not evident. The musters themselves are the result of several such indentures, which were almost certainly worded in similar fashion. In half of them there are no footmen but archers, but in the rest they are present in quite high ratios. In Sir Walter Herbert's retinue they are in equal numbers, in Viscount Welles's, John St. John's and others, they form a third of the footman, in the Earl of Surrey's and a couple more, a quarter or a fifth, and in the remainder somewhat lower ratios.

A well-protected billman as shown in the
'Beauchamp Pageant'. The men behind carry
glaives and spears. It is possible however
that these are in fact dismounted 'speres'.

I am not sure there was a conscious effort to recruit billmen and I suspect in some cases that they were there purely to make the numbers up, as insufficient archers were available; Henry was after all recruiting an army of some 25,000 men to invade France from Calais at the same time this small relief force was being raised. In Viscount Welles's retinue the 'halberdiers' are 20 strong, effectively what might be his bodyguard. In Sir Reginald Brey's the 24 billmen are probably 'make-dos'. Sir Walter Herbert's retinue was probably raised from Mid-Wales where his lands were, a relatively poor area with no real tradition of massed archery (his uncle the Earl of Pembroke apparently also famously lacked archers at Edgecote in 1469).

In simple terms the reason why such men appear are quite different from retinue to retinue. An indenture of the same year between the King and Rhys ap Thomas specified that he was to include 200 footmen 'armed with long spears' as part and parcel of his retinue. These as well as the acquisition of 'morispikes' during the reign of Richard III and Henry VII's experience with them at Bosworth all point to a perceived need for 'fighting foot', as well as the more traditional 'shooting foot'. Doubtless Swiss victories against the Burgundians and Maximilian's victory at Guinegate in 1479 had left an impression on English military minds.

Sadly none of this allows us to fix the typical proportions of bills (or spears, or pikes) to bows in English armies of the era. I imagine they were always present and included in the archer totals. I suspect that most of the time they were only included to make the numbers up, or where there were sufficient harness and helmets to render them 'fencible'. However with increasing use of men at arms and other mounted men in a 'cavalry' role, rather than a mounted infantry one, the need for something to replace the dismounted men at arms who had previously stiffened the archers, was at least perceived, if not actively pursued at the time.


"Ryt wurchipful hwsbond, I recomawnd me to yu, and prey yw 
to gete som crosse bowis, and wyndacs to bynd them with, and 
quarrels; for your hwsis her ben so low that ther may non man 
schet owt with no long bowe, thow we hadde never so moche 
nede. I sopose ye xuld have seche thyngs of Ser Jon Fastolf, if 
ye wold send to hym; and also I wold ye xuld gete ij. or iij. schort 
pelleaxis to kepe with doris, and als many jakkys, and ye may".

-Margaret Paston to John Paston 1449

Despite the longbow being assumed to be the universal weapon of the commoner, the use of crossbows is often overlooked. Foreign mercenaries and auxiliaries were obviously the prime users of this weapon, but there were numbers of Englishmen also using it, so many so, that practice with them was forbidden in Henry VII's reign (1504), in favour of the longbow. The Calais Garrison employed forty of them, eighteen of which were paid at 10d per day, 2d above the rest of the crossbows and the mounted archers of the garrison. They are likely to have been almost identical in appearance to the mounted archers, with the exception of the type of bow used. They were by no means numerous (1:20 crossbows to bows in Calais), but English crossbowmen did exist. Regardless however, Calais had 120 steel crossbows and 40 wooden ones in its stores.

We are persistently led to believe that the longbow was a superior weapon to the crossbow, so why would crossbowmen be employed, especially in some cases at a higher rate of pay? There are two different reasons for this, both of which converge to give the answer that, the crossbowmen were the 'sniper elite' of the garrison. The longbow could produce barrages of arrows and many archers were quite adept, but the crossbow, albeit slower to load, had more power against armoured targets and was more accurate. In terms of garrison duty, the crossbowman need not expose himself unnecessarily and could reload in concealment. Rate of fire in this context was less important, but accuracy and the power of the shot were.  

In England the crossbow was allowed to 'foresters' in lieu of the bow - it was a weapon of huntsmen, a weapon of accuracy. Margaret Paston asked her husband to send crossbows from London (and also mentions bows and hand guns in the same letter). From the military perspective, the longbow was the musket, while the crossbow was the rifle, although the relative speeds of reloading were somewhat more extreme. The crossbow bolt had a great deal of penetrating power against even the most modern armour. In a one on one exchange, the crossbowman could fire his first shot before the archer, because the crossbow could be carried loaded. 


  1. I am not at all sure that I agree with your view that the crossbow was more accurate than a longbow.

  2. The reference to the "black and smoky sort” comes from Gregory's Chronicle and relates to Edward IV’s army entering London in 1471.

    1. Yes, you're right, that is what comes of using a reference of the top of your head and not double-checking it... they are "goners and burgoners" in Gregory's Chronicle