“Thomas shall be obliged to be ready at the sea coast with his men well mounted, armed and arrayed as appropriate to their rank…” Henry V, in his letter of indenture to Thomas Chaucer, April 29, 1415.
Due to the stipulations of the indenture contract, all retinue captains were in charge of arming and suppling their promised troops. This meant supplying armor, armaments, horses, and other supplies so that the army would be well equipped and ready to fight once they had made landing in France.
Previously we discussed the arms and armor possibly used by Chaucer, this would be relatively the same for the 12 Men-at-Arms in his retinue, his archers however, would be relegated to different types of armor and weapons.
The Arms and Armor used by the “lower ranks” of the Archers varied, and would have been highly dependent on a number of factors. Financial means of the archer themselves, but also the financial means of those they contracted to serve under. An archer for a wealthy noble may have been afforded use of arms and armor that one of a lesser gentry would not have had access to.
For the purpose of this article, we shall look at it through the lens of a Living History interpreter, and offer up what would have been the most commonly used equipment across the economic spectrum.
We will also weigh expectations of what an archer would have been equipped with per mandates from earlier eras of the Hundred Years War, as well as what other European military entities required of their soldiers.
A History of Mandates
While no standing mandate exists on how England equipped their archer’s in 1415 there are previous mandates from earlier in the Hundred Years War, and mandates from other close countries such as Scotland. Most of these mandates are income based, requiring men with possessions equalling a specific amount to be equipped in a certain way.
Others detail only the clothing to be worn, but not the armor or weapons to be used.
The Armor of an Archer
While it is believed the majority of the archers would have had very little in means of armor, we know that those under the employ of specifically wealthy captains may have had access to better equipment. Henry V wanted a mobile, and well equipped army that would be able to withstand an assault by the French. Archers in England were an investment, though it was most possible that retinue captains would have only supplied the bare minimum in way of gear as to maximize their own profit.
It’s generally thought that an archer would have had a at least a thick padded jack or aketon, or gambeson, and some form of helmet. We will break down some of the most common helmets shown later.
Throughout the history of the Hundred Years War there had been mandates written, one of the Earliest being the Statute of Winchester, devised by Edward I and Robert Burnell the Lord Chancellor of England in 1285. This is itself was an updating of the 1181 THE Assize of Arms mandated by Henry II. While these are much earlier than the Agincourt campaign, a whole 130 years prior to be exact, and not specifically for military muster, it gives us a great baseline as to what would have been required at certain income levels.
THE ASSIZE OF ARMS (1181)
- Whoever possesses one knight’s fee shall have a shirt of mail, a helmet, a shield, and a lance; and every knight shall have as many shirts of mail, helmets, shields, and lances as he possesses knight’s fees in demesne.
- Moreover, every free layman who possesses chattels or rents to the value of 16m. shall have a shirt of mail, a helmet, a shield, and a lance; and every free layman possessing chattels or rents to the value of 10m. shall have a hauberk, an iron cap, and a lance.
- Item, all burgesses and the whole community of freemen shall have [each] a gambeson, an iron cap, and a lance.
- Besides, each of them shall swear to have these arms before the feast of St. Hilary, to be faithful to the lord king Henry — namely, the son of the Empress Matilda — and to bear these arms in his service according to his command and in fealty to the lord king and his kingdom. And henceforth no one having these arms shall sell them or pledge them or lend them or alienate them in any other way; nor shall a lord in any way alienate them from his men, either through forfeiture or through gift or through pledge or in any other way.
- If any one having these arms dies, his arms shall remain to his heir. If, however, the heir is not of age to use arms in time of need, that person who has wardship over him shall also have custody of the arms and shall find a man who can use the arms in the service of the lord king until the heir is of age to bear arms, and then he shall have them.
- Any burgess who has more arms than he ought to have by this assize shall sell them, or give them away, or in some way alienate them to such a man as will keep them for the service of the lord king of England. And none of them shall keep more arms than he ought to have by this assize.
- Item, no Jew shall keep in his possession a shirt of mail or a hauberk, but he shall sell it or give it away or alienate it in some other way, so that it shall remain in the king’s service.
- Item, no one shall carry arms out of England except by the command of the lord king: no one is to sell arms to another to carry out of England; nor shall a merchant or any other man carry them out of England.
- Item, the justices shall have [a report] sworn by lawful knights, or by other free and lawful men of the hundreds and neighbourhoods and boroughs — as many as they see fit to employ — as to what persons possess chattels to the amount that they should have a shirt of mail, a helmet, a lance, and a shield according to what has been provided; so that they shall separately name for those [justices] all men of their hundreds and neighbourhoods and boroughs who are worth 16m. in either chattels or rents, and likewise those who are worth 10m. And then the justices shall have written down [the names of] all those jurors and other men, [recording] how much in chattels or rents they [each] have and what arms, according to the value of the chattels or rents, they should [each] have. Then, in their presence and in a common assembly of those men, they shall have read this assize regarding the possession of arms, and they shall have those men swear to have arms according to the value of the aforesaid chattels or rents, and to keep them for the service of the lord king according to this aforesaid assize, under the command of and in fealty to the lord king Henry and his kingdom. If, moreover, it should happen that any one of them, who ought to have these arms, is not in the county during the period when the justices are in that county, the justices shall set a time for him [to appear] before them in another county. And if he does not come to them in any county through which they are to go, and is not in that land [at all], they shall set him a time at Westminster toward the octave of St. Michael; so that, as he loves his life and all that he has, he shall be there for swearing his oath. And they shall command him, before the aforesaid feast of St. Hilary, to have arms according to the obligation resting on him.
- Item, the justices shall have proclamation made in the counties through which they are to go that, with respect to those who do not have such arms as have been specified above, the lord king will take vengeance, not merely on their lands or chattels, but on their limbs.
- Item, no one who does not possess 16m. [as specified above] or 10m. in chattels is to swear concerning free and lawful men.
- Item, the justices shall command through all the counties that no one, as he loves his life and all that he has, shall buy or sell any ship to be taken away from England, and that no one shall carry any timber or cause it to be carried out of England. And the lord king commands that no one shall be received for the oath concerning arms unless he is a freeman.
THE STATUTE OF WINCHESTER section 5:
“It is likewise commanded that every man have in his house arms for keeping the peace in accordance with the ancient assize; namely that every man between fifteen years and sixty be assessed and sworn to arms according to the amount of his lands and, of his chattels; that is to say,
- for fifteen pounds of land, and, forty marks worth of chattels, a hauberk, a helmet of iron, a sword, a knife and a horse;
- for ten pounds worth of land and, twenty marks worth of chattels, a haubergeon, a helmet, a sword and a knife; for a hundred shillings worth of land, a doublet,4 a helmet of iron, a sword and a knife;
- for forty shillings worth of land and over, up to a hundred shillings worth, a sword, a bow, arrows and a knife;
- and he who has less than forty shillings worth of land shall be sworn to have scythes. gisarrnes, knives and other small weapons;
- he who has less than twenty marks in chattels, swords, knives and other small weapons.
- And all others who can do so shall have bows and arrows outside the forests and within them bows and bolts.”
It was around this same time that Edward I also banned all sports on Sunday except the practice or Archery (c. 1314). This mandate would be renewed by Edward II, III, Richard II, Henry IV and V. Though the extent to which this order was followed is murky at best.
Yet again, this is not dissimilar to an Array Order at Cornwall, dated 1322, from Edward II. The array ordered all Cornish militia to be “armati” meaning to possess protective armour: the instructions to the Cornish arrayers specified a “padded tunic, light helmet, iron glove and a suit of clothing. ” (BL Stowe Ms. 553, ff. 82v, 81r ) This can be interpreted as a gambeson, “iron hat”, and gauntlets.
Specifically, beginning in the reign of Edward II, as noted in Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward II: vol. 3 & 4 and Calendar of Letter-Books of the City of London 1314-1337, Edward III piked up his fathers want of a “well armed” array, we see that gambesons/aketons and “iron hats” (again specifically bascinets) have become the standard minimum armor to be suppled to troops. And as we go deeper into Edward III reign, these start to be replaced by the mandate of iron gloves (gauntlets), and mail hauberk or pair of plates.
This is not all together terribly different than what James I of Scotland mandated his troops be equipped with sometime between 1406 and 1420, pictured below, though toward the end reign of Edward III into Richard II and Henry IV we tend to see specifics on armor reduced to terms such as “appropriately,” or “sufficiently” armed. Because of the standards set in place by Edward II and III.
And all of this stays inline with accounts of the English from after Agincourt:
“There is hardly any without a helmet, and none without bows and arrows: their bows and arrows are thicker and longer than those used by other nations, just as their bodies are thicker and stronger than other people’s, for they seem to have hands and arms of iron. The range of their bows is no less than that of our crossbows; there hangs by the side of each a sword no less long than ours, but heavy and thick as well. The sword is always accompanied by an iron buckler…
…They do not wear any metal armour on their breasts or any other part of the body, except for the nobles who have cuirasses and complete armour…”
Italian writer Dominic Mancini, describing the troop-movements of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, into London in 1483)
**Many believe that this description of “do not wear any metal armour on their breasts,” to mean lack of any form of defense. I do not believe this to be the case as I will expand on below.
As I’ve discussed before in an earlier post, England by the time of Henry V, had moved away from the Array method of troop conscription, and onto the Contract of Indenture. Where troops enlisted with a retinue for an agreed upon payment amount. Retinue heads contracted with the crown, but like the array system were in charge of making sure their promised troops were equipped appropriately for their rank. To the extent this was followed, is open to interpretation, but its fairly safe to say that some were better equipped than others.
Following this thread of mandated gear, to be supplied to the soldier by the arrayer, or even by the Contractee of Indenture in later times, the accounts of Burgundian chronicler Jean Le Fèvre de Saint-Remy and French chronicler Enguerrand de Monstrelet seem rather disingenuous in stating the English archers wore “no armor.” The theory has been posited, especially by some attitudes in the chronicles of Froissart, that becuase the archers were seen as an inferior class, and not as-well-armored as the heavily armored Men-at-Arms, that they were simply regarded as “unarmored.”
We will continue on this thread of thought, using the information above to piece together “probable” armor for the archer/infantry, with understanding that the more armor afforded means a portrayal of a higher economic class.