The Soldier in Later Medieval England

Soldiers in the Plea Rolls

by Vance Mead

Vance Mead has been working as a volunteer for AALT (Anglo-American Legal Tradition) since 2010, indexing Common Pleas and King’s/Queen’s Bench plea rolls. Now that he and Rosemary Simons have indexed about seventy law terms for the period 1375 to 1555, he is mining this data for articles on various aspects of late Medieval English history. Mr Mead lives in Helsinki, Finland.

We continue to invite contributions from the wider academic and public audience. All that we ask is that these mini-biographies draw upon the project database as well as using other sources. We also welcome submission on groups of soldiers, connected by a common theme.

Soldiers in the Plea Rolls

The plea rolls of the Court of Common Pleas are among the best sources for identifying the ‘middling sort of people’ between the Poll Taxes of the 1370s and the Lay Subsidies of the 1520s.

After the enactment of the Statute of Additions of 1413, almost all of the defendants are identified not only by name but also by place of residence and status or trade. Professor Robert Palmer of AALT (Anglo-American Legal Tradition) has calculated that three-quarters of defendants in 1465 were labourers, husbandmen, yeomen, and ‘men of occupation’. From 1413 until 1458, there are about 8000 entries in each of the four law terms of the year, with about three names per entry, yielding some 24,000 names per term. There is some repetition of names, but there are probably about 20,000 individuals in the plea rolls of each term.

In order to make these records more accessible, they have been photographed and put online as part of the AALT project by the University of Houston, under licence from the National Archives. As of this writing (May 2017), Rosemary Simons and I have indexed 66 law terms from 1377 until 1554, 12 of them from 1418 to 1458. The purpose of this paper is to use the plea rolls to identify some of the people in the Medieval Soldier database. The indexes can be searched here.

Identifying Medieval soldiers

While it is possible to identify people in the plea rolls as Medieval soldiers on the basis of unusual names, this could result in a good deal of uncertainty. To take one example, there is one man named John Dryden found in the plea rolls, in Easter term 1430, last entry:

York. Thomas Chaumbre, of Maltby, yeoman; and Edmund Barnburgh, of York, saddler; versus John Dryden, of York, mariner, (and others) for debt.

There is also just one John Dryden in the Medieval Soldier database: John Dryden, yeoman, archer, Expedition France, under Captain Richard Alder and Commander John of Lancaster, duke of Bedford, in 1420. (Muster Roll, TNA E101/49/36 m3)

Are these the same person? Possibly, but one cannot be certain.

Soudyours in Common Pleas

I have therefore narrowed the search to those identified as soldiers, usually ‘soudyour’ or similar, in the plea rolls. There are also a small number of entries concerning custody and abduction of prisoners of war being held for ransom. If the soldier had a common name, there could be many entries representing several individuals in the Medieval Soldier database; others identified as soldiers are not found there at all. Both have been omitted here. I have included only those who have one entry or, if more than one, appear to be the same individual. All of the men below are returning soldiers; these legal actions followed their military actions.

John Kylhogge, of Basingstoke, Hants, ostler, in France in 1430-31

I must begin with an exception to the rule stated in the previous paragraph. John Kylhogge is not identified as a soldier in Common Pleas, but he has an unusual surname, meaning a hog butcher. This is an early form of the surname Kellogg, which has disappeared in England but has been fruitful and multiplied in the United States. He was an ostler, taking care of horses probably before, during, and after his wartime service.

In Hilary term, 1434, second entry, John Kylhogge was being sued for debt:

London. Thomas Shirwynd, of London, mercer, versus William Breton, of Newebery, Berks, chapman; and John Kylhogge, of Basyngstoke, Hants, ostler, for a debt of 6 pounds 11 shillings 8 pence.

John Kylhogge is identified in the Medieval Soldier database by occupation and place of residence. Note that Basingstoke is not in Berkshire; presumably this was an error by a medieval scribe. John Kilhogge, of Basingstoke, service in France under Captain John Hardwick, in 1430. (Letters of Protection, TNA, C76/112, m. 8) John Kylhoge, ostler, of Basingstoke, Berks, service in Gascony/Aquitaine under Captain John Radcliffe, in 1431. (Letters of Protection, TNA, C61/124, m. 15)

Robert Scote, of Rotherham, Yorks, in France in 1424

In Easter term 1437, third to last entry, Robert Scote, ‘saudeour’, was being sued:

Lincs. John Wotton versus Robert Scote, of Rotherham, Yorks, ‘saudeour’, for a debt of six marks.

There are many men named Robert Scot but just one Robert Scote: Robert Scote, Archer, Garrison of Dieppe, under Captain Sir John Salvayn, in 1424. (Muster Roll, BNF, MS. Fr. 25767, no. 77)

John Oxenbregge, of Brede, Sussex, in France in 1420

Also in Easter term 1437, eighth entry, there is a very interesting entry concerning the abduction of a prisoner of war being held for ransom:

Sussex. Martin Oxenbregge and John Oxenbregge, in person, versus John Sterre, of Brede, husbandman, on a plea where, with force and arms, he abducted John Russhelane, of Flanders, a prisoner of war being held captive at Brede by Martin and John for a ransom of ten pounds.

Oxenbridge was a family name well-established in Brede and nearby Westfield in Sussex. Martin Oxenbregge is recorded three times in Brede and Westfield in the 1440s and 1450s. Earlier, in 1426, William Oxenbregge, son of Thomas Oxenbregge of Beckley, conveyed land in Brede to John Andrew of Brede. (East Sussex Record Office, DUN 26/1, DUN 26/2, amsg/AMS5592/91, amsll/6727/1; details in TNA, Discovery)

There are five entries for men named John Sterre between 1422 and 1430. Possibly these are three individuals. There are no men named Martin Oxenbrigge or variants, and one John Oxenbrigge, recorded in the database in 1420. One wonders if John Russhelane had really been held prisoner for 17 years – or perhaps only for 7 years, if he had been captured by John Sterre in 1430. However, as will appear below, soldiers may have been in France at times other than indicated by the records in Chancery and Exchequer.

John Oxenbrigge, yeoman, archer, Expedition France, under Captain Hamon Belknap and Commander John of Lancaster, duke of Bedford, in 1420. (Muster Roll, TNA, E101/49/36, m3).

Robert Whelpdale, of London, in France in 1417; Garrison, Tower of London in 1425-6

Robert Whelpdale is found in Easter term 1440, third to last entry:

Middx. Philip Delion versus Robert Whelpdale, of London, ‘soudyer’, for a debt of 40 shillings, (and others).

There was lower limit of 40 shillings for debts and damages in the Court of Common Pleas. Small claims were heard in the borough, hundred, and county courts. Debts of exactly 40 shillings were quite frequent in Common Pleas. One suspects that plaintiffs sometimes inflated the value of debts or lost property.

There are two entries for people with this name in the database. Likely they refer to the same person:
Robert Whelpdall, man-at-arms, Expedition France, under Captain Henry FitzHugh, Lord FitzHugh, and Commander Henry V, in 1417. (Muster roll, TNA, E101/51/2, m3) Robert Whelpdale, archer, Garrison of Tower of London, under Captain and Commander Richard Woodville the elder, seigneur de Preaux, in 1425-6. (Muster roll, TNA, E101/51/21, m2)

John Fyssh, of Winchelsea, Sussex, and John Bate, of Weeting, Norfolk, in France in 1441

This suit for debt occurs in Hilary term 1442, second entry:
Sussex. John Fysh or Fyssh, of Wynchelse, versus John Bate, of Wetyng, Norfolk, ‘soudeour’ or husbandman, for a debt of 12 pounds.

There are 16 entries for John Bate, ten of them after 1420. On the other hand, there are just two for John Fyssh. One of them is in 1404 and can probably be ruled out. The other is for Expedition France in 1441, at the same time as one of the entries for a John Bate, raising the possibility that they were comrades in arms.

John Fyssh, archer, Expedition France, under Captain and Commander Richard, duke of York, in 1441. (Retinue roll, TNA, E101/53/33 m3)

John Bate, man-at-arms, Expedition France, under Captain Sir William Oldhall and Commander Richard, duke of York, in 1441. (Retinue roll, TNA, E101/53/33 m5)

Alan Marche, of Dunsfold, Surrey, in France in 1437-40

Alan Marche was the defendant for debt in Hilary term 1444, first entry:

Middx. Alan Marche, of Duntesfold, Surrey, ‘sowediour’, summoned to answer John Shenefeld, of London, gentleman, concerning a debt of ten marks.

This was for a debt on a bond made the penultimate day of April in the eighth year of the reign of the current king (1430). Alan answers that he had paid 30 shillings ten pence “pro parte ipsius Alani” by the hand of his father, Robert Marche, implying that there were other parties who would pay the rest. Shenefeld had given a quittance releasing him from further payment.

There are six entries between 1437 and 1440 for Alan Marche, all for garrison duty at Vernon.
Presumably these are all the same person. To avoid repetition, these are two of them:
Alan Marche, man-at arms, Garrison of Vernon, under Captain William Neville, Lord Fauconberg, in 1437. (Muster roll, BNF, MS. Fr. 25773, no. 1199) Alan Marche, man-at-arms, Garrison of Vernon, under Captain Sir Richard Merbury, in 1438. (Muster roll, BNF, MS. Fr. 25775, no. 1376)

Brian Aynesworth, of Plumstead, Kent, in France in 1443, and Stephen Brygge, of Plumstead, in France in 1439

There were frequent complaints that armed gangs of returning soldiers terrorised the countryside, especially in Kent and elsewhere in the southeast. In Hilary term 1448, first entry, ten people from Salisbury, Kent, London, Dorset and elsewhere committed various types of trespass at Tonbrygge, Kent.

Wilts. John Payn and Joan his wife, versus Brian Aynesworth, of Burghwaysshe, Plumstede, Kent, ‘sowdyer’; and Stephen Brygge, of Burwaysshe, Plumstede, ‘soudyer’ (and others) on a plea where, with force and arms, they broke into and entered an enclosure at Tonbrygge, carried away goods and chattels worth 40 pounds, and abducted two servants, Joan ‘that was Jonesservant’ and John Styleyerd.

There is one soldier in the database named Brian Aynesworth:
Brian Aynesworth, man-at-arms, Expedition France, under Lieutenant William Greneacres and Commander John Beaufort, duke of Somerset, in 1443. (Muster roll, TNA, E101/54/5, m2)

There are two entries for Stephen Brigge in 1439, probably the same person:
Stephen Brigge, archer, (in second entry: Official retinue, lieutenant and governor general of France and Normandy), under Captain Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, in 1439. (Muster roll BNF, MS. Fr. 25775, no. 1394; and Muster roll, BNF, MS. Clairambault 206, no. 58-61)

John Otteley, of London, in France in 1425 and 1435

In Trinity term 1450, first entry, several men were being sued for debt:

Middx. Henry Fylongley and John Wydeslade, clerks of the Common Bench, versus John Clerk, of London, ‘soudyour’, and John Otteley, of London, ‘soudyour’, (and others), for debt.

There are more than 150 entries for men named John Clerk, but John Otteley is in the database three times, twice for the Garrison of Pont de l’Arche. Presumably these refer to the same man:
John Ottley, man-at-arms, for field service in the conquest of Anjou & Maine, mustered at Rouen, under Robert Willoughby, in 1425. (Muster roll, AN, K 62/18/19)
John Otteley, man-at-arms (foot), for Garrison of Pont de l’Arche, under Captain John FitzAlan, earl of Arundel and Lieutenant John Chetwynd, in 1435, (Muster roll BNF, MS, Fr. 25772, no. 942) John Otteley, man-at-arms (foot), for Garrison of Pont de l’Arche, under Captain Bernard de Montferrand, in 1435. (Muster roll, BNF, MS. Clairambault 182, no. 4)

There are more details about a case heard in Trinity term 1446 and Michaelmas 1446 in Jonathan Mackman and Matthew Stevens, Court of Common Pleas: the National Archives, CP40 1399-1500 (London, 2010). In this case, Thomas Kuryell alleged that John Clerk and John Otteley, and others, seized and imprisoned him in March 1446 at the constable’s court held at Westminster. John Clerk and John Otteley answered that, in March 1431, at Gisors in Normandy, Kuryell retained them to serve as soldiers with 64 men for 750 marks, but did not pay them. Kuryell did not reply, so the constable ordered that Clerk and Otteley recover the 750 marks and ordered the arrest of Kuryell. This arrest was the seizure and imprisonment alleged by Kuryell.

There are four entries for Thomas Kyryell found in the database in 1417, 1433 and 1443:

Thomas Kyryell, knight, man-at-arms, Expedition France, under Captain Gilbert Umfraville and Commander Henry V, in 1417. (Muster roll, TNA, E101/51/2, m33)
Thomas Kyryell, knight, service in France under John of Lancaster, duke of Bedford, in 1433. (Letters of protection, TNA, C76/115, m. 5) Thomas Kyryell, of Westenhanger, Kent, knight, service in France under John Beaufort, duke of Somerset, in 1443. (Letters of protection, TNA, C76/125, m. 11) Thomas Kyryell, archer, expedition France, under Captain and Commander John Beaufort, duke of Somerset, in 1443. (Muster roll, TNA, E101/54/5, m13)

There is also a Court of Chancery case of uncertain date concerning a debt of 6 marks and the cost of keeping a horse in Normandy. (Cawode v Otteley, TNA, C1/17/249, date: 1444-56) John Cawode’s bill and John Otteley’s answer are on AALT.

Cawode claims that on 3 February in the 22nd year of the reign of ‘the kyng that nowe is’ (which must mean Henry VI, i.e. in 1444), at Rouen in Normandy, he lent Otteley six marks. Otteley answers that he does not owe this. Cawode claims that on the said day, year and place, Otteley delivered a horse to Cawode and agreed to pay him to keep and feed the horse at Rouen, the cost of which amounted to six marks two shillings two pence. Otteley answers ‘he delivered not to hym no such hors’ and has not received any horse back from Cawode, ‘the which materes the said John Ottley is redie to prove as the courte wolle awarde.’

There are two database entries for John Cawode at about this time:
John Cawode, archer, Garrison of Caen, under Captain Sir John Fastolf, in 1436. (Muster roll, BNF, MS. Fr. 25773, no. 1120) John Cawode, archer, under Captain and Commander Richard, duke of York, in 1441. (Retinue roll, TNA, E101/53/33, m2)

These cases raise some interesting questions. John Otteley is in the Medieval Soldier database in 1425, mustered in Normandy, and in 1435. He was in France in 1431 and in 1444, and quite possibly for much of the intervening time. The same is true of Kyryell and Cawode: they were in France at times other than indicated by their entries in the database. It seems to me there are two possibilities. Either they were soldiers for longer periods but the records have been lost. Or they spent a lot of time in Normandy as an unofficial part of an occupying force, finding work on an ad hoc basis and making money in any way they could.

William of Thorp, of London, in France in 1437, 1438, and 1445

Before the establishment of the Public Record Office in 1838, government and legal records were subject to damage by fire, water, rats, and mice. In a damaged entry (last on this side) in the plea rolls in Trinity term 1452, William of Thorp and others are the defendants for debt:

John Shotte versus William of Thorp, of London, ‘soudyour’; William Bate, of London, goldsmith; John Passemere, of London, ‘soudyour’; and (damaged) Worsley, of London, esquire, for a debt of 40 shillings from each of them.

There are several entries in the database for William Thorp, but just four for William of Thorp or of Thorpe, all for the garrison of Regneville under William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk. (Muster rolls BNF, MS Fr. 25773, no. 11907; MS Fr. 25773, no. 1203; MS Fr. 25774, no. 1240; AN, K 68/12/23). In this last entry, in 1445, also for the garrison of Regneville, he is William Thorp, under Owen Tudor.

There are a dozen entries for John Passemere and variants, too many to be certain of identification.

William Walshall, of London, in France in 1437

Another old soldier appears in a case in Hilary term 1455, last entry:

Middx. Jury between Thomas Story, of London, ‘soudyour’, querent, and Thomas Hore, of London, spurrier, and William Walshall, of London, ‘soudyour’, on a plea of conspiracy.

An action in Common Pleas can be divided into three parts. The plaintiff first went to Chancery to obtain the appropriate writ, for instance for debt or trespass. Once the defendant was found and made to respond, pleading and issues of law were dealt with in the central court at Westminster. Finally, issues of fact were decided by a jury before itinerant justices in the counties. We rarely get a glimpse of the jury’s verdict; the last we often see of the case is ‘jur inter.’

There is just one Thomas Story in the database, but he is in 1417, too early to be the same man. William Walshall is found once in the database:
William Walshall, archer, service at Mantes, under Christopher Fretevault, in 1437. (Muster roll, BNF, Fr. 25774, no. 1275).

Roger Emery, of Harfleur, Normandy, or of Lewes, Sussex, in France in 1438-9

Roger Emery, of ‘Harflewe’ in Normandy, is the defendant for debt in Michaelmas 1454 and in Hilary term 1455, second to last entry:

Sussex. John Rytherfelde versus Roger Emery, of Harflewe in Normandy, or of Lewes, gentleman, for a debt of 10 pounds, 4 shillings and 8 pence.

Roger Emery had apparently been living in Normandy for quite some time, possibly only returning to England after the loss of Normandy, and the loss of any property he might have had there, in 1449 and 1450.

Roger Emery is found in two entries, both for garrison service under Fulk Eyton, in 1438-39.
Roger Emery, archer, Garrison service, under Captain Fulk Eyton, in 1438. (Muster Roll, BNF, MS. Fr. 25774, no. 1350) Roger Emery, archer, Garrison of Caudebec, under Captain Fulk Eyton, in 1439. (Muster roll, BL, Add. Ch. 6933)

Robert Haverell, of London, in France in 1443, 1447, and 1450

In Hilary term, 1455, fourth entry, we find:
London. William Welby versus Robert Haverell, of London, ‘soudyour’, (and others), for debt.

Robert Haverill or Haverell is found three times in the database:
Robert Haverill, service in France under Captain Henry Bourchier, earl of Essex, in 1443. (Letters of Protection, TNA, C76/125, m. 10)
Robert Haverill, of London, service in France under Thomas Scales, Lord Scales, in 1447. (Letters of Protection, TNA, C76/128, M. 2)
Robert Haverell, gentleman, man-at-arms, service at Gascony/Aquitaine under Sir Richard Woodville, in 1450. (Letters of Protection, TNA, C61/138, m. 13)

Hugh Hoper, of Millbrook, Cornwall, in France in 1442

In Hilary term 1458, second entry, there is another dispute about abduction of a prisoner of war:

Cornwall. John Salter and Thomas Trefrye versus Hugh Hoper, of Milbrok, merchant, on a plea where, with force and arms, he abducted Ivo Briton, of Brittany, a prisoner of war being held captive at Fowey by John and Thomas for ransom.

Hugh Hoper is identified in the database by his place of origin:
Hugh Hoper, of Millbrook near Stonehouse, Cornwall, service in France under Henry Bourchier, earl of Essex, in 1442. (Letters of Protection, TNA, C76/125, m. 17)

There are no entries in the database for Thomas Trefrye and many for John Salter, the last in 1442. Was Ivo Briton held captive for 16 years or did John Salter or Hugh Hoper remain in France after 1442 in an unrecorded capacity?

John Unwyn, of Southwark, Surrey, in France in 1439 and 1449

In Hilary term 1458, second entry, we find:

Hants. Thomas Besyles versus John Unwyn, of Southwark, Surrey, ‘saudyour’, and Christine his wife (and others), for the return of goods and chattels with 40 shillings.

John Unwyn is found twice between 1430 and 1450 (and a third time in 1426, which may be too early to be the same man). These two entries may refer to the same person: John Unwyn, archer, standing force, Acquitaine, under Captain Sir Thomas Rempston and Commander John Holland, duke of Exeter, in 1439. (Muster roll, TNA, E101/53/22, m6) John Unwyn, archer, Expedition France, under Captain and Commander Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset, in 1449. (Muster roll, TNA, E101/54/11, m7)

Bringing the war home

Most men, like John Kylhogge, went to war and then came home, returning to their old lives. Others, like Brian Aynesworth, John Clerk, and John Otteley, came home, sometimes without their pay, or, like Roger Emery, having lost their property in France. These are some of the returning soldiers who were accused of bringing the war home with them, contributing to disorder in England and to the start of civil war.