The Agincourt Campaign of 1415
The Retinues of the Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester
MICHAEL P. WARNER
Dr Warner, thank you for taking the time to join us in this issue of the Herald. Would you please tell us what sparked your interest in the Middle Ages and something of your subsequent studies?
I suppose my interest in the Middle Ages began as a child when my parents would take me and my younger sister on daytrips to various and numerous castles around the south of England. Our home was also in the shadow of Portchester castle, where many days were spent picnicking each summer! More specifically, the spark of interest was lit by Drs Craig Lambert and Rémy Ambühl during my time as an undergraduate at the University of Southampton, when studying their Hundred Years War module.
While there’s no shortage of books on the Agincourt campaign, you have still managed to bring something completely new to it: a detailed study of the fighting men themselves. When and how did your work begin?
My work has been possible because of the Medieval Soldier Database, created by Professors Anne Curry and Adrian Bell and Drs David Simpkin, Andy King and Adam Chapman, and released to the public in 2009 (but is being continually updated). I initially used this resource to complete a study of John of Gaunt’s 1373 and 1378 retinues for my undergraduate dissertation. I cut my teeth here in the world of medieval military prosopography. On the back of this initial experience I wished to go further, so I submitted a proposal to investigate, initially, ‘The Men of the Agincourt Campaign’ although, as anyone who’s embarked on a PhD will know, this wildly oversized project was quickly, and wisely (thanks to Anne Curry!), trimmed down to a more manageable, and effective, study of the two largest retinues of the campaign, those captains by the dukes of Clarence and Gloucester.
Tell us about a ‘retinue’. How were they formed and what was expected of them?
A war retinue refers to the company of soldiers recruited by a captain. Before the campaign, the captain would have sealed a contract, an indenture for service, with the Crown to provide a certain number and type of men in return for a set wage. This captain then had a period of time to recruit men. To do this, as my research and that of other historians has shown, he would often have looked first to the manpower of his own estates, before casting his recruitment net wider to include men with whom he had geographical ties, professional, tenurial (if he was a notable landowner, like the dukes of Clarence and Gloucester), or with men whom he had previously served on military campaign(s).
Precisely how captains recruited archers is more problematic to identify because, owing to their lower status than men-at-arms, they feature less frequently in surviving documentation. Reconstructing their lives and identifying ties to their captain is troublesome, but is possible in some situations, as I’ve shown in relation to some of the sub-retinue companies of Clarence’s force. The expectation of the retinue was defined by the indenture; they were to serve their captain for a set period of time and, if they took prisoners, they were entitled to a share of the ransom profits. They would have remained with their captain during the campaign and endured all the hardships of a medieval military campaign alongside one another.
What training would the bulk of the fighting men receive?
While there was no formalised training at this time, members of the aristocracy and upper gentry would have been taught to fight and joust as an integral part of their childhood education. Those of middling status, those men-at-arms who raised sub-retinues of just a few men, would have been self-taught and may have either inherited their armour and weapons or have purchased new. Indicative of the Crown’s awareness of the importance of archers to its armies, in 1363 Edward III decreed that on every Sunday men were to practice at the targets with bow and arrow.
Why are the retinues of the dukes of Clarence and Gloucester so significant?
The retinues of Clarence and Gloucester are significant because they were the largest of the 1415 campaign, and the dukes were the King’s brothers. The personnel of neither has been studied in detail before and, of particular interest for me, the background of the two dukes enabled interesting comparisons to be made and questions to be asked about the methods of recruitment employed by them. For instance, Clarence was a true military veterans with extensive lands across the whole of England from which to draw men to his service. Gloucester, on the other hand, was a complete military novice and was building his retinue from scratch.
Were the two retinues similar in terms of the men and the way they operated?
Yes. Both recruited an equal ratio of men-at-arms to archers and the dukes’ personal retinues accounted for a similar percentage of the overall retinue at around 15%. In the field they also operated in the same manner, although they were placed at different locations during the siege of Harfleur (Clarence’s force had a much more eventful experience getting to their assigned location).
What roles did each play in the campaign and the great battle?
Both retinues played leading roles in the campaign. At the siege of Harfleur, Clarence commanded the eastern part of the army, while Gloucester served under the King directly, but was involved in attacking and capturing the Porte-de-Leure. During the siege, each retinue also suffered from notable casualties caused by the dysentery which infected the English camp. Clarence himself fell ill and was shipped back to England. In his stead, it seems that command of his retinue was given to the duke of York. We know that York served in the frontlines at Agincourt, and indeed was killed there, so it seems reasonable to presume that Clarence’s retinue (albeit bereft of their leader) did likewise. Similarly, Gloucester’s retinue, which served directly under the King at the battle, fought in the frontlines because Gloucester was knocked from his house and saved by King Henry himself.
Did the 1415 campaign introduce anything new to the muster system or would you say it maintained a longstanding tradition?
My investigation of the mechanics of the mustering process suggest the process in 1415 maintained a longstanding and well understood tradition. While there is no evidence of real innovation regarding the muster, the recruitment of the army, with the pawning of jewels by the King as collateral for the second quarter wages, plus a series of special issue rolls before the campaign and a unique account roll(s) after, indicates an anomalous routine.
Why do you think that no-one else has carried out such detailed research into the muster rolls?
This study is unique in its examination of the physical form of the muster rolls, and the mechanics of the mustering process, but is certainly not the first to use the rich nominal information contained within the muster rolls for the basis of prosopographical research.
Which aspect of your book do you think will be most useful to your fellow medievalists?
I hope that fellow medievalists will find much of use and interest in this book, in particular the examination of the process of the muster, plus the detailed analysis of the ducal retinues and the accompanying comparison. Furthermore, I hope that this book helps bring the debate concerning the ‘dynamics of recruitment’ into the fifteenth century. Those interested in affinity, recruitment and the workings of the medieval English government will find much of interest to them.
We like to finish with the same question to all our contributors. Naturally, we hope you have stayed well throughout the last year but how has your work been affected by lockdowns and restricted access to libraries and archives?
For me, the impact has been quite minimal, as I finished my archival research some time ago and I’ve been able to write this book from the comfort of my home office. However, I hope, for the sake of my comrades-in-arms battling through the archival documents of this period, a return to normality will come soon!
MICHAEL P. WARNER is a researcher specialising in the Hundred Years War, in particular the Battle of Agincourt.
Cover image: The Battle of Baugé (1421): Les Vigiles de Charles VII, manuscript of Martial d’Auvergne, circa 1484, BnF, French manuscript 5054, illumination of folio 24 verso. Reproduced courtesy of the Bibliothéque nationale de France.