The warhorse and military service under Edward III
Doctoral Thesis, Department of History, The University of Hull, September (1990)
There are few aspects of medieval English history as important, yet as neglected, as military service. This is not to suggest that the study of war has been eschewed by scholars of the Middle Ages, for this is very far from being the case. A great deal of attention has been devoted to the vexed questions of military obligation and the mentalite of the chivalric class; to the size, structure and financing of armies and the mechanisms of their recruitment; and to the martial aspects of knightly culture, such as the tournament and crusading. On a more general level, there has been much discussion of the impact of war on society and the economy, and on the influence of wartime conditions on the development of parliament. It is not so much war that has been neglected, as the ‘military community’: the many thousands of men who served in English royal armies and garrisons during the Middle Ages. These men – their careers in arms, their backgrounds, their peacetime lives – remain, if not wholly in shadow, then very much in the penumbra of history. So far, indeed, are we from a comprehensive study of those who engaged in military activity in later medieval England that we lack a full prosopographical study for even a single major royal army. The contrast with, for example, the history of parliamentary representation is indeed striking, yet we surely need to understand the social composition of the king’s armies quite as much as the origins and affiliations of the membership of the king’s parliaments. At the moment a good deal is known about the men who ‘were prepared to be at the pains of repeatedly riding across England to serve as representatives in parliament’ and comparatively little about those who took up arms to ride across France and Scotland. The neglect of the men who engaged in military service, and in particular the ordinary men-at-arms and archers who formed the backbone of Edwardian armies, has significantly impaired our understanding of the workings of the English war machine; but the implications of this neglect extend far beyond the province of military history, into the study of many aspects of late medieval English society.