In England, contracts for very large numbers of bows and arrows were placed. In 1341, when the king had returned from France and was gearing up for another foray there, 7,700 bows and 12,800 sheaves of arrows were purchased and stored in the Tower of London.9 A sheaf was twenty-four arrows, so the astonishing total of 307,200 arrows, with the feathers of 153,600 geese, was still only three minutes’ shooting for the 10,000 archers that Edward was intending to take to France. The rate of purchase continued throughout the war, and, in 1421, the crown bought and stored in the Tower 425,000 arrows, to which 212,500 geese had contributed. A sheriff would receive written instructions from London to obtain a certain number of bows, arrows and bowstrings from his bailiwick, and he would place the order with local craftsmen, receive the finished product, box them up and despatch them to the Tower. Bows might be ‘white’ – that is, in natural wood – or painted, although this latter could refer to some form of preservative oil, as paint would soon flake off when the bow was flexed. The accounts of the chamberlain of Chester Castle show that he paid one shilling and sixpence (£0.075) for a bow, and one shilling and fourpence (£0.064) for a sheaf of arrows. Today a replica longbow costs around £300 and arrows are £130 a sheaf. While in 1346 Edward would take foot and mounted archers to France, thus reducing his speed of movement, the foot archers would be phased out over time, and by the following decade most archers would be mounted – that is, they would move on horseback while dismounting to fight. Archers were protected by an iron or steel helmet and wore a ‘jack’, a short, quilted jacket sewn with iron studs. An archer-heavy army was ideal for the English: bows and arrows were cheap, laws were enacted to ensure that the male population remained proficient in their use, and they were an early example of English armies using technology as a force multiplier when opposed by far more numerous enemies.
The other major element of the English military machine was the man-at-arms, the successor of the heavily armoured mounted knight. Men-at-arms were mainly of gentle birth, ranging from actual knights or those hoping to become knights to esquires or minor gentry, usually in the proportion of one knight to four others. Like the mounted archers, they moved on horseback but fought on foot. As the transition from mounted to dismounted battle took place, the shield they carried grew smaller and eventually was dispensed with altogether. Men-at-arms were still well protected, although, unlike their French equivalents, mainly in mail, rather than plate, armour. While they were equipped with swords – and a variety of axes, maces and daggers were also carried – their main weapon was the halberd, or half-pike. The chronicles are lacking in details about exactly how the men-at-arms fought, but it is likely that they were drawn up in two or four ranks, depending on the frontage to be covered, close together but not so close that they could not swing their weapons, with each man taking up two-and-a-half feet or so of frontage. Another infantry element was the spearman, or light infantryman, many of whom were Welsh. They formed up in schiltrons or phalanxes to present a hedge of spears to an attacker who, once impaled on a spear, would be finished off with what were described as knives but were in fact short swords. Finally, the infantry included skirmishers and scouts, lightly armed with javelins and daggers, whose main occupation when not scouting seems to have been cutting the throats of enemy wounded. They were recruited from Wales, Cornwall and Ireland, with a few renegade Scots.
While the heavy cavalry component had almost disappeared in English armies, there was still a requirement for light cavalry, and these were the hobelars, shown in the muster rolls as armatti, who were lightly armed and mounted on ponies or on what today would be considered light hunter types. Their role was not to charge the enemy but to reconnoitre, patrol, find routes, forage for rations, collect intelligence and provide communications. With so much of the army now mounted, there was of course a requirement for grooms and farriers to accompany it, to say nothing of the huge amount of forage that would have to be either shipped with the army or bought or sequestered on the ground. Other specialists would be miners for siegework, armourers to repair weapons and suits of armour, masons and carpenters to construct defences and build bridges, bowyers and fletchers to repair and replace the archers’ necessities, and even a military band. Edward III may also have had some early cannon, or gunpowder artillery, although the details are vague.
The army that Edward was gathering was made up of three types of soldier: those belonging to retinues, either the king’s or those of magnates; paid contingents raised by individual contractors; and men summoned by commissions of array. There were two sorts of retinues: those composed of household troops and those of men who were indentured. Household retinues consisted of those men who were tenants of the lord and whose families owed a feudal obligation to him. These personal retinues would become less important as the war went on, but in the 1340s they were still significant. Indentured retinues – sometimes unkindly referred to as ‘bastard feudalism’ – were those raised by an individual, who had to be of the rank of banneret or above, and its members were employed on contract, occasionally for a specific period but more often to serve the lord in peace and war for life. The contract was written, laid down the wages and expenses to be paid, stipulated exactly what type of service was to be provided, including whether it was to be within England only or abroad, and usually included the proviso that a certain proportion of any ransom or plunder acquired was to go to the lord. Service was owed to that particular lord and could not be transferred to anyone else without the agreement of both parties. The contract was sealed and both parties kept a copy. Members of indentured retinues were required to be of the rank of knight or esquire and to wear the lord’s badge or uniform. The retinues varied in size from that of the earl of Northampton, who in 1341 undertook to provide seven bannerets, seventy-four knights, 199 men-at-arms, 200 armed men (spearmen and hobelars) and 100 archers, or the earl of Derby, who in 1342 agreed to muster five bannerets, fifty knights, 144 esquires and 200 mounted archers, both forces a mix of household and indentured retinues; to less well-off members of the gentry like John Beauchamp, who produced one knight (himself), five esquires, six men-at-arms and four mounted archers.
As knights still had a feudal obligation, it was in the government’s interest to have lots of them, and there were various regulations to persuade those of means (lands worth £40 a year) to accept knighthood. To those who were going to war, whether as part of an overlord’s retinue or of their own volition, knighthood was an advantage, for not only did it double the man’s pay but a captured knight was also more likely to be held for ransom rather than slaughtered out of hand. That said, the expense of armour, horses, servants and the other trappings of gentility did deter some, and fines were levied against those who turned knighthood down. When the king was strong and admired – Edward I, Edward III, Henry V – there were few who resisted becoming knights and contributing to the war effort, while when kings were weak or unpopular – Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI – the contrary applied.
Contract forces raised by the king and the government were similar to indentured retinues but without personal loyalty to an individual lord. They were the first true professional or career soldiers and might be considered the national army, as opposed to local or private armed bodies. An individual, usually referred to as a captain, contracted to produce a certain number of soldiers of a stipulated type for a prescribed period of time to serve in a particular area; terms and conditions of service were laid down and agreed. Like indentured retinues, numbers varied widely, from Edward Montagu, captain, who in 1341 agreed to provide six knights, twenty men-at-arms, twelve spearmen and twelve archers for forty days in Brittany for a total of £76,30 to men like Sir Hugh Calveley, who could recruit a thousand soldiers to serve in the same area.
In the early stages of the war, soldiers raised by commissions of array – a system of conscription that had changed little since Saxon times – outnumbered those in retinues or under contract, although as time went on the army would become more and more composed of professionals. With the exception of those living in coastal areas, all males aged between sixteen and sixty were liable to conscription organized by arrayers, who might be sergeants-at-arms (royal servants and more like mobile inspectors and trouble-shooters rather than the senior non-commissioned officers they are today), knights of the king’s household or local officials. Using the local authorities to select men was administratively simple but invited corruption, as local arrayers sought or were offered bribes to exempt those who did not wish to go, and often the men selected were quite unfit for military service. Sergeants-at-arms or the king’s own officials were less susceptible to corruption, and, because they had military experience themselves and knew the sort of man they wanted, they tended to get a better quality of recruit.
Even then, there were problems. Often the best men had already been recruited either into a local lord’s retinue or into an indentured company. And despite various statutes, not everybody possessed weapons, which had to be provided or paid for locally, and it was a stipulation that those who did not serve were required to contribute towards the cost of those who did. Because of the difficulty of finding sufficient men by array, there had to be incentives. These included assurances to pressed men that they could keep a certain proportion of the value of goods captured, usually up to £100, which was twenty years’ salary for a foot archer, and pardons for outlaws. If a man who was ordered to appear before the courts on a criminal charge consistently failed to appear, then he was declared outlaw, or ‘without the law’, which meant that, technically at least, he could be killed with impunity depending on the seriousness of his alleged offence. Outlawry only applied to the man’s county, so someone on the run had only to escape to the next county to be safe from retribution, but, as an outlaw’s goods and chattels were forfeit to the crown, it was not a comfortable state. The king, and only the king, could grant pardons in exchange for military service, although sensibly the pardon was usually withheld until the service was complete and the man’s good behaviour attested to by his commander. In the year 1339/40, a total of 850 charters of pardon were granted for military services rendered, of which around three-quarters are estimated to have been to murderers. Altogether, perhaps up to one-tenth of an English army was made up of criminals working their passage to forgiveness.
Men raised by commissions of array were organized into vintenaries, or twenties, under a vintenar or junior officer, usually a knight but, if not, someone of military experience. Five vintenaries made a centenary commanded by a centenar, who was mounted even if his troops were not. The nearest modern equivalent is the platoon and the company. We have little knowledge of how these men were trained, but clearly there must have been a training syllabus over and above weekly archery practice. While soldiers of the time did not march in step, they would have been required to move with a measured pace at a set rate of paces per minute, in order that they could change formation without losing cohesion. The men would have been made to become accustomed to moving and fighting as part of a team, to obey orders without question, to understand military terminology, and to handle their weapons as the army demanded. Development of physical fitness and training in living in the field would not have been as important as it is for young British recruits today, but some understanding of field hygiene and first aid would presumably have been instilled.
Soldiers wearing a uniform are recognizable and hence easier to control and discipline – they also find it more difficult to desert. While there was not as yet a national uniform in the modern sense, many contingents were equipped to a common standard of dress, and many of the richer magnates, and even localities, vied with each other in the provision of uniform clothing. Mostly, the men seem to have been clothed in various shades of white, but the Welsh contingents were clothed in hats and quilted tunics that were white on one side and green on the other, while the men of London wore red and white stripes. But even if units were all uniformed to a greater or lesser extent, recognition in the heat of battle cannot have been easy, given the number of contingents in the army and the plethora of individual coats of arms on bannerets’ surcoats – to say nothing of the standards and banners displayed by barons, earls and formation commanders. Edward III eventually reverted to his grandfather’s practice of ordering all to wear an armband of the red cross of St George.
By now, it was recognized that, lingering feudal obligations notwithstanding, officers and men of an army had to be paid. Rates of pay, varying somewhat depending upon the success or otherwise of recruitment, were expressed as daily rates (as British army rates of pay still are). A duke (and at first there was only one – the Prince of Wales) got thirteen shillings and fourpence (£0.67); an earl eight shillings (£0.40); a knight banneret four shillings (£0.20); a knight bachelor two shillings (£0.10); a man-at-arms who was not a knight one shilling (£0.05); an English vintenar, a hobelar and a mounted archer sixpence (£0.025); a Welsh vintenar, a dismounted archer and an English light infantryman threepence (£0.0125); and a Welsh spearman twopence (£0.0083). Taking the numbers that they might command, then the duke might be a brigade commander, the earl from that of the earl of Northampton, who in 1341 undertook to provide seven bannerets, seventy-four knights, 199 men-at-arms, 200 armed men (spearmen and hobelars) and 100 archers, or the earl of Derby, who in 1342 agreed to muster five bannerets, fifty knights, 144 esquires and 200 mounted archers, both forces a mix of household and indentured retinues; to less well-off members of the gentry like John Beauchamp, who produced one knight (himself), five esquires, six men-at-arms and four mounted archers.