John Barbour’s Bruce, composed in the mid 1370s, is the first long poem in the Scots vernacular. It contains twenty books, the first thirteen of which trace the Wars of Liberty from their origins until triumph at the Battle of Bannockburn. At this point the Irish ‘matter’ enters the poem.
Nevertheless, the experiences of medieval combatants are best understood in the context of the local communities from which they were recruited and the retinues in which they served. Consequently, an attempt is also made to reassess the subject of military organisation under the first two Edwards by examining the composition and structure of these armies from the perspective of the soldiers and small units that comprised them.
How, for example, are we to assess the likely extent and distribution of campaigning profits (and, indeed, costs) in society – or the impact of military service on the workings of shire administration, or the influence of war on the retaining practices of the nobility and gentry – without first establishing the identities of those who served in the king’s armies during this period? There can be few major research undertakings in the field of late medieval English history that would offer such wide-ranging benefits as a full-scale reconstruction of the military community.