Billmen - myth?

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gregory23b
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Post by gregory23b »

Fab picture. I like the xbows in front of the other troops, right hand side.

Looks like pikes on the left with one or two halberds, I can make out some halberd type things on the right pic

Source? nation? era? subject?

No doubt about massed bills/other pole arms in places (Switzerland is prime example), we need to know more info related to the pic.
Last edited by gregory23b on Fri Jul 04, 2008 2:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

Its a fight between the Swiss and the Savoyard, one of the battles around 1476 that gave Charles the excuse to attack the confederation. The Savoyards are on the right with their Genoese supporters. The Swiss won the battle and threw the Italians out of the town-literally from the walls and turrets. I'll give you the name of the town tomorrow.
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Post by craig1459 »

Thanks Marcus - I found it on a Russian site the other day, while looking for Hussite material. All I could pick up from the text was that it showed the use of crossbows in the C15.
I did think from the style that it was Germanic - certainly the kit of the troops on the right reminded me of the hausbuch
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Post by gregory23b »

Very nice, thanks Marcus.

Got your pm Craig, cheers.

"The Swiss won the battle and threw the Italians out of the town-literally from the walls and turrets. I"

I think I have seen MSS pics of that, chucking them off towers, drowning as well, mind it could have been another conflict with the Swiss, seem to have liked their drowning and human rockets. Schilling perhaps.
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Post by Man from Coventry »

Men - at - arms & archers.

Men-at-arms - I would take a man at arms to be an individual with a fair degree of armour (half armour or equivalent +) whose primary function was to fight hand to hand on horseback or more commonly on foot. Typically the majority of men-at-arms do seem to be drawn from esquires and gentry as they could afford the higher degree of armour and horse involved. Some of these may have used bills/other polearms/poleaxes. There does seem to be some mobility into this class from the archer class.

Archers - were they all archers ? I seem to recall from the lists for troops for the 1475 expedition to France that one of the contingents of "700 archers" actually included 200 welsh spears. Certainly from local musters roles, bridport and strickland, judging from the numbers without bows or "able with a staff", clearly a significant proportion of the population were not competent archers, (despite legislation to encourage archery). How many of these fought within the battles of the Wars of The Roses is a matter of conjecture. How selectively were contingents recruited ? For an overseas expedition, with continental allies it is probable that a higher proportion were true archers as this was a troop type which complimented the continental armies we were to work with, likewise with the commissions of array which would select the best soldiers (a small proportion of the whole). For Wars of the Roses battles I suspect that on occassion the archer (i.e common more lightly armed soldiery) contingentswould have included soldiers who were armed with Bills i.e Bill or stave men, but were more lightly armoured with jacks than the man-at-arms. Such descriptions of naked men (are referred to in respect of certain battles such as Ludford).

The distinction between man-at-arms and archers probably has more to do with how these individuals are categorised for pay purposes.
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Post by gregory23b »

"Certainly from local musters roles, bridport and strickland,"

The Bridport is not a muster roll, as the Strickland list appears to be, ie not a list of people assembled prior to war or other conflict.

"I seem to recall from the lists for troops for the 1475 expedition to France that one of the contingents of "700 archers" actually included 200 welsh spears."

Possibly, the ratio of archer appears to range from 10:1 to about 8:1 depending on whose contingent was brought in, which still suggests, at least for a foreign expedition that archers were desired.

"learly a significant proportion of the population were not competent archers,"

Yes, if we view the idea of as many men as possible being competent with a bow from which to draw troops, ie not all men are called up, it seems at least that the person charged with raising men has to recruit them from a pool of men of his own. And over time if fewer men take up archery then the pool is also shallower and it is therefore possible in some places that you get fewer archers or that it is harder to get the numbers you want.
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Post by Colin Middleton »

My understanding was that when raising armies to fight abroad you got picky and aimed for 1:5 to 1:10 'non-archers' to archers. In the WotR, you got what you were given and ratios closer to 1:1 were more common, but hugely varied (Nothampton for example).

The idea of 'archers who use staves' is an interesting one. Put that against a ratio of 10 'archers' to 1 man-at-arms (i.e. knight or equivalent) and it very much changes our idea of an army, compaired to say 100 archers to 10 billmen to 1 knight, which I've heard someone band about.

Do we have ANY evidence for what qualifys you as a man-at-arms or even as an archer, or are we purely working on convention here?
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Post by GuyDeDinan »

Wouldn't the generally high casualty rate also affect the ratios? Was it mainly the practice of the archers to try and take out the other's archers or take out their MAAs?

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Post by gregory23b »

Guy, that kind of question is related to how formations may or may not have been.

If they are clear cut, then you are suggesting 'counter battery fire' to put a modern analogy on it, which might make tactical sense to us.

if they are not and both sides are mixed, to greater or lesser degrees then all are in the zone.
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Post by Dave B »

gregory23b wrote:If they are clear cut, then you are suggesting 'counter battery fire' to put a modern analogy on it, which might make tactical sense to us.


On the other hand they might have concentrated all thier long range fire on the area where they though the leaders/commanders were in the hope of makeing it hard for them to control thier army or even of killing the opposing leaders causing the opposition to crumble.

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Post by GuyDeDinan »

Well, the only thing proved so far for me is an extra idea for my thesis (once afforded) :twisted:

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Post by gregory23b »

It is all part of the quandary.

I like the idea of a wargame, as you say, just for the fun is good enough reason.
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Post by Ghost »

This has been a interesting thread and has sparked a couple of thought trails in myself some of which have changed my own perceptions. However we appear to be going a bit around in circles and I would suggest we are in danger of being to general in trying to define tactics and formations to suit all battles of the WOTR -

If you consider the first series of battles, StAlbans 1, Blore, Northampton, Wakefield, St Albans 2 and possibly even Mortimers Cross these were relatively small scale affairs fought in the "English Way" with defended field fortifications fought in the main by HYW veterans with "knots" of experienced heavily armed men-at-arms (carrying mace, warhammer, poll-axe. other pole weopons) forming the core of the fighting force supported by archers behind ditches, ramparts, stakes.

Men-at-arms would form blocks comprising "knots" of men fighting under the banner of their individual leader (hence Knight Banneret etc) in a tightly grouped armoured scrums and you can imagine some fluidity in their movements and the battleline - men at arms cannot fight effectively as line soldiers as they need room to swing their weopons. I also cannot see archers and lightly armed bill men fighting in this pack as they would become the vunerable weakspot when all these heavily armoured men are battering each other to death - would you want to be in the middle of it with no armour on.

The position of archers has always been a hot topic of debate but for my mind i see them either being on either flanks protected in a warren of stakes. This provides flank protection to the men-at-arms and to the archers as any enemy men-at-arms has to thread his way between these obstacles This makes more sense in a combat situation than having them in front of the men-at-arms and trying to get several thousand archers out of the way of the men at arms - or worst still caught between two opposing lines of men-at-arms

In these instances is there a role for the lightly armed billman in massed blocks? - maybe not - I can however see some role as a loose skirmish line acting as a flank quard protecting the archers and dealing with any enemy men at arms that get into the stake defences. (The use of "spearmen" supporting English archers and Genoese crossbowmen was recorded at Crecy and subsequently afterwards). I can also see the argument of archers having bills to hand to pick up once they are out of arrows or the battle is at contact -I would rather have a bill in my hands than a mallet - it's a matter of survival - it's not to difficult to have bundles of bills located near groups of archers. Those archers with arrows would continue to "snipe" at targets of oppurtunity during the battle - this is recorded at StAlbans, Towton etc

You then have Towton when massed recruitement of the populace occured and this is repeated to lesser extents at Barnet and tewkesbury. Here you have large numbers of untrained ill equiped men with a billhook and you can see na argument for lumping them into "blocks" as a smass -who be virtue of their own training would have better chance of survival - and sent at the enemy on mass.

If i was a commander i would not want to mingle these into the better trained men-at arms units and archers (including their "spearmen" protection)

Hexham and Hedgley moor were little more than oppurtunist Yorkist cavalry rolling over desperate bands of unorganised Lancastrian exiles and their retainers.

Bosworth - I like the suggestion that here you have a change in tactics in that Henry VII's french mercenaries adopted pikes and it was this close ranked formation that was the undoing of Richards cavalry charge which was chosed because of Henry's lack of archers.
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Post by Dave Key »

Fox wrote:
gregory23b wrote:I will drop Dave a line...

Shhh.

He's here. :lol:


Fox,

Jorge did indeed send me the note and I am indeed 'here' :D ... been trying to catch-up on what people have said and will try to add a few thoughts as quickly as I can ... and trying to remember where my notes are !!

Cheers
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Post by Laffin Jon Terris »

I was under the impression (through no other reasoning than my own) that the lower ratio of archers/other men in WOTR battles was mainly down to the fact that both sides had access to them- effectively cancelling out their long range "tactical" superiority.

Archers work well on the continent where they have a good range advantage against the other side- you stand back and let your archers rain death on the enemy while you polish your armour.

Put them against a similarly equiped army who are able to shoot back and its a different matter entirely.
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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

The town was called Estavayer, was captured and ransacked in 1475 by the Swiss who drowned most of the civilian population in the lake and executed all the males (both soldiery and civilian alike) by throwing them from the battlements. (And then they got all huffy when a Savoyard/Burgundian army put the garrison of Grandeson to the sword a year later-I mean!)
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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

I'm interseted about your suggestion that the early battles of the WOTR were fought by vetrens of the HYW. What I recentally read about Talbot and his campaigns is that hardly any troops from England took part in the conflict from about 1440 onwards.
The greater part of the "English" field army in Normandy and Gascony was made up of French soldiers (lthough as servents of the Dukes of Normandy and Britany they did not always regard themselves as such). 40% of talbots men were Norman or Anglo-Norman fighting under feudal laws.
The rest were made up mostly of English who had settled in Lancastrian France and included sons and even grandsons of men who had come across with Harry V.
Talbot was disgusted with the quality of the troops he did get sent from England in the second half of the 1440's and up to 1453. He found they were poorly disciplined and even poor in health, he sent nearly half of the 2000 men sent out to reinforce him in 1450 back to England and had the rest parcelled out to out of the way garrisons and places where they were only going to get attacked by angry French cows.
This resulted in a number of garrisons being stripped of their good quality troops in order for them to be used in field armies with the knock on result that numerous towns and castles fell like dominos when/if he was defeated in the field.
The casualty rates in these latter battles of the HYW were also very high. The newly motivated and successful French were using vasly superior artillery (which also made healing from wounds less likely), were no longer sitting back and letting the English dictate how the battle was to be fought and were frequently taking revenge. I think that the best of the English troops died in France in 1453 not on the fields of St. Albans et al.
Now I am willing to agree that there were some promenent vetrens of the wars in France such as Trollope, Facoenburg, the Jack Cade fella (who may have been a veteren) that fella they dug up at at Towton (who everyone "assuems picked up the injuries that had healed in the battles of France-he might have got them down the pub or in a Neville/Percy scrap just as easy) but I don't think there were packed ranks of them.
Mind you jeven if they were it's no gaurentee that they were any good, look at the generalship of Warwick, York, Wenlock. I know plenty of veterens of Gulf 1 (myself included) who spent the whole of the war sat on my *rse watching a sandbank get bigger and bigger.
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Post by Adam R »

Nice post Marcus

Sweeping the thick dusty floor of popular thinking with the fresh hazel broom of reason and the sparkling dustpan of evidence :shock:
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Post by craig1459 »

wrt Blore Heath, both Salisbury and Audley had served in France. The defensive strategy of Salisbury in setting up a laager, and inviting the Lancastrians to attack (via the feigned attack/retreat) was certainly the kind of approach that had served smaller forces well in France, and Audley should have been more circumspect, however his cavalry charge left them wide open to attack by archers. This to me flags up the experience v inexperience argument.

The evidence as to who served under them doesn't lend creedence to the HYW veterans theory though - the men under Neville may have had more experience (dealing with the troublesome Scottish borders) than the men of Audley who would have come from the Midlands and Cheshire. Also, the Yorkist army may have had more time to develop as a unit over the course of their march from the North, compared with the Audley army which, although larger, was effectively thrown together.

That said, force of numbers should have won the day and it was Audley, then Dudley, who were outplayed tactically rather than their men.
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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

What I'm getting at is that there is serving and "serving". York spent most of the 1430's -1450's in France but not as a soldier but as an administrator and governor. He wisely left the "real soldiering" to men who knew how to do it (unlike Somerset!) As another example, Charles, duke of Burgundy had plenty of fighting under his belt and great ideas, but his mix match of troops had no idea what he wanted from them or what his plans meant. So when he "feigned retreat" at that place that starts with "M" it turned into a very real rout because his inexperienced flanks had no idea they were meant to stay put and seal the advanceing Swiss in a noose worthy of mighty Hannibal.
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Post by craig1459 »

Marcus Woodhouse wrote:What I'm getting at is that there is serving and "serving". York spent most of the 1430's -1450's in France but not as a soldier but as an administrator and governor. He wisely left the "real soldiering" to men who knew how to do it

indeed, one of those being Salisbury.
Audley was a soldier under Henry V apparently but I've never looked further into his service.
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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

The place was Morat.
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Post by Man from Coventry »

indeed, one of those being Salisbury.


Richard Neville, (Earl of Salisbury) only served for one campaigning season (1436), so his military experience in the HYW was limited as was Audley's who served in the 1420's for a year. Dudley had seen service in Ireland. The Earl of Salisbury who was justifiably famous as a general in the HYW, for his contributions at Verneuil and Cravant was killed at the siege of Orleans was a Montagu. Richard Neville inherited the title by marriage.

However veterans of the war in France may have been present or passed their wisdom on to younger generations. Sir William Bowes of Streatlam (Steward to John Duke of Bedford, Regent of France or his son) may have fought at Blore.
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Post by Colin Middleton »

I was reading my shiny new copy of the Beauchamp Pagenant this weekend and there are several pictures of 'clusters' of lightly armoured men carrying a mix of 'bills' (mainly bills & boar-spears, with the odd glaive mixed in). They appear to have been marching, either as a 'mass' or in 2 columns.
There is also a pciture of a battle which appers to show a front rank of archers with bill/spear men behind them.

I kn ow that this could be styalised, but it does give some indication of the use of troop in late 15th C England.
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Post by Ghost »

Think people have missed the point in my posting (please re-read and ignore in the main by HYW veterans ) and gone off debating the precense of HYW veterans which was not the aim of the post - I was trying to explore if massed billmen were seen in english HYW army formations (which i don't believe they were except for possibly protection for the archers) and carry that over to the fact that as the first series of battles were fought along the same lines would therefore billmen in massed blocks be present (don't think they were until possibly Towton) and on the same vein - were billmen simply archers who had a bill to hand once hand-to hand fighting had started
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Post by Colin Middleton »

I don't know the dates and such, but I remember a number of 'musters' where listst state "ready to do service with bill" and "ready to do service with bow" and even "ready to do service with bow, but has none".

That would imply that the people using bills were recruited as such and not recruited to be archers.

Of course, that could be later in the WotR.
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Post by Man from Coventry »

Back to the topic then.

There are two questions here a) did significant numbers of individuals armed with bills fight b) did they fight in distinct bill units in either the 100yrs war or the WOTR.

For 100yrs war in the accounts of the battles I've read there the accounts tend to refer to only men-at-arms or archers, though whether each of these contained individuals armed with bills is unknown. At Verneuil, Bedford appears to have divided his army into 5 parts 2 divns of predominantly Men-at- Arms/hand to hand men, each flanked by a wing of archers and a 3rd wing of archers defending the camp. assumming roughly equivalent sized divisions this would give a ratio of 2:3. Polearm to bow (more than is suggested from the muster roles). From the course of the battle (the archers getting swept away by a charge of lombard heavy cavalry, before they could plant stakes) would suggest they didn't have meny staff men in support.

In WOTR I suspect that the units would have been in the majority of cases intermingled with Bills and Bows in a mixed unit with men from the same locality being grouped together, if raised from a general array (like bulk of lancastrian army at Blore) where recruitment was less stringent there generally being inadequate time to drill/train them into proper units, due to the short duration of the campaigns.

Troops from longstanding retinues i.e Salisbury's before Blore (comprised in general of retainers who had served him from the mid 1430's) could perhaps be in more distinct units organised by weapon types and in consequent were more effective and better disciplined. Hence the contempt for the poor quality of the "naked men" expressed in the chronicles before Blore Heath. Or town/city units which may have been mor uniformly equpped/armed i.e Coventry with the exception of Barnet seems to have fielded units of 100 to 40 Archers (bowmen).

I suspect that shoulder to shoulder fighting in formal billblocks didn't take place and that the english traditionally fought in a looser formation. Certainly where close order foreign troops were involved i.e Bosworth, Stoke. English troops do appear to have had difficulty, and successes seem to have occurred when opposing troops were broken up/disordered into similar loose formations by stakes/other obstacles (i.e Flodden, Agincourt, The Herrings), which may explain the English penchant for fighting on the defensive.
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Post by gregory23b »

"which may explain the English penchant for fighting on the defensive."

Indeed, bring the enemy to a killing field then finish him off, if he merely advances to you and all you have is the same kind of troops, you cancel each other out, eg WOTR and Towton being a prime example when one side's archery is limited in otherwise similar set ups, whammo.

The archer raising was appropriate to the types of battle fought against national enemies, it may be that it is easier to have men that can shoot at distance with training they undertake themselves than rely on disparate groups of 'bills' to try and be part of more coordinated units that need to be able to stand and take a pasting and dish one. A single man can learn to shoot at a distance, it just needs him to be with others doing similar to increase the effect, a man with a pole arm expected to act in coordination with others needs to be able to work with them.
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Post by Dave Key »

Jorge asked me to take a look at the thread and maybe comment on the references I'd made/used in writing the article on Bends etc. I'll be honest and start by saying that I haven't been able to look at this topic for quite a while now so please excuse me a few (?) inaccuracies as this is pretty much from memory and a few grabbed references I thumbed through last night. Also my apologies in advance for the somewhat chaotic structure and poor quality ... too rushed I'm afraid, :oops:

Anyway, here goes ...

The bends article in Dragon was actually published in Costume, The Journal of the Costume Society, no.37 2003 but was actually a cut down part of a talk I gave at the Royal Armouries several years before. This wider talk was about how clothing could be used to help understand the methods of unit identification and association in late Medieval English armies.

When looking at sources for battles there has always been a tendency to look at the few Chronicles and then extrapolate from there ... whole books with pretty rectangles and triangles have been devoted to a few lines of original text, often with some much conjecture written as 'fact' it's hard to distinguish between the two. However, there are other sources, actually lots of them if people choose to look and piece it all together CSI style.

Looking at clothing, or more correctly, fabric and clothing purchases, is only one such avenue but a surprisingly fruitful one. What clothing, and more particularly Livery, badges, flags ... and bends give us is an insight to how people prepared for war. How they were grouped together and how they functioned as a unit.
Sounds odd?
Not really. Through sources like Exchequer accounts for clothing we know, for example, that in a single purchase in 1469 Edward IV purchased, alongside banners, standards, cote armours and pencilles for speres, 40 jackets of velvet and damask with roses and 1,000 jackets of blue and murrey with roses. Here we see over 1,000 men being centrally equipped with livery for war. From other Household accounts we know that the differentiation in cloth types: velvet, damask and wool indicated rank within the household ... so in crude terms Edward's purchase tells us that 1,000 soldiers had 40 officers of 2 ranks.

Also the concept of central purchase and supply is important as it helps to explain the apparent mismatch between the 'expected' equipment (salet, jack, bow and 2 sheafs of arrows ... anyone care to hazard where that list actually originates ?? ) and the reality of Rolls like Bridport. Bridport's muster roll is a fascinating document made utterly confusing by the way it has been presented in the Royal Armouries Year Book, i.e. as a set of statistics i.e. n bows and x bills etc., rather than an analysis of the document itself. When you look at the original it has, in the first part at least, a fairly common structure ... a well-equipped person, often either a current or ex-civic official (that information is not in the document itself but still available) followed by someone with nothing (their 'squire'/servant) then 10 to 15 others. This structure follows similar documents from other musters where they are subdivided by ward, village or lordship (remember York's debate over whether tenants of Lords should wear the town or their lord's badge). A pattern common to Indentures.

That the listed names are not all "fully" equipped is in no way surprising since it would not have been expected. To illustrate ... and I hope this puts paid to the core of the argument that archers weren't really archers ...


Calendar of Patent Rolls
1433
July 22
Westminster

Commission to Philip Courtenay, knight, Nicholas Carru, knight, John Dynham, knight, William Bonevill, knight, Thomas Beamond, knight, James Chuddelegh, John Copleston, John Jaybien, John Hauley and the sheriff of Devon, in view of apprehended invasion, to array the men at arms, armed men and archers dwelling near the coasts of the said county; to cause all able-bodied men to be armed according to their estate and ability; to oblige the rich who are not able-bodied to find according to the quantity of their lands and goods, and as they may reasonably bear without losing their estate, armour for the armed men, and bows and arrows for the archers so to be arrayed, who are unable to provide them for themselves, and to contribute to the expenses of those who shall labour for the defence of the realm. The men at arms, armed men and archers are to be arrayed by thousands, hundreds and twenties or otherwise, and are to be mustered and inspected from time to time. The commissioners are to report to the king and council before All Saints Day next, and are to cause 'bekyns' to be set up to give warning.


The key sections here are ...

- You brought what you could afford (your taxed obligation), so not necessarily a 'set list' for everyone. This is explicitly referenced in contemporary Scottish acts which go into greater detail about what the expectation/requirement was according to income/property.
- If you could not fight yourself you had to supply equipment.

Both show an approach mirrored in the Coventry Leet and which explains the Bridport Muster perfectly as an assessment of how far obligations had been fulfilled against the problematic generality of having to "be armed according to their estate and ability" which litters indentures etc. It's also worth drawing attention to other another line here too ... " to array the men at arms, armed men and archers dwelling near the coasts of the said county " In almost every instance I've seen soldiers are subdivided into "men at arms" (or speres) and archers. This reference may be taking "armed men" AND archers as his definition of men-at-arms, especially as when discussing equipment only these two are mentioned. However, we do know that other troop types did exist within the body of "archers". In English Normandy in the 2nd Quarter soldiers there were complaints about fletchers and bowers being included in the archer quote. However these hidden soldiers were not the 'extra' armed men many would like to see, they would be a smaller collection of these skilled support. Indeed by Edward's 1475 campaign they were clearly listed separately but they still account for a tiny percentage of the overall numbers.That there was no hidden supply of 'bills' en masse to these 'archers' is also indicated by records of purchases of military equipment and inventories for war materials stored or being transferred, e.g. at Calais where thousands of bows were in store alongside tens of thousands of arrows (sub-divided into 2 types by length of fletching) but only a couple of hundred pole arms of all types.

If we were to accept that a large proportion of a WotR period army was made up of basic polearm wielding soldiers (hidden under a generic title of archer) then there should be records of mass purchases of the equipment they would require, and evidence of it being stored in central locations like Calais. There isn't. Calendar Rolls for the build up to the 1475 expedition do list purchases of all manner of equipment but without any indication of quantities. But when the quantities are seen they are significantly biased towards archery rather than polearms. That archers might, on occasion, be given a pole-arm, is not unreasonable, the Coventry Leet implies it for duties of Watch and Ward ... but when battle was pending they were archers. That archers might be given menial, no archer roles in the army, is attested to by the York records .. where they were accused of using their bow strings for whips as they were forced to work as carters ... but they were still archers ... with bow strings even if not deployed as such.



The evidence therefore supports the basic premise that better equipped men, of varying rank, would be classified and armed as men-at-arms. Indentures and tellers rolls support the separation as anything form the 'ideal' of 1 man-at-arms to 3 archers up to a 1 : 10 ratio (and this was NOT just for 1475) the majority of the other soldiery would be classed as archers and would, if they didn't have the necessary equipment, expect to be supplied by their 'betters' with what they lacked ... and this meant bows and arrows.



So ... how does this explain the Strickland Muster with it's references to Billmen and more even ratios?

Well, it made me curious since an Indenture with associated Muster would indeed be exceptional, even unique and the coincidence that it was one of the only indentures for which both halves survive ... almost beyond belief. So I took a look at the words. The style and language of the Indenture is standard mid-fifteenth century. The Muster is far more Tudor. When I inquired about this I was informed by the owner that the date on the muster roll is for Henry VIII not Henry VI. Now I need to actually check that we are talking about the same roll, but assuming it is ... then the transcription is not wrong, it is simply misdated. A date of Henry VIII would make the content and style entirely normal, and, I'm afraid, remove it as evidence for WotR's "Billmen" as a term.

Also, what about the Ewelme Half Hundred ? ... again read the original ... and it is possible to reach a ratio of 1 man-at-arms to 3 archers if you assume the unequipped will be supplied as mentioned above ... with bows and arrows.


The surviving information suggests:

1. that the armed men (from the King & nobility down to men indentured to fight alongside them) were classified under the generic title 'men-at-arms' and were expected to be arrayed accordingly. A good example of this comes from 1453 with a mandate for the payment of the troops about to proceed into Guienne, under John, viscount Lisle:

"...and the said Johne shal have with hym contynuelly duryng the same tyme upon the saufgarde iiij.xx speres, hym selfe accounted, whereof shalbe ij banerettes and iiij knightes horsed, harneysed and arraid as it apperteynethe unto thaym, and viij,c archiers on fote, wel and convenablie arraied, as it belongithe unto thaim.

Westminster, 30 Jan xxxj Henry VI

2. that archers were archers not pole-arm wielding "billmen".

3. that the term 'billman' was NOT (oops forgot the NOT in the original post !! :oops: ) a term associated with pre-Tudor soldiers


However, none of the above addresses the question of how the soldiers were organised once they were on the field of battle. This is a real problem. There are certainly references to archers being used as a discrete entity, e,g, as 3 towers in one chronicle. And at Tewkesbury the "200speres" similarly suggests a distinct body of men-at-arms. However, the evidence that they were organised into formal 'blocks' by 'troop type' is more difficult to find, and in many ways contradicts the other evidence.

Classically the army was divided into 3 battles, in most Chronicles this is precisely what is described, and the reference above for John Lisle supports this by reference to him and 2 additional Bannerets, the only men carrying their Banner (as opposed to standard) being those in command of each of the three battles. I get very twitchy when I hear greater detail of organisation without the original reference, since many are largely conjecture and supposition by military historians trying to support their theory on how the battle went rather than actually reflecting what was recorded by contemporaries.

Furthermore, when soldiers were mustered they did so with their captain. For financial reasons this meant that they appeared in these rolls in distinct groups by type, however surviving records like Bridport and other civic records show a more familiar and familial association which reflects the combined men-at-arms and archer mix seen in the majority of Indentures etc.. This association of Captain with his men was fundamental to organisation and discipline and when it failed it led to a breakdown of order as described in the Paston Letters.

"mech pepill owt of this cuntré have take wages, seying thei woll goo vp to London. But thei have no capteyn ner rewler assigned be the comissioneres to awayte vpon, and so thei stragyll abowte be them-self and be lyklynes arn not leke to come at London, half of them."

It also helps to explain the significance of badges over and above (both figuratively and literaly) that of 'livery' seen time and again in the record.

Once mustered, soldiers retained that close tie with their 'captain' throughout. This is seen in the regulations encoded in the Ordinances for War which stipulated both soldiers responsibilities and rewards and all are tied closely with the role of the captain. From the use of harbingers to find accomodation, to food and wages to the division of spoils and discipline. Everything was centered around the familial association of a 'lord' and his men. At York the soldiers raised were raised with their own captain and standard, a focal point in battle. So, since the association was so strong and the basic 'unit' by which this association was formed was a composite number (of varying proportions) of both men-at-arms and archers ... how and when would these bonds have been broken on the field of battle, and how would order be maintained once it was, if it was ?

The truth maybe very simple and more in accord with the way the Chronicles describe most battles ... basic and crude. It is possible that the division of men-at-arms and archers was done literally as the armies prepared for battle by arraying themselves on the field. Simple trumpet and flag signals (note the lack of drums in English sources for the battlefield, a reasonable indicator of a lack of coordinated/drilled capability) indicating the primary orders, including 'havoc' and 'to horse' but probably also the more basic advance and stand. In this context an order to move "the archers" to flanks or into distinct formations seems possible, even reasonable. These are not specialised troop types trained to work together in a sophisticated fashion or with a structured formation. Simply, broad subdivisions to meet an immediate, largely static, array. If this was the case then it may help to explain the inability of the armies to cope with the increasingly sophisticated continental forces. Splitting archers from men-at-arms would have effectively removed the main command and control structure at a personal level by removing the Lord from his indentured/mustered archers.



OK. This was VERY rushed so it's more of a brain dump than a reasoned argument, so any comments (particularly ones supported by contemporary references) much appreciated. In particular I noted Fox's comments ...

"The idea of billman fighting as groups of similarly equipped soldiers in close formation I think is believable though. I draw that conclusion from my understanding of the equipment in archeological finds, and how it's best used (supported by evidence of similar troop types from earlier and later periods). And also from read descriptions of battles."

I'm curious which archaeological finds you are referring to and how this has been extrapolated to support your argument? Also, any contemporary references to battle array I'd be very interested to hear.


Cheers
Dave
Last edited by Dave Key on Tue Jul 08, 2008 12:39 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by Dave B »

Excellent Dave.

Well reasoned, well supported, lots of food for thought.

Thanks for that, I think the debate was getting a bit lost there, nice to have a thesis to discuss.

Dave
Find time in every day to look at your life and say; 'Well, it could be worse'

Kurt's uncle Bob.

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