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Author Topic: Force composition in the Wars of the Roses  (Read 58176 times)

Offline H.M.Stanley

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Force composition in the Wars of the Roses
« on: October 11, 2013, 10:08:37 AM »
Hi. Does anyone know what the likely ratio of Archers was to Billmen  (and Others) in the WotR?

I'm loosely theming mine on Lord Percy's Retinue but think i may have over-invested in bowmen. I currently have three units of Billmen (plus a couple of units of Scottish Mercenary Spearmen and a unit each of mounted/dismounted MAA)

Cheers,

James

« Last Edit: October 28, 2013, 12:09:23 PM by H.M.Stanley »
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Offline Cubs

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Re: WotR using HC
« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2013, 11:13:29 AM »
This is a tricky one. I seem to remember it was about three to one as archers were still an essential part of an army (not to mention a cheap one compared to a fully armoured man at arms).

Now, lots of people have said the longbow was past its best by the WotR and its effects were nothing like as dramatic as in the Hundred Years War. I would cautiously agree, but for important reasons.

1) Both sides had lots of longbows, so the battles tended to start with a long-range duel between archers until they ran out of arrows, where both sides often cancelled each other out (although there were some important exceptions). If one side had a lot more archers, or a lot more arrows to lob, they had a decided advantage.

2) There were less mounted troops and armour had advanced to the point where the arrows were less likely to cause casualties among men at arms - although they had abandoned the shield so perhaps there was a little vulnerability there.

This means that for a wargame, some people prefer not to field as many archers because it's not much fun to spend the first three turns just lobbing arrows about at extreme range. Of course, if your opponent hasn't taken many archers, you could have a distinct advantage, softening up their billmen before contact.
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Offline H.M.Stanley

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Re: WotR using HC
« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2013, 11:47:53 AM »
Thanks Cubs. A clubmate is trying to convince me that the longbow was on the wane after 100YW, in terms of numbers that is.

Cheers, J
« Last Edit: October 11, 2013, 11:49:26 AM by H.M.Stanley »

Offline Cubs

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Re: WotR using HC
« Reply #3 on: October 11, 2013, 12:17:32 PM »
Thanks Cubs. A clubmate is trying to convince me that the longbow was on the wane after 100YW, in terms of numbers that is.

Cheers, J

I think it was, but the drop was not rapid, rather it gently faded and the Hundred Years War continued up to the 1450's, which is when the WoTR started. In the campaigns in France following Agincourt, only a few decades before the WotR began, a 4 to 1 ratio was still the norm.
« Last Edit: October 11, 2013, 12:53:22 PM by Cubs »

Offline H.M.Stanley

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Re: WotR using HC
« Reply #4 on: October 11, 2013, 01:06:51 PM »
I was thinking about 7:4:1 in terms of archers, billmen, MAA & my friend was trying to suggest that it should be much less and possibly 4:4:1

I don't think mine is that far out from what you've said.

Thanks again

Offline Arlequín

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Re: WotR using HC
« Reply #5 on: October 11, 2013, 04:19:54 PM »
I can't give anything concrete and the ratio would depend on what type of unit we're talking. Potentially overall, there were possibly ten (or more) times the number of 'Billmen' (or spearmen, or stavemen, or I don't know what men) to archers, but these were the poorest (income was <£2 p.a.), least martial and ill-equipped members of society (the lowest income groups weren't even to have to have armour), and other than brief local summonses, hadn't been called up since 1403.

Such was the decline in calling the 'masses' that many did not even keep up the legally stipulated levels of equipment (likewise the case with a fair few archers too). Archers were what was wanted for service in France, everybody else and those 'archers' not prepared to serve abroad, slacked off somewhat, judging by the laws passed against 'games' being played on Sundays, instead of weapons practice.

There 'may' have been a decline in the overall numbers of archers, it's hard to tell, but royal commissioners claimed they couldn't raise enough archers to fill a commission of array in 1457. The reason given was that so many had signed up with the nobles' retinues. Despite the somewhat reasonable levy of the commission (iirc it was for 28,000 archers over all England, barring the Northern Marches), only something like 75% of the numbers could have been raised. At that point, presuming they needed quantity, not quality, that would be when they started calling up the 'billmen' to make good the numbers. 

Within the 'professionals' of the retinues, the commonly mentioned ratio was 2-3 archers per 'man at arms' (which would include 'Knights', gentry and what we have come to call 'Retinue Billmen' - a term not used at the time). Archers came from what we might describe today as the upper-working and lower-middle classes and were hardly the peasants people see them as. Men at Arms were the middle class and upwards, with a few from the 'archer' classes, who had for whatever reason, not become archers. 

The bill to bow ratio gets argued all over the place, as if it was an absolute concrete value. In reality the numbers would vary from village to village, region to region, or from retinue to retinue. The North was 'poor' in relation to the South, so more bill/spears were the norm across a typical cross-section of people, the Midlands were perhaps the average and the South East of course, somewhat wealthier than the average. The numbers of archers to others available overall would shift accordingly. Raise 100 men from a village in the North and you 'might' get 75% spears/bills, 50/50 in the Midlands and perhaps 75% archers in the South East (these are illustrations for example btw, not actual numbers... I couldn't begin to guess what they might be in reality).   

Your Medieval commander raising a body of men to supplement his retinue, had the choice to go for numbers or he could be selective and dismiss any 'empty mouths', or 'naked men' to suit his needs at the time. The bigger the force raised from within an area though, the higher the proportion of bills to bows.

Those are my thoughts anyway... I doubt I've helped though.  ;)
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Offline Elk101

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Re: WotR using HC
« Reply #6 on: October 11, 2013, 04:44:16 PM »
The man himself has modestly not referenced it, but I'd strongly recommend you read Arlequin's blog (link at the bottom of his post) which has some great stuff on the period.

Offline H.M.Stanley

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Re: WotR using HC
« Reply #7 on: October 11, 2013, 05:16:03 PM »
Thank you gentlemen and i'll certainly have a look at your blog Arlequin

I had a feeling that there should be more "Northern spearmen" in my Percy list [sigh]

Cheers

Offline Captain Blood

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Re: WotR using HC
« Reply #8 on: October 11, 2013, 07:48:04 PM »
The man himself has modestly not referenced it, but I'd strongly recommend you read Arlequin's blog (link at the bottom of his post) which has some great stuff on the period.

This.
The man's a walking encyclopaedia on this stuff  :)

Offline janner

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Re: WotR using HC
« Reply #9 on: October 11, 2013, 09:36:43 PM »
As always, there is no clear answer. Traditional rule sets favour the ration between archers, billmen and MAA of 5:4:1, and this was said to be supported by primary sources, such as the Bridport Muster Roll. This contains 201 individuals of whom 114 had longbows.

However, if you dig deeper you find that of the of 39 polearms listed in this rare muster document (of which only 3 were bills!), over a third are actually owned by men who also had a bow. Which leaves only 12 men with polearms as their primary weapon. The seemingly 'unarmed' ones left over are because I've excluded sidearms.

Further, based on the 1475 indentures for the expedition to France, Ian Heath's in 'Armies of The Middle Ages' Vol. 1, p. 14, wrote,

'The availability of the militia on such a grand scale meant the ratio of archers to men-at-arms was considerably higher than in the Hundred Years' War era, being as high as 8:1 on occasion. Edward IV's 1475 expedition to France, for instance, though an indentured army, comprised 10,173 archers to 1,278 men-at-arms'

My opinion is 4 archers to 1 chap with a polearm is as good a ratio as any  :D

Offline Arlequín

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Re: WotR using HC
« Reply #10 on: October 12, 2013, 10:16:05 AM »
Thanks for the blog plugs guys, I'm flattered. I tend not to mention it as I'm a believer in using the forum as a place for discussion, rather than a place to re-direct people some place else. Can't say I mind the traffic though.

;)

Janner is right, there is no clear answer.

In the Hundred Years War and the 1475 Adventure, the forces raised were 'picked' (often over months) and men were even required to display their skill at arms before being signed up. If their bow wasn't up to standard, they were 'sold' a new one out of the stock produced for the campaign (how this was done I'm not sure, probably through deductions).

In both cases archers were preferred over anyone else. They were cheap, you could get a mounted archer and a foot archer for what it cost to employ a man at arms. The 1:8 ratio wasn't actually that odd in 1475 either, the French, for all their numbers of men at arms, were using a similar ratio, as of course were the Burgundians.

The closest 'domestic' equivalent to these were the retinues of the nobles and gentry, which were semi-permanent entities, built round a smaller permanent core. So while the permanent household might be 1:3 men at arms to archers , the part-time members might bump it up to 1:8. Add in all the tenants, cottars and anyone not actually 'unfree' (there were still a lot of 'serfs' around in the 15th Century, although in rapidly declining numbers), then the ratio of archers would drop, there being only a finite number of low to middle income people in any given community.

There were indeed a number of archers who also had access to bills. Calais bought something like 1,000 bows and 100 bills for its garrison, but you will find no billmen listed in the payroll. Make of that what you will, but I'm tempted to think that the bills were to equip those placed on guard duty and city 'security' -'Watch and Ward'.

The Bridport 'Muster Roll' wasn't actually a muster roll, it was an assessment (obviously based on what was known, rather than a guess). There were a lot of names with no equipment listed too. Either these people weren't assessed (for whatever reason), or they had no equipment... we don't actually know which. Janner is right that quite a few of those for whom equipment is listed, were armed to the teeth. Bridport is on the same coast that was menaced by the very French pirates who caused the assessment to be made, so they were in the front line. The assessment for the half-hundred of Ewelme, in the Chilterns, gives a somewhat different picture. Out of 17 villages, 85 people were eligible for service, of which only 17 were archers (6 of those were from Ewelme itself, so it wasn't exactly an even spread). 

The only other major source we have, is the often quoted 'Strickland Indenture' (i.e. it was a retinue - not a levy) which gives approximately a 50/50 split between bows and bills, whether on foot or mounted. Current contention is that this document is actually 16th Century document which relates to an account of a 15th Century retinue (or is a copy), so can't be relied upon. Certainly the language used is not 15th Century, particularly as it lists 'bows' and 'bylls', two words you will never find in any other '15th Century' document and there is no mention of men at arms either.

All of that aside, I have always said that people really should just please themselves as far as the proportions go. Yes, maybe there was something like a 1:8:40 split between men at arms, archers and the rest, across the overall population, but the point is that as a 'commander' you have a degree of control over who you accept/raise for service and who you don't. You would be on a budget too and unless you can raise your army, find your enemy and bring them into battle within 40 days, you're going to have to find the money to pay your men, or they will walk.

There's also the value of the men. Most of them would simply be useless, no armour and nothing much better than a pointy stick. They really don't want to be there and when they decide to run during the battle, they will take everyone else with them. If you need numbers then you might have too be less choosy, but some will really be a liability. Maybe that brings things down to 1:8:8, 1:8:4 or whatever, nobody really knows.

If it was me, I would have 1 Man at arms to 3 mounted archers (maybe swapping out the occasional archer for a 'currour' or whatever) in the retinue. For each of these groups I had, I would also add 5 archers on foot as the semi-permanent retinue members. For local levies/tenants and the like I would go for a 50/50 split between archers and bills, with the bills as the inferior troop type. If you want a less selective force, increase the numbers of bills.

If you are buying Perry Plastics, you can make it even simpler... one box of the forthcoming 'Men at Arms on Foot' to four boxes of their Bills & Bows, wouldn't be too unrepresentative I think.

:)

Offline Captain Blood

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Re: WotR using HC
« Reply #11 on: October 12, 2013, 10:34:54 AM »
All of which brilliant erudition and insight (which I absolutely love, by the way), does not alter the fact, that a WOTR-era wargame with eight longbowmen to every one melee-weapon-armed figure, would make for a very boring wargame indeed ;)

The other thing which I can never quite reconcile, is that we know that battles in the WOTR were not usually won by longbowmen. They were won by the nobs in their suits of armour, getting into hand-to-hand combat and bashing each other to pieces. The longbow duel was seen as a prelude to the real business of the day.

If you played a wargame with 80 archers and 10 men-at-arms/billmen on each side, it would simply be an extended missile duel - until one or other side broke from a morale failure. The melee would be incidental - if it ever happened at all.

So it would be an unhistorical outcome, despite the supposedly historical preponderance of an overwhelming ratio of longbows...

All of which tells me
a/ There must have been a much more balanced mix of troop types than the scant historical records appear to show. Or...
b/ We don't understand what happened on the battlefield back then. Perhaps all the bowmen simply joined in the hand to hand with gusto. Or...
c/ Longbows were very much less effective than we've all been led to think they were (and wargames rules tend to show them as...)

Or was it simply the case that the cultural and social mores of the day, meant that the nobility couldn't possibly allow thier destinies to be decided by the overwhelming firepower of the hoi-polloi. So they didn't try to make the longbow decisive on the battlefield, or use it to its full potential, because in their world, the only way to fight 'properly' was face to face with your foe, wielding a poleaxe? (Seems unlikely, but you never know... )

It remains, a bit of a mystery  ::)  :)

Offline Cubs

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Re: WotR using HC
« Reply #12 on: October 12, 2013, 11:58:21 AM »
Can I just say how nice it is to find a discussion where no-one says, "You're wrong, I'm right."

I can't find anything to disagree with in any of the posts (in fact, I'm kind of intimidated by the obviously superior knowledge to mine).

As to the Skipper's point, my own personal take on it is as stated in my first post. I think the longbow (or great bow, or war bow, or just .. bow .. whatever) was still extremely effective at the time of the WotR if used in the right way. But, since both sides fielded them in roughly equal numbers, there was no overwhelming advantage to be gained.

They often duelled at the limit of their effective range because ... well, what eejit would order his archers to march closer to the other side's archers, taking casualties all the way, just to gain a range advantage that the other side would gain too! Then, when the arrows ran out, as postulated, they probably hefted their bills and axes and swelled the numbers of lightly armoured men lurking on the fringes.

The Battle of Towton dramatically illustrates how effective they could still be when the elements effectively negated the other side's archers.

But yes, it would make for a very boring game if we always followed history to the letter. Imagine the fun of more modern wargames if we just went to ground each time we got in range and called in an artillery strike for the next couple of hours.

Offline Arlequín

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Re: WotR using HC
« Reply #13 on: October 12, 2013, 12:17:01 PM »
Thanks all.  :)

Fair points and indeed we don't have any eye-witness battlefield accounts to go by. Where significant events are mentioned though, there are some clues. Take Towton for example: A (presumably) larger Lancastrian army abandons a ridge to attack. Why? Presumably the weather rendered their archery ineffective (i.e. they were losing the archery duel), or they had less archers overall than the Yorkists and couldn't afford to trade volleys, or they thought one charge would do the trick... add in your own scenario, whatever.

How effective exactly was the Longbow? Modern tests, using modern steel heads, against 'equivalent medieval armour plate' are a bit skewed. Most arrow heads were cheap mass produced iron (the paperwork for them tell us this) and quite a few have been recovered with their points 'curled' where they've bent after hitting something solid. Certainly they caused some horrific wounds (depending on the head) amongst the unarmoured, but the typical soldier wore a jack or brigandine and a helmet of some form, fairly arrow proof stuff at a distance. Just like a bow, they were required by law amongst the bulk of men usually selected for service.

How many arrows were available? They supposedly carried 24 on them, are believed to have taken another 24 into the field and there were wagons of them ready to be brought forward. Modern archers can rapid-fire 10 or so in minute, but nobody ever asks them to shoot for longer. How long could they keep that up? We might say that a more sedate 6 a minute might be more sustainable, but at best 8 minutes on, their on-hand stock has gone. Could enough be repeatedly brought forward to keep them supplied for an extended period? Probably not.

Longbowmen as 'archers' never won a battle, or never stopped the French from making contact with the English 'line' - bearing in mind that the French initially didn't deploy their own missile troops, it should have been a turkey-shoot in most engagements, if the longbow was all it was cracked up to be. In the rain or high winds, the weapon was far less effective too (not that these are factors in England lol). It harassed, caused confusion and disorder and occasionally seriously wounded or killed someone of note (unusually enough to get a mention, e.g. Lord Clifford), but as Richard says, it didn't win battles.

Archers weren't the puny wretches of ancient armies... they were hard men from hard backgrounds. If they could pull 100 lbs of bow string, repeatedly for an extended period, how strong where these guys in our terms? They were prepared to fight hand to hand and in an age where copping some befuddled noble meant happy days when they got their share of the ransom (the way to make war pay), quite keen to mix it up. We tend to think of them as archers, when perhaps we should think of them as close-combat infantry who also had a bow.

Many men at arms in the 15th Century (especially in the WotR, as opposed to the guys who made it a career in France) weren't the 'trained from birth' types, many of them were merchants, lawyers and relatively rich farmers; the 'gentry' (all fur coat and no knickers, as we might say). Some would be exactly what we imagine them to be, many not so much.    

Down the scale we have the billmen/spearmen/stavemen. The poorest of the lot. Not required to provide much in the way of armour (but if they had it, they'd wear it) and don't earn enough to have to own, or practice, with a bow. Nevertheless they were the unskilled workforce, so probably fairly handy in a fight, if a little un-practiced with their weapon and vulnerable due to a lack of armour on average.

Taking this as a whole and averaging things out, the actual fighting qualities across the types might not be as varied or wide as you might imagine. Men at Arms have somewhat better protection, although not necessarily be actually more skilled at fighting. The Archers are the mid-range, with some as experienced as the more 'professional' of the men at arms. They can fight and shoot, so on the whole give more 'bang for your buck'. Billmen are somewhat less protected in the main than the archers, somewhat less skilled in terms of fighting with an unfamiliar weapon and not typically expected to become soldiers in recent times.

Whatever ratio of one troop type to another you believe these armies had, the fact remains that their main strength is in hand to hand combat overall (everyone in the army could trade blows, but not everyone can shoot). The ratio of archers you believe was right will not change that. Given that most armies would probably have had even-ish numbers of bows, however effective they actually were would be cancelled out.

Where the bow was of real use, was when there was an advantage to one side; Towton and its blizzard, the tradition that one side had a lack of archers at Edgecote, or consisted of large numbers of poorly protected troops, like at Stoke Field, stuff like that. Obviously the side with an advantage would then want to use it for as long as it could, while the other would want to close as quick as possible. Either way, equal numbers of bows or not, it came down to hand to hand combat to decide things.  

Or was it simply the case that the cultural and social mores of the day, meant that the nobility couldn't possibly allow thier destinies to be decided by the overwhelming firepower of the hoi-polloi. So they didn't try to make the longbow decisive on the battlefield, or use it to its full potential, because in their world, the only way to fight 'properly' was face to face with your foe, wielding a poleaxe? (Seems unlikely, but you never know... )

The nobles were simply more committed than their men, earnestly more so once they started lopping off heads after battles (quite a new idea for the time). To keep your men onside (other than rewards, or the promise of them), being in the front rank and sharing the risk was all part and parcel of leading and ensuring your neck wasn't on the block in the AM. Depending on your military skills, it makes sense to use every advantage and weapon you have to its fullest, but inevitably you are there at the front hacking your enemy down and hoping your men are still behind you doing the same.

The nobility had to lead from the front and to appear committed to 'the cause'. While Mr Average was not so blindly obedient, or beholden to do what he was told by his betters, by the 15th Century, there was still a degree of deference. If your 'Lord' (or 'employer' in real terms by this time) said it was a good idea, it probably was, but he had to match his words with deeds.

There was a natural reluctance to be stuck on the losing side on a field, knowing that your boss could mount up and make a break for it, while you had to take your chances on foot with everyone else. The dismounting and sending of horses to the rear and indeed Warwick's "I'm with you men!" speech and his lopping off of his mount's head as a show of solidarity (probably didn't really happen though, Warwick had a spin doctor), became common and expected.  

Can I just say how nice it is to find a discussion where no-one says, "You're wrong, I'm right."

That's how we like to roll here.  :D

To be honest, it's a situation where nobody knows the right answer, but everyone pretty much knows that anyone saying that they do, is wrong.

;)

Offline janner

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Re: WotR using HC
« Reply #14 on: October 12, 2013, 12:21:39 PM »
It's generally different here than on some other forums. Occasionally new members bring some bad habits with them, but they generally either chill out or move on  lol

Just to throw into the mix, and apologies as I know I have raised this before, but I am inclined to think that job titles like men-at-arms, mounted archer and archer were more to do with equipment and rates of pay then strict function.

Much like many other eras, carrying a particular label doesn't stop a professional soldier from carrying out a variety of tasks, i.e. one man's mounted archer is another man's light horseman. So a professional foot archer was essentially medium infantry with a warbow, sidearm and, often, a pole arm.

With the Array, it would have been somewhat different - as Arlequin elegantly argues.

 

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