Tuesday 21 July 2009

250,000 medieval soldier service records published online

by Kathryn Hadley

A searchable database containing 250,000 service records of soldiers who saw active duty in the latter phases of the Hundred Years War was published online yesterday, July 20th. The database is part of a research project about soldiers in English royal armies between 1369 and 1453 led by Dr Adrian Bell at the ICMA (International Capital Market Association), Henley Business School, University of Reading, and Professor Anne Curry from the University of Southampton. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Based on the study of historic records such as the proceedings of the Court of Chivalry, muster rolls records in the National Archives at Kew and archives at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris) researchers have created complex profiles of individual soldiers in what is now considered England’s first professional army. The database notably includes the names of many archers who served with Henry V at Agincourt, details of where individual soldiers fought and for how long, which campaigns they fought in, how much they were paid, who was ill and unable to fight, who was knighted and who advanced in rank as a result of military success.

Thomas, Lord Despencer, began his career in arms in 1385, aged twelve, for example. Thomas Gloucestre, esquire, was a soldier in the English royal army for 43 years. He fought at Agincourt, in Prussia and Jerusalem. Robert de Fishlake enlisted in 1378, aged 16. He participated in John of Gaunt’s military campaign to St Malo in 1378, the Duke of Buckingham’s expedition to Brittany in 1380 and in Richard II’s campaign to Scotland in 1385. He progressed from being an archer to eventually being called a witness, aged 46, by Sir Edward Hastings at a Court of Chivalry.

It is traditionally assumed there was no professional army in England until the early modern period. The later phase of the Hundred Years War from 1369 to 1453 was, however, one of the most highly militarised periods of the medieval era. One of the aims of the project was to determine when a professional soldiery developed and whether or not the soldiers who fought between 1369 and 1453 were part of a professional army. The study ends in 1453 with the loss of Gascony, which marked the end of intensive military activity overseas. The main campaigns of the period were to France, but there were also expeditions to Flanders, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Garrisons were also maintained within England, the Channel Islands, Wales and the marches, at Calais and in Gascony. During the 15th century stage of the war, troops were stationed in Normandy and the surrounding regions.

Officially, there existed no standing army in England at the time. Researchers therefore considered as professional soldiers those who saw repeated service or served continuously. In order to determine who those men were, it was thus necessary to compile a database of the soldiers who saw active service between 1369 and 1453 including details such as how long they served for and which campaigns they fought in.

Dr Adrian Bell described some of the sources used to complete the project:
‘The service records survive because the English Exchequer had a very modern
obsession with wanting to be sure that the Government’s money was being spent as
intended. Therefore we have the remarkable survival of indentures for
service detailing the forces to be raised; muster rolls showing this service and
naming every soldier from Duke to Archer; accounts from the captains
demonstrating how the money had been spent; and entries showing when the
Exchequer made the requested payments. It is the survival of the muster roll
evidence that allows us to begin to reconstruct the service of soldiers. This
allows us to look for repeated service in the retinues of particular captains,
and also service alongside a network of colleagues and family members. We can
see that careers in arms regularly lasted over 20 years, and soldiers served
from their teenage years to their 60s and older!’

The completed online database will be formally launched by Dr Adrian Bell and Professor Anne Curry at an international conference entitled England’s Wars, 1272-1399, at the University of Reading tomorrow, Wednesday July 22nd.

A pilot project database is available for searching at http://www.medievalsoldier.org/

For a selection of articles about the Hundred Years War, visit the Hundred Years War section of our Medieval Themes focus page and our military history focus page.
Also, in Why Men Fought in the 100 Years War Anthony Tuck considers the motives that led Englishmen to fight in France during the Hundred Years War.
Picture: the tomb of Sir John Cressy (1407-1445), parish church of Dodford, Northamptonshire (Prof Brian Kemp)


Maggie said...

I do so much want to find info on the Buttolph(Butolf, Butolfe, Buttolffe, etc etc) family, a remarkable family! This would be terrific if I could find their names! Some were monks and priests.

History Today magazine said...

Have you tried using the database to research the Buttolph family? I would be interested to know what you find out...

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