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The war of the roses

allowed the plot to proceed almost to completion, then had both Edward and Warbeck executed for planning rebellion.

The last real fighting of the Wars of the Roses had taken place at Blackheath and the siege of Exeter, but Clarence had been a true male heir of the House of Plantagenet and all the time he lived he was a threat to the House of Tudor. His death truly marked the end of the Wars of the Roses, and thereafter Henry VII’s reign was peaceful apart from a few minor and futile plots by the exiled Edmund, Earl of Suffolk, younger brother of John, Earl of Lincoln, and the last possible Yorkist claimant to the throne of England.

Appendix 1 Armies

In 1341 Edward III had revolutionized the structure of European armies by instituting in England a system of written indentured contracts between the Crown and prominent military leaders. Under this system the military leaders, or 'captains' and 'lieutenants', contracted with the king to provide an agreed number of men for military service, promising to bring them to a place of assembly by a certain date. The indenture set out precisely how long the men would have to serve, their rate of pay, obligations and privileges. The captains were responsible for paying these men, the king giving securities to repay the money at a later date.

These captains raised their companies by making a series of similar contracts with knights and man-at-arms, again stipulating the terms of service and the types of soldiers they would be expected to contribute. The captains usually sought these 'sub-contractors' amongst their friends, kinsmen, tenants and neighbors.

These companies, composed entirely of volunteers, created in effect a royal standing army; for the men were professional soldiers who, although raised, led and paid by their captains, regarded themselves firstly as English soldiers, owing allegiance to their king and fighting only his enemies.

Inevitably, many of the most powerful captains were of the nobility, for they had the position at court, the wealth, and the connections to raise large contingents. In order to be able to satisfy at once any request by the king for a company, such lords frequently maintained a permanent force, contracting their sub-contractors for life with annuities. These men often held offices (such as chamberlain or steward) in the magnate's household or on his estates, and probably provided in their turn the key contingents in his company.

This system was introduced to deal with the demand for expeditionary forces to invade France during the Hundred Years' War, and the need to maintain permanent royal garrisons in the castles and towns across the channel. But it had the effect of creating large forces commanded by the great barons, and during the course of the Hundred Years' War these magnates became virtually petty kings within their own domains: the great northern families of Percy and Neville, for example, fought each other in the Wars of the Roses as much for supremacy in the North as for who should control the government of all England.

The three greatest landowners of the second half of Henry VI's reign were the Earl of Warwick and the Dukes of Buckingham and York. Humphrey Stafford (died 1460), 1st Duke of Buckingham, had a personal retinue often knights and 27 esquires, many of whom were drawn from the Staffordshire gentry. These men were paid annuities to retain their loyalty (hence 'retainers'), the best-paid in Buckingham's retinue being Sir Edward Grey (died 1457) who was retained for life in 1440 at Ј40 per annum. Two knights (Sir Richard Vernon and Sir John Constable) received annuities of Ј20 p.e., but Ј10 was the customary annuity for a knight, with esquires paid from Ј10 to Ј40 marks per annum.

These knights and esquires were the subcontractors, and each would have provided a contingent of archers and men-at-arms. When their contingents were amalgamated, considerable armies could be gathered. For example, in January 1454, 2,000 badges of the Stafford knot were produced for distribution to Buckingham's men; in 1469 the Duke of Norfolk fielded 3,000 men and some cannon; while a great soldier and statesman of the ability and ambition of Warwick would have been able to count on thousands of men scattered over no fewer than 20 shires.

Note the predominance of archers. The contemporary Paston letters give a good idea of the value of the longbowman during the Wars of the Roses. When Sir John Paston was about to depart for Calais, he asked his brother to try to recruit four archers for him: 'Likely men and fair conditioned and good archers and they shall have 4 marks by year and my livery', (i.e. they were to be permanent retainers, on annuities).

These were ordinary archers, as opposed to an elite or 'de maison' archer who would serve permanently in the household troop of a great lord. Warwick considered such men to be worth two ordinary soldiers – even English ones! In 1467 Sir John Howard hired such an archer, offering him Ј10 a year – the annuity paid to knights – plus two gowns and a house for his wife. As an extra inducement he gave the man 2s. 8d., two doublets worth 10s. and a new gown (a term often applied to the livery coat). When Sir John bought himself a new bow, for which he paid 2s., he bought for this elite archer four bows costing 5s. 11.5d. each, a new case, a shooting glove, bowstrings, and a sheaf of arrows which cost 5s.: at that price they were probably the best target arrows available.

Edward IV's leading captains for his 1475 expedition to France had the following retinues:

Duke of Clarence

10 knights 1,000 archers

Duke of Gloucester

10 knights 1,000 archers

Duke of Norfolk

2 knights 300 archers

Duke of Suffolk

2 knights 300 archers

Duke of Buckingham

4 knights 400 archers

This contract system still existed in the mid-15th century, and the end of the Hundred Years' War in 1453 flooded England with large numbers of men who had no trade other than that of soldier. Returning to England, these men now assumed the aspect of mercenaries, unemployed and troublesome. Bored and hungry, they eagerly sought employment with the great barons. Such large private armies were extremely dangerous to the king. Lacking a standing army of his own, he could now only control unruly or even disloyal barons by using the private armies of those barons who remained loyal. Of course, loyal barons were rewarded with valuable offices and vast estates – which enabled them to hire even larger armies until, as with Warwick, they became powerful enough to attempt the overthrow of their benefactor.

This weakness in the royal authority led to corruption in high offices, and especially in the judiciary system. Whenever the interests of a landowner were involved in a legal case, rival bodies of armed men, wearing the liveries and badges of the lords who maintained them, would ride into the county town and bribe or intimidate judge and jury.

During the regency of Henry VI's reign the legal system finally collapsed, and the barons began to resolve their quarrels over land and inheritances by making war against each other: might was right, and it became commonplace for heiresses to be abducted, minor lords to be imprisoned or even murdered, and for 'evidence' to be procured by bribery or threat.

Since justice was no longer obtainable by fair means, many of the yeoman farmers and smaller landowners of the lesser gentry now turned to the barons for their personal protection and for the protection of their lands and rights. This led to the polarization, which is such a feature of the Wars of the Roses.

The yeomen and lesser gentry entered into another form of contract, known as 'livery and maintenance', whereby they undertook to wear the baron's livery – i.e. a tunic in his colors and bearing his household badge – and to fight for him in times of need. In return they received his protection whenever they needed it.

From the above can be seen that an 'army' of the Wars of the Roses might consist of a magnate's personal or household troops (or bodyguard – usually of knights, sergeants and archers), plus his tenants, together with paid mercenaries or contract troops – both English and foreign specialists such as gunners and hand gunners – and 'livery and maintenance' men who were unpaid but who had a personal stake in the fighting.

The only forces under the king's personal command were his bodyguard of knights and sergeants and the large, professional body of men who formed the royal garrison at Calais. Edward IV also had a permanent bodyguard of archers, and one of Henry VII's first actions on seizing the throne was to found the Yeomen of the Guard, a body of some 2,000 archers under a captain. These first saw active service in 1486, when they were used in the suppression of northern rebels.

Finally, in times of great need, the king might also use Commissions of Array to call out the local militia. In theory the king's officials chose the best-armed men from each village and town to serve the king for up to 40 days, the men's provisions being provided by their community. In practice, the king's authority was frequently misused, and great landowners often sent letters to the lesser landowners and councils of towns where they had influence, reminding those in authority of past favors and hinting at benefits yet to come.

An example is given in the contemporary Stonor letters and papers for the Oxfordshire half-hundred of Ewelme, which provided from its 17 villages a total of 85 soldiers, 17 of whom were archers. Eweime itself produced six men: 'Richard Slythurst, a harness [i.e. armored] and able to do the king service with his bow. Thomas Staunton [the constable], John Hoime, whole harness and both able to do the king service with a bill. John Tanner, a harness and able to do the king service with a bill. John Pallying, a harness and not able to wear it [presumably it did not fit him]. Roger Smith, no harness, an able man and a good archer'. Other men without harness are described as 'able with a staff.

Muster rolls are another source of such information. The muster on 4 September 1457 before the king's officials at Bridport, Dorset, shows that the standard equipment expected was a sallet, jack, sword, buckler and dagger. In addition, about two-thirds of the men had bows and a sheaf or half a sheaf of arrows. There was a sprinkling of other weapons – poleaxes, glaives, bills, spears, axes and staves; and some odd pieces of armour – hauberks, gauntlets, and leg harness. Two men also had pavises, and the officials recommended more pavises be made available.

In May 1455 the mayor of Coventry was ordered by royal signet letter to supply a retinue for the king. The town council decided to supply a hundred men with bows, jacks and sallets, and a captain was elected to lead them.

The retinues supplied for Edward IV's expedition to France are divided into 'lances' in the Continental manner, but it is most unlikely that the forces engaged in the Wars of the Roses were ever formally divided in this manner. Rather they were grouped by weapon and armour, by companies and under the banners of their captains, and grouped into 'vaward', 'main' and 'rearward battles' under the standard of a major figure. The army as a whole would often be commanded by the leading political figure, assisted by military advisers. In the case of the king's armies the commander-in-chief would be the lieutenant or captain of the region: officers such as the Warden of the Marches, Lieutenant of Ireland, or Lieutenant of the North, the latter post being granted to Fauconberg in 1461 and to Warwick in 1462.

Many of the commanders, particularly at company level, were not knights but experienced soldiers, though many of them were subsequently knighted on the field of battle. Lovelace was only an esquire, but rose to be Captain of Kent through his military skills. Trollope was another soldier who rose to high command, and was rewarded for his services by a knighthood at Second St. Albans. Men such as Trollope were frequently the military brains or 'staff officers' behind the magnates who led the 'battles'. On the other hand, constables of towns played a key role in recruiting contingents, and they may often have commanded companies, as may sheriffs. Such men may not have had any military skill.

Although the wars started with small armies of experienced soldiers, as time went on the proportion of veterans diminished and, generally speaking, the armies had insufficient cohesion for elaborate tactics: most battles began with an archery duel, which tended to cancel out the value of the longbow, followed by a vast and contused melee on foot. The commander of an army could do little once the melee commenced, though he might hold back a small mounted reserve under his personal command, or detach a formation prior to the battle to use in an outflanking maneuver.

Large numbers of the troops were mounted – not just the knights and esquires, but many of the men-at-arms. Some