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Warspite112 Oct 2020 10:32 a.m. PST

Earlier this year I posted a large list of English retinues for the 15th century to try and give some factual basis for the 'how many longbowmen?' discussions and also to counter those who seem to think the English made no use of crossbows.

This is the Mark 2 list (as previously promised) and I have again CAPPED any references to crossbowmen which I have come across:


There has been some previous lively discussion about the number of longbowmen, etc, in an English army. I have managed to dig out these figures. References to crossbows have been capped. I have added other interesting details including an Armagnac retinue for comparison.

The August 1400 campaign against Scotland included:
Beaufort, Earl of Somerset 39 men-at-arms (MAA), 160 archers
Thomas Beaufort ("minor knight") 5 MAA , 24 archers
Percy, Earl of Northumberland 320 MAA, 1,500 archers
Source: The House of Beaufort by Nathen Amen

Also 1400:
King Henry IV purchased 24 'quarrel gunnes'. These are bolt-firing firearms. England had been using firearms since the early 14th century. Castles such as Cooling, Bodiam and the West Gate at Canterbury were incorporating 'upside down keyhole' gun loops into their designs since the early 1380s. Also in the 1380s Norwich replaced its spring-loaded weapons with guns on the city walls and then built the Cow Tower solely for artillery defence in the late 1390s. This Cow Tower is probably the world's first pillbox and still exists.

March 1405:
Henry IV musters 144 MAA, 720 archers in his own company to campaign in South Wales for one year.
Henry Prince of Wales was ordered to serve with 500 MAA and 2,500 archers for two months but afterwards to continue with 500 MAA and 600 archers as the King's Lieutenant in North Wales.
Source: Thomas Coveney writing in Hobilar, the journal of the Lance and Longbow Society.

October 1405:
Sir Richard Grey of Codnor, Justice of South Wales and King's Chamberlain ordered to muster 200 MAA and 600 archers.
Source: Thomas Coveney writing in Hobilar, the journal of the Lance and Longbow Society.

August 1406:
Sir Stephen Lord Scrope of Masham to take 50 MAA and 300 archers to Ireland.
Source: Thomas Coveney writing in Hobilar, the journal of the Lance and Longbow Society.

November 1406:
Sir Thomas Pykworth of Lincoln to take 400 MAA and 600 archers to Calais for 40 days to serve as Lieutenant of Calais.
Source: Thomas Coveney writing in Hobilar, the journal of the Lance and Longbow Society.

In a private dispute Sir Walter Tailboys is reported to have led 160 armed horsemen to the City of Lincoln to attack Sir Thomas Chaworth.
Source: Thomas Coveney writing in Hobilar, the journal of the Lance and Longbow Society.

Thomas Beaufort, now Earl of Dorset intercepted a French force and defeated it with 240 MAA and 1,200 archers.
Source: The House of Beaufort

January the count of Armagnac led 2,000 MAA and 1,000 archers to serve the King of France. At the same time the city of Rouen, then loyal to France, sent 600 MAA equipped by the city together with the local company of 50 arbalesters (crossbowmen) and 8 wagons of provisions to serve the King of France.
Source: Thomas Coveney writing in Hobilar, the journal of the Lance and Longbow Society.

Supplied to Earl of Dorset 1,000 bows, 2,000 arrow trusses, 100 CROSSBOWS + foodstuffs.
Source: The House of Beaufort

Thomas Beaufort Duke of Exeter 500 MAA and 1,500 archers
Source: The House of Beaufort

Edmund and Thomas Beaufort each appointed captains in the English army and each commanded 128 MAA and 460 archers.
Richard Neville Earl of Salisbury commanded 800 men in the same army.
Source: The House of Beaufort

Rouen's English garrison had 29 culverins but the description suggests that these were heavy handguns probably wall pieces with tripods.

Edmund Beaufort (calling himself Earl of Dorset) in France with 346 MAA and 1,350 archers.
Earldom was only actually confirmed in 1442
Source: The House of Beaufort

John Beaufort Earl of Somerset is indentured to cross the English Channel with 100 MAA and 2,000 archers.
Source: The House of Beaufort

John Beaufort, now Duke of Somerset, arrives at Portsmouth to cross the English Channel with 600 MAA and 3,949 archers.
Source: The House of Beaufort

Lady Paston feared an attack by Lord Moleyns on the disputed manor of Gresham, Norfolk, and wrote to her husband asking for some CROSSBOWS, windlasses to bend them with, and bolts, "Because your houses here are so low that no-one can shoot out with longbows". She asks him to ask Sir John Fastolf for help with these weapons. "Also I would like you to get two or three short poleaxes to defend the doors with and as many jacks [textile armour padded jackets] as you can."
In the same letter she refers to enemies fortifying a building against the Pastons loopholing the walls for bows and guns to shoot out of: "these holes that have been made for handguns are scarcely knee-high from the floor and five such holes have been made. No man could shoot from them with hand bows." This description bears a strong resemblance to the gun ports to be found at Kirby Muxloe castle today.

Gresham manor was attacked by Lord Moleyns and Lady Paston was thrown out. Her complaint lists the weapons used and armour worn against her Gresham and includes 'guns' tossed away in the middle of the list of weapons as if they were commonplace and not significant.

the Ewelme (Oxfordshire) muster role for Commissions of Array (levy troops)
Among the 17 villages, Ewelme village 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.
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.

also 1450:
The royal army which marched to confront Jack Cade's Rebellion contained five 'grete rebawdkins' (organ guns), a culverin with nine chambers, a barrel of culverin powder, two serpentines, 200 shot of stone and lead along with 30 gunners, carpenters, smiths and masons.

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
Source: A history of the art of war in the Middle Ages volume two by Sir Charles Oman.
Also found in: The Battle of Northampton, by Mike Ingram.

January 1454:
Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, has 2,000 'Stafford Knot' badges manufactured. If issued at the rate of one badge per man this suggests he planned to raise 2,000 men. If two badges worn on back and front then this would equip 1,000 men.
Source: The Battle of Northampton, by Mike Ingram.

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker, son of Salisbury) at the Great Council at Westminster 200 MAA and 400 archers in livery.
Source: Armies of the Middle Ages Vol 1 by Ian Heath.

The Earl of Salisbury brought 500 mounted retainers to London. If combined with Warwick (see previous) this would give the two Nevilles 1,100 men.
Source: The Battle of Northampton, by Mike Ingram.

May 7, 1459:
Queen Margaret orders 3,000 bow staves and sheaves of arrows to equip that many archers.
Note: one sheaf of arrows per archer so no re-supplies after each man has loosed his 24 shots.
Source: The Battle of Northampton, by Mike Ingram.

Yorkist raid on Sandwich led by Sir John Wenlock and John Dynham. Port captured and several men taken prisoner. Few recorded casualties "although at some point during the fighting Dynham received a gunshot wound to the leg…" says Mike Ingram. If this is true then it is further indication of handgun use in England. It also means Dynham may be the FIRST recorded gunshot victim in Britain.
Source: The Battle of Northampton, by Mike Ingram.

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick 500 Burgundian hand gunners at Second Battle of St.Albans. 18 of them were reportedly killed by their own exploding weapons.
Note: two burst brass hand guns have now been found by metal detectors at Towton. These gun fragments may belong to the same unit of handgunners and thus prove the St.Albans story is true].
Source: Armies of the Middle Ages Vol 1 by Ian Heath.

Towton the one researched grave pit has turned up 40 to 42 bodies of which approximately 25% had the anatomical changes in their arms which have been found in X-rays of modern longbowmen. There are two possible reasons for this seemingly low figure.
1) Towton is noted as the largest battle in Britain and ranks may have been filled very quickly by billmen who require little or no training. Give as many bills to as many men as possible and get them marching to the battlefield.
2) The Towton grave pit is more than half a mile from the main battle site and probably represents Lancastrian routers killed during the pursuit. Given that longbowmen are known to have been at the front of both armies at Towton, and given that these would have been among the first casualties during the firefight, it is logical to assume that a gravepit nearer to the battle site would probably yield a higher percentage of men with the 'longbowmen' anatomical changes. Until several pits have been researched we simply do not have enough information to draw more accurate conclusions.
Source: archaeological report "Blood Red Roses".
Also: Lord Dacre allegedly killed at Towton by a CROSSBOW bolt.

1461 William Grey, the Bishop of Ely, recruited 35 Burgundian CROSSBOWMEN and gunners to help defend the Isle of Ely and Wisbech Castle against the Lancastrians. He also called in men from his estates in Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to assist.

The Paston family were minor Norfolk gentry who owned Caister Castle. The Duke of Norfolk thought the castle should belong to him and the Pastons felt they needed to hire troops to defend it. John Paston II wrote to John Paston III that he had hired FOUR men (William Penny, Peryn Sale, John Chapman and Robert Jackson). "They be proved men and cunning in the war and in feats of arms and they can well shoot both guns and CROSSBOWS and amend and string them and devise bulwarks and any things that should be a strength to the place…". There is no mention of longbows in the letter. It adds that they have no harness (armour) yet but implies that they have sent for it. In the meantime harness is to be found for them. They are also to be provided with 'a couple of beds'. John Paston III says he is sending outsiders as the local (Caister) men might fear the 'loss of their goods' if they are seen to oppose the much more powerful Duke of Norfolk. This is an indication of the fear/power a major lord could wield.
[The Duke of Norfolk DID besiege Caister Castle the following year with many shots fired and deaths on both sides. The Pastons eventually surrendered and it was many years before they got the castle back. All four named men survived and were paid 40 shillings each. John Paston III said they surrendered it for want of food and gunpowder. The Pastons were also sued in the civil courts for killing two of the attackers, with a roundshot, while defending their castle. The Duke's attack was nothing to do with the Wars of the Roses but was a symptom of the anarchy that existed in some areas and impatience with the legal system. The Duke simply stepped outside the legal process and used direct force to gain something that he thought the minor gentry were not entitled to.]
Source: The Paston Letters (various editions)

Edward IV 20 June,1469 he ordered 1000 sets of livery, appointed someone to work on the Royal Artillery train and ordered CROSSBOWS, bow-staves and strings, BOLTS, arrows, hammers and other necessaries, plus horses. At the same time he ordered Coventry to provide 100 archers but the Coventry Leet Book says they were only able to find 82.
Source: the Battle of Edgcote 1469 by Graham Evans.

Edward IV landed at Ravenspur with 300 Flemish hand gunners supplied by Charles the Bold of Burgundy. This low figure may be an error as a few weeks later he marched into London led by 500 'smokie gunners' a reference to their lengths of smouldering slow match for firing the guns. This seems to have been a novelty to English eyes perhaps more the number of guns and matches lit and ready to fire.
Source: Armies of the Middle Ages Vol 1 by Ian Heath.

The Tewkesbury campaign. Andrew Boardman quotes King Edward IV paying 3,436 archers out of a total force of 6,000 men which Boardman says: "suggests a more equal balance between archers and billmen in this particular period…"
Boardman also quotes the Walter Strickland indenture (see 1452).
Source: The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses by Andrew Boardman.

King Edward IV's expedition to France
Lord Hastings 40 lances, 300 archers
Sir Ralph Hastings (a brother) 8 lances, 100 archers
Lord Grey of Codnor 10 lances, 155 archers
Sir Robert Tailboys 12 lances, 80 archers
Sir William Trussell 6 lances, 60 archers
Sir Nicholas Langford 8 lances, 60 archers
Sir Simon Mountfort 5 spears, 60 archers
Boardman says that lance may mean a man-at-arms and a squire in this context, 'spear' may indicate a single MAA.
Note however that discussion in Hobilar, the journal of the Lance and Longbow Society suggests that all the 1475 records are accounts of wages paid and that troops paid as archers may not be archers. Separate records suggest that many bills were ordered and sent to Calais. So who were carrying those bills?
Source: The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses by Andrew Boardman.

John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, raised more than 700 armed retainers from 44 different manors.
Source: The Battle of Northampton, by Mike Ingram.

Henry VII's army at Nottingham prior to the Battle of Stoke Field. The historian Leland (in his Collectanea) says the King set: "his folks in array of batell, that is to say a bow and a bill at his bak".
This is a much-quoted statement which is taken to mean that archers opened the battle with the billmen behind them and in roughly equal numbers. Unfortunately Leland was a historian and not a soldier and tosses this nugget to his readers as if it was standard knowledge.
Found in Hobilar, the journal of the Lance and Longbow Society, issue 7.

Sit Thomas Darcy indentured with Henry VII to serve abroad for a whole year with his costrell (custrell) and page, 16 archers, 4 bills and 6H. H has been interpreted as halberds.
A custrell is a medium cavalrymen often termed a hobilar, scourer, pricker or spear. So this gives us one 'knight', one medium cavalryman, 16 longbow and 10 pole arms but 11 pole arms if we count Darcy on foot with them carrying a pole axe.
Source: Wikipedia

July. Letter from Henry VII to Sir Gilbert Talbot. Henry demands a company of 80 men all horsed. Talbot was to make as many of them spears (i.e. lances) with their custrells and demi-lances. The remainder were to be archers AND bills "ready to come upon a day's warning for to do us service in war…"
In 1497 Henry wrote again, this time demanding 120 men.

Flodden. The estate of Lord Clifford furnished the Earl of Surrey with 116 billmen and 207 archers.
Found in Hobilar, the journal of the Lance and Longbow Society, issue 7.

At the death of John De Vere, Earl of Oxford, the inventory of his armoury was as follows:
175 sallets (helmets)
101 brigandines (flexible metal reinforced body armour similar to a modern flak jacket)
77 pairs of splints (leg harness)
16 corsets
84 pairs of mail gussets
18 gorgets (throat plates)
24 aprons of mail
120 halberds
140 bills
120 bows
Boardman says this inventory… "gives us some indication of the equipment that was available in a leading noble's stockpile" and also indicates how many people he might be able to arm quickly.
Note that pole arms now well outnumber bows.
However it should also be pointed out that other soldiers may come in with their own bows, other weapons and their own armour. The inventory may merely represent unissued spares or 'loaner' equipment such as we see being distributed to the fictional 'Riders of Rohan' prior to the Helm's Deep battle in the second Lord of the Rings film.
Source: The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses by Andrew Boardman.


You may note that the best figures relate to the 100 Years War as we have better records. This is because the state contracts between various lords still survive. On the other hand few records for the so-called Wars of the Roses survive as most armies were thrown together quickly and disbanded equally quickly. Also these WOTR armies were fighting for love of their lord and not pay, so there are no wage bills or accounts. The 1452 indenture (see above) is a promise rather than an actual order-of-battle, but it suggests that 50/50 may have been regarded as ideal OR that there were insufficient longbowmen and billmen had to be substituted to make up the numbers (see also my comments on 1461). It is easier to become a billman than the seven to 10 years of hard practice which good longbowmen require.

Note the figures for Edward IV's 1475 campaign into France which ended with him being bought off by the French. That army shows a 1:10 ratio of MAA to bow but (as noted above) some doubt has been thrown on those figures as it is known that a couple of thousand bills were ordered and stockpiled. Discussion in Hobilar, the journal of the Lance and Longbow Society suggests that the 1475 figures were based on wage accounts and that troops were paid on just two grades, MAA or bowman. A man paid as such may not be equipped as such he might be a billman or a gunner. It is also noted in records and mentioned by Heath and others that the number of townsmen responding to calls for troops fell during the WOTR suggesting either a war-weariness or unreplaced casualties among longbowmen. While 10:1 might be possible against France or Burgundy, this national resource would be split roughly in half during the WOTR.

By the middle of the reign of Henry VIII the ratio of bills to longbow were now 60:40 in traditionally armed units while other more modern units now employed pike and arquebus (see 1513 above).


dapeters12 Oct 2020 10:43 a.m. PST

What your guess as two the real combat strengths of lances and Spears?

GurKhan12 Oct 2020 12:14 p.m. PST

A bit surprised to see a gap in your records around 1415 when IIRC some battle or other occurred…

Sir Simon Felbrigg, 12 or 13 men-at-arms and 36 archers for the Agincourt campaign – link

Warspite112 Oct 2020 3:19 p.m. PST

Agincourt is very well documented. Other larger battles have also been missed out. I was trawling the lesser known corners for unit (retinue) information or some indication of weapon proportions.

Any guess would be a guess. However…
The percentages shown for Sir Thomas Darcy (see 1492) are tempting as a good example of how an army MIGHT have appeared especially the cavalry/infantry proportions.

dapeters16 Oct 2020 7:39 a.m. PST

I think the problem is in how individuals are counted, the the valet who was just a boy just coming into his teens is not. The "servant" who has a brigandine, helmet and a horse maybe. But we are just speculating so please take a shot.

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