The Soldier in Later Medieval England

Datasets Described

There is no shortage in the sources reporting the engagement of Englishmen in the warfare in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. On the one hand, this period saw the creation of great chivalric chronicles by Jean Froissart, Enguerrand de Monstrelet, Sir Thomas Gray and many others, on the other hand, the need to pay the soldiers led the bureaucratic system of the English kings to produce documents of all kinds both in England and in their overseas possessions. Many of these sources, both narrative and administrative, only deal with the names of the military leaders: nobles, knights, captains. It is only by chance that a name of simple archer or man-at-arms appears in chronicle accounts. To fill the gap the Soldier in Later Medieval England project concentrated on assembling nominal data from the sources where a simple soldier was recorded, perhaps at a muster of his company, or if he sought to protect his lands during his absence, or for another reason. The relevant datasets are described briefly below.

Musters Dataset

The nominal data assembled in this dataset is drawn from the muster rolls surviving in The National Archives (TNA) in Exchequer Accounts Various (E101). They represent mainly musters of troops setting out on overseas expeditions between 1369 and 1450.These musters are working documents drawn up in advance of a campaign, and annotated at least once during a formal muster at the port of embarkation.

The process of raising armies in England was highly bureaucratic and driven by the Exchequer with their obsession for accounting for monies being spent. Forces were raised by captains entering into an indenture (a contract) with the crown, which specified size, type of troops, length and location of service. The expeditionary force was subject to muster in order to check that indentees had brought the troops they were contracted to bring. Thus the muster rolls are annotated with soldiers who had not turned up for service or who had not 'passed muster', and sometimes with deaths, changes of military rank (e.g. when men were knighted) and replacements. Presently this level of detail is not shown on the online database. Some of the rolls may be composed after the campaign for accounting purposes and do not bear the corrections resulting from the mustering process. We have followed the policy of the TNA by referring to them as retinue rolls or lists rather than muster rolls.

The dataset also includes musters for garrisons held by the English and funded out of English revenues (and hence in the Exchequer Accounts Various E 101). These garrisons include Calais, as well as garrisons in Wales, Scotland and England, over the period 1369 to 1453. We have also included musters of ‘standing forces’, i.e. troops serving with the lieutenants of Gascony and Ireland.

For discussion of these sources see Adrian R. Bell, War and the Soldier in the Fourteenth Century (Boydell, 2004) and Anne Curry, ‘The English army in the fifteenth century’, in Arms, Armies and Fortifications in the Hundred Years War, ed. A. Curry and M. Hughes (Boydell, 1994), pp. 39-68.

French Garrisons

This dataset puts together the nominal data on the soldiers who served in the English garrisons in Northern France, primarily Normandy, during the last stage of the Hundred Years War from the capture of Harfleur by Henry V in 1415 to the fall of Lancastrian Normandy in 1450. Though entitled ‘French garrisons’ the dataset also contains temporary garrison reinforcements, armies operating in the field or undertaking particular sieges or other actions in France during this period. These forces were subject to regular musters and review on a monthly to quarterly basis dependent on the nature of service. After 1424 the office of controller was introduced in the Normandy garrisons to keep a quarterly counter-roll. These counter-rolls, were listing the soldiers leaving and entering the garrison during the quarter, changing rank, being absent in the field or on their own business (for which they might lose pay) and taking prisoners and booty as profits of war (a share of which belonged to the captain and king). Musters occasionally include information on the geographical origins of the soldiers when the English rulers became concerned about the loyalty of local troops after the successes of Joan of Arc. At the current stage, however, it is only nominal data on the soldiers which has been put online .

The early musters of Henry V’s first conquest of Harfleur were kept in the records of the English Exchequer and are found today in Exchequer Accounts Various (E101). The musters and counter rolls of the English-held garrisons in Normandy from around 1419 survive in the archives of the chambre des comptes (at Caen to 1422, then in Paris to 1436, then Rouen). These documents remained in France after the English lost Normandy. Over ensuing centuries, and especially after the French Revolution, they have been widely dispersed around the world. The most significant collections of muster rolls are now held in the Bibliothéque Nationale de France (BNF) and the Archives Nationales de France (AN, série K), both in Paris. Others have been distributed between the Archives Départementales in Normandy and other local repositories such as the Musée des Beaux Arts at Caen (in the Collection Mancel). Purchases made in the nineteenth century by the British Library (BL) are mostly found among the Additional Charters.

For discussion of these sources see Anne Curry, ‘The English army in the fifteenth century’, in Arms, Armies and Fortifications in the Hundred Years War, ed. A. Curry and M. Hughes (Boydell, 1994), pp. 39-68; ‘The nationality of men-at-arms serving in English armies in Normandy and the ‘pays de conquête’, 1415-1450: a preliminary study’, Reading Medieval Studies, 18 (1992), pp. 135-163; ‘Foreign Soldiers in English pay: identity and unity in the armies of the English crown, 1415-1450’, in Routiers et mercenaires pendant la guerre de Cent Ans, ed. G. Pépin, F. Boutoulle and F. Lainé (Centre Ausonius, Université de Bordeaux, 2016), pp. 303-16.

Protections Dataset

This dataset contains letters of protection and appointments of attornies granted and recorded on the Treaty (or French) Rolls (TNA C 76), Gascon rolls (TNA C61) and Scottish Rolls (TNA C 71) for the years 1369-1453. They are legal instruments that would be taken out by soldiers prior to undertaking military service outside England, in order to protect their interests whilst they were absent. The letter of protection protected an individual from prosecution or legal action whilst serving overseas; by letters of attorney an individual appointed legal representatives to act on his behalf whilst absent.

However, both types of letter only indicate an intention to serve, and do not in themselves prove that service was actually given. Protections were also sought by non-soldiers going overseas, for instance as victuallers. Furthermore, only higher ranking soldiers with substantial property interests (peers, knights and esquires/men-at-arms) were likely to take out protections: archers are likely to be underrepresented. Unfortunately too, the documents do not give military rank but they often include some indication of geographical origin and occupation. These have been included in the public database.

For the reliability of this source for the campaigns of 1387-1388 see Adrian R. Bell, War and the Soldier in the Fourteenth Century (Boydell, 2004), pp. 68-79; and for wider discussion see Andrew Ayton, Knights and Warhorses: Military Service and the English Aristocracy under Edward III (Boydell, 1994), pp. 157-159 and Michael Prestwich, Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience (New Haven, 1996), pp. 109-110.

The ‘Agincourt roll’

Previously a part of the Musters dataset and now made spearate, the so-called ‘Agincourt roll’ contains the names of some retinue leaders and men-at-arms (but no archers) who were with Henry V in the battle of Agincourt in 1415. Unlike the documents in the Muster dataset, created for accounting purposes, this list is a result of heraldic and genealogic interest of the Tudor age, and this became a reason for its separation into a separate dataset.

The list is known to survive in three early modern three copies. The database entry is based on that in the British Library MS. Harley 782 which was printed in the History of the Battle of Agincourt by N.H. Nicolas. Two other copies of the list are in the Bodleian Library Ashmolean MS. 825 fos. 15-35 and the College of Arms MS. 1, fos. 17-34. It is not clear whether these copies were made from a single original or from later copies but it seems that the list originated from a roll submitted by Sir Robert Babthorp, controller of the king’s household to Exchequer in November 1416, as a part of final accounting for the campaign of 1415. Unfortunately this original roll is not known to survive.

For more details on this source see the Research Guide ‘Was your ancestor on the Agincourt campaign with Henry V?’ by Anne Curry