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Duration 49:58

Medieval warfare: sources and approaches

An exploration of how records created by the crown before 1485 can be used to study medieval armies, campaigns and battles in Britain and France. Dr James Ross and Adrian Jobson focus on the records of key battles such as Bannockburn, Crécy and Agincourt.

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Adrian Jobson: Our talk today is divided into two segments. I will be looking at medieval warfare between the Norman Conquest and the eve of the 100 Years War, then I’ll pass across to my colleague, James Ross, who will then spend the rest of the talk looking at warfare after the outbreak of the 100 Years War in 1337.

When people think of medieval warfare, the first image they conjure up is of a knight in shining armour, mounted on his steed, his surcoat and banner emblazoned with his heraldic arms.

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Contemporary depictions, such as the one of the 14th century knight Sir Geoffrey Luckjaw, who you can see here, receiving his helmet, lance and shield from his wife and son-in-law, capture the stereotype perfectly. But what was medieval warfare like in reality?

The history of the medieval army is very different from that of the more modern military forces. There was no permanent or standing army, nor were there any regiments. Pitched battles were in fact relatively rare and famous engagements such as Falkirk and Bannockburn were the exception rather than the norm. Instead, medieval warfare was a mix of two different strategies. The first of these involved lightning armed raids, or chevauchees  which were intended to destroy an enemy’s economic and military strength, while avoiding any defended strongholds.

Raids also provided the troops with an opportunity to make a quick profit. Raiding was especially a feature of warfare in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, where the native rulers normally lacked the strength to conduct a more substantial military campaign. Siege warfare was a second key feature of military campaigning; Richard I for example fought in no more than two or three battles in his entire career, but was constantly involved in siege warfare, indeed he died from an arrow wound received during the siege of Chalus in 1199.

Amongst the nobility and the knightly elite, casualties were generally low, thus when the French commander, the Comte de la Perche, died during the battle of Lincoln in 1217, both sides reacted with an outpouring of grief.  A nobleman or knight would have expected to have been ransomed rather than killed; the sum owed being set at a level that would not have bankrupted him. Amongst the ordinary rank and file however, casualties were substantially higher.

Following the success of the Norman conquest of England, the Normans looked westwards to Wales to expand their dominions. Between 1067 and 1090, they had established martial law wardships; essentially semi-independent fiefdoms in the Border regions. Over the next 150 years or so, there was intermittent but generally low intensity warfare amongst the Border regions and south Wales.

Llewelyn the Great successfully expelled the English from north Wales in 1213. Several attempts were then made by the English to recover this lost territory before he died in 1214. Llewelyn ap Gruffydd’s ongoing refusal to swear fealty to Edward I led to the outbreak of war in 1277. Edward himself raised a massive army and invaded north Wales. Having been encircled and finding his food supplies cut off, Llewelyn had little option but to sue for peace.

Tensions boiled over again in 1282, and in March of that year, Dafydd, Llewelyn’s younger brother, attacked Roger Clifford’s castle of Hawarden. Edward immediately raised an army and invaded Gwynedd. Llewelyn was immensely successful in his defence but was killed at Irfon Bridge by a common soldier called Steven of Frankton. Despite a Welsh attempt to sue for peace, Edward continued to press home his advantage, and the last Welsh garrison surrendered at Castell-y-Bere in April 1283.

In 1294-5 the Welsh, underneath the leadership of Madog ap Llewelyn, rose in rebellion, but it was short lived. Madog himself was imprisoned for the rest of his life, while most of his fellow leaders were executed for treason.

Before the Scottish wars of independence, relations between England and Scotland regularly alternated between peaceful co-existence and open conflict. Often this was in direct response to political crises within England. In 1068, Northumbria rebelled against the Norman invaders, with support from Malcolm III of Scotland. After successfully crushing the rebellion, William the Conqueror, in 1072, led an army north into Scotland. Malcolm capitulated, and acknowledged William’s overlord-ship. When Stephen was crowned King of England in 1135, David I of Scotland sided with the rival claimant, Empress Matilda; offering military aid, he invaded England in support of her claim.

On 22nd August 1138 however, an English army defeated them and his forces at the Battle of the Standard. War broke out again during the reign of William the Lion, when he joined Henry the Young King, Henry II’s son, in rebellion. Leading an invasion force, he was captured at the Battle of Alnwick, in July 1174. William’s heir, Alexander II, similarly intervened during the rebellion against King John’s rule, in 1215.

Now, going forward about 70 years, after the death of Margaret the Maid of Norway in 1290, relations between Edward I and the Scots rapidly deteriorated. Between 1296 and 1324, England and Scotland were almost constantly at war. Campaigns consisting of lightning raids and sieges were the norm, interspersed with occasional but significant battles such as Falkirk and Bannockburn, which changed the fortunes of the protagonists. After a short lived peace however, a second Scottish war of independence was fought between 1332 and 1357, and one of the major events was at Halidon Hill in 1333 when the King of Scotland was captured by Edward III.

Turning to Ireland; in 1167 an Anglo-Norman knight named Richard FitzGodbert de Roche landed in Ireland. But the English involvement in Ireland really dates from 1169, when a group of barons led by Richard de Clare, landed at Waterford, at the invitation of Diarmaid Mac Murchadha, the King of Leinster, to help him recover his throne. Accompanying Clare were 200 Knights, and 1,000 other troops, while Robert FitzStephen brought a further 30 knights, 60 men at arms, and 300 foot archers. After restoring Diarmaid to the throne, Clare married his daughter.

Fearing the establishment of a rival Anglo-Norman kingdom in Ireland, Henry II landed at Waterford himself, in October 1171, with an army which included 5,000 knights. Having successfully asserted his authority, Henry then subsequently granted Ireland to his younger son John, the future King John.

In 1174, some of the native Irish rulers rose in rebellion, but an agreement was reached in 1175 with Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, the High King of Ireland; its terms being called the Treaty of Windsor. Within two years however, the treaty was in tatters as both sides were unable to control their supporters. Limerick and Cork were quickly conquered by the Anglo-Normans, while John de Courcy was equally successful in subduing Ulster.

Over the next 150 years there was low intensity warfare between the Anglo-Normans and the native Irish. In 1315 Robert Bruce’s brother Edward led a Scottish invasion of Ulster, designed to open up a second front against the English. The invasion was initially successful, but on the 24th October 1318, John de Bermingham defeated Edward Bruce, in Faughart, near Dundalk, and the Scottish intervention in Ireland was ended.

And turning finally to France; between the Norman Conquest which began with the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and the outbreak of the 100 Years War in 1337, England was frequently at war with the French in defence of its continental territories, including Normandy and Gascony. In 1106, Henry I defeated his older brother Robert Curthose at Tinchebray in Normandy, thereby successfully reuniting England and Normandy under a single ruler. After the Angevins, starting with Henry II, gaining the throne in 1154 the intense rivalry with the French Capetian monarchy led to military conflict. Sieges were common, while pitched battles were relatively few in number.

After John’s accession in 1199, his conduct forced many of his Norman subjects into rebellion. Phillip II of France intervened, and by the end of June 1204, English rule over Normandy, Maine and Anjou had been extinguished. So over the next 40 years, England’s rulers attempted to recover these lost lands, but they met with relatively little success. Poitou succumbed to the Capetians in 1225, while in 1242-3 Henry III conducted his final, unsuccessful attempt at recovering those lands.

This was followed by a period of comparative peace, but hostilities resumed in 1294 over French claims to a right of sovereignty in Gascony. The war itself became a military stalemate, and a truce was eventually agreed in 1298. Political tensions between the French and the English boiled over again in 1324, in a dispute concerning Saint-Sardos in the strategic border county of Agenais. Two years of warfare ensued, during which Agenais had been lost to the French, before a temporary peace was brokered.

Now, turning to the actual logistics and the actual mechanics behind warfare of the period; we have already seen that there was no standing army. Soldiers were usually raised, especially before the 14th century, via the use of the feudal summons. Vassals held land from their lord in return for the performance of certain obligations, including military service. Those who held directly of the king were obliged to undertake 40 days of unpaid military service per year.

By the 1280s however this type of service had become an anachronism and was often ridiculous. Hugo FitzHare for example was obliged to serve with a bow and arrow. In 1299 he joined Edward’s army in Scotland, but as soon as he saw the enemy, he duly fired one arrow, and immediately headed homewards. Recognising the difficulties, the Crown altered the writ of summons to also ask the recipient to provide as many men at arms as they felt they could provide. It also reduced the quotas that were expected, from a theoretical 5,000 knights in the 12th century, to just 228 knights, and 294 sergeants, who served in the Welsh war of 1277.

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The document we can see on the screen is a typical example of a feudal summons; dated 1322-3, it lists those who are summoned to join the army muster at Newcastle upon Tyne which was preparing to go northwards once again to fight Robert the Bruce. The Crown therefore increasingly relied upon mercenaries to make up the shortfall in manpower. Although their loyalty could not be guaranteed, the use of mercenaries did have its advantages. Unlike those who served in response to a feudal summons, mercenaries could serve all year round. They offered a higher degree of military experience, and provided an army with greater flexibility.

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There are numerous documents relating to mercenaries in the public records, and here we can see a bond, granted to Ellis Emblard, Burgess of Blay and Gascony; it’s dated 26th year of Edward I’s reign, and it’s for 35 marks and had been already paid to various mercenaries in the town’s garrison.

Warfare is and was an expensive business, and placed immense strains on the Crown’s finances. In 1205 for example King John spent more than £18,666 on defending Poitou, while Edward I’s conquest of Wales in 1282-3, cost more than £120,000. Costs continued to rise, but the Crown was, for much of the 13th century, unable to find a reliable source of revenue to offset this burden. With an income based mainly upon irregular sums supplied from feudal incidents, the king could only seek extra financial help in times of emergency.

Now as we have already seen, tenants in chief owed the Crown military service. Increasingly, however, the Crown was happy to accept payments in lieu, known as scutage, the monies being used to hire mercenaries.

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There are many records related to scutage payments in The National Archives, and here we see a typical example: the date records the scutage payments owed to the Welsh army of 1223.

During the 13th century however, the Crown increasingly found that its traditional sources of revenue weren’t sufficient to fund its military commitments. Subsidies were one avenue, but problematic for the Crown as for any grant, the consent of the clergy and the laity was required. Under Edward I, loans became a common way for the Crown to raise sums. Italian banking families advanced vast sums and, by 1294, Edward owed £392,000 alone to the Riccardi of Lucca. Before its expulsion in 1290, the Jewish community had literally been bankrupted by the Crown’s incessant demands for cash.

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Edward’s reign also saw the expansion of customs payable on exported goods, the most infamous being the maletote a tax imposed on war exports. All this money was raised and spent on his campaigns. One significant area of military expenditure was on wages. There are, consequently, numerous documents in the Archives detailing these payments. This example is typical of their form layout. It dates from 1284-6, and is a counter roll recording the wages paid to serving soldiers in the Welsh army.

In his treatise The Art of War, the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu noted that the line between disorder and order lies in logistics, a sentiment that was just as important to military leaders in the Middle Ages as it was to the generals of the ancient Chinese kingdom of Wu. Supporting medieval frontline forces was an army of craftsmen and workmen. They built rough roads for the use of the army, cut down trees for its fires, made braziers for its siege works, as well as constructing temporary bridges across rivers.

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The document that you can currently see is a role detailing the stipends paid to carpenters and other workmen during the Welsh war of 1277. This particular membrane … relates to Rudland in Flintshire …and shows the final sum of wages and the costs of the workmen.

The Crown also went to great lengths to ensure that its military forces in Wales, Scotland and Gascony were fully supplied with the necessary equipment. Arms and armour, bows and arrows and siege engines all had to be delivered wherever they were needed, and there are many documents in our collection that provide insight on how this was actually achieved.

Horses were a key military resource. Destriers were the large war horses used in battle by knights, and were often extremely expensive. In 1297 for example, Edward I paid £66 13 shillings and four pence for just one animal. Horses were also employed in a logistical role, being used to transport vital stores to the frontline. Substantial sums were spent by the Crown on acquiring these animals, and details of this expenditure are once again found in the public records.

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Now the particular example you can see dates from 1302-3 and provides a valuation for horses that were to be used by Edward’s army in Scotland. [The document] states: ‘Sir John Bardolph, Knight, for the same’ (i.e. horses) ‘has one horse’, and the valuation is 25 marks, which is roughly 16 pounds, 16 shillings and eight pence, which also puts into context Edward’s spending on that one horse for himself.

Napoleon Bonaparte once famously declared that ‘an army marches on its stomach’ and this tenet can equally be applied to any army of the Middle Ages. Bread was the staple diet of the medieval soldier, but was often supplemented by oatmeal and pottage. Fresh or salted meat and dried or salted fish were also requirements. Local water supplies could not be relied upon, so sizeable quantities of ale and wine were necessary. Food was requisitioned or purchased from both the royal demesne and private estates. Although documents recording both the foodstuffs and their transportation survive some of the earlier military campaigns, it is really from Edward I’s reign again, that they do so in large numbers.

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Now here we can see an example of a receipt that was issued by Sir Thomas de Warburton, the Sheriff of Hampshire, to Sir John de Kirklee. Dated 13th January 1304, it concerns various quantities of wheat, barley, oats, beans and peas which had been requisitioned from Kirklee’s estates on the Isle of Wight, and subsequently shipped to the army encamped at Berwick upon Tweed, again in preparation for another invasion of Scotland.

Living off the land, or to use the correct military expression, foraging, was a normal method used by army to feed itself. If a force moved quickly through enemy territory, than it could normally feed itself without too much difficulty. But if it became bogged down, then starvation became a growing threat as local resources were used up. Unfortunately the process of foraging is not well documented as there was no reason to account for these goods, which were simply pillaged from the enemy. Occasionally however its impact can be discerned from the public records. After the Scottish defeat at Faughart in 1318 Robert Bagard petitioned for compensation for the corn and livestock taken by Edward II’s army while he was encamped on his estates in Limerick. Unfortunately we don’t actually know if he got his money back, but he certainly made a good attempt at trying.

Now, castles were at the cutting edge of medieval military technology. Mainly defensive in nature, they served many purposes including acting as administrative centres and military strong points. They also provided a useful base for military operations.

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Castles were expensive to construct and some idea of the enormous sums spent can be seen in this next document image, which is an account from the Norman pipe rolls, for the building work undertaken at the Norman border fortress at Chateau Gaillard in 1198. Now the text itself reads (well, some of the text actually says): ‘On the works of the fortress of Roka and on the castle of Insula and on the houses of the King in Insula and of the works of the houses and of the stockades and for the ploughing of ditches, and on the works of the houses of the vill under Roka and on the works for the bridges and parapets and stockades in front of Tosny, namely on branches and enclosing with paling: £1700 pounds and 3 shillings by the kings writ.’ And that’s just from the hard text; ditches, houses and braziers.

Started in 1197, Chateau Gaillard took less than three years to build. 6,000 labourers were employed in its construction, and it cost more than twice the annual revenues of Normandy. Costing more than £11,000 in total, this fortification was virtually impregnable and was the most technically advanced of its time.

Now the great 19th century Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz once wrote that: ‘If you entrench yourself behind strong fortifications you compel the enemy to seek a solution elsewhere’. Now this maxim would have been readily understood by Edward I, who constructed a series of castles around the edge of the mountainous principality of Gwynedd. Unparalleled in scale since the days of imperial Rome, this castle building programme cost more than £100,000.

This placed an immense strain on the revenues of the Crown. A vast army of workmen, masons and other craftsmen were recruited to build these fortifications, and the National Archives holds many documents recording their efforts. Accounts of building works made by Royal officials and overseers frequently survive, noting the sums spent on both materials and wages.

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Now here we can see a typical example of what these accounts look like. It is a counter roll drawn up by Adam de Wheatenhale, recording the payments for building work that had been undertaken under his control at Conway castle between 1285 and 1286. Now the highlighted section I’ve brought up is just a tiny bit of his account, and states: ‘320 quarters and six bushels of charcoal for the fabric of the building,’ so they’re using, buying vast amounts of charcoal to burn up the wood, to free up the stone to build the castle. Each of these castles was permanently garrisoned under the command of a castellan. Edward’s new castles were the latest in technology, but many of the older castles were fast becoming obsolete, and often had been allowed to become ruinous.

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Just how badly they were sometimes maintained can be seen in a certificate, found among some Chancery miscellanea. It’s dated 5th June 1275, and the notes are in the state of Kilgarren castle where it was taken over by Edward I on behalf of an uncle; William de Valance. Roofs are missing from buildings, there are holes in the walls, and the moat had been allowed to silt up.

Edward I lacked the funds to build in Scotland on the scale that he had done in Wales, yet castles garrisoned by the English were a vital element in maintaining a military presence north of the border. Robert the Bruce recognised their strategic importance, but was himself not strong enough to conduct lengthy siege operations. Consequently, he pursued a different strategy, capturing castle after castle by ‘escalade’, which is the use of ladders to scale the walls, and surprise attacks. After a castle’s capture, Bruce’s men deliberately slighted it so that the English would never again be able to dominate the land by holding the castles.

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Now the image you can see on the screen is a list of the garrison and provisions based at Dumfries in November 1301; again it’s typical of its type.

Siege warfare played a vital role in medieval warfare. Siege towers enabled attackers to overlook the defences of a castle, or were wheeled up to its walls for a preparation for an assault. Great stone throwing machines such as Trebuchets, or Mangonels were used to create a breach in the castle’s walls. Besieging armies could also excavate tunnels beneath the walls themselves. Shored up with timbers, these tunnels were then filled with combustibles and set alight, and usually the walls above the tunnels would collapse into the tunnels and thereby create a breach.

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Wherever possible, siege engines were transported by sea, a policy that can be seen, once again, in the public records, and here we have a receipt, issued by William Plokenet of Berwick, for wages received for carrying the king’s siege engines to Stirling on his ship the Leugerebord, in 1304.

Naval warfare was very different in the Middle Ages. Vessels were small in size, and rarely strayed beyond the sight of land. Battles were almost always close inshore or in harbours. Yet ships still played an important role. Medieval English armies could achieve little without them. Ships transported men, food and horses around the coast and of course the English Channel; they also defended the coastal ports against French raids, and could supply the castles in north Wales.

Before John’s reign, the Crown had only a very small number of vessels in its service. If the Crown needed a fleet to fight or to transport its armies across the seas, it would rely upon the services of vessels owned by the Cinque Ports, which owed the service of 57 ships for 15 days service a year, or the king could commandeer merchant vessels.

John was the first king, however, to invest in a fleet of his own. Between 1209 and 1212, he ordered the building of 20 new galleys and 34 other vessels. John also authorised the construction of a new harbour mole at Portsmouth, and sheds for storing tackle during the harder months, during the winter months.

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We hold a range of records relating to naval matters here at Kew. This example notes the ships based at the ports of Bristol and Drogheda, and their masters during Henry III’s reign. Now the first highlighted that I’ve just pulled up at the top of the list is Bristol, and the second one, a bit further down the list is one ship called owned by the master called Peter Alard and you’ve got the rest of the ships’ captains as you go down the list.

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We’ve already seen that battles were the exception rather than the rule of medieval warfare. Here we can see a 19th century recreation of an incident that took place near the beginning of the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.  An English knight, Henry de Bohun, saw a solitary Scottish knight who’d been scouting out the English positions. Recognising the knight as Robert the Bruce, Bohun charged within full sight of both armies. Unwilling to retreat, Bruce successfully avoided Bohun’s lance, before killing his opponent with one single swipe of his battleaxe.

Now, raiding was a constant feature of warfare on the borders of the English dominions with Ireland, Wales, Scotland etc. It’s very difficult to defend against, and these raids often had a devastating impact on the local economy. Now, some understanding of the severity of these raids can be seen in this petition from 1334: it requests that a debt of 20 marks, for provisions that his monastery had bought from the king, be pardoned; the Abbot of Holm Cultram arguing that his religious house was extremely impoverished because its estates had been recently devastated by Scottish raiders, and there were several other similar sorts of petitions dating from the 1320s/1330s, alleging the same sort of damages.

So far we’ve mainly looked at the means by which warfare was prosecuted in the two centuries before the Hundred Years War. Now let us turn briefly to the human cost. Casualties were, as we have seen, generally low amongst the noble and knightly elites. Sometimes however its members did pay the ultimate price, and Gilbert de Clare was a case in point.

He was the Earl of Gloucester and Hereford; aged just 23 years of age in 1314, he was the richest layperson outside the immediate royal family. The last of his line, his ancestors had fought alongside the Conqueror at Hastings. On 24th June 1314, the tired English army arrived at Bannockburn. Clare advised Edward II that his men should be allowed to rest for a day. Edward disagreed, and accused him of being afraid of the Scots. Now Clare was insulted by this slur, and got on his horse and immediately charged on his own at the Scottish army. Now, he charged forward, was cut down and killed by a Scottish spearman.

[Shows slide] After the battle, his lands were then sub-divided between his three surviving sisters as co-heiresses, and the document on the screen is part of that process; it’s an inquisition post-mortem for the Oxfordshire manor of Caversham.

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Once both sides had tired of war, or one had gained a sufficient advantage over the other, there was an opportunity to come to a negotiated settlement. Many of these old-time treaties have survived amongst the public records, and the one displayed on screen, the 1174 treaty of Falaise, is one such example. After William the Lion of Scotland was captured by Ranulph de Glanville at the battle of Alnwick in 1174, he was imprisoned in the Norman castle of Falaise. Scotland was subsequently occupied by the English army, and William was forced to come to terms with Henry II, and the provisions of this agreement were set out in the treaty named after his place of imprisonment. William swore an oath of fealty to Henry, while agreeing to pay the cost of an English army of occupation. 15 years later, Richard I terminated the agreement in return for a single payment of 10,000 silver marks.

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Perhaps the most significant English treaty in the two centuries after the Norman Conquest is shown here on screen; the treaty of Paris of 1259 (it happens to be the 750th treaty anniversary this year). After 50 years of unsuccessful attempts to recover the lands lost by his father in 1204, and faced with domestic unrest at home, Henry III began negotiating with Louis IX of France, in an effort to find a suitable resolution. The resultant agreement was ratified by Louis on 4th December 1259.

Henry agreed to renounce his claims to Normandy, Maine, Anjou and Poitou in return for Louis renouncing his support for reformist barons in England. There was also some financial compensation, but the key provision was a formal acknowledgment, by the King of England, that Henry would hold his remaining continental possessions as a vassal of the French Crown.

This treaty was to have far reaching consequences; any aggrieved Gascon, who believed that he had not received justice from the Plantagenet administration in Gascony, could now appeal directly to the French Parlement. This gave the French King carte blanche to interfere in the affairs of the Duchy. Although the treaty did initially lead to more than 30 years of peace between the two realms, it ultimately led to a series of armed disputes, mainly generated by complaints back to the French Parlement and culminated in the outbreak of the 100 years war in 1337.


James Ross: Thank you, Adrian. I’m going to concentrate primarily on the relations between England and France. I will also outline relations within the British Isles, but it’s going to be the 100 Years War that I’m going to focus on. I hope to outline various sources and approaches to the records. I’m going to look at finance, raising armies, organisation and discipline, a little bit about naval warfare, and something about the physical materials of war, so, armour and arrows and weapons, and lastly have a little bit of an investigation about how you can study individuals through National Archives holdings.

But however, as Adrian suggested, what perhaps marks the most significant change in English military activity since 1066 was the opening of the misleadingly named 100 Years War, which ran from 1337 to 1453. This period saw, for the English Crown at any rate, an increasing focus on the Continent, and not on warfare in the British Isles.

The duration of the war was unprecedented. The finance required was astronomical, and it didn’t affect England alone; the Welsh and the Irish coming from areas wholly or partially under English rule, supplied troops and benefitted from English success, or suffered from English failure. Scotland was consistently allied with France throughout this period, and supplied a lot of troops to French armies.

To have a brief outline of England’s relations with Scotland Wales and Ireland during the 14th and 15th centuries: as I’ve mentioned other areas of the British Isles became a military and political backwater as far as the English Crown was concerned. Occasional warfare was either an unwelcome distraction to the French war, or was occasionally undertaken to remove such distractions in the future; pre-emptive action. The financial situation was such that the English Crown could not afford to fight prolonged wars on two fronts, so there wasn’t prolonged warfare across the border with Scotland much after the 1340s, until Henry VIII engaged in much more serious warfare in the 1540s. But occasional warfare with Scotland still occurred.

King David II of Scotland was captured at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346; Edinburgh was burnt by Richard II in 1385 (he has a reputation as a very un-martial king, more normally remembered for inventing the pocket handkerchief, but he did actually undertake a number of military actions); Percy forces, the great northern family the Percy’s, avenged their defeat at Otterburn in 1388 by defeating the Scots at Homildon Hill in 1402, and warfare along the border in 1481-2 under Richard Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, led to the recapture of Berwick by the English.

It’s noticeable, actually, that a number of these campaigns were initiated by the Scots and were invasions of England rather than the other way round, and perhaps the most famous example of this is the Scottish invasion of England which was defeated at Flodden in 1513, where the Scottish King James IV was killed.

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This is a contemporary, though very much idealised version of, or image of Anglo-Scottish warfare; I suspect the reality was an awful lot grimmer than that.

The English were rather less successful at stamping out Owain Glyn Dwr’s rebellion in Wales between 1400 and 1415, not least as the Welsh refused pitch battle, and it took an extremely attritional campaign under Henry Prince of Wales, later Henry V, which finally ground down the rebels. Ireland was also seen as a backwater, with perhaps only Richard II paying the lordship serious attention; he crossed twice with substantial forces in 1395 and 1399.

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This is an image of Owain Glyn Dwrs seal on his 1404 treaty with Charles VI of France; it was the high point of his career, when he could negotiate with a foreign state as an independent ruler, but unfortunately it didn’t last.

However, as I’ve said, I’m going to concentrate primarily on the 100 Years War. I’m going to outline the general stages of it because it’s a relatively complicated story.
Adrian’s already spoken about the treaty of Paris in 1259 that allowed the French King to interfere in the English Duchy of Aquitaine or Gascony. This continued throughout, and in August 1337, Philip VI of France confiscated it; it’s the event that marks the beginning of the 100 Years War. Very shortly afterwards, Edward III of England declared himself King of France.

His claim was actually rather more serious and believable than is often given credit; he was the nearest male relative of the previous King of France; he just happened to inherit through the female line. The famous French Salic law which barred inheritance through the female line was created after this event, not beforehand.

The war itself was a sporadic affair perhaps, compared with modern warfare, but was particularly intense for long periods by medieval standards. The opening phase, certainly from the mid 1340s through to about 1360 saw some of England’s most successful military campaigns. In a rare sea battle the French fleet was defeated at Sluys in 1340. On land, Edward won a stunning victory at Crecy in 1346 and besieged and took Calais in the following year.

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In 1356, King John of France was captured by the Black Prince, Edward III’s eldest son, at the Battle of Poitiers, and that’s a picture of the Black Prince’s tomb in Canterbury Cathedral; a very successful commander, he might not have been the easiest king to work under, had he not pre-deceased his father. A further full scale invasion by Edward III in 1359 failed to achieve the outright victory the king sought. This then triggered peace negotiations and under the resulting treaty of Bretagne in 1360, Edward renounced his claim to the French throne in return for outright sovereignty over Gascony and Poitou, which would have solved the problems of French interference there.

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The image on the screen demonstrates the very substantial amounts of France that were under English control under the terms of the treaty of Bretagne in 1360, particularly in the south. However, the peace only lasted nine years, and in 1369 the French invaded Gascony.

Over the subsequent years most of the earlier English kings were lost in rather sporadic and sterile campaigning. In 1414 however, the newly crowned Henry V demanded the restoration of various territories including Normandy and Anjou. When the French inevitably refused, Henry invaded Normandy, and on 25th October 1415, his outnumbered army inflicted a crushing defeat on the French at Agincourt.

He used this victory and the subsequent conquest of Normandy to seek a diplomatic solution and in 1420, the treaty of Troyes provided for the marriage of Henry to Catherine, daughter of Charles VI. Their offspring would succeed jointly to both the English and the French thrones, but Henry’s early death in 1422 caused problems in the implementation of this. Although the territorial inheritance he left his English son was perhaps as big as it could have been, as it had ever been, its reality was a bit different.

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Nevertheless, successful campaigning did continue for some period, and you can see the amount of France again under English and Burgundian control. However, Henry’s death in 1422 left his son Henry VI aged only nine months and although he technically acceded to both the English and French thrones, it marked a change.

Fighting continued and under the leadership of Joan of Arc between 1429 and 1431, the forces of Charles VII of France began recovering the territories that had been lost to Henry V and his Burgundian allies. Maine surrendered in 1448, while the last English garrison in Normandy capitulated in August 1450, and in the south, on 17th July 1453 the French won a decisive victory over the English at Castile, where the English commander charged an artillery emplacement and died. Gascony quickly surrendered leaving only Calais under English control. Later sporadic invasions of France, for instance 1475, 1492, and Henry VIII’s first campaign of 1513 achieved little.

Moving, then, to ways of approaching the huge collection of military documents that The National Archives holds. I’m going to first look at finance. As a Frenchman, Rabelais, in 1553 said: ‘The strength of a war waged without monetary reserves, is as fleeting as a breath. Money is the sinew of war.’ And it’s certainly crucial for the English Crown.

Expenditure on warfare after the start of the100 Years War quickly became astronomical, for example the wages of the army alone between 1346 and 1347, which was the Crecy campaign in the Siege of Calais, consumed the huge sum of £127,000. Putting that into context, the normal income of the Crown was about £47,000 a year. The shortfall could be partially made up by parliamentary taxation which in this year raised about £50,000, but nonetheless, in one year the Crown was forced to borrow £58,000 which was more than its normal annual income.

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This document is where some of these figures I’ve just quoted have come from: it’s an account of the Keeper of the Wardrobe of the Household, who’s the official with responsibility for finance in wartime; it’s in the series of his enrolled accounts in E361. One of the sentences at the end simply states that: ‘The wages of diverse men at arms, light horsemen, mounted and foot archers and mariners in the King’s service in his war, in the parts of Normandy France and, before Calais, in the aforesaid time, came to £127,201,  two shillings, nine pence and a single ha’penny.’ But that is one of the biggest single figures I’ve ever seen in a medieval document, so you can see the scale of it.

Parliamentary taxation was one of the main ways in which the English Crown attempted to finance the war. The famous ’15th and 10th’, and that’s an assessment of one 15th of the laity’s wealth and one 10th of the clergy’s wealth, was standardised in 1334, and on this basis grants for taxation were made in Parliament. Parliamentary records are in the series C65, and the collection on the taxation should be traced through The National Archives series E179. Unusually both of those have very good finding aids, there’s a good taxation database on our website for E179, and there are CD Rom editions of parliamentary papers for the medieval period via Opera for C65.

For much of the period the Crown was just about able to finance the war, but by the 1440s, the finances of the English Crown collapsed. Parliament alleged that in 1450 the Crown’s debts were £372,000, but its income was just £36,000 a year; maybe one of the few periods of history where the state finances were worse that they are now!

There are accounts for virtually every aspect of the war and some of these I’ll come back to, but there are accounts for: ordinance, artillery, the navy, provisioning, garrison, retinues, ransoms etc; Adrian’s shown it for the earlier period and this certainly continues for the 14th and 15th centuries. They are mainly in The National Archives series E101, which are various accounts for the Exchequer; these are very brief descriptions on the on-line catalogue but can be searched there and there is a paper version as well.

There are also accounts for prominent private individuals both elsewhere and at The National Archives and those at Kew are perhaps most noticeably those of Edward the Black Prince and his brother John of Gaunt, who were both the sons of Edward III, and two of the most prominent 14th century commanders, and certainly Edward the Black Prince’s register I will come back to.

My second possible way of approaching the sources we have here is to do with recruiting armies, and I’m going to talk a little bit about the rise of the indenture system, which has been described as the most important administrative development in the English army in the later Middle Ages, and perhaps was just as crucial as the famous longbow men in the English successes in the 100 Years War. An indenture was made between the king and a captain, or between a captain and a subcontractor and was a binding agreement regarding the size and composition of the retinue to be brought and specified wages, terms and conditions and divisions of spoil.

Now this seems very straightforward, but it hadn’t been the case previously, and instead of unwieldy short term and unprofessional hosts raised by the feudal levy or professional but expensive mercenary forces whose loyalty couldn’t be guaranteed, the indenture system created groups of high quality troops whose terms and conditions were set out and who became increasingly professional especially in the 15th century. So the English armies, though rather smaller than the French, tended to be of better quality, and indeed the French successes were partly due to them beginning to copy the English system.

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To take a specific example, this is an indenture for Richard de Vere Earl of Oxford, for the Agincourt campaign in 1415 and it’s in the series E101. In it the Earl agrees to supply for the king: ’40 men at arms and 100 mounted archers for the service of a year’. The rates of pay are specified; each man at arms is paid 40 marks, that’s about £26 a year, each archer is paid five marks, or about £3 a year. The men at arms are of a higher social status and their equipment costs more, so they are basically paid more.
Once this had been agreed, the Earl then went and subcontracted with some of his leading men.

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Here’s an example of the Earl’s subcontracting: here you can see the list of the men who have agreed to serve with him, and this particular example, someone called Thomas Billingborough, agrees to bring himself, an archer, three horses and a page to look after his domestic arrangements. Once the force had gathered, it would then be mustered at a specific place and time, and inspected. This particular force was mustered at somewhere called Wallop’s Forth in Hampshire and was inspected on 6th July 1415 by Lord Harrington and Sir John Rothinhale, so this is quite a professional, organised way of raising an army, and it’s these men who go on and fight at Agincourt in a far more disciplined manner than the French – that is obviously one major reason for their success.

The English armies also tended to be more organised and disciplined, partly helped by the fact they were smaller but partly helped by the regular issue of ordinances, or specific orders, for the army in most campaigns. The earliest surviving one is from Richard II’s Scottish campaign in 1385, but they were frequently reissued.

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To take an example: these images…are from ordinances issued by Henry VII when he invaded France in 1492. They’re actually printed, which probably indicates they were used for propaganda purposes as well. But ordinance covered a range of subjects; […this example] indicates that: ‘No man should be so hardy as to irreverently to touch either the Holy Sacrament of God’s body, or the body of the vessel in which the same is contained,’ so, basically, respect the Church, ‘under pain of being drawn and hanged.’ So not probably one to break!

On the other hand […this example] is far more practical. It states that: ‘The King straightly chargeth and commmandeth that if it happen that his host tarry by the space of three days in any one place, be it at siege or otherwise, then every man should keep clean his lodging, not suffering any carrion nor filth, or any other unwholesome or infecting air’, (or smell) ‘to be in or near his lodging, but forthwith to bury the same deep in the earth, upon pain of being punished at the discretion of the marshal.’ Very practical example because failure to keep the camps clean led to disease and death, so it’s a very practical thing. These two examples are in series E163, but there are others in various archives as well as The National Archives.

A further approach for, or a potential avenue for study would be naval warfare. (Adrian’s already touched on this.) The English monarch usually owned several ships; Henry V, being particularly interested, indeed owned as many as 39 ships in 1418. But in times of war both English and French kings called upon the merchant vessels of their subjects and manned them, in addition to their crews, with archers and men at arms.

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The ships were converted for war by building forecastles and crows’ nests, fortifications from which archers directed their fire on to enemy vessels, and this contemporary illustration of naval warfare demonstrates the fact that there were a lot of fortifications with archers shooting and the forecastles […indicate] that the bulk of the warfare was simply by men at arms boarding other ships; it was actually quite like fighting on land, except with the additional possibility of ending up in the sea at the end of it.

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It’s possible to see those who served at sea and to some extent in what capacity. There are documents listing those serving at sea in the king’s service in 1371-2, and they’re given specific headings: men-at arms, (so, heavily armed soldiers) armed men, (probably poorer men just armed with blunt or possibly sharp instruments) archers, mariners, […and various sub-headings] of those who were serving in the navy at that time.

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It’s also possible to some extent to trace operations, particularly through accounts; this particular account by a keeper of the navy for 1419-22 records the expenditure of £140 in 1416 (so it’s a couple of years beforehand), on the expenses and wages of 36 mariners in a particular ship called The Little John (I think someone had been reading their Robin Hood) which along with a much bigger ship called The Holy Ghost, was undertaking operations for the safekeeping of the River Seine in Normandy, which was the point where there was a big naval battle shortly afterwards, so it’s preliminary operations there.

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A further approach is to look perhaps at some of the physical materials or at least the payments for them. There are accounts covering expenditure on everything, from the king’s armour to hundreds of thousands of arrows purchased for English longbow men. This particular account shows expenditure on armour for King Edward III himself, particular pieces being replaced, and these are relatively common. These sort of things can normally be found in the series E101.

[Shows slide] However this is a different example and this is from the Black Prince’s register. As an independent commander, he paid for a lot of the equipment himself and was then reimbursed. One of these entries is for the purchase of 24,000 arrows for one of his expeditions, but this really wasn’t a terribly excessive number; nearly half a million arrows were purchased by the Crown in 1421, and if I can just play with a few figures: 5,000 English longbow men, firing at the rate of one arrow every six seconds, which was about the right firing rate, would fire 60,000 arrows in a single minute. Now that’s an arrow storm and that’s why the English armies were very successful against French cavalry. That would be 3.6 million arrows an hour but I don’t think anyone could have fired that quickly! Or for that long, perhaps!

The last approach and perhaps one of the most fruitful, is to look at particular individuals, and the records for the 100 Years War allow researchers for the first time to trace the military career of individuals below the ranks of the nobility and the knightly elite.

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You can still do precisely that; another example from the Black Prince’s register in E36: this shows a grant by the Black Prince to Sir Roger de Cotesford in consideration of his good service, particularly at the battle of Poitier when he was effectively the Prince’s bodyguard and he’s granted 40 marks a year from the Prince’s Honour of Wallingford. The Black Prince was a notoriously generous employer and that was a big grant.

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However, it’s also possible to look at the least important people in the English armies, [least] socially important: this is a list of archers who were employed at the garrison of Harfleur in 1415, which Henry V captured just before marching on; these men are left behind. It’s possible to get a sense of the human element of the conflict, even from the records of central government.

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This is a petition by Piers of Lanfranc, who was a Gascon, who claims to have served the English armies for 14 years without pay. He’d been imprisoned four times, the last time for a year and a half, and he’d come in to England to beg the king to help pay some of his ransom. It’s very much a hard luck story.

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From the other side, again from the Black Prince’s register, this is a statement in 1360 by Charles Count of Dammartin, regarding the competing claims as to who actually captured him at the Battle of Poitier in 1356. At least three men claimed that they’d captured him and this matters an awful lot; the Count’s ransom was £3,000 and whoever captured him had a third share. So that’s really quite a lot of money and it makes a big difference to the individuals in question, but it’s a detailed statement of precisely what happened and the Count seems to have just stood around being repeatedly captured without defending himself!

A recently completed project by the Universities of Reading and Southampton has created a database of all known English and Welsh soldiers who fought in the 100 Years War. It’s based largely on National Archive muster rolls in E101, treaty rolls and supplementary pattern rolls in C76 and C67, and actually has nearly quarter of a million entries. It’s an invaluable tool for researching an individual’s career. It doesn’t tell you under what terms they’re serving or rates of pay and things like that, but it is possible to find virtually everyone who is known to have served. That can be accessed at and, as I say, it’s a very useful new database for the prosopographical approach.

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