The Duke of Gloucester’s Agincourt Retinue: The Regional Heritage of Select Sub-Captains from East Anglia and Kent


Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, raised the second largest retinue for Henry V’s great 1415 army, which famously captured the town of Harfleur, before fighting at Agincourt on 25 October 1415. Before embarking for Normandy, Gloucester’s retinue mustered near Southampton on 16 July. We know the names of all those present at the muster because the muster roll survives in its entirety.[1] It records the names of 751 men: 1 duke, 6 knights, 180 esquires and 564 archers. These men were not all recruited by the duke directly but, as was the custom for the time, by a multiplicity of sub-retinue captains.[2] Gloucester’s retinue was originally intended to comprise 56 sub-retinues, plus the duke’s personal company. However, five sub-captains, according to the muster roll, failed to recruit men, so were probably absorbed into the duke’s personal company. That Gloucester succeeded in raising a retinue of this size was a notable achievement because, unlike his very militarily experienced elder brother, Thomas, duke of Clarence, this was the first time Gloucester had ever led men to war.

The Sub-Captains from East Anglia and Kent

The aim of this short essay then, is to detail the regional heritage of some of these sub-captains, specifically those from East Anglia and Kent, in order to provide a brief glimpse into the mechanics behind Gloucester’s recruitment process and show the workings of the ‘Dynamics of Recruitment’ in the early fifteenth-century.[3] Andrew Ayton has written that, when raising retinues in this period captains would have looked ‘first to the manpower of their estates’, before drawing on other avenues of recruitment.[4] Gloucester possessed estates and properties in numerous counties throughout England and southern Wales, including Essex, Suffolk, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Kent and Pembrokeshire.[5] In Essex, for example, he held Hadleigh Castle and the nearby manors of Thundersley and Eastwood, while in Kent he held the manor of Milton, near Gravesend, and Marden in the Kentish heartland. It is unsurprising to see that the majority of his sub-captains, for whom we have geographic data, hailed from these regions.

Fig. 1: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Les Vigiles de Charles VII, Manuscrit Français 5054, fol. 24v.

One of the duke’s Suffolk manors was Great Wratting. Roughly 25 miles east of Great Wratting lived his sub-captain Thomas Deschalers.[6] An individual who dwelled even closer was William Creessoner. He was a young man at only 23 when he mustered under Gloucester in 1415. As a child, he resided at a manor in Hawkedon, less than 10 miles from Great Wratting.[7]  Having proved his age in 1414, Cressoner inherited his father’s other properties in Suffolk, Huntingdonshire and Essex. One of the Essex manors which he inherited was Ferrers, today known as South Woodham Ferrers. This property was only 12 miles from Gloucester’s castle at Hadleigh, and 10 miles from his estates in Thundersly. One of Cressoner’s immediate neighbours was John Tyrell, who held the close-by manor of Rawreth.[8] Tyrell, in fact, possessed a number of estates throughout Essex, for example at Ramsden Crays, Hockley and Heron. In 1412 he was residing at Heron, near Brentwood.

A neighbour to both Cressoner and Tyrell was Thomas Berwick. He lived at Stanford Rivers and had been a retainer of Gaunt’s from 1388 until the duke’s death in 1399.[9] This evident ‘regional comradeship group’ also included Sir Thomas Morley (grandson of Thomas, fourth Lord Morley, d.1416), whose family possessed estates in Great Hallingbury, less than 15 miles from Stanford Rivers. Returning to John Tyrell, he was also closely bound to the Kentish sub-captain Sir Nicholas Haute.[10] Following the death of his first wife, Alice, in March 1400, Sir Nicholas married Eleanor, who was the widow of William Tyrell and mother of John.[11] By this marriage, Sir Nicholas Haute became John Tyrell’s step-father. Haute was a military veteran, having served Gaunt on a number of occasions. Sir Nicholas was also associated with Sir Thomas Clinton. In addition to having served alongside one another during the 1386 campaign, they were also neighbours. Haute’s estates at Waltham were near to Clinton’s at Bensted.[12] The two had also served together on a Commission of Array in Kent in January 1400 and both acted as witnesses to a Charter of Warranty in November 1408.[13] The 1415 campaign was the final time the two friends served together, as they both died either during the campaign, or shortly afterwards.


That regional comradeship groups evidently existed among the sub-captains from Suffolk, Essex and Kent demonstrates that these, villages, towns and cities were good places for a captain to recruit. Indeed, as the work of Craig Lambert and Ayton has revealed, the estuarine communities of East Anglia, and of Essex in particular, had been ‘making a disproportionately heavy contribution to the war effort’, for both naval and land-based campaigns, during the late fourteenth century. [14] This high level of militarisation from the late fourteenth century was evidently still present in the early fifteenth. The urban centres of East Anglia were fertile lands for captains to recruit soldiers from. These bonds of shared regional heritage would have given the retinue a degree of stability and cohesion. This would have negated, to some extent, the almost complete lack of shared military service ties between members of Gloucester’s retinue. Moreover, that similar regional groups have been identified in the fourteenth-century indicates that, at least in this respect, a degree of continuity within the mechanics of the recruitment process existed in the early fifteenth-century. If there was space to open the lens of this investigation wider, many more such cases as provided here could be given.[15] So, while previous military service ties in Gloucester’s retinue were generally absent, other ties existed which gave it a degree of stability and cohesion, and assisted it to function effectively, endure the hardships of the siege of Harfleur, and stand stalwart at the Battle of Agincourt.

[1] E 101/45/13 (Gloucester).

[2] On sub-retinues, sub-contracts and the English military community, A. Ayton, ‘Military Service and the Dynamics of Recruitment in Fourteenth Century England’, The Soldier Experience in the Fourteenth Century, ed. A. R. Bell and A. Curry (Woodbridge, 2011).  

[3] On the ‘Dynamics of Recruitment’., ibid.

[4] Ibid, p. 12.

[5] CIPM, 20, p. 7; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 143; CPR, 1401-1405, pp. 121, 160, 256, 468; CPR, 1405-1408, p. 191; CPR, 1408-1413, p. 303; CPR, 1413-1416, pp. 170, 387, 397.

[6] L. S. Woodger, ‘Deschalers, Thomas’, History of Parliament (online).

[7] CIPM, 19, pp. 300-301; CCR, 1413-1419, p. 137; CPR, 1408-1413, p. 278; C 138/10/49.

[8] J. S. Roskell and L. S. Woodger, ‘Tyrell, John’, History of Parliament (online); R. Horrox, ‘Tyrell family (per. c.1304–c.1510)’, ODNB; J. S. Roskell, Parliament and Politics in Late Medieval England, 3 vols (London, 1983), 3, pp. 277-315.

[9] C 76/56, m.31; S. Walker, The Lancastrian Affinity (Oxford, 1990), p. 264.

[10] L. S. Woodger, ‘Haute, Sir Nicholas’, History of Parliament (online); P. Fleming, ‘Haute family (per. c. 1350–1530)’, ODNB.

[11] CIPM, 18, p. 5.

[12] Ibid; L. S. Woodger, ‘Clinton, Sir Thomas’, History of Parliament (online).

[13] CPR, 1399-1401, p. 211; CCR, 1405-1409, p. 468.

[14] A. Ayton and C. L. Lambert, ‘Shipping Troops and Fighting at Sea: Essex Ports and Mariners in England’s Wars, 1337-1389’, The Fighting Essex Soldier, ed. C. Thornton, J. Ward and N. Wiffen (Essex, 2017), pp. 98-143 (p. 132). See also, S. Gibbs, ‘The Fighting Men of Essex: Service Relationship and the Poll Tax’, Ibid, pp. 78-98.

[15] These will be presented in my forthcoming monograph, to be published by Boydell.

‘Une piteuse bataille’: A trial by combat between commoners in Valenciennes, 1455

When Jacotin gouged out both of his opponent’s eyes, the broken man cried out for mercy from the Duke of Burgundy. Philippe le Bon could not fulfil this request and he let justice be done by the town, according to its franchise.[1] After Mahiot confessed his crimes to the priests, the executioner put an end to the misery of the murderer. This awful spectacle was watched by a large audience in the market of Valenciennes. The Duke of Burgundy was ashamed by that terrible spectacle according to his chronicler Olivier de la Marche. He promised that he would show the citizen of Valenciennes how chivalry was properly done that following year, by organising a tournament. Two knights fulfilled that promise by  performing an emprise d’armes in 1456, ‘properly armed for fighting on foot, with one throw of the lance and twenty-five blows with the axe’.[2]

The Plot

In Valenciennes (Hainault, Burgundian Low Countries), Jacotin Plouvier, a burgher of the town, accused Mahiot (Mahiénot) Coquel, a tailor from Tournai, of murdering one of his parents. A trial by combat that followed the town’s charters was agreed upon by the magistrate. Preparations lasted more than a year, and the combat finally took place in May 1455

Three chronicles relate the event, mostly depicting it as terrible, awful, and out of place.[3] The combatants, whose hair and nails were cut, wore a tightly fitted garment made of leather, covered in grease ‘so that they could not grapple each other’, their hands covered with ashes ‘so that they could handle their shield and mace’.[4] The maces are described as being made of hardwood (medlar for d’Escouchy – mellier bien nouteilleux and de la Marche – mesplier). After a few exchanges of bloody mace blows and throwing sand in the eyes, both men wrestled on the ground; one gouged out both his opponent’s eyes, and broke his limbs and back.

The ‘famous’ master-at-arms Hans, hired by the town

The town provided both the grounds and security for the combat, and took all necessary measures to ensure a fair fight. Both men were held in custody before their trial. The town supplied the weapons (wooden shield and mace) and installed barriers around the designated duel space. Each combatant was permitted to paint holy symbols on their shields at their own cost. Two masters at arms were hired to offer training to the combatants. The duration of this training for trials-by-combat (usually six weeks) is given by other contemporary sources.[5] The master attributed to Mahienot Coquel is named ‘Hans’ in the Chronique of Chastellain.[6] The other master was Jean de Bourges, apparently less experienced. We do not have any other information regarding these masters. With a little bit of imagination, one could argue that ‘Hans’ may have been Hans Talhoffer.[7] He was a contemporary fencing master active in Southern Germany who specialised in trial by combat and authored several fight books (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Detail of a trial by combat with mace and shield, Hans Talhoffer, Fight Book, 1448. Gotha, Forschungsbibliothek, Hs Chart A558, fol. 42r.

Trial by combat in towns at the end of the Middle Ages

Trial by combat is seen as an anachronistic procedure, gradually fading in oblivion at the end of the Middle Ages. The old-fashioned tradition of defending one’s honour by right of arms is cared for by the aristocracy, and mostly reserved for them in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. However, it rivalled new judicial procedures at the end of the Middle Ages as the state developed more administration for its judicial apparatus, such as requiring combatants to present proofs. This is the picture painted by chronicles and the study of judicial and normative documents in places such as France, but neighbouring kingdoms and states also followed the same practices.[8] This representation is not always quite accurate, but it certainly followed the official position of the authorities, religious and secular alike. Several regions preserved this practice throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth century. trial by combat was still regulated by customary laws, especially in franchised towns. It can involve commoners, clergy men, and even women.

In Swiss towns there are also traces of judicial combat procedures. For example, the custom of Moudon ruled trial by combat in the towns of the Pays de Vaud (western part of Switzerland). By 1468, one noble and seventeen commoners (including one monk and one woman) had been implicated in the custom.[9] Apparently, most of these serious ventures were not seen through to the end. The authorities usually tried to force compromise upon the parties before trial by combat could take place. It was also a costly endeavour, and took a long time to plan. For the case of Valenciennes, it was a franchised town under the realm of the Duke of Burgundy. The Duke tried to avoid the practice for two years (a first schedule for the trial was August 1454), but was forced to allow it by law when the parties did not come to any agreement, despite concerted efforts to do so. After this episode, the Duke gradually revoked the privileges for the trial by combat in the towns of his duchy. We find contemporary descriptions of similar events in England as well, where chroniclers also showed disgust when relating any trial by combat involving commoners.[10] Duels were about to disappear, or at least undergo a profound transformation into ‘duels of honour’, which decimated both nobles and commoners alike across the next century.

[1] The Duke was forced to let this be carried out, according to Georges Chastelain in the manuscript additional fragments of his chronicle (London, British Library, MS 54156), edited by Jean-Claude Delclos, Chronique de Georges Chastellain. Les fragments du Livre IV (Geneva: Droz, 1991), p. 325.

[2] Olivier de la Marche, Mémoires, ed. by Henry Beaune and J. d’Arbaumont (Paris: Renouard, 1884), t. II, p. 406-7.

[3] Elodie Lecuppre-Desjardin, La villes des cérémonies. Essai sur la communication politique dans les anciens Pays-Bas bourguignon (Turnhout: Brepols, 2004), pp. 311-7. For a review of the historiography regarding the Valencienne case, see also Elodie Lecuppre-Desjardins, ‘Le Duel Judiciaire dans les villes des anciens Pays-Bas bourguignons: Privilège urbain ou acte de rébellion?’, in Agon Und Distinktion. Soziale Räume Des Zweikampfs Zwischen Mittelalter Und Neuzeit, ed. by Uwe Israel and Christian Jaser (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2015),pp. 187-88, note 28.

[4] Ilz avoient les testes raises, les piedz nuz, et les ongles coppez des mains et des piedz; et au regard du corps, des jambes et des bras, ilz estoient vestuz de cuyr bouilly, cousu estroictement sur leurs personnes. Olivier de la Marche, ed. by Claude-Bernard Petitot (Paris: Foucault, 1825), vol. 9, p. 404. […] deux bassins plains de gresse, dont les habillemensfurent oingtz et engressez, affin que l’ung d’eulx ne peust prendre prinse sur l’autre. […] deux bassins de cendres, pour oster la gresse de leurs mains, afin qu’ilz puissent mieulx tenir leurs escuz et leurs bastons. Olivier de la Marche, p. 405.

[5] Daniel Jaquet, ‘Six Weeks to Prepare for Combat. Instruction and Practices from the Fight Books at the End of the Middle Ages, a Note on Ritualised Single Combats’, in Killing and Being Killed: Bodies in Battle Perspectives on Fighters in the Middle Ages, ed. by Jörg Rogge (Biefeld: Transcript, 2017), pp. 131–64.

   [6] Or ont eu ces deux gens-icy par longue espace leurs maistres emprès eux, qui leur ont appris leurs envayes et deffenses, et tout ce en quoy il les espèrerent à sauver, et avoit Mahienot empès lui un nommé Hans, le meilleur qu’on savoit en nul pays, […] Chastelain, ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove (Bruxelles: Heussner, 1863), pp. 44-5.

  [7] Eric Burkart, ‘Die Aufzeichnung Des Nicht-Sagbaren. Annäherung an Die Kommunikative Funktion Der Bilder in Den Fechtbüchern Des Hans Talhofer’, Das Mittelalter, 19.2 (2014), 253–301.

[8] Claude Gauvard, ‘De Grace Especial’: Crime, État et Société En France à La Fin Du Moyen Age (Paris: Publ. de la Sorbonne, 1991)

[9] Claude Berguerand, ‘Le Duel Judiciaire au Moyen Âge dans le Pays de Vaud au travers du duel d’Othon de Grandson’, in Duel et Combat Singulier en Suisse Romande: De l’Antiquité au XXe Siècle: Actes du colloque des 7 et 8 Mai 2010, ed. by Olivier Meuwly, Nicolas Gex, and Georges Andrey (Bière: Cabédita, 2012), pp. 59–67.

[10] Ariella Elema, ‘Trial by Battle in France and England’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Toronto, 2015). See also Jacob Deacon, ‘‘Falsely Accused by the Villain’?: A Fishy Trial by Combat in Fifteenth-Century London’, Martial Culture in Medieval Towns, 2019 <> [accessed 20.08.2021].

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