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Paskal Supporting Member of TMP10 Nov 2019 2:44 a.m. PST

Hello All,

What is in general the% of longbowmen, billmen and men-at-arms (all of retinue) in the purely English troops of the WOTR?

Thank you all

getback10 Nov 2019 4:00 a.m. PST


Long thread on Lead Adventure form

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP10 Nov 2019 4:43 a.m. PST

Thank you,but what's your opinion?

MajorB10 Nov 2019 5:25 a.m. PST

As a rule of thumb, I tend to go with 10% MAA in full harness, 40% billmen, 40% archers.

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP10 Nov 2019 6:42 a.m. PST

As many archers as Billmen and that's 90%?

And who wore banners, standarts and livery banners of the high nobles?

Knights who were not bannerets but in full armor, non-noble horsemen less heavily equipped as currours?

And when the bannerets knights carried the standarts of a high nobles, where were their own banners?

MajorB10 Nov 2019 8:35 a.m. PST

As many archers as Billmen and that's 90%?

Sorry, that should be 45% billmen and 45% archers

And who wore banners, standards and livery banners of the high nobles?

Nobody wore banners or standards. They are two types of flag.

Knights who were not bannerets but in full armor, non-noble horsemen less heavily equipped as currours?

You are overthinking it. Frankly we just don't know. Given that a full harness cost as much as a top of the range sports car today, only the really wealthy could afford it Unless it was provided for them by the lord of their retinue). It is misleading to talk about knights in this period. Wearing full armour doesn't make you a knight. A knight was someone who had been dubbed such by the monarch and thus entitled to be called "Sir …"

In practice, anyone in full harness is referred to as a man-at-arms, regardless of their wealth or social status.

Also, men-at-arms fought on fought. There are scant references to mounted men-at-arms in the WOTR.

And when the bannerets knights carried the standarts of a high nobles, where were their own banners?

It is likely that the banner or standard was simply carried by a member of the lord's household rather than another noble. You can't fight if you are carrying a flag.

advocate10 Nov 2019 8:55 a.m. PST

I might disagree with the last point, Major B. Carrying the standard of the King was an honourable post which went to a Knight at least, if not a nobleman. I'd imagine that the banner of a nobleman would be carried by a trusted member of the lord's men-at-arms.

MajorB10 Nov 2019 8:58 a.m. PST

Carrying the standard of the King was an honourable post which went to a Knight at least, if not a nobleman.

The king's standard was different for the reasons you state.

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP10 Nov 2019 9:58 a.m. PST

Nobody wore standard or banners. They are two types of flag?

Banners and standards were on poles and were taken into battle by all who possessed them so they were well carried by a standard bearer or a banner bearer !

MajorB10 Nov 2019 10:12 a.m. PST

Banners and standards were on poles

Yeah, Like a flag.

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP10 Nov 2019 11:42 p.m. PST

Ah, I wrote this because yesterday you wrote: "Nobody wore banners or standards".

Swampster11 Nov 2019 12:02 a.m. PST

A difference in idiom, perhaps. 'Wore' and 'carry' are different. 'Porter' can mean either.

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP11 Nov 2019 9:01 a.m. PST

And who carries the banners, standard and livery banners of whom?

MajorB11 Nov 2019 11:22 a.m. PST

And who carries the banners, standard and livery banners of whom?

YYou said: "so they were well carried by a standard bearer or a banner bearer !"
Exactly right. But that standard or banner bearer would not usually be anyone of rank so it doesn't really matter.

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2019 1:32 a.m. PST

Not sure…

Atheling12 Nov 2019 1:44 a.m. PST

In short; buy these books from THe Lance and Longbow Society:[

Not only are these some of the best summaries of the battles and also, if you buy the Poleaxed Source Book Volume 1 and 2, you will get very good summaries of the archer, 'billmen' and men at arms ratios.

Just Add Water Painting and Wargaming Blog:
La Journee HYW Warfare- Painting & Wargaming Blog:
Gewalthaufen- Late C15 to Early Renaissance Blog:

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2019 9:16 a.m. PST

Is there anything more?

Davidjames12 Nov 2019 1:25 p.m. PST

Nobody knows. It's pluck a number from the air.

And every contingent would be different, depending on how they actually fought.

Which again, nobody knows!

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2019 11:57 p.m. PST

Yes, in ancient history almost everything is speculation!

Let's do what we want since it is only for a game…

Rabelais13 Nov 2019 2:32 a.m. PST

Troop ratios are something you have to make your own mind up on. Have a read through the Lead Adventure Forum thread. Personally, I went with the higher archer ratio but you may disagree.

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP13 Nov 2019 9:53 a.m. PST

The one given in Ian Heath's WRG book is interesting …

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP17 Nov 2019 11:45 p.m. PST

Interesting but weird …

Warspite118 Nov 2019 4:19 a.m. PST

Very few figures for percentages survive. The few we have suggest 50/50 on bill and bow with an armoured leadership group of so-called 'knights' but in reality these were squires, professional men-at-arms and anyone who could afford good armour or had looted some.

The 1452 Westmoreland squire Walter Strickland's indenture with the Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury pledges
bowmen horsed and harnessed (armoured) 69,
billmen horsed and harnessed 74,
bowmen without horses 71,
billmen without horses 76.
So that gives us 143 mounted and (presumably) half-armoured troops and 147 on foot and probably unarmoured. As Westmoreland was near the contested Scottish border we could presume that these figures represent the ideal for war. However some of the Commission of Array returns for southern counties show very low figures for longbow which may imply the southern counties had 'gone soft'.

Another figure for the Earl of Warwick coming to London early in the WOTR gives him 200 men-at-arms and 400 bowmen. Bear in mind he was among the wealthiest men in England and he could have afforded more longbowmen if they were in short supply.

Both of these figures are 'early war' and it is noticeable that there are increasing mentions of mercenaries in later battles which implies that longbow may have fallen into short supply OR there was a war weariness among the native English and outsiders had to be brought in.

By Henry VIII's time the percentage of bill and bow had slipped to just 40% bows to 60% bills in traditional English units plus he also had pike and shot units as well which imply that the army percentage of longbow has dropped radically.

Many suggestions have been put forward for the decline of longbow in England.
1) battle casualties with longbows near the front, longbowmen are among the first to be hit. A longbowman takes a minimum of seven/eight years to train and they have to be physically fit. (see 3) below) So replacing battle casualties will not be quick, you are looking at half a generation!
2) war weariness or the lure of other pursuits such as gambling or football preventing longbow practice. Various monarchs had issued and re-issued laws insisting on longbow practice and trying to make other sports illegal.
3) health. There was a European syphillis epidemic at the end of the 15th C and early 16th century as evidenced by the Spanish, Italians and French all blaming each other for its spread. In reality it was the movement of troops during the wars involving those nations plus inevitable movement of the 'camp follower' women who supplied the troops of all three armies with favours!
What Terry Pratchett called: "The women of negotiable affection…"
Some of Henry VIII's later symptoms resemble tertiary syphillis and the timing suggests he may have contracted it in France at the Field of the Cloth Of Gold in the 1420s. The French king is known to have arranged 'women of negotiable affection' for his English guests.

Remember also that Henry VIII's Mary Rose wreck revealed a frightening bit of kit for injecting mercury into the affected part of the male patients. It WAS a recognised problem.

Two final figures for you:
The Towton grave pit of some 40/41 bodies suggests that about 25% of the dead had anatomical changes associated with long practice with a bow thickening of the right upper and left lower arm bones. However this was a grave pit of routing troops well to the rear of the main battle. A grave pit nearer that battle site might reveal a much higher percentage given that longbowmen were near the front and tended to get hit and killed first. See also 1).

Meanwhile Tudor writers were still suggesting in the early 16th century that the best place for a longbowmen was with a 'stout bill at his back' which most people interpret as a billMAN and therefore hints at 50/50 bill and bow. But, as I have said percentages by the time they were writing this had already dropped to just 40% for unit and much lower in the whole army.


Paskal Supporting Member of TMP18 Nov 2019 11:40 p.m. PST

For example, for Bosworth, Ian Heat, who is not used to writing , wrote in his WRG book "Armies o the Middle Ages, Volume 1" for Richard III's Army Organigram at Bosworth:

Vanguard = 1200 longbowmen and 200 cavalry under John Howard, Duke of Norfolk and Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey.

Battle = 1000 billmen, 2000 spearmen and more cavalry (400 Mr.A.A.?) Under Richard III himself.

Rearguard = 2000 billmen, spearmen end others (longbowmen?) And 1500 cavalry under Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland (son of the one killed at Towton).

Where are the longbowmen, what are these thousands of spearmen of the english armies?

Yet after Bosworth, the English archers have covered themselves with glory as recently as they have a monument in Brittany!


TMP link

I know that shooting the bow was not a sinecure, just see the state of the skeletons longbowmen, but there is no 2000 longbowmen on foot between the Vanguard and the Rearguard and none in the Batlle ..?

That young Englishmen have found other hobbies than archery, is plausible and that some kings have constantly wanted to force their subjects to train at the bow and nothing else and it is certain that there was many laws for that for at least 200 years …

On the other hand, it would be interesting to know why certain became billmen and other longbowmen, those who were null at archery or those who did not have the physical strength became billmen?

Yet the bill requires the knowledge of a certain "fencing" and the possession of a certain strength, in your opinion the selection was how?

Warspite119 Nov 2019 9:18 a.m. PST

I have no idea where Ian Heath got those figures from.
Trying to remember my Shakespeare I think Richard III quotes similar figures in the stage play. However Shakespeare was not a historian and he makes many other mistakes.
Spearmen? At Bosworth?
I seem to recall the the old (pre-DBA) WRG Ancients and Renaissance rules show 'Northern' foot with spearmen which (I think) was just based on their nearness to Scotland as the Scottish used spears.

Given that the Walter Strickland indenture is a Northern unit I think we can safely bury the 'Northern spearmen' story for good. I do not think they existed, certainly not during the WOTR. Earlier… possibly.

Another way the 'Northern spearmen' story may have come about is a mention during the capture of Henry VI in Northern England of some '300 spears' but that would mean cavalry as they were often called 'spears' in contemporary accounts. The cavalry at Tewkesbury are called spears.

Billmen or bowmen?
Most WOTR armies were raised quickly and were on the move quickly. Training a bowman takes many years but stick a bill into the hands of any man with no longbow experience and you have a billman. The bill was an adaption of an agricultural tool already used in England for hedge trimming and tree cutting.

Simply stated, if you have 50 or 60 men turn up unarmed at the muster then put bills or similar into their hands and you have adequate foot soldiers. You refer to 'fencing'. There was probably little training among the country levies. Some towns and cities may have had trained bands and night watches and we know that these carried bills or similar to keep the peace and as a badge of office.
The examination of the Towton bodies revealed little example of fencing. Apart from some hand or arms (defensive) injuries nearly all men suffered leg and head injuries and this is repeated at Wisby 100 years earlier. Hand-to-hand combat was short, sharp and brutal, you cut their legs out from under them and smashed the face or skull. The almost total lack of bodily injuries in the Towton skeletons suggests that nearly all of them wore padded jacks covering the body and that these jacks worked well.

My view is that many billmen, especially the levies (Commisions of Array troops) were created quickly from the untrained and were used as 'arrow fodder'. This is probably why the English knights chose to fight on foot. They could control and inspire their billmen by close contact and personal example.


Paskal Supporting Member of TMP19 Nov 2019 12:04 p.m. PST

Yes, well seen so famous English longbowmen were decades after decades, a species in the process of disappearing, it is what must have happened before them to their mounted confreres (the mounted longbowmen of the Hundred Years War) mounted he There's never a question in the WOTR…

yes and for the bills,a more expensive weapons like the halberd would nt be for english soldiers unlike bills …

And for special weapons like the crossbow ,the pike ,the halberd and the handgun, it was still the armament of continental soldiers?

Warspite119 Nov 2019 3:32 p.m. PST


It is hard to chart the rise and fall of longbow numbers as it was a national resource which could be combined and used in large numbers against a single foreign enemy but was always going to be cut in half when English fought English. Typically only half might be available to either side. Worse, there is evidence that while men might rush to join an army to loot the French, this was seen as profitable, but taking arms in a civil war was less profitable. Evidence of widespread looting in England in the WOTR is lacking and when it is mentioned it appears to be remarked as unusual and worthy of note.
The Yorkist town of Ludlow was looted after the rout of Ludford Bridge but that might have been as a deliberate punishment by Henry VI/Margaret of Anjou on the home town of Duke Richard of York. Looting was also remarked upon for the Second St Albans campaign but that was due to Queen Margaret of Anjou (herself French) bringing Northerners and rough Borderers into the south in her Lancastrian army. The Northern 'border horse' were an effective light cavalry but they had gained that experience in cross-border cattle stealing and raiding (i.e. looting) between England and Scotland. Margaret may have been unable to pay them but offered them the chance to loot instead of pay.

Exactly how many longbows available in any period is speculative. Some figures survive from muster lists and royal commissions to determine how many longbowmen were available. Some of these figures for southern counties show low hundreds per county and not the thousands Hollywood films and Robin Hood stories suggest. It appears that not every Englishman owned a longbow. The Bridport muster roll shows very sketchy ownership of bows or arrows and sometimes not both.

Taking your other points…
A halberd is not really more expensive. Any village blacksmith could produce an English bill, a more slender 'French' bill, a glaive (popular in south Wales) or a halberd. A gentleman's poleaxe might be more expensive but even poleaxes turn up in the hands of the levy in the Bridport muster roll.

Heavy handguns had been incorporated into English castle design since at least the 1380s (Bodiam Castle, Cooling Castle and the west gate at Canterbury). Handguns were in retinue use in England by 1449 as they figure in a Parliamentary complaint by the Paston family against Lord Moleyns regarding the private attack by his retinue on the disputed manor at Gresham, Norfolk. It was probably a minority weapon though with no big units until the mercenaries arrive.
Crossbows have been a subject for discussion on here before. There is slender evidence that the crossbow WAS used but was also a minority weapon. The Paston letters refer to employing four soldiers in Norfolk circa 1469 skilled in using and repairing crossbows and guns. Longbows are NOT mentioned.
When bills are mentioned as a group in England one should actually say 'pole weapons' as the Bridport muster list and others show that several pole weapons were actually used. The halberd is normally associated with the Swiss but a few undoubtedly turned up in England by the 16th century or were copied. They may even have arrived in time for Bosworth with Tudor's French/Swiss mercenaries.


Paskal Supporting Member of TMP19 Nov 2019 11:11 p.m. PST

Swiss mercenaries from Tudor at Bosworth ?

(LOL) Not only French, Breton and Scottish, all the English of the time liked and they certainly were not mecenaries …

Finally the French won the two hundred-year wars (1159 to 1259 and 1337 to 1453) and also the WOTR in a certain way (1455 to 1485, although in my opinion the WOTR continued until 1497 …)

On the other hand the nationality of the pikemen in Stoke Field is still not very well established, but it may be the only battle of the WOTR where there were Swiss..

TMP link

Warspite120 Nov 2019 1:51 p.m. PST

The French had been using Swiss-style pikes for some years and had set up a training school which was run by Swiss. It is therefore possible that some Swiss might have been at Bosworth.
We know that one Spaniard was at Bosworth, serving with Richard III, and he advised Richard to flee the field. Richard ignored him.

With regard to Stoke Field, the Swiss had a very good reputation after winning the Burgundian Wars. One of the origins of the later bad blood between the Swiss and the Landsknects is that German-speaking Landsknechts may have claimed to be real Swiss to get work as mercenaries.
The real Swiss may have been upset about this.
I am sure that English-speaking mercenaries today claim to be 'SAS' for the same reasons, better paid work. I will bet the real SAS have never heard of them.

All we know about Martin Schwartz is that he was German-born (Augsberg) but had commanded 200 'Swiss' for the Holy Roman Emperor. Given that the Swiss and the Holy Roman Empire had fought each other many times I suspect his 'Swiss' were really Germans.


There were no passports or birth certificates in the 15th century. Anyone could claim to be from anywhere.

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP20 Nov 2019 11:34 p.m. PST

Okay if there was a Spanish in the army of Richard III, you're not called his armya Anglo-Spanish Army?

The army of tudor is Franco-English when it landed then as and when its in advance she becomes Anglo-French, LOL.

For the pikemen of the Yorkist pretenders,in my opinion if they were not Swiss they could be Flemish?

Because there have been in Brittany after the WOTR, they are sometimes called Germans and I think to remember that the last Yorkists pretenders have Flemish pikemen after Stoke Field …

MajorB22 Nov 2019 11:13 a.m. PST

Okay if there was a Spanish in the army of Richard III, you're not called his armya Anglo-Spanish Army?

If there were any at all, then there would not have been enough to call it an Anglo-Spanish Army. And anyway they would have been mercenaries, so not fighting as Spanish.

As I have said before, you are overthinking it and trying to apply 20th/21st century principles to a conflict over 500 years ago. The world was a completely different place then …

dapeters22 Nov 2019 12:21 p.m. PST

I am sure at all times one might find men at arms from all over western Europe on both sides

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP23 Nov 2019 11:31 a.m. PST

In Richard III's army, what is it? That english I think.

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP24 Nov 2019 4:02 a.m. PST

Up to 9% of M.A.A., up to 23% of the billmen and up to 68% of longbowmen, because Ian Heath had written that there could be up to 8 longbowmen for a M.A.A. and a billmen for three longbowmen.

For you it's not a good % ?

Warspite125 Nov 2019 3:15 a.m. PST

@ Paskal
There was ONE known Spanish MAN with Richard III, but an estimated 2,000+ French-supplied troops with Tudor. These 'French' actually all nations – French, Scots, Swiss or German-speakers.

The Yorkist Pretender pikemen were probably German-speaking or Flemish-speaking. You cannot assign modern nationalities to them, Europe was not like that then.

I have no idea where Heath gets his figures from. Large numbers of longbowmen could be fielded against a non-English army but that number must be immediately halved when it is English-versus-English. Longbow was a national resource. It has to be divided in half for a war at home.

The figures of 10:1 longbow to knights for the 1475 Edward IV expedition to France have now been discredited as that document was found to be accounts for wages paid. It seems all troops were either paid as longbowmen OR as knights. The giveaway was no mention of any other troop types in the list yet the weapons known to have been stockpiled for the expedition included a couple of thousand bills. Loads of bills but no billmen to carry them? Surely some mistake?


Paskal Supporting Member of TMP25 Nov 2019 9:59 a.m. PST

@ Warspite1 :

In this case a quarter of the "longbowmen" are actually billmen?

This would make us a report of 1 M.A.A. for 2 billmen for 6 longbowmen, interesting is not it?

Warspite125 Nov 2019 10:23 a.m. PST

Please read what I have said here or on other threads.

Based on the Walter Strickland document of 1452, etc, I use 50/50 bill and bow. If you want some variation then go 60/40 either way. Some good units (but not all) may then have perhaps another 10% of foot knights added to them with better armour and better fighting factors.

There is evidence that English foot troops fought best when 'bolstered' by a such foot knights and I use bolstering in my up-coming Bills, Bows and Bloodshed rules.
In BBB units have a maximum of 12 modules. If two of these modules are elite quality foot knights then the whole unit is temporarily raised to elite. It reacts and fights as elites. This bonus disappears when two modules of any troop type in the unit are lost, but if three modules are lost if a captain (CinC) or sub-captain is in the unit.

In a large army one might find one unit with maybe all bows, especially if they are mounted longbow, but that is pure speculation on my part.


MajorB25 Nov 2019 11:35 a.m. PST

Based on the Walter Strickland document of 1452, etc, I use 50/50 bill and bow. If you want some variation then go 60/40 either way.

Agreed. If you then have 10% of the whole army as MAA, that gives 45% bills and 45% bows.

Curious. That's exactly what I said on one of these threads several days ago!

Warspite126 Nov 2019 4:14 a.m. PST

I have been using those percentages since Bills Bows and Bloodshed were first published, by me, in 1991.

I returned to those figures when I re-wrote BBB as BBB2 in the mid-noughties. Common sense and probably close to the truth.


Paskal Supporting Member of TMP26 Nov 2019 5:58 a.m. PST

@MajorB & Warspite1:

But yes I have already read the% troop you give but by what mathematical law there would be as many billmen as longbowmen?

I really like what Ian Heath said, who is someone serious anyway, unfortunately he gives his bibliography but does not tell which books he finds his % of troops.

Warspite126 Nov 2019 8:51 a.m. PST


I refer you to the Walter Strickland indenture of 1452 which I have posted on TMP at least two times recently. Please read that!

[EDIT: see higher up this thread – dated November 18 – where the Strickland figures are given in full.]

The Strickland indenture, for Retinue troops, shows 50/50 and other sources (Bridport and Tudor writers etc) infer 50/50 was typical.


MajorB26 Nov 2019 10:55 a.m. PST

I really like what Ian Heath said, who is someone serious anyway,

In what way is he serious? As you say unfortunately he gives his bibliography but does not tell which books he finds his % of troops. Any historian that doesn't properly cite his sources isn't worthy of the appelation.

Warspite126 Nov 2019 12:42 p.m. PST

@Major B.


dapeters26 Nov 2019 12:48 p.m. PST

A professor I had in graduate school made an observation "just because author publishes a lot does not mean they actually have anything to say." Ian Heaths books are interesting and got the ball rolling but I think he was just a history buff like the rest of us.

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP27 Nov 2019 3:20 a.m. PST

@ Warspite1:

In this case it is the melee that is decisive in these battles and not only because there are many archers in both camps?

@ MajorB:

Yes it's true it's a pity he did not do it.But I trust him.



Paskal Supporting Member of TMP27 Nov 2019 9:22 a.m. PST

@ All:

It seems that the% of 8.57% of M.A.A., 22.85% of billmen and 68.57% of longbowmen that I sometimes gave would not be correct for foreign expeditions.

For WOTR battles the number of men at arms would be a little bit more expensive than the so-called "shire levy" so a reasonable proportion would be 10-12 MAA 20-30% archers say50-60% billmen ranging from almost men to arms to shire levy rubbish the rest made of gunners, scourers and foreign mercenaries in some armies. But we must remember that none of these figures are hard and fast rules.

A foreign expedition would have no "shire levy" quality troops therefore a lower proportion of billmen …

You see that I am not limited and more than M.A.A. and especially Billmen proposes – in my opinion – more interesting armies …

MajorB27 Nov 2019 1:32 p.m. PST

For WOTR battles the number of men at arms would be a little bit more expensive than the so-called "shire levy" so a reasonable proportion would be 10-12 MAA 20-30% archers say50-60% billmen

Where are you getting these figures from?

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP28 Nov 2019 12:07 a.m. PST

@ MajorB :

Why ? These do not suit you either?

MajorB28 Nov 2019 11:08 a.m. PST

Why ? These do not suit you either?

Unsubstantiated statements like:

For WOTR battles the number of men at arms would be a little bit more expensive than the so-called "shire levy" so a reasonable proportion would be 10-12 MAA 20-30% archers say50-60% billmen

are simply your opinion. Unless you can support such statements with cited referenecs from sources, preferably primary sources, that is all they will ever be.

Warspite128 Nov 2019 2:44 p.m. PST

The modern assessment is that all WOTR battles, except possibly Empingham (Losecoat Field) were decided at the melee stage. Archery merely served to 'soften up' the other side. It also appears that the loser in the archery was normally the first to charge into hand-to-hand.

Empingham may be an exception as accounts suggest that the 'shire type' rebel army was upset by Edward IV's artillery and were already pulling back or were even routing when he attacked.


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