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"WOTR Shire Levy Troops?" Topic


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1,613 hits since 29 Apr 2016
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Comments or corrections?

coopman29 Apr 2016 5:08 p.m. PST

What would these troops look like? I assume that they would have nowhere near the uniformity of dress, livery colors, etc., as retinue troops would have.
Thanks for any info.
Clay

Knight of St John29 Apr 2016 9:27 p.m. PST

Hi coopman I am no expert but I would recommend you tak a look at the medieval board on the Lead Adventure website. If you go four topics down from the top there is a very interesting discussion about WOTR.
Michael.

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP30 Apr 2016 2:09 a.m. PST

Shire levy could be raised from towns or districts, I rather suspect some sort of 'Livery' might be worn by some,particularly from towns/guilds, otherwise, I think they would be un-uniformed.
I am no expert either though!

MajorB30 Apr 2016 3:51 a.m. PST

Herkybird is generally correct. Although there is little if any evidence for the existence of "shire levy" troops in the WOTR.

Lt Col Pedant Inactive Member30 Apr 2016 7:15 a.m. PST

"Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence".

coopman30 Apr 2016 7:25 a.m. PST

Pretty much every WOTR army list I've ever seen (except DBA) has these lesser types of troops included in them. Surely all of these rules writers can't be wrong.

MajorB30 Apr 2016 9:41 a.m. PST

"Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence".

True.

However, when you read accounts of WOTR battles, particularly the primary sources, there is only ever reference to the troops belonging to Lord So-and-so rather than any reference to the levy from Somewhereshire.

The inference therefore is that the fighting was done by the retinue troops of the lords. If any shire levy troops turned up at all, they would be the first ones to find urgent appointments elsewhere when any fighting was in the offing.

bruntonboy30 Apr 2016 12:42 p.m. PST

Army list writers are often cuprits to repeating earlier errors and opinions. After all publish an army list that makes a potential purchasers army inaccurate and see how your book sells.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP30 Apr 2016 12:50 p.m. PST

The troops raised by Commissions of Array* -effectively levies were commanded by whichever lord, but this could be in their role of sheriff, warden etc. rather than being troops given maintenance and livery. There are also city levies link lists various instances taken from primary sources where Coventry was ordered to send troops at various times in the wars.
It also gives details of the expenses for raising 100 men which were to have gone to the king in 1455. While they didn't eventually go, it gives a good clue as to what they wore as a distinguishing mark. A pennon is made as well as a 'garment' for the captain. The men (who wear jacks and sallets) were to receive red and green bands. These seem to have been pretty small; about 9inches by whatever width the cloth was possibly 36". Perhaps something like a diagonal sash.

*See e.g. the Commission of array to various lords, some in their roles as Wardens of the Marches and as sheriff, to raise men in Westmoreland in 1463 link

coopman30 Apr 2016 2:42 p.m. PST

I'd personally rather not field these troops if they were not likely to have been involved in most battles. Less painting for me, and less chance of these low grade troops potentially causing multiple morale failures to nearby friendlies.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP30 Apr 2016 4:20 p.m. PST

On the contrary, it seems that for the larger battles, troops raised by commissions of array were often in larger numbers than the indentured retinues. The same could be true of the smaller battles, especially where only a few lords were present. York may have only had a small number of men with him at Wakefield as he intended to raise more from the shires, though the exact size of his force at Wakefield is debatable.

MajorB01 May 2016 5:07 a.m. PST

On the contrary, it seems that for the larger battles, troops raised by commissions of array were often in larger numbers than the indentured retinues.

I have not found any evidence to support this view. Even in the case of 2nd St Albans in 1461, yes, the Lancastrians had a huge army, but when it came to the actual fighting all the poor quality troops found other things to do (such as pillaging) rather quickly.

York may have only had a small number of men with him at Wakefield as he intended to raise more from the shires, though the exact size of his force at Wakefield is debatable.

York is usually reckoned to have had 5-6000 at Wakefield. How do you know that he intended to raise more from the shires?

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP01 May 2016 8:43 a.m. PST

"York is usually reckoned to have had 5-6000 at Wakefield. How do you know that he intended to raise more from the shires?"
I don't. Various historians do. He had a substantially smaller army than the one that defeated him. Some sources rate his army as only a few hundred. John Neville was specifically given a commission of array to raise forces locally for Richard unfortunately he then lead these to the Lancastrians. If the stated numbers in sources are correct, these raised troops made up nearly half of the Lancastrian numbers at Wakefield, let alone any others which had already been raised.

As for the poorer quality troops finding other things to do, that doesn't mean they weren't there. Also, a lot of time seems to have been spent raising these troops for them to have been considered worthless. The Coventry example shows that the troops were even able to haggle for better wages.

Take the account of how Margaret raised troops on the way to Tewkesbury "And so, forthwith, they sent all about in Somerset, Dorset, and part of Wiltshire, for to get ready and raise the people by a certain day and they raised the whole might of Cornwall and Devon, and so, with great numbers of people they departed out of Exeter and took the right way to Glastonbury and thence to the city of Bath and as they went they gathered the able men of all those parts." Some of these may have been the retinues of petty nobles and Commissions could certainly apply to these, but it seems rather that these are men not already retained.

link from around p137 summarises the information better than I can. He mentions some of the ineffective troops raised this way, but also mentions some which were far more efficient such as northerners used to facing the Scots.

Incidentally, getting back to the OP, there is also mention of troops from Nottingham uniformed in red with some kind of white lettering.

MajorB01 May 2016 9:09 a.m. PST

I don't. Various historians do.

And historians have been proved wrong before now … Part of the problem is that one historian makes a statement and then other historians pick it up and repeat it. That is how the idea was propagated that 2nd St Albans was fought in a snow storm. A number of historians say this. In fact there is confusion between 2nd St Albans and Towton 6 weeks later. Towton WAS fought in snow. 2nd St Albans wasn't.

If the stated numbers in sources are correct, these raised troops made up nearly half of the Lancastrian numbers at Wakefield, let alone any others which had already been raised.

Which sources are you referring to?

As for the poorer quality troops finding other things to do, that doesn't mean they weren't there.

I did not say they were not there. I said they did not fight.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP01 May 2016 1:51 p.m. PST

As you are keen on sources, what are the sources for them not fighting? I've given a link to an extract which compares the poor showing of the men at St Albans with other instances of better fighting.

Of course historians can be mistaken. Giving one example where they are wrong does not mean we discount everything – just read it critically and check primary sources as far as possible. (see below). What I have seen is that every book discussing recruitment in the wars stresses the importance of recruiting in this manner, and that this was what are referred to in lists etc as the levy. This is completely at odds with your statement that
"Herkybird is generally correct. Although there is little if any evidence for the existence of "shire levy" troops in the WOTR."

In the case of Wakefield, what we are told in a primary source is that Neville acquires a commission of array from RoY to raise thousands of men and that he takes these to the Lancastrians instead of Richard. Since some sources put Richard's army at around a quarter to a half of the size of the Lancastrians, suggesting that Richard expected these troops to raise the numbers he brought with him is not exactly a long shot. Rather different than just getting the weather wrong.


"Which sources are you referring to?"

PDF link summarises the sources.
"According to John Benet's Chronicle there were about 20,000 Lancastrians and York's army numbered 12,000; Gregory's Chronicle put the Lancastrians (at Hull) at 15,000, while York had 'great people'; the Annales Rerum Anglicarum record a 'great army' of Lancastrians and 6000 Yorkists; and Edward Hall's Chronicle, for what it is worth, estimates the Lancastrian army at '18,000 men or, as some write, 22,000', while York had with him 'not fully 5000 persons'."

As it happens, I haven't (and nor will I) actually check all these sources out, though the pages are given in the article if you disbelieve this historian. I think I've indicated rather a lot of sources – primary and secondary -as opposed to a simple unsourced statement.

I assume that you have read Burley et al. hence the various comments about St Albans. Their take on the troops raised by CoA is that they were good only "to line up for a frontal assault or defence" – quite a difference from bringing them and them never fighting.

I did type all sorts of questions about why they were raised if they never fought, but I'd rather see some source material to show that they habitually did not fight rather than the poor showing at just one or two battles.

MajorB01 May 2016 2:35 p.m. PST

This is completely at odds with your statement that
"Herkybird is generally correct. Although there is little if any evidence for the existence of "shire levy" troops in the WOTR."

Ah, my apologies. What I should have said was "Although there is little if any evidence for the existence of "shire levy" troops on the battlefield in the WOTR.

As you are keen on sources, what are the sources for them not fighting? I've given a link to an extract which compares the poor showing of the men at St Albans with other instances of better fighting.

I see no evidence in your link of any instance of better fighting. Indeed the document makes no reference at all to levies.

There is a reference to a commission of array raised by York. However it should be noted that a Commission of Array did not necessarily imply raisng the shire levy. It could just say that the Lord should raise so many men for the defence of the realm. How he did that was up to him and given the choice between the trained fighting men of his own retinue and those of friends as opposed to the shire levy it is obvious what he would have done.

There is also a reference to Lord Neville's commission of 8,000 men that defected to the Lancastrians. What it does not say is whether these 8,000 men took part in the fighting at Wakefield.

PDF link summarises the sources.
"According to John Benet's Chronicle there were about 20,000 Lancastrians and York's army numbered 12,000; Gregory's Chronicle put the Lancastrians (at Hull) at 15,000, while York had 'great people'; the Annales Rerum Anglicarum record a 'great army' of Lancastrians and 6000 Yorkists; and Edward Hall's Chronicle, for what it is worth, estimates the Lancastrian army at '18,000 men or, as some write, 22,000', while York had with him 'not fully 5000 persons'."

And therein lies the problem. From four separate primary sources you have the Lancastrians with anywhere between 15,000 22,000 and the Yorkists with anywhere between 5,000 12,000. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the actual figures were…

I assume that you have read Burley et al. hence the various comments about St Albans. Their take on the troops raised by CoA is that they were good only "to line up for a frontal assault or defence" quite a difference from bringing them and them never fighting.

Precisely and since at 2nd St Albans they did neither it therefore follows that they were not taken into account.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP01 May 2016 4:39 p.m. PST

Still, your only reference is to 2nd St Albans. Yes, Gregory's Chronicle is scathing about the Northerners fleeing rather than fighting. We've established that this one battle supports your case. What about all of the others? Any sources at all? I'll even throw in Losecoat Field – the rebels were essentially levies and broke rather than face the King's men but in this case there were no decent troops to support them.


I suggest you reread p141. These show just how different it is to gathering existing retinues. If there were already friendly Lancastrian retinues in the area around York, why does it require John Neville to raise them? You say it is obvious what would be done – well surely it would be obvious that the friends etc would already be raised by the Lancastrian lords in the vicinity.As to no mention of levies, this whole extract is about how the Commissions of Array were different to the retinues and that the troops were raised from the communities. What else would levies be?

I don't know what point you are making about the numbers. We know that the numbers are varied in historical accounts. Estimates of 15 – 22000 are remarkably similar. 18000 +/- 20% is a darned sight better than you get from many battles. York is a lot more debatable, but I already mentioned that. If the lower numbers are right – and some estimates say RoY left London with only a few hundred – then the theory that he was relying on locally raised troops is reasonable.
All the accounts say that the Yorkists are outnumbered. John Neville's troops may well have been exaggerated in numbers, but since he took them to Somerset &c, they would have been with the forces at Wakefield.
"When he had his commission he raised to the number of 8,000 men, and brought them to the lords of the country, that is to say, the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Clifford, and Duke of Somerset, that were adversaries and enemies to Duke Richard. And the last day of December they fell upon the said Duke Richard, and him killed and
his son, the Earl of Rutland and many other knights
and squires, and of other people to the number of
2,200."

"Indeed the document makes no reference at all to levies"
I'm referring to the extract from Goodman. There are various references to levies. In the rest of the book, levies are mentioned over 30 times, often in the context of Lord Such and Such and the levy from Somewhereshire.

There are instances given where CoA of both sides use threat of death to raise men. This is not the gathering of indentured men already friendly to the cause.


In Gregory's Chronicle, it gives an example of an action just before 2nd St Albans at Dunstable where a group of 'new men', lead by a butcher, has so many losses – hundreds of men – that he hangs himself because his command was so poor. Hard to lose so many men unless they are in action. Who kills them? – the Northern men who apparently take no part in action in St Albans. The new men do badly but Gregory's Chronicle ascribes this to bad leadership – and even then they fight.

Incidentally, taking Gregory's Chronicle at face value would mean that Margaret had 100000 men at 2ndStA but only 5000 fought.

MajorB02 May 2016 1:46 a.m. PST

Gregory's Chronicle is scathing about the Northerners fleeing rather than fighting. We've established that this one battle supports your case. What about all of the others? Any sources at all? I'll even throw in Losecoat Field the rebels were essentially levies and broke rather than face the King's men but in this case there were no decent troops to support them.

Two clear examples of levies not fighting. How many more do you need?

I would challenge you to provide any documented example of where levy troops did fight.

Your Dunstable example misses the point that the butcher's men were just the men of the town not trained fighting men, not even levies.

Who killed them? the Northern men who apparently took no part in action in St Albans. Easy to kill people when you have weapons and they do not.

The new men do badly but Gregory's Chronicle ascribes this to bad leadership and even then they fight.

It was not a fight it was a massacre.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP02 May 2016 3:43 a.m. PST

" sum were but newe men of warre, for the chevyste captayne was a boucher of the same towne"

Some, (not all). Men of war. Captain. Not simply a bunch of blokes with a sharpened stick between them.

Tens – or even hundreds- of thousands of men are raised by CoA. Why on earth are so many men raised if their function is not to fight. Why require sallets, jacks, bows etc if the function is not to fight. Why pay them if they are not to fight.

St Albans (which is a difficult battle in may ways and is decidedly atypical in the way it is fought) stands out because the Northern levies are said not to fight. (Even then it is the _most part, not all) We do not have _any_ other examples of a normal army where the levies run. We are told when battles break, not individual parts.

The cases of St Albans and Losecoat Field are notable because of the number of men who flee. At Ludford, Trollope's experienced men defected without fighting. Does this mean all experienced men would defect? No – it is mentioned because it is a notable event. The actions of the Northern men (who could quite easily contain non-levies anyway) is notable because of how they acted. If this was how levies always acted then no need to mention it.
I didn't respond to this:
Me: 'I assume that you have read Burley et al. hence the various comments about St Albans. Their take on the troops raised by CoA is that they were good only "to line up for a frontal assault or defence" quite a difference from bringing them and them never fighting.'
You:"Precisely and since at 2nd St Albans they did neither it therefore follows that they were not taken into account."

At St Albans, yes. But Burley et al do _not_ say or even imply that running or taking no part is the normal behaviour. They say that they were probably limited but could still take part in straight up assault or defence.


For the initial stages of most battles where the action is an exchange of missiles, the levies are able to add their arrows to the general shower. Why would they not when they have been ordered to bring bows etc? Perhaps they formed behind more experienced men, perhaps not, but then we know very little about how the men were organised and arrayed once on the battle field.

Even a superficial glance shows the presence of levies throughout the wars. Since we have virtually _no_ information about which individual contingents within the larger formations did what, it is a massively sweeping statement to damn the performance of all levies because those at one battle didn't perform.

Since the primary sources are so sketchy about the actions of contingents in almost alll cases, can you find any secondary sources to say that despite so many men being called up, they never fought? I think the only one I have found who says that levies were hardly used is Oman and even he contradicts himself. Others stress the importance of levied troops.

Levies are significant parts of the armies at:
Blore Heath. Levies. Edgecote. Levies. Northampton. Levies.
And so on.
By the 1471 campaign, levies form a major part of the armies since they are raised so quickly.
e.g. Tewkesbury. Most of Margaret's men are raised quickly by CoA. It is a hard fight, not a rout. At the same time the B-d of Fauconberg raises an army in Kent mostly by CoA. Edward raises a new army post-Tewkesbury largely through levies.

I imagine this has all gone far beyond what the OP wanted.
In summary – did the levies do anything useful at St Albans? – no.
Can we extrapolate from this that they did nothing at any battle? – I do not think so.

As a comparison
From the same account – did the gunpowder troops of Warwick at St Albans do anything useful – no.
Can we extrapolate from this that they did nothing at any battle? – I do not think so.

MajorB02 May 2016 4:41 a.m. PST

I imagine this has all gone far beyond what the OP wanted.
In summary did the levies do anything useful at St Albans? no.
Can we extrapolate from this that they did nothing at any battle? I do not think so.

If you can provide any substantive examples of levies doing something useful at any WOTR battle then go ahead. Bear in mind that Commissions of Array do not necessarily imply levies.

As a comparison
From the same account did the gunpowder troops of Warwick at St Albans do anything useful no.
Can we extrapolate from this that they did nothing at any battle? I do not think so.

Again, show me a substantive example of the effective use of handguns at any WOTR battle.

coopman02 May 2016 4:43 a.m. PST

Yes, it has. I'm sorry that this has developed into what it has. I think that we'll just have to agree to disagree and move on. Thanks to everyone who provided their comments.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP02 May 2016 5:26 a.m. PST

I think I wrote gunpowder weapons, not handguns and so Tewkesbury.
Okay, enough has been written about gunpowder weapons in the WotR that I really don't want to pursue it.

I'll let others read the primary and secondary sources now, you don't seem to want to refer to them. I'll point again to Goodman p.141, where 'commission of array' raising a 'shire levy' is stated.
He continues by describing an array of 1464 where an array is issued to the sheriffs of 16 counties where all men between 16 and 64 were to be prepared to join the king at a day's notice 'well and defensibly arrayed'. Even if he hadn't already mentioned shire levy, then this certainly sounds like one. 'All men' could include those indentured, but those men are likely to already be joining whichever faction without having to be ordered to do so by royal proclamation, often supported by threat of capital punishment.

Enough now.

MajorB02 May 2016 10:20 a.m. PST

I'll let others read the primary and secondary sources now, you don't seem to want to refer to them.

I have indeed read them but there was no need to comment on them as that would have added nothing to the debate.

I'll point again to Goodman p.141, where 'commission of array' raising a 'shire levy' is stated.
He continues by describing an array of 1464 where an array is issued to the sheriffs of 16 counties where all men between 16 and 64 were to be prepared to join the king at a day's notice 'well and defensibly arrayed'. Even if he hadn't already mentioned shire levy, then this certainly sounds like one. 'All men' could include those indentured, but those men are likely to already be joining whichever faction without having to be ordered to do so by royal proclamation, often supported by threat of capital punishment.

All good stuff (and yes, I have read Goodman) and I do not deny at all the existence of so called "shire levies". What I do dispute however is their battlefield potential. I have yet to find any substantive case documented in primary sources where "shire levy" troops fought against trained retinue fighting men.

Personal logo rampantlion Supporting Member of TMP02 May 2016 1:06 p.m. PST

Levies were raised and fought throughout the middle ages, why would this stop at the time of the Wars of the Roses?

MajorB02 May 2016 2:38 p.m. PST

Levies were raised and fought throughout the middle ages, why would this stop at the time of the Wars of the Roses?

We have agreed that levies were raised in the WOTR. What seems to be in dispute is their relative fighting quality.

Personal logo rampantlion Supporting Member of TMP03 May 2016 10:47 a.m. PST

I thought the debate was about whether they took part or not in the fighting, or if they were indeed even there. If they were there, the quality would be as varied as the number of units raised I would say. I would also say that the best trained retinue probably performed differently from battle to battle as well.

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