Wrong place, wrong time – The inclusion of strangers into the urban armed forces

Sovereign cities in the Holy Roman Empire had their own military force. To a significant degree, this armed force was composed of the citizens of the town. Citizens therefore knew that if – or more accurately, when – the day came an urban army was needed, they had to take up arms and march to war themselves.[1]. However, in every town, at any given moment there were strangers[2] present. What happened to people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, in a city preparing to go to war?

This blog entry explores the relation of these strangers to the urban militia. I will do that based on a specific document in the state archive of Basel-Stadt dealing with the strangers in Basel as the town was preparing to enter into military conflict with Habsburg. (fig. 1)

Fig. 1: Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt, Ratsbücher J 1, Rufbuch I, 1417 – 1459, fol. 156r.

In early 1445, the town of Basel was in acute military danger as tensions between neighbouring Habsburg and Basel ran higher and higher.[3] Soon, the city council made the decision to raise the militia and subsequently called all the male inhabitants of Basel to arms. In contrast, and in addition to previous calls to arms, the government this time decided that strangers currently in town also had to be part of the urban military forces. This decision is recorded in the “Rufbuch”[4]. The “Rufbuch” (book of calls) was one of Basel’s many city books (liber civitatis). However, it represents a special category of city book since the Rufbuch was especially created to document what today would be called public service announcements. The “Rufbuch” consist of laws, admonitions and calls to order the city council had decided in the city hall that were then – literally – called out to the people. In order to do this, a town crier stood on the stairs of the town hall and read the entries of the Rufbuch out loud in the direction of the market square situated right in front of the town hall. (fig. 2) Accordingly, these texts were specifically created to be read out loud, and this influenced their appearance. For example, the text is written in noticeably bigger fond then records meant for reading only. Also, there are conspicuously numerous corrections done to the text, maybe indicating improvements made after previous rounds of reading.

Fig. 2: In the front: town hall with corn market. From here the new order was made public. Excerpt from the Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt, Merian, Matthäus: Gesamtansicht der Stadt aus der Vogelperspektive von Nordosten, 1615, Kupferstich, BILD 1_291.)

In 1445, the city crier would have cried out this new ruling concerning strangers ordered to join the armed forces to the people gathering in the market square. He announced that the city council had conferred and decided that since there was “vil frömdes volkes” (a lot of strangers) in town, these strangers should join the urban militia. The strangers had to show their willingness to do so by swearing that they would march under the city banner. Subsequently, the strangers were ordered to assign themselves to one of Basel’s 15 guilds. This presented a necessary step to become part of the urban forces, since the guilds made up the town’s basic organisational structure. How serious the government took this new practice is made clear in the declaration that everyone not complying to the order would be treated as an enemy of the town.

Basel was apparently especially in need of men with carts, since the townspeaker was pressed to emphasise that strangers in possession of carts and carriages had to have them in good condition and had to freely offer them up for use. This may be explained by the demands made by the course of this specific war, since Basel’s military forces did not only prepare for short excursions, but for longer expeditions which even included sieges. Such ventures required a certain amount of carts for all the needed goods out into the field and in front of the besieged places. Bounty also had to be ferried back somehow.[5]

The town crier also informed the public, that out in the field the strangers in Basel’s army had to wear a red cross on a white surface, signalling the side they were on. This was the standard of the Swiss Confederation – allies of Basel in this war. The sign was usually worn stitched onto a sleeve.[6]

Unfortunately, the city council does not elaborate who specifically they meant by “vil frömdes volk”. Even though it is somewhat obvious, here it bears emphasising that a town’s population did not only consist of its permanent inhabitants. Indeed, at any given moment in time, Basel would have had a wealth of strangers in town – newcomers from near and far who wanted to settle in as well as mere passer-throughs in form of merchants, travelling artisans, pilgrims etc.

Yet, the constant stream of newcomers and passer-throughs must have reached a remarkable dimension in 1445. The threat of war did not only mobilise armed citizens, but also people who fled from it, mostly rural residents from the wider region who sought the protection of the city walls. Basel therefore would have had more far more people inside its walls than usual. In this regard, there is an enlightening addition made in the Rufbuch fol. 156r, after the actual declaration. In it, the government points out that if people from neighbouring Habsburg land were to flee to Basel, they would be considered enemies and be imprisoned.

At the same time, Basel still hosted the members of the council of Basel including a papal court that was regularly joined by important guests. In 1445, for example, Margaret of Savoy visited her father the pope in Basel on her journey towards her wedding destination, bringing her own court with her.[7]

Clerics and diplomatic guests were not the ones addressed by the new order recorded in the Rufbuch though. We can safely guess that the order rather addressed the men who had arrived fleeing from the countryside and from smaller, more vulnerable towns into the relative safety of the city walls. In times of acute military danger, the municipal government of Basel decided to include these strangers currently residing in Basel into the town’s armed forces. With this move, they increased their fighting power and also, maybe more importantly, they attempted to defuse the perceived threat of the unknown the unusual amount of strangers presented. For the government, the order created an avenue of access and control by constructing a situation where either the strangers let themselves be incorporated into the town’s war efforts or the government could remove them for not subjecting themselves to local law.

Cite this article as: Elena Magli, "Wrong place, wrong time – The inclusion of strangers into the urban armed forces," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 20/08/2022, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/2020.

[1] For the characteristics and composition urban Swiss medieval armies see Regula Schmid, “Bezahlte Bürger – Gratissöldner: Die Zusammensetzung Städtischer Heere Im Spätmittelalter,” in Miliz oder Söldner? Wehrpflicht und Solddienst in Stadt, Republik und Fürstenstaat 13.-18. Jahrhundert, ed. Regula Schmid and Philippe Rogger, 91–114, Krieg in der Geschichte 111 (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2019).

[2] In the following, the term “stranger” is understood as either a newcomer from villages or other towns or a passer-through. “Strangers” who did not come from outside, yet who had a sense of “strangerhood” attached to themselves, as for example Jews in central Europe or, to a degree, women, are not part of the following. However their relation to the urban martial community will be a focus point of my dissertation. For the use and meaning of the term “stranger” see Miri Rubin, Cities of Strangers, Making Lives in Medieval Europe, (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

[3] There was a series of military conflict between members of the Swiss Confederation and also Habsburg between 1436 – 1450, called the “Alter Zürichkrieg”. See Martin Illi, “Alter Zürichkrieg” in: Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz (HLS), version dating 04.05.2015, https://hls-dhs-dss.ch/de/articles/008877/2015-05-04/.

[4] Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt, Ratsbücher J 1, Rufbuch I, 1417 – 1459, fol. 156r.

[5] August Bernoulli, “Basels Kriegführung im Mittelalter,” Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde 19 (1921), p. 110.

[6] August Bernoulli, “Die Organisation von Basels Kriegswesen im Mittelalter,” Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde 17 (1918), p. 155.

[7] Peter Rückert, “Margarethe von Savoyen in Basel 1445: Herrschaftsrepräsentation und ihre Medien im städtischen Kontext,” in Raum und Medium: Literatur und Kultur in Basel in Spätmittelalter und Früher Neuzeit, ed. Johanna Thali and Nigel F. Palmer, 201-218 (De Gruyter, 2020).

The Feud Book of Medieval Nuremberg

The Free Imperial City of Nuremberg (Freie Reichsstadt Nürnberg)was one of the more important settlements in Central Europe. Depending on precisely when and how you measure urban populations, during the late medieval period it was one of the top five to ten in terms of size, with a population of roughly 22,000 denizens in 1431, of whom 7,146 were full or partial citizens qualified to bear arms, with 381 priests, and 744 Jews and foreigners[i]. Comparable towns included Cologne, Prague, Wroclaw, Strasbourg, Frankfurt am Main, Gdansk, Augsburg, and Hamburg. In terms of diplomatic and economic power, Nuremberg was also formidable, with strong trade links along the north-south Via Imperii trade route (linking the Baltic to Italy), and a well-developed manufacturing sector including a renowned metalworking and armaments industry. Nuremberg was also the first and most frequent location where the Reichstag, the Imperial diet or proto-parliament of the Holy Roman Empire, would meet.

Many of the larger Free Cities in Central Europe were located in clusters of dozens of small and medium sized towns. These shared complimentary economic and cultural links which, during times of crisis, were often the basis of mutual military support. Their collective strength also helped to make diplomacy with regional nobles and princes more harmonious. The most notable urbanized zones include Swabia, the Rhineland, the Low Countries (today Belgium and the Netherlands), and the towns of the Hanseatic League mainly along the Southern Shore of the Baltic.

Nuremberg was a bit different in that it was located in more rural Franconia, and didn’t have so many walled cities for neighbors. Instead, their neighbors included the (from 1420s) semi-pariah heretic Kingdom of Bohemia, and the mighty princely domains of Bavaria and Brandenburg. Closer to the town, the regional petty nobility were often involved in feuds which impinged on the freedom of travel and personal safety of Nuremberg’s citizens, including some of her most prominent merchants.

Part of the problem was exacerbated by the great princely houses, and one in particular. Nuremberg, like most free cities, was not fully autonomous all at once, but rather had to struggle to gain rights one step at a time. The last step, a big one, was the elimination of the position of Burgrave of the city, and the takeover of the castle of the Burgrave, which was within city limits. Tension between the town and the Margrave of Brandenburg, who held the position since 1411, increased and the town even built a special tower (the Luginsland ‘look into the land’ tower), just to spy on the Burgrave’s castle. There were numerous conflicts between the burghers and the princely forces, and legal disputes about the authority of the Burgrave.

Finally, in 1420, the Burgrave’s Castle was destroyed in a fire during a skirmish between the forces of the Margrave of Brandenburg and the Duke of Bavaria-Ingolstadt (instigated, rumor had it, by the town authorities). The city purchased the castle ruins and the forest around it in 1427. From that time the city effectively had full autonomy. The margrave of Brandenburg however, of the formidable Hohenzollern family, did not consider the matter settled and continued to apply considerable legal, diplomatic and military pressure toward Nuremberg. One way they did this was to encourage barons and ministerial knights to enter into feuds with the town.

Like most Free Cities, Nuremberg had the legal right to defend her citizens and property by force of arms. The city was granted an imperial privilege in 1320 which allowed town militia to capture ‘harmful people’ (schädliche leute) beyond the town walls[ii], and punish them according to their own laws. Emperor Sigismund confirmed this right at his coronation in Rome in 1433, and Frederick III did the same in 1440.  The result of all this was that Nuremberg was free to punish anyone who had harmed its citizens according to the judgement of her own magistrates (schöffe). So long as the town forces could catch them.

They didn’t catch them all, but they caught quite a few. Sometimes these knights were ransomed back to their families, and some kind of Rezeß was negotiated to end further hostilities. But in some of the more egregious cases, these nobles were hanged as common thieves and murderers (which a few of them essentially were). And in very severe cases the town militia would mobilize and go out with cannon and destroy the castles of these knights, which spelled catastrophe not only for the individual baron but for his whole family and lineage.

Needless to say, the regional nobility did not appreciate commoners taking the law into their own hands in this manner, even if they had permission from the emperor. Though there were both formal laws (based on the 1356 Golden Bull of Charles IV[iii]) and informal rules, all of which tended to moderate the violence and prevent escalation on both sides during feuds, fighting between regional nobles and town forces could get quite nasty, especially when certain barons passed the threshold from feuding aristocrat to full-fledged raubritter

Nuremberg required the roads to be clear and free of tolls and robbers, or commerce would collapse and the city itself would die. Harsh measures were taken when raubritter took their feuds too far, resulting in some legendary rivalries. One of the first well known incidents took place during a feud between Nuremberg and the baron Eppelein von Gailingen, born in Illesheim in 1315. In the 1360s von Gailingen got into the habit of robbing and kidnapping merchants from Nuremberg along the imperial road, and became enough of a menace that the town indicted him in 1369 and sent an expedition to burn his castle in 1372, capturing him shortly afterward.

According to the legend, the raubritter was about to be hanged by the burghers, when he asked to sit on his horse one last time before dying. Cracking a joke about how he seemed to have no interest in seeing his wife and kids, the townsfolk brought him his horse. Despite his hands being bound, Eppelein spurred the horse and leapt over the walls and moat and escaped. It’s not clear how close to the truth this story was, but the legend took on a life of its own. The tale was so popular that murals of Eppelein leaping over the wall began to appear all over Germany, even in Nuremberg. The town’s forces captured him regardless in 1381, and had him broken on the wheel. But the legend lived on.

The Feud Book

Eppelein is also the first figure to appear in the manuscript Hs 22547. This is the ‘Feud Book’ (Fehdebuch) of the Imperial City of Nuremberg[iv], covering the period 1381-1513. Eppelein appears on the first page, in an entry for the date 1381. Perhaps the gruesome nature of his execution compelled the town authorities to document the incident in a bureaucratic manner.

The book has 121 pages with names on 115 pages and 92 coats of arms on 70 pages. Not all entries show the coat of arms. Most pages include one or two entries, many just show a name, while a few have a few lines of text listing out the misdeeds of the individual or family named. The book covers activity over 132 years, during which at least one feud was active at almost all times. Some of these are variations on the same family coat of arms (different branches for example) and some coats of arms appear more than once (trouble with the same family over time).

The entry in the Nuremberg Feud book for Eppelein von Gailingen. Image public domain, from Hs 22547, held by the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg.

The first coat of arms in the book is the infamous Eppeilen von Gailigen on page 3 (1r). Other notable figures include Konrad Schott von Schottenstein (41v and 49r) and Christoff von Geich (49r) -more about them in a moment-, and the famous Götz von Berlichingen (folios 55r, 55v, 56r). It’s also worth noting that some family’s coats of arms appear over and over. Von Berlichingen’s coat of arms, a wheel on a black background, appears five times going back to the 14th Century (14r, 39v, 55r, 55v, 56r), possibly indicating that his family may have had disputes with the town for multiple generations.

Feuds among the nobility were most often directed toward each other[v], with the town typically being collateral damage. Under feudal law, each district and each stretch of road belonged to one noble or prince or another, so declaring a feud against say, the Bishop of Wurzburg might result in burghers being captured in his territory. Burghers had the additional advantage of often carrying very valuable cargo. On the other hand, burgher’s caravans were well defended, and even a successful capture could result in dire consequences.

Nobles were concerned about the possibility of their name ending up in Nuremberg’s feud book[vi]. The town sent out patrols of heavily armed horsemen to escort their caravans and sweep ahead to ensure the safety of the roads, while the nobles built block-houses, castles and earthen berms to establish observation and choke points where they could stage ambushes. Nuremberg routinely sent groups of between seven and eighteen men up to about 30-50 km from town[vii] for an average of four days from a total force of about 60-100 men who were permanently tasked with this job[viii].

Some of these horsemen were militia of the town, and some were nobles with whom the town had a military alliance[ix]. But one weapon which the town deployed that was the most hotly resented by the Franconian nobles in general was a corps of paramilitary horsemen whom the nobles contemptuously referred to as ‘staghounds’ (Hetzrüden). These men, who could be of a somewhat dubious background, patrolled the roads, arrested bandits and kept an eye on the more boisterous barons. One of these Hetzrüden was none other than the famous fencing master Hans Talhoffer, who was involved in the murder of the nobleman Wilhelm von Villenbach in 1434. Talhoffer was later captured by his brother, Hans, and was nearly executed, but was saved by the intervention of a nobleman and woman, and his willingness to write a letter blaming the murder on his six accomplices[x].

When the town decided a more serious situation was at hand, they would mobilize the militia, limber up some cannon and go out to destroy castles. They would also put up large bounties on some of their enemies, for example 2,000 Gulden for the brothers Hans and Fritz von Waldenfels (alive) or 1,000 Gulden (dead) in 1416[xi]. The Hetzrüden and the Feud Book seemed to inspire considerable fear on the part of the knights, and several wrote letters complaining of being chased, watched, or followed by horsemen from Nuremberg, and wrote letters to the Nuremberg council asking if their name had been put into the feud book[xii].

Relations between the estates of burgher and noble were complex. Although the regional nobility and urban patriciate did not intermarry much[xiii], many noble families had strong social and financial ties to the towns to whom they sold raw materials like food, firewood and charcoal (required in vast amounts by the town’s metal-working industries) and from whom they purchased many luxuries and necessities including arms and armor. Some nobles allowed putting out systems and infrastructure like mills tied to urban inudstries to be built in their villages, receiving rents in return. Bur there were also times when the town and Franconian nobility were sharply at odds, almost across the board. One early example of this was during the so called Margrave’s War or South German Town War of 1440-1449.

Without plunging into the full history of this event, which culminated in a failed siege of Nuremberg itself by the Margrave of Brandenburg Albrecht II “Achilles” and a host of Franconian knights, the feud resulted in some damage to Nuremberg’s economy, but overall a stalemate. Brandenburg remained an instigator of conflict between the estates however, and when hostilities once again flared up, one particular figure emerged as a major nemesis of the town. This was the knight Konrad Schott von Schottenstein. Allegedly he is the figure represented in Albrecht Dürer’s famous Knight, Death and the Devil. Schott, and his ally Christoph von Geich proved both adept in evading town authorities (in spite of a hefty bounty placed on his head) and ruthless in his hostility. Nuremberg was never able to catch him but his reputation suffered and the town later got even during the Landshut War of Succession when they took some of his land.

Although Emperor Maximillian I banned private feuds (in theory) in his Ewiger Landfriede “Everlasting Landfrieden” of 1495, this did not stop feuding or static between town and country nobility. While there were always some knights who could play the raubritter game well enough to evade capture, larger towns like Nuremberg were warlike too and very resourceful. They tended to have an edge in military technology such as firearms and cannon, (one notable example was the invention of the wheel-lock pistol in Nuremberg, which became an important cavalry weapon). The feud book too, as a representative of the institutional memory and organized security apparatus of the town, was a weapon in their arsenal.


The Swabian league – at the instigation of Nuremberg, burned 23 castles of Robber knights during the Franconian War in 1523 but even that didn’t end the pillaging by robber knights (and they were unable to catch their main target).

This is the castle of the infamous ‘hand cutter’ and raubritter, Thomas von Absberg, the forces on the bottom right are Nuremberg militia (red and white striped flag). This was during an expedition mounted by the Swabian League, largely at the instigation of Nuremberg, in 1523. Fortunately for posterity they brought along a ‘war correspondent’ painter who made portraits of every castle they burned. You can see the other 23 castles here:


For the original manuscript see also Digitalisat des Bamberger Burgenbuchs der Staatsbibliothek Bamberg

Cite this article as: Jean Chandler, "The Feud Book of Medieval Nuremberg," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 18/05/2022, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1704.


Finding Safety in Feuding. Nobles’ Responses to Nuremberg’s Rural Security Policy in the Mid-Fifteenth Century. / Pope, Benjamin. In: Virtus. Journal of Nobility Studies, Vol. 23, 31.12.2016, p. 11–31.

The Nuremberg Feud Book for 1381-1513:


Hillay Zmora The Feud in Early Modern Germany, (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

Hillay Zmora State and Nobility in Early Modern Germany: The Knightly Feud in Franconia 1440-1567 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Reichsstadt Nürnberg

[i] Nuremberg, Catholic Encyclopedia, accessed 05/12/2022

[ii] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope), page 19

[iii] Among other stipulations, the person or entity declaring the feud was supposed to issue a formal warning, the A feud letter, or fehdebrief, is a special type of public notification that a feud has been declared. These would typically be posted in several places and in public meeting places such as the front doors of a church or the outer gate of a town.

[iv] http://dlib.gnm.de/item/Hs22547/html

[v] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope), page 18

[vi] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope) pp 21-24

[vii] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope) page 20

[viii] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope) page 20

[ix] So called ‘paleburghers’, often granted a special form of citizenship to seal the alliance.

[x] Jens Peter Kleinau has an excellent and highly detailed blog on this incident here: https://talhoffer.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/1434-the-case-of-wilhelm-of-villach/

[xi] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope) page 21

[xii] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope) page 22

[xiii] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope) page 20

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.

Cite this article as: Michael Warner, "The Duke of Gloucester’s Agincourt Retinue: The Regional Heritage of Select Sub-Captains from East Anglia and Kent," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 16/12/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1428.

[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.

Leading the Charge?: Leadership in war in late medieval Scottish burghs

Town governments in Scotland in the late medieval period were commonly dominated by a merchant elite who prioritised the stability, security and trading privileges of their burgh. A burgh council was usually led by an alderman, later known as a provost, and a number of burgh baillies (in Aberdeen there were four) elected annually. When the burgh was threatened, the aldermen and baillies took the lead in defensive preparations.[1] However, a brief entry from the council registers of the burgh of Aberdeen encourages an examination into the role these men played in offensive expeditions as well. The entry from 28th September 1485 noted that the town’s council elections for that year were to be delayed until ‘the aldirman and baillies that now ar[e] into thare officis… thare hamecuming fra the [h]oist quhilkis ar[e] now to pas[s] to the asseging [sieging] of berwick.’[2] Four days earlier an order had been proclaimed to tax the burgh inhabitants to cover the expenses of those who ‘passis to the asseging of berwick.’[3]

Fig. 1: Knight effigy in St Nicholas Kirk, Aberdeen – often attributed to be Robert Davidson but more likely to be the effigy of Alexander Chalmers, a close relative, probably the father, of the man elected as alderman in 1484. For more information see M. Cochrane Scott, ‘Dress in Scotland, 1406-1460’ (Unpublished PhD, University of London (Courtauld), 1987): 105.

Missing in Action?

Admittedly, further investigation suggests that the burgh officials’ involvement in conflict in 1485 may have been more limited than this extract initially implies. Very little is known about any action around Berwick, a town on the border between Scotland and England, that year. The town had been re-captured by the English in 1482 and an English Crown commission, dated 15th October 1485, warned that a Scottish attempt to retake Berwick was suspected.[4] However, wider evidence suggests that the threatened siege never materialised and Scottish resources were instead diverted to nearby Dunbar Castle which was re-taken by the Scots by mid-1486.[5]  Indeed, additional evidence from Aberdeen’s burgh records suggests that while the alderman and baillies may have left the burgh to go to the site of the gathering of a host it is unlikely they made it to Berwick. The burgh baillies were certainly present in the burgh court on 26th September and appear again to be present on the 3rd October, with the, only slightly delayed council elections, being held the following week.[6] With the option of travel by either sea or land, and the location of the hosting site in 1485 unclear, the possibility that the councillors did, at the very least, leave the burgh cannot be ruled out. However, the limited window of time available, combined with a lack of evidence for conflict around Berwick in 1485, makes any participation by an Aberdeen contingent in conflict that year highly unlikely.

Fig. 2: A section of an early seventeenth century map of Scotland, by Jodocus Hondius. Aberdeen and Berwick are both marked on the east coast of the map. Hosts for royal armies to fight England commonly mustered south of Edinburgh. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Taking the Lead?

What is clear, however, is that, in 1485, Aberdeen’s aldermen and baillies were expected to lead a representation from the town to war. Indeed, this is a view supported by wider evidence. In 1411, Aberdeen’s alderman, Robert Davidson, was killed at the battle of Harlaw while in 1547, two burgh baillies were granted an exemption from attending an army raised by the Scottish Regent but were expected to send their sons in their place. [7] Meanwhile the Edinburgh records make clear that in the early sixteenth century the burgh provost and baillies were all part of the force sent to the battlefield at Flodden in 1513, appointing interim office holders in their absence to maintain urban government.[8] This role for burgh leaders is perhaps not unexpected – all men within Scotland were, at least in theory, expected to fight in this period if required to by the monarch. However, it is nevertheless important to acknowledge that those who led in urban communities in Scotland during times of peace were also expected to lead in times of war.

Acknowledgements: The author would like to thank the SGSAH, and the UKRI, for their financial support for my PhD project from which this research is drawn.

Cite this article as: Kirsty Haslam, "Leading the Charge?: Leadership in war in late medieval Scottish burghs," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 18/10/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1430.

[1] i.e. ACA/1/9, p. 294; ACA/1/12, p. 130.  

[2] E. Frankot, A. Havinga, C. Hawes, W. Hepburn, W. Peters, J. Armstrong, P. Astley, A. Mackillop, A. Simpson & A. Wyner (eds), Aberdeen Registers Online (ARO): 1398-1511 (Aberdeen, 2019) <https://www.abdn.ac.uk/aro> [22/02/2021].

ARO-6-0934-01. The individuals elected in 1484, were all re-elected as general council members in 1485 and either they, or a relative of the same name, held office as either an alderman or baillie again later in the 1480s or 1490s (ARO-6-0935-02; ARO-7-0079-04; ARO-7-0141-02; ARO-7-0465-02).

[3] ARO-6-0933-01.

[4] W. Campbell, Materials for a History of the Reign of Henry VII, Vol I (1865): 579.

[5] N. Macdougall, James III (Edinburgh, 2009): 200, 312; RPS 1484/2/31; A payment for the building of a boat from Berwick by the Scottish Exchequer was made in 1486, which may relate to the conflict. However, the context of the entry ensures this cannot be definitively proved (G. Burnett (ed.) The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland Vol IX (Edinburgh, 1886): 434).

[6] ARO-6-0933-01; ARO-6-0933-03, ARO-6-0934-02; ARO-6-0934-04.

[7] S. Boardman, ‘The Burgh and the Realm’ in E.P. Dennison, D. Ditchburn and M. Lynch (eds), Aberdeen Before 1800: A New History (East Linton, 2002): 213; ACA/1/19: 222, 391.

[8] J. Marwick (ed.), Extract from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh Vol I 1403-1528 (Edinburgh, 1869): 142.

How Common Men Shall Be Armed: Equipment of the Common Soldier of England 1450 to 1500

By the second half of the fifteenth century, the martial equipment of the elite class of England was as impressive as it was encompassing. Enclosed in an expertly wrought suit of plate armour from head to toe the knight had never been so well defended. We have a fairly in-depth view of the types of equipment available to the elite warriors of this day as there are several complete harnesses remaining in collections such as those of Mantova and Churburg in Italy, and from a plethora of documentation such as the Hastings Manuscript f. 122b. In this manuscript, the author describes in great detail the armour and supplementary equipment needed to equip a man-at-arms, not only from head to toe but also in sequence. While the elite warrior of the day has been the focus of much research the common soldier typically gains less attention. Perhaps this is due to the rather simple equipment they utilized compared to the much more complex systems of armour that developed for the elite. As well much of the arms of common troops must have been used until its eventual disposal. While the man-at-arms was a crucial part of later medieval warfare other soldiers shared in the burden of war.

English military organization went through major developments throughout the late medieval period. The retinue system came to replace the outdated feudal summons of English knights and other soldiers with a more efficient system of contracted service allowing the king to create armies of soldiers that would fit his needs. While the feudal summons was relegated to near abandonment in England, the old system of the general levy and the more streamlined version of the Commission of Array continued to be used to create the bulk of many English armies. In this article, the martial equipment of commoners of 1450 to 1500 will be examined and the capacity they fulfilled. It will be divided between commoners as levied men by both rural and urban accounts, and last by exploring the types of equipment and soldiers that were used by men in a retinue of a great magnate. By looking at these three areas of recruitment a more complete view of how these common soldiers would have been armed can be made.

The Levy

The General Levy and Commission of Array all go back to the same concept. The right of the English king to demand military service from his male population was an ancient custom by the later medieval period, with evidence of this dating from Anglo-Saxon England and centuries before.[1] In 1495 Henry VII reasserted this right and stated that all men were required to be able to do service if required.[2] He also required that all men be adequately armed and armored to do this service.[3] This was nothing new; from the reign of Edward I on to his grandson Edward III’s reign increasingly heavier demands were required for the arms and armor the men of their kingdom possessed.[4] The use of commoners as soldiers had remained a mainstay through the entire medieval period and continued to be such into early modern times, in many ways intensifying. The king expected the men to be equipped for war but as revealed below the actual items used varied immensely.


Towns were a common recipient of demands for soldiers by the king. They also were charged to maintain their own martial forces, ready, and equipped. A review of such a force exists from the Town of Southampton in 1488. The Southampton Book of Fines 1488 to 1540 sheds light on the types of soldiers and equipment provided by townsmen.[5] This entry from the late fifteenth century is a summary of men present in total, troop types they represent, and their armaments, presumably for fines issued for men not present or lacking such equipment. Unfortunately, the opening page is now difficult to read, but that which is legible shows a large number of soldiers and martial equipment was indeed present in Southampton at that date.

The civic soldiers presented at the time are listed as 150 archers, 295 billmen, and 2 pikemen.[6] There is a possible addition that is hard to make out that appears to be gunners, which would add 17 gunners to the tally. This seems probable as the four wards listed have 120, 119, 75, and 156 men listed respectively, totaling some 470 people, and when listed by troop type there are 464 men listed. With the numbers matching so closely, the addition of 17 gunners seems to fit into the total numbers nicely. That said, traditionally in Southampton, there was a fifth ward which would indicate that these numbers were actually higher than recorded.

Fig. 1: © British Library Board. London, The British Library, The Holkham Bible 1327-1335, Additional 47682 f. 40.

Along with these categories of soldiers and the number of men per ward, there are a number of items listed. These include habergeons, harnesses, jacks, bills, pikes, handguns, and half pikes. Of these most are clear enough to make out with certainty: 23 habergeons, 162 harnesses, 9 jacks, 134 bows, and 120 pikes. The numbers of bills, handguns, and half pikes are difficult to make out entirely. There appear to be at least 200 bills and around 10 handguns, sadly half pikes are simply illegible. In all cases, there are more men listed in the specific soldier category than arms, except for pikes which may make up for the discrepancy with only 2 pikemen and 120 pikes.As well, there is a category under equipment that is difficult to identify though there are 107 of them. If the current trends in such reviews are in common, then they are perhaps sallets as it is an item consistently found in such documents, but conspicuously missing from this one. At times sallets may be included under harnesses as well, which is another possibility.

There are several phenomena that can be seen here. First, a rather large number of the men present had some form of arms. As far as we can ascertain all men could be provided with a weapon. As well many were armored, at least 42% having some form of armour, mostly ‘harnesses.’ Lastly, if archery was still of importance to English armies Southampton has a rather small proportion of them with only roughly a third being archers. This document, while difficult to decipher, indicates a large number of men largely readied for war with both arms, and to a lesser extent, armour demonstrating what may have been present in the town in the late fifteenth century.

There are some other variables to consider as well. There is significant evidence that the town of Southampton owned arms and armour to equip their townsmen. The steward’s inventory in 1468 lists one linen banner with the king’s arms, another unidentified, three old poleaxes, six lead mallets, five pavises, and rusty, broken harnesses.[7] Not only do we have a list of objects but specific examples of such objects being lent out. John Payn of Southampton bought several brigandines in 1470 for the town armoury.[8] In 1481 the town paid to have three loads of weapons brought from Christopher Ambroise’s house for town use.[9] In March 1484, Henry Brathwayte, one of the collectors of the king’s customs, borrowed a pair of brigandines from town.[10] On the last day of March, Robert Wilson was loaned a pair of brigandines and a sallet.[11] So in addition to the equipment personally possessed by the townsmen from the 1488 review, they also would have been reinforced with equipment from the town which would improve the numbers above.

While these documents are useful to see general arms and types of soldiers provided by urban bodies, individual inventories can give an enhanced view of the types of equipment owned by a single citizen-soldier. York was another important city of England and a frequent provider of soldiers for the armies of the king. We have an excellent source for the types of arms and armour of the men of York in the form of the Probate Inventories of the York Diocese.

From this document, the types of arms and armour the citizens of York possessed are demonstrated. The inventories range from the Archbishop of York, William Bothe, who died in 1464 and owned a fairly large cache of arms and armour, to those with arms only sufficient for themselves such as Thomas Kirkeby. From a total of fifteen inventories which included arms, seven have supplies of arrows but only four have bows. There were fifteen axes present, five swords listed, four knives, and two baselards. Of pole weapons eight bills and two pikes were reported. Regarding defensive armour, there were two bucklers and one shield, nine men had jacks, and seven had sallets. Only two men, Robert Fawcett and John Carter, had any plate armour outside a helmet listed and these were elbow defenses for Robert and a pair of splints for John. With the civic promotion of all men having sallets and jacks, it is surprising that about a third of these accounts lack jacks and half lack sallets.

Fig. 2: © British Library Board. London, The British Library, The Holkham Bible 1327-1335, Additional 47682 f. 29.

Upon looking at these specific examples a few trends are drawn into focus. Few were as heavily armed as a man-at-arms, with most owning little or no plate armour. This is curious compared to Southampton, which had far more harnesses, presumably of plate of some type as their review included both mail and jacks. As well, the lack of sallets in both York and Southampton is interesting as the head is so vulnerable. This may be due to the small sample size of York’s accounts. As for Southampton, as the document is difficult to read we cannot be certain if sallets were originally listed or not. One deduction is that some citizen-soldiers possessed more arms than they could use themselves.

The leading example of a man with far more martial equipment than could be used personally would be William Bothe, Archbishop of York: fourteen jacks, thirty-seven sallets, eighteen handguns, and twenty sheaves of arrows (c.480 arrows).[12] But his was not an isolated case. Robert Fawcette, a pewterer, had a bill, a Carlisle axe, two swords, a variety of arrows, a black quiver with various arrows, seven broad head arrows, a pair of plate elbow defences, doublet, yellow staff, and a shield.[13] Thomas Vicar possessed three axes, two slaughtering axes, an iron pike, and a bill.[14] Richard Symson is reported to have had five old battle axes, three Normandy bills, two broken bills, and an old worn sallet.[15] John Stubbes, a barber, had two bows, and arrows for them.[16] These men possessed more equipment than could possibly have been used by an individual. The Archbishop alone could have armed all the people included in these probate inventories with his jacks, sallets, guns, and arrows. Yet even men of lesser means such as Robert, Thomas, Richard, and John had enough weapons to provide for themselves in a fashion as well as others. Thomas Vivar with a total of five axes, a pike, and bill, or Richard Symson with five axes and five bills, could have provided arms for a half dozen men or more each. And even though bows are lacking in number it is probable archery still played a major part of the town’s military activity as about half the people of these fifteen had archery equipment, especially arrows.

Most men seemed to have had arms largely for themselves. Jack Carter is an excellent example of a man who seems to have been equipped as an individual. Jack Carter, a tailor by trade, had a jack, doublet, sallet, pair of splints, a dagger, baselard, sword, arrows, and a bow maker (a tool to bend the bow used in the shaping process).[17] We see several other examples of men with equipment for themselves including Thomas Kirkeby with a bow, arrows, and jack[18]; John Gaythird, a husbandman, with an axe and bill[19]; John Jakson, a husbandman, with sallet, bow, dozen arrows, Carlisle axe, and pike staff [20]; John Jackson, son of John a husbandman, with jack, bow, and arrows[21]; William Gale owned a sword, jack, and buckler[22]; John Brown with three knives, two battle axes, doublet, and sallet[23]; Jacubus Lune had a sword, buckler, and sallet[24]; Thomas Symson, a parson, had a doublet, sword, and small baselard[25]; and John Stevynson a jack and Sallet[26]. Although no doubt there is a wide variety of equipment owned by these men, these inventories paint a picture of how a common man might have been armed for war.

We can gain further information by examining some of York’s civic documents. York not only enforced the king’s demands for the proper armaments of war but created their own as well.[27] In one example, the minimal required arms and armour are set forth as, “All men in wards should have a jak, salet, bow, arrows and other defensive weapons.”[28] Although rules were created, we don’t know how well the town abided by them. Sadly, we have no muster from this period but we do have other information. With a larger sample of townsmen, the general trends found above might change substantially, but given the information available, the individual townspeople and their inventories give some idea as to how they may have been equipped at least minimally. As we saw before in Southampton, York also helped to equip their troops.[29]


From the villages of England came many thousands of soldiers throughout this period. As the bulk of the population of most European states was rural, it was an invaluable resource for the masses that would fill the ranks of medieval armies. Employed here are two examples of men that would have been raised in this manner. The first is from 1457 at Bridgeport, Dorset County, and the second from c. 1480 in Ewelme, Oxfordshire. Here can be seen the types of soldiers, probable equipment and trends relating to commoners from rural environments of this time.

As Dr. Richardson points out the Bridgeport muster was in response to a commission of array originally ordered in 1453-1454.[30] The muster of Bridgeport included 201 people though not all are legible. Of the 201, some 119 have equipment listed, though 82 have nothing listed. Offensive equipment listed comprises 114 bows, many arrows, 69 swords, 64 daggers, 11 glaives, 10 pollaxes, 10 axes, 5 spears, 3 bills, 3 heavy maces, 2 staves, and 1 hanger. Defensive equipment included 74 sallets, 67 jacks, 27 bucklers, 23 pavises, 4 pairs of gauntlets, 3 mail shirts, 2 brigandines, 2 complete armours, 1 set of leg armour, and 1 cuirass.[31] Of the 119 that appear, it is apparent that some were well-equipped and others had more modest protection.

A few examples demonstrate how a man from the rural environs of England may have appeared. John Cye had come to the muster well provided for with a jack, sallet, sword, dagger, glaive, bow, and two sheaves of arrows. One unknown man brought a full suit of armour with two jacks, two sallets, two bows, two daggers, and two sheaves of arrows.[32] Here it is probable that he was either bringing an extra in case his bow broke or to provide for another man arrayed alongside him.

Several points should be made examining this, first that many had no equipment. Out of 201, 82 were unequipped at all, fully 40% of the men present. Only a third had jacks and 37% had sallets. It is possible that the arrayers would have been required to outfit them for conflict though. A second assertion is that even though there was a great degree of variation, from no equipment to fully equipped, archery was of great importance. There were 114 bows from the 119 armed men present, enough to equip 95% of them with arms and 60% of the total number. Perhaps the most surprising finding is the lack of pole weapons, especially bills with only three.

From the review of arms of Ewelme in Oxfordshire and several surrounding villages in 1480, we can see another such example. The listing of men (including constables) includes about 100 men. Of these, we can only assess the armaments of 30  by looking at their designation of archers or billmen. Of these thirty men, eighteen were archers, six were billmen, five had staves and one had an axe. As the majority of the entries simply state ‘men,’ it is probable that archers, billmen, and other soldiers make up this group of unidentified commoners. If the pattern for these 30 men carried over, the unaccounted 70 men were mostly archers. From this muster, as before, we can see the continued focus on archery. Of the 30 men where details are given fully 60% are archers. And of the total group there are listed 46 in harness. With 46% with some armour, this is actually one of the higher percentages of armored men we have examined here between the urban and rural men raised.

This muster is vague in details of the equipment and the types of soldiers provided for most entries. Even the term ‘harness’ is complicated as some are listed as full harnesses in the first entries, but the latter are simply stated as harnesses, present or not. One example from this muster is Richard Slythurst who has a harness and a bow, and another being John Holme with a ‘hole’(whole) harness and a bill. An obvious question raised by this is: what is the difference between a ‘harness’ and a ‘whole harness’ in this document? We can assume a whole harness is more complete protection than simply a ‘harness’ but to what standard? A full plate harness? Head-to-toe protection of textile and iron elements combined? What does that mean of those listed with simply a harness then? Does that include a jack and sallet, or a brigandine and/or jack and sallet? As most simply are listed as to whether their harness is present or not, what do these 46 people actually have as far as armour? So while the document provides excellent information on the types and proportions of troops raised and some of their equipment, there are still a number of unanswered questions.

One other interesting example of the types of equipment common soldiers may have possessed is from a rebellion in the mid-fifteenth century. During the Jack Cade rebellion of 1451 in the Southeast of England, thousands of commoners rose up against the government. Following years of loss in the Hundred Years War, including all English possessions in France but parts of Gascony and Calais, people in several counties in the Southeast began attacking various targets, especially those with links to unpopular government offices. A number of royal records account for these attacks and in addition to  numbers and at times names of men listed as assailants their equipment is often listed as well. One account from this event in Kent states the men were, “armed with staves, bows, arrows, shirts of mail, defensive doublets, battle-axes, briganders, scythes, salets, iron caps, longbills (longis rostris) and other arms”[33] and “swords, ‘jakkes,’ salets, bows and arrows.”[34] Another account from Essex states perhaps summarily that the assailants were “armed with swords, staves, bows, arrows, jakkes and palets,”[35] From such a document we can see a large variety and some of the types of weapons and armour that had disseminated amongst commoners from the beginning of the second half of the fifteenth century. Although the percentages of troop types are not available, this is still palpable evidence that these citizen soldiers were present and armed as listed above.

The Retinue

Retinues were the other major method of raising troops for English kings of the later medieval period. For offensive actions, the retinue was a very valuable means for the king to raise a specific number of soldiers or desired varieties for a specific duration of time. In these contracts, it is clear the king expected these men to be well-armed and armored, which would provide better-equipped troops. Retinues could range from a few archers and the contracted knight or man-at-arms, to archers numbering in the hundreds or more. Larger retinues were often made up of smaller retinues merging into larger ones. A good example of this is from the campaign of 1475.

George, Duke of Clarence, brother to King Edward IV had one of the largest retinues of the campaign to France in 1475. It incorporated some 120 men-at-arms and 1000 archers.[36] This force was made of smaller units under contract to the Duke of Clarence. One such example was John Archer, esquire. On February 28, 1475, he contracted to serve George, Duke of Clarence, with himself as a man-at-arms and provide three archers. These four men made up John’s retinue and many of these smaller groups together created the 120 men-at-arms and 1000 archers. Something also of interest is that it is stated in the indenture that the archers would be “wele and suffisantly abled, armed and araied.”[37] The strong emphasis on archery remains constant but also provides the means to create such large forces with higher percentages of better equipped men by contract.

One excellent document to see the types of equipment that such men in these retinues may have been equipped with is the Howard House Books. This collection is the accounts of John Howard, Duke of Norfolk and Lord Admiral of England. Jacks, brigandines, sheaves upon sheaves of arrows, sallets, bows, knives, swords, spears, bills, doublets de fence, mail standards, cuirasses, harnesses, arm armour, gorgets (of steel), greaves, bolts for crossbows, guns, pavises, darts, and other objects show up in Howard’s accounts.[38] Many of these are in large volumes, sallets, brigandines, standards of mail, jacks, bows, and sheaves of arrows being found in the dozens in the ledgers. One entry lists three chests of arrows alone.[39]

It is evident Howard equipped his retainers for his service with these armaments. In 1463-1464 there are a few interesting examples of this process. In one instance there is the provision of ten bows along with twenty sheaves of arrows for his armed retainers. At the same time, John Strawenge is given a brigandine, a standard of mail, a bow, and a sallet with a visor, more or less fully equipping him. One Throston Par is lent a jack, brigandine, and a sallet with visor.[40] Will Hervy received a doublet of fence but already owned his own sallet with visor so he did not need to borrow that equipment.[41] As well the author of the entries includes whether they are on their own horse or not, indicating the duke often has to provide horses. As can be seen, the great magnates of the land could equip many troops at need but it appears to have been to supplement items the retinue soldiers lacked to become ”wele and suffisantly abled, armed and araied” as seen above. Archery once again has a great focus for retinues of the period in these examples. It also appears that the retinues were indeed better equipped than their levied counterparts, for the most part having a higher percentage of well-equipped men to urban or civic soldiers, though in many of these cases lent by the contract captain.


Several phenomena can be seen from these various examples. One is that there were many sources of soldiers available for English kings and nobles. Kings could draw upon towns, villages, and lords to raise armies for their various needs but that does not mean they were all equal in quality. This inequality probably would lead to utilizing soldiers by specific troop type.

From these few examples, archers are obviously important but not overwhelmingly so in all cases. The Southampton review of 1488 shows of the total men present only around a third are archers. While perhaps not indicative of all English towns, Southampton’s proportion of archers compared to the rural musters is a major difference, with roughly half what the Bridgeport and Ewelme had, proportionately. Additionally, the retinues of 1475 also greatly favor archers, with John Archer’s retinue being 75% archers, and that of George Duke of Clarence’s being 88% archers. That said it has been argued that the campaign of 1475 was not characteristic of warfare in the last decades of the fifteenth century. However, we have evidence when reviewing Lord Howard’s accounts that archers made up a large part of the common soldiers in retinues well into the end of the fifteenth century.

What is perhaps surprising is the lack of larger numbers of men with pole/staff weapons in rural environs. In towns such as Southampton and York, pole weapons appear commonly among the examples above, around two-thirds of the Southampton examples being billmen. At Bridgeport, the total staff weapons (bills, spears, pole axes, and more) made up only 10% of the total weapons present. The Ewelme muster indicates roughly a third had pole weapons. Retinues archers do seem of great importance but there are also a number of bills and spears that appear so it is probable that some men of the retinues fought as non-missile infantry troops.

Another consideration is the equipment these men possessed. As far as documented men in harness, the 100 of Ewelwe are the best armoured of those levied with 46%, though by comparison it appears Southampton and Bridgeport were not far behind. While this holds true for armour, Southampton by far has the most arms present numerically, by the percentage they are roughly the same as Bridgeport. With Ewelme we have no finite number. In all cases, arms matched or came close to the number of men present, though many men owned more than one weapon. That said the information from the retinues above indicates all men were expected to be armoured and armed in actuality, not just theory, which indicates that the retinues would have provided a significant number of well-armoured soldiers. Men such as John Strawenge, Throston Par, and Will Hervy were armed with weapons and armour to be well suited for the war of the day. In all these cases there probably were sufficient weapons for all present, though armour seemed to have been lacking for a significant number of the non-retinued soldiers especially. It is worth adding though that the captain they took a contract with did much in providing their military equipment to be fully armed. It is possible that the town and counties provided some degree of equipment to the levied soldiers as well. Though it is unclear how well these levied soldiers were arrayed by the town or county, we have indisputable evidence for retinues of the great lords being very well equipped in this fashion.

One of the most interesting aspects of this research has been seeing the types of equipment commoners owned or were able to access. We can see that men that were from urban or rural levies or in retinues all might possess similar types of armour and arms. Bows, bills, axes pikes, swords, daggers, and other arms seem to have been ‘common’ weapons for ‘common’ soldiers. While it appears to be more common for men in retinues to have been better equipped, men like Jack Carter from York, John Holme of Ewelme, and others could be well-armed and equipped with arms and armour. It is also apparent that some were like the 82 from the Bridgeport Muster, men like Thomas Chere, who showed up with no equipment at all. So in the end, one could be from a retinue or levy and be armed well or even very well, but on the other end of the spectrum, a retinue soldier would be equipped with some form of armour while those of the levied men may not have had any at all.

While commoners often are looked at as being unimportant or a simple rabble of poor, this research shows that is an overly simplistic view. Although there may have been some that closely fit the stereotype of a peasant with torch and pitchfork, there were others that were very much equipped with arms and armour that would have been satisfactory for their required duties. As thousands upon thousands of the soldiers that made up armies from 1450-1500 in England were from this social group and played a vital role in wars, it is well that most were adequately prepared.

Cite this article as: randallpmoffett, "How Common Men Shall Be Armed: Equipment of the Common Soldier of England 1450 to 1500," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 01/10/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1413.

Recommended Bibliography:

Claude Blair, European armour, circa 1066 to circa 1700 (London: Cambridge Press, 1958)

Peter M. Konieczny ,”London’s war effort during the early years of the reign of Edward III “, in The Hundred Years War : a wider focus, ed. Andrew Villalon and Donald Kagay  (Boston: Brill, 2005) pp. 243-61 (pp. 244-248).

Clifford J. Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives through History: The Middle Ages (Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, 2007)

Thom Richardson, “The introduction of plate armour in medieval Europe”, in Medieval Warfare 1300–1450 , ed. Kelly DeVries (London: Routledge, 2010) pp. 441-46 (pp. 441-43).

Thom Richardson, The Tower Armoury in the Fourteenth Century (Leeds: Royal Armouries, 2018)

[1] Calendar of Close Rolls of Edward I 1288-1296, p. 439; Calendar of Close Rolls of Edward I 1296-1302, pp. 112, 388 and 395; Calendar of Close Rolls of Edward I 1302-1307, p. 86; Calendar of Close Rolls of Edward II 1313-1318, pp. 122 and 201; Calendar of Patent Rolls of Edward II 1324-1327, p. 219; Calendar of Close Rolls of Edward III 1343-1346, p. 450; Calendar of Patent Rolls of Edward III 1343-1345, p. 427; Statutes of the Realm volume 1 ( London: 1963), p. 259.

[2] Statute of the Realms volume 1, p. 336.

[3] York House Books volume 1, ed. by Lorraine Attreed (Avon, 1991), p. 381.

[4] Calendar of Close Rolls of Edward I 1288-1296, p. 439; Calendar of Close Rolls of Edward I 1296-1302, p. 112, 388, 395; Calendar of Close Rolls of Edward I 1302-1307, p. 86.

[5] Southampton Books of Fines, 1488-1540, SCA 5/1, f. 1 and The Book of Fines: The Annual Accounts of the Mayors of Southampton, vol. 1 1488-1540, ed. by Cheryl Butler, Southampton Record Series 41 (Southampton: 2007). 

[6] Unfortunately the number of archers listed is very difficult to read. Over the years I have looked this manuscript page over many times and am fairly confident there are three letters, the first being C and the last L. The middle is very hard to decipher as it is nearly non-existent under special lights or with digital manipulation. Thought if I, V or X it changes the number very little if it were a C it would be far more significant. It may be there that were no other letters and that it is simply CL. Cheryl Butler thought they were two X’s but with the UV lights I am fairly confident the letters are C?L.

[7] Steward’s Book of Southampton 1467-1468, ed. by Berry N.D. Chinchen (Eastleigh), p. 34.

[8] Steward’s Book of Southampton 1470-1471, ed. by Berry N.D. Chinchen (Eastleigh), p. 1.

[9] Steward’s Book of Southampton 1481-1482, ed. by Berry N.D. Chinchen (Eastleigh), p. 19.

[10] The Books of Remembrance of Southampton 1485-1563 vol. 3, ed. by Harry W. Gidden, Southampton Record Society 30 (Southampton: 1930), p.3.

[11] Ibid, p.3.

[12] The Probate Inventories of the York Diocese, ed. byP.M. Stell and L. Hampson (York, 1998), p 133.

[13] Probate Inventories, pp. 58, 129 & 130.

[14] Probate Inventories, p. 101

[15] Probate Inventories, pp. 181-182.

[16] Probate Inventories, p. 97.

[17] Probate Inventories, p. 160.

[18] Probate Inventories, p. 157.

[19] Probate Inventories, p. 180.

[20] Probate Inventories, p. 134.

[21] Probate Inventories, p. 135.

[22] Probate Inventories, pp. 143-144.

[23] Probate Inventories, p. 147

[24] Probate Inventories, p. 168.

[25] Probate Inventories, p. 177.

[26] Probate Inventories, p. 186.

[27] L. Attreed, House Books I, p. 381.

[28] L. Attreed, House Books II, p. 662.

[29] L. Attreed, House Books II, pp. 551 and 662.

[30] Thom, Richardson, “The Bridgeport Muster of 1457”, Royal Armouries Yearbook 2 (1997)p. 1. Thom Richardson’s translation of the Bridgeport muster provides the most current version of this document.

[31] T. Richardson, “Bridgeport”, p. 1.

[32] T. Richardson, “Bridgeport”, p. 2.

[33] Calendar of Patent Rolls of Henry VI 1446-1452,  p. 453.

[34] Calendar of Patent Rolls of Henry VI 1446-1452, p. 469.

[35] Calendar of Patent Rolls of Henry VI 1446-1452,  p. 503.

[36] M.A. Hicks, Bastard Feudalism (New York:1995), p. 190

[37] ER 3/667, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

[38] Howard House Books: The Household Books of John Howard 1425-1485, Volumes 1 and 2, ed. by Anne Crawford (Avon: 1992).

[39] Howard House Book vol 1, p. 440.

[40] Howard House Books vol 1, p. 195.

[41] Howard House Books vol. 1, p. 444.


York: Capital of the North, stronghold against the Scots and Richard III’s retinue

Capital of the North

When we think about the North of England, in contrast with the south, most of us imagine beautiful landscapes, the stunning countryside, industrial cities, and regional accents. However, the vast English North is far more complex and intricate than that. It is filled with culture, political disputes, intrigue, and a spirit of community attached to displays of loyalty for its people. Moreover, it was even more so during the late Middle Ages, which is the focus of this article. The great cities of the North were the centre of the social, political and economic life of the region, and none more so than York. Made prosperous by its production of wool, trade and pilgrimage[1], York and the county of Yorkshire were at the very centre of Richard III’s government and support in the North.

Figure 1: The most famous and fayre Citie Yorke described, John Speed, 1610.
© University of Cambridge Digital Library

            The city of York, a stronghold in the North surrounded by a 4km wall[2], whose foundation was built by the Romans around the 71 A.D. and reinforced from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries with limestone to defend the city, with the addition of four gatehouses or “bars”, as well as three-metre deep ditches surrounding the wall itself. The gates controlled the influx of people, the taxation of goods and tolls, as well as serving as defensive positions in times of war and conflicts, such as was the case in the Wars of the Roses. Like many European cities of the medieval period and more than fifty English ones, the fortress-like construction serves as both a protection and a prison.

            The Micklegate Bar, the most important gateway in the city during the Middle Ages, served as both a commemorative display for kings — since it was traditional for the ruling monarch to enter the city through it — and a warning to rebels and traitors. Their heads were put on pikes and displayed above the gate. Such were the case of Sir Henry “Hotspur” Percy and Richard III’s own father, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York. Not to mention, York being the centre of the county and one of the military powers of the North was one of the defense line against the Scots. As pointed out by Palliser, “York’s geographical position continued to give it military significance during the intermittent Scottish Wars”.[3]

Figure 2: The southern entrance to York, Micklegate Bar. Photograph taken on 11 April 2006.

Richard III and the City

During the same conflict that killed his father in 1460, the then nine-year-old Richard, who was made Duke of Gloucester in 1461 when his brother Edward ascended the throne as Edward IV, rose to greatness a decade later. Between 1471 and 1483 due to his military prowess against the Scots, his political mind and intellect — chiefly in his administration of the northern territory where he spearheaded the Council of the North as Lord President and de facto Lord of the North — Richard commanded power and authority that no other nobleman in England possessed. His relationship with the city is well documented in the York Civic Records. Volumes of books dedicated to the record of Council meeting, transactions, letters, appointments and events. And in it, precious accounts of Richard’s character and allegiance. As stated by the editor of the first volume, Revered Angelo Raine,

To retain the good will of the City of York was of importance to the rulers of England. Richard III was able to do this, not merely because he was a strong character and a clever man, but also because of his knowledge of the North.[4]

            It was his knowledge of the North, having lived there for most of his life and being a Yorkshireman both in name[5] and birth, Richard was schooled by none other than the Kingmaker himself — the Earl of Warwick — on how to handle and retain the people and the councilmen’s trust and loyalty. That is reflected on the respect the city bestowed upon him as well as the way they remained loyal to him after his death in 1485. In 1480, in one of the Scottish Expeditions, Richard sent a letter to the Councilmen of the city requesting[6] that men of the York be called to arms to aid him against the Scots. In another letter, a month after the battle, Edward IV congratulates the city for its collaboration during the conflict, based on a report given by the Duke of Gloucester. A few years later, once again, the city’s men were called to arms against the Scots and once again, Richard sent a letter on 14 May 1482 thanking the Councilmen for “bearing the change of 80 able men well arrayed and horsed.”[7]

            Therefore, it seems that the Duke’s power and knowledge of the North earned him the respect and obedience of the Councilmen of York as well as some of its citizens. For as Raine also notes on his introduction, “ there is evidence to show that a considerable section distrusted Richard”.[8] Nevertheless, in April 1483 when his brother died and a power vacuum was installed, and during those troubled time, Richard in his capacity as both Duke of Gloucester and the Lord Protector of the Realm, requested the Councilmen for “ as many men as you can make, defensibly arrayed”[9] to come to London in order to aid him against the Queenmother — Elizabeth Woodville — and her family. It was no surprise when the Council readily replied not only in paper, but also in action: two hundred horsemen, properly armed for combat if necessary, joined other northern troops and together marched to London, where they remained for Richard’s accession to kingship and coronation. 

            However, during the event of the Battle of Bosworth, the eighty men who were dispatched to aid Richard against Henry Tudor never made it to the battlefield. It is never explained in the civic records why that happened. To this, Paul Murray Kendall[10] states that the delay was caused by a plague[11] that was prevalent in the City. Nevertheless, the city mourned its king and benefactor — at least on the councilmen’s part — when news of his death reached York on the 23rd of August 1485. So much that even Edward Hall[12], Tudor historian and writer, noted how loved and esteemed Richard had been by the men of the North.

Cite this article as: Beatriz Breviglieri, "York: Capital of the North, stronghold against the Scots and Richard III’s retinue," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 07/05/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1271.

Referenced Bibliography:
Edward Hall, Hall’s Chronicle, Containing the History of England During the Reign of Henry IV and the Succeeding Monarchs to the End of the Reign of Henry VIII, ed. by Sir Henry Ellis (London: , 1809).

P.M. Kendall, Richard III (London: Allen & Unwin, 1955).

John M. Theilmann, ‘Sweating Sickness’, in Encyclopedia of pestilence, pandemics and plagues, ed. by Joseph P. Byrne (London: Greenwood Press, 2008).

A History of the County of York: The City of York, ed. by P. M. Tillott (London: Victoria County History, 1961), in , <https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/city-of-york> [accessed 7 February 2021].

‘The West Ridinge of Yorkeshyre with The most famous and fayre Citie Yorke described. 1610’, in The theatre of the empire of Great Britaine presenting an exact geography of the kingdomes of England, Scotland, Ireland, and the iles adioyning: with the shires, hundreds, cities and shire-townes, within ye kingdome of England, divided and described by Iohn Speed.by John Speed,  (London, 1611.). <http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/PR-ATLAS-00002-00061-00001/66> [accessed 7 February 2021].

The Southern Entrance to York, Micklegate Bar, by Darren Wortley, 2006.<https:

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Micklegate_Bar.jpg> [ accessed in 7 February 2021].

York Civic Record Volume I, ed. by Angelo Raine (Wakefield: The West Yorkshire Printing Co., 1939).

[1]‘The later middle ages: Communications, markets and merchants’. In: P. M Tillot (Ed.) A History of the County of York: the City of York. London,Victoria County History, (1961), 97-106. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/city-of-york/pp97-106 [accessed 2 February 2021].

[2] What currently remains of the medieval limestone masonry.

[3] D.M. Palliser. “Medieval York. 600-1540.”, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 244.

[4] Angelo Raine, York Civic Records, Vol I. (Wakefield: The West Yorkshire Printing Co. Limited, 1939), p. vi.

[5] Alluding to the House of York’s heritage through the title of Richard’s father, Duke of York.

[6] Angelo Raine, York Civic Records, Vol I. (Wakefield: The West Yorkshire Printing Co. Limited, 1939), p. 34-35.

[7] Ibid, p. 55.

[8] Ibid, p. vii.

[9] Ibid, p. 73.

[10] P.M. Kendall, “Richard III”, London, Allen & Unwin, 1955, p. 347-349.

[11] Sweating Sickness as reported by John M. Theilmann, ‘Sweating Sickness’, in Joseph P. Byrne (ed.)

“Encyclopedia of pestilence, pandemics and plagues”, London, Greenwood Press, 2008, p. 686.

[12] Edward Hall, “ Hall’s Chronicle, Containing the History of England During the Reign of Henry IV and the Succeeding Monarchs to the End of the Reign of Henry VIII”, London, 1809, p. 426.

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