Billmen - myth?

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Immortalis
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Billmen - myth?

Postby Immortalis » Wed Jun 04, 2008 8:12 pm

Hi :oops:

Just wondering the net as I do trying to further my Knowledge of things that interest me and came across this forum thread.

http://www.wolfeargent.com/cgi-bin/ulti ... 6&t=000020

Ok I know its abit old but it got me worried, are they mad or are we?
I wouldnt want to find out I had spent many a good year :D portraying something that didnt exist. feel free to shout, laugh or otherwise point me in the right direction. Or you could just delete the whole thing, but I would like to have my mind put to rest.

thanks with hope :?



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Re: Billmen - myth?

Postby Jim Smith » Wed Jun 04, 2008 9:10 pm

Immortalis wrote:Hi :oops:

Just wondering the net as I do trying to further my Knowledge of things that interest me and came across this forum thread.

http://www.wolfeargent.com/cgi-bin/ulti ... 6&t=000020

Ok I know its abit old but it got me worried, are they mad or are we?
I wouldnt want to find out I had spent many a good year :D portraying something that didnt exist. feel free to shout, laugh or otherwise point me in the right direction. Or you could just delete the whole thing, but I would like to have my mind put to rest.

thanks with hope :?


In short, I don't think anyone's mad in this. A fascinating thread and one which drops one or two other points into perspective for me. It put me in mind of Dominic Mancini's account of Richard, Duke of Gloucester's troops arriving in London during the succession crisis of summer 1483. No billmen are described as far as I can remember - just rather a lot of people who sound like well-armed household archers, together with a correspondingly smaller number of men at arms withe plate of varying degrees.

So have we been doing it wrong for all this time? Possibly, yes. One thing that really niggles at me though is what were the levied troops (those dragged off the market square by the Commsiioners of Array) armed with if not some form of pole weapon?

I suspect more research needs doing here. One thing we do need is an estimate of the number of people likely to have used the bow in preference to any other weapon. Basically, would townspeople have trained with the bow as a primary weapon, or is there unlikely to have been as clear a divide between town and country - remembering of course that most of the population of England worked on the land and not in a town.

Certainly, the bill 'line' has become a piece of accepted re-enactment orthodoxy over the past twenty years or so and changing this point of view is probably going to be difficult if not impossible.


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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Wed Jun 04, 2008 10:59 pm

Where are the levied men? In bed I expect. How many of the men who fought in the WOTR or in the latter stages of the HYW "levied"? My reading of the situation is that they by the whole rasied from the estates of the leading nobles or contracted to fight. Even the contigents from Coventry, Bristol and London should be seen as well motivated volunteers with the promise of pay to keep them going. No Home Guard need apply. They might not have been professional but they weren't dragged from the field and shoved into line with a spear in their hands. And they wern't billmen because they were called spears. Billman is 16th century not 15th.


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Postby Spurious » Thu Jun 05, 2008 1:42 am

I thought Spears as a unit referred to lance armed cavalry?



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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Thu Jun 05, 2008 7:23 am

It did...as well.


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Postby gregory23b » Thu Jun 05, 2008 7:30 am

"or is there unlikely to have been as clear a divide between town and country"

Things like watch and ward were part of civic obligations, people were fined for not taking their place on the watch rota, a Southampton woman was fined for not appearing at her stint in the 15thc.

The Tower of London stored vast quantities of armour and weapons.

The Archibishop of York had defensible kit in his probate inventory, a dozen or so jacks, some bows. etc.

Some personal inventories are completely devoid of any weaponry

Billmen are IMHO a convenience and it might be nice to see some alternative set ups if only to pay lip service to the 'historical' part of what we say we do.


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Postby Martin » Thu Jun 05, 2008 8:27 am

So isnt there any evidence of 15th century billblocks as we portray them then ? :? if not where did the idea originate ? is that the same for pike blocks in the 17th ? or do we use billblocks in the 15th based on pike blocks of the 17th ( im not explaining what I mean very well lol) , or another way of saying it is, do we have Bill blocks because we assume they had them if they had pike blocks later ? :lol:
I imagine it would cause an awful lot of upset to those groups that only realy portry household bill units :)


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Postby Simon Atford » Thu Jun 05, 2008 9:25 am

It is interesting (and slightly worrying) to note that many of the "standard texts" dealing with the late medieval period (14th and 15th centuries) do not mention the use of bills however a new book (published 2007) By Fire and Sword The Rise and Fall of English Supremecy at Arms: 1314-1485 by Peter Reid does mention their use particlarly in the Scottish campaigns of the period.

Is it possible that such weapons were used in some circumstancies but not others? The use of large numbers foot soldiers weilding polearms would seem unlikely in the case of the mounted chevuchees conducted in France for example.



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Postby Fox » Thu Jun 05, 2008 9:34 am

I very specifically think we need not be fooled by the fact that the words used are very different to those we use now.

While I agree that the majority of troops should be archers, I don't think you can write off the billman just yet.

There are illustrations that would suggest large numbers of what we call bills, and I believe this is supported by archeological finds.

This is just a picture I had to hand. I'm at work, and it's the only picture of Medieval soldiers I have here. 1 from a sample of 1 is not terribly scientific, but it's a start.
Attachments
Life of Henry V.jpg
Particulalry note the back left portion of the picture.



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Postby gregory23b » Thu Jun 05, 2008 11:04 am

Certainly in the early WCo days our drill was basically a reduction of ECWS pike drills, in formations and some of the commands, down to the unit itself. We knew that at the time, it was no secret, it was all we had at the time.

As for bills/langue de bouefs/glaives etc (all synonymous when you read some of the paston lettes for example) being used we know they were, they are listed frequently, described in use and illustrated, but the question is the idea of a unit of them as we portray them.

The term Bill man, as mentioned by Strickland is in that account an 18thc term, as the muster list was a transcription/translation.

Not to mention we are talking about England not the continent, most pics, yours included Fox (French by the looks) are foreign and in reality not pertinent, unless they are somehow illustrating an English event in England.

Ironically one of the better potrayals of bills/glaives is the Fouquet's Scottish Archer Guard, but needless to say, it is a French picture of Scottish troops. Notably archers and pole arm users in a mixed, if ordered formation.


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Postby Fox » Thu Jun 05, 2008 11:10 am

gregory23b wrote:Not to mention we are talking about England not the continent, most pics, yours included Fox (French by the looks) are foreign and in reality not pertinent, unless they are somehow illustrating an English event in England.


You don't think that the picture being titled The Life of Henry V tells you it's supposed to illustrate English troops.
[I don't hold any illusions that it accurately reflect the very early 15thC and probably has more in common with the time it ws painted, which is a little later]



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Postby Brand » Thu Jun 05, 2008 11:27 am

Bear in mind that pre 16th C very often:-

Spears = any polearm type weapon

Next- men at arms and archers are generally paid, skilled fighters, most bill/ pole men are recruited by a man at arms who is paid to bring his unit- wil check numbers per unit at home but roughly 29 billmen per man at arms- these men would not be listed but would be paid by their leader. For this reason they would not appear on the muster unless they were mercenaries (who were unreliable and not common) wherein again, the leader would most likely bear a poleaxe and be listed as a man at arms.

There is plenty of evidence for this- especially the lack of cavalry! Cavalry were hardly used during WotR because of me and my mates and our bills :D Will post more detail tonight when I have resources to hand.



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Re: ...

Postby John Waller » Thu Jun 05, 2008 12:20 pm

Brand wrote:.

There is plenty of evidence for this- especially the lack of cavalry! Cavalry were hardly used during WotR because of me and my mates and our bills :D Will post more detail tonight when I have resources to hand.


I think it was more to do with the effectiveness of the archer against horseflesh.


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Postby The Methley Archer » Thu Jun 05, 2008 12:20 pm

I will be the first to say I'm no expert, but (you knew it was comming) most things I have read indicate archers and MAA with various ratios indicated. has anyone got images from the Beauchamp Pageant as thats contempary and English.


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Postby Ghost » Thu Jun 05, 2008 12:29 pm

not this it necessarily answers the debate but for those who may not have seen it I attach an interesting breakdown (similiar to the more famous Bridport muster) of troop types.

I would suggest that during the HYW the lightly armoured billmen did not exist persay for the obvious reasons and the army was made up of archers and men-at-arms - this does not neceassily need to say that men at arms were only in full harness with poll axes and could include also be your average John Bull in half plate wielding a bill/halberd etc.

most wars of the roses battles only had a brief archery duel at which both sides closed to contact - i'm note sure the image of a handfull of full/semi harnessed nobles and retainers surrounded by loads of archers with mauls sits right particularly in terms of Towton and Tewkesbury when massed numbers of men where recruited - here you can see the poorer equiped bylmen of the muster involved - on a similar vein i can see an argument for battles such as StAlbans, Wakefield, Blore where "off the land farmers with a kettle hat and byl" did not partake and you would see only archers and well armed and well harnessed (although not neceassily full) men-at-arms armed with a variety of shafted weapons - i would suggest that the block of billmen is not necessarily wrong but more semi plate would be eveident

will we ever know - all we can do is interpret what we understand from the our knowledge


Strykland Muster Roll 1459


The Booke off Walter Strykelande esquire & depute steward off Kendal,
his servants, tenants, and inhabitants within the countie of Westmerland
of his inheritance thayre.

The howswholde servants of the said Walter Strykelande:

• Rowlande Becke, horse harnes and a bowe
• Richard Atkinson, horse harnes and a bowe. (With 7 more)
• (And so, in like manner, nine servants more; with each, horse
harnes and a bowe.)

Natland

• Thomas Macareth, horse harnes and a bowe.
• Edward Macareth, horse harnes and a bowe. (With 7 more.)

Bylmen within the same:

• Thomas Waryner, horse harnes and a byll.
• Thomas Syll, horse harnes and a byll. (With 11 more.)
• Foytmen, with some harnes, others none;
• Thomas Spence; a jak, a sallet, and a bowe
• Rowlland Myles; harnes, and a bowe
• Hew Hodson, a bowe.
• Bryan Hyggyn, a bowe.

Bylls:

1. Jhon Atkynson, a jake and a byll.
2. Nycall Spyght, a sallet and a byll.
3. Robert Strykland, a sallet and a byll.
4. Henry Grenebanke, a byll.
5. James Kowper, a byll.
6. Edward Syll, a byll.
7. William Shipert, a byll.
8. Yongmen, bylls:
9. George Bowman, a byll, &c.

Total in Natland, 55.


In Stainton, in like manner, 79.

In Hencaster, 16.

In Syggyswyke, 48.

In Whynfell (that is, the moiety of it) 34.

In Wynder (Windermere?):


• Jhon Smyth; a horse, a jake, and a bowe.
• Robert Walker; a horse, stel coyt, and a bowe.
• Willam Lawson; a horse, stel coyt, and a bowe.
• Jhon Butlet, and 6 others, with each a horse, a jake, and a byll.

Bylls:

• Thomas Smyth, and 4 others; a horse, a jake, and a byll.

Footmen, without harnes:

• Jhon Wynder, and 5 more; a bowe, or byll.

Yongmen:

• William Smyth, and 6 others, each a bowe.

Total in Wynder 28.

In Hackthorp:

• Thomas Wyllen; a horse, a jake, and a spere.
• Henry Danson; a horse, a jake and a bowe.
• Jhon Chappelhow; a horse, a jake, and a bowe.

Bylls:

• Christopher Wyllen, horse harnes and a byll.
• Richard Mylne; a horse, a jake, and a byll.
• Robert Taylyer; a horse, a jake, and a byll.
• Christopher Chappelhow; a horse, a jake and a byll.
• Jhon Banke; a horse, a jake, and a byll.
• Jhon Dobson, a horse, a jake, and a byll.
• William Hudson, a horse and a byll.

Footemen, with parte harness:

• Rychard Willen, a byll.
• Hew Sands, a byll.

Yongmen :

• Henry Sawkelt, a bowe.
• Rolland Willen, a bowe.
• Jhon Taylyer, a bowe.
• Robert Myllne, a bowe.
• Edward Ayray, a byll.

The hole noumber :

Bowmen horsyd and harnassed, lxix. (69)
Bylmen horsyd and harnassed, lxxiiii. (74)
Bowmen without hors harnasse, lxxi. (71)
Bylmen without hors harnasse, lxxvi. (76)


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Postby Colin Middleton » Thu Jun 05, 2008 1:15 pm

Ghost, that's fascinating.

My feelings on the point are that the billman as we portray him, not a knight, not an archer, with some armour and a sharp thing on a stick, did exist. However I am less convinced that he was called a bill-man.

Some possible points of confusion include:
Men-At-Arms could be anyone who engages in close arms fighting.
Archers could mean anyone who isn't a knight.
Harnessed means that a man is wearing armour. Does it mean full harness or is a man wearing a jack 'harnessed'.

To make matters worse, the meaning of these words could change from document to document (or even within a given document :cry: ).

There are enough statements of men "ready to do service with bill" that we know that they were there. What they were called, how they were equiped, how they were organised and such is much more open to debate.

One thing we can be certain of is that there was no single set of rules governing military activity, so potentially some group could have used bill-lines wile others were scirmishing and proportions of different troops could vary wildly.

I'd love so see a good studdy of the subject.


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Postby gregory23b » Thu Jun 05, 2008 1:31 pm

"My feelings on the point are that the billman as we portray him, not a knight, not an archer, with some armour and a sharp thing on a stick, did exist."

And they are recorded as doing so, sundry letters in say the Paston collection talk about men in large groups armed with a range of pole weapons.

"You don't think that the picture being titled The Life of Henry V tells you it's supposed to illustrate English troops."

Well, you ended up answering your own question there, it is a later, French portrayal of an earlier event, so how reliable do you think it might be?

Other examples where artistic expedience abound, the froissart chronicles take all sorts of liberties with which side an archer is using his arrow on, conveniently the ones on the left shoot 'properly', ie right handed and the ones facing them are all shooting left handed. Showing weapons as a mass, 'spears'or other generic and quickly drawn stuff is a normal occurrence.

In all probability one will most likely find more references to pole arms in English written sources than any visual one, as much as I like and enjoy the MSS and images, they are unreliable for many things.


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Postby Fox » Thu Jun 05, 2008 1:47 pm

gregory23b wrote:"You don't think that the picture being titled The Life of Henry V tells you it's supposed to illustrate English troops."

Well, you ended up answering your own question there, it is a later, French portrayal of an earlier event, so how reliable do you think it might be?


I think might be quite reliably reflect how the artist thought of soldiers [that's the evidence from most art of the time], and it is a 15thC picture. I don't know anything about the artist I'm afraid.
[I did say it was all I had to hand.]

What makes you think he's French?
Henry V seems an unlikely subject for a 15thC Frenchman.



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Postby Fox » Thu Jun 05, 2008 1:48 pm

Oh, and beware muster roles.

They are not what you think they are....

...probably.


We've been into this a number of times over the years, and my understand is that not even the experts are entirely sure what they are.

However, I think they do support the idea that an item they call a bill was quite common, although in what way is probably less clear.



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Postby gregory23b » Thu Jun 05, 2008 2:25 pm

It looks French in style, I accept that it may well not be.

It is a later date than the subject portrayed

No context to the image is there, who are those troops meant to represent? men at arms? or what?

Why would Henry the V be of interest to the French?
he was part French, fought famous campaigns there, in the same way that Froissart was popular in France as well as England.

More pertinent to the wider topic of visual interpretation, chronicles, books of hours etc were produced en mass on the continent, some for English markets, but written and painted by French or Flemish artists etc, so you invariably get local styles and interpretations not to mention a range of actual quality.


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Postby Ghost » Thu Jun 05, 2008 2:27 pm

Anyone need to form a new group ? - you now have names and possible (though as Fox says not definite) troop types - how about potraying one of the villages - how authentic is that !


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Postby Fox » Thu Jun 05, 2008 2:40 pm

gregory23b wrote:blah....It is a later date than the subject portrayed....blah


Agreed, its later than it depicts, but it is painted in the 15thC.

Beyond that, I also agree, it's reliability is flexable.

BTB, some very interesting points.

You seem to imply earlier that you think the English are less likely to be using massed bills than the our continental cousins (although, you may just be saying, the picture is not a good guide).

Personally I'd suprised if that's so. The strategey developed at Crecy of defended archers seems to be the main stay of English tactics right into the WotR; there seems to be an evolution from that point, from cut down lances to bills, that parallels wider tactics. Moreover, don't descriptions of Flodden take the concept beyond WotR?

You might even trace it back to a rough experience at Bannockburn.....



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Postby gregory23b » Thu Jun 05, 2008 3:15 pm

"although, you may just be saying, the picture is not a good guide"

yep, that's the one.

But the date of the pic is important, clothing and armour changed a lot, and that pic is not early 15th, second half and beyond, possibly 1460s. IE you would not use that image for a clothing reference for 1420, so why for a weapon/arms?

Shame we have an apparent dearth of English imagery.


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Postby Fox » Thu Jun 05, 2008 3:25 pm

gregory23b wrote:"although, you may just be saying, the picture is not a good guide"

yep, that's the one.

But the date of the pic is important, clothing and armour changed a lot, and that pic is not early 15th, second half and beyond, possibly 1460s. IE you would not use that image for a clothing reference for 1420, so why for a weapon/arms?


Absolutely. But you probably can use it as a guide to period in which it was painted, especially if the other aspects fashion, such as clothes can be matched; the general evidence is that artist painted from there own time, i.e. what they knew.
You wouldn't want to use a single source, but each picture can be indicative for other information.

As I said at the start, a sample space of 1 isn't great evidence, but it was from a purely non selective evidence a 100% hit rate.
So a good start, I hoped it might be added to. Will I have to do all the work?



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Postby gregory23b » Thu Jun 05, 2008 3:36 pm

"Will I have to do all the work? "

of course ;-)

First start by dropping Dave Key a line, assuming he is not already skulking and reading this.

I would set some rules though, for images, here is a suggested list, starting with ideal going to less ideal:

1) English sources
2) from 1450-1500
3) written as well as pictorial
4) Other sources, say alleged first hand accounts, eg Mancini, Froisssart for earlier etc.
5) European sources, images and text.

In the main we use it the other way round, most of our visual reference material is foreign as there is a load of it published.

A real challenge would be to concentrate on English sources.....


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Postby John Waller » Thu Jun 05, 2008 4:03 pm

The Methley Archer wrote:I will be the first to say I'm no expert, but (you knew it was comming) most things I have read indicate archers and MAA with various ratios indicated. has anyone got images from the Beauchamp Pageant as thats contempary and English.


I have got colour photocopies of the facsimilie edition - not sure about it being english IIRC the artist is thought to be flemish - i'll have a look tonight but I don't recall many (any?) bills just knights, MAA and archers (long & xbows).


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Postby Man from Coventry » Thu Jun 05, 2008 4:26 pm

Coventry Leet Book

In the early 1450's the city authorities called on each citizen of standing to provide between 1-4 sets of armour (jack or mail shirt), bow, helmet and 20 arrows for the defence of the city and clearly bows would be of more use for defending the walls. On melee weapons it is lacking same for the comment "and other stuff belonging". In other muster rolls men are described as being able with a "staff" or able with a bow.

However from descriptions of the Coventry City Watch it is clear that they were routinely armed with Bills & Poleaxes.

The Methley Archer wrote:
I will be the first to say I'm no expert, but (you knew it was comming) most things I have read indicate archers and MAA with various ratios indicated. has anyone got images from the Beauchamp Pageant as thats contempary and English.


I have got colour photocopies of the facsimilie edition - not sure about it being english IIRC the artist is thought to be flemish - i'll have a look tonight but I don't recall many (any?) bills just knights, MAA and archers (long & xbows).


On the contrary there is a clear illustration of a bill in use at the Battle of Shrewsbury and several in the ilustrations of the siege of Rouen and invariably seem to be confined to english troops.


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Postby Adam R » Thu Jun 05, 2008 8:27 pm

I wonder if too much modern - post rennaisance - inclination to categorise might not hp here. Are we trying to apply troop types a way tht wasn't worried abut at the me o much? The muster rolls that survive simpyl refer to being armoured with and able to do the kings service with a weapon of some sort - there is no mention as to any particular role they migh be used for. Was it just that bodies of men were arrayed and the captains divided them into groups? Maybe based on mixes of weapons - or ability - or region - or anything else...?

How would they arrange them logically? - this is BEFORE (or at the least at the start of) the wide adoptation of the classical influences of Vegitius which happenned very soon after...


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Postby Brand » Thu Jun 05, 2008 10:07 pm

Quote Medieval Pole Weapons 1287-1513 by Adrian Waite
ISBN 1 85804 179 1

'The polearm first appeared in European literature in 1287, but it's first recorded appearance on the European battlefield was in the hands of the Swiss at Moregarten in 1315.'

For every 19 men there would be 1 Vintner (sergeant equivalent) these would form a block, five such blocks would be under the charge of 1 Centenary (who would ba a Vintner but was also in charge of the other four Vintners and his own 19 men).

In charge of these Centenaries would be a Captain who would be in charge of a variable number of men- this person would be listed but perhaps not the men he commanded.

Plenty of evidence for bill use in skeletal remains found at WotR sites.

Hope this helps, thoroughly reccomend you buy this Stuart Press publication.



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gregory23b
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Postby gregory23b » Fri Jun 06, 2008 8:34 am

The set-up is different throughout Europe, Swiss armies were raised differently from english or Burgundian ones etc, so is their breakdown of command.

Also, the question re how the units were organised on the field, where they attached to the people that raised them? Liveries issued to groups of men would suggest some form of cohesion based upon who has raised them. Ie if captain x raised so many men under a certain leader, do they stay with that leader regardless of their weapon? or are they dispersed, in which case then having any identifiable group livery is made redundant.


middle english dictionary

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