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"Who does not wear a livery coat ?" Topic

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12 Nov 2019 5:48 a.m. PST
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Paskal Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2019 2:26 a.m. PST

Hello All,

In the WOTR, apart the M.A.A., who does not wear a livery coat and in that case without a livery coat, how are they recognized by their "friends", "allies" and "employers"?

coopman12 Nov 2019 5:49 a.m. PST

Good question and I have often wondered about this myself.

Trebian Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Nov 2019 10:45 a.m. PST

Only the immediate retinue or affinity would wear livery. WOTR armies are raised in a real hurry, and campaigns are short. Normally armies had a field sign, – that might be some greenery stuck in your headgear or similar.

Of course armies aren't always recognised by friends and allies. Lots of Lords have the same livery colours, and similar livery badges. Mostly people know the people around them and the banner they're serving under.

And who says a man at arms does not wear livery?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2019 10:52 a.m. PST

I'd figure "field words" and possibly "field signs"--probably cheap livery badges, or strips of cloth over armor--were in use, but I've had consistent trouble hearing my little toy soldiers shout out the field word or identifying the badge pinned on to a 20mm chest, so my policy is that at least one person on every stand has to either wear a livery jacket or hold a standard. (In 15mm, the back base of every stand is painted in someone's livery colors to indicate allegience.)

Hmm. Just reading on Knockdoe (1504, so only slightly out of period) this morning, and it mentions a decree by Henry VII that, since private war was outlawed, the only proper battle cries were "St George for England" or the name of the reigning monarch. If we assume this was the norm, than the Yorkists would be shouting "Richard!" "Edward!" and "Richard!" again, while the Lancastrians would have a nice consistent "Henry!" Anyone shouting "Warwick!" would presumably suffer a five-yard penalty.

MajorB12 Nov 2019 12:14 p.m. PST

Anyone shouting "Warwick!" would presumably suffer a five-yard penalty.

Tell that to the Yorkists at 1st St Albans "a Warwick! a Warwick!".

MajorB12 Nov 2019 12:24 p.m. PST

"Who does not wear a livery coat ?"

Anyone who is not entitled to, That is, to wear livery you had to be a party to a livery and maintenance contract.

olicana12 Nov 2019 2:13 p.m. PST

Anyone who is not entitled to, That is, to wear livery you had to be a party to a livery and maintenance contract.

Yep, that sums it up.

Livery was not 'common uniform' in the way we see uniform today. It's all to do with the livery and maintenance system. This is not clearly understood by a lot of wargamers, who simply see livery as an easy way to 'dress' their troops for ready recognition.

To understand the L&M system you have to understand England at the time. My understanding, (I'm not an expert but, I've a couple of dozen books on the WoTR) is this.

15th C England was governed using well defined laws. Redress to the law was available to almost anyone of standing, and to get anything done you generally had to go to law. Forget the plebs here, because they don't have 'rights' worth a button and can't afford to go to law anyway the plebs are workers, cannon fodder, nothing more. But, the law governs just about every activity, from settling land disputes, to permission to set up a business, getting debts paid, etc.

This is all well and good but, 15th C. England is run at the local level by partisan officials and judges that is to say they are part of a faction, they are part of the L&M system, and they use the law, bending it where necessary, for the benefit of members of that faction. If you don't belong to the local faction, and the case involves someone of that faction, you lose simple as that. The only time where fairness comes into play, is where a locality is governed by the bigwigs of more than one faction say London or one of the bigger towns here, two people of opposing factions might expect something like a fair hearing (because generally the factions didn't like upsetting the apple cart) and, again if you were not a member of either faction you generally lost because the 'gangs' have the place stitched up and don't like quarreling unnecessarily local turf wars are bad for business and best avoided where possible (they do occur, have no doubt, but not all the time).

So, to get anywhere in life you have to get 'legal protection' by joining a faction. You do this by contracting yourself to the system of livery and maintenance. You support your faction, in the person of a bigwig, and in return the faction supports you in your daily affairs.

At it's most simple, it's one big protection racket, run by the local bigwigs. By contracting yourself into L&M you get protection. In return you promise military support to your bigwig. What you promise to provide generally reflects the size of your household or wealth including a core of household men in livery coats. Obviously, having joined 'the gang' you are also expected to side with the gang in your daily affairs.

It was all a bit unfair but, because it was backed by pretty good written law, it worked. That is, it did except for one big hitch. Most local bigwigs had to seek their own protection from bigger bigwigs, who in turn sought protection from the really big bigwigs; when the really big bigwigs fell out with each other the country divided into well armed factions with an inbuilt command structure and areas of control the WoTR were an accident bound to happen, because everyone was ready to go.

So, to answer your question, livery coats would be supplied, as part of the contract, to the 'household men' of the L&M men these men are quite few in number but are pretty much ready to go at a moment's notice. Extra levies, even supplied as part of the contract, would not wear livery and take longer to get ready because, for one thing, unlike the livery troops they would not have a full panoply of war in their wardrobe.

Note: L&M contracts were not given to every Tom, Dick and Harry. L&M men were generally the gentry, professionals and merchant classes.

kehanubaal12 Nov 2019 5:38 p.m. PST

Very interesting, Olicana. Thank you.
But how would you 'translate' that on a wargaming table?

Dukewilliam Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2019 6:43 p.m. PST

I guess the big question for me is: what's the L&M' system?

coopman12 Nov 2019 6:53 p.m. PST

L&M = livery & maintenance

Dukewilliam Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2019 8:51 p.m. PST

Ah, just so.

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP13 Nov 2019 3:12 a.m. PST


And who says a man at arms does not wear livery?

At a period the M.A.A. have worn tabards (alas) but livery coats it was for the billmen and longbowmen of retinues …

@ robert piepenbrink:

In the armies of that time was a maximum of poor guys who did not know how to recognize each other.

@ MajorB:

"Warwick! A Warwick!" ??? And the guy who understands not English? And then a Warwick can hide another one!(LOL).

You also write "Anyone who does not have the right" but who does not have the right?

@ olicana:

The English, Welsh and Cornish who do not belong to retinue troops, do not wear livery coats like Shire Levy (which is wrong for the town levy who wear livery coats which are in big cities where there is more money, because the livery costs are not free) may have been a badge on their Jack, tunics ect …

GurKhan13 Nov 2019 3:53 a.m. PST

Livery was not 'common uniform' in the way we see uniform today. It's all to do with the livery and maintenance system. This is not clearly understood by a lot of wargamers, who simply see livery as an easy way to 'dress' their troops for ready recognition.

But soldiers who are not included in the livery-and-maintenance system town contingents, for instance may still wear coats of a uniform colour, which would probably be indistinguishable in practice from a livery jacket. So is this a legalistic distinction without a difference?

olicana13 Nov 2019 5:47 a.m. PST

Two points.


Levy troops, shire or town, would not wear livery coats. Towns and Shires didn't have a livery of their own and as the name implies levy are not liveried men.

For WotR purposes, you should not think of the 'Shire levy' as a single body of troops that were somehow called as a group (because an order to raise the 'Men of Yorkshire', for example, was simply not doable during the WoTR because it was a civil war). It would be a different matter if it was a war against a foreign power, but it wasn't: you could only call on what, by L&M, you actually controlled.

Remember that armies during the WoTR were generally quite small and 'levy troops' usually didn't feature much. Not many major battles feature more than 25,000 men all told, with several featuring less than 15,000. That's not a lot from a population of around 2 million (average, say 1%), and it is largely thought that the wars had little impact on the general population (e.g. the 'levy') the L&M men and their retinues took much of the brunt. Armies were usually raised quickly utilising the men who were ready to go (L&M) and usually only for short periods: Armies didn't roam around the country year after year, with huge numbers of slow to raise levy in tow, waiting for a battle to happen: raise quickly, fight quickly, disband quickly was the usual modus operandi.


In a medieval battle men had no difficulty in recognising the enemy they did not need a livery coat to do that. It must be remembered that each army wore a variety of liveries, sometimes the same colour (red was common single livery colour) was worn by both sides.

The thing is, medieval melees were not a huge mixed up scrum where everyone, on both sides, was eager to go forward and get stuck in, and in the process get all mixed up so you didn't know who was who it looks good in films but medieval combat simply didn't work like that.

Think, rather, of two lines of men. They approach to within physical reach and then the 'nutters' go forward, there is a brief melee at their parts of the line then they draw off to catch breath, and the 'coat holders' begin 'fencing' over the gap between the lines with bills and what have you; then the nutters go forward again and the melee heats up again. This happens sporadically up and down the line, sometimes for prolonged periods (it's why medieval melees can last quite a long time it's not everyone heaving at the same time, it's more a series of 'nutter' led impulses). The thing is, is that the lines of opposing troops stay as that your enemy is easy to recognise, he's the guy in the other line facing towards you. At some point, your nutters (or theirs) get the better of the opposition and seeing the losing side (especially the 'coat holders') begin to waver, the winning side suddenly acquires more 'nutters' (these are the 'coat holders' being encouraged to acts of bravery by the success of their 'proper nutters'). They go forward, and the waverers break.

That, at least, is the theory, based on modern human behavioural analysis, of how medieval combat, on foot, probably worked.

*NOTE: Modern studies have shown that 7% of fighting infantrymen do about 40% of the killing. Surprisingly, or not, this is roughly the percentage of the general population that have psychopathic tendencies in the general population it's slightly lower at around 5.5% but, I guess not everyone wants to be a soldier. Psychopathic tendencies equates to the people prone to be bullies; people who like, or at least don't mind, hurting people it does not, necessarily, mean they are mad or serial killers,LOL. As a matter of some interest to me, these people tend to do well in life – they are the 'go-getters'.

Trebian Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Nov 2019 9:23 a.m. PST

@Pasksal: I see you are not a native Engliash speaker. A livery coat is a tabard in livery colours. MAA wear livery.

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP13 Nov 2019 10:35 a.m. PST

@ olicana:

So if I understood correctly the best would be to use a skirmish rule to represent the fights in more realistic ways and to forget the figurines of non-professional fighters.


The livery coat is fo a billman or a longbowman
and at certain epochs of these wars the tabard was in fashion for the M.A.A.

olicana13 Nov 2019 12:29 p.m. PST

So if I understood correctly the best would be to use a skirmish rule to represent the fights in more realistic ways and to forget the figurines of non-professional fighters.

No, rules govern the outcome of a melee rather than the intricacy of the actual method of combat.

The point I was making was more about thinking what livery was used for it was not to recognise friend from foe. In modern terms, it was more like wearing your football teams shirt: It was about being part of a 'family' of people wanting to support the same team.

What figures you buy will depend on what battles you want to cover. If you are doing Tewkesbury you will only really need livery men. If doing Towton you will also need plenty of non-livery men.

My advice, is to study a few battles in detail. Look at the numbers of men and who brought them.

As a taster of what I mean, invest in a copy of The Battle of Tewkesbury 1471, Geoffrey Wheeler & Patrick McGill Freezywater Publications, available from the Lance and Longbow Society.

This is a wonderful little pamphlet / book; 56 pages packed with detail, including who was there with men in their livery coats.

Trebian Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Nov 2019 3:07 p.m. PST

@Paskal: No. A Men At Arms wears livery if he is part of a L&M agreement, which is perfectly possible. But go ahead and paint what you want.

And I agree with @olicana. I can't think of any WotR battle where skirmish rules would be best.

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP14 Nov 2019 1:03 a.m. PST

@olicana :

The problem is that all the armies and battles are interesting, the simplest would be to have army according to the standards banners and liver banners that one would find in the trade.

@Trebian :

I never said that the MAA carried livery coat, I said the opposite, they had never worn them, but at a certain period of the WOTR they carried tabards on which were their coat of arms , nothing to do with livery coats.

The livery coats was for commoners.

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