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"The 1457 Bridport muster roll" Topic

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Warspite104 Jan 2020 6:44 a.m. PST

The 1457 Bridport muster roll is a rare surviving source in England as it comes from a period just two years after the 'official' start of the Wars of the Roses. The historical background is, however, more the French coastal raid, the same year, on Sandwich in Kent where the French had devastated the port town and killed the mayor John Drury. To this day (2020) the Sandwich mayor is still the only English mayor to wear black robes (instead of the traditional red) as he is in perpetual mourning for Drury, who was killed leading the resistance.

So the Bridport muster role as a snapshot of English Commission of Array or levy troops must be treated with some caution if applied to the WOTR. You also have to remember that Bridport is a Dorset port and its men were liable to do service to the king as seamen as well as soldiers. They may be 'marines'.

Simon Chick of the Lance and Longbow Society extracted the Bridport roll for the society journal, Hobilar, and I am leaning heavily on his work here.

The muster roll named 211 men as liable to muster probably all those aged between 18 and 60 living in Bridport. Of these 211, 94 are recorded as having no equipment which strongly suggests that they failed to turn up to the muster and therefore their equipment could not be noted. They might have been out at sea when the muster took place. Lack of attendance cannot be interpreted as lack of interest.

Of the 117 who did turn up, 86 longbows were recorded which is about 73% of those attending. Of these 86, more than three-quarters possessed at least one sheaf of arrows (that's about 24 arrows) while 11 men had from 3 to 15 arrows. A couple had no arrows at all. Almost a third of the archers carried a buckler ('bokelar') which suggests they were also quite capable of fighting.

In Bridport only 8 men had a true bill but other pole weapons occur instead. 10 have glaives (also popular in South Wales) which resembles a large single-edged knife blade on a pole. You can stab or slash with it. A further 10 men are noted with pole axes. Now… pole axes are normally considered a gentleman's weapon so it is a little surprising to see 10 of these in the hands of levy troops. However the weapons may have been crude local copies or captured examples from the 100 Years War.

Just under half of the Bridport men had a sword, just under half of them had a dagger. The foreign-sounding Johannes Sterre had a 'halergyn' which may be an attempt to spell 'hand gun'. Remember that firearms were not unknown in England with castles being designed for the weapon since the 1380s while the city of Norwich built the Cow Tower solely to mount guns in the late 1390s. The Pastons had complained that Lord Moleyns used unspecified guns against the family in Norfolk in 1449.

There were also 5 hangers (short swords) and 4 men with axes. Unusually three men turned up with pavises, large portable shields normally associated with European crossbows and handguns. This is, as far as I know, the only record of pavises in England apart from the Second Battle of St Albans where the Earl of Warwick had used field defences which included spiked nets and spiked pavises.

For armour, just over half of the men wore a jack, a padded garment popular among English troops at this time. Quite thick and made of folded layers of fustian and linen, jacks may also have reinforcement stitched in such as bits of old mail or bits of horn. Some examples even had lengths of chain stitched to the outside of the sleeves to prevent arms being hacked off. Two men possessed brigandines, a reinforced flexible armour similar to a modern flak jacket.

More than half the Bridport men wore a sallet helmet but one still wore a old kettle hat, a style which had been fashionable 50 years before. Perhaps it was dad's or granddad's armour or perhaps another 100 Years War capture.

One man had chain harnys (chain mail) while another had leg harnys. A third had a cuirass or breastplate. Four men had pairs of gauntlets to cover their hands. Robert Byrche had a full suit described as 'white harneys with a sallet helmet'. Lucky him!
[White harness means silver armour white was associated with silver and yellow with gold due to the total lack of metallic paint in those days]

Shortfalls were noted and the people conducting the muster made the following recommendations:

27 men were told to obtain more arrows, 20 men were told to get themselves sallet helmets and 13 were told to obtain jacks.
Surprisingly… 19 men were told to get pavises which seems to suggest that the commissioners conducting the muster were quite taken with pavises. However… remember that we may be dealing with possible armed sailors/marines and pavises or mantlets were commonly seen along the bulwarks of ships just look at the Mary Rose. So the pavises may have been intended to be quickly taken on board a ship if fitting out for war.

All the above creates ONE picture of levy troops in England. It was typical for Bridport, it cannot be regarded as typical for England.

Compare Bridport with this:

The 1450 Ewelme (Oxfordshire) muster roll for Commissions of Array (levy troops)
Among the 17 villages surveyed, Ewelme itself could produce only six men:
Richard Slythurst harness (armour) and able to do service with a bow
Thomas Staunton (the Constable) and John Holme whole harness and both able to do service with a bill
John Tanner harness and able to do service with a bill
John Pallying a harness and not able to wear it (either it was broken or he was)
Roger Smith no harness, an able man and good archer
So that is two longbow and four billmen.
Andrew Boardman notes that for the 17 villages noted, 85 soldiers were available of whom only 17 were archers. While Ewelme in sleepy Oxfordshire (far from French coastal raids or the Scottish border) may have been deficient in arms this… "undermines the popular perception of a nation of archers…" says Boardman.
Boardman also notes that the 1457 Bridport muster roll of a coastal town, in Dorset, produced 73% longbowmen but only half the expected muster actually turned up.
Source: The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses by Andrew Boardman.


olicana04 Jan 2020 6:49 a.m. PST

And normality is restored to the universe. May The Force be with you.


Warspite104 Jan 2020 6:53 a.m. PST

You had me worried then, I thought you were posting in the wrong thread!


Trebian Sponsoring Member of TMP05 Jan 2020 1:46 p.m. PST

@Warspite1: Yes, we often come back to the Bridport muster roll, and as it's one of few that we have surviving it is infuriating as we don't know how exceptional it was. I don't know if Boardman's conclusion is justified. We know from the Coventry Leet Book that they certainly raised archers for both the King and City Defence. Why men had bills and not bows in this circumstance is far from clear. A bill is modified from a farm implement, whereas a military quality longbow isn't something you necessarily have lying around.

Warspite107 Jan 2020 3:11 a.m. PST

Another thing to consider is that many men may have had experience of fighting with quarter-staffs, a weapon listed as popular in England in the Middle Ages. Weapons like the bill and glaive are simply 'quarter-staffs with attitude' put simply, a quarter-staff with a nasty bit of metal added on one end.
So experience with the one might aid the use of the other. An easier conversion? A possibility.

As to the validity of either Bridport or Ewelme…
As stated above, we have to consider geography. Oxfordshire is a land-locked county far from either the Scottish or Welsh borders. The Welsh wars had been active less than 40 years before so one might expect to find a higher rate of turnout or armament in English counties nearer either to these borders or to the coast, given that the coast was also subject to French raids.

A look at the Walter Strickland retinue indenture from Westmoreland is interesting as that throws up 50/50 bill and bow and 50/50 armoured and unarmoured. And Westmoreland is a county within range of the Scots and Richard Neville was a Warden of the Marches, tasked with defending the border against the Scots. You would expect this unit to be 'bow heavy'. It is not,

(1452: Walter Strickland, a Westmoreland squire, made an indenture with Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury (father of the Kingmaker) -
bowmen horsed and harnessed 69
billmen horsed and harnessed 74
bowmen without horses 71
billmen without horses 76)

Half are mounted, half are on foot. Now… if the longbow were especially valued it would be logical to put all the bowmen on to the horses and leave the billmen behind. This was not done. What we appear to have is a fast-moving force of 50/50 bill and bow, a 'rapid reaction force' if you like, and a slower-moving group of unarmoured 'back rankers' who could turn out locally but who would be unable to ride at the speed of their mounted brethren. "If the king wants troops 60 miles away in two days then only the mounted can go, if the local area needs to be defended we can turn out twice as many in the field" appears to be the thinking.
Now the fact that the 74 horsed and harnessed billmen are NOT left behind indicates that they are important. If the longbowmen are the firepower of the unit, the billmen are the 'cutting edge', the first choice melee weapons. In later centuries the musketeers relied on pikemen, here we have the longbowmen relying on bills.

So what we have in the Strickland indenture is numerical proof of Leland's later statement about Henry VII's army prior to Stoke Field… the King set: "his folks in array of batell, that is to say a bow and a bill at his bak". Leland implies that 50/50 bill/bow is the norm and he further implies that mixed units are the norm.

Bridport throws up a higher number of longbowmen but it is an affluent fishing and trading port and maybe people could afford the archery equipment. Ewelme comes across as an agricultural back water with people more interested in farming (and eating) than hanging around an archery butts on Sunday to practice for a war which will not happen.

In truth both Bridport and Ewelme may represent 'outliers' at each end of the scale. Oddly, if you average them together for an 'English' figure you get near to 50/50.

I know we complain about the lack of information for this period but reviewing what ancient or Dark Ages wargamers have to work with, they have even less!


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