The Soldier in Later Medieval England

Was your ancestor on the Agincourt campaign with Henry V?

Agincourt (25 October 1415) is one of the most famous battles of all time. There is a large amount of material available on the English army which accompanied Henry V to France in 1415, including many lists of soldiers’ names.

We have put all these individual names into the database. The material is complex so we thought that you might find it helpful if we explained the documentary sources we had used. The sources are indicated in the ‘Source Type’ and ‘Reference’ columns of the on-line database.

There are four main kinds of documentary source. Three are to be found in The National Archives (TNA) at Kew, in the series E 101 (Exchequer Accounts Various). We have followed the document descriptions in the TNA catalogue. The other is the ‘Agincourt roll’, which dates to the late sixteenth century.

We begin with a brief outline of the four documentary sources, but you can find a longer and more detailed discussion of each of them later in this section.

a. muster rolls made at the point the army departed for France in the summer of 1415. If you want to find out more on how the army was raised, go to the Agincourt 600 section where there is a database of all of those who provided troops for the campaign.

b. sick lists of men who became ill from dysentery during the siege of Harfleur and who were selected for return to England.

c. retinue lists presented by captains after the campaign was over, as part of the accounting process at the English Exchequer.

d. The Agincourt roll, taken from the list printed by Harris Nicolas in his History of the Battle of Agincourt (1827) from a late sixteenth-century manuscript in the British Library (Harley 782). In the Reference column you will find BL Harley 782.

IMPORTANT: You may find some names come up more than once. This is because a soldier can appear on more than one of the sources. For instance, he might appear on a muster at the point of embarkation but may feature on a sick list and/or a retinue list presented with a captain’s account, and in the Agincourt roll. This fact can help us to know the fate of individual soldiers during the campaign.

 

a. Muster rolls of the army as it prepared to depart for France

The army assembled in early July in several locations along the south coast. It was essential for the government to check that the captains had brought the troops they had promised. To do this, their men were mustered. This involved the checking of their names against written lists. Several of these lists survive although by no means all.

The soldiers are listed under the captain who had brought them and under whom they were serving. To use the description commonly applied by historians, the soldiers were his retinue. Most retinues contained both men-at-arms and archers. In each company, the men-at-arms are listed first, and then the archers.

For instance, TNA E 101/45/18 is the muster of the company under John Holland, earl of Huntingdon. This was taken at Swanwick Heath on 14 July by Hugh Mortimer and Robert Castel esquire. The earl’s name is given first, and then the names of 21 men-at-arms (in the document they are called ‘escuiers’, which was a common usage for men-at-arms in the early fifteenth century) and 72 archers (called ‘valettes’, which translates as yeomen, again a common terminology for archers in this period).

Some of the larger retinues were in fact made up of many sub-retinues. We can see this clearly in the case of the king’s two brothers, Thomas, duke of Clarence (muster at St Catherine’s Hill near the New Forest, probably near Christchurch, TNA E/101/45/4) and Humphrey, duke of Gloucester (muster at Michelmersh TNA E 101/45/13), and his cousin Edward, duke of York (no place given, TNA E 101/45/2). Their muster rolls contain several groups of men-at-arms and archers, reflecting the various sub-retinues which made up the contingents of these dukes as a whole. We have put the name of the captain of each sub-retinue in the Lieutenant column.

For the archers raised in South Wales see TNA E 101/46/20.

Musters would also have been taken during the campaign but we only have one example (TNA E 101/45/19). This is for the duke of York and was probably taken at the point that the army left Harfleur around 6 October 1415 to set out on the march towards Calais: this point marked the beginning of the second quarter of service, i.e. the second three-month period. York’s first muster has 1415 1st quarter in the Year column, the second has 2nd quarter.

 

b. Sick lists.

As is well known, some men were invalided home to England after Harfleur surrendered on 22 September 1415. They had no doubt contracted dysentery and Henry decided that they were not fit to serve with him on his march or to join the newly-established garrison of Harfleur. Henry was keen to record carefully those who were given permission to return home, and to avoid any danger of desertion by the able-bodied. Therefore the sick were mustered, perhaps on board the ships taking them back to England. Two main sick lists survive: TNA E 101/45/11; and E 101/44/30 no. 4 and no. 6. There is also a shorter list of 12 men in E 101/45/14. Some names appear in more than one list. Furthermore, it is not certain whether all men in the lists actually went home or not. A further complication is that the list also includes servants and officials as well as men-at-arms and archers.

We do not have a muster roll for the 300 men-at-arms and the 900 archers put into the garrison of Harfleur at its surrender (we know the size of the garrison from other payment records). However, we do have a muster roll for the garrison in the early months of 1416 (TNA E 101/47/39). It is likely that many of the soldiers named in that roll had been detailed to the garrison at the surrender. There are other muster rolls for the garrison of Harfleur in the reigns of Henry V and VI which are all on the database in the French Garrisons dataset (search by putting ‘%harfleur%’ in the Service field ). The town was lost to the French at the end of 1435 but recaptured in 1440 and held until 1 January 1450.

 

c. Retinue lists presented by captains after the campaign was over

There was a great deal of financial sorting out to do after the campaign was over. Captains had received some pay in advance for themselves and their troops, but for the second quarter (i.e. second three-month period) Henry had given the captains jewels which he promised to redeem for cash by 1 January 1417. He was not in a position to honour this, but in early March 1417 there was discussion on how the campaign accounts should be dealt with. Henry and his council decided that the start date of the campaign should be taken to be 1 July 1415, and the end date 23 November 1415. In accordance with standard practice captains had to present their accounts at the Exchequer. They often also presented a list of their men, sometimes with details of what had happened to each of them (for instance, whether they had been invalided home, put into garrison at Harfleur, been present at Agincourt). These processes continued over many years to come, and some accounts appear never to have been presented at all.

Where we have the lists we have entered them into the database. Where we have no muster surviving from the point of embarkation, these provide useful substitute information, although there is evidence of some reorganisation of retinues. In some cases (for instance, for Sir Thomas Erpingham) we have both a muster (TNA E 101/44/30, no. 3, m.) and a retinue list presented with his account (TNA E 101/47/20), but again there is evidence of reorganisation following the siege of Harfleur.

 

d. ‘The Agincourt Roll’

In 1827 Harris Nicolas published a book called History of the Battle of Agincourt. This went to a second edition in 1832. The third edition of 1833 is essentially a reprint of the second edition. The third edition was republished in 1971 by H. Pordes.

Nicolas included in his book a list of names from a manuscript in the British Library (BL Harley 782). This is often referred to as the ‘Agincourt roll’. In fact there are two further copies of the same list of names. One is in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University (Ashmolean MS 825 folios 15-35). This is probably the earliest copy, compiled by Robert Glover (1544-88) who was Somerset herald from 1571 to 1588. Another copy is to be found in the College of Arms in London, MS 1 folios 17 to 34, in a volume which was compiled by Robert Cooke, Clarenceux herald (d. 1593) although this list may also have been drawn up by Glover. British Library Harley 782 is connected with Ralph Broke who was York Herald from 1593 to 1625 but Nigel Ramsey considers that this list may also be the work of Glover. Although Nicolas printed his list from the British Library version 782 he checked it against the College of Arms list in the second edition of his History of the Battle of Agincourt.

The three lists are very similar to each other. The name of each retinue leader is followed by the names of the ‘lances’ (that is to say, the men-at-arms – lance was another word used for man-at-arms in this period)) serving in his company. The number of lances is then totalled, and the number of archers is also given. But no names are given for the archers. In the list in the Bodleian manuscript, Glover actually tells us that the names of the archers have been omitted. This is probably because the heralds who copied the lists in the late sixteenth century did so to assist them in their Visitations of counties where the gentry were invited to provide proof of their rights to arms.  Glover and his fellow heralds were only interested in men of 1415 they considered to be of higher status and who might therefore be the ancestors of the gentlemen of their own period.

We cannot be certain that the lists are accurate or complete, but there is no doubt that they do derive, either directly or indirectly, from a now lost document of the reign of Henry V. We know this because of the passage in French which is given at the end of all three copies. I provide here a translation into English (which is more accurate than that given in Nicolas’s book).

‘Be it remembered that Robert Babthorp knight, controller of the king’s household, did deliver to the barons of the king’s exchequer, by the command of the king, on 19 November in the fourth year of our sovereign lord the king [1416], this roll containing 18 prests, the last prest indented with this bill, the which roll contains part of the names of the men who were with the king at the battle of Agincourt, that is to say, in the second quarter of the third year of his reign, for execution to be done to the profit of the lord King, and the which bill, thus taken from the said roll, was delivered by the said barons to the aforesaid Sir Robert.’

The list printed by Nicolas is therefore part of a roll which was drawn up in connection with the post-campaign accounting process. It is interesting but should be used with caution as it is definitely incomplete. It gives 770 names and mentions 2,496 archers grouped into 68 companies.

More valuable are the sources of 1415 itself which we have put on the database. But obviously some men will appear in Nicolas’s list as well as in these contemporary sources.

Further reading

A. Curry, The Battle of Agincourt. Sources and Interpretations (The Boydell Press, 2000; revised 2009 and 2105 and now available as an e book)
A. Curry, Agincourt. A New History (Tempus Publishing, 2005, 2016)