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"Bidowers - what exactly were they?" Topic


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Fatuus Natural14 Feb 2018 4:18 a.m. PST

I was just looking at Lion Rampant and noticed that bidowers feature as a type of missile unit, described as 'woodsmen, scouts, brigands and professional skirmishers who flit atround the battlefield in small units' and as 'missile-armed skirmishers'.

I've never heard of bidowers in any historical context, although I've occasionally seen references to them in wargaming contexts – they feature- did a DBM army list mention bidowers? – and I've always been rather puzzled by them. Did they ever have any real historical existence as a category of fighting man (and if so, where and when?), or are they just an artificial construct of wargaming, derived from some obscure fleeting reference in a contemporary record picked up by the author of a set of rules and given life by repetition in later rulesets?

A quick internet search suggests the latter. The Anglo-Norman Dictionary has an entry for 'bideuwer' which reads:

'bidower, soldier armed with a bidowe (type of broad knife) (?)', and cites a reference in Sir Thomas Daqworth's 1346 contract with the earl of Northampton which required him to serve with 14 knights, 65 esquires, 120 archers and 40 'bideuwers' paid 3d. per day. Bidowe was certainly a Middle English word for a knife (Piers Plowman contains a reference to 'a bidowe or a baselard' for example).

Does anyone know of any better evidence than this for the existence of bidowers as a recognised category of medieval missile troops?

Fatuus Natural14 Feb 2018 4:18 a.m. PST

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Fatuus Natural14 Feb 2018 4:24 a.m. PST

I managed to post that 10 times! Sorry – I've deleted 9 of them.

Personal logo 22ndFoot Supporting Member of TMP14 Feb 2018 5:19 a.m. PST

Ian Heath says: link

Fatuus Natural14 Feb 2018 7:39 a.m. PST

Thank you, that's very useful. I suspect Ian Heath's book may be the origin of the wargamers' bidower, though it may itself derive from earlier work by someone else, as it says the Flemish tapestry is thought to depict a bidaut (thought by who?).

Heath seems to have been assuming that the 'bideuwers' mentioned in the 1346 Dagworth indenture were armed with spears and bucklers that document actually gives no indication as to their arms or function (except that their low daily rate of pay suggests light equipment).

However Guiart's account of the battle of the Golden Spurs does give an excellent description of Navarrese and Spanish bidaux equipped as skirmishing missile troops, and it is certainly tempting to identify the tapesty's unarmoured man with a shield, three spears (or perhaps a lance and two darts) and a sword as one of them.

I'm half persuaded, but it's all a little thin, essentially just the one source. The belief that Dagworth's bideuwers were armed similarly to Guiart's bidaux seems to depend on the similarity of the words 'bideuwer' and 'bidaut'. It may after all be that bidowers were in fact men whose distinctive weapon was a knife or 'bidowe'. Though it is interesting, in the light of the indenture's alternate reference to them as 'bayouneys', or men from Bayonne, that the Anglo-Norman Dictionary offers a second meaning for 'bideuwer 'inhabitant of Bordeaux (?)', citing a 1343 reference in the Chronicles of London to 'Baskeles, Bydouwers, Spaynolfs, Geneveises, et de plusours autre regiouns' perhaps the bideuwers' distinctive feature was their place of origin, rather than their equipment.

I wonder what the statement that 'there were bidowers in the Anglo-Gascon army at Poitiers in 1356' derives from.

Personal logo 22ndFoot Supporting Member of TMP14 Feb 2018 8:00 a.m. PST

It is one of those eternal wargaming mysteries. I'm just pleased that the Perry WotR range now includes kerns and I always think of bidowers as the same sort of thing javelin armed skirmishers but with different jerseys.

I'm away from my resources just now, but aren't there references to "knifemen" in various accounts? You may have hit on something with the knife thing.

steamingdave4714 Feb 2018 9:27 a.m. PST

Probably completely irrelevant, but Bidowe is supposedly an old Anglo- Saxon family name, derived from the Welsh ap-Eddow.

Fatuus Natural14 Feb 2018 11:22 a.m. PST

Yes, I see the DBM Army List for 100 Years War English includes 'Welsh knifemen' (Irr Ax (X)), and googling 'welsh knifemen' throws up lots of unspecific references in connection with English armies in the the Hundred Years War, at Crecy and elsewhere.

I've always thought the Welsh foot in English armies were predominantly archers and spearmen, and supposed these references to knifemen derived from Froissart's famous story about Welsh footmen finishing off fallen French knights with their long knives, but didn't mean knives were their only or principal weapon, or that knifemen was a contemporary term for them.

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